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Long road, high drama

All within the past 12 months, Cebu played host to the staging of five ultramarathons with distances ranging from 50 to 65 kilometers. But the Cebu Century Properties 100K Ultramarathon last Nov. 18-19 was a landmark run of sorts for Cebu being, the longest footrace the province had ever seen passing through three cities and nine towns.

So, on a moonless Friday night in Bogo City, Cebu, 160 runners and their mobile support crew waited for the stroke of midnight. Their mission: run-walk a total of 104.5 kilometers of road from the province’s northernmost tip all the way to the finishline in Plaza Independencia at the heart of Cebu City in 18 hours and 30 minutes or less.

But first they had to cross the 1st and only checkpoint at kilometer 50 in Catmon town in nine (9) hours or be considered DNF (did not finish). This half-way cut-off made some runners run faster than they should and abandon the cardinal rules of finishing a 100K ultra – pace yourself, don’t get sucked in someone else’s program and conserve energy.

As the day progressed, the sheer difficulty of running 100++ kilometers was aggravated by the punishing and unrelenting heat courtesy of sunny, blue skies with nary a cloud in sight. It was a perfect weather for going to the beach, but for the 160 ultra runners, the sunny weather was simply a bitch.

Nevertheless, the aid stations and the mobile support crew made it all seem like a beach party rather than a death march. The aid stations and support crew, were all provided for and manned by volunteers coming from members of Cebu’s running clubs like Ungo and Cebu Ultrarunners Club to name a few. Leg rub, neck massage, sponge baths, bananas, chocolates, biscuits, free-flowing ice water, sports drinks and caffeinated sugary drinks are standard fare, but others pulled out all the stops and provided puso, lechon, eggs, humba and ice candy.

Runners rolling out the red carpet for fellow runners – without being asked, without being paid, and without discriminating whether you’re local or not is something that I’ve only seen in ultra races held in Cebu. There were runners from out-of-town who had no provision for a mobile support crew and survived only with help from volunteer aid stations. If it were any other 100K outside Cebu, they would not have survived.

In all of my ultra races here in Cebu, I have always been a recipient of kindness and generosity from the volunteer aid stations of Ungo and CUC. Last Saturday was my chance to give back.

Together with fellow ultrarunners Cora Quiamco and Phindy Honasan, we manned the aid station at the 82KM mark in Liloan town right outside the house of Ironman Raymond Bontol, MD. With 18 kilometers still remaining after 11 to 15 hours of constant motion, runners were almost at their weakest both mentally and physically. It is part of the support crew’s job to make sure that the runners do not give up after running so far. But what do you say to someone who’s sleep-deprived suffering from unimaginable pain and still with 2 to 3 hours of running to do? Our standard line was “malapit na lang, promise” for the out of towners and “duol na lang jud bai” for the locals. Unless they were injured we did not allow runners to linger more than 2 minutes. They kept asking if there was still time to make it to cut-off and we would say — “Of course there’s time – but you have to keep believing!” That’s all supporters could do, for in the end, it is still the runner who must will himself to finish and put one foot in front of the other no matter how painful.

Only 118 finished within the 18:30 cut-off, but many others would continue the race even knowing that they would no longer make it to the official list of finishers like Richie Al Villagante, who was running with an engagement ring in his pocket and whose ultimate mission that day was to ask for the hand of his lady love Agatha Llamasares who was waiting at Plaza Independencia.

After 20 hours of running non-stop and barely able to fold his legs Richie entered the Plaza with a banner announcing to the whole world his proposal and grant gesture of love– “I just ran 102K to marry you.” Then he struggled to climb the stairs of the mini stage, whipped out a red box from his running shorts soaked with sweat and hugged a totally surprised and emotional Agatha while the runners and supporters who have not slept for almost 24 hours cheered, laughed and cried at the same time.

A fitting end to a day filled with triumphs – both of the human spirit and of the human heart.

Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer | November 22, 2011


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