Pine forests and local hospitality await you in the remote high mountains of the Philippines.
Cordillera Mountain Ultra takes place on the southern slopes of Mt. Ugo in the town of Itogon. Getting there from outside of the Philippines was quite a challenge. We had to fly into Manila and get a private car which took over 7 hours to get to Itogon. There is an alternative to take a public bus (add 1-2 hours) to Baguio (closest city to Itogon) and take a Grab from there. A better option, if possible, is to fly to Clark over Manila as it is closer to Baguio and you can save 2-3 hours of driving.
Tinongdan, Itogon is a small 'town' which really is more like a village surrounded by the Cordillera Mountain Range. Most of the runners decided to sleep directly in the village. This is highly recommended given the race starts very early in the morning. Staying with the locals in Itogon was the most authentic and unforgettable experience one can imagine. We were lodged directly inside the villagers’ huts - they tried to find some space in their homes by adding extra mattresses on the floor. Alternatively, runners were also able to sleep on the floor in the local school. This definitely wasn't the best or most comfortable pre-race sleep but it was incredible to see the locals opening homes to complete strangers and even cooking dinner for us. I was more than happy to support these people and become part of their community for the weekend.
© Photos by William Cheung
The race started very early in the morning to avoid the heat so we all had some breakfast around 3am in the morning. My friends and I all did the longest distance (50km) with +3800m elevation but there is option to do 21km and 10km on the same day as well as a vertical race one day prior. The race begins with a very steep climb of Mt Ugo - the tallest mountain of the Cordillera range. This means most of the climbing is done in the first two hours into the race before it gets too hot. We were lucky to run on a very clear day and so when reaching the top of Mt Ugo we got beautiful sunrise views. The rest of the race is full of small up and downhills followed by a big steep downhill towards the end. It gets really hot so it is important to drink plenty of water in order not to get dehydrated. Checkpoints are very simple so make sure to bring your own food and gels. I don't think it is hard to get lost but I still did for a bit so would recommend to download the gpx file into your watch.
50km course with elevation chart
The CMU race is one of my favourite races of 2019. The views are stunning and you get to see a very different part of the Philippines which looks nothing like what you have in mind when you imagine this 'tropical' country. What makes this race exceptional is its people - the Filipino hospitality is something truly unique. The organisers and locals treated all runners warmly, no matter if they were natives or foreigners. I still have great feelings whenever I think back of the Cordillera race.
© Photos by Harry Tanoja (1,2,3) and William Cheung (4)
The CMU race is all about protecting the environment and supporting local communities in the Cordillera mountain region. To save the environment there is no medals for finishers but instead special embroidered patches that are made by local communities. The trophies are designed by local artists and they truly look like a real piece of art! (see above)
Runner’s Score: 15/20
1) Accessibility: 2/5
2) Scenery: 4/5
3) Race organisation: 4/5
4) Atmosphere: 5/5
Asia Trail Girls Score: 3/6
1) Equal race spots: Yes
2) Equal prizes: Yes
3) Female specific t-shirt sizes: No
4) Photos of women on the website/social media: Yes
5) Separate sanitary facilities for women at race start/finish: No
6) Sanitary facilities at checkpoints: No
Get more info on CMU 2021 here