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I am a Bicolano by birth and choice. By any standards, I am a slow runner but I like it that way. I look at running as a healthy and exciting way to make a difference. Together with my fellow runners from our family, school, office and the community, we use running to give back..

July 29, 2014

SUNGAY CHALLENGE ULTRA: Stories from the Front, the Middle and the Back Rows

Penguins graphicsIn my article on the recon run for the Sungay Challenge Ultra (http://bicolanopenguin.blogspot.com/2014/07/sungay-challenge-ultra-marathon.html?utm_source=BP_recent), I succinctly postulated that the attraction of this ultra will have to be the 9-km breath-taking ascent up Tagaytay City thru  Ligaya Drive.

Even motored vehicles have trouble going up this uphell. While this remained to be a truism, I also got to rediscover the real allure for me of the Sungay Challenge and ultra running in general. In the running of all   50 kms, there are many things that could happen. Human feats and frailties come to the surface.  And  more and more, I get to witness the strength of the human spirit as it goes out to challenge whatever obstacles are out there on the road. And in the process,  a few good things happen, like gaining new friend and earning  respect even from adversaries. These are for me the fascination of long distance running. 
There are many stories to tell in the Sungay Challenge Ultra last July 13. Allow me to pick out 3, encompassing all sections of the action.

Front Row:  The Shadow of the 4th

Bob the shadow of the champion (photo courtesy of Ernie Badong)

One that I am fascinated to tell is the story of fellow 83nean Bob Castilla’s relentless pursuit of improving his  running. Ever since his first ultra, the 2010 T2N where he placed 90th overall, he has steadily improved and has jumped to Top 20 territory in almost any ultra marathon he joined. He even had  a couple of Top 5 finishes in an ultra:  2012 West Coast 200Km Ultra (4th) and 2014 Malicboy-Atimonan-Pagbilao (MAP)  50km Ultra ( 4th). At Sungay, he did his best to garner a podium finish (top 3) in an ultra. In fact, his strategy, hastily concocted after seeing that the 1st place finisher in the 2014 MAP ultra was entered in the race as well, almost worked.  His strategy was to shadow Hideki Yamashita until he could and this almost worked. Bob  relentlessly shadowed the eventual winner for hours no end. If we are to imagine the thoughts racing to the mind of the  Japanese runner, it would have gone something like this:  “Kono otoko wa nani o kangaete iruno ka...? Watashi wa, hashittemo, kare kara nigeru koto wa dekinai.kare wa, Kage nanoda..” It was when the sun came out in the uphills that the shadow faded. Cramps hit Bob as the duelling duo neared the buko station before Km 40. Perhaps it was a tactical error on the part of his support team (who was prioritizing the back-of-the-pack runners) for being unable to provide ample hydration to Bob. But Bob gamely fought on and finished a very respectable 4th  (again). At the finish line, both Bob and Hideki  showed strength of character by engaging in some sportsmanship stuff. The magnanimous victor joined Bob as our classmate got his finisher medal. Later, the two had some small talk where the Japanese inquired about the condition of Bob with his cramps. Truly a class act and we would not have seen it if not for some timely picture taking by Day Spotted Photography. Hideki gained our admiration and Bob earned the respect from a champion. Maraming salamat and arigatou gozaimasu.

Bob cramping as he nears the buko station 

4th placer Bob and 1st placer  Hideki Yamashita with  RD Prince 


...and camaraderie


...two ultra warriors

           Photo Credit: Day Spotted

Middle Row:  The Happiness of Hard Work

Ernie’s smile is at its brightest when the run is at its toughest.

With a ready  smile, one can be forgiven for having the misperception that there is no hard work in fellow 83nean Ernie Badong’s running. His running form is stylishly easy but make no mistake,  Ernie is all about hard work especially when it comes to his second love - - running.  Running 10 kms on weekdays while working in a bank by day and being  a tutor to his 2 kids by night  is hard work.  Running and trying to keep up with Bob on weekend LSDs is hard work. Ernie does this hard work with the zest of a teenager for he knows there will be rewards.  And such a reward came for him in the Sungay Challenge Ultra when Ernie placed 10th overall out of 60 finishers.  A first Top 10 finish in an ultra for his late blooming running career. Ernie’s story is about mixing hard work and fun. That is the story of why the ease in  Ernie’s smile is flawless in every run he joins.

Ernie is smiling at the starting line...

...and the finish line.

Ernie with the top lady finisher, Wenx Hansen of Germany

Back Row:  To Help is To Befriend. 

Tired but not out. The 3 runners from Bicol share a photo with Lake Taal in the background
Met in person two brave lady runners from Naga City at the Sungay Challenge Ultra. Brave because Au Reduta  and Glie Ignacio Santos were running their first ultra marathon and they were doing it without even tackling a marathon first. Prior to Sungay, the longest race Au had was the  North Face 22km Trail in Baguio last May while Glie had the  28km Dalagan Uragon way back in 2012. The idea to join Sungay just came out of the blue for them. They just wanted to prove to themselves that they can do it. More impressive, they planned to do it as self-support runners. The cynic in me could not help but think whether they would survive the uphells that was Ligaya Drive and finish within the cut off time of 10 hours. However, the Bicolano in me could not help but offer assistance from our support vehicle and support team of Ed Balcueva and Orly Jacob.  Moreover,  when I got to see them all smile and all self-effacing, I offered to run with them the whole of 50kms. That is how the 83nean runners (Bob, Ernie and me) came to have an enjoyable running of the Sungay Challenge with these two kababayans. For the record, out of 60 Sungay survivors, Au and Glie finished  37th and 39th respectively (The Bicolano Penguin was at 36th place). The two lady runners from Bicol now call me “coach” but it was the both of them who taught me a thing or two about self-belief. Smiling runners you meet on the long road are friends you hopefully get to keep for a long time.

Ernie with Au and Glie before the start

The Bicolano Penguin, Au and Glie on the uphells of Ligaya Drive to Tagaytay

The smile and the confidence, never leaving these two lady runners

Nearing the homestretch

I could smell the bulalo.

Au’s finish had RD Prince and 83nean Ed holding the banner.

Glie’s finish had RD prince and 83nean Bob holding the banner.

37th and 39th out of 60 finishers.  Not bad at all for a first timer in ultra.


There are race directors from   Sparta (the Bald Runner of BDM fame comes to mind) and there are race directors from  Athens (Prince Baltazar of Prince Multi Sports Events and Rodell Mendoza of Team Runn Active come to mind).  Despite the differences, all 3 RDs gained our  respect  because  all three are at the finish line of their respective ultras,  ready to welcome all finishers, no matter if you are in the first or last rows. Thank you, Prince, for a good job on the Sungay Challenge Ultra. You made all runners feel special with the way you handled the race, most especially at the finish. Special thanks to Raul Acuna of ARC for the support.

The Bicolano Penguin crossing the finish line

Getting a congratulatory handshake from Raul Acuna (photo courtesy of Day Spotted)
Penguins graphics


  1. awesome article...thank you so much,coach! :)

  2. Your welcome. I guess I am the coach coz I am the oldest. hahaha....

    1. I'm a year older,although you're a couple of days ahead in celebrating our b-days...hehe...

  3. Congrats to the new warriors Au and Glie! Uragon talaga ang mga bicolano! You are right BP. Running is my second Love. Iba talaga mag paligaya ang mga mistress...ay! I mean ang running pala. hahaha!