RAFAEL Pescos once suffered an injury that sidelined him for one year, but the runner from Negros Occidental got up from the setback and pulled off one of the biggest victories in his career in the 40th Milo Marathon Cebu Leg, which started in front of Cebu Normal University and ended at the Cebu City Sports Center.

The 22-year-old Pescos breasted the tape in 1 hour, 14 minutes and 1 second, winning the men’s 21K class by more than three minutes. He also foiled the three-peat hopes of two-time champion Noel Tillor, who settled for third place in 1:17:23. Michel Largo nabbed second place in 1:17:03.

It was the first time for Pescos to win a 21K title in the annual sporting event hosted by Nestle Philippines, and doing it a year from a knee injury made it so much sweeter.

“The whole year of 2015 I did not run because of my knee injury. I just got back this January. It’s my first time in the Milo Marathon Cebu and I’m happy to win the 21K title,” said Pescos, who also qualified for the first time for the national finals.

Pescos was trailing Tillor in the first 3K, but the former managed to take the lead with approximately 17 kilometers left. Tillor, who earlier said he was confident his training was enough for a three-peat, was never in contention for the race. Pescos ran the final stretch on Imus Road uncontested with only the white colored lead-motorcycle by his side.

“When I got injured, I never thought I could come back and I was also tired at that time. I was discouraged by the injury,” said Pescos in Cebuano. He was once a long-distance runner of Southwestern University but left school due to family problems.

Running on running

Now a member of the Spectrum Runners Club, Pescos is one of the mainstay runners in the Milo Marathon; he was a 5K champion in 2012 in the Iloilo Leg and 10K champion in the 2013 Iloilo and 2014 Bohol legs. He also finished eighth in the 21K division in Bacolod in 2010.

Since quitting school, Pescos has survived by running. He travels to different places in Visayas to join major events. He has been based in Cebu City for five years now and the soft-spoken runner added he wants to get back to school and plans to transfer at University of Cebu (UC).

“Running has been my work; I’ve been joining different fun runs in the Visayas for three years. It has helped me support myself,” said Pescos, the youngest of six siblings.

On the other hand, the women’s 21K crown remains in the hands of Ruffa Sorongon, who posted a personal best time of 1:26:27 for her second straight crown. Sorongon eclipsed her personal best of 1:29:02 in last year’s edition.

Despite the notable improvement, Sorongon said that she only trained for a week and also suffered from ulcer hours before the race.

“For two weeks I did not train because I had a fever. I just caught up with my training last week. I did not expect to win because last night, I had an ulcer and I took medicine. But thankfully I got OK before the start,” said Sorongon.

The Cebu-based Sorongon, who hails from Koronadal, dominated the women’s field as she finished with more than a five-minute cushion from the rest of the pack. Cresabel Cadion placed second in 1:32:14 and Sandra Soliano got third place in 1:46:26.

Sorongon, 25, said that one of her idols in running is Olympian Mary Joy Tabal. “I learned discipline and fighting spirits from her (Tabal). I once listened to her talk and I was inspired by her dedication,” she said.

The rest of the top five in the 21K category are Paul James Zafico (1:21:25) and Jeboy Magbologtong (1:22:05) in the men’s division and and Melchomeda Kitane (1:53:27) and Marivic Mari (1:55:21) in the women’s division.

In the 5K, Mary Joy Loberanis of University of San Carlos-Basic Education Department (USC-Bed) won her winning her second straight title in 18:45. Cherry Andrin clocked 19:42 and Karen Andrea Manayon timed 20:02 to take the second and third places, respectively.

John Cliff Debulosan won the men’s 5K in 16:15 over Daryl Manos (16:46) and Mark Domie Dinoy (16:54).

In the 10K category, Kenyan Abraham Cheruiyot Kilimo (33:02) showed his force in the men’s division, beating Ariel Saballa (34:58) and Jason Padayao (35:30) for the title. Karla Cosep (49:52) topped the women’s race over Rue Reindhardt Pañibon (50:13) and Rona Lacanlale (52:19).

The 3K category, which is for the boys and girls 12-under, was won by Kent Lloyd Gabino (11:17) and Moira Frances Erediano (11:58).

Carl Wayne Dichios (11:17) Kirk Nanz Alison (11:25) rounded up the boys’ 3K Top 3, while Jessel Ochia (12:18) and Krystelle Me Leyson (13:13) were the runners-up in the girls’ 3K.

In a brief press conference after the race, Cebu Leg organizer Ricky Ballesteros said that it was the smoothest run they had and it was achieved with the support given by the local government units, police personnel, medical teams and volunteers.

Rio dela Cruz said that the local organizers did a great job with the event preparation making the work easy for him as the race director.

“We feel no stress at all, to tell you frankly lahat na races kinabahan kami especially with what happened to Davao but in Cebu, hindi talaga kami kinabahan because the local organizers are very prepared,” said Milo Sports Executive Andrew Neri.

Neri told reporters that they are really eyeing Cebu to host a full marathon for the national finals. He said they’re just waiting for Ballesteros.

“I declined this year because of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project. But it was not implemented this year. With the support, there’s no problem, the local government is supporting. The problem really is the road readiness,” said Ballesteros, who said that if the national finals will be here in Cebu, the possible routes is at the South Road Properties and Mandaue City portions.

Neri said that they are always excited every time Milo Marathon comes to Cebu and they’re looking forward to do the national finals here.

The 2016 Milo Marathon National Finals will be held in Iloilo City in December. It’s the first time that the national finals will be held outside of Luzon.