By: Neville Manaois (Team Principal Pinoy Ultra Runners)
Last December, I made one of the most interesting decisions in my life. I was approached by The North Face and asked if I would be interested to become the race director of The North Face: Thrill of the Trail. It was a rare opportunity and I was quite flattered by the offer. After several meetings and consulting with the team I eventually agreed to manage the race. Little did I know that time it would be a very difficult road ahead.
In December, the team was checking out the route almost on a weekly basis. We took pictures of the course and analyzed every inch of it to cover all possible scenarios. We simulated the race running at different paces from the slowest to the fastest to get a better idea of what will be happening on race day. The cogon grass and the roaming carabaos and dogs also had to be considered. We made sure that there would be a balance of ruggedness and adventure while ensuring the comfort and safety of the runners. We wanted to start while its dark so they can experience the feeling of running in the dark. The limited water stations will make runners carry their own water and food alowing them to experience the uniqueness of trail running. We want to create an authentic trail running event while at the same time making it accessible to just about everyone. Making it challenging but at the same time achievable. All this in order to give the runners a different kind of running experience.
It was a different experience for us as well since it would be the first time we will handle a race event this big. Our organization and management skills had been focused on our Run For Your Life: Ultra Marathons which were already a real challenge since we were race organizers and runners at the same time. But this time it was a competition which will involve a lot of runners with varied expectations. A week before the race, I was near my breaking point (I really admire those race organizers for it was such hard work – you’re a different breed).
The race week started with a special edition of the running aid along with a race briefing. A lot of people showed up, mostly beginners, eager to know more about trail running and what’s in store for them. The cold weather and the constant fear of rainfall in the Nasugbu area made the race atmosphere more tense. We knew that the trail could quickly turn into a sinkhole with a few drops of rain.
The week also became hectic since a lot of people were not included in the registration. As it turned out, the North Face limited the number of participants of the race due to logistic as well as environmental concerns since a big number of trail runners can seriously destroy the trail. There were problems with the registration which we would have to watch out for in future races.
The day before the race, team Pinoy Ultra Runners was already in Evercrest to do its job. The 14 members ran the whole trail several times making sure it is wide enough and safe for the runners. The team also checked and made sure all the trail signs were in the right places. We went through all of the racing grounds to minimize or do away with the risks of runners getting lost or injured. We took pictures of vague landmarks and relayed our information to the locals to make adjustments real time.
To simulate what it would feel like to be the race leader who was way ahead of the pack, a member ran without any runners behind or in front of him. Then some team members ran in tight formation through the trail to simulate what it would be like running in a pack. We practiced different scenarios to check any problems. It was hard work but we really had fun doing it.
In the evening the team was in a happy mood while I was tense and feeling the pressure. It was aggravated with the news that our sponsors, the company managers, as well as the owners along with their families, will join the trail run. It was a tense evening for me but the celebratory atmosphere and the cheerful disposition of the team made me feel confident. After dinner we ran through the race schedules. We talked about problem areas and checked all our logistics. We focused our attention on the trail, we were worried that some trail signs might be removed or knocked down in the middle of the night. We then decided to form a 5-man team that would be up at 3 AM to run the course and check everything.
We also assigned members of Pinoy Ultra Runners to team up with the marshals in different points of the trail as added precaution. Members of the team who were doctors and medics were deployed to crucial areas such as the ravine and bridge crossings. We assigned strong veteran runners in areas that would require tricky footwork for runners especially in single tracks. To encourage runners to press on, we deployed enthusiastic and very cheerful members to areas which were difficult to run. One of the biggest changes we made was letting the 10 km runners go first, then after 10 minutes,the 20 km runners. This was because we know the 20 km runners will take their time and plan their pace in the trail. The 10 km runners would run at a faster less conservative pace and would surely catch up on them This was one of the scenarios we had analyzed which led to that major change.
In the early morning hours of race day, the members of the 3 AM team who were tasked to make a final check on the entire course started off. Other member prepared their water, first aid, trail food, communication and other provisions. A few hours later, runners began arriving as members of the team moved to the five marshal points and two critical areas (the run going down to the bridge and up from the bridge). The reconnaissance runners who left at 5 AM eventually returned to the starting line giving a thumbs up sign.
As race director we began to call everyone to check their status. The marshals were all in place and they were happy with the trail signs. The locals in the trail also gave the all clear signal. Our two ambulance and medics were all ready. Water stations were complete and everyone was all set. At 10 minutes before 6 AM, we were announcing some minor changes and other reminders to make the run as smooth and safe as possible.
The runners were tense and at some point apprehensive since this was the first trail run for most of them. The Pinoy Ultra Runners were also sharing the same feeling since this was the first race we organized. At 6 AM, The North Face marketing head Jundel screamed “Never Stop Exploring” and the race was off for the 10 km runners. Ten minutes later, the 20 km racers broke out from the starting line and charged down the trail. A flurry of messages were sent to the marshals informing them of the start. Marshals in turn sent information back to base camp such as the fastest runner, traffic update and the weather as well.
After a few minutes, Marshal Point 5 in Carluega, reported that the 20 km runners had crossed already and were making their second loop at under 40 minutes. Then we received reports that the 10 km runners were already in the last 3 km to the finish line. The Pinoy Ultra Runners began to feel a little relieved since everything was going according to plan so far; no disasters yet, but we were keeping our fingers crossed.
I can’t say much about the course of the race since we weren’t running. This was a different feeling for me. For as long as I can remember, I was one of those who ran the race or cheered my teammates towards the finish line. But this time, I was an organizers and a marshal which were really tough jobs that sapped a lot of my energy. It was a funny feeling since usually I am the one running towards the finish line but now I am the one waiting for the runners.
Close to one hour, when the first 10 km runner crossed the finish line, I remember saying to myself “1 down 249 more to go”. Pinoy Ultra Runners sent reports that everything was under control, no problems yet. The trail run was flowing smoothly and everyone was enjoying the beautiful landscape (which was one of the highlights of the run). Soon 20 km runners were arriving at the finish line. Members of the team guided them to either the 10 km or 20 km finish line without impeding their time. Other members managed the timing sheets and made sure each runner’s effort was recorded properly.
As each of the 250 plus runners crossed the finish line, the team members were all smiling. One member voiced out that it was a unique experience, since it was different watching people run and encouraging them. “It was delightful to see the runners specially when they respond to your challenge to overtake the runner ahead of them. Or when their faces light up when you tell them they’re top 5 or 3 or whatever place.” As the runners all crossed the finish line, members of the team packed up and started to do their own trail run back to the starting point. When I saw them they were all smiling. Sure we were all hungry, cold, tired and wanting to get some sleep, but we were also very happy (I hope! Thank you guys).
I’ve never been on top of the stage, to receive any prize or a trophy. But in the Thrill of the Trail I was on stage for the whole time, not to receive any awards but to give the awards and congratulate the winners. “So this is what the winner’s podium looks like.” It was such an interesting experience giving the medals and prizes along with the sponsors to the winners of the different categories. The members of the Pinoy Ultra Runners eventually gathered at the breakfast table and traded stories as the participants prepared to leave Evercrest back to Manila. Everyone had fun and cherished the trail running experience.
The North Face Thrill of the Trail is one of those rare experiences for me and the rest of the team. It was the first time the Pinoy Ultra Runners took part in organizing a big race. One of the reasons I involved myself and team is to have that rare opportunity to see running in a different perspective. We saw a lot of runners and what they were going through while running in a blink of an eye. We saw the pace of elite fast runners, perseverance of weekend warriors and determination of recreational runners all at the same time. “Never Stop Exploring” is the motto of The North Face and that’s what the team did in this event. Exhausted but it was all worth it. The North Face and other sponsors were very happy of the outcome with minor comments and suggestions. Our sponsors who ran were also delighted by the experience. It was rare and good experience for all of us. As of now we still don’t know what the participants think about the race but we do hope everyone enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed preparing and organizing the event. Will I and the rest of the team organize another race? As far as I’m concerned this is such a hard work. Its comparable to organizing our ultra marathons but with far more considerations in a very limited amount of time. This event allowed me and the rest of the team to appreciate running events as well as other endurance race. However it was enjoyable seeing runners cross the finish line with a long big smile on their face feeling accomplished and satisfied. To answer my question, I guess I will leave organizing to much more capable people and just participate and enjoy running. However there’s no harm doing or organizing one trail run from time to time just to have a break from running. However for now I am content a long with the rest of the team in organizing Run For Your Life: Ultra Marathons.
Thank you very much to The North Face for giving us this opportunity and organizing a trail run for athletes to enjoy. We hope there would be more trail run events in the future. Thank you to all the runners who took part in the event and made it successful, we are really delighted by your support. Above all, thank you to all the members of the Pinoy Ultra Runners who made this event very successful. Thank you for running and checking out the route numerous times in different times of the day. Thank you for waking up early and checking all of the route markers in the 10km trail. Thank you for going to the marshal points and waiting for all of the runners to finish. Thank you for being there in crucial areas to provide medical assistance and safety instructions for all the runners. It was a great experience and a great event to start the year. See you at the starting lines.
Two thumbs up for organizing this event. I truly had a wonderful experience with my very first 10K trail run.