CEBU’S running pride Mary Joy Tabal is all set for the 28th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games on June 5 to 16 in Singapore, and on her first try in the biennial regional meet, she guarantees two things: to finish strong and race with pride.

“I cannot tell yet my expectation in terms of the ranking because it is my first time to compete with these elite marathoners in SEA Games,” Tabal told Sun.Star Cebu before her flight to Manila yesterday.

The 25-year-old runner from Barangay Guba, Cebu will represent the country in the 42-km. women’s race set on June 7. She will be leaving for Singapore today together with more than 400 members of the Philippine delegation.

Tabal said the Sea Games is the biggest event so far in her running career. She may have joined other international races, but the drive to represent the county is different this time.

“I have mixed feelings right now. I’m nervous and excited at the same time. Among all my races, this is different in the sense that representing the country is now official. I am now a member of the Philippine Team in this prestigious event,” said Tabal.

“I am grateful for this opportunity because not all athletes are given the chance to participate. This is a big race since the winners will have a chance to represent Asian Games, then the Olympics,” said the former Southwestern University stalwart.

Tabal was installed in the Philippine Team just recently, that was after she graced the LA Marathon last March.

When asked if the time table to prepare is just right since she was tapped late, Tabal said that her long-time coach John Philip Dueñas made some adjustments to catch up with the training.

“I am very thankful to those people who supported my training for Sea Games and the expense of coach Dueñas to go with me in Singapore, especially the Cebu City Sports Commission, JPDCoaching, Motor-Ace, Smart, Asics and Citi Gym,” said Tabal.

Dueñas will be going to Singapore on Friday using his own expense to help Tabal’s conditioning. Tabal said coach Dueñas was not listed in the Philippine delegation since the slots for coaches are limited.

The country’s athletics team will be led by Olympian Maristella Torres, Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association (Patafa) president Philip Ella Juico is looking to get eight to 12 golds for the team.