I had the opportunity to head to Ormoc last weekend to participate in the 2nd Lake Danao Festival, which featured a half-marathon uphill race.
When they say uphill, they really do mean uphill:
I guess living and training in urbanized and flattened Metro Manila doesn’t really prepare you for a total elevation gain of 718 meters. Having just come off a two-week bout with an awful flu certainly didn’t help, and I’d only gotten back to some sort of aerobic training the week prior to my flight out to Cebu and Supercat ride from there to Ormoc City Port.
I had made a commitment to racing, though, and I knew as long as I slowed the pace way down, listened to my body, and took care of myself after, I would be able to make it through the run.
Lake Danao is situated inside a national park that is about thirty minutes’ drive from Ormoc City. The run course would take us from the city’s plaza stage all the way up to the Lake Danao view deck, a mostly uphill grind that would take us past surrounding towns, pineapple plantations, up toward the guitar-shaped lake.
There were less than fifty of us assembled at the gun start, but many looked fit and I knew that they had been preparing for this event. Quite a number of them had come over from Cebu as well as run clubs from the Visayas. The eventual first-place male as well as the one woman who overtook me had actually just come off a 100-kilometer ultramarathon. Even the technical and support officials were ultramarathoners.
This wasn’t a race for beginners and was styled more along the lines of self-supporting races, and I decided to treat it as such rather than expect more traditional road closures and aid stations. It was a chance to get back to basics, where what kept you going was your own fortitude, not the cheers from marching bands and dancers.
So, to very little fanfare, we started running a little past 5 in the morning out toward the Ormoc city limits. I felt good, but I knew that could turn sour quite quickly if I wasn’t careful with my pacing. I ran for a bit by myself but was glad for the company when a guy ran with me for about 10 kilometers, chatting to me about his experience running this race the previous year. His wife and daughter were on a motorbike periodically driving up to check on him. I let him go on ahead when trying to sustain a slow jog set off some warning pain in my ITBs. I realized I would either have to run at around a 6-minute per kilometer pace, or walk. There was no in-between as I had never trained myself to shuffle along; my muscles weren’t used to it.
If you take a look at the elevation on the course, you’ll see that it was pretty much a relentless uphill climb from kilometers zero to 14. I alternated running and walking, but it was mostly walking. There was no turning back. You can’t really DNF a point-to-point course, especially when the aid stations are people on motorcycles and your ride back to town is already waiting for you at the finish line.
It was awesome to see the sky growing lighter while on that hike, especially as I laid eyes on the mountains and the mist lying thick upon them. I managed my own nutrition and hydration quite well, having taken my Simple Hydration bottle along with me and refilling it with the plastic bags of water the mobile aid stations were handing out. I had one gel with me for the second half of the run, but also picked up a couple of Snickers bites offered. At the pace I was going, I didn’t need much sugar and could comfortably rely on my (numerous) fat stores.
The route seemed to go on and on, and there was a section of unpaved road where I had to pick my line carefully just to avoid turning an ankle. After that section, though, I got my second wind and began to run. I managed to pick off one more person before running across the finish line — as fifth woman overall.
Sure, it was the slowest time I had ever logged for 21 kilometers (actually 22 kilometers by my Garmin), but that was just as expected from this kind of course where you need to grind through it with strength rather than go on pure speed.
This being my first foray into racing outside Manila — Laguna doesn’t count! — it was an eye-opener on just how varied the terrain is outside our urban jungle-slash-river basin. It was a reminder that I need to run hills more. Most importantly, it showed me how beautiful it is to get outside the city.
The Lake Danao Sportsfest also featured shorter running events: the 10-kilometer trail run, and the fun run. It also had other events such as mountain bike races, longboarding, mountaineering, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding. While there were free shuttles going to and from the city, the whole campsite and event area isn’t very developed yet as a recreational destination for Ormocanons. Most people only head up there to enjoy the cool weather when there are blackouts in the city.
There have been some political and institutional hurdles to utilizing the Lake Danao district for trekking and other sustainable ecotourism ventures, and of course conservation of one of Leyte island’s largest watersheds should take precedence over recreational use. I’ve suggested to the organizers of the Lake Danao Festival that future editions of the festival have a more obvious ecotourism angle which can help educate people on sustainable methods of enjoying what the lake and the national park has to offer. You don’t have to pave paradise and put up a parking lot to bring people in, but it would be great to have weekend trips to the lake as part of the culture.
Back in Ormoc City I also had the opportunity to walk around and see various historical sites, sample its famously sweet Queen Pineapple, and even take a short kalesa ride. Thanks to Fran-Con Viaje International travel agency that runs great Ormoc City tours and handled all the logistics to get me from Manila to Ormoc and back.
It was a great race-cation and a challenging run. Thank you to the Ormoc City Chamber of Commerce for extending the invitation. I hope more people train for and join your next Lake Danao Festival 21K! It’s an amazing way to challenge oneself in a great new setting and see what the Philippines has to offer.