Fitness, Hike, Travel

Takbo: Survivor 50 | SandRoadTrail2019

Sunday
May 26, 2019

After my first DNF at the Salomon Xtrail, I lost the will to live. Char. I tried my luck at the next 50 kilometer race which was the Survivor 50 | SandRoadTrail2019. This is the account of my adventure in the province of Sariaya, Quezon.

The Survivor 50 | SandRoadTrail2019 is a newly formed race by RunchampPH. This is the first edition and I was invited by my long time friend, momi Reg, who handled the logistics of the race and is a member of the RunchampPH team. The race director was sir Rodel Florendo, an Ilokano veteran trailrunner who enjoys the trails of Quezon province.

A diverse road and trail through the southern part of Mt. Banahaw crossing green hilly landscapes, upland and lowland villages down to the beaches of the Tayabas Bay. This course offers to showcase lush vegetation, scenic mountain lookouts, backcountry roads, enormously vast farmlands, rivers, bridges, tracks, rails and trails. It’s the anatomy of the heart and soul of Awesome Sariaya.

I arrived with some friends late Saturday night at the race venue. There, I was greeted by momi Reg who helped me claim my kit. They also offered us their pancit habhab which was the highlight of my night. Sir Rodel told us to eat as much as we want and I did my best to follow. It was at this point that I knew the race would be a good one in terms of food. If they have food in the race briefing, what else do they have in the aid stations??? I was excited. What else do runners love more than running? Eating, of course.

One of the biggest draws of the race was the advertised post-race buffet and this is what I used as inspiration all through the race. I just wanted to finish so I can eat a lot. But even before we reached the finish line, I already had my fill of food along the route. More on this later.

After claiming our kits, we were directed to the nearby Church where the runners were given a special room to use as a place of rest. Here, we set up our things and got a brief sleep before the time for the race briefing started.

At 2am Sunday morning, we ate breakfast and got ready before heading back to the race venue. I was quite surprised with the crowd. There were lots of people. Tons of running teams and individual runners were bustling about. I saw familiar faces but even more new ones. The start list claimed around 400 runners in total, with almost half consisting of just the 50km runners. The rest were supports or runners of the 32km, 25km, and 16km categories.

After some mingling with friends, it was time to run. Right before 4am, the 50km runners settled behind the starting line. After wishing each other luck, we counted down to the gun and started off into the dark.

Race Part 1 (“Trail” section)

The first part of the course was a long and slow ascent through residential areas. Almost 200 runners shuffled up quietly between houses, their headlamps lighting the way as the homeowners slept through the morning. I started my usual conservative pace (walking) until I neared the back of the pack. After a while, the road didn’t seem to end and I got bored so I jogged a bit. All the road runners were enjoying this part because it is their forte. I decided to keep pace with some of them until we reached the end of the concrete and the dirt trails began.

We entered a forest area where I didn’t have much clue about my surroundings. I was just following the runners in front of me so that I wouldn’t get lost. It was still dark and the terrain was muddy from rain the nights before. Not a new experience for me, so I just did my best to keep up with whoever was in front until the sun eventually came out. We navigated through the forest trail and into farmlands. Eventually, we saw some runners going back from the trail. Apparently, we had missed a turn and had gotten lost. There were about 10 to 15 runners in our group now heading back to the last visible marker. After finding the right course, the group kind of had an unspoken rule to just stick together and assist each other in looking for markers to find our way.

Ascending the foot of Mt. Banahaw || Pic by Oki

We continued climbing up until we reached the open area with a great view of Mt. Banahaw and the lowlands of Quezon. Then the trail started to descend after the photographers’ post and a lone leafless tree marking the area. The downhill was quick and dirty, with mud and loose soil challenging us. Every now and then we had to stop running and look for the rogue trail marker to make sure we were going the right way. Fortunately we didn’t get lost again. We reached a river that we had to cross multiple times and balance on some rocks until we reached a farm house that served as an aid station. They served lots of kakanin but my favorite was that they had prepared lots of fresh coconut for the runners. I had a whole coconut to myself which I drank all of the juice before continuing on. From this point, it was rough paths and concrete roads from the local farms all the way to the main road leading back to the municipality.

An amazing view || Pic by Oki

I reached the transition station where Tegurl Reyn was manning the area. We exchanged a few words before they sent me off to continue the race. The transition station was the place where runners could use their drop bags to change from trail shoes to road shoes for the 2nd part of the race. I didn’t have another pair of shoes because I’m lazy and didn’t want to lug around 2 pairs of shoes. I quickly chugged a bottle of Pocari Sweat and swallowed a hard boiled egg before continuing on.

Race Part 2 (“Road” Section)

The next section was a very long and straight road. Here, I was walking alone to help my feet recover when I heard Oki and Ces pass me. They had conserved their pace at the first half because they kept getting lost with the lead pack and now that we were out of the trails, they were trying to get a good position. I ran together with them and we paced through the roads until we entered some farmlands once again. We made a small loop through rice fields and a river crossing before emerging back on the main road and straight to the toughest part of the route: the train tracks.

At the farmlands with Oki and Ces || Pic by Oki

I didn’t expect that we would be running on the tracks themselves, but there we were. I had a hard time with this part so I let Oki and Ces go ahead. It just wasn’t runnable for me, so I decided to walk the entire length until we returned to the concrete roads.

The never ending rails || Pic by Oki

By this time the 2nd female, Sherlyn, had already caught up with me so we decided to do a run-walk until we caught up with the other runners, John Rey and Dennis, who were also walking. We all had one thing in mind: the food at the beach. Yes, from the race briefing, information spread that there was going to be lechon  at the aid station and turnaround point. I wasn’t particularly hungry, but I’m not saying no to lechon.

Lechon is real! || Pic by Oki

We reached the baranggay near the boat docks and we took a break to dig into the food. There was rice, bananas, and the magical pig. I ate so much pork skin and sauce that I’m feeling a bit guilty until now. I also took the time to reapply lube on my toes and take some debris off my socks and shoes. After a quick refill of water, we started on our way back. According to the route map, it was just 10 kilometers to go. But I knew better than to trust the route map or the word of the marshals. 🤣

From the highway, we were diverted back to the dusty roads connecting the different sitios of Sariaya. It was pretty much the same routes, plying through the backyards of different local houses until we returned back to the dreaded train tracks. I was walking with Dennis and Oki at this point since Ces had already gone ahead to secure the podium finish for the female category. We were taking our time and just avoiding injuries because were still on route for a Sub-10 hour finish. In the middle of the railroad, we stopped by a sari-sari store and bought some softdrinks as all 3 of us were craving for it.

Cooling down with Dennis || Pic by Oki

We said goodbye to the railroad for the last time and once again entered the local lands of Sariaya. Along the way, we lost track of some markers but there were a lot of locals that were happy to point us to the right direction. Since we were a group, we kept our pace with conversation. I don’t know if I would have survived this route alone.

Open trails mean burned skin || Pic by Oki

We took a dip under one of the bridges and kept ourselves cool. It wasn’t as hot as the other races, but we had been walking under the sun for a long time that it had begun to take its toll. After some more trekking through beautiful landscapes with Carabaos bathing and local kids jumping into natural river pools, we reached the last aid station. Here, Oki bought us soft drinks and ice candy to help with the heat. I ate a lot of cassava cake here. The marshal at this point said that it was only 2 kilometers left to the finish, but we were doubtful.

Winding local roads || Pic by Oki

We continued on as a big group, being joined by John Rey and a few other runners. We marched on in a single file as the dusty road gave way to more local homes and finally, we crossed a hanging bridge and entered the concrete highway. We ascended the highway and were welcomed with cars and locals who were celebrating some kind of festival. We let them pass and continued on until we saw the familiar church building and eventually, the giant finish line arc beside the sports building. We waited for the photographers to see us before charging in for the finish. And that’s how our batch of 6 runners finished this adventure. We survived Survivor 50!

Happy to finish with these hardcore runners || Pic by Bicolano Runner

Post Race

At the race venue, I bonded with some friends while I rested my legs. I claimed the beautiful trophy and the loot bag for the finishers. The swag was bountiful. A bagtag, a finisher shirt, a trucker cap, a certificate of completion, and a head buff were inside. Just as advertised, there was a couple of buffet tables with overflowing food plus the Pocari Sweat booth was free flowing. They had different kakanin and some fish. Also available were kare-kare and more pancit. I’m a simple man so I downed plates of pancit and cassava cake. We waited for more of the runners to finish as well. Finally, we fixed up back at the church and after saying goodbye to all the familiar faces, we were on our way back to Manila. My feet were sore, but my stomach was full.


Race Summary

Goals:

A. Sub 10 finish – ✅
B. Finish with no injury – ✅
C. Finish alive – ✅

Race: Survivor 59 | SandRoadTrail2019
Distance: 50++km
Finish: 09:41:25 (13/161)
Food: [Self] Beng Beng x8, Clif Bar x2, H2O
[Aid Stations] H2O, Soft Drinks, Lechon, Rice, Kakanin, Buko Juice, Pocari Sweat, Eggs, Cassava cake
Gear:Kalenji Gilet Trail 5L, Kalenji Socks, New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v4, Simple Hydration, Lazada Goodr Glasses, Onnight 700 Headlamp, Amazfit Stratos


This was a tough race that definitely challenged all the participants. The combination of trail and road terrains was definitely something new and it put me into a lot of uncomfortable situations. But still, it was an overall good experience. What I liked the most (aside from the amazing food) was the coordination with the locals. There were lots of locals along the route cheering us on and they even provided us with buckets of water to save us from the heat. The local marshals were clear with the landmarks and distances. It felt good to run when there are lots of people cheering you on.

Something that should be improved on would be the route markings. A majority of the runners got lost along the first part of the trail. The markers were far too few and not placed strategically. There were also critical points and junctions that weren’t marked at all. Our group resorted to asking locals multiple times where to go. This would be unnecessary if there were markings every now and then. This is a small nitpick, but route markings are a very important aspect of trail running. Applied properly, the markings should make a runner feel confident that they are on the correct path and not doubt every way they’re taking. This could also avoid any issue with the top places especially with so many runners gunning for the top spot. Markings and marshal coordination should be one of the top priorities in an ultra trail race.

But considering that this is the first edition of the event, it was a good one. It provided what the runners were looking for and so much more. The exact distance is debatable, but we runners really got more than we bargained for. I’m sure that a lot of us expected an equal division of road and trail, but Sariaya gave us a wide variety of terrain that every kind of shoe would be tested. I would argue that the transition area could have been taken out of the course and the runners could have finished the whole course in trail shoes.

I’m hoping the organizers would take note of these criticisms and do better for their future races. They have a wonderful place with friendly people and I can see this race being one that can gain recognition on its own as a very challenging course in the south. I don’t see myself running the race again because it’s just too brutal for me, but I recommend every runner that wants to test themselves to join this race.

Glad to have friends to run with || Pic by Oki

Of course it’s time to thank some people who made this race extra enjoyable. I missed most of my trailmates because this event was surprisingly joined by a lot of road runners. But also being once a road runner, I got to see some friends I haven’t seen in a long time since I transitioned to trail.

Burnt with team Denz || Pic by Robert of Active Pinas

To my OCR brother, Denz, thanks for taking care of the transportation to Quezon and back. Driving then running an ultra and driving again is no easy task, especially with the traffic in the south but you made sure to bring us safely to where we needed to be. Congrats, man! Thanks for all the supplementation and Spartan Ultra tips as well.

To Oki, Ces, She, John Rey, and Dennis, who paced me at certain parts of the route. From navigating Banahaw to the railroad, thanks for pushing me to give that extra step and to run that extra kilometer. Congratulations to all of us! Special thanks to Oki for providing most of the pictures from the trail. Check out his amazing shots here.

To all the trail and road friends, congratulations! It’s nice to see you all again. Mam Grace, mommy Rose, mam Gidget, Baldo, Che, Tegurl, Avhic, Noy, Elmar, Koi, and the rest that are too many to mention. Keep running and congratulations. Special thank you to Melanie and Jerrol for purchasing the limited edition UTMB Chilibog Chili Garlic. Enjoy!

To the team of RunchampPH, sir Rodel and momi Reg, as well as the marshals and volunteers. Thank you for the chance to discover the beautiful and beastly routes of Sariaya. I am looking forward to (eating at) your next events. You have set yourselves up as a competent organizer to watch out for. Congratulations!

And of course, to the Creator, for the good weather during the race and for keeping all the runners safe. It was just the perfect temperature to run and thankfully, everyone was accounted for. Also thank you to my family for letting me do this crazy shit every weekend and to my Bebelabs who completed the 70km Vietnam Jungle marathon as well.

Still smiling || Pic by Robert of Active Pinas

And that wraps up my Survivor 50 experience. What an event it was. I’ll never forget my first train running/rail running experience. 😅

-jgzn

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