MANILA, Philippines – Paris, France: The City of Lights, the Eiffel Tower, Romance Capital of the World.
A prominent Filipino pair will be traveling there this weekend, April 6, in what promises to be an affair to remember.
The couple is no other than Eduardo Buenavista and Mary Joy Tabal, who emerged as the top local entries in the 2013 MILO Marathon national finals last December.
Buenavista and Tabal will not be in the French capital for its sights and sounds, but will compete as the first Filipino elite runners in the prestigious 38th Paris International Marathon.
Accompanying them are MILO Sports Executive Andrew Neri and MILO Marathon Race Director Rio de la Cruz, who thought of bringing the Pinoy men’s and women’s champions in the country’s longest-running (pardon the pun) marathon to premier international races as part of their reward.
“Sir Andrew and I conceptualized this program to inspire, motivate and develop our local (elite) runners for international competitions and in keeping with MILO’s advocacy of molding champions,” said the country’s top footrace organizer.
Since the MILO Marathon is now accredited with the Association of International Marathons (AIMS) and the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF), Dela Cruz said that he and Neri have linked up with organizers of six leading overseas marathons for Filipino runners to compete in their respective events in the future.
“Aside from the Paris Marathon, we’ve been talking with organizers of the London, Boston, Berlin, and the New York Marathons, although we don’t know where this year’s Filipino MILO winners will go yet,” he said.
Dela Cruz thanked the French race organizers for accommodating both runners despite their late registration.
“The registration deadline was supposed to be last October when we made reservations without any names, and they still accepted us,” he pointed out.
“MILO is honored to send our 2013 National MILO Marathon King and Queen in the Paris Marathon,” said fellow MILO Sports Executive Robbie de Vera on behalf of Neri, who was on a business trip in Switzerland at the time of the interview.
“As they compete against elite runners from across the globe, we are confident that Eduardo and Mary Joy will inspire more Fiipinos to dream and become champions in sports and in life,” De Vera added.
Buenavista and Tabal were expectedly excited in competing in the Paris Marathon, the first time for both runners to race in Europe.
“Siyempre excited ako kasi matagal ko na rin inaasam tumakbo sa Europe (Yes, I’m excited since it has always been my dream of competing in Europe,”) said Buenavista, a five-time MILO Marathon titlist, who ruled last year’s edition of the men’s local division in two hours, 27 minutes and 14 seconds.
A longtime member of the national team, the pint-size, 35-year-old native of General Santos City, South Cotabato has been training at the PH squad’s camp in Baguio City in his build-up for the Paris Marathon.
“Halos 30 kilometro kami tumatakbo ni coach Mario Castro araw-araw sa training (I and coach Mario Castro run almost 30 kilometers daily in training),” said the runner, who started his athletic career as 3,000-meter steeple chase specialist before eventually shifting to the 42.195-kilometer full marathon.
“Pag-iigihan ko talaga ito kasi bihira mangyari ang ganitong pagkakataon (I will surely do my best since this chance happens rarely),” added the athlete called “Vertek” by friends.
Tabal, who set a new national and MILO record for women in 2013 with her time of 2:48.00, was just as keen on her preparations for the Paris footrace.
“Bigay-todo na to sa preparasyon (I’m going all out in my preparation) ,” said the 24-year-old Cebu City lass who took a short break after the MILO finals before undergoing one month of physical conditioning.
The past two months have been focused on doing roadwork of 20 to 25 kilometers “both morning and afternoon,” Tabal said.
“Gusto ko maipakita sa mga foreign runners na puwede tayong sumabay sa kanila (I want to show foreign runners we can compete against them),” added the Cebuana, who finished second overall in last year’s MILO run dominated by Kenyans.
She said that her main concern was the cold weather in Paris, which can go as low as 6 to 5-degree Celsius,” according to Dela Cruz, who took part in the Paris Marathon two years ago.
Both athletes would love to see the Paris attractions, but, given the tight schedule, they maintained that this was secondary in their aim of doing well and making their countrymen proud in the marathon.
While topping the international marathon would seem farfetched for both runners, De la Cruz said their main goal was for both Buenavista and Tabal to surpass their personal bests in Paris.
The men’s record is 2:05.11 set by Kenyan Stanley Biwott two years ago, 27 seconds faster than the 2:05.38 of compatriot and 2013 topnotcher Peter Some. Reigning Kenyan champion Boru Tadese owns the women’s mark of 2:21.06.
Buenavista said he is aiming to break his own personal best of 2:18.44 registered at the 2004 Oita International Marathon in Japan under similar cool conditions that they can expect in Paris.
“Between both runners, Buenavista seems to have a better chance of surpassing his previous best, but remember that Tabal set her own record in relatively hotter weather last year so anything is possible,” Dela Cruz noted.
Together with Neri, who will go directly to Paris from Switzerland, he added they will look after both runners in the French capital to get them in the best mental and physical frame before the race.
Dela Cruz, Buenavista and Tabal are set to leave for Paris on Thursday, April 3, arriving in the French capital, whose time is six hours ahead of Manila, late afternoon of the same day.
“We don’t have any itinerary yet once we arrive but once we touch down in Paris (in the afternoon of Thursday), both runners will undergo light jogging for conditioning,” the running coach said.
“I will be their ‘PA’ (production assistant) and ‘alalay’ once I’m there,” he quipped.
Dela Cruz volunteered to get their respective race packets “which can you get two days before the race and can last as long as two hours because of the huge number of entries.
“In 2012 It took me 45 minutes just to get inside the venue where the race packs were at that time.”
Not wanting to upset the diets of his charges, he bared that they might take canned goods with them “and rice since Italian food might not suit our runners. Ang pasta nila maasim tapos yong spaghetti natin ay sweet (Their pasta is sour while our spaghetti is sweet).”
Having competed in the Paris Marathon two years ago, Dela Cruz noted the race’s relatively flat course, with some hills at the 25 to 30-kilometer mark “so it is not as difficult as some think.”
According to the race’s official website, replenishment stations that will have mineral water, fresh and dried fruits and sugar, are spaced between 5-kilometer intervals
“Our water stations in the MILO Marathon are at 1.5-kilometer intervals, and we also have sports drinks available for the runners,” Dela Cruz said.
Based on the same marathon website, the race has drawn 50,000 entries and will fire off at 8:35 a.m. at the sprawling Champs-Elysees in front of the Arc de Triomphe, built to commemorate the heroes of the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars.
The runners will be racing past historical landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum, home of the Mona Lisa, Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece. The marathon ends at Foch Avenue, named after a French military hero of World War 1.
“Hopefully, we can have time to visit them while we study the route, but we will have to wait and see until we get there,” Dela Cruz said.
When you think of it, Buenavista and Tabal’s love and passion for running have driven them to the top of their discipline. – Rappler.com