Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Learning From a Mountain: My All Terra King of the Mountain Experience

My first trail run almost didn't happen. After much indecision due to a schedule mired with plans that fell through, I tried to sign up for the 4th All Terra King of the Mountain (ATKOM) 10K trail run two days before the deadline. Fortunately, I managed to get racing kits for the three of us (my cousin Alvin, Cherie, and I) after two days of trying. The other issue I needed to attend to was the fact that the pair of trail shoes I had repaired and was planning to wear to the race did not look like they'd last two kilometers after I tried them out--the soles were peeling off from a few spots, and that didn't make me feel very confident. Plus, either my feet grew bigger or I just didn't know how to fit shoes properly then because there wasn't enough allowance for my toes. In an incredible twist, I then discovered that the pair of Asics that I've been using for training runs, the pair that my Uncle Tristan gave me over two years ago, were actually trail runners! I looked the model up on the net and sure enough, they're trail-worthy.

Now, as I sit here feeling aches in places that don't usually feel sore after a 10K run, I'm glad I had the opportunity to run that race because I walked away from the mountain with a few lessons from my first trail run.


This is obvious. If you want to do well on a trail run, go running on the trails to get a feel of the terrain and to improve your footing. Since I live nowhere near any trails (none close enough for me to run on before or after work), my training was limited to the grassy patches on the side of the road, which was representative of not a single part of the race trail. ATKOM's trails were a mix of roads, packed clay, loose clay, gravel, rocky soil, and other unknown minerals flanked by six-foot tall sharp grass and low branches. You can't mimic those conditions by running on a shaded, tree-lined, asphalt oval in the university. The more familiar you are with race conditions and the route, the better. That said...

Above is a satellite photo of the race route which I grabbed from the organizers. I'm quite familiar with the area because this is in Mt. Maarat, one of my favorite trails to ride on my mountain bike. However, I learned the hard way that I should never make any assumptions about the trail simply because I ride it on my bike. I made a pretty stupid one at the first half of the race: since I wasn't tracking the distance on my Garmin (I chose to run with my heart--HRM instead of time or distance), and there were only a few kilometer markers, I assumed we were on the home stretch because we rounded a turn that marked the end of the trail for our mountain bike rides. So I gunned it, thinking I was close to home, only to be pointed to a right turn that I have never seen before which led to more PWW-uncharted territory. It goes without saying that it was a very dim-witted call.


I already knew that the approach to the trails from the starting point is about a two-kilometer climb on a wide road. Again, I foolishly assumed that once I hit the trails of Mt. Maarat, I'd be in for a relatively flat run. Sure, I was expecting some undulations but I thought it couldn't be that bad, stupidly drawing my conclusions from my mountain biking experience (see Lesson 2). Just as we were about to start, one of the organizers described the course profile, and announced that the highest point in the route is at Kilometer 7; meaning we'd be climbing 70% of the time before "enjoying" the descents. Those quotation marks are there because while descending is a sure-fire way to pick up your pace, it's just as difficult to maintain that speed to make sure you don't fall flat on your face. Also, the faster your descent, the higher the impact on your legs, so be cautious. Yet again, I thought it was going to be easier because on a bike, you just coast and free wheel down these portions and ironically, reach your top speed when you're not doing any work at all. Obviously, the same does not apply to running.


I remember Caballo Blanco telling the author of Born to Run Chris McDougall "If you have a choice between one step or two steps between rocks, take three." You take what the trail gives you, and if you need to sacrifice speed to be more surefooted, then by all means walk. Not only does it save you from a twisted ankle but it also helps you recover and take your heart's BPM down a notch. Remember the wisdom of the Tarahumara: "When you run on the earth and run with the earth, you can run forever."

My cousin Alvin, who apparently was hurling expletives at me for signing him up for this small suffer-fest, told me at the end of the race that he was talking to the mountain, asking her to to give him strength. Cool stuff.


Of all the races I've joined so far, ATKOM was the most social (not sosyal) race I've participated in. People were more open to making their thoughts vocal ("They should've called this a trail walk instead of a trail run!"), and readily doled out encouragement to others ("Let's go! Run towards breakfast!"). Of course, humor is always welcome, and I heard someone asking a marshal if there were any jeepneys or tricycles plying the route. I think his name rhymes with "Meland" and I don't think he was kidding. Talking to other runners (if they're inclined to chat) may help you mentally recover from the clobbering you're receiving from the mountain. If you don't feel like talking, there's always the view.

ATKOM was a well-organized race, and I am very impressed with the way it was handled by the organizers: it started on time, marshals were present throughout the course to guide runners, and the energy of the event was very positive. The trail distance was accurate, and markers for directions were located on all potential problem turns. If there's anything to improve, it would be the water stations: most stations had no water prepared on the tables when I ran past them. Luckily, I decided to bring my own water bottle. Other than that, it was a fantastic foray into trail running, and I'll definitely join more of these events in the future.

That is, as soon as I get my shoes cleaned up.

  • Cherie McCosker finished 31st among 59 females with an official time of 1:22:12. Average pace of 8:13 and finishing 29:51 behind the female leader; 181st overall.
  • Alvin Pasion finished 85th among 200 male runners with an official time of 1:08:15. Average pace of 6:49 and finishing 31:50 behind the winner; 99th overall.
  • Leland Pasion finished 67th among 200 male runners with an official time of 1:03:06. Average pace of 6:19 and finishing 26:41 behind the winner; 79th overall.

The King of the Mountain, Cris Sabal, finished the course in 36:25. Wow.


jazzrunner said...

Nice account of the race, Leland! My green trail shoe also turned into dusty yellow and would stay on the shoe rack for a while until the next trail run comes. Good run!

Leland Pasion said...

Thanks, Sir Rene! I knew you were going to be there since I was following updates about the race on your blog. Too bad I didn't get to catch you.

Actually, I'm thankful I introduced my fiancee to your site. Na-engganyo siyang sumali dahil sa post mo about ATKOM last year!

See you around!

Anonymous said...

Hi Leland,

Thank you for sharing your ATKOM experience. I believe I'm the organizer you mentioned who said that the highest point of the run is at around 7k. May I re-post your blog on our Elite Multi-Sport Resources Facebook account?


Andy Leuterio
Elite Multi-Sport Resources

Leland Pasion said...

Hi Andy,

It would be my pleasure! Thanks for checking out the blog, and allow me to again congratulate you and the team at Elite Multi-Sport Resources for a great event! Kudos to you all for providing top-notch avenues for outdoor enthusiasts to test their mettle.

Leland Pasion