4 Lakes 100km Trail Race – FL100

The first year I moved to the Philippines I was made aware of a 100km race organised by The North Face (TNF100). It was being held that year in the Sacobia area of Clark, the old US Airforce base where I was now positioned for work.

I’d never heard of races covering such vast distances, and although I had a lot of experience in the outdoors and mountains through my time spent climbing in Wales, Scotland, Alps and Himalayas the thought of running through those mountains was unthinkable. I had heard of fell races in the UK, runs like the Bob Graham round in the Lake District for example, and people running the Welsh 3,000ers. However I thought those are for elite athletes only. I had run the London Marathon once, with very little preparation, and found that hard enough. To do 2 marathons back to back, or even more, over mountainous terrain was a scary thought!

I have however always been attracted to feats of physical and mental endurance. In school I was never much of a sprinter, or an athlete. Infant I had PE classes. I did however realise that was better suited to endurance sports rather than those requiring brute strength and power.

I made a promise to myself each year after arriving in the Philippines  that “this is the year” I will do TNF100. I always found an excuse not to do it, I didn’t have time to train, was too late to register, hadn’t got enough experience. In reality I was making excuses because I really believed that type of distance was beyond my capabilities.

Then in 2014 I fell into the company of some of the Ultra-running community in the Philippines through an expedition to connect the 6 provinces of the Cordillera. I entered my first trail race encouraged by them, and soon did my second ever marathon, and first ever trail marathon, the Banaue-Batad Marathon. Despite my lack of training and experience I managed to place in the top 10. I was inspired! I soon entered the Miyamit Falls trail marathon (MF42). I had some knee troubles but finished in a reasonable time. Now I was hooked! I set my sites on my first ultra distance trail race, Clark-Miyamit 50 miles (CM50).

Going 50 miles, completing two marathons back to back, through mountains, jungle trails and volcanic sand was a wonderful experience. Hitting the finish line in just under 15 hours I was thoroughly satisfied and pleased with my performance. Despite me only participating in a few trail races and being at it for 3 months I had already completed 2 trail marathons, and an ultra distance as well. So what was next? No more excuses, it’s time to step up to the plate and see if I can last 100km. Ultimately I now had my sites on a bigger goal, to qualify and complete the Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc (UTMB) one of the most prestigious international trail running events in the world.

Rather than entering TNF100 for 2015, instead I picked to try the race known as “4 Lakes”. It’s part of the King Of The Mountain series of trail races which comprises of the Mount Ugo Marathon, 4 Lakes, and Hardcore 100. Car problems prevented me from competing in Mount Ugo, but I was determined to make it into 4 Lakes. I needed the UTMB qualifying points, and it was now or never, time to prove to myself that I can make it to the finish line in a 100km trail race,

Kayla starting line FL100
The day before the race

The 4 lakes course takes you from Kayapa on a tour of some of the finest scenery the Philippine Cordillera Mountains has to offer. Starting around 800m ASL and topping out at Mount Ugo around 2,150m ASL it continues on a roller coaster of hills passing by several other peaks and lakes before finishing back at Kayapa. 100 kilometres and 5,000 meters+ of total ascent. This is not an easy 100km trail race. Most believe it’s harder than the TNF 100 courses.

There’s a 28 hour cutoff, which seems a little generous. I think 25 hours would be a little more challenging, but still achievable for “mere mortals”. My aim was to complete the course in 20 hours or 19+.

The trail running community in the Philippines is quite close knit, and so I was happy to see the usual familiar faces at the starting line. Gun start was 4am, and from the starting line to the peak of Ugo is almost one continuous long assault. 21km of uphill slogging. The final 1km to the peak is very steep and tiring.

Start of FL100 2015
Myself, Elle and Rob at the start line


I made a big mistake, going out too fast. The pace felt comfortable for me, I checked my watch and I was doing 7km an hour pace. I was at the peak of Ugo in 3 hours, and in 15th place. I was feeling good and I felt I had a chance of doing a pretty good time. However, I had burnt myself out too early on. On the descent through the Old Spanish Trail section where I should have been running and banking time I was too tired to run. The trail is a little technical in places and my feet felt heavy. A trip could be fatal and I just couldn’t get my legs moving.

Mount Ugo Summit
At the peak of Ugo


I reached the 3rd aid station at 32km in reasonable time, a couple of hours ahead of the cutoff time. I was feeling not too bad, but I knew the dreaded steep Amelong Labang climb was ahead of me. This is only a short 2km section at the most, but involves a relentless almost vertically steep assault. To gain the start of this climb a rickety hanging bridge needs to be crossed that was swinging so much and had guard rails so low I almost toppled over it. It was on this climb I was overtaken by several people who had started out slower and saved their energy for later in the race. This was the strategy I had employed to get effect in CM50 where I worked my way forwards passing people who had crashed and burned. Now it was time for me to be on the receiving end of this strategy.

from km 42 at the top of the second major climb (radio towers you can see from Kayapa) it seemed to drag on forever to reach the 50km half way point. I was seriously considering quitting when I reached Dayap, I really didn’t want to be doing this anymore. I felt much worse than I did during CM50, and I was barely even half way through the race.  I had gone from being pretty confident of a sub 20 hour time at the top of Ugo, to now seriously doubtful I was going to make the 14 hour cutoff in Dayap Elementary School at km 56. Nearby Castillio village waiting shed I stopped for a while to wait for Elle to catch up. I hit my lowest point in the race around this point, I didn’t want to continue and I was wondering if I would make the cut offs. I needed some inspiration. I knew Elle couldn’t be too far behind me by this point as I had been overtaken by many people. After around 10 minutes she appeared at the bottom of the trail where it meets the highway. I told her, if we are going to DNF and miss the cutoff we will DNF together.

By this time it was getting to the hottest part of the day, and we had to climb up past the first lake and descend a steep slope before climbing up again to Dayap Elementary school. We had around 12km to cover. It was seriously hot and exposed with little shade. We stopped and lay down to cool down on the shaded grass everytime we passed a tree.

FL100 2015
Heading up from Castillio to the first lake
FL100 2015
At the first lake above Castillio village


We reached Dayap (62km) after 12 hours. 2 hours ahead of the prescribed cutoff, but it was now seriously doubtful I would put in a sub 20 hour time. Infact now I would just be pleased to finish before the dawn of a new day.

At Dayap after 56km
At Dayap after 56km

At Dayap we refilled and refuelled. I felt pretty good coming out from Dayap for a few km heading towards Banao. I was soon stretching out ahead of Elle again, after 2 hours I was in Banao. Darkness had already fallen. I was feeling pretty tired now, but there wasn’t much further to go, I figured the worst was over, and so long as I kept on moving I was pretty confident I could make it in 24 hours or less. I hung around at Banao for around 20 minutes waiting for Elle to catch up, and then waited another 20 or so minutes while she warmed herself up with some soup. Rashel, Elle and myself headed out of Banao and I agreed to stick together with them. Soon though again I found I was stretching ahead of them. I stopped and waited a few times but was getting cold now it was damp, foggy and dark. I decided to just push on, the thought of being out there when the sun came up again wasn’t filling me with happiness. I found my way back into Dayap and decided that I would hang around until the 20 hour mark. I had been going 19 hours and 30 minutes by this point. There was 18km left to the finish line and I figured 4 hours would be enough time to do it. I got around 30 minutes sleep, another group of 4 guys came in behind me and had some food and restocked. I woke up just as they were going to leave. Elle and Rash were nowhere to be seen. I quickly put my pack back on and headed out ahead of the 4 guys. The next 5 or so km was pretty steady downhill, but I knew there was still one last climb up through the mossy forest to go before the final 10 or 12 km of downhill to Kayapa and the finish.

Me and Elle in Banao at km69
Me and Elle in Banao at km69

The mossy forest seemed to go on forever. I was out here on my own, it was dark and damp, my head torch would catch trees and I would have to double take thinking they were people. Sometimes leaves on the trees caught my head torch and I had to stop and check whether it was a marker ribbon, as the yellow ribbons looked similar to leaves in the dark when illuminated by my headlamp. The batteries in my head torch were starting to loose power I saw my head torch was dimming slightly so I stopped to change the batteries, taking care not to get bitten by leeches that inhabit the mossy forest. This section is only 5 or 6km but it seems much further. I was feeling pretty tired and annoyed. I just wanted to be over with this damn forest! I kept checking my altimeter, counting down the meters until I knew it was all downhill.

I exited the mossy forest to a windswept grassland nearby the trail we had headed up some 20+ hours earlier going to Mount Ugo and the village of Domolpos. Finally I was on the home straight, all downhill from here! I was feeling very tired and the sleep deprivation was catching up with me. I stopped several times going down this hill just to curl up and get 10 minutes rest. There was a bit of pain in my left knee that made running down hill difficult. I tried to jog as much as I could, counting down the kilometre marker posts to the finish line. I reached the 2km marker post, and was exhausted. I could see the head torches of 3 or 4 other people gaining ground on me coming down the mountain side. They were moving quite fas, clearly feeling stronger than I was by this point. I could have pushed on the last 2km and made it ahead of them, but I just lost the will to really compete. I didn’t care anymore about my position in the race, I just wanted to finish. Beside the 2km post there’s a waiting shed. I turned off my light and crawled inside. I was probably asleep for round 20 minutes until the guys I had seen coming down passed me. They didn’t know I was inside. After they passed I forced myself to my feet and looked at my watch. I had 30 minutes to make the last 2km and finish in less than 24 hours. Eventually I reached the national highway, only a few hundred meters to go. Unlike in my previous races where I hit the finish line running, I couldn’t even find it in myself to run to the finish line. I strolled into Kayapa Elementary school and saw the finishing line banner. A few other runners were lingering around, and there was Jonel Mendoza, the RD standing there beneath the official timing clock.

Never before have I been so relieved to cross the finish line and be over with the race. When I finished CM50 I felt elated, happy to finish my first Ultra marathon, I crossed the finish line with a huge grin from ear to ear. This time I just wanted to sit down and collapse in a heap and sleep. After being on the go for 23 hours and 55 minutes I was pretty much spent. I grabbed my blanket and sleeping bag, and fell asleep right there at the finish line. I was probably asleep for about an hour then the sun was coming up and overtime someone crossed the finish line I woke up to see if Elle had made it.

Finally after 26 hours Elle made it to the finish line, 2 hours ahead of the official cutoff. I was so proud of her achievement, and owe her a lot for uplifting me and inspiring me to push on when I was at my lowest ebb during the race.

Me and Elle at the finish line
Me and Elle at the finish line

I’d finally realised my goal of finishing a 100km mountain trail race. But the story doesn’t end. Where as several years ago the dream was to finish 100km, now this achievement just seems like a passing pit stop on my way to even longer distances. Even before setting out on 4 Lakes I already had my heart set on qualifying for UTMB. So what’s next? Well, the next logical step after 100km is to go for 100 miles, that’s 160km. The thought is worrying, I know how I struggled through the last few kilometres of 4 lakes, what more having to do that plus 60% more!

Elle feeling tired moments after finishing
Elle feeling tired moments after finishing

Well, that’s the new test, Hardcore 100 miles trail race. It covers 100km around Mount Pulag, and then from kilometre 100 we will traverse the first 62 of 4 lakes in reverse back to Kayapa. The cutoff time is 40 hours, which is a little bit tight for comfort, but then again it gives me an aim and forces me to really push on. Lessons learnt from 4 lakes will serve me well in H1. So there it is, the next goal, the next pit stop on my way to UTMB, May 22nd 2015. Just a few weeks away and I have to go through all that pain and discomfort again, and then some. 4 Lakes may have been the toughest physical challenge I have done to date, but for sure it is to be surpassed.


My Trail Racing Kit

Here’s a quick overview of what I use for all of my trail races. I’m not an elite runner by any means, so I do carry a little more than maybe your average trail runner going for a fast time. I like to be as self sufficient as possible during races, even though aid stations are provided I find carrying my own stuff as much as possible makes me faster in transitioning at the aid stations (an important factor when you aren’t a fast runner and there’s a cutoff time to make). Also, being a back of the pack kinda guy I’m always worried that there might be lacking sufficient stuff at the aid stations by the time I arrive with the front runners taking the spoils.

Due to having some knee issues I’m also a big advocate of using poles. I find they help me a lot, especially on the downhills where my ITBS injury can become problematic. They also allow me to power walk and propel myself along, and help to stabilise me on some technical terrain. The poles I use are carbon fiber and very lightweight made by Black Diamond. The other advantage over their weight, that I like about these poles, is they fold up rather than slide out. The sliding poles I find can come loose, they aren’t too durable and if you lean hard enough on it can slip back inwards. These fold out and lock into place giving a sturdy platform that can be relied upon and not likely to break during the race.

Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z Pole
Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z Pole

As most of my races are done in the Philippines and other tropical climates that I’m not so well adapted to, I tend to go through fluids quite fast. I therefore opt to carry what seems to some runners a lot of weight. My hydration bladder is 1.5 litres, and then I cary two simple hydration bottles each holding around 300ml in the front chest pockets. The pack I use is the roomy Salomon Skin Pro 14+3. This gives me all the space I need and can store my trekking poles as well.  I generally reserve the bottles for rehydration drinks such as Pocari Sweat or Gatorade and the bladder for purely water. Occasionally I might drop some oral rehydration salt tablets into the hydration pack, but I generally don’t find this necessary. I prefer Pocari Sweat as gatorade give me acid when I drink it during races.

Salomon Skin Pro 14+3
Salomon Skin Pro 14+3
SImple Hydration Bottles
Simple Hydration Bottles

I also carry a small rubber foldable cup made by Ultraspire. This fits perfectly into the rear pocket of my running shorts without causing any irritation. I can quickly whip it out at aid stations to grab some soft drinks or whatever is on offer. Most trail races these days don’t issue cups because of environmental impact the trash can cause.

UltrAspire foldable cup
UltrAspire foldable cup

Inside my pack I have a Thuraya Sat Phone, often times on the trail there can be no signal, so in an emergency situation I find carrying the Satphone to be of benefit. It can also double up as a GPS in an emergency giving me basic latitude and longitude coordinates for rescue teams. I also carry a spare pair of contact lenses and a space blanket incase I am stuck overnight somewhere.

Thuraya Sat-phone
Thuraya Sat-phone

Depending on the altitude or weather conditions, I will either carry a lightweight Salomon hooded rain jacket, or a thin Pertex windsheet that I can put on.

Salomon hooded rain jacket
Salomon hooded rain jacket
Montane Pertex windsheet
Montane Pertex windsheet

For nutrition, I am not really someone who can digest a lot of food when in a race. I have quite a good ability to keep on going with little food (I completed MF42, a 42km trail race with 2,000 meters of ascent) without taking on any nutrition at all, only fluids. I do however carry some hard candies as I like to get some flavour and taste in my mouth, and I carry a few energy gels. I use an organic natural energy gel that is honey based.

Energy Gels and rehydration salts
Energy Gels and rehydration salts

If there is a drop bag service available I will make up a drink with Chia Seeds and coconut sugar and have that in the drop bag. I find that in a long race this helps to fill the empty feeling in my stomach, and is easy to digest. Chia Seeds already have a well known nutritional value and are a great source of energy during long runs.

Lighting is very important, and is usually mandatory gear for any long distances races that entail sections of the trail to be negotiated in the dark. I personally use a Black Diamond storm. It’s powerful, long lasting battery and the LED light indicator that warns of low battery when starting up are all useful features. It’s not too heavy, and I find it very comfortable to wear while running.

Black Diamond Storm Headlamp
Black Diamond Storm Headlamp

I’ll usually have some painkillers and anti inflammatory medication in my bag as well.

In some occasions if navigation might be difficult I will bring along a Garmin E-Trex 80 series GPS, but this would usually be if I am going for a run myself not in an organised race which tend to be marked and marshalled.

On my wrist I have a Suunto Ambit3 watch. This gives great battery life for longer races, and I found it to e pretty accurate. I like how it integrates with Strava and their own moves count website. I am a big fan of the Suunto Ambit having used previously the Ambit first generation before upgrading to their latest model. I will do a full review of the Ambit 3 soon.

Ambit3 altimeter
Ambit3 altimeter
Ambit3 time
Ambit3 time

My First Ultra Distance Race – CM50

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?

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.

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.

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.

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!

Here’s my race stats from my Suunto Ambit 3 watch.

A weekend in Siquijor

Siquijor is known to many Filipinos as the home of witchcraft and enchanted forests. It’s a smallish sized island off the coast of Dumaguete, easily accessible and surrounded by crystal clear waters, marine sanctuaries and the world renowned dive sites of Apo Island and Dauin on Negros Island.

It is surprising given it’s relatively easy access, natural beauty and white sand beaches that Siquijor is not a more popular place for tourists to visit. There is some development, but compared to some other islands I have visited here it is still quite unspoilt and retains it’s charm and makes it ideal for a relaxing quiet get away. Another bonus is that the prices are very reasonable. I guess that the ghostly stories are a double edged sword, they serve to keep people away but at the same time allows the island to maintain it’s backwater appeal.

My trip started by flying into Bacolod Silay airport in Negros. This was then followed by a 6 hour bus ride to Dumaguete. In future I would recommend definitely flying directly to Dumaguete. I effectively wasted a whole day in travel to get there, and the same coming back, making my 4 day trip only really 2 days of actual activity. There’s two boats going to Siquijor a fast craft that takes a little under an hour, and the slow boat that takes around 90 minutes. Travelling to Siquijor I opted for the fast craft. It was the next boat leaving and I just wanted to get there after the long journey (flight from Manila in the morning, bus ride all afternoon). The fast craft gives airline style seating in an air-conditioned communal cabin area. Sure it was comfortable, but in reality I prefer the slower boats where you can sit out on the deck and watch the sunset and the view. They also have the added bonus of being cheaper!


Upon arrival at the port of Siquijor it was going to cost 250 peso for the trike going to our chosen hotel for the night. It was around a 20 minute journey from the port. Instead of this we opted to rent a motorcycle for 300 peso a day. We would be needing one anyway to get around the island to the places we wished to visit.

The forest tunnel to Salagdoong beach
The forest tunnel to Salagdoong beach

There is one main national highway that runs around the circumference of the island pretty much following the coast line the whole way around. This makes navigating your way around the island pretty straightforward, it’s hard to really get lost.

We had chosen to stay at Charisma Beach resort in the town of San Jose. We found the place pretty easily as it was well signed from the national highway. It’s a quant little resort with several rooms available. Beach front cottage with fan, poolside rooms with aircon and a dormitory style backpackers room at the rear. There was only one other person staying at the resort when we were there, a single female traveler from the UK. This made the place very peaceful and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

The resort is owned and run by a nice husband and wife couple. Daniel, who is originally from London, England, and his wife Giselle from General Santos City, Mindanao. They were both very accommodating and entertaining giving the place a real feeling of being “part of the family”. The place is very homely and great value. 1,750 peso per night got us a nice room with hot shower and aircon, poolside. The fan rooms can be had for 1,000 a night. Very reasonable considering that there is a well maintained pool and nice beach front to be had. The beach was a little dirty in places with plastic and trash being washed up on shore. However it was clear that Charisma and another resort up the road had been trying to take care of the beach area infant of their property by cleaning it up. If the barangay put some effort into cleaning up the beach area it could be a much more pleasant area to sit and swim. We actually considered changing hotel for our second night possible on the other side of the island where we might find a cleaner beach. However, after looking at a few other places during our tour around the island, on balance we felt the good value and the friendliness of the staff at Charisma meant we decided to stay for another night.

On our first full day at the island we headed first to the Enchanted Balete tree. This tree is around 400 years old and has a mysterious source of water coming from underneath it forming a small pool that has fish swimming around in it. The true wasn’t quite as impressive as the one I had previously visited in Baler, Aurora, but it was still worth he stop off. it’s easily found at the side of the national highway and there is no official entry fee just a donation box. There was a lady sling Buko Juice there, I’m not usually a big fan of Buko Juice (fresh coconut juice) but on this occasion it was delicious with a pleasantly sweet taste. I had never tasted Buko juice like it before.

Me and Elle at the enchanted Balete tree

From the Balete tree we headed to Cambugahay falls. These are one of the main highlights or tourist attractions on the island. Easy to find (it’s not on the national highway but on another road that cuts up towards the centre of the island). If you don’t have a motorcycle of your own a trike can take you there for a reasonable price. There is a small but very cheap entrance fee. No guide is needed it’s simple to get to the falls just follow the 136 stone steps leading down from the road. The falls themselves are not spectacular and high, but they are very quant and pretty to look at. The main thing here though is swimming in the turquoise waters. It’s a very beautiful place to spend an hour or two relaxing and swimming. There’s a tarzan swing that you can swing out on and drop into the water, and the falls are safe enough to jump from the top into the waters below. The water just underneath the falls is deep, but it quickly becomes shallow, making it safe place for all the family to swim and enjoy. You can walk upstream a little way to several other falls and small lagoons that are a bit more peaceful and away from the “crowds”. The area is clean, either being kept clean by locals, or rather I would like to think that people are not littering at all. It’s always bothered me when travelling in the Philippines that often the visitors leave their trash behind. If you were to ask them why they have gone there, they say to enjoy nature, well there won’t be any nature left to enjoy if people keep on littering.

Walking on water!
Tarzan swing at Cambugahay falls

From the falls we headed back down to the coastal road and to Salagdoong beach resort. This is on the opposite side of the island to where we were staying at Charisma beach. There is a lovely forested road that leads to Salagdoong from the national highway. The canopy of the trees has formed a tunnel like road through the forest. It certainly has an enchanted feel to it and adds fuel to the fire of the Siquijor spooky forest stories. Again, I was surprised at how well priced entry was, 15 peso per person! Great deal I thought. There’s a small restaurant there serving Filipino affair which we ate at as by this time we were feeling a little hungry having not eaten since Breakfast. However, before eating, I wanted to partake in the main attraction that brought me to Salagdoong, cliff jumping! They have erected several concrete diving platforms at various levels up the cliff beside the beach. The highest is probably around 20 or 25 feet high. The crystal clear waters below are deep enough to jump into safely. However as they are so clear you can still see the bottom when you look down from the dive board and wonder if it really is deep enough! Don’t worry, I didn’t bottom out or come even close. For those who aren’t yet very confident at jumping from heights, the best method is to run along the platform and just run off the end of the board. Standing at the edge and actually jumping takes a lot more thought and seems to cause every fibre of your body to scream at you not to jump! It’s quite an exhilarating jump, and definitely good for those who haven’t done any cliff diving before.

Cliff jumping at Salagdoong beach


From Salagdoong we continued our drive around the circumference of the island back to Charisma beach.

On our second day we decided to head to Cantabon cave. There are some 45 caves in Siquijor island, making it a spelunkers paradise. Cantabon cave is not very technical but still provides some enjoyment with stalactite and stalagmite formations that are comparable to those found in the more famous caves of Sagada. You secure a guide complete with helmet and head torch at the barangay hall in Cantabon. It was 300 peso per person including the gears and the guide, which again I found to be quite reasonable. The trip to the cave including the short walk from the barangay hall to the cave and back takes around 2 hours. It’s not a through cave, but and out and back. The exit at the opposite end is too small to really fit through.

In Cantabon cave

The motorbike ride up to Cantabon is also quite nice, with views across the island and the sea towards Apo island and the mainland of Negros.

Our short trip to Siquijor was interesting and fun experience. 2 days wasn’t enough time to do everything this place has to offer, I will definitely be back to spend more time exploring other waterfalls, swimming in the turquoise waters of the enchanted lagoons, dive the clear waters and marine sanctuaries around the island and run the trails through the forests.

At the beach in Siquijor

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.


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.


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

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.


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.

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.

Adventures traveling around the 7,000 islands of the Philippines


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 275 other followers