John “Sting” Ray Onifa: The Pinoy Course Record Holder In 2019 UTMB’s CCC 101K Trail Race
I have never met and still not a friend on Facebook of this very talented mountain trail runner. Because of this outstanding and admirable finish at this year’s CCC 101K Race in Chamonix, France, he deserves to be featured in this blog for whatever purpose. It could be an inspiration to future elite runners or a good reference to others. (Note: Hopefully this will used as a reference to our Local and National News and printed media). But one thing is sure, he is now the BEST Pinoy Ultra Trail Runner for finishing the 2019 CCC 101K Race from Courmayeur, Italy to Chamonix, France with a Course Record Time (For Pinoys) of 12:36:11 hours finishing with a ranking of 33rd place out of 2,000 runners and top 30 runners in the Male Category. His Average Speed for the course is 7.9 kilometers per hour (which is basically my average Road Running Speed) considering that this is his first exposure in running bigger/higher mountains than he usually race in Southeast Asia where altitude and technical nature of the trails usually slow down runners coming from the sea level places.
Who is John “Sting” Ray Onifa? I bet that if you are more of an average Road Runner, you will never had the chance to meet him in person or read his name in local and national news or even meet him in the local and National MILO Marathon Events. Even the local trail runners in Luzon and Mindanao seldom would see this guy in more popular trail running events in the Cordilleras for the past years (except this year when he joined this year’s CMU). Except for the runners in Panay Island, he is well-known as a Road Runner and later on as an Ultra Marathon Runner having finished the local ultra races in Iloilo, Negros, and Antique. Later, he joined short distance trail running events within the area where he is from.
JR Onifa was born in Dao, Antique, now known as the Municipality of Tobias Fornier. Where is that place? Having been assigned in the Panay Island during my military days and visiting the Province of Antique almost every year for my Antique 100-Mile Endurance Run, it is my first time to know about the town. When I “googled” the name of the town, I found out that the municipality is located at the southernmost tip of Antique Province, way down south from the Capital Town of San Jose De Buenavista where my race usually starts. The town is bounded by mountains on the east and the sea on the west. You can “google” the name of the town for more details about the history and population data of the locality.
Due to the geography where he lives, JR Onifa was born in a poor family and ultimately earned his living through farming and fishing. I would suspect that he was able to complete his secondary education level only. For him to improve his life, he applied as a Candidate Soldier in the Philippine Army but he failed for three consecutive times to enter the service. How I wished I could had helped him during those times when he was trying to enter the military service. If he failed in the Neuro-Psychiatric Test (NP Screening), that is another story to deal with. To make things worse, his mother died and his father left the family. So, starting in 2015, he started running as part of his daily regimen while he was farming and fishing. Through his training, he became a well-known local runner when he won the local races in Antique and Iloilo, setting course records in every event.
It was on the early part of last year, 2018, when one of his friends who saw the elite running potential of JR Onifa started to ask for contributions and sponsorship through crowdsourcing for him to be exposed in international trail running events. His friend, Adonis Lloren aka LAGATAW was very successful in bringing JR Onifa to Thailand to compete in the The North Face (TNF) 50K Ultra Trail Race on February 3, 2018.
The result of the said race completely changed the life of JR Onifa. He won as Champion with an Official Time of 4:01:51 hours in the said race, his first International Ultra Trail Competition, beating the elite athletes of the famous The North Face Adventure Team of Hongkong to include the Team Leader and Director Ryan S Blair who placed 3rd Overall in the said event. Director Ryan Blair was so impressed about the performance of JR Onifa and after a brief interview with JR Onifa about his background, he immediately thought of getting JR Onifa as his new recruit to the Team. Five days after the event in Thailand, Director Ryan Blair posted on the Team’s Facebook Page that JR Onifa had signed in as a full-time member of the The North Face Adventure Team based in Hongkong. I can just imagine how Director Ryan Blair felt when he found out the living situation of JR Onifa in the Philippines knowing for a fact that Director Blair had never brought a new recruit or member to his team for the past three years. Since then, JR Onifa had been a popular trail runner in Hongkong. In March 2018, he was able to get his Working Visa in Hongkong and since then he had been training in Hongkong as well as winning those popular trail races in the area. Simply browse on the Facebook Page of the The North Face Adventure Team (Hongkong) to find out those races where JR Onifa landed on Podium Finishes as well as those incidents that he would be lost along the trail despite being ahead from all the rest on the first half of the course! (This is so familiar to most of those local elite trail runners whom I know!)
If Director Ryan S Blair would read this post, let me express my thanks to you for signing up JR Onifa to your ward of World Standard Elite Trail Runners. How I wish there are more people like you in my own country.
As of this writing, JR Onifa’s team mate Wong Ho Chung of Hongkong finished the UTMB 170K Trail Race in sixth place, highest ranking for an Asian Runner in the said event, with a time of 22:47:47 hours. This is his second time to finish UTMB where he was ranked as 38th Finisher with a time of 27:47:10 hours in the 2016 edition. He is awarded as the Hongkong’s 2019 Trail Runner of the Year.
Congratulations, Jay “Sting” Ray Onifa! You have put our National Colors again in the World of Ultra Trail Running Events. Keep up the good work and be good to your Team Members and Boss! At the young age of 29 years old, your career as a Professional Trail Runner is still starting. Be humble! I have the feeling that you will be standing the starting line at the 2020 UTMB/CCC 101K Trail Race again where you would proudly wave the Philippine Flag crossing the Finish Line as a Podium Finisher. I hope to see you soon in Hongkong!
(Note: Pictures Taken From The North Face Adventure Team Facebook Page)
The following are the Information/Rules and Regulations of the 1st Bataan Death March 102K 5-Man Relay Race:
The Bataan Death March 102K 5-Man Relay Race is a Team Competition Race consisting of 5 Runners for each Team. The Relay Race consists of the following categories: All Men’s; All Women’s; Mixed Male-Female (with at least, One Female in the Team); and a LGBT Team Category
Each runner in the Team will run a distance of 10 Kilometers in the first 50 Kilometers and the process is repeated on the next or last 50 Kilometers (Km 50-Km100). All the 5 runners of the Team will run as a Group/Team on the last 2 Kilometers to the Finish Line on Single File On the Left Side of the Road except on the last 20 meters to the Finish Line where they could run side by side. All the runners must be able to run a total of 22 Kilometers during the duration of the event. NO RUNNER will be allowed to run more than 10 Kilometers in every 50-Kilometer section of the course. The BDM Kilometer Posts will be used as Kilometer Markings for the whole event.
All runners on the road should run on Single File on the LEFT SIDE of the Road…ALWAYS.
Each Team can have two (2) Support Vehicles with a designated Driver who is NOT a runner and who could also help as support crew for the Team. A Team can also use a single Support Vehicle using a Van or Mini-Bus with a dedicated Driver. For the teams coming from the Military and/or Police, they can use their Personnel Carrier Trucks as their Support Vehicle.
The Support Vehicles must be able to “leag-frog” their runners which means that they should wait for their runners in a specified location/distance in order to provide support to their runner/s. Support Vehicles should always park on the RIGHT shoulder of the Highway with their Hazard Lights switched to ON. Support Vehicles are strictly NOT allowed to “shadow” their respective runner. “Shadowing” means that the Support Vehicle is moving beside, behind, or ahead of the runner with the same speed with that of the runner. This act or violation is a ground for disqualification for the whole Team.
Each runner must be able to finish his/her 10K distance run/leg in One Hour & Twenty Minutes (1:20:00 Hours). The Course Event’s Cut-Off Time is 13 Hours & 30 Minutes. The Cut-Off Time at Kilometer 50 is 7 Hours. Any Team which could not meet these Cut-Off Times will be considered as DNF (Did Not Finish).
Each Team will provide its own Driver, Support Crew; Medical Aidman; and Hydration/Food Provisions during the duration of the Event. It highly suggested that the Driver & Support Crew are knowledgeable on the route direction of the course event.
Support Points or places where the Support Vehicle will be parked to support their runners will depend on the Race Strategy of each Team, however, the Support Crew is advisable to meet their runner at the Left Side of the road for the needs of their runner. Support Crew should be extra careful in crossing the Highway.
Support Vehicles are NOT allowed to park within a distance of 20 meters from or around the BDM Kilometer Posts. Such space should not be covered so that runners would be able to see them as their Reference Points or Kilometer Markings along the course. Exchange of Runners will be at the BDM Kilometer Posts #10, #20, #30, #40, #50, #60, #70, #80, #90, and #100.
Each runner will have a Race Bib which should be displayed at the front part of the shirt…ALWAYS!
Runners are advised NOT to approach their Support Vehicle during their running leg except when they have finished their designated Leg Run. It is the duty of the Support Crew to cross the Highway and meet his/her runner for food or drinks.
Assembly and Processing For Each Team will be on or before 4:00 AM of April 6, 2019 at the Bataan Death March Shrine (BDM Km 0) in Mariveles, Bataan. The race will start at exactly 5:00 AM of April 6, 2019. Cut-Off Time at Kilometer 50 is at 12:00 Noon and then at 6:30 PM of the same day at the Finish Line.
It is encouraged that ONLY the first runners of the FIRST LEG of 10K will be dropped off at the Starting Area in order to minimize the number of Parked Vehicles in the area. The vicinity of the BDM Shrine has a limited Parking Area. The Support Vehicles should initially wait for their runners at BDM Kilometer Post 6 or 7 because of the limited shoulder along the Zigzag section of the road from Mariveles to Barangay Alas-asin, Mariveles, Bataan.
NO PACERS will be allowed for the designated runner/s on each leg of the course. The rest of the Team are encouraged to cheer their runner along the route while their Support Vehicles are properly parked along the shoulder of the Highway.
The use of Reflectorized vests is not Mandatory but it is highly encouraged for the safety of the runners and the Driver & Support Crew.
The runners can use their headphone or MP3 or Phone for music at their own risk, however, they should be able to hear the traffic and the surroundings.
Awarding of Trophies, Medals and other “loot” to the Podium Finishers and other Teams will be on real-time as soon as they cross the Finish Line.
Each Team can now pay the Registration Fee of Ten Thousand Pesos (P 10,000.00) through Bank Deposit at the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) Savings Account Number # 0296-0673-22 in behalf of Jovenal D Narcise not later than April 4, 2019. You can send the e-copy of the Deposit Slip at e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org for confirmation. The said Deposit Slip should be brought and submitted to the Race Event Staff at the Starting Line on Race Day to redeem the Team’s Race Packet.
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.
Marcelo, The Champion is totally different from the rest of the running elite athletes that I’ve known.
I had the chance to be with him for almost 7 days/one week. And for the those days that I’ve with him, I found a lot about the personal life, attitude, behavior, and inner thoughts of this runner.
I went up to Baguio City to personally meet his “handler”, the one who he said to be the person who had helped him in his running career before I discovered him in the 1st Marcos-Kennon 50-Mile Run. “Che” Alberto is Baguio City’s Number #1 Running Event Organizer and Marcelo’s running sponsor in running events where he would join. She is a nice lady and practically knows the life of Marcelo.
But I did not ask her about the details of the life of Marcelo. It was enough for me to know and meet her personally. And with the brief meeting with her, she provided me with copies of the published SUN STAR Baguio Newspaper where Marcelo was featured. I was amazed that the local newspaper featured Marcelo in a story with picture every time he finished as Champion in my Ultra Marathon Races. I was surprised! Marcelo did not even informed me about these publications since I could easily link them through my blog posts.
Talking with “Che” Alberto was very brief and I reserved some time to ask Marcelo about his life. Knowing the details of Marcelo’s life should come from Marcelo himself.
I was introduced also to the writer and sports reporter of Baguio’s Sun Star, Roderick Osis, who have written those sports stories/news every time Marcelo would join PAU’s Races and every time after Marcelo wins an event. Marcelo was so proud to introduce me to these people who are helping him in his passion to run in my events.
Marcelo informed me that he had been interviewed by the local TV network for so many times and thereby, making him as the most popular ultrarunner and a household name in Baguio City! But Marcelo was not affected with such popularity as he remains to be silent, reserved, and humble.
Before leaving Baguio City, he invited me to his house in the Dominican Hill area where he would get his things as he was going with me to Bataan in preparation for his participation in the 1st WC 200 Ultra Race. I was able to meet his wife. The couple do not have any children. They live in a decent house which the couple built in a lot which was part of the inheritance of Marcelo from his Aunt, sister of his mother.
A day after coming from Baguio City, I brought him to Porac, Pampanga to conduct a recon run on the 22-Kilometer mountainous stretch of the Clark-Miyamit 50-Mile Trail Run. He was paced by Danin, one of my runners whom I brought to the place in one of my runs, and I gave them instruction of what to do during the run. I would bring them to where runners would usually start at Barangay Sapang Uwak and for them to run all the way to the Miyamit Falls. I gave instruction for them to take some pictures with the Falls as the background and have their “pit stop” thereat and immediately go back to where they started.
Marcelo & Danin started the recon run at 6:00 AM and at 9:10 AM, they were back at the place where I released them. Mission accomplished! A recon run on this route usually takes 5 to 5 1/2 hours and these two runners did it for 3:10 hours! Amazing!
I told Marcelo that he has another 10 Kilometers to run from the Falls all the way to the peak of Mt Miyamit. He was breathing heavily, silent, and very composed. I did not hear any complaints from him about those “killer” ascending parts of the route. Danin and Marcelo were smiling as they changed their running attire to drier clothes! As I reviewed the shots in my camera, they took a lot of time in the falls to eat and in some parts of the route where they posed for their pictures.
I spent another two days living with Marcelo in Bataan before the start of the 1st WEST COAST 200 Ultramarathon Race. The Miyamit Run was his Taper Run for this 3-day multi-stage event. On these days, I got to know more about Marcelo.
Marcelo is the youngest of 3 children (all boys) whose parents are unknown to him. His parents (both from Baguio City) gave their children to their brother/sisters for them to be taken cared of. Marcelo, being the youngest, was given to the parents’ relatives in Caranglaan, Nueva Ecija. Such town is the last town of Nueva Ecija in its northern side/boundary and it is located in a mountainous area. Because of its mountainous & rugged elevation profile, it is still a “hotbed” for the New People’s Army (NPA) operating in the boundaries of Nueva Vizcaya, Aurora and Nueva Ecija. This is where I had a lot of armed encounters with the insurgents when I was the Brigade Commander of the Philippine Army in the said area.
Life in the mountains was very hard for Marcelo but he was raised as a good kid. He finished his Elementary and High School education in the public schools of Caranglaan, Nueva Ecija. But while he was studying, he was helping his foster parents to raise some agricultural crops in the mountains. But he takes pride of cutting those cogon grasses in the mountains as they are sold when dried along the Maharlika Highway as roofing materials. At one time after his graduation from High School, an attempt to recruit him to the folds of the New People’s Army was made. He was asked to join the Armed Movement with all those reasons to fight for the injustices of the government and the society. He was firm in his decision not to join the movement for the simple reason that it would not be good for his future.
He left Caranglaan and asked his foster parents to look for his true parents. Actually, his purpose of leaving the place was to look for a better work, rather than be a farmer and cogon grass cutter in the mountains of Caranglaan or worse, as a NPA fighter!
He tagged along with an older guy and a resident of Caranglaan who worked as one of the employees of Northern Cement Corporation (NCC) based in Sison, Pangasinan. At the NCC, he became a cement loader—he carries bags of cement to be loaded on a truck and off-load such bags of cement upon reaching its delivery point. A truckload of cement can accommodate 1,000 bags of cement and Marcelo shares the loading with two other companions. He is being paid 75 centavos per bag of cement he loads to a truck and another 75 centavos to off-load one bag of cement in its destination.
At the average, he carries 330+ bags of cement per delivery and that is multiplied by two to complete the work. He even boasted to me that he can carry two bags of cement at one time. At the age of 16 and with the height of almost 5 feet, you might wonder where he is getting such strength!
He stayed in Sison, Pangasinan and worked as cement loader for two years! Life is hard for Marcelo during those years but he survived. But he suddenly thought of another way for him to change his life. He thought of looking for his true parents.
Looking at the address of his parents from his Birth Certificate, he was able to trace and locate such address. He was able to re-unite with his brothers but he was sad to know that his parents had died already due to sickness. The sister of his mother was the one who took cared of him and he was back again in Baguio City for good.
Marcelo told me that he tried his luck to become a soldier where he had to spend a lot of money for documentation and travel as he was asked to follow-up his application to the Philippine Army recruitment office somewhere in Pangasinan in the early 2000’s. I was surprised to know his story about his plan of being a soldier. I have a suspicion that he could have failed in one of the screening examinations or he was not qualified because of his height.
His failure to enter the military service did not deter him to pursue a better life. He became a construction worker in some of the buildings and residential houses in Baguio City. And later, he applied as a Janitor in one of the Shopping Malls inside the Baguio City Market. Marcelo did not complain about his life and he lived very simple and decent. And at one time, he attempted to apply as OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) but it did not materialize until his passport expired.
It was not his luck to become a soldier and OFW but being being able to look for his brothers and his aunt in Baguio City gave him a “home” to stay at. His Aunt had a house and lot property in Baguio City and Marcelo became as one of the heirs of the property when her Auntie died due to old age.
As part of his inheritance, he constructed a decent small house in a lot located on the slope of the famous Dominican Hill in Baguio City where he lives with his wife. He was proud to invite me into his house for a cup of hot coffee and I really appreciated his gesture/invitation. I was able to meet his wife who was busy ironing her clothes and uniform. The wife works as a Security Guard at the Baguio City Export Processing Zone.
On the wall where a small old TV is flashed, you could see framed “blow-up” pictures of him being awarded as the Champion of the 1st PAU National Championship in Guimaras. Only medals and trophies where he was the No. 1 and/or Champion were placed on top of the TV and I know that all of these came from my races!
He started to run and join short road races exactly ten (10) years ago and finished his first Marathon race in 2007 with a time of 3:10+ hours. The love of running was planted in the mind of Marcelo when his Uncle who now lives in Canada advised him to start training as a long distance runner. He improved progressively through the years by asking from his Baguio running friends about their training and advise. He takes pride in telling me that he was the FIRST Champion in the 1st Philippine Skyrunning Association’s Race in the country which was held in Benguet/Baguio City. He won his first Champion Award as an Ultrarunner in Bad Circle’s Ilocos Norte’s 50K Race last April this year beating some of the best runners from Baguio City. From this ultra event, it was a non-stop win for Marcelo in every ultra event that he joined. But, after winning the first Marcos-Kennon 50-Mile Ultra Race last June, he became the most popular ultrarunner in the country!
During those 3 days that I’ve observed Marcelo during the 1st WEST COAST 200K Ultramarathon Race, he was very calm, silent, and raring to finish each leg of the event. I told him that the event is not a Race for him because I gave him the information that nobody could equal his speed and endurance. All I need for him to do was to Finish the Race without any injuries and set the FIRST Official Course Record of the Race.
I was thinking that he could finish the race in 21 hours or less and not less than 20 hours but he proved me wrong. Even if I told him that the next runner behind him is 8-9 Kilometers away, he would still steadily increase his pace and shorten his brisk walking breaks. During the evening run (last day), I was able to catch up with him to provide his water needs at Km #28 which was the halfway mark. He asked me if he had ran a distance of 10 Kilometers already. And I thought he was delirious or losing his mind. I said to him that he had ran already a distance of 28 kilometers and he was on the halfway of the course distance. He was shocked and excited. As he resumed his run, he was looking at his back trying to see in the darkness if there is a glimpse or sparkle of light from the runner behind. He could see nothing as the next runner was 8 Kilometers away!
When he reached the finish line in Barangay Lucap, Alaminos, Pangasinan in 5:15+ hours, he told me that he could have delivered a faster time if I did not stop him for a water re-supply 7 kilometers away from the Finish Line! I wonder what a minute of stop could possibly make a difference from his record time of 19:32+ hours! A record time which was too fast from my predicted time for him to finish the race.
But the truth during that night run was the fact that he was delayed by stopping and talking to the owners of those dogs running after him. He would tell them to pay for his purchased plane ticket for his trip to the next year’s Hongkong 100K Ultra Trail Race if ever he is bitten by their dogs!
Through my FB Live Update of the WC200, words spread immediately about Marcelo winning the event and his running friends in Baguio City were surprised about what Marcelo have done for the past 3 days. It was the FIRST in the history of road racing in the country where runners have to run in 3 consecutive days that most of the ultrarunners have feared of what would happen to their body after running 70 kilometers for the first day and for them to start again to run an ultra distance (70K) for the next day and another 60K for the last day.
Many of his friends would think that Marcelo is committing a suicide and that he would be injured as a result of the run. But on the contrary, it was not! He had his recovery run on the following day after he finished the race and he reported to me that he is okey and ready for the scheduled recon run of the Clark-Miyamit 50-Mile Run’s Clark to Sapang Uwak section which covers a distance of 38 kilometers (back & forth). (Note: Marcelo & Danin finished the recon run in 5:20 hours last Sunday!)
During his “low” moments, he would lament to me why he was not included among the five (5) selected Baguio City runners who were supported to join/participate the 2013 Bataan Death March (BDM) 102K Ultramarathon Race. I was surprised to know this information from him. It seems that nobody from Baguio City offered to sponsor for him to join the 2013 BDM 102. Well, I told him that he has a reserved slot for the race because a “Good Samaritan” has already paid for his registration fee and he has to prepare for the race.
How does Marcelo train for an ultrarunning event? Long Runs! As preparation for the 1st Marcos-Kennon 50-Mile Run, he would take a bus at midnight from Baguio City to Carmen, Rosales, Pangasinan and from Carmen, he would run all the way back to Baguio City via Kennon Road, a distance of 85 kilometers where the last 35 kilometers is uphill up to an elevation of 5,000 feet above sea level. The shorter version of his long run would be from Urdaneta, Pangasinan to Baguio City, a distance of 70 kilometers. Since he boards the bus in his running attire (shorts & singlet), the conductor would ask Marcelo to sit on the last row of seats in the bus. With small cash in his shorts’ pocket, he would make it back to Baguio City with an impressive time, averaging at 10 kilometers per hour on “self-support” mode!
His nutrition and hydration needs? Definitely, he is not fond of sports gels and sports bars! He eats solid foods like boiled bananas, boiled sweet potatoes & potatoes, boiled eggs, Cloud 9 chocolates, and lots of water to drink. He only take some sips of Sports Drinks like Gatorade and I force him to drink Ice Cold Coke on the last 7-10K of the race on each leg of the WC200. He does not take any “pain-killer” tablets but he is fond of Pharmaton! On average, he takes two (2) Pharmaton capsules every day during the 1st West Coast 200 Ultra Run.
After being featured lately in a local newspaper for winning the 1st WC200, his sixth (6th) consecutive win in Ultra Events, being interviewed by a local TV network, and being presented to the Baguio City Government’s Mayor, City Council & Employees as Baguio City’s Pride in Ultrarunning, Marcelo remains to be humble and silent about his accomplishments.
What impressed me most is that he does not ask for any monetary reward for his winnings. He told me of saving some of his salary for him to buy few bags of cement and make those temporary steps/stairs to his house to be made as concrete and not as bags of soil/earth dumped to form as stairs. Other than that project, he is simply passionate in his love to run and prove to himself that he is still have the speed and strength in order to explore his limits in ultrarunning.
What he thinks of his future? He is excited to travel outside the country to carry the national flag in the Vibram HK 100K Ultra Marathon Race, a chance to fulfill his dream to travel and compete in a running event abroad.
One hour before the first runner to arrive at the Finish Line of the 2011 Western States 100-Mile Endurance Race, I was already on the gallery/grandstand area of the Placer High School Oval Track which is a few feet away from the finish arc. Volunteers for the race were mixed with lots of spectators whom I believed were family, friends, and other ultra runners from all over the neighboring States in USA and from other countries around the world.
As soon as the Emcee, John Medinger, publisher & editor-in-chief of Ultrarunning Magazine, announced that Kilian Jornet was a few meters aways from the entrance of the Oval Track, I purposely went down to the sides of the Finish Arc and positioned myself on the left side of the gallery.
I was standing on the gallery and on my left was a guy who was wearing a Hawaiian Shirt and denim pants. There was no way that I could see his frontal appearance as we were standing side by side. As soon as Kilian Jornet crossed the Finish Line, I must have said something about the physical description of the Champion. In my recollection, I might have said, “He’s small as an ultrarunner”! And then the guy on my left said something and our conversation started.
I will mention him in our conversation as the Hawaiian Guy and our conversation went this way. (Actually, he did almost all the talking and I could hardly comprehend/understand some lines that he said. I hope I can accurately relate what transpired in that brief talk with this guy).
Hawaiian Guy: Kilian Jornet is a kind and sweet person. We had been “twitting” with each other months before this race. I knew what he went through in his training and preparation.
Bald Runner: He’s too small and light to be an ultrarunner. He came prepared for this year!
HG: Kilian Jornet is a honest man and he was very transparent on his preparations towards this prestigious event.
BR: Yes, I’ve seen his Kilian Quest Videos in the Internet and he is really good. And he has the full support of Salomon.
Our conversation was interrupted with the announcements of the Emcee and some moments of taking some pictures of the Champion. As the second runner, Mike Wolfe, crossed the finish line, we continued our conversation.
The guy kept on talking about the challenges and the hardships that the elite and the average runners had gone through in their training and most of all, to come up with their respective goal in finishing the race on hand. I just kept nodding my head and sending the message to the guy that I understood all the things that he was teling me.
And suddenly, I’ve asked the following questions:
BR: Did you have the chance to participate in this race? Are you waiting for a particular runner to arrive at the Finish Line?
HG: I finished this race for THREE times! And this is the only time I came to be an spectator in this race for the past 22 years. I was the CHAMPION in the 1989 Edition and my name is Mark Brotherton! This is the old WS 100 Belt Buckle that I won as the Champion then. (Showing me his BIG Champion SILVER WS100 Belt Buckle as he turned his body to his right!)
BR: Ohhh…Wow!!! Awesome!!! (Surprised with BIG eyes!!!) I am Jovie and I am from Manila, Philippines. This is my first time to watch this event and see the terrain of the route. I came here to run for MIWOK 100 but I was injured and I extended my stay here to see the real action of the top ultra trail runners in this event.
Mark Brotherton: Very nice! I have friends who are Filipinos and they are the “best” Registered Nurses in the whole world. As a Medical Doctor, I’ve worked with them. They are kind, loyal and industrious. Do you have plans of participating in this race in the future?
BR: Thanks for that nice compliment to our nurses. Well…I hope I am still strong to finish a 100-mile run in 30 hours with my age of 60 years old by next year. I have to qualify first. I have to improve my 50-mile finish time.
MB: You can finish it. Just prepare and train for it. Wait…I think there is a famous ultramarathon race in the Philippines which I discovered while I was browsing the Internet 2-3 nights ago. I think…it’s the BATAAN DEATH MARCH!!!!
BR: (Surprised…Smiling…with both Eyes wide-open!) Oh, yes…we have that race in the Philippines and I am the Creator and Race Director of the said event and we had this year’s 3rd edition last March. This year, we did the first BDM 100-Mile Run where the finish line is the very same place where the POWs Concentration Camp was located in Camp ODonnell, Tarlac.
MB: Wow! It’s a honor to meet you!
BR: It’s my pleasure also to meet and talk to a Legend and Champion of the Western States 100!
MB: We have to look where Kilian Jornet is right now and I have to meet him.
BR: OK, I have to look for my wife, too! And then try to have a picture with Kilian.
As we were going on a separate direction, Mark said something which I could vaguely understand…but there were words which I could understand.
Mark Brotherton: Jovie, thanks for the conversation. I hope you will not say I am “Mr GAGO” if you relate this story to your friends.
Bald Runner: No! I will not do that! Bye..Thanks! (At the back of my mind, I was thinking that Mark B must be fluent in Tagalog as he is associated with Filipino nurses in the hospital. Well, I just said to myself…if there is “LADY GAGA”, why not for a “GENTLEMAN GAGO” as a name of a male singer? hahaha! I am sure, he should be a Pinoy!)
As soon as I was back at the Hotel, I immediately opened my laptop and browsed the Internet to find out more about Mark Brotherton. This is what the results are: 1985 WS 100; 1987 WS 100; and 1989 WS 100.
As the Champion in the 1989 edition of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Race, his finish time was 16:53:39 hours. In this year’s edition, his time would land on the 13th position which is still considered as solid, heroic, fast, and strong finish.
He is now one of my “friends” on Facebook and we exchange “comments” with one another. I know he will be the first one who will read this post as soon as I publish it.
With his permission, I am posting some of his pictures that I “grabbed” from his Profile at Facebook.
Yes, he is also sporting a “Bald” look!!!
This confirms my theory (again??) that “Bald Runners” are the best Ultra Runners!!!! (Joke!)
There were three reasons why I went to the US. First, to join/participate in the 2011 Miwok 100K Ultra Trail Run in Marin Headlands where I ended as one of the Volunteers. Second, to make a recon on the route and watch the top finishers of the prestigious 2011 Western States 100-Mile Endurance Race. And, third, to have a rest and vacation from running. It is a blessing in disguise that I was injured last March during my adventure from from “West to East”.
Last weekend, I drove from Los Angeles to Foresthill, California and later to Auburn’s Placer High School Oval Track where the finish line of the Western States 100-Mile Race is located. The distance I’ve traveled was about 450 miles which took me for about 10 hours to include my pit stops along the way. After not being able to locate the exact location of the Foresthill High School where one of the Aid Stations was located, I opted to finally wait at the Finish Line.
After one hour of waiting, the 1st runner arrived and it was Spain’s Kilian Jornet in 15:34:23 hours. He was followed by Mike Wolfe after 4-5 minutes and then Nick Clark, Jez Bragg, and Tsuyoshi Kaburaki of Japan. I left the place after Kaburaki finished the race.
While Kilian Jornet was interviewed by the Race Director Greg Soderlund, I had a chance to have a conversation with a nice guy who was standing beside me on the gallery. I was surprised to know that he was the Champion runner in the 1989 Western States edition! I guess, we talked for about 30 minutes that I forgot to track down Kilian Jornet with the crowd. My conversation with this interesting guy will be reserved in a dedicated post in this blog.
Finally, I tried to locate Kilian by trying to find his support team’s vehicle at the parking lot and I thought I missed the opportunity to talk and have a picture with him. But I was surprised to find out that he was still inside the perimeter of the oval track. I was able to track him as he came out from the bathroom!
I talked to him and wished him with a big congratulations! And he replied positively and he was smiling. We had a brief conversation and he was still fresh and looked like he did not run for the past 15 1/2 hours for a distance of 100 miles in the mountain trails. I requested for a picture with him and he was very cooperative. We talked briefly after the shots and other people from the audience requested also for some pictures with him before he left the oval track compound.
Let me describe how he ran the last 50 yards to the finish line. He started to brisk walk and had “high fives” with the audience on the right side of the oval track. He was also congratulated with handshakes with the people before the finish line. After those handshakes and “high fives”, he simply walked and crossed the Finish Line and turned around and raised his hands towards the cheering audience on the track and on the grandstand. He was smiling and he was looking fresh!
After standing on the weighing scale to get his weight, he was awarded with his medal and congratulated by the Race Director. Immediately, he was interviewed by the RD and his answers were heard by the crowd. He was simply a humble and happy guy!
Looking at him within a distance of 5-7 meters, I could see that he is as tall or short like my elite runners with Team Bald Runner. It appears that the has the same size/built and height with Alquin Bolivar and Alley Quisay. I have the notion that our size as Asian has the potential to train and excel in this kind of race. Knowing that Kilian is considered as the youngest winner in this race at the age of 23 years old, it defies the odds that ultra runners are best when they are more matured or older in age.
As he left the oval track’s compound towards his support vehicle, I could see that he was walking normally without any sign of limping.
It was an amazing sight of a young, strong, and fast ultra mountain trail runner.
Over a breakfast meeting at the Camp Aguinaldo Golf Course Restaurant in the early part of January 2010, Joshua Suarez, a runner-applicant who was invited to run the 2nd edition of the BDM 102k Ultra Marathon Race, explained to me that he is going to run and finish the BDM 102K Ultra Marathon Race to raise funds in behalf of the scholars of the Real LIFE Foundation. It was in this meeting that he explained to me about the programs and projects of the said foundation.
I immediately approved on the request of Joshua and he was able to finish the race. He was cheered and supported by the scholars/students on those hot, humid, dusty, and exposed kilometers of road on the last half of the course. I guess, he was able to raise a lot of funds to support the scholarship of those students who belong to the marginalized families in Pasig City and other parts of Metro Manila.
Little did I know that Joshua recruited another four (4) runners immediately after he finished the BDM 102 and asked them to train for the 3rd edition of the BDM 102 with the same purpose of raising some funds to support the scholarship of selected students under the administration of the Real LIFE Foundatioon.
Paul Pajo, Ferdie Cabiling, Junn Besana, and Alden Meneses diligently atttended the Ultra Marathon Clinics/Lectures and participated in some of the PAU Races held last year as part of their preparation for the 2011 BDM 102K Ultra Marathon Race. Joshua Suarez became their point man and leader of what they dubbed as the “Bataan LIFE March 2011”, a charity project to raise funds for the scholars of the Real LIFE Foundation by running and finishing the BDM 102.
These five runners were able to finish the race and were able to raise funds amounting to P 500,000+ from pledges and contributions from donors, here and abroad. I am sure this money will go to the projects and programs of the Foundation with the main aim to provide hope and better future for less-fortunate and poor children for them to attain education and develop good values in the process.
These 5 runners became instant “heroes” to the scholars of the Real LIFE Foundation. And in a fitting ceremony, each of them received medal and plaque of appreciation from the Board of Trustees of the Foundation as represented by the Executive Director, Lynn Nawata.
I was also awarded with a plaque of appreciation and a gift for being the Founder and Race Director of the BDM 102K Ultra Marathon Race. My heartfelt thanks to the Board of Trustees for having me invited to such memorable event and for the award accorded to me.
I will always remember this program/ceremony. The testimonials of the graduates of the foundation’s scholarship program made me cry! It later sink in to my mind that I created an event, the BDM 102K, as a platform and instrument for people to be able to help the poor.
It is a motivation that will keep me doing my best to sustain the yearly conduct of the BDM 102!
This book was published in 2005 by Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd. Obviously, the book is about the life, training “secrets” of Paul Tergat and his tips for runners for them to excel and adhere to running as a way of life.
He was not yet a runner when he entered the military service in 1990. With his assignment in Nairobi’s Air Force Base, he started to run with a big group around the Air Force Base with a distance of 15 kilometers in the morning and sometimes running also in the evening on a daily basis. In one of their inter-unit running events, although he finished far behind the leaders, a coach was impressed on his running form. The coach invited him to the training camp where the “top guns” are preparing for three months for the Armed Forces Cross Country Championships. He managed to finish third in the said event. After two months, he won the National Cross Country Championships and he was on the top of the Kenyan running scene at the age of 22 years old. And the rest is history.
He set the World Record in 10,000 meters in 1997 with a time of 26:27.85 minutes; World Record in Half-Marathon in 1998 with a time of 59:17 minutes; and a World record in Marathon in 2003 with a time of 2:04:55 hours. Epic rivalry in the 10,000-meter run between Haile Gabrselassie and Paul Tergat had been displayed during the 1996 & 2000 Summer Olympics and in the 1995, 1997, & 1999 World Championship where he won the Silver Medals on these events.
It is unfortunate that he was not able to win any Gold Medal in the Olympic Games within the span of his running career. He tried his best to train for the 2004 Athens Olympics’ Marathon but things did not turn out within his expectations as he finished #10.
Paul Tergat mentioned his roots and the poverty prevailing in his country which he considers as the number one “motivator” for them to excel in long distance running. There are other reasons why the Kenyans excel in long distance running but on how he refined his competitiveness and being on top among the elites in the world were mentioned in detail in his book through his training and tips.
What is most significant in this book is how the international corporate shoe brands helped to finance and support the establishment of “training camps” for runners in Kenya aside from the traditional Armed Forces “training camps” for the military elite runners. With the support and guidance of their Italian Coach Gabriele Rosa, the Kenyan runners were able to train for the best in long distance running.
Obviously, Paul Tergat is already rich and famous even without winning a Gold Medal in the Olympic Games. He is now an athletics promoter for running events in the eastern part of Kenya which is considered as the driest and poorest part of the country. With the support of a corporate food brand, he is bringing the awareness of running to the “grassroot” level to develop more competitive runners. He is a philanthropist and a member of the IAAF Athlete’s Commission.
There are two things that we could learn from this book. In order for the country to excel in long distance running, there is a need for a dedicated corporate support for the athletes and the establishment of “training camps” to continously develop athletes to elite status and at the same time, discover potentials from the grassroot level. It happened already in the past and it had been proven to be successful. It easy to say it. We know the supposedly “secrets” of the Kenyans and the Ethiopians but nobody is doing about it in an organized manner. When will our sports officials ever learn and put the sports “money” where it is supposed to be? I am still wondering what is happening to our elite sports program and sustainable “grassroots” program.
This book is a nice reference if you want to train like the Kenyans in long distance running.
(Note: This is a part of this blog’s program/project to feature at least one book about running every week which started with the book, “Once A Runner”. Due to the “back-to-back” BDM Races for the past weeks, I was not able to publish this post as scheduled.)