Solo act to save Makiling
LOS BAÑOS, LAGUNA—If you studied at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) in Laguna province in the late 1990s, chances are you have come across George, a lanky man known for wearing skimpy shorts around campus.
At one point, he was often seen jogging barefoot or chugging down bottles of beer until the wee hours in a local bar.
But even after he earned his agriculture degree in 2004, George Javier, 39, remains a constant figure in the university community. The only difference now is he would probably be on Mt. Makiling, an inactive volcano rising 1,090 meters above sea level, collecting trash left by hikers and visitors, and educating people on forest conservation.
“I often pray for the rain,” Javier said. “There are usually less hikers when it rains, allowing ‘Maria’ some time to rest.”
Javier, an ultra trail runner, passionately refers to the mountain by the name of the mythical goddess, as if they were in some form of a special commune. Thrice a week, he runs up and down the steep trail crossing the Los Baños and Sto. Tomas (Batangas province) traverse.
“The mountain is my training ground, my playground. It’s just but right that I take care of her,” he said.
Javier takes with him a garbage bag to fill with candy wrappers, rubber soles, handkerchiefs or cigarette butts he sees on his way down. He also cautions hikers and students from killing any creature inside the forest reserve.
“I tell [hikers] how a single candy wrapper could choke up birds,” he said.
Use of senses
It was in Mt. Makiling in 2010 when the former campus junkie started taking trail running seriously, with a 3-kilometer run and brisk walk up the mountain. This was followed by a 50-km trail run on the Mt. Pinatubo trail in Central Luzon and a 102-km road run tracing the historical Bataan Death March route.
“Trail running is different from road running. You can run on a flat road with your eyes closed but on the trail, you have to keep all your senses working,” he said.
As he joined more competitions, Javier said he felt ready to conquer the more challenging routes. He had completed an 84-km ultra trail from Clark Freeport in Pampanga province to Miyamit Falls in Porac town, a 100-km race on Mt. Ugo in the border of Benguet and Nueva Vizcaya provinces, and another 100-km trail run in Baguio City, among others.
Between 2014 and 2016, Javier thrice completed the 165-km trail run covering the peaks of Mt. Ugo and Mt. Pulag in Benguet within a 40-hour cut off time.
Javier qualified for the 2015 Ultra Marathon de Mont-Blanc, a prestigious 170-km French marathon dubbed the “toughest” among trail runners. He and four other Filipinos were chosen to join 2,300 others from around the globe for the trek-run on the Alpine course through France, Switzerland and Italy.
Unfortunately, Javier suffered from a bad fall, tripping at Kilometer 95 in Arnuva, Italy.
“We were on a single track and a ravine on our left. On a downhill, a runner ahead of me suddenly stopped causing me to trip over,” he said. Only about half finished the race, among them two Filipinos—Miguel Lopez and Roland Wangwang.
Even so, Javier continues to train with Maria, aiming at another attempt on the French marathon. Locals have begun calling Javier pulang kabayo (red horse), with stories of how fast he runs through the forest. The moniker also had something to do with his favorite brand of beer.
Javier calls himself a “minimalist” athlete, taking with him cheap sari-sari store tsitsirya (junk food) and kitchen salt to sustain his sodium need on the track. But he has something that most athletes don’t: cans of beer.
“I get myself drunk a day before the race to get myself in deep sleep,” he said. On the trail, Javier downs a can or two, instead of expensive energy drinks, to boost his calories.
Javier, who runs a small shirt printing business, had sold shirts and solicited funds from college friends to raise P150,000 for the French marathon. He hopes the government has enough support for Filipino athletes as they join international competitions.
“Trail running is relatively young in the Philippines. But we have a lot of strong runners, especially those in the provinces,” he said.
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