When I learned about the Argao Highlands Endurance Trail Run in Facebook I got so excited. After seeing the photos of the route I knew I just can’t miss this run however, the only thing that was holding me back was that the run was going to be held on May 11th which also happens to be Mother’s Day.
I browsed my old photos of our Lantoy hike in Flickr and the good old memories came flashing back to me. The thought of running this scenic route was just too good to miss. I was curious how I was going to fair in the run considering there are plenty of obstacles to hurdle from numerous river crossings to boulders. This only means loads of adventure awaiting which made me really excited. After deliberating with myself I finally gave in to the urge and signed up for the run.
River trekking in Argao almost 7 years ago.
Three days before race day I accidentally landed badly on my left foot after missing a step while walking. My left foot was in pain after the incident and I was worried if I was going to miss the run. Thankfully, after two days of icing my left foot the pain went away.
Icing my left foot
The race organizers had arranged for a free pickup for city participants from Abellana Sports Center to the start venue in CTU Argao the evening before the race. I was following Transvulcania Ultramarathon through iRunFar and I was initially hesitant to leave the house. Fortunately, I was able to drag myself out of the house with the help of my friend Beeping who constantly reminded me about the time. I arrived in Abellana Sports Complex just in time to catch the bus. I was happy to see familiar faces. The bus was packed with runners and unfortunately a few participants were not able to board the bus due to lack of space.
I had a good chat with Jake, race director of Runnilla, during the entire trip. The journey took more than 2 hours and it was past 8pm when we arrived in CTU Argao. I was having a slight headache as I was very hungry but I still had to queue to collect my race bib and event shirt before I can head out to eat dinner.
Me and Jake ate dinner at a local eatery. Other participants also arrived at the same place to have their dinner. We had lechon manok (roasted chicken), rice, soup and cold Coke as it was just too hot. I always liked the smell and taste of lechon manok in the province.
After a satisfying dinner, we decided to walk back to CTU-Argao instead of taking the tricycle as we were too full after eating two cups of rice. Along the way, we stopped by at Julie’s Bakeshop to buy bread for our breakfast the next morning.
As I was queuing to collect the cot from the race organizers, I met Boying together with my university classmate/tennis teammate, Imar, whom I haven’t seen for more than 10 years after leaving university life. It was a pleasant surprise and we had a good chat before I made my way back to the classroom where I had setup my bed for the night.
My bed for the night
It was almost 11pm when I went inside the classroom. The lights were already turned off and the room was quiet. Everyone seemed to be sleeping except for Jake who was checking his phone for Transvulcania updates. I didn’t get to sleep until past 1am and I woke up at 2:45am as I can already hear people outside talking and preparing for the run.
Although I had already eaten my bread I was feeling light headed and lacking energy. I thought it must be the lack of sleep plus I wasn’t able to take shower. I normally take a bath before a race to feel fresh but not this time. I only managed to wash my face as there was no time. There was only one shower room and there was a long queue.
The race briefing started past 4am. We were told that there’s going to be 21 river crossings and just before the finish line there’s an underground tunnel we have to pass. We have a choice not to go inside the underground tunnel however, there’s a 10-minute penalty if we choose not to. My mind was wondering how small the underground tunnel is. I don’t like confined spaces as I feel like I’m unable to breath. I was a bit worried but I told myself to worry about this later. I will decide whether to go inside the underground tunnel or take the 10-minute penalty once I’m there and see it.
The warm-up exercises failed to energize me. I was still feeling sleepy and tired. I took one packet of Shotz Gel hoping it will give me the boost I needed that morning.
The race was scheduled to start at 5am however there was a slight delay. The race was flagged off at 5:30am by the Vice Mayor of Argao, Dr. Stanley Caminero, whose family owns the Coal Mountain Resort where the finish line will be.
The fast runners didn’t waste much time and were quickly out of sight. From CTU Argao we ran in the paved road in a residential area which lead to a dirt road. The orange glow of the morning sun illuminating the coconut trees and green fields that morning was just beautiful. It reminded me why I just love to run in the trails. I wanted to take pictures but I was too lazy to stop and get my phone from my hydration pack. I wished I had a GoPro and I can just take a video while I was running.
I was still about 2.5Km into the race and I wasn’t feeling good. I was feeling dizzy. I thought it must be the lack of sleep plus I may have started out too fast than what I’m used to. I decided to stop running and walked instead until I got near the 4Km mark where there was a downhill section which I tried running again.
After I got past the 4Km mark it was an uphill climb on asphalt road. I decided to power walk again as I wasn’t still feeling good. This section is quite long about 4Km stretch of asphalt road but the view of the mountains on the right-hand side entertained my mind.
As I continued to walk I started to feel better and I was able to run again. I crossed a bridge before turning left to a dirt road which leads to the river. By this time the heat of the scorching sun was something I didn’t welcome.
I made a quick stop at the aid station to drink water then made my way to the river. I I decided to take photos before continuing. I know this is the part where the real fun and adventure begins.
Race Marshal at the 1st river crossing
A gentleman whom I was running together just before reaching the aid station offered to take my photos. I initially declined as I don’t really take photos of myself but since he insisted I gladly took the offer.
At the 1st river crossing
Although the water wasn’t deep, I didn’t bother hopping over rocks and risk slipping. I just straight away wade in the water. With 21 river crossings, I will get wet at some point no matter what. Running with wet socks and shoes is uncomfortable as the shoes feels heavy but this is all part of trail running.
The trail went up and down the slopes as we crossed the same river multiple times. I caught up with Imar and we ran together for most part of the 2nd half. Some portion of the trail still looks familiar to me and it brought back memories when we trekked this river many years ago.
There’s plenty of action adventure in the 2nd half so it’s best to just post the photos 🙂
Made the mistake of climbing this boulder as it was much easier just to wade in the water. Photo by Dominic Panimdim
Crossing the river and the boulders
The most adventurous part of the race course
With Imar. Photo by Dominic Panimdim
Imar before crossing the river and the boulders
A race marshal assisting runners in crossing the river
Imar getting down
My phone ran out space so I could no longer take any new photos 🙁
I was happy to see the 19K marker although my Suunto Quest was only showing near to 16K. It was only about 2:45 into the race and I was thinking if there’s a possibility I can finish the run in a little over 3hours so I can go back to the city early.
There was an aid station just after the last river crossing however, I made the mistake of not stopping thinking I was near to the finish line and I still had enough water on my bladder to last me to the finish line.
The next section was a steep uphill cemented road with no cover from the hot sun which I really disliked. As I powered walk I kept thinking how come the last 1Km seemed so long. I definitely had run/walk more than 1Km since I last saw the 19Km marker.
It was struggle going up the tar road under the scorching sun and the worst part was that I ran out of water. I caught up with 2 other runners as we made an entry back to the trail. The marshal told us that we are now near to the tunnel. There were still uphill climbs and I kept thinking how far more to the finish line. The finish line seemed so near but feels so far away.
Finally, I saw a swimming pool and I thought this must be Coal Mountain Resort. A marshal told me to wait before crossing the bamboo hanging bridge. I was thirsty so I asked the marshal if there’s any water but unfortunately there’s none. I would have to wait until I reach the finish line.
I waited for the runner in front of me to be more than halfway before I started crossing the bamboo hanging bridge. I wasn’t halfway yet when I noticed the hanging bridge swaying badly. I turned around and saw the lady runner behind me running in the hanging bridge which really ticked me off. I asked her why she’s running and she’s told me it’s ok to run in the hanging bridge. I wasn’t happy that this runner never bothered thinking about safety. I decided to give way to her as there’s no point taking a risk when I know the finish line is just a few hundred meters away.
After crossing the bamboo hanging bridge, I reached the entrance of the underground tunnel. The underground tunnel didn’t looked so small and scary as I initially imagined whereby one needs to crawl. I wore the helmet and took the torch that the marshal handed to me. The underground tunnel was dark, narrow and muddy. It reminded me of Cu Chi underground tunnel in Vietnam except that this one is a lot shorter. There are sections you really have to bend low or risk banging your head which I did thrice but thankfully I was wearing a helmet. The last section involves a steep climb but I was relieved when I saw the light not too far away. After all the scrambling I was glad to be finally out of the tunnel and into the finish line. I finished the run with an unofficial time of 3:43 and despite my shoes and socks being wet for the rest of the second half I never had any blisters which was something to smile about.
If you’re looking for adventure, this trail run will certainly not disappoint you. From river crossings, to boulder climbing, to hanging bridge and underground tunnel this race course has plenty to offer for the adventurous soul.
The trail was also well-marked. There were plenty of trail signs and marshals to guide the runners. Kudos to the race organizer, race marshals and volunteers for a job well-done to ensure the safety of runners especially in critical areas when crossing rivers and negotiating boulders.
The only thing I wished was that there were more water points. One runner commented that he saw more medic points than water points. Running on a hot and humid weather makes one sweat more so it was important to keep oneself hydrated. It was a good thing that I brought almost 2L of water on my hydration bladder at the start of the run.
My adventure didn’t end at the finish line. The lorry we took on our way back to Argao town had issues with the steering wheel. Luckily the driver noticed this and stopped before anything could happen to us as the road had steep descents. Despite the misfortune we just laughed it off.
It was day full of adventure indeed and I had no regrets signing up for this run.