7 Pinoys survive tough 171-km ultra race in Europe

Marilyn Paed-Rayray, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 06 2019 07:48 PM | Updated as of Sep 07 2019 10:24 AM

Filipino ultra trail runner Ronnel Valero. Handout

A Filipino from Bulacan is one of 7 elite runners from the Philippines who made it to the finish line in the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), one of the most prestigious and highly coveted foot races in the world.

With a distance of 171 kilometers (106 miles) and 10,040 meters above sea level elevation, the UTMB is widely regarded as the toughest and most difficult trail running race.

“Sobrang hirap kasi yung mga assault niya, yung mga akyat niya, steep, tapos dire-diretso…May 7-kilometer uphill, titiisin mo ‘yun, aakyatin mo, pagdating sa taas tapos bababa ka agad nang ganun din kalayo,” said Ronnel Valero, the first Filipino UTMB finisher.

The 171-km loop around Mont-Blanc starts in Chamonix, France and continues to Switzerland, Italy and back to Chamonix for the finish line.

According to Valero, he and the other Filipino UTMB runners were so close to giving up.

“Tinanong ko sa kanila, naisipan niyo bang mag-DNF (did not finish)?’ Naisip ko yun lalo na yung last 40 kilometer, sobrang hirap niya. Gabi pa. Nandoon kami inaantok, nagha-hallucinate na kami,” he said.

Despite not having enough time to acclimatize to the cold weather, they all struggled, endured and made it to the finish line.

Fourteen other elite runners from the Philippines in different categories--CCC (Courmayeur - Champex - Chamonix 101 km +6,100 m), TDS (Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie - 121 km +7,300 m) and PTL (La Petite Trotte à Léon — approx. 300 km +30,000 m)--were also finishers. The number of ‘DNF’ (Did Not Finish) in the UTMB race is high, but all Filipino athletes finished the race.

Registration and qualifying to the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc race is quite strict and requires enough race points accumulated by the runner in trail races over the previous 2-year period. Because of its popularity, athletes are then selected by lottery.

Each year, the iconic Ultra-Trail of Mont Blanc (UTMB) brings together 10,000 participants, mostly nature-lovers investing the mountain for a week. The beautifully protected countrysides of Italy and Switzerland under the vertical heights of the mountains, the view of glaciers with the majestic presence of Mont Blanc before them while ascending and descending the trail, is magical for every trail runner.

“Sa ngayon heto masaya. Di pa rin ako makapaniwala na nandito ako ngayon sa Europe. Masaya ako na natapos ko nang maayos itong race na pangarap ng lahat ng trail runners,” Valero said.

For him, to see the beauty of Mont Blanc was all worth it.

“Masaya, kaşı dati sa libro ko lang siya nakikita, nababasa ko lang sa social media…Sobrang lamig,” he added.

Paris-based roadrunner turned trail runner Robert Casem is inspired by the experiences of Valero. “Yung kay Nel, napakagandang tularan. Kanina ikinuwento nya sa akin young pinagdaanan niya. Napaka-imposible talaga.”

The coach of Pinoyrunners Association in Paris continues to train and also aims to qualify and register in the UTMB race.

Valero thanked his friends and sponsors in the running community. This finisher and extreme endurance runner will trail run again for the Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge 298KM in 60 Hours in January 2020.