Tess Leono, a Project Analyst of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and local resident of Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila finished the prestigious Badwater 135-Mile Ultra Marathon Race which starts from Badwater, California in the Death Valley National Park passing through three mountain ranges up to the Finish Line at Mt Whitney Portal which is considered as the highest mountain in the mainland USA. The race is popularly known as the “World’s Toughest Foot Race Event” because it starts at an elevation of 280 feet below sea level and finishes at an elevation of almost 8,300 feet above sea level. Runners would be able to tackle and pass three mountain ranges that would total a cumulative vertical ascent of 14,600 feet up to the Finish Line. Adding to the elevation, the prevailing temperature during summer in the area is 120-145 degrees Fahrenheit with gusty winds in the mountain ranges and sandstorms on the flatter areas.
This year’s 39th edition of the race was held on July 18-20, 2016 with 97 runners who were divided into 3 separate Starting Waves according to their past qualifying races. Tess Leono started the race with the First Wave at 8:00 PM of Monday, July 18 with 30+ other runners. The faster runners, 3rd Wave, started at 10:00 PM of the same day.
Tess Leono finished the race in 46:01:29 hours and ranked #82 among the 97 starters. The race has a cut-off time of 48 hours and checkpoints and time stations were located along the route which strictly impose intermediate cut-off times. Each runner-participant is equipped with Spot Satellite Tracker device showing their real-time location during the race which can be seen by everybody on the Internet.
The runners came from the different countries and from the different states in the US who were duly screened and invited to join the race. Most of these athletes are noted Ultrarunners, Triathletes, Adventure Runners, and Mountaineers. Runners from twenty (20) different countries were represented and the remaining runners represented twenty-seven (27) States from the US. Out of the 97 runners, 51 were Veterans/Repeaters and 46 were “first-timers” or rookies.
Tess Leono is one of the “first-timers” in this race which happens to be her first visit to Mainland USA. Her accomplishment in this race gives her the titles as the “First Local Filipino Runner” and “First Filipino Woman” to ever finish this prestigious race.
On the other hand, Gerald Tabios, another Filipino Ultra Runner residing in New York City also finished the race for the third consecutive times since 2014 where every edition he improves his finish time. He finished the race in 41:42:20 hours, an improvement of 40+ minutes, and ranked #61 out of the 97 starters. Gerald Tabios is from the Province of Bukidnon.
The Overall Champion in this year’s race is Pete Kostelnik of Nebraska, USA with a finish time of 21:56:32 hours registering a New Course Record for this race. He won the race in last year’s edition and finished it faster by almost one hour. In the women’s side, Venti Alyson of Barbados, USA won the Women’s Championship placing 5th Overall with a time of 25:53:07 hours. Out of the 97 starters, 13 runners were declared as DNFs due to fatigue, injury, and effects of the environment to them.
Tess Leono started as an ultrarunner by joining the scheduled races of the Philippine Association of Ultrarunners (PAU) and the Bald Runner’s Events for the past three (3) years and her consistent performance as Lady Champion and Podium Finisher in these road & trail races earned her the PAU Runner Of The Year Award for two consecutive years (2014 & 2015). She is the only woman who have finished the PAU Grand Slam Races in one year (Antique 100-Mile Run; West Coast 200K Ultra Run; Taklang Damulag 100-Mile Endurance Run; and the Bataan Death March 160K Run). Last February of this year, she was declared as the Lady Champion in the yearly Manila To Baguio 250K Ultra Marathon Race. She submitted her finishes in these PAU Races as her qualifying races to join this year’s Badwater 135 Ultra Marathon Race.
At the moment, Tess Leono is now resting and recovering from the said race. In an interview with her, she said that this race is so far the most challenging foot race that he joined and she is happy that she was able to push through despite her “down/low” moments along the route.
“I did not know why I tripped and fell down on the pavement on the downhill run from Townes Pass to Panamint Springs for two times that my Support Crew had to immediately treat my wounds on my hands and legs. I owe a lot from the support, care, and pacing provided by my Support Crew headed by Benjamin Gaetos”, she said.
Benjamin Gaetos, a Filipino Architect/Engineer residing in Los Angeles, California is the First Filipino to have finished this race in 2013. The other team members consisted of Western States 100-Mile Finisher Franco Soriano of Livermore, California, Rowell Ramos & Peachy Poso, both from Los Angeles, California. They are all accomplished ultra runners who have prepared and trained for this event.
Tess also said that, “The hot temperature along the route was too much to bear as compared to the prevailing temperature in the Philippines during summer and the gusty winds on the peaks of the mountain ranges along the route was too strong that I had to slow down to a hiking pace”. In her statement, she was lucky that on the second night the temperature plunged to its lowest at 60 degrees Fahrenheit that she was able to recover and ran faster, however, she started to have colds as a result of the sudden change of temperature.
Knowing that her friends and running mates in the Philippines are rooting for her success, it was pure grit and determination that drove and motivated her to finish this race at all cost. “I will never forget my experience in joining this race as most of the runners who would pass me along the course would either stop or walk just to engage a conversation with me and try to encourage me with their positive advise of pushing through my pace up to the Finish Line. It is heartwarming that most of them would say that they will be waiting for me at the Finish Line and they really did! This is the reason why I love ultra running!”, she said.
Tess Leono made a history and she will be an inspiration for more Filipino ultra runners to shine in international competition.
After one day rest in Lone Pine, California, I asked if Tess Leono would be willing to return to improve her finish time and she said, “I need more training, more planning for my race logistics, apply the lessons I have learned, and find out if I can get more sponsors to support me, then I would be glad to return.”
In an interview by the Balitang Pinoy of ABS-CBN California with the President of the Philippine Association of Ultrarunners (PAU), the National Sports Federation on Ultrarunning in the country, Major General Jovenal D Narcise AFP (Ret), he said that, “After 7 years of patience and consistency in conducting ultrarunning races in the country, it is now proven that our runners could compete in international races and that would give pride and inspiration to the whole nation and we have our first woman finisher in the Badwater 135 Ultra Marathon”. He also added that, “With this accomplishment and participation of our runners with other countries, hopefully, the government will have the heart and political will to provide “all-out” support to our athletes/runners in this kind of sports”.
General Narcise is the Founder and Race Organizer & Director of the yearly “Bataan Death March 160K & 102K Ultra Marathon Races” which is tagged as the most prestigious Ultra Marathon Event in the country.