There was a hint of panic in the normally impassive face of Regional Trial Court Executive Judge Meinrado Paredes when we met at JY Square in Barangay Lahug last Saturday afternoon.
Judge Paredes, a veteran outdoorsman, was in climbing gear. The judge regularly climbs mountains, including Mt. Manunggal, and volunteered to guide Ungo Runners there after hearing we planned to run on Sunday part of the route of the 1st Cebu Ultramarathonfrom Mt. Manunggal to Capitol in Cebu City.
I, on the other hand, had never spent a night on a mountain (despite being born at the foot of one) and had clueless painted all over—wearing skimpy running shorts, a running shirt made of thin, porous, sweat-wicking fabric and a cycling backpack containing a notebook, ballpens, my wife’s tie-dye shawl, a headlamp and an extra pair of socks.
I was carrying a folded (not rolled) blanket on one hand and a rolled yoga mat, a plastic bag containing bottled water, trail mix, toiletries and another plastic bag of McDonald’s cheeseburger meal with extra-large fries on the other hand.
“Mao lang na imong dala (Is that all you’re bringing there)?” he asked. When I said yes, he was quick to say not to worry because he had extra jackets, sleeping bags and a tent. I didn’t know enough to worry. He then proceeded to check several large bags containing climbing gear at the back of his pickup.
In hindsight, I think he must have asked himself, “How could this kid survive out there?”
The full extent of my own cluelessness dawned on me at dusk on the Transcentral Highway. It was so cold I could hear just outside the vehicle Owen Meany squeaking that his balls had turned into raisins.
We stopped at the last settlement before Manunggal and waited for the other Ungo Runners as large speakers used for a benefit dance blared Insoy Niñal’s hits. They arrived later in habal-habals, motorcycles-for-hire that service far-flung areas in the province—Dr. Willie Estepa, Cebu Daily News’ Gabby Lariosa, Twinkle Ignacio, Daryl Igot and Tito Vildosola.
We were able to use the multi-purpose hall on Mt. Manunggal through the assistance of Balamban Councilor Dave Karamihan. But without Judge Paredes, we wouldn’t have made it through the night, let alone run 40-plus kilometers the next day. Not only did he provide much-needed assistance, he also gave crucial advice on the terrain.
At about 4 a.m., we woke up to the smell of coffee. Nothing smells better in the balls-shrinking cold of Mt. Manunggal than early morning coffee. Judge Paredes and his trekking companion had prepared several steaming mugs of coffee and were in the process of cooking instant noodles on a portable butane burner. Rocket fuel.
We got out at exactly 5 a.m. for a photo to report the conditions of the place to race organizer Jonel Mendoza. He was concerned about early morning fog and wanted to know how bad it was on Manunggal. It was bad. Even with headlamps we couldn’t see five feet ahead of us at 5 a.m.
After saying goodbye to Judge Paredes, we trekked to the bust of former president Ramon Magsaysay, who died in a plane crash in Mt. Manunggal, to start the run. We started at about 5:35 a.m., the thick fog stopping us from leaving earlier.
Of the group, only I avoided the steep detour to the ultra-marathon’s first water station at the Aboitiz camp. I feared that my knees were still unprepared and decided to just compensate by running longer in Cebu City to hit 50K. A separate group went to Manunggal early morning on the day of the run.
I’ve never been to Mt. Manunggal before nor have I run Transcentral Highway. But it was among the best running weekends I’ve spent so far. The place is so beautiful, the air so fresh you’d want to run there forever. No wonder you see a lot of people running there.
Take It Easy Runners Club members Manolito Yu, Nemesio and Tessie Escasiñas and Jeppy Lumongsod were flying—running so fast they disappeared before I could complete one of my Facebook updates.
The Ungo Runners were very fortunate to have such generous souls supporting us, my wife Marlen, Louela Pegarido, Irene Vildosola and my sons Max Dylan and Max Lennon, to make a tough run easier to survive.
I’m not certain of completing 50 kilometers within the cut-off time of eight hours on Nov. 27 but this much is certain—I will keep on running Manunggal and the Transcentral Highway.
It is running heaven.