The Clark Miyamit 50 mile ultra trail race (CM50) and it’s sister event held on the same day that covers 60km of the complete 50 mile (84km) course, is one of the premier events in the ultra trail running calendar of the Philippines. This route is something that already held a “special” place for me. I live just a few minutes from the official start line of the race and I had previously hiked parts of the trail from Sapang Uwak to Miyamit falls and the peak of Donald Mc Donald. It was on this trail about 18 months ago that I first met ultra runner, Vladimir Hernandez. I was impressed by the fact that he was running up the peak I was hiking up. Not only that but he had started lower than I had.
I had heard about ultra distance running and trail running, the TNF100 race in the Philippines was quite well publicised and I had often told myself I would train for a year and do it, but never got around to it. A few months ago I had the opportunity to be introduced to the elite runners of the Philippine ultra and trail running community through the CGT2015 event. I was inspired by these people to participate in a few trail runs. Over a period of a couple of months I found I was a half decent runner and could walk pretty fast over the terrain as well, strong in power walking the climbs and good over technical terrain. I was spurred on to enter my first trail marathon, the Banaue Batad trail race. After this I entered a second trail marathon MF42 that follows the middle section of the CM50 route. I finished these in respectable times and decided I would take the plunge and go for the certified “Badass ultra runner” prize by competing in CM50 and making the cutoff time of 18 hours for 50 miles.
I was suffering a little from some ITBS knee injury but I was encouraged by Elle to enter the race. So I found myself at 1am on the morning of November 23rd 2014 lining up at Clark Parade Ground start line with 150 other runners. A strong international field, veterans of other CM50 races and people with much more experience than me. I was rather apprehensive, this was going 2x the distance I had ever done before. I knew I could complete 42km, but 84km? I had no idea how I would feel by km 50 or 60 and knowing that I would still have a half marathon to go by this point was quite exciting, would I be able to push through the hardships and make it to the end?
Pavel, Joy, Elle and Me
Runners at the start line
CM50 2014 competitors
For the first 2km on road through Clark I was overtaken by many runners. I told myself though not to race too hard, don’t go out too fast. 2km into an 84km race is nothing. I kept to a mantra of “run my own race” I would listen to my body, and go at my own pace. Fast when I could, slow when I couldn’t. I knew that one important factor in an ultra was going to be simply to keep moving. Don’t allow cramps to set in, don’t allow yourself to relax and have to motivate and get moving again. No matter what happens you must just keep moving forwards.
At kilometer 3 we entered the lahar part of the course, this can be tricky, with water crossing and very fine volcanic dust and sand from Pinatubo. I knew that coming back along here later in the heat of the day would not be easy. I kept a steady pace along here, I was concerned I was maybe dropping back too far but a glance over my shoulder showed a long trail of headlamps behind me. I was feeling comfortable and confident. I just kept on moving, passing AS1 I didn’t stop, hit the concrete slope up to another lahar dirt trail. Soon I was already at the concrete stairs heading up towards the sugar cane plantation section of the course.
About 10km into the race was a steep section with a rope to help you descend. Up until his point Elle and I had been running together, I saw an opportunity to pass people at this rope. A lot of the road runners and people who are less confident on steep ground were having difficulties descending. I fell back to my mountaineering background and skipped ahead, overtaking at least 10 runners while they were descending on the rope. I thought Elle would follow but she was stuck in the bottleneck. At the bottom I called back to her I was going ahead. She is a strong runner I was pretty sure she would catch me up. The next 6 km of the trail were very nice, running through single track trails, it wasn’t hot, and there was a crystal clear night sky with plenty of stars above. It was quite nice to just feel the freedom of the movement through this section. It’s easy to get lost in this area, but ti was well marked. I soon caught up with two other guys who I paced just behind for the next few kilometres down to the Pasig Potrero river crossing and lahar. They were veterans of the CM50 60km race last year and this year were going for the 50 miles. Somewhere on the lahar crossing we got separated. I knew this section of the course well from previous recon and offroading adventures to Delta Five River. After reaching AS2 I was hoping my support vehicle would be there already for me to change shoes. It was not. I pushed on, picking up the pace through the next few kilometres that was slightly downhill towards the Alvera/Sandbox area and tunnel leading to Sapang Uwak.
I was around 21km into the race and by this time I was running on my own, I couldn’t see any lights ahead or behind me. I had overtaken a lot of runners at AS2 who had stopped. In a way it worked out well that my support crew were not there, it forced me to push on without stopping. I knew from the MF42 race whose course I was now joining, that the steep climb ahead over the next 10km was going to be tough. Soon after passing through Sapang Uwak and AS3 the climb started. I glanced back and could see the sun beginning to rise and the lights of the town of Porac below. I slowed here and some other runners caught up with me and overtook. Mostly were 60km runners. Onwards and upwards, like a roller coast with more ups than downs, I ground out the miles towards AS4 and the junction to the peak and the falls. I recognised parts of the trail and knew I was closing in on AS4. My support vehicle made an appearance, overtaking me heading to AS4. I was glad of this as by now my feet had dried somewhat and the sand inside my shoes was beginning to rub my ankle and toes.
I reached AS4, 10km from the turnaround point of the peak, in around 4 hours and 50 minutes. I was considering at this point I could break my personal best 42km trail time of 6 hours 30 set at Banaue by reaching the peak in 6 hours and 15 minutes. Unfortunately I lingered a little too long at AS4 changing my shoes and eating, which cost me some 15 minutes of time. It was a lovely feeling though to put on new fresh shoes and socks and off I went towards the peak. I enjoy this section, I don’t find it too steep compared to the uphill from Sapang Uwak to the junction and AS4. It’s my kind of trail, single track, scenic and what I enjoy running on. I was soon passed by the elite front runners coming back down from the peak, they were over an hour ahead of me by this point. I reached the peak in around 6 hours and 55 minutes, not too bad I thought (although it’s almost 3 hours behind the first person). I had a big uplift of spirits at this point as I knew that I would complete the course. With more than 10 hours left until cutoff, I just knew then I would make it, no way would it take me more than 10 hours to get back to the finish, even if I walked. I just had to keep positive and keep moving, ignore any pain, keep injury free and I would finish.
Coming down from the peak to AS4
Arriving at AS4
I downed a few mouthfuls of beer and a shot of gin at the peak (thanks guys!). I didn’t linger too long for photos or anything, I just turned around and started back down. I knew from this point on it’s more down that up, although i still have the notorious steep trail back from the detour to Miyamit falls to contemplate. My spirits were high and I got a bit of momentum heading down. I soon passed by Elle about 20 minutes after I had left the peak, she seemed in good spirits and happy.
This section is known as the “DNF challenge” as it’s a total of 20km from AS4 tot he peak and back to AS4. No support nowhere to pickup water along the way. I ran out of water around 4km from AS4 on the way down, but I was feeling good, not too dehydrated so I was not concerned. At AS4 I deposited my bag and took just a hand carry bottle down to the falls and back. This 3km section took me about 50 minutes to complete as it is steep coming back up. I left AS4 going down to AS3 knowing that the “worst” 10km was ahead.
Infront of Miyamit Falls
Approaching Miyamit falls
Approaching Miyamit falls
It’s up and down and seems to go on forever heading down this section. It’s the roller coaster of dirt roads heading to Sapang Uwak. I caught up with a few other runners who I ran together with down as far as AS3. They were veterans and aiming for a sub 15 hour time. I didn’t hang around long at AS3, just downed some soda, threw some cool water on my head and got moving. I had a good feeling and I was now convinced I could do a sub 15 hours time, maybe close to 14 hours.
The route back to AS2 was very hot and tiring with no shade. I overtook a couple of people along this part. It was very tempting when I reached the SCTEX tunnel to stop and rest in the cool damp air, but I wouldn’t allow my body and mind to indulge in such thoughts. After AS2 there is the pasig potrero river crossing again, crossing the lahar that reflects the heat back at you I was feeling the strain. But I knew there was only 14km left to the finish line and I could make it. There was no way ever I was going to drop out now so close to the end. My feet hurt, my thighs began to cramp a little, my knees ached, and my face was burning in the sun. It didn’t matter though, I had a 14 hours and 30 minute finish time in my sights and I wanted it. Once past the Aeta Village above the Pasig Potrero I was running again, I got a second wind, and my feet carried me along the lovely single track trails, winding their way back to the steep rope climb. I was careful not to loose time and distance by getting lost in this section. I passed by several runners here and gave them some encouragement, trying to inspire them. I knew if we pushed it we could make a sub 15 for sure. Most complained of some ache or pain that they had and didn’t feel like pushing it. By this stage in the race I began to realise it isn’t necessarily the fittest and fastest runners that can push on. When it comes to ultras it is mental attitude, the person who can carry on despite the pains. I was in pain too, but you just shut off to it, don’t let your body control you, I wanted that badass T shirt so bad I could smell it, the finish line was only 7km away and I had 30 minutes to make my target time.
Unfortunately the final 4km on the lahar heading back to Clark was hot and difficult. It was hard to run with the pain in my knees by this point trying to gain traction on the sand while running just aggravated it. So I power walked until i could get to the final 2km of trail and road back to the finish line. I caught up and overtook several more people along the way and was soon in familiar with roads leading to the parade ground.
Crossing the finishing line with a surprise turn out of my staff to encourage and cheer me on was an exhilarating experience. I had done it, I had proved to myself I could go the distance. My time of 14 hours and 55 minutes was respectable, below my anticipated pre race time of 16 hours, and gives me a good target to aim at and beat next year. I believe with some more training, the experience I have gained and fixing my knee injury I have a good chance at a sub 14 hour time.
My official placement was 22nd overall, not bad for a first ultra, in a race where there was a 23% DNF rate.
Crossing Finish Line
Removing my shoes after 50 miles
Relaxing at finish line
CM50 was indeed an amazing race, and those who finish deserve to feel proud of their achievement. The course eats up and spits out some good runners. As a first ultra it was an eye opening experience, and showed me what I can really be capable of. Here’s to next year, and here’s to Annapurna 100km trail race in February 2015!
CM50 – Clark Miyamit trail race
Elle, Thumbie and I, well deserved certified Badass Ultrarunners
Here’s my race stats from my Suunto Ambit 3 watch.