The truth about my very first Spartan Trail Run


“I wasn’t planning on joining the Spartan Race this year”—was probably my first excuse as to what had brought me to a bitter finish in the March 18th Spartan Trail Run in Cebu City.

True, though. When I emailed Ms. Grace of Spartan Philippines about getting a booth for our chiropractic clinic at the event as a partner a few months ago, she said it would be a trail run, so our office immediately ruled it out.

As a Spartan Race fan, I couldn’t imagine myself signing up for a trail run, let alone a 21-kilometer race. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love hiking. I enjoy trekking rough terrains. But despite my deep appreciation for the outdoors, I have never gone for a long-distance run in all my 36 years of existence. I never trained for a 21-kilometer trail run.

To give you some context about my fitness condition prior to the half-marathon, I restarted working out around the first of week February. I started bodybuilding because I aim to compete in a fitness competition before the end of the year. I work out six times a week, but only did modest cardio.

The time I decided to sign up for Spartan Trail Run

On March 1, I received an email from Merrell Philippines inviting me to join their team on the upcoming Spartan Trail Run here in Cebu and review their new Antora 3 trail shoes.

I was immediately excited because I like Merrell. I used to own a pair of Merrell trail running shoes a few years back, but wasn’t able to test it out for a trail run. If I could review and recommend a great pair for running a trail, specifically a Spartan Trail Run, it would be beneficial to my blog readers. So, why not participate in the Spartan Race this time, especially since it’s an opportunity for my blog to collaborate with Merrell?

I had the option of running a 10k or a 21k, but I decided to register for the half marathon. Why??? I firmly believe that challenging myself is necessary. I’ve already completed a 10-kilometer run. The distance of my Spartan races was ten kilometers. I might as well put in a little more effort this time if I’m going to participate in a trail run.

March 2nd, I got an email confirming that I could run on March 18 at 8AM. My pulse was racing. I wasn’t scared, but I’m wondering if I was prepared nonetheless. Of course I could finish it, but could I do it in less than four hours?

So I changed my workouts a little after that. I included 30- to 45-minute treadmill runs at 70% heart rate. But I had to take almost week off from regular training when we flew to Siquijor for business. It was challenging to squeeze in workouts in between our regular activities, I thought this time, my preparation wasn’t sufficient.

One week before the race day

A week before the race, I received an email informing me that the gun start for our heat had been moved to 6AM. I am a little worried about how I would be preparing because I am typically still in bed at six in the morning. So, three to four hours prior to my run, should I eat? When should I go to bed the previous evening? When should I get out of bed? These things made me a little anxious…

Anyway, I told my husband the day before the race that I would go to bed at 8 PM, wake up at 3 AM, and get to the venue before 5 AM. It was theoretically possible, but lo and behold, at eight o’clock I was still washing my water bladder. Unsurprisingly, my mind was wide awake. Finally, at 9:30 PM, I was able to go to sleep.

March 18th, Race day

I woke up at 4am and had cup of coffee and a banana, actually, half of a banana. At 5am I booked grab but couldn’t really find a driver as the previous ones cancelled. Finally, at 5:15 I got an Angkas driver.

I arrived at the BSP Capitol Hills Marina Camp around 5:30AM.

Even though it was still dark, the venue was already packed. I went to the registration and got my bib. I had my race gear inspected. I left my other belongings at the bag drop. I did some stretches and then took some photos and videos in front of Merrell booth. I got my race kit from Merrell and changed my shirt. I took some more pictures and before I knew it, all the runners were gone. The emcee called me out on mic and told me to start running. This is why I am the only person in this picture at the starting line…

Into the Spartan trail

After only five minutes into the race, I was beginning to regret starting late. On a wide path, this would’ve not been an issue, but in narrow tracks, I was stuck behind. The person in front of me had to go first, so I had to patiently wait.

We reached the area with lots of flowers after about 4 kilometers of running/ hiking. We had to move in single file to protect the blooms on either side of the trail, so I took it slowly and thoroughly appreciated the beauty surrounding me. It was still enjoyable for me at the time. I was ecstatic about my shoes too. After sprinting across the rocky streams to get here, my shoes held up quite well!

The trail then continued, becoming increasingly challenging.

After what felt like 10 kilometers of steep inclines and cliff-side sprints, I felt my legs burn. I had to exert more effort to keep my balance and not roll like a ball downhill and hurt myself or the people in front of me. My Merrell Antora 3 shoes really came in handy here because of the excellent traction they provided. There were instances I was able to sprint even on a trail that descended steeply because I could hear the person running quickly behind me and I didn’t want to slow them down. My shoes did not let me down.

But I couldn’t keep up this speed for very long. I had hoped to run the entire race. On the treadmill, I could complete 10 km in less than an hour, but in this terrain, it was impossible to run even 2-km continuously. Uneven ground conditions certainly affected my pace. The crowd was a factor too. I’ve occasionally followed someone and felt shy to ask if I could pass them. Only when others were attempting it themselves could I possibly overtake too… It was also unfortunate that I had to pass a fellow competitor who was experiencing cramps and needed to lie down on the trail, but as I previously mentioned, the right side of the path was a sheer drop-off. I felt bad I had to skip over him in order to move along.

I tried my hardest to always smile, especially when I met locals or fellow racers along the trail, but I couldn’t because of goats, cows, and ducks. I didn’t mind the dogs, but one cow tied to the side of the trail seemed agitated. I was hesitant to run across because there was no one to assist me or pull the cow. But I was fine. No animal chased me down. Not even the ducks. The insects were a problem though. I came across bees several times. I wasn’t sure if I had been stung, but when my hands began to resemble sausages, becoming bloated and slightly red, I knew something had gotten to me on the trail.

The disadvantage of being alone on the trail

It was brutal at times on the trail, especially in the heat. I could feel my agony on some racers who were catching their breath and articulating how they wanted to quit. However, they persisted because a team or a partner pushed them to do so.

My husband was my partner in my previous Spartan races. When all I wanted to do was walk around and rest my legs, he kept me going. But he wasn’t with me this time. About half the time, I believe I was alone or couldn’t see the person in front of me. On the trail, nobody really pushed me to continue running when my legs gave out. I took advantage of the time to walk more slowly when I felt the discomfort. I knew I should be running. But I kept a slow pace and maintain my target heart rate. By the time I reached 17 kilometers, I was nearly spent.

The last 4 kilometers seemed 10k to me

Along the way, I heard a group of racers talk about whether or not we’d make it. Apparently they were talking about the cut off time. A few minutes passed, I met another volunteer who checked my whistle and gave me a green band. The other volunteers reassured me and the others that the finish line was only about 3 kilometers away. We’re close when we see the highway.

But time flew by, and it seemed like I was still a long way from the paved road at 11 AM. When I passed by the houses, one volunteer informed me that I won’t be able to make it to the cut off time.

I was saddened by the news, but then I heard the volunteers at the last water station yell, “last kilometer na Ms… you can do it… just downhill…” I looked at my watch and saw that I still had 15 minutes. I expected to be able to do it. But, alas, the one kilometer felt endless.

It wasn’t a kilometer downhill—it was a few meters (I estimated probably not even 300m) downhill, then I had to run back uphill and even climb a “wall”. It was a tiresome long run on the paved road, followed by an additional lengthy run inside the camp. I thought we were getting close because I could hear the sound coming from the main venue, but it quickly disappeared. My legs were totally exhausted. I was starving. Other trail runners I met felt the same way.

By this time, I was “runplaining”—running and complaining at the same time… I highly doubted it was the last kilometer. If it were, it was insane…!!! I was “power walking” with what little strength I had left. Some runners were done and just sat and waited. “It was already 12:01 PM, what’s the point?”, I overheard a racer exclaim in frustration. For a moment I was wondering whether the trail was the proper route for the 21-kilometer racers. It did seem never-ending. But I kept going…

Finally, I could see the finish line

Before I reached the last jump at the finish line, they took my tag off. I had no idea this time why they had to cut it off. I probably didn’t care. I was just happy I made it to the finish line. I got my medal and finisher shirt. Then I took selfies with Merrell staff as well as my friend Nathan and his brother, who participated in the 10k run. We were limping.

At 12:39 PM I was on the way home. I was supposed to be at the clinic at 10 but alas, it took me 6 hours to finish the race. When I got home, I cleaned up and went out to eat. Then it hit me. They took the tag off before the finish arc because I was technically a DNF.

I confirmed with a friend I met along the trail that our names would not appear on the list because we did not complete the trail before 12NN. I was so disappointed. I saw on the Spartan group other racers share the same sentiments, some of them were complaining about the trail because it was 23-24km rather than 21km. However, some argue that this is normal in any race…

Whatever it was, and however disheartened I was, I still congratulated myself on my perseverance. Looking back, I knew that I did what I could.

Lessons I learned from running the 21k Spartan Trail Run in Cebu

From what I’ve experienced, I’d say you truly need to prepare for this type of event. You might say “duh” but I meant not just do any gym training, it has to be tailored to this kind of race. My training was not specifically designed for a trail run. So I struggled. I also did not allow enough time for my body to rest before the run. It was a definite mistake to do leg day 4 days before the race. These are the things I’d keep in mind next time I join a Spartan trail run. I’d bring another pack of food gel too.

Parting Words

While I finished on a somewhat downbeat note, it’s still an experience I’d forever be grateful for. I had fun moments in the trail. I met inspiring people. I met amazing athletes. If I ever do a trail run again, I’d still use my Merrell Antora 3 shoes but with thicker socks. I’d still stop and admire the beauty of nature when I feel like doing so. And I’d still continue running even if I hear others say I won’t make it on time—I always remember what my husband used to tell me every time we race, “Perseverance,” “The only way to fail is to quit.” On your next sporting endeavor, hopefully you can say to yourself the exact words I thought as I crossed the finish line: “What a race! What an opportunity to persevere!”

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