JAPAN is one of the world’s most progressive countries, not just in economics but in sports development as well. And the country, which is popularly known in the world for their anime and robotics, will be the place where Cebuano Mary Joy Tabal will further hone her running skills before gearing up for one of her biggest races—the 2016 Boston Marathon in April.

The 26-year-old runner told reporters yesterday in a press conference that they contacted one of Japan’s sports coordinators, renowned coach Akio Usami.

The agreement between the two parties has been inked, and the only thing she’s waiting for is a visa. Tabal is expecting her Japanese visa this week, and once she gets it, Tabal, the pride of Barangay Guba, will be leaving for the Land of the Rising Sun on Feb. 22 and will stay there until April 11, a week before the Boston Marathon.

The Boston Marathon, the longest annual running event in the world, is an Olympic qualifying race. Tabal needs to finish the women’s 42-kilometer race on April 18 in 2 hours and 45 minutes to ensure a slot in 2016 Rio Olympics in August.

Tabal’s training in Japan is sponsored by Motor Ace Philippines and backed by team Motor Ace Racing.

“Japan has the finest equipment and sports program I have seen and for Joy (Tabal) to train there is a big factor. The financial expense for this is really big and I thank our sponsors for making this happen and giving her a chance to chase that Olympic dream,” Tabal’s long-time coach John Philip Dueñas said.

Dueñas was in Japan last 2014 for the Jenesys 2.0 Marathon Youth Exchange Programme.

Dueñas added that Tabal is the first Filipino to train under coach Usami. She will have regular training sessions at the Nippon Sports Science University in Yokohama, where she’ll join other long-distance runners in Japan.

But the long training will be a little bit off her norm, since this will be the first time Tabal will train away from coach Dueñas. But this only made her more determined.

“It is a little bit unusual being away from coach because I have been dependent on him in terms of my training, diet, rest and everything for the most of my career. But this is for my dream, the Olympics. Through this training, I will be able to learn more things which will be useful for me and his coaching as well,” said Tabal, a silver medalist in the 28th Southeast Asian Games in Singapore last year.

Tabal said that the Japanese coach has asked for her training program for the last three months, which will be incorporated in the coming training in Japan.

A former sprinter for Southwestern University, Tabal is the three-time Milo Marathon queen and holds the best marathon time for the event, which is at 2:48, recorded in the 2013 National Finals. Tabal needs to shed three minutes off her best time to advance to the Rio Olympics.

After the training in Japan, Tabal will directly go to Boston to make the needed adjustments and to acclimatize.

Dick Beardsley, the 1982 Boston Marathon men’s second placer, will be helping out Tabal in Boston. Tabal and Beardsley met last year when the latter visited Manila to share his passion in running.

The president of Motor Ace Philippines, Jonel Borromeo, said they are supporting Tabal all-out because they believe that she has the skills to make it to the biggest sporting stage in the world—the Olympics.

Meanwhile, the press conference was also a celebration for the team of its members’ recent success last Feb. 7. Tabal won the women’s overall and Filipina crown in the 2016 Condura Marathon; while in Xterra Albay, Tenggoy Colmenares finished third in the 45 to 49 age group, Tolitz Dagoy Albina of Dumaguete City was in fifth place among the elites while Jonel and Chipi Borromeo were finishers in the individual race.