The Trail Theory

The gods must be crazy when they invented the word ‘trail’. And they must have been crazier when they invented the words ‘trail run’.

Heck, I must have been the craziest of them all, when I decided to try what they meant, not knowing that I will be coming back for more!
With only four trail runs under my belt (and counting…) and a number of climbs up my spine, I may not be your best authority when it comes to this passion. But I will tell you my close encounters nonetheless – with no other than the stones, dirt roads, pits, hanging bridges, enormous roots, river crossings, boulders, slippery uphill, hungry cattle, ridges, leaping frogs, enchanted pathways, streams, fornicating crickets, tall grasses, wild horses, mammoth millipedes, and the mist as my witnesses. Seriously, I met them all.

Notwithstanding the heat that summer brings nor the flood, wind, and storms during the rainy season, ‘stubborn me’ still gets euphoric when hiking up a mountain or running through a trail. What is it about the trails that keep me coming back tirelessly? If not for the witnesses above, then it must be the absolute thrill that one gets from sheer exhaustion. Now where did I get that?

What is the first thing you must know before you go as crazy as the gods? Have yourself checked by the doctor – I mean it! And yes, include a visit to the psychiatrist while you’re at it because your decision to join a trail run or to go on a trek might be due to the need to forget a painful memory. So, just maybe, diverting it towards something more painful which could eventually become a lasting memory was what you might consider medicinal. Oh well, I believe that is one of the definitions of madness!

After the doctor’s appointment, it’s time to get the proper gear. The great thing about trails is you don’t have to care about how good you must look because by the end of the day you will all look alike!

Before you kiss that dirt, learn everything you need to know about the terrain. Will your running shoes hold enough pebbles from the river crossing? Will your CWX bear the cuts? Will your dri-fit top protect your arms from the thorns and the mosquitoes? Are you wearing enough sun block to keep you away from getting roasted? Or are you wearing too much that it stains your eyes and skin? Can your hydration pack provide enough liquids to last every 10 kilometers (or to last you through the hike up and back to the jump off site)? Are you bringing that garbage bag which can either be a trash bag or a raincoat? Or would you risk staining that new Columbia jacket so that you will look dashing for the lens?

Remember, the trail in itself is a test of survival. Not just endurance. Not just speed. Not just strategy. Most importantly, it is not Project Runway. It is being ‘self-contained’ – literally and figuratively.

After the shopping galore, the registration fee, the declaration of your craziness, and the physical and lingo training, the next best thing to do is to set your goal on the summit and the finish line and you’re all set! Be it a trail run or a trek, when it comes to the word ‘summit’, I may have different definitions from the next but this word is the only motivation that keeps me going. So, go get yourself your own happy thought before gearing up.

Oh, but wait, there’s more! Where are you going? What kind of terrain will you be getting yourself into? Will there be leeches? Mountain goats? Snakes? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not scaring you away from the playgrounds, I’m just giving myself a head start *wink*. Seriously, whether they are just plain old plateaus or steep hills or rocky mountains or slippery peaks, each one has a smorgasbord of surprises – good and bad. Even the most experienced trail runners or mountaineers get lost, thus, a basic knowledge of trail signs still helps. Be sure to also check with the locals on what to expect because they are the best source of information when you’re talking about territory. Oops, did I just give away a secret?

Just when you thought that you had enough trail vocabulary to last a dayhike, you will never be ready unless you acclimatize. It may not be Mt. Everest or Kota Kinabalu but be prepared for the worst. When you’re not accustomed to the cold or the rainforest, hypothermia is your worst nightmare. Take it from me; I didn’t even realize what hit me when I was already sleepy. My acclimatization solution? Cold showers. As for the heat, our summers must be the worst there is. Getting into the sun in the middle of the day will give you an edge right away. I knew someone who even walked through it wearing dark tailored suits for 30 minutes in 36 degrees! Damn!

So there, I don’t want to keep you away from the trail with a lengthy piece when I know you’re already itching to be crazy. But before I end, let me leave you with these two advices: pack light and enjoy the sights. Race you to the top?



To the Finish Line

While the moon guards over the mountain slopes and its beams drum up every heartbeat, I hit the pavement. Amidst the deafening and orgasmic sound of the crickets, my sweat drops beat the black earth pound by pound, ranting a rhythmic voyage to the unknown. Purposeful, mechanical, musical, each muscle hums a chord of existence that gives a joyous and vivid inertia equal to that of a melodic dance.
With the horizon far beyond my reach, I head on, crashing the wind’s armour and echoing its stubborn yet challenging howl. The numbers pressed on, methodically cavorting with my efforts to beat it, similarly setting its sights on the edge up ahead and keeping me diverted. Thoughts swirl in my grays, gently massaging its every nerve, giving enough spaces for reason, wonder, and capitulation to battle till death.

What is the colour of your thirst?

Hydration is an important part of training. Every runner must have access to his liquids at every moment of his run, especially during race time or when he is doing intervals. Was there ever a time when you did not bring a bottle of fluids during a run? Forgot about it? Dropped it somewhere? Gave it to someone else? At any point in time, you will still need to retrieve it because you will get thirsty. Otherwise, you’ll be dead.

During my last race, I was conquered by a very challenging choice at the first aid station. Water or sports drink? Not that there was any other choice, like a cocktail perhaps, but I ended up drinking the sports drink and showering myself with water. At the last stop, though, when I was already out of breath and delirious, I must have reversed the selection because someone breathed, “hey sweetie!” past me. And…going back to the title of this article… I was never the type who took the ‘8-glasses-of-water-a-day’ rule seriously because I hate feeling ‘bloated’. I mean, who wants to look like a stuffed frog? If you ask me, I am content with one glass for every meal. However, I will never forget Mom’s advice to follow this simple rule to keep me on my toes the whole day. Water is a source of life. Period.

Especially when the high-energy activities started to bug me, water has become my staple food – so to speak. So when I run, I followed that simple rule and my coach’s: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. However, just when I thought that water was the only thing that will keep me smiling all the way to the finish line, a wide array of sports drinks came into the picture. The bunch has been trying to convince you and me that they are all designed to give the boosted energy we need, or the sodium replacement we lost, or the sugar requirement that we crave for – blah blah blah! These drinks generally contain – as each label shouts it out – carbohydrates, electrolytes, minerals, vitamins, herbs, metabolites, and other less-proven ingredients which might as well get lost under the ‘best before’ numbers or the price tag. For the purpose of educating myself on whether the contents of these hydration liquids will really help boost my performance (and to avoid encountering another challenging choice at the aid station), I head off to the nearest store and chose some of the sports drinks that have managed to send off the ‘marketing promises’ persistently. According to an article I read in the papers, the key to choosing a sports drink is to select the one that you find most palatable. In short, if you like how it tastes, you buy. For most of my climbs, I have been used to the taste of Gatorade orange. In fact, my friends and I brought along Gatorade powder on our hike up to Mt. Apo. And the taste buds had quite a party. Thus, I have been drinking this product ever since I started running. Ten races after though, the palates were having a mind of their own and took a fondness for Powerade – the blue one particularly. However, it became more of a ‘drink’ rather than a ‘hydration’. The palates had the same party with all the confetti afterwards and the blue color made me want to grab for some more. I guess it was somewhat addictive. Then, Vitwater cut in the dance. The sugary taste kept me coming back for more of the blue stuff. It’s either that or the billboard of Manny Pacquiao endorsing the product must have planted an allusion in me. Now I know! If you haven’t noticed, blue is my favorite color but when Vitwater ran out of booths in races, I gladly welcomed the carbonated, isotonic sports drink that is 100plus, which kept me company for a few months. Just when I thought I had enough of sports drinks, Pocari Sweat started giving away hundreds of bottles of their mild-tasting, non-carbonated sweet beverage that definitely hit the spot when you can’t read the kilometer markers anymore.

So, did these drinks ever played key roles to my performance at all? If they did boost my energy levels in any way, I didn’t notice but at least they supplemented me. The colors were just amazing at the aid stations – it somehow kept your mind away from the competition. Or was it hypnotism?

What can these hydration liquids – or sports drinks – give that your regular H2O cannot? As you may already be aware, a sports drink is a beverage that helps replenish fluids and nutrients in our body which we use up when we run, exercise or engage in any sport. As I have already been challenged with, sports drinks are available in an assortment of flavors and range of colors. Some are pre-made liquids and some come in powder form.

The first thing you must remember when you buy a sports drink is research, research, research. Contrary to popular belief, some of them will never be able to quench your thirst. Personally, water is still the best beverage there is if the main purpose is for rehydrating. Although it is never really classified as a beverage, water provides your body enough fluids that it needs and satisfyingly quenches thirst. However, there are times when rigorous trainings or runs make your body lose electrolytes and drinking too much water can cause water intoxication. Eventually, your brain gets fried when you don’t replace the electrolytes in your body. You want a trade secret? I usually mix them. Water and sports drink in my ever-reliable Amphipod, or hydration bottle. It provides me the hydration I need and the ‘party’ I crave for. But don’t take my word for it because that is why we train. We don’t just train to perform better, we also train on how to hydrate – and rehydrate for that matter. It would also help if you ask your fitness trainer or doctor on your next visit. Otherwise, your next hydration crisis will just be another unsightly heap of confetti. (also published in frontRunner Magazine)


My Two Scents

Body odor is an inevitable consequence of being an athlete. Runners are not an exception. Tell me, have you ever been to a race and noticed how much of the population have not really hit the showers before they showed up at the starting line?  Almost half! Why you ask? Well, let me ask you back. Is taking a shower your usual routine before hitting the asphalt in the morning? I’ll bet my Asics you’ll say no.

It is a great feeling to be running with hundreds of runners in the morning; it keeps you occupied by just observing what the other runners wear, how they stride, how they breathe and how much they sweat. It is unfortunate though that the daily aroma of freshly-cut grass, morning dew, and crisp daylight had to be often associated with a lot of sweating and bacteria rapidly mixing altogether to release a foul odor that can even scare a skunk away. Multiply that by a hundred and you still wonder why a lot of runners end up delirious at the finish line. It is truly embarrassing to be carrying that burden of being a skunk-killer and quite offensive to those who had to experience it. Before I upset someone or ruin this piece because of stink, let us refrain from using the word ‘odor’. Instead, I will be a lady and talk about scents. A runner, or an athlete for the benefit (or not) of our audience, releases a great deal of sweat (when running, of course).

However, doctors say that a lot of what really smells is not sweat but the waste products from the bacteria that are living and having a blast on one’s skin. These are the carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids that your body releases while sweating. When you run and the bacteria in your body meet up with your sweat and discuss the possibilities of putting up an olfactory business, chances are every living thing within 2 feet of you either sneezes or gets a very bad case of migraine. The smell is most likely to occur in your feet, groin, armpits, genitals, pubic hair and other hair (apologies to those having their post-run meal now), belly button, and even behind the ears.

While pacing up 5:30 per mile and raising your heart rate to 175, you should be sweating normally. This is your body’s healthy response and the amount of scent you emit from sweating it out varies from the runner beside you and the hundreds of runners in that race. In fact, each individual has his own specific scent and has been used by dogs especially to identify their master from other people. So, what gives out the smell? It could be the Adobong Manok you ate last night, or the supplements you took this morning or a chemical imbalance that you never thought your body had. As it turns out, avoiding the showers in the morning is only one major cause for the stink because your scent also has a lot to do with your diet and your lifestyle. Believe it or not, you can also blame it on your genes and your gender. You may have the looks and the head-turning ass to boot, but your genes could also have influenced the amount of sweat and the modicum of smell your body excretes. In addition to this, study says that men are more prone to smelly armpits (and all other parts of the body) than women.

In keeping it simple, personal hygiene is still the best advice. Your foul scent may be altered (or reduced) by taking a bath or shower regularly and by using deodorants or antiperspirants. As much as you want to keep your body from sweating, it is still necessary because it helps prevent the body from overheating when running. Hair under the armpits is also believed to slow down the evaporation of sweat which gives the bacteria enough time to party and turn into gremlins. Thus, shaving the armpits regularly can also help control the scent in that area. Besides, it is more fashionable to wear singlets without the hair peeking out. Cutting down on spicy food such as garlic, onions and curried meals may also help moderate the stench from your sweat. Maintaining a well-balanced diet which includes fruits, vegetables and whole grains do not only help reduce the smell but ensures a healthy eating habit. However, there are some medical conditions that your body may also be experiencing which poses a threat to your quest for being smell-free. These are heart and thyroid problems, kidney failures and diabetes. These can also cause excessive and abnormal body sweat. If you would like to find out more, visit your doctor and take the sweat test (I bet there’s one in this country already).

It seems that everything you really need to know about keeping the smell at bay, you have learned from kindergarten. Take a bath, wash your hands and face, brush your teeth, eat regularly, sleep early, and check with the doctor when necessary. So, are you taking a shower before that run then? Keep it to yourself and be sure to heed my advices above, otherwise keep praying that we’ll never have skunks in this part of the country. My two ‘scents.’ (also published in frontRunner Magazine)

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