This was undoubtedly the most brutal, the most grueling, and the most challenging run I had ever experienced. When they said that the second half of the route was mostly uphill, they weren’t kidding!
We ran up a steep incline leading into Malinta tunnel. Inside, because it was dark and just off the starting line, my pace slowed down to avoid bumping into people. The route was scenic and quite cool. I was dismayed when, in the first hydration station, water was not being handed over to the runners and instead runners we’re crowding around the water dispenser, filling the cups of water themselves! I figured that I didn’t want to be a part of that chaos so I ran on, hoping that the second hydration station wouldn’t be that chaotic. I expected the run to be hot and humid so hydration was extremely important. The second station was pretty much the same as the first, but less crowded so I grabbed a cup, filled it with water, gulped it down, and then continued.
To be fair, this lack of organization in the water stations only existed in the first few stations. Towards the middle of the race, those who manned the stations were already handing out cups of water. I guess they weren’t prepared for the sudden onslaught of runners! With the pack thinning out in the middle part, they probably had more time to fill them cups.
If you haven’t been to Corregidor at all, I wouldn’t advise experiencing it for the first time via the CIHM. The effort and exhaustion of running may be a distraction from relishing the sites. But the CIHM is great as a supplement to the Corregidor experience. Yes the route took us through familiar sites like the Japanese memorial site and the various batteries, but the route also snaked through areas which are not covered by the regular tour. For example, as pictured above, we ran through Kindley Airfield and through a muddy trail route behind the famous ruins.
Now the second half was, as I said, brutal. There’s this lengthy curving incline that’s probably about 4 kilometers long. I remember how it felt when, during my mountain biking phase, I would pedal up Cardiac Hill and The Wall. I recall the advise given by another avid mountain-biker—take it easy, don’t rush it, and just take it one step at a time. That’s what I did. One step at a time. One breath at a time. As I dragged myself up that hill, the thought that persisted in my mind was that there had to be a downhill portion.
But that wasn’t even the worst hill. That wasn’t the “killer hill” that I heard about during the briefing. I thought it was. But I was mistaken. The “killer hill” was around the 19-kilometer mark. I was first greeted by a flat, scenic view of Manila Bay. With about 2 kilometers left, I thought this would be an easy finish so I picked up the pace. Man, was I wrong! The hill was so steep that it would probably be sunset at 3 pm. I read somewhere that the incline was a vomit-inducing 60 degrees! I tried to jog uphill but I devolved to a fast walk. Nobody was running. The people walking up the hill were walking the same novice bikers we were taught how to bike up a steep incline: not by attacking the hill in a straight-line but by zigzagging the route. I decided the attack it straight on, so I gritted my teeth, looked down so as not to be intimidated by the steepness, and clambered up. I glanced at a few people and panted a smile at them. At the peak of the hill I saw someone sitting by the curb, a run marshall massaging his calves.
Talking about cramps, in the last quarter of the run, my calves had seized and contracted a couple of times that I had to stop to stretch.
We entered Malinta Tunnel for the last time. We must be close by, I told myself. In fact, at the end of the tunnel, I saw a group of people standing around that I thought that was the finish line. They were just a set of tourists posing for a shot. Towards the end, with less than a kilometer to go, a marshall extended his hand to congratulate me. I shook it, smiling. At a distance I heard people cheering and announcer was calling up my number. People were egging me on, cheering, and applauding. I remember cramping several times within the last 200 hundred meters. With the announcer cheering me on, repeatedly calling out my number to motivate me, and the crowd hollering me to continue, I ignored the cramps and finally finished, pump-fisting as I crossed the line. My calves stiffened as a lady awarded me with my finisher’s medal. I have never really been proud of medals, but this medal I will truly cherish. I salute the organizers for putting that final touch and encouragement—it gave me that extra boost to survive through those debilitating cramps.
Congratulations and good work to the organizers of this event. The CIHM was touted as an “extreme race” and it didn’t fail in that description. We climbed up steps and sloshed through muddy terrain. We navigated through rocky trails that with tree roots jutting out of the ground. The steep ascents tested our resolve while the sharp descents jarred our joints. The killer hill was indeed a killer. My time in the 21K was the slowest ever—somewhere below 2:40, probably 2:37; I couldn’t remember because I was busy trying to calm the nasty cramp that gripped by calves! But I am not ashamed of my time. I survived! Would I do it again? Hell, yeah! Now that I know the route and what to expect, I can plan better.
Some things to note:
- With the looming mountains, the Malinta tunnel, and the tall overhead trees, GPS was practically useless in tracking overall pace and distance. However, in the clear portions of the route, you can get your GPS gizmo to at least measure your split pace.
- I wonder if it was a good idea to use my Vibrams KSO Trek in this situation. On the bright side, it was so light that it made the steep inclines easier. On the other hand, I could feel very pebble and crag as I navigated the trails. One thing that is good in using minimalist shoes, your feet are able to shift in accordance with the terrain.
- Contrary to what was claimed during the briefing. there were no shower stalls in the site! There was however a semi-secluded area with concrete walls that had a makeshift sink and a faucet and a half-gallon ice cream can as a tabo. Several participants, me included, took their “shower” in that area. Ok, it may not be as posh as a gym shower room, but after a tortuous 21K, who cares! Being doused with cold water was heavenly!!
- I made the mistake of putting too much sunscreen lotion on my face. You can imagine the sting I felt as sweat dripped into my eyes.
- The organizers claimed that there is a finisher’s certificate. Where is it?
- Also, I paid P150 for the to have my name and finish time engraved on the Finisher’s Medal. How do I do this?
By the way, I found a blog post which details another runner’s almost kilometer-by-kilometer experience of CIHM. I wanted to do such a blow-by-blow account, with a few pictures to boot. I had prepared my iPhone for such an occasion. But I guess all that sweat, grime, and exhaustion prevented me from doing so!
Update: Changed link as mentioned in comment below.