On the 24th August 2014 I participated in the Banaue – Batad Marathon. This was a 42km mixed trail and road race that went through the beautiful scenery of the Banaue and Batad rice terraces, as well as the spectacular Tapiyah falls.
The race started at 5am in front of the Banaue Municipal Hall. The first 6 or 7 km was on the road that leads from Banaue towards Batad. After this a sharp turn off the road leads to a 7km trail that leads steeply uphill and winds it’s way along the side of the mountains towards the town of Cambulo. From here it follows a narrow trail towards Batad, and then down steep concrete steps to Tapiyah falls. Then follows a 3km steep climb up to Batad saddle, then it’s all downhill back on the concrete road for 16km back to Banaue.
I started strong quickly overtaking the majority of the runners, and tailing the lead pack. I wasn’t sure my exact position but I knew I was somewhere near the front. At the turn off tot he trail going to Cambulo my race strategy kicked in, I know I can power walk fast up hills, faster than most, so I stopped running and put in a good uphill pace. Aiming to do each kilometre in 9 minutes while walking. A few runners overtook me here, but soon gassed out due to the steepness of the hill. My plan was working, I soon overtook them and was able to power walk ahead. As soon as the hill got less steep I kicked into a high gear running. I knew the trail here was very runnable and gently went downhill for most of the next 6 or 7km. I put on a good spurt and aimed to put as much distance between me and the people behind. I still wasn’t entirely sure of my position in the pack, but I didn’t let that concern me too much. I was not going to be drawn into running someone else’s race, I stuck with my own strategy and aim for finishing in less than 7 hours. Soon I was running on my own, with the leaders not in sight, nor the person behind. I got into a good stride and I soon found myself at Cambulo town already. Here I picked up a ribbon at the checkpoint and was told I was in 3rd place. I was surprised to hear this, and when I checked my watch I found I had been doing a pretty bolstering pace so far. Could I keep this up for the rest of the race? I was not quite half way yet, but I was feeling pretty good.
The next section heading towards Batad involved some narrow slippery tracks balancing along the edges of the rice terraces in places. Knowing I have quite good balance I was able to run a lot of these parts that others would be taking their time along. I moved pretty quickly along here, and up the steep part to Batad where a second control point was positioned to pickup another ribbon. I could see the lead 2 ahead crossing the terraces and starting their climb to the saddle already. I knew there was little chance I could ever catch up, but I also knew I had a good lead on the person behind me, a pretty solid 3rd place position. I was still feeling good, as I set off down the steps towards Tapiyah falls. This is where the problems started. My left knee which was already injured a few years ago began to give me pain and difficulties. I think it was aggravated by the steep concrete steps. I checked my watch, I was at 26km mark, over half way, and had done it in 2 hours and 30 minutes. I knew I had a steep climb ahead which would slow me down, but then it’s all easy road downhill to Banaue that I could bomb down. I was pretty well on track for a 5 hours and 30 minutes time.
This was where it all started to go wrong. The pain in my left knee was debilitating, I could barely run at all. Soon I was down to walking, and every 10 paces needing to stretch out the joint and relieve the pain. My pace slowed to a crawl, 25 minutes for 1km, this went on all the way to Batad Saddle. By this point the person behind me had already caught up and he took off down the road towards Banaue. I hobbled behind, but just simply could not run anymore, a few steps and the pain was excruciating. I was resigned to the fact that I would just have to walk the next 16km. I was at this point at around 4 hours and 30 minutes into the race. I calculated that walking 1km in 9 minutes it would take me another 2 hours to get down to Banaue, that would still put me under my target of 7 hours. So that became my new focus, just finishing the race. I knew I couldn’t regain the 3rd place position, and I would likely be overtaken on the long downhill back to Banaue. I didn’t concern myself with this, sticking to my own race, to finis under 7 hours, I hadn’t come out to run for a podium place, just to finish the course in my own pre determined cut off time. The temperature was beginning to rise as the sunlight was reflected and bouncing off the freshly laid white concrete road. Around 6km from the end I noticed my hand was swelling up, a sure sign I was low on salts. I downed a gatorade and within a few minutes the hand was back to normal. Soon I could see the town of Banaue up ahead, with around 3km left to go. I knew I would make it under 7 hours, but didn’t ease up. I had counted a few more people pass me and I figured I was probably around 7th place by this point, maybe 10th. When I got into Banaue town, 1km from the finish line, I stopped off to buy a celebratory beer. I managed to push myself to gently run in the last few hundred meters to the finish line, while savouring the cold beer. Soon I crossed the finish line with a time of 6 hours and 26 minutes, more than 30 minutes below my target, in 5th place. Not bad considering I had been plagued by an injury for most of the second half of the race. My strategy had worked, I played to my strengths and the big lead I opened up at the beginning was the only saving grace.
Being of a competitive nature, despite my performance I was still a little disappointed, knowing that without the injury I would have been about an hour faster.
Now the pain has subsided, and I’m working on some stretching exercises to try and help. I’ve signed up for a second trail marathon, MF42 in Pampanga. This has 2,000 meters of ascent, and hopefully no concrete steps. I believe it’s the steps that aggravated the injury. I’ve got 5 weeks to get well. Despite not being able to do much truing so I can let the injury recover, I know this isn’t too much of a problem. I know I have the ability to go the distance, and the fitness to put in a good time, it’s just down to getting my knee to cooperate. If all goes well by November I’ll try my first ultra distance race, CM50, 50 miles, or 2 marathons back to back.