Saturday to Sunday
September 21-22, 2019
Hello everyone, it’s me! I’m back after a long hiatus from blogging. Life happened, and by that, I mean that I was busy playing Minecraft. But nature calls and I must answer. This is the account of my first long distance race for the second half of 2019.
This race is the last entry to the annual Conquer Trail Adventure grandslam series. You may be familiar with this series as I have written about it before and have completed the series in 2016 and 2017. I was hardened by Conquer races and they have a special spot in my heart.
This time, the Conquer Assault (3rd leg) was not held in Tanay Adventure Camp like before, but in the same place as the Conquer Ascend (2nd leg) which is in Maragondon. Indeed, even most of the route is the same, plying the trails of Mt. Marami and Mt. Bulbok. The special draw of this race is that the route will once again run up to the campsite of Mt. Palay-palay, famously known as Pico de Loro.
Pico de Loro was closed by local authorities back in 2017 and has only recently opened to the public. Pico de Loro is also my first ever mountain hike so you can connect the dots on why I want to join this race. Conquer Assault was also my first ultramarathon 3 years ago so there is a lot of sentimentality to this particular race.
We arrived in Maragondon on Saturday afternoon. We had lunch at the popular Lolo Claro’s. Since the elementary school was still closed, we set up our hammock on a waiting shed and got some sleep. We also chowed down on some fries, Malunggay pandesal, and milk tea. Anyway, night came and we migrated to the Maragondon covered court which was the main venue. Here, we claimed our kits and mingled with our trail friends. It’s good to be back! I put Minecraft in the back of my mind and focused on the run to come.
Failing to get any more sleep, we readied our things and I got my last minute poop thanks to Kopiko 78. Feeling light in the stomach, I waited until it was time to board the jeepney that will take the runners to the starting line in Talipusngo. There, race director Sir Jigz gave us a last minute briefing before setting us off into the dark. It was only 11:15 in the evening of Saturday, so it was a long time before we get to see the sun. And away we went.
The first part of the race went pretty much the same way as the Conquer Ascend 42km that happened in February. We slowly made our way up to Mt. Marami. Only this time, the way was pretty much wet with mud. Now, as a trail runner in Manila, this is nothing new. I resigned to my fate and didn’t bother evading the terrain. I plowed through the mud all the way up to the rocky summit of the mountain. There, I waited for Bebelabs and we made our way to the next challenge: Mt. Bulbok.
I remember having a bad time climbing up Mt. Bulbok last February. I can hardly describe the experience this time when it was extra muddy. It was an absolute slogfest. To make matters more interesting, bebelabs’ headlamp ran out of battery so gave her mine and I had to navigate with one hand holding a cellphone for lighting. I contemplated quitting trail running right then and there. I could be back home playing Minecraft but there I was, sliding down the slope of a mountain with no end in sight.
But eventually, it did end. We reached the summit of Mt. Bulbok and descended to the aid station. I was almost out of water at this point so I gulped down a lot of spring water before refilling my bottles. A little bit refreshed, we continued down to the quarry area and this is where the sunrise found us. The terrain of the quarry was definitely another challenge. The fresh rains made it feel like running on perfectly-moist chocolate cake. The mud reached way above ankle-level and this rendered my Hierro‘s sock-bootie feature useless. I reached the aid station with tiny rock particles in my shoe so I had to remove them in a passing river. This gave me some time to rest and regain my composure as well. Awaiting us was the long, long road from the quarry to the old trail of Pico de Loro.
I’ve already ran this road before, in my first trail marathon back in 2016. But back then, it didn’t rain. Now, there were puddles everywhere and even in the flats, it was hard to run. So I just brisk-walked my way and didn’t mind my pace. I trudged through the mud and puddles, not caring anymore because I just wanted to reach the DENR outpost at the base of Mt. Palay-palay.
After almost two hours of mudfest, I reached the aid station at the DENR post and there I chugged down some hot noodle soup while waiting for bebelabs. I also took the opportunity to rinse off my shoes and mingle with the marshals. Once bebelabs arrived, we set off to the turning point at the campsite of Mt. Palay-palay. It was only 3 kilometers one-way but wow did it feel like so much longer than that. But I didn’t mind the distance because I was just reminiscing the trail. It has changed a lot especially since the locals have somehow placed stone stairs along the way. There were still some landmarks that took me back to the numerous hikes I had here before the mountain closed down. While hiking up it, I told bebelabs the stories of my experiences here to pass the time.
We reached the campsite where the marshal gave us a wrist tag to mark our success. Then we headed to the viewdeck where Charm was waiting for us to take our pictures. We posed for a few before heading down since we were already close to the tight intermediate cutoff. I went ahead on the descent as I wanted to get some rest at the DENR aid station before returning to the long trail back to the quarry. When bebelabs arrived, we refilled and started on the final 12 kilometers to the finish.
This time, we decided to go together for company and this made the distance much easier to bear. Also, thankfully the weather cooperated and with the sun out, the mud had dried and the trail wasn’t as difficult as before. A lot of runners overtook us, but we eventually fell into our pace and reached the quarry aid station. They had ice here which was a life saver since the sun was actually already high up in the sky. It was already Sunday afternoon, so we were tired, hot, and muddy.
From the quarry area, we eventually reached the city roads and finally, the river. We boarded the boat with the other runners because the bridge was under repair. Don’t worry, the RD gave us permission to use the boat. And after the ride, it was just a few more meters to the finish. Hooray! 55 kilometers and 3 mountains, done!
After the finish line picture and the mandatory congratulations, I immediately went to the food area and downed a cup of tinolang manok. Then after some socials, we fixed up, got some milk tea and some more pandesal. Then, we boarded the bus back to Metro Manila. We were tired af so we didn’t bother with much of the post-race socializing. We just wanted to board the bus immediately and go to sleep. After paying the fare, I slept and the next thing I knew, we were already in PITX. That’s a very long day finished!
A. Finish Within Cutoff – ✅
Race: Conquer Assault 55k Maragondon Trio
Finish: 14:07:21 (30/42 runners)
Food: [Self] Beng Beng x8, Clif Gel x3, Clif Bar x1, H2O, Vitamin Boost
[Aid Stations] H2O, Soft Drinks, Kakanin, Noodle Soup, Bananas
Gear: Kalenji Gilet Trail 5L, Kalenji Socks, New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v4, Shake Hands Bottle, Lazada Goodr Glasses, Amazfit Stratos
This race served as a welcome back to the ultramarathon distance for me because of I have been inactive for a while. I don’t really pursue something when I grow tired of it and other hobbies and interests have taken my time lately. But, the outside will always call to me and here I am, going back to another series of races for the latter part of 2019.
And what a welcome this race was! A stressful reminder of how small we are compared to nature. Thank you sir Jigz and the whole Conquer team for providing this brutal race. 70 runners started, but only 42 finished and that’s already with an extension to the cutoff! Definitely a challenge and a hard obstacle standing in the way of future grand-slammers.
Thank you, team Conquer, for assisting the runners. Everyone was accounted for and no serious emergency took place according to my knowledge. Despite the tough trails, we all survived!
Thank you to my trail friends who I shared the trails with. It’s always nice to see you all and I am hoping to see even more of you in the future races. Congratulations to us, especially those who completed the grand slam. You are all my idols.
Thank you to Bebelabs for pacing with me in the mind-numbing trail back to the quarry. Congratulations on your run and your downhill training. I’m proud of you.
Thank you to Maragondon, the locals, and the place, for being so accommodating. Thank you for having the tastiest malunggay pandesal and milk tea I have ever tasted.
And thank you to the Creator, for giving us good weather in the second half of the race. Thank You for keeping everyone safe and despite all the hardships, seeing Your wonderful creations once more was a blessing.
And that’s it for me. See you all in the next one!