MARY Joy Tabal marked her biggest career triumph in the 28th Southeast Asian (Sea) Games after clinching the silver medal in the women’s marathon event in Singapore, earning the first medal for the Philippines athletics team in the biennial meet.

The 25-year-old Cebuana joined the national team just this year and proved her worth thanks to a stellar debut in the 42-kilometer race, where she clocked 3 hours 4 minutes and 39 seconds and was only 46 seconds behind the gold medalist Natthaya Thanaronnawat from Thailand. Tabal was ahead of Vietnam’s Thi Thanh Hoang, who took the bronze medal with a time of 3:07:14.

It was the first Sea Games experience for Tabal, and she successfully shrugged off the nerves and the jitters to race neck-and-neck with the region’s top contenders.

“I had the chance to break away from the pack after the first 21K of the race because the pace was slow. But then I remembered coach Philip’s (Dueñas) advice to take it slow and maintain the pace and wait for the 30K mark before I start my own pace,” Tabal told Sun.Star Cebu.

She said that aside from the unfamiliarity of the place, the rain and strong wind added some difficulty. Tabal and the other women marathoners were pacing each other until the pay- off period.

“In the last three kilometers, my body started to collapse, I felt dizzy and that was the time the Thai created a gap and took the lead. Coach (Dueñas) shouted at me at the side at the last two kilometers to stay close because the Thai was slowing down already. But I was very afraid that if I keep on pushing, I might not finish the race and collapse in the middle of the course, while the other side of my mind kept on telling me to push because I was closer to the gold medal,” said Tabal, whose personal best is 2:48.

Tabal said that she knew the silver medal was in the bag, and if she pushed more and collapsed, it could be gone.

“I need to make sure that at least I can deliver a podium finish. I was happy with my performance and this is the biggest win of my career,” she said. “I and coach Philip am very happy and thankful right now.”

Tabal said that with the win, their training and hard work have paid off and they have proven that their long coach-runner partnership can get good results.

Singapore’s Soh Rui dominated the men’s marathon event with the time of 2:34.56 while our bets Eduardo Buenavista and Rafael Poliquit both failed to win a medal.

“Vertek (Buenavista’s nickname) had been complaining about stomach problems since we got here last week and we had to take him to our medical team for check-up because of his constant vomiting,” track and field secretary general Renato Unso said.