“Everyone can run on the road, but not everyone can endure the trail.” That’s what The North Face Thrill of the Trail stands for, and for this leg the series finally landed in the Visayas via Bohol.
Bohol is recently getting popular for its beautiful beaches to rival those of Boracay, but it is traditionally known for the Chocolate Hills. Conventional tourists flock the site to take pictures from afar and bring home souvenirs, but we trail runners do it differently—we experience the hills by running through it! Of course this experience wouldn’t be possible without TNF Thrill of the Trail.
We had arrived in Danao Municipal Hall, the Starting area of the race, quite early as we came all the way from Tagbilaran some 70+ kilometers away. One by one, runners came from all directions, and by the time the sun had risen runners occupied the area.
When I signed up for the race I had intended to make a “career” out of the race, but when I noticed all the competitive runners around me, I realized that I was nowhere near their caliber (and I had zero training) so I opted to go with “picture-taking pace.” A podium finish is nice, but in my vocabulary it is not as important as enjoying the race. I could settle with taking home a lot of pictures!
After a quick briefing and some final tips, the race finally started at around 6:11AM. It was raining the night before, so some minute adjustments with the route had to be made last minute, thus delaying the start of the race (according to the organizers). Both the 11K and 22K started at the same time making for a grand start but thankfully the number of participants was controlled so it wasn’t very crowded.
After a few hundred meters, the first river greeted us. Thankfully it wasn’t very deep, just below the knees (depending on your height), but the current was a little strong.
Because of the rains, the trails were muddy. And it wasn’t just muddy—it was also very, very slippery! To make things worse, the shoes I was wearing provide very little traction on the trails. Because of this I occasionally had to deploy my “third wheel”—my left hand, as support (while my right hand was holding my camera).
As if trying to balance yourself on slippery trails with slippery shoes wasn’t difficult enough, the bag I was carrying that holds my hydration supplies started ripping apart, literally! It was one of those loot bags given away from a race some time ago. We were advised to be self-sufficient during the race but since I didn’t have my hydration belt with me, I had no choice but to improvise. The weight, constant movement, and my pull on the strings started tearing the bag apart until it made a hole big enough for a 500mL water bottle to slip out of. All my remedies to tie up the hole were futile so I wasn’t really able to run fast, and had to practically hug the bag while running. At least every time I stop to fix my bag I got a chance to appreciate the beautiful sceneries.
After the muddy rice paddies, the first hills greeted us. This was where the route of 11K and 22K split apart. For all that time I was always following someone and someone was always behind me, but right after the crossroad, I was alone! I don’t really like being left alone in the trails because of my poor navigation skills that might get me lost. But since I’ve no choice I just had to be extra cautious of the signs. Thankfully, this race was one of the few that had the most deployed marshals so there was little chance of me fumbling.
What a feeling it was to run alongside the Chocolate Hills! For many, the Chocolate Hills were always just a background but for us we were just running beside it.
Then after some time of following the trails another river came into view. I had a hunch that we’d be crossing it soon, but first we had to run in the midst of flowers!
And my hunch was right, we would cross that river. This second river was just above my knee deep, but the trouble was the current was quite strong. I was still handling my camera with my right hand so balancing was a bit difficult. Fortunately my shoes decided to show it strengths as it provided good traction in the river keeping me from being swept away.
After reaching the banks on the other side I had to make a quick stop to remove the rocks that made it inside my shoes. I felt that I had a rock inside each of my shoe, and to my surprise it wasn’t “a” rock—it was rocks! At least now I’m all rinsed for the new sets of trails.
I was all rinsed when the trails mocked us again—a very slippery trail greeted us. Those ahead of me wearing “proper” shoes had difficulty climbing the trail, and so knowing my shoe I had to finally swallow my pride and deploy the “fourth wheel.” I tucked my camera into my bag, and used all fours to grab the grass and pull myself up. And with my camera tucked in and both hands muddy, a “picture blackout” was in place.
Eventually both hands dried up with the sun’s heat and so I was again able to pull out my camera. It was only 8AM then but the sun was scorching. Both my arms were getting burned, literally, and I’ve no water to douse myself with. For all these times I was relying minimally from the event’s water stations but because of the heat my water consumption went higher. At that critical time when I needed to refill my supplies badly, all the water from the stations ran out! Walk mode, ON.
It was very heartbreaking to walk under the heat of the sun with practically empty water bottles and no water stations in sight. Fortunately, being in a good trail, there was a natural water supply along the route. A local resident pointed me to an open water faucet beside the road (from a natural spring) where I doused myself with water (practically taking a bath) and refilled my water bottle. It was like an oasis in the middle of a desert and it was a lifesaver for me. I still had to save my strengths though as it was just past 14K.
The trail that followed was long—long enough that I had consumed almost all my refill. For the second time another gift from the Heavens appeared—a second “water refilling station” presented itself.
It was a real confidence builder to have two bottles of mineral water. But then after, a series of heart breaking scenes appeared—uphills! Many, many uphills! What the walk?!
After the uphills we were back on the roads, the roads leading to the finish. While it was nice to think that it was close, the heat and the thought of no more water stations made a lot of runners, walkers! Even I saved my strengths for downhills, which were a scarcity at the time.
Then it was the last turn to the finish! We were informed that it was the last 300 meters—the longest 300 meters of the race! It wasn’t a straight route and it was going up and down so we couldn’t see the finish despite its proximity. When the last curve was past and I was able to see the finish line, a horrible seen greeted me:
Are you kidding me? (It’s actually steeper in reality than in the picture)
Well, none of us really had a choice. It’s there, go figure. In my mind, all that I can think of at that moment was “let’s just finish this.” Apparently it worked and I was able to pull myself to run that final hill to the finish—three hours, 23 minutes, 31 seconds elapsed (self-timed); 22.51K.
TNF Thrill of the Trail Bohol was one of the best trails I’ve ever run onto, and it’s arguably the most challenging trails of the series yet. To set the bar higher, a four-hour cutoff was imposed for both 11K and 22K runners, and for the latter it was very, very competitive due to the high difficulty of the route. I should know since I finished just 36 minutes before that cutoff.
To summarize, the trails with its high degree of difficulty, picturesque sceneries, and good length were excellent. The race on the other hand though would’ve been much better if water stations haven’t “dried out” early, and I knew of a few who wasn’t able to finish their race because of this. Still, I thought this race was very good, and no other similar trail runs come close. TNF Thrill of the Trail upgraded in a major, major way!