BEFORE she became a running icon and represented the country in the Olympics, Cebuana Mary Joy Tabal was just like the other runners who dreamt of becoming a champion.
From being a newbie who got her big break in the Milo marathon national finals, the 28-year-old Tabal, a four-time defending champion in the women’s division has earned numerous accolades over the years.
“It’s like a homecoming for me. My dream started in Cebu and I had my first break in the Milo Marathon,” said Tabal, who will be gunning for a historic five-peat in the 41st Milo Marathon National Finals tomorrow.
It’s going to be the first time that Tabal will defend her title in front of the Cebuano crowd after two wins in Manila and one each in Pampanga and Iloilo City.
The fifth title for Tabal would put her with Arsenia Sagaray as the winningest female runnera of all time in the Milo Marathon.
After winning the Southeast Asian Games gold medal last August, the native of Barangay Guba, Cebu City did not rest on her laurels and returned to Italy for further training.
“I want to get back to the Olympics and also to become one of the top female marathoners in Asia. That’s the reason I work so hard,” said Tabal, who holds the Milo Marathon’s best time of 2 hours, 47 minutes and 49 seconds, forged last year in Iloilo City. Tabal of Motor Ace Racing Team arrived in Cebu last Tuesday, following a six-week training in Italy.
Competing in the women’s marathon with Tabal are the likes of four-time Milo Marathon champion Christabel Martes, last year’s third placer Lizanne Abella, and Ruffa Sorongon, among others.
While Tabal will try to extend her dominance in the women’s division, it’s a different scenario for Cebu’s male runners as they will try to unseat reigning champion Jeson Agravante of Bacolod City.
Among Cebu’s top male bets are Milo Marathon-Manila Leg champion Rafael Pescos and former Cebu leg champion Noel Tillor.
The 23-year-old Pescos is determined to bounce back from his performance last year, and winning the 42K qualifying race in Manila was a testament of his commitment to rise.
“My training for the national finals was about four months. I started my training after I won the Manila leg,” said Pescos.
Pescos of Spectrum Runners Club was not fit enough during the national finals last year, after getting sick two weeks before the race. “I have a better conditioning now compared to last year. I hope my conditioning stays good on race day. Everybody wants to win but it’s up to the performance on the race and also to God,” he said.
The men’s cast will have a star-studded lineup with the likes of Olympian Eduardo Buenavista, Agravante, Richard Salano, Eric Paneque, Richel Languido, Julius Sermona, Maclin Sadia and Tillor.
“It’s a stacked lineup. If God permits, I hope I can make it to the Top 3. If not in the podium, I’m going to really try hard to make it to the Top 10,” said Pescos, who clocked his personal best time of 2:38:12 in the 2017 Cebu Marathon.
Tillor, a native of Bogo City, Cebu, meanwhile, has trained for eight straight months for the national finals. He qualified after a third place finish in the 42K Manila-Leg.
“My expectation is to get a below 2:35 time. My target is to get to the Top 3. It’s going to be a tough race because there are a lot of strong young runners,” said the 32-year-old Tillor in Cebuano. (RSC)