The mountainous town of Sagada has always been on top of my travel bucket list. But due to conflicts on work schedule and unintended changes of plans, my visit to this place was put on hold for four long years. Until recently, the travel gods aligned my stars. I was able to score round trip promo fares for me and my wife, our vacation leave applications consequently approved and finally I got the chance to travel to this postcard-pretty town perched in the highlands of Mountain Province
The best part of this journey is that we did not only explored Sagada's outdoor attractions but we also joined the 21K Category of Sagada Marathon 4th Edition. So it was both a vacation and a race along pine-clad roads, hills and trails which made us explored Sagada extensively on foot.
Start/Finish area is at Minnie Degawan Compound, Mabbay, Poblacion, a few meters away from Mt. Carmel Church. This is also where we claimed our race bib the afternoon before race day. Race bibs were personalized with the participants names. I and Malou got race numbers 001 and 002 respectively, which probably means we were among the first to register for the 21K category.
After the orientation, the race started at about 5:30 AM. It was still dark and very cold. Good thing I brought my headlamp and windbreaker along. The route started with an uphill climb along the concrete paved Staunton Road. We warmed up by walking the uphill part then started our run upon reaching the downhill portion.
We then made a left turn towards Kiltepan road which was mostly dirt and hilly. First control point was at the Kiltepan Camp Site where our race numbers were recorded. From the camp site, we descended back to the highway, and after descending from Petron Station, we made a right turn towards the Marlboro Country trail.
My favorite part of the route started here since it was 100% trail and and the climb was gradual along fog-clad pine trees.
Before reaching the clearing at the Marlboro Country peak, we already caught glimpses of the sea of clouds. Malou and I increased our pace and we were able to catch the most wonderful view of the race.
As fog started to enveloped the place, we started the descent. Along with a number of runners, we missed the red ribbon marker and got lost for a few hundred meters down.
With the help of another runner catching our attention with his flashing headlamp, we were able to get back on track. We continued our descent along the very beautiful pine forest trail.
From the pine forest, we exited to a small open field named Kaipitan, backdropped by a gigantic limestone cliff.
The descent continued until we reached the Blue Soil Hills, one of Sagada's trekking destinations, The hills were like compacted grains of sands made unique by its bluish in color as it is said to be rich in minerals.
We thought we would only pass on the side of the hills but I was pleased to find out that we would actually be running on it as part of the route. We have to be careful though as the soil was made damp by the rain the day before the race.
After one last descent, we finally made our way out of the trail and into the paved Mabisil-Payag-eo-Balili Road. It was where the first aid station was situated. The marshal told us we're still halfway to the finish. We refilled our hydration bottles with water and Gatorade and munched on some kamote, bread and watermelon.
Going back to the Poblacion was mostly uphill. We walked most part of this route and feasted our eyes on the beautiful cliffs, pine forests and rice terraces.
After passing Sumaguing Cave Entrance, we made a brief stop to take photos of Gaia Cafe, made famous by the movie "That Thing Called Tadhana".
Upon reaching the second and last aid station, we again refilled our hydration and ate bananas to refuel our bodies. The marshal told us we were only 5 kilometers away from the finish line.
At the Poblacion, we passed in between Sagada restaurants and inns. Some tourists hanging out in the terrace of Salt and Pepper Diner cheered us as we pass by.
We finally reached the finish line with a time of 3 hours and 55 minutes. The lady recording the finishers time told us that we ranked 34 and 35 among 133 runners. Satisfied with our performance, we happily claimed our finisher's shirt and badge. At about 10 AM, we feasted on the post-race meal consists of hefty servings of Pinikpikan (traditional chicken dish) with etag (smoked pork) and rice.
We were disappointed though because finishers medals were not given after we finished the race. We heard similar complaints from other participants. In fairness, the race director whom I chatted in Facebook the day after the race, apologized for the lapses and promised to send us our medals through courier. I would be updating this post once we received the medals.
Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our Sagada Marathon Experience. The route was both challenging and beautiful. We considered the sea of clouds in Marlboro Country, the pine forest trail and the Blue Soil Hills as the highlights of the route. Now, we are only waiting for the finishers medals to be delivered to make our Sagada Marathon experience complete.