It is a given in the global running community that every time Kenyan runners and their East African brethren line up in the starting area of a long distance event with monetary prize, they will be the ones to take the greenbacks at the finish line.
Runners from all over the world have come to accept that the toughest part of the sport is to beat a Kenyan. It is true in Boston, London, Tokyo, Berlin and Singapore. It is true as well here in our Philippine archipelago from Manila to Cebu to Cagayan de Oro to Davao and even in Baguio.
Being one of a few local ultras, if not the only one to offer a rich cash booty, Mayon 360 has seen its fair share of victorious Kenyan conquerors. In fact, the overall top runners of the first two Mayon 360 were Kenyans: Willy Rotich in 2011 and Albert Omboga in 2012. Likewise, a Kenyan, Susan Chepkwony was the top female finisher at the 2012 edition.
|Super Mario crossing the finish line|
But in 2013, local homeboy Mario Maglinao outdueled Kenyan Elijah Kipruto for the top prize at Mayon 360. And just so people don’t consider it a fluke and consider him a one-hit wonder, this 2014, the diminutive Super Mario defended his crown and led a local contingent in making sure no Kenyan nor any foreigner gets to finish at the Top 10 of Bicol’s first and most prestigious ultra event. The best finish by a foreigner in the 2014 Mayon 360 was at 13th place by Omboga. For good measure, Super Mario’s finish time of 6 hours & 1 min broke the course record of 6 hours & 7 mins set by Willy Rotich in 2011.
Powered by the volcanic passion within their lithe frames, Bicol runners finished in the Top 7 spots of the 2014 Mayon 360. The Oragon 7 are as follow:
|2014 Mayon 360 Top 7 Finishers (from Bald Runner website)|
Originally from Sorsogon, Maglinao considers Legaspi City as his home base. Balaybo hails from the neighboring municipality of Sto. Domingo. Postrado is from the island province of Masbate. Lagyap (Iriga), Basagre (Nabua), Monte (Iriga) and Nachor (Buhi) all have their roots from the Rinconada district of Camarines Sur. Oragons in the true sense of the word.
What are the factors for this recent yet rare zero success rate for the Kenyans? What comes to mind first is home court advantage. The pride of running in front of family, relatives, friends and province mates is a strong motivating factor for success. Also, running at home means more familiarity with the route. As it turns out, the Mayon 360 twin offering of two long inclines (one at the Sabluyon Road and the other on the approach to Sto. Domingo from Malilipot) has taken its toll on foreign runners unfamiliar with it. What comes to mind is the 2011 DNF experience of an American lady runner who was highly touted to be a podium finisher given her extensive ultra experience including several comrades.
Better training on the part of the Bicolano runners cannot be discounted. No, these oragons do not get training subsidies from any of the government entities. They pay for their own training. That is why they are highly motivated to win the cash prizes for failure to do so would mean a big debit to their hard-earned cash balances.
It might be suggested by some local cynics that there are only so few Kenyan runners trekking to the province of Albay for the Mayon 360. To which we reply to these crabs, why aren’t they showing up in Penaranda Park? It is not because of the paucity of the cash prize. Php 25,000 is not something to laugh at by Philippine prize money standard. We read in the local papers of Kenyan runners showing up in some rural province race venue to gobble up some Php 5,000 in cash prize for a 5-km fun run. Our guess is that foreign “dogs-of-run” will be joining in droves if they smell a sure win. But since the barely 5-footer Mario and his Bicol co-Davids have shown that beating a Kenyan in long distance can be done, the Kenyans and their co-Vikings can smell that Mayon 360 is no easy pickings. Perhaps the reason for the paucity of Kenyan imports at the Mayon 360 is that their local handlers are shrewd traders after all.
Some readers might consider the title a hyperbole. It might be but until they win again, the Mayon 360 Ultra remains an event where Kenyans reign no more. Let more East African runners come next year and beyond. Let them wage a high noon running battle with what the best of Bicol and the Philippines can offer. That would be some battle royale in the presence of the world’s most famous volcano.
Let thy kingdom come.