Mary Joy Tabal completes historic Milo 5-peat in her toughest race ever

Mars G. Alison

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Mary Joy Tabal completes historic Milo 5-peat in her toughest race ever
She runs with a heavy heart as she coped with her father's death just hours before the race

CEBU CITY, Philippines – With tears pouring down her face, Cebuano marathon Olympian Mary Joy Tabal crossed the finish line then crumpled to the ground and continued to cry uncontrollably. But instead of tears of joy because she succeeded in becoming the first female to rule the Milo Marathon national finals five straight times, Tabal shed tears of anguish.

She was crying because the man who planned to watch her race and wait for her at the finish line – her father Rolando Sr. – had succumbed to a heart attack less than 24 hours before she was to defend her Milo Marathon in the 41st Milo Marathon National Finals held in her hometown of Cebu for the first time Sunday, December 3.

Sakit kaayo, bug-at kaayo ako pamati, numb na kaayo ako ti-il di na nako ma feel, kaundangon na kaayo ko pero nahuman ra jud. Gikuyugan jud ko niya [her father], iya ko gitabangan makahuman,” Tabal tearfully said while trying to recover after crossing the finish line with a time of 2:58:01 which not only gave her her 5-peat but also a third place finish overall or in the open category.

(It is very painful, my feelings are so heavy, my feet are numb I cannot feel them anymore, I wanted to stop already but I finally finished it. He accompanied me, he helped me finish.)

After the race, she went home and placed her medal and trophy on her father’s casket.  

Tabal displayed the heart of a champion and was the face of grim determination when she decided to fight the hardest battle in her life, continuing to race despite having no sleep the night before.  She said none of her training prepared her for this.

Tabal had not seen her father since she arrived from her Italy training Monday, November 27. Her father lived in their old home in Guba, a mountain barangay of Cebu City. And, instead of visiting him first, he had wanted his daughter to focus on her preparation for the Milo 5-peat.  Tabal was not told that her fatherplanned to watch and wait for her at the finish line. 

The last time they talked was was Wednesday, November 29. He told her “humana kung unsa man gani ang imong nasugdan, ipadayon,” referring to her running. (Finish whatever you have started, continue with it.)

Rolando Sr. was suffering from diabetes. For the past months, he also was battling pneumonia. Her father, however, was determined to be at the finish line, even exercising on the morning of his death.

Tabal said he felt his spirit accompanying her while she was running.  She felt her father encouraging her when she wanted to stop the race. 

Her longtime running coach, John Philip Dueñas, devised a race plan for Tabal. Dueñas and his brother, Chobie, paced her. Tabal’s brother, Rolando Jr., followed on a motorcycle. There were also other runners who paced Tabal. Chobie Dueñas had qualified for the 42K but decided to instead run in support of Tabal.

Sa sugod pa lang, wa na, kaundangon na kaayo ko after sa first turnaround pa lang, nya kalit lang nigaan ako paminaw, na feel nako siya, murag nisulod siya nako. Iya jud ko gikuyugan.

(From the start I had really wanted to stop already right after the first turnaround then I suddenly felt light, I felt him, it had seemed that his spirit took over me. He really accompanied me.)

It was a constant struggle for the petite Cebuana all the way but Dueñas kept giving here words of encouragement.

Race organizers also did their part by deploying an ambulance to monitor her throughout the course.

They thanked Tabal for deciding not only to race but to also finish it despite what she was going through.

Earlier, when they learned of the death of Tabal’s father, they told her that they would respect and understand should she decide for forego the race. 

However, Tabal decided to run because it was her father’s wish.

“This race is dedicated to my father,” Tabal later said. 

It was a bittersweet victory as people were not only congratulating her for the historic 5-peat but also offering their condolences. 

Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña had also called in his condolences.

Other Winners

Although Tabal’s time was understandably off, she was still able to put a gap between her and Cristabel Martes who crossed the finish line in second place with a time of 3:04:20. Completing the top 3 was Jho-an Villarma who clocked 3:11:26.

The Milo Marathon National Finals saw a new champion in the male division, the unheralded Joerge Andrade of Digos City who left several veteran runners in the dust with a time of 2:39:34. 

Trailing Andrade at second and 3rd place respectively were Erick Panique (2:42:10) and Olympian Eduardo Buenavista (2:43:34).

The Open male division was ruled by Kenyan Eric Chepsiror who came in with the best time of 2:25:09. His fellow Kenyans completed the top 3 with James Talam crossing the finish line at second place with a time of 2:25:25; and Josphat Chobei at third place with his time of 2:26:41 

The Kenyans also ruled the open female division with Elizabeth Chepkanan Rumokol  bagging the title with her time of 2:41:42 while finishing second was Nancy Joan Rotich who clocked 2:50:35. –

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