PhilTRA looks to extend Cordillera's sports tourism beyond Baguio through SEA Trail Running Cup

The SEATRC caps a momentous period of sports in the Cordilleras. Evident
By Ivan Saldajeno

BONTOC--At least as what the locals here would say, this town was once the economic center of the present-day Cordillera Administrative Region.

But as the years passed, too much economic premium was placed in Benguet's "twin cities" of Baguio and La Trinidad, and this town was left under the radar.

However, an international running event could serve as a catalyst for hopefully reintroducing this town and even the entire Mountain Province to a broader audience sports-wise.

This town is currently hosting the Southeast Asian Trail Running Cup, which converges about 200 trail runners from eight nations.

"There's so much to showcase in terms of the trails... Of course, there's food and the experience of being here also," said Tin Ferrera, the vice president of the Philippine Trail Running Association which is organizing the Philippine edition of the biennial trail running race series.

For one, the opening vertical uphill race on Friday saw 14 runners from six countries taking the trail going to Mount Fato.

The "main events", though, will happen on Sunday, the 77-kilometer long trail run, 36.5-kilometer short trail run, 12-kilometer mountain classic, 42-kilometer Tawid Mountain Marathon, and 21-kilometer Tawid Mountain Half-Marathon.

Aside from heading to Mount Fato, runners will find themselves traversing the Kadchog Rice Terraces, Mount Kaipitan, Guinaang Rice Terraces, and the riverside of Chico River.

And at least for the weekend, local businesses here will surely get more profit.

"It gives opportunities to the locals," Ferrera further said, also expressing optimism that the participating runners might find themselves running through the uphills and downhills of this town again soon.

She then hopes that even if the SEATRC is over, the economic gains this town would get will be sustained.

"Ito yung kickoff for them na ma-sustain siya in all over activities. Parang opening salvo ito," Ferrera continued.

The ongoing event also comes from the heels of the Abra Weavers' first-ever home game in the MPBL the previous week in Bangued.

With two huge sporting events happening outside of Metro Baguio in a week, Southeast Asian sports enthusiasts get to see what the other towns of CAR are all about.

PhilTRA looks beyond SEATRC

Meanwhile, Ferrera took pride in saying that the Philippines was one of the first countries to host trail running events even before PhilTRA was founded in 2021.

However, with other countries attracting thousands of trail runners in their own events recently, PhilTRA, currently an affiliate of the Philippine Athletics and Track and Field Association, looks to have the same number of participants too in their future uphill runs.

"It's not happening here yet in the Philippines," Ferrera said, adding that the SEATRC is the first time that a relatively huge international athlete turnout has been achieved.

She then hopes that the SEATRC will eventually attract international trail-running organizers to consider hosting events in the Philippines.

"We'd like to show to the world that there are events--hindi lang ito, parang ito yung catalyst--sa Pilipinas na worth going to, so we'd like to reach that point. That's why we're really trying hard to give a good experience to the athletes participating, not just the foreign delegates but also the locals," Ferrera further said.

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