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.
LESSON 1: ROADS ARE NOT TRAILS
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...
LESSON 2: BIKE EXPERIENCE IS NOT THE SAME AS RUNNING EXPERIENCE
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.
LESSONS 3 & 4: IF THERE'S A MOUNTAIN, EXPECT CLIMBING. AND WHAT GOES UP, MUST COME DOWN.
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.
LESSON 5: DON'T FIGHT THE TRAIL
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.
LESSON 6: MISERY LOVES COMPANY
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.
OFFICIAL RESULTS ARE OUT!
- 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.