Meet JP Alipio. One of the founders of the Cordillera Conservation Trust a Mountain Conservation organization based in the Philippines that works with communities through outdoor and adventure activities for the conservation of the wild spaces. The Cordillera Mountain Ultra (CMU), a 50km trail race that goes around some of the most beautiful mountain ridges, forests, and remote villages in the northern mountain range of the Philippine Island of Luzon, is organized by the Cordillera Conservation Trust. It is said to be one of the most beautiful trail races in Asia and it certainly is the most competitive in the Philippines with runners like Harry Jones competing over the years. A trail runner himself, JP has been running for 20 years now since college.
How did you get into running?
I got into running to keep fit for mountain climbing activities when I was in college. I wanted to go further into the mountains and explore more of the wild spaces of my home in the Cordilleras. Running on the trails around my home, roads and paths in the community was a great way to get more fit to be able to carry a big pack in the mountains over weeks. This evolved into mountain and ultra-running and for me this opened a whole new world of adventure. Being able to explore the wild spaces unencumbered by big packs and equipment it really is the closest to nature you can get. You can be running in the mountains with just the sole of your shoes separating you from the ground and your body moving through the landscape like the wild animals that roam through with the barest of essentials, drinking from the streams, and just freeing your soul to be a part of nature again.
Some of my biggest achievements over the last few years of running has been completing the Transvulcania on the La Palma Island of Spain in 2018. Also, finishing the 2019 Dragon’s Back Race in Wales. This race is said to be the most difficult mountain race in the world traversing over 315kms and 15000m of elevation gain over 5 days across the spine of Wales.
Tell us about Illi
Illi is a term we use here in the Cordillera mountains for our homes. It refers not simply to a physical place but also the people, culture and environment in which we live in. It is a place of our ancestors and the generations that will follow us. For many indigenous groups, not just ours, land is life but to expound on that it really is land, community, culture, environment and generations before and after us that defines life. During the Cordillera Mountain Ultra we welcome over 30 nations into our Illi and when you run through the landscape, sleep in our homes, and share our food you become part of our story, part of our Illi and part of the community we call home.
How has growing up in a village influenced your relationship with running?
I grew up in a small town in the mountains that has now grown into a small city. When I was younger, we used to spend our days playing in the neighboring farms, catching tadpoles from the canals, or going down to the river behind our house to play. As the years went by the farms turned into buildings, and the river was no longer fit to play in. Seeing these changes happen firsthand really reinforced for me the need to protect the wild spaces. Not simply the ones that are in national parks but the wild spaces close to home and close to our communities.
Running was a way that allowed me to go outdoors into nature and explore all these areas. First the areas around my neighborhood and next to the more remote regions of the mountains. This background also allowed me to appreciate the role that communities play in conservation. You can’t just fence out people from wild spaces but each person that values the outdoors, values the wild places, adds to the inherent value of nature and nature needs a constituency. The more people that go outdoors, whether it is running or even just walking starts to build that constituency for the wild.
What does community mean to you?
Community is something for me that is constantly evolving from the family unit I grew up with to the greater running community that I am now a part of. The Cordillera Mountain Ultra is a unique race in that we encourage the building of bonds and relationships between the runners from all over the Philippines and all over the world with the members of the community where we hold the race in. They stay in homestays in the little village and while accommodations are pretty basic, time and again it is the warmth and welcoming of the community of all the runners that has truly made a difference here. Many of the runners have a special relationship now with the homes they stay in for the duration of the race and for many in the community meeting runners who have traveled so far to visit their beautiful home offers a fresh perspective on the value of their backyards as well as providing stories from all over the world to people who may not have the opportunity to explore beyond their own borders. In this way during the CMU we create a global community in the little village that carries over way past the date of the race.
How has your community motivated you?
The community has always motivated me to create better lives for everyone. Myself, my family, my community and the greater wild space that we all live in.
I have been privileged to be part of a global community of like-minded individuals, runners, explorers, bikers, people who love the outdoors and this community has been integral to my growth as a person. Having peers who share the same passions is important but also to be able to admire the talent and be mentored by your own peers is something quite important to me.
Why is it important to share your community with the world?
What we do is to create value for the wild spaces. We create a constituency around the mountains which we live in. By sharing these mountains with the world, we add value to these areas simply by knowing that they exist and each footstep and each experience that goes through these beautiful areas makes them much more valuable and multiplies their value and constituency tenfold.
Anything else you’d like to share?
The isolation of this global pandemic makes it difficult for us all to feel like we are part of a greater community. But every day I look up at the sky and realize that we all, no matter where we are on earth are part of a global community, whether you’re at home by yourself or with your loved ones, anywhere on the globe we are all under the same sky, one community of human kind and every sunset means that there will be a sunrise tomorrow to look forward to, together.
About the Cordillera Conservation Trust
The Cordillera Conservation Trust is a local Environmental Organization myself and a few other friends set up in 2006 as a response to a need we saw for a local conservation organization that focused work on the wild spaces and the communities that lived within these beautiful areas. We have gone through a few iterations of the organization from doing reforestation, building forest nurseries, media, and now creating adventure economies that create conservation outcomes in the wild spaces we work in. We started the CMU (Cordillera Mountain Ultra) in 2015 in Mt. Pulag as part of this adventure economy development program. Part of putting together the race we trained the local community in homestays, cooking, accounting, hospitality, etc… so that they would be able to access the adventure economy and move them away from less sustainable forms of livelihood like large scale commercial agriculture which is the leading cause of deforestation in the Cordillera mountain region. So far, this program has become quite successful wherever we do it. We are now in the third village for the CMU which is in Tinongdan in Itogon and the first two villages have become leaders in the homestay industry in the entire region because of our work and of course the many runners of the CMU who come from over 30 countries these days. In the villages we’ve seen an increase of up to 1000% in incomes during the CMU race weekend and there are now permanent homestays that cater to guests the whole year-round moving people away from less sustainable economies. This way they make an income from keeping the mountains wild, pristine, and beautiful rather than seeing it simply as a resource to take from.