We all have that certain area we’re at ease with, where we feel safe within. As for me, my ultramarathon comfort zone (if there ever was such a thing) would be any distance not beyond 55.5km.
For the 3 ultramarathons that I’ve managed to finish, I have always stayed stuck with the ultramarathoner’s newbie distance of 50k.
As my runner friends slowly leveled up to 60k, 80k, 100k and 160k (to the point some had already become BDM grandslammers), I wondered if I would ever go beyond my comfort zone.
I had my eyes set on Run Mania’s Calle Arco Pagsanjan 60k Ultramarathon, but still wasn’t 100% sure I’d push through with it. I decided I’d wait till the last week of registration to give me more time to r-e-a-l-l-y think it over. 60k is no joke.
Well, that was until the Race Director himself, Pat Maranan got in touch with me first instead. Closeness! 😀
With an assurance it wasn’t going to be a killer uphill route, I made up my mind and signed up.
Honestly, I took the training for the 60k ultra seriously only 3 weeks prior to raceday — a weeks mileage of 70k, 60k and taper week of just 17k. The last 2 weeks involved short speed, tempos, LSD, maffetone training of 140bpm max (it’s where you try not to exceed the suggested heart rate based on your age) and indoor cycling as cross training. The rest, I relied on muscle memory from previous running events.
Gun start was at 10:30p.m. (April 23, Saturday night) and cut-off was at 11a.m., the following morning (Sunday). On race events with unusual gun starts, my pre-race food sched gets a major revision. It felt really weird eating my dinner at a time I’d usually just be starting the day with a late breakfast… and yes, I had to have my nights sleep as early as 1:30p.m. (at least, I tried to).
The trip to Pagsanjan was traffic or let’s just say, I never noticed as I was busy trying to bank up on more sleep on the trip just like my other shuttle mates. When we got to the assembly area, there were already some runners present and the claiming of the bibs had begun.
The mall had already closed and we had to resort to using the comfort rooms of the nearby fastfood joint instead. I guess we were lucky we had enough time to get ourselves prepared and time to mingle with other runners compared to the last shuttle service that arrived just a few minutes before gunstart because of the heavy traffic.
MY RACE PLAN
I did a lot of planning and looking back for this run. Based on my past ultras, I decided to run this one on a 3 minute run: 1 minute walk interval. This was the interval I used in one of my other ultras that had me sustaining it longer. The ambitious 2 min run: 30 seconds walk on my most recent ultra had a shorter recovery period of 30 seconds. The 30 seconds wasn’t enough for my body to recover that I had me suffering towards the end.
Even if hydration stations were placed more or less 5kms apart and it was suggested that I not bring too much water with me, I still brought my hydration vest.
Hey, come on! Where was I supposed to put all my GU gels, baby wipes, small alcohol and miscellaneous toiletries, small cam (which I never got to use), money (for buying along the way), small bottle of white flower (In case I suffer a headache), mints (a BDM warrior said it helped her run longer) and simple hydration bottle…and okay, my additional 1 liter of water? :p
During my long distance runs, I’ve noticed that I usually bonked out whenever I skipped taking my energy gels or any food intake. This time, I planned to take my GU at every other station that only provided water/gatorade and whatever food they provided for the other hydration stations in between. It was like refueling the car frequently to prevent it from running out of fuel and just to keep it going.
THE ACTUAL RACE
The first 5 kilometers of the race served as my warm-up. I was fortunate enough to find 2 senior two male runners in front of me (who wore yellow shirts that said “Excuses don’t burn calories) that were running a steady pace of 7ish min/km pace that I followed.
After that, I started with running on my intervals.
It was a feel good run.
The left foot heel pain that bothered me wasn’t felt (perhaps because I chose to run with cushioned shoes again for this one), no sudden pain at the hamstrings, no shoulder pain or back pain. No usual running aches.
I felt good after every walk interval and was surprised with the unusual amount of energy I had towards every run interval. I was amazed that slowly, I was able to catch up with my other running friends who went way ahead of me. Powered with GU and food, I guess.
The race course was mostly flat. Its elevation went up as we approached the 40k mark, did some slight uphills and downhills before a downhill towards the finish.
The uphills weren’t really upHELLS. If you know Runmania’s definition of uphill, believe me, these don’t even come close to it. I’ve encountered steeper and longer ones in their L2Q (Laguna to Quezon) ultra. The L2Q hills were the ones that you’d have to stop every few meters to catch your breath even if you were just walking it. They made the uphills in this one seem like… um, humps? The hills in this one you could actually slowly run to the top… that is, if you’ve trained for it.
There was a part of the route that had an ongoing road construction. We ran on uneven dirt paths that even had some deep holes along. I almost fell into a gap that was 1 foot deep had I not shone my light onto it. (A fellow runner friend of mine had her foot fall into one of the holes that left her foot swollen and had to endure with the pain till the finish. 😦 ) Being too focused looking down onto the road, my head almost got caught on a wire of blinking lights dangling across from the roadwork construction.
As usual, it was mostly darkness all throughout the run with little light from light posts or from passing vehicles. There were the lakes you got to see from the bridges as the moonlights rays reflected on the water, the ricefields and dark shadows you’d pass by (as you look for the darkest spot where you could probably pee at, but decide not to), the several stores that had their merchandise on window display… coffins. :s
The sound of a dog barking at you from the side (with you only hoping they were tied on a leash), the sound of a weird off tuned frog, even sound of runner steps closely running behind you only to realize it’s just your hydration pack patting your back.
Then there’s the different smells you encounter along the way. Ahhh… fresh air suddenly turns into piggery smell and what have yous. 😀
Running an ultramarathon just makes use of almost all your senses especially when you’re already into the two-thirds of the distance and the space between each runner has become wider and wider. In other words, during the time when you’re pretty much on your own.
Some roads were wide enough only to fit in two vehicles that I had to jump off the road to give way. These cars, jeeps, motorcycles, tricycles or even huge trucks pass by as if you weren’t there, even sometimes putting their lights in high beam.
It was towards the last long stretch of route that I almost got sideswiped by a fast fully loaded moving jeep and this was in broad daylight! 😮 2 inches away from my arm and I could’ve been spun right off the road.
Running an ultramarathon involves a lot of risks and not everyone dares takes them. It’s really not your usual running event.
“Wow! I’m done with 10k! Whoopee!”
“Half marathon… done.”
“Full marathon… done.”
“50k ultramarathon… done.”
As I ran past the usual race distances, I felt a sense of achievement with each one. It was like doing so many race distances in one day. I was happy and thankful I remained strong. It was after the “55k ultramarathon… done” did the staying awake all night and the feeling of being tired caught on. After the last hydration where I took my last GU for the race, every kilometer left to be covered seemed never-ending.
The runner wearing a blue running uniform with a swollen knee who overtook me challenged to keep me going with him looking back every few meters to check how far behind I was. Yes, that kept me going for until the call of the sari-sari store to buy a soda was stronger. 😀 7 up it was for me to push me through my last 3k.
3 bonus kms. *ugh!*
If I DNFed at this point, I technically completed 60kms anyway.
Nah! I tried tricking my mind into pretending I was only starting to run a usual maintenance run. I counted the meters as I ran which made the distance covered a little faster.
Then, there was the marshal standing at a corner telling me the usual line we runners always get to hear, but never believe anyway, “Malapit na!” 😀
“Malapit na” equalled to a long road, to a left turn with runners already done cheering me on and finally a right turn to finish!
It was great to see Pat welcome me as he put the medal I had earned around my neck.
“Ay naku! Akala ko ba madali lang? E, ang hirap hirap kaya?”
Pat: “Madali nga lang! Kasi kung hindi, hindi ka na nakakangiti.” 😀
1st encounter I ever had with Pat was after my 1st ultra I ran under him. In my tutu (yes, it was when running in tutus was a thing), I went up to him and shook his hand and said, “Thank you for my 1st … and last ultrmarathon.”
“Yan din ang sinabi ko noon.”
I guess he was right.
My 1st and what I thought would be my last ultra actually turned out to be just the beginning (?!?).
MY SAY ON 60k
I’m happy with my 1st 60k ultra. It’s one of the few long distance race events that I managed to be fine after it, no limping, no major aches, no migraines. I’m also happier I was able to sustain my endurance for a longer period of time that my agonizing last few kilometers were lessened significantly. Whether it was the GU I forced myself to take down as scheduled (took in 5 + 1 pre race in different flavors that all tasted the same in the long run), the food provided at the hydration stations in between, the walk intervals, the training by heart I did, whatever it was, it certainly made a big impact.
I’m thankful for having running friends who share tips and knowledge on how to run better and stay healthier. Thankful for people who inspire me to push harder. Thankful for the newfound friends and great camaraderie. Thankful for the good weather, the cool breeze that would blow upon my cheeks every so often during the run. Thanks to my great shuttle mates.
Thanks Doc Elvis for asking me if I needed water everytime I’d pass your support vehicle. Thanks Ruel, my instant pacer buddy who I took turns with in overtaking each other almost throughout the 2nd half of the route… that kept me company.
Thankful for being kept away from any harm. There’s just so much to be thankful for.
Every distance is different. A 5k is different from a 10k. A 10k is different from a 21k. A 21k is different from a 42k. A 42k is different from a 50k. A 50k is different from a 60k.
When you look at it, it’s just like adding a few more kilometers on the distance you’ve already managed to achieve. What’s a few more kilometers to add, right? It may look that way, but believe me, it’s not. It’s a totally different game plan for each one. A different training, a different approach.
That is why I have so much respect for ultramarathoners who have gone greater distances than what I have achieved today. You guys are just amazing!
As of now, I’m leaving it at just that.
63.41kms, you’ll be my longest distance for a looooong while… until I break away from my newly established comfort zone. 😀
- Photo credits: JN, Doc Evelyn, Wacks Photography, Laguna Run, Aquizzed Snaps Photography
Distance: 60 + 3kms Bonus (63.41k on my watch)
Time: 8 hours 35 mins 07 secs
Ranking: 68/290 solo runners, 5th female