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MF42 – Miyamit Falls 42km Trail Marathon

On October 4th 2014 I entered my second trail marathon. This event differed from the Banaue – Batad marathon in that it goes through much more remote areas with little to no permanent settlements. There’s almost only a few hundred meters on road, with the rest being dirt roads, and the majority single track trails. There’s also 2,000 meters of total ascent and a sting in the tail at 30km with a steep climb back from Miyamit Falls itself. The route is an out and back trail, starting at an activity park called the “Sandbox” in Porac, passing through the small native Aeta settlement of Sapang Uwak (crow river), then up to the peak of Donald McDonald, with a panoramic view across to the Mount Pinatubo Caldera. From there, turn around and head back, with about 5km side trip to the falls on the way down.

There’s only 3 aid stations on the route, all in the first 12km, up to the junction with the falls. This makes you self supporting for the approximately 20km out and back (10km each way) from the junction to the peak and back.

I had done very little training and preparation for this race, as I was trying to rest up the ITBS injury I sustained in the Banaue – Batad marathon a few weeks previously. However, I know I have a pretty good base physical fitness, can walk faster than most and have the mental fortitude to get me through. I wasn’t expecting to put in a good time, or race hard. There’s a good field of runners who I would have difficulty competing with even in my best shape. My aim was to finish within the cutoff time, of 10 hours. Which should be quite feasible, even if I walked most of the route I reckoned on 9 hours.

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Things started well for the first 7km then I felt the unmistakable twinge of the ITBS coming back to haunt me. Rather than push on and cause more pain and difficulties, I decided to slow the pace. Power walk and use my new trekking poles for some assistance to help propel me along on the uphill sections. I was able to keep a pretty good pace still despite the injury, and was keeping to my target of 5km per hour. The uphills with ITBS aren’t so much a problem, but I knew I was going to struggle coming down. Even I was power walking, I was able to pretty much keep a good pace even against those running. I caught up with most of them on the hills, where they ran the flats and walked the hills, I walked the flats but then was able to catch up with my good fitness and steady uphill pace. Some of them were blown out by the time they reached the hills after running the flats. I knew it wouldn’t last though, the long downhills coming back from the peak were going to be agony for me and slow moving, the runners would be bombing past. I reached the peak still in the top 30 out of approximately 100 participants. Not bad considering I had barely ran more than 7km of the whole route.

Coming down things started to get painful. ITBS causing intense pain in your knee when coming downhill especially, so I was overtaken by many runners in this part. It’s very frustrating to know I too could be running down these parts. Knowing your body has the fitness, but an injury is hampering you I found to e very bad for my moral. My pace slowed to around 3km an hour coming down, where as I was averaging 5km an hour going uphill. I must be the only person in the race who was slower coming down than going up! I still figured I could make the cutoff time though, and that I did, crossing the finishing line in 8 hours and 39 minutes.

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A great race, and although I didn’t put in a fantastic time, I was happy to finish, and I know that I could easily knock an hour off that time given my ITBS injury recovers in time for next year. Now it’s 8 weeks until CM50, my first ultra distance race, and time to rest put hat knee, stretch it out, foam role it and try to get into shape to finish within the 18 hours cutoff time!

Here’s the official race results

With first placer, James (right) and 10th place Vladimir (left)

Banaue – Batad 42km Trail Marathon

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.

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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.

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Mount Ugo Traverse

In an effort to start getting mountain fit again, and prepare for some trail running races I joined a couple of friends for a 24km trek over Mount Ugo. This was the first mountain in the Cordillera region in the Philippines I have been to. It made quite a change from the tropical jungle on the mountains I have been to here before, or the sandy lahar trails on Pinatubo. Here is was more akin to Wales or Scotland, with pine forests, thick fog and constant rain. I believe on a nice sunny day the views are fantastic, so now I have reason to return.

We started by driving from Kayapa in the Nat Geo Explorer 4×4 to Barangay Tinongdan. The drive is quite fun, and a 4×4 is definitely recommended, or rather mandatory. Especially in rainy season when the trail can be slick with mud. From here it’s uphill for 7km to the summit of Mount Ugo. You will pass by markers on the trail, wooden posts with distances written on them. These are from a trail running event that is held annually in the area. Infact there’s several trail running events on Mount Ugo that take various trails and pass by as part of longer events.

Fromt eh summit it’s pretty much all down hill going towards the Agno river and Itogon. Around 17km going down, sometimes slippery mud. The trail winds it’s way through pine trees and mossy forests that were shrouded in mist. Lower down you begin to cross rice terraces before reaching the Agno River and the hanging bridge that crosses it and leads to the steep road going up to Itogon. Overall it was 24km route, and covered some challenging terrain, with steep climbs and descents. I began to suffer a little from cramps in my right thigh from the downhill. Returning from Baguio to Clark the Nat Geo explorer began to overheat due to a leaking radiator. So now it’s matter of fixing that and resting myself for 6 days before the Banaue – Batad marathon next August 24th!

barrowclough's 7:17 h Trekking Move #SuuntoHike.

View from the top with all the pretty vehicles

Bataan trail to Bagac beach

After yesterdays trip to Delta 5, despite the broken rear brakes, I was keen to join the Pampanga Adventure Team on their trip to Bataan. A survey of a new trail that goes from Balanga, through the Bataan mountains and finishes at the beach in Bagac. It’s a bit different from the sandy lahar that gets into the vehicle and wears away all the bearings. This was to be a jungle and mud fest. I had a few problems with the electrics on the car with the battery terminal not making good contact and the starter motor playing up. However, we made it through the trail in one piece, with a minor problem where I was almost rolled over and had to use the winch to pull the vehicle back onto it’s 4 wheels. All good fun and part of the off roading experience though!

The Nat Geo Pajero proud to make it to the end of Delta 5

Delta 5 Rematch

After getting the Nat Geo Pajero stuck on Delta 5 with broken CV joint and deciding to upgrade to a solid axle, it was time to go to Delta 5 trail again to try out the modifications.

Delta 5 trail is situated on the Lahar flow running down from Pinatubo into the town of Porac, province of Pampanga, Philippines. When Pinatubo erupted it was the biggest ash eruption by volume of the 20th century, sending tons of ash and lahar down the valleys around the mountain. There are several major lahar flows, one that runs to Sta. Juliana in Tarlac province, another towards San Marcelino in Zambalas, and the third, Sacobia in Clark/Angeles, Pampanga.

The Delta 5 trail is probably the most difficult of these lahar trails to negotiate. With large rocks and many river crossings to contend with. The trail runs for approximately 10km to the “end point” where further travel by vehicle is blocked by a large rock and waterfall. It is said that this rock is the one that “saved Pampanga” and held back the bulk of the lahar coming from above, stopping deadly lahar flows and mudslides from wiping out the towns below.

Boulder crawling in the Nat Geo on Delta 5
Boulder crawling in the Nat Geo on Delta 5

It was my intention on this trip to also attempt the first white water kayaking descent of the Pasig Potrero river, that runs down the Delta 5 trail. The rainy season is upon us here in the Philippines giving a good opportunity to try to kayak the river while it’s running a little higher and faster than usual. It was still a little low, another 1 or 2 feet higher flow would have made it perfect. Still it was possible to descend, and it was quite technical to have to nogitate some of the rocks. You really needed good control of the kayak, making it more like an Olympic slalom kayaking event.

Coming along was my friend with his Toyota Landcruiser 70 series, and a racing 4×4 Suzuki Jimney. It was a great day out, a little tiring, especially for our other friend accompanying us on his trials bike who found the rocks on two wheels rather difficult to negotiate!

The only casualty was the rear brakes on the Nat Geo Pajero that had shattered rotors and lost the rear calliper. So there’s some more work to be done on the vehicle yet!

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Cordillera Great Traverse 2015 (CGT2015)

The Cordillera Great Traverse aims to connect the trails of 6 provinces that make up the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) in Northern Luzon, Philippines. This is one of my favourite areas of the country, the scenery and the climate is wonderful.

I will be following the progress of the team during the coming months as they prepare for the traverse. The hope is to blaze a trail for future ultra distance running events, and for hikers and mountaineers both foreign and domestic to be able to follow the route. The aim is to establish a sustainable eco tourism trail that not only provides a physical challenge but is beneficial to the economy of the CAR, and encourages an appreciation and conservation of the natural beauty and environment of the area.

You can follow the CGT2015 progress on social media, here’s a snippet of what they can expect!

CGT2015 social media

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Kayak and Rafting the Chicamocha Canyon

The Chicamocha canyon, located in the province on Santander, Colombia, is at some points over 1,000 meters deep. This kayak and rafting trip took us through some 28km of spectacular scenery to the confluence of the Rio Chicamocha and Rio Suarez rivers. It provides solid grade IV kayaking and rapids. The beginning is quite benign with a couple of grade IV rapids, but mostly short sections interspersed with lots of II/III. It son begins to heat up however shortly after passing the footbridge at the town of Jordan. There’s a solid 2km section of rapids with a couple of big drops. You would definitely want to be a comfortable grade IV kayaker to negotiate this section. We had a safety raft that went ahead to give a measure of safety for any of us who had to take a swim. If you swim early in this section there’s few eddies to get out to and the river is very fast so you would be lucky to make it. I certainly wouldn’t want to have to swim, so if you’re going to kayak this section make sure you have a good solid roll.

After this there’s plenty of grade III with a couple of short IV rapids left to negotiate before you get to the confluence with the Suarez. Here the canyon is quite narrow with spectacular high walls towering on either side of you. In the twilight of evening it was quite picturesque. A 30 minute portage of the gear gets you to a rough road where a 4×4 is needed to pick you and the gear up. There then followed an almost 2 hour ride in the jeep going up a rough track that winds it’s way around the canyon walls to the top. I only wish I could have seen the awesome view, but it was already dark by this time.

This trip is a full on day, and provides great fun if you’re staying in San Gil. If you’re not a kayaker you can raft the whole section. If that’s not enough for you, the Suarez provides even harder rafting and kayaking topping out at grade V. The rafts often end up flipping on these rapids.

Adventures traveling around the 7,000 islands of the Philippines

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