Benjamin Gaetos opened the floodgates for Pinoy Ultra Runners to shine in the prestigious Badwater 135 Ultra Marathon Race which is considered as the “toughest ultra running race in the world” today. As history would place in its proper perspective and understanding, Benjamin Gaetos is already considered as the FIRST and LAST Pinoy Ultra Runner who finished the ORIGINAL Badwater 135 Ultra which starts in Badwater, California (hence, the name Badwater in the title of the race), 280 feet below sea level up to Mt Whitney’s Portal at an elevation of 8,360 feet above sea level in 44:08:07 hours where the cut-off time is 48 hours.
With the latest restrictions and policy from the newly designated Superintendent of the Death Valley Park, the conduct of endurance sports activity is being prohibited and held in abeyance before a thorough study is being published to review on the safety of participants in such events being held in the said area. However, such restriction did not prevent the Race Organizer to conduct the annual event for the ultra runners but instead of starting and passing through the extreme hot environment of the Death Valley Park, the event was held at the adjacent Owens Valley which is equally challenging as the original route with the prevailing summer heat and more gain in elevation. The New Badwater 135 course covers three mountain pass ascents for a total of over 17,000 feet (5,800 meters) of cumulative vertical ascent and 12, 700 feet (4,450 meters) of cumulative descent.
In this year’s New Badwater 135 route, two Filipinos, Gerald Tabios and Tomas Zaide have been qualified and invited by the Race Organizers to join the event. But for me to be more focused on my story, this article will be devoted as a tribute to Gerald Tabios as the FIRST Pinoy Ultra Runner to have finished the New Badwater 135 Ultra Marathon Race.
I became aware of Gerald Tabios’ participation in the New Badwater 135 from a news story published in the On Line Edition of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Surprised that he has no account on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, I immediately browse his name at UltraSignUp and I was amazed with his ultra race portfolio/resume of his ultra finishes. He had finished a lot of 100-miler races in the Eastern part of the US, particularly in New York City and its suburbs and he placed as a Champion in one of the 100K races in the area and a number of them where he finished in the top 3 podium finishes. Notable of these ultra running accomplishments were the following:
Champion in the 2014 Jack Bristol Lake Waramaug 100K Ultra Race held in New Preston, Connecticut with a time of 9:46:03 hours
2nd Overall Champion in the 2013 Three Days At The Fair Running Event (48 Hours Timed Event) in Augusta, Georgia where he was able to run a distance of 143 miles.
Consistent and 3-Time Finisher of The Great New York City Running Exposition 100-Mile Race with a best time of 21:22:34 hours.
Since his family migrated in New York, USA in 2001, he had his taste of his first Marathon Race finish at the New York City Marathon and since then, he had been a “streaker” of this most popular and the World’s Biggest Marathon Race for the past nine (9) years! Even if he considers himself as a slow marathon runner, he prides himself with an impressive Marathon Finish time of 3:31:32 hours at the Central Park Marathon in New York City. Aside from his numerous ultra events that are listed in the UltraSignUp Website, he had finished a total of 25 Marathon Races.
I was impressed with his ultra race results as his age as an ultra runner is still at his prime of 44 years old. Gerald is still starting as an ultra runner for the past 2 years but he has made already a great impression to his peers and to myself as a hardcore ultra runner. I have no doubt then that he will finish the New Badwater 135 even if he is not exposed to hotter environment (as compared to the East Coast’s climate) and he had never set his foot in the extreme heat and gusty winds within the desert mountains of California.
As an old runner and firm believer of the Arthur Lydiard Way, I believe that there must be something in Gerald’s childhood that greatly contributed in his passion and craving for running events. He was born in Malaybalay City (Bukidnon) on September 12, 1969 but he did not have to walk on mountain trails in order to finish his elementary and high school education as the family house is only a “stone’s throw” to the schools. His interest in running started when he was in high school with his brothers, who happened to be running enthusiasts during the “running boom in the 80’s”, and they would tow him along in public parks and streets in their jogging practices. He could still remember when spending vacation in Manila that his brothers would bring him jogging around a big street block in Quezon City which happens to be where the ABS-CBN Compound is located along the Mother Ignacia Street.
Surprisingly, a local elite runner who hails from Malaybalay, Bukidnon, Ronilo Indapan became his running idol and inspiration. Ronilo Indapan had been a consistent MILO Marathon Finals Qualifier in the 1980’s and he was then the pride of Malaybalay in Long Distance Running as he was sent to Manila with “free trip and accommodation” to and from Manila to join the MILO Marathon Finals. He could be the father of one of my former elite runners who is now a soldier of the Philippine Army, got married to my Secretary/Staff and now living with two children.
With Ronilo Indapan, a local running hero in their place, as his role model and inspiration, and with his brothers’ interest in joining running events, he started to train and join the annual MILO 10K Runs in Cagayan De Oro City from 1994-1997; and progressed to a longer distance event by joining and finishing the The Tri-City International 25K Race in Cebu City in 1995 & 1996. He even mentioned that his brothers would buy him running tops/singlets and shorts made by BOTAK; and ADIDAS Jogging Pants and Sweaters!
Gerald was neither a high school nor a college athlete, he just simply love and have fun in running long distance events. He finished his college education with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering at the Xavier University Ateneo de Cagayan in Cagayan De Oro City.
Twelve years later after he migrated to the USA with lots of Marathon and Ultra Marathon Finishes and most specially when he finished as 2nd Overall Champion in the 2013 Three Days At The Fair 48-Hour Run, he decided to send a letter of request to the Race Organizer of Badwater 135 for him to be included in the List Of Qualified Participants in this year’s edition. And the rest is history.
However, his toughness as a 100-Miler and Ultra Podium Finisher is not enough for him to secure an easy race and finish at Badwater 135. With a 48-hour cut-off time to run a distance of 135 miles with extreme heat, gusty winds and additional gain in elevation as compared with the original Badwater route, the presence and time-clock precision of pacing and assistance from his Support Crew is equally half of the effort for an ultra runner to finish this brutal ultra running event. Gerald was ably assisted by the following members of his Support Crew dubbed as the “Team Tabios”—-his wife Donna; Kat Bermudez, a Registered Nurse in New York City; and his brother Glen Tabios, a UP Diliman Professor and Civil Engineering Chairman who flew all the way from Manila. It was unfortunate that friends and relatives of Gerald in New York City came up with a nice Uniform for everybody in the team with the word BADWATER printed on them and they could not wear them during the race as it violates one of the Rules and Regulations of the Race—the word “BADWATER” is a registered trademark of the Race Organizer and nobody is allowed to use it in any form by any of the participants. Violation of any rules or regulations of the event would mean an outright Disqualification from the race.
Practically, Gerald and the members of the Team Tabios are “first-timers” in the desert environment of California. Based from the FB Status of Kat Bermudez who happens to be the an ultra runner and wife of a PMA Graduate and former comrade-officer in the Philippine Army, the Team landed in San Francisco coming from New York City. Kat was always complaining about the lack of Parking Spaces in the Windy and By The Sea City of San Francisco! It was too late to suggest to her that the team should have landed in Los Angeles! However, during the event, I never heard Kat from complaining about where to park the Team’s Support Vehicle along the desert of California! It was Kat’s regular FB Status Feeds that gave much information and pictures of Gerald’s “real-time” situation during the race as she later became the Official Pacer of Gerald; Donna, due to her observation on how the elite runners are being supported in Gerald’s past ultra races, she became the overall “conductor of a symphony orchestra” for all the Support Team members to be “playing the same tune” so to speak, and bring Gerald to the finish line strong, safe, and without any injury. Glen, Donna, and Kat did a splendid job as their Principal Runner, Gerald did not have any bouts of cramping, GI issues of “throwing up” of ingested food; dizziness and hallucinations; chafing; blisters; or dehydration. Gerald followed his pace, ate and drank his nutrition and did not mind the pace of the other runners. With patience and determination, Gerald finished the 2014 Badwater 135-Mile Ultra Marathon Race in 44:40:40 hours ranking as #69 out of 97 starters.
I was expecting Gerald to relate to me a little “drama” if he ever encountered some nasty feelings or pain in any parts of his body or doubts in his mind about the challenges he has to face or had any complaints about the hot weather, gusty winds in the desert and those additional gains in elevation of the new route. He said that he did not have any “drama” or “issues” with his body and the environment during the race. It speaks well of his good training/preparation and firm resolve to finish the race. If you closely observe his running attire and shoes, he did not change them except when he removed his gaiters and changed his wet socks. Would you believe that he used a New Balance 860 V3 shoes which he bought On Sale at Marshall’s for the price of $49.00 and with cotton socks from GAP? I wonder if Gerald has a bloodline to my own tribe which is the Ilocano!
Knowing that he had already recovered from this brutal course, I asked him about his training in preparation for this event. He humbly said that for the past year leading to the event, he was logging 40-50 miles a week where most of his weekday runs were his daily 6-mile runs from his home/apartment in Queens to this work in Manhattan, New York City. On weekends, he starts very early in the morning for his long runs but he makes sure to be back before mid-day and spend most of the remaining time of the day with his wife and kids, a boy and a girl (11 and 7 years old). He proudly said that he works as a Private Family Driver in Manhattan, New York City but remotely managing a small business that he owns in the Philippines. His humility would not show that his family, specially his father, grew up in a family of politicians and entrepreneur in their province.
Not even money or financial requirements for the event would hinder Gerald’s passion to the sports of ultra running. Gerald’s and his wife’s savings amounting to $3,000 financed his dream to finish the event and it covered for the Registration Fee for the Race ($1,050); RT Ticket for Gerald & Wife ($850); Support Vehicle/Van Rental ($600); Hotel Accommodation in Lone Pine, California For 5 Days ($550); and Food & Miscellaneous Needs ($400). His brother Glen and friend Kat shouldered their own RT plane tickets from Manila and New York City, respectively. Gerald’s relatives and friends residing in Los Angeles, California had also supported the team by lending those much-needed ice cooler/chest for his nutrition/hydration and cold towel/water spray.
Gerald was able to raise the amount of $1,200 for his charity through the US Fund for UNICEF which will ultimately be used in the rehabilitation/rebuiding of the damage structures brought about by Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in Leyte and Samar. Gerald is a simple and humble guy with strong legs and a big heart!
When I asked him, “What will be your next adventure in ultra running?” He answered, ” Sir, I hope to run a distance of 180 miles in the next year’s edition of the Three Days At The Fair in May 2015 in Augusta, New Jersey and be able to improve my 143-mile record this year.”
And then, I asked him again, “What keeps you on “going and going” like that Energizer Bunny in the TV Ads?” He replied, “Running is the simplest sports that I know which has only ONE RULE—Do not stop running until you cross the Finish Line!”
But jokingly he added, “It is your fault, Sir BR! When I started regularly reading your blog three years ago, it transformed me to be a “crazy runner” like you!”
We both laughed and I raised my hand and I gave him a snappy salute!
Well done and Congratulations, Gerald! You made our country proud among the toughest and strongest runners in the world!
Carry On, Warrior!
(Note: Photos of Gerald Were Shared Through The Courtesy of Donna Tabios)