Moral of the story: Being a decorated trail runner does not translate into being a good race director.
I am writing this post with regards to an issue with the recently concluded Mt. Apo Sky & Vertical Race 2019. For those of you out of the loop, Koi Grey, 1st runner up of the said race, made a post about his experience with the race and its numerous lapses.
As you can see, it is detailed with all the points of improvement for the race. Now, if one were a good race director, one would take these criticisms and use them as points of improvement for future races. However, Vertical 2 Sky Mountain Race, the organizer headed by the RD Doi, took a surprising approach and responded with the following statement:
I am deeply saddened with this reply. Not only does the RD deny the allegations, but he misses the point of Koi’s post completely and even dismisses it as false news. So it’s one man’s word versus another’s. Race director versus runner. Who do we believe?
Well, let’s consider another point of view, that of another runner in the race. You’ve heard the experience of the 2nd person to finish the race, now you’re about to hear my experience as one of the last runners to finish. I think the accounts of the lead pack (17 hour finish) and the back of the pack (33 hour finish) should be sufficient to give you a good glimpse into the race.
The river at the start was no issue for me because I haven’t had blisters since using Kalenji socks but then again, I’m not running at the level of Koi. The problem with the river was on the way back to the finish. It had swollen and turned murky. We could no longer see the rock-path we used earlier and there was a point where I was up to waist deep in water, standing on the quicksand-like river bed. In my opinion, there should be a marshal at this area, if only to look out for potential emergencies because there was a quick dropoff near the crossing area of the river. Anyone lighter than bebelabs and I would’ve been swept away if they weren’t careful.
After discussing this with fellow runners after the race, they all had different experiences. Some had no trouble while the others experienced a similar situation as us. We were able to cross while Koi was not. We couldn’t know the situation of the river during his time, but the situation could have definitely been improved by a marshal or a safety rope.
Next point: trail markers. I definitely think that the trail marking needs to be improved. This is a 100-kilometer race, there are lots of opportunities to get lost. The problem in this race is not so much the number of markers, but their placement. All critical junctions should be marked clearly by multiple markers. There are multiple intersections early in the route with only a couple of markers that are quite hidden and already placed into the turn. Being one of the slow runners, we navigated by watching people return from the wrong way.
Another example of bad placement was a series of trail markers on the right side of the trail, followed by a left turn into a small path diverging from the main trail. It should be common sense that one should put markings on the same side if possible, not switching sides at a critical turn. 🤷♂️
Again, these are minor complaints on my side. I was not in the lead pack where markers are very important. Not even 10 kilometers into the race, I was already telling bebelabs that the race leaders would surely be having a hard time navigating the route based on the markers alone. And it turns out, this is exactly what Koi experienced. I bet it’s hard to maintain confidence when the reflectorized markers are only as big as a coin.
My biggest complaint for the race would be the food and water. In the initial Aid stations there were enough food, water, and softdrinks to go around. I didn’t have any complaints until we reached AS6, Sitio Colan. This key aid station is the last one before the actual ascent to Mt. Apo. During the race briefing, the race director mentioned lots of food here. I was very excited to reach this station so that I can rest and eat. Imagine my surprise when I got there and all that was left was tutong (burnt rice) and sabaw (leftover soup).
Lechon manok? There were hardly any bones left in the pot.
Arroz caldo? I didn’t even see any.
Nevertheless, I was hungry so I took some of the rice and mixed it with the soup. I asked the marshal there if there was a 2nd batch of food coming and he said that that was all. At this point in the race, I wasn’t one of the last runners yet. There were still a lot of runners behind me and I just imagined their faces when they see that there’s no food left. So we made do with what we have. I can also confirm Koi’s account with the dropbag assistance. Once I arrived, the marshal merely pointed us to the tourism office where our dropbags were stacked. No assistance whatsoever. A minor gripe, since I can get my dropbag on my own, but for a lead runner, it’s time wasted.
After going up the peak of Mt. Apo and returning to Sitio Colan, it was already evening. The cutoff was 1am and we arrived there are around 9pm. There were no medics around. Apparently they had left earlier. Now, I’m not a race director, but shouldn’t it be common sense that the medics should stay the whole duration of the race? Isn’t it common knowledge that it’s usually the ones at the back of the pack that are more prone to injuries? Indeed there were reports of a runner who had a sprain up in the mountains and no medics were available. They resorted to waking the local people in the community to porter down the poor runner. Again, poor coordination. I don’t know how the issue was settled, but I know that the locals were disgruntled with having to climb the mountain to pick up an injured runner late in the day.
Just to add to the interesting happenings in Sitio Colan, before 10pm struck, the marshal in charge of the station disappeared. IDK where they went but they just vanished into thin air. No more water, no more food, no more medics, no more marshals. But there were still runners in the mountain with 3 hours until cutoff. Wow, magic.
And when we arrived at AS5 on the way back, there was no more water. Let me repeat, no water at all. 2 empty water dispensers. The marshal was kind enough to offer his own water provisions, but it’s a good thing bebelabs and I packed a lot. We told him to save it for the others behind us. Instead, we took a nap and the marshal was kind enough to let us use his tent flysheet as a blanket. This was one of the high points of the race marshaling. Kudos to that kind marshal (sad that we didn’t get his name).
In his defense, the race director does admit that slow runners will have the risk of not having any food. But to tell the runners to use their emergency funds to provide their own hydration and nutrition because you failed to provide enough for all is not a mark of good organization. Does the lead pack pay more in terms of registration fees so they get all the food? Do the last runners get a refund because they didn’t get to eat from the food provided? All runners pay the same registration fee. They should be treated with equal respect whether they finish first or last.
And that’s pretty much it. We experienced a negative race organizer, but a wonderful race. Those trails leading to Mt. Apo were one of the most beautiful trails I’ve ever ran in. Those sights were not possible to replicate in the trails of Luzon. I am not regretting that I joined this race, but I am saddened by the response to criticism. And it seems that based on the additional comments, this has been going on for a while.
It is not in Koi’s nature to complain. He is one of the top trail runners in the country. I have started difficult races with him that have devastated my very being and yet he has always been smiling at the finish line. I am posting my account in his defense because most of the issues he raised are valid and experienced by many others, apparently. Surely it does not equal a ban and a disqualification for airing complaints.
Yes, trail running is an extreme sport. Ultra running more so. But hydration, nutrition, and trail markings are the basic needs of every runner. If you cannot adequately provide those items for consecutive editions of a yearly race, you need to reflect on your process and position as a race organizer/director. There is a fine line between whining and criticizing, and as an experienced trail runner and race director, you should know the difference. And also, there is a huge difference between boasting a difficulty of a race because of its course and because you didn’t provide the basic needs of the runners.
This is my side of the story. Not all runners experienced the same treatment. My idol Dada was able to eat a lot in the aid stations, cross the river safely, and finish with no complaints. But the fact that this is not an isolated case is enough to say that there needs to be improvements. And since the race director has shown how he reacts to criticism, I’m not expecting any.
This is not an attack on the marshals and volunteers. I’m sure they did their best to accommodate the runners and I am very thankful for that. There are things that can be improved and these valid opinions should be listened to and not silenced.
Disqualification and ban incoming in 3…2…1… 😂