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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..

November 15, 2014

B2B @ MMP: Conversation with Harry

Penguins graphics“Sino po tatakbo bukas (Sabado) sa MMP? Sino po kaya puwede magturo sa penguin ng 7-km "wall to wall" loop diyan sa MMP?”

Posted this message last night at the Paranaque Running Circle (PRC) facebook page.  The weekend was about to start and the penguin wanted to make good use of the Saturday morning by running  the “Wall 2 Wall” route inside Manila Memorial Park (MMP). In my few months as a member of the dynamic PRC, I have been hearing of the fabled 7-km loop and was interested  to explore it. But I had no idea where to start. Thus the message posted in facebook (modern na si BP. Hahaha). 

In a short time, kabayan Del and ultra runner Noy responded by suggesting that I be early at 5:30 morning at the usual PRC tambayan inside the park as the usual suspects start early their wall run. 

This I did come the following morning (Nov 15).  Motoring from our village a handful of kilometres away, I arrived at the gate of MMP a quarter past 5.  Already there was a sizable group of runners waiting for the park security guard to let them in. Seeing some familiar faces among the group, I alighted from my vehicle and kibitzed with them. 

Among them was veteran runner Harry Mediavillo. Recently, he has gotten some street cred when Harry was proclaimed the oldest runner by  Run Mania Philippines Promotions in the Tagaytay to Nuvali to Sta. Rosa (T2N2S) 50-km ultra marathon.  With this singular honor, Run Mania head Pat Maranan said that Harry is entitled to run for free (no registration fees) in any and all of the runs managed by the said group.    
Harry at the T2N2S finish line

Shook hands with Harry and some of the other PRC runners.  Harry then told me of his plan to join the upcoming Andres Bonifacio Day Ultra Marathon this Nov 29-30. I instinctively said “Good. You can do it.” But then he expressed his doubts as to whether he can finish it and said “Kung saan ako aabutin ng cut off, basta takbo lang ako ng takbo.” I  was taken aback and automatically my brain did the relevant math and geography. Yup. Harry is already 72 years old but he has easily finished 50-km ultras with the T2N2S this October  and the Independence Day Ultra in June.  But then again the Bonifacio Day Ultra is 106 kilometers loooonnggg  starting in the lowland city of Sta. Rosa and the finish line is the Mountain Lake Resort in the highland town of Cavinti, Laguna. The word “mountain resort” connotes uphill at the end of the ultra which is where the runner is at its weakest.  Sounds like this is a tall order for a septuagenarian.

I did not blurt this out but responded feebly with a smile. Before any new conversations can come in, the security guard whistled, signalling the green light for the runners to enter MMP.  The Park for the Dead becoming the Park of the Living. 

Even while walking into the park, the PRC runners moved briskly while the Montero I was driving could only negotiate the way to the PRC tambayan area by the fountain at a snail pace given the human traffic. Upon parking, I had to rush as Harry and fellow PRC runner Charlito Capison have already started their run. Apparently, this duo are old school bad ass runners who don’t believe in stretching or what have you.  Huffin and puffin when I caught up with the  two.  Seeing this, Charlie gracefully suggested that we run at a slower pace. He also told me that we are running the “Back 2 Back” (B2B). I did not bother anymore to ask if this was the same as the Wall to Wall. What was important that I was in the company of grizzled veterans who knew the lay of the land. Later in the run, we were joined by Jomari Gentoleo.

Jomari, Harry & Charlie running the B2B route in MMP
Slow pace to the liking of the penguin
The slow pace (at least for them and not for me) gave me a chance to talk  with my fellow runners, particularly Harry. He is after all a fellow Bicolano and his surname seem to suggest that he is a relative of my favorite  blogger Wandering Jouster. Moreover, our chit chat  earlier at the gate of MMP had me thinking of ways to help him in his 106-km quest. Given that the penguin will be in Bicol on the Nov 29-30 weekend, I could not offer to be his support vehicle.  How to help? The penguin is good with words and I decided to strike a conversation with Harry, hoping that in the words we exchange, there could be light.  

Thus it happened that I got to know more about Harry and his passion for running. 

Genaro Jacob Mediavillo was born a year after the Japanese attack on  Pearl Harbor, give or take a day or 2 (Dec 15, 1942 to be exact on the birthdate),  His father was a soldier and his mother a housewife living in a barrio in the town of Daraga, Albay.   Although born a Bicolano, he spent most of his schooling years in Manila where he eventually studied a vocational course in a school that was to become the Technological University of the Philippines (TUP).   Harry tells me he did not finish this course and studied only up to his second year.  Nonetheless, he did a lot of self-study to make him a capable electrical maintenance technician.

In 1965, he got married. Harry and Thelma are blessed with 6 children. Perhaps the economic pressure of having a growing family was a significant factor in Harry’s decision to go overseas in the early 1980s.  He worked for CDCP and was assigned in the Middle East   where they were servicing the needs of a big and influential Saudi contractor by the name of Bin Laden.  Pretty soon, he was employed by the Bin Laden conglomerate. He was part of the group that handled the electrical maintenance requirements of the massive road construction equipment like dump trucks, payloaders and bulldozers. 

He was not yet running by this time but his boss and a few co-workers were joining fun runs and races. Harry would help out as support crew and he would be handing water or snacks to these runners during the race. A picture of his support crew gig apparently was seen by his kids in one of Harry’s vacation in the Philippines. He got a lot of “alaska” from his athletically-inclined kids for this picture.  To them, their dad was  just a “water boy”  and not the player.   

The picture proved to be a catalyst to the start of Harry’s running voyage 29 years ago. Coming back from his vacation back home, 1985 was the year that Harry decided to take up running.  Just to show his kids that their “old man” can hack it on the road, and not on the sidelines as a “water boy.”  Fortunately for him, there was the Jeddah Road Runners (JRR) where foreign expat workers , many British and Irish, joined to pursue running. He learned  from these European runners and soon he became a regular fixture in the club races. He was constantly the crowd favourite (Arab News articles googled in the internet would attest to this) and dominated his masters age group despite his diminutiveness compared to the longer-limbed foreigners. At his peak, almost every road race he lined up for in the JRR Club , he ended up being the Top Masters finisher. At age 55, Harry registered a personal best in the full marathon with a time of 3 hours & 38 minutes. 

Harry in he Arab News dated Mar 31, 2002 (http://www.arabnews.com/node/219527) 
Harry in another issue of the Arab News - Dateline: Apr 30, 2002 (http://www.arabnews.com/node/220347)
Photos of Jeddah Road Runners circa late 1980s. Still searching for a photo of Harry running in the searing heat of Arabia
Words of his running exploits soon spread among the Filipino diaspora in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  Even the Philippine embassy in Riyadh came calling to recruit him for the team to compete in some  regional games in the Middle East. These must have been heady days for Harry.  He did enjoyed the running in the kingdom and  he even kept news clippings of his exploits (he promised to show it to me). But he remained his usual humble self.  Soft-spoken and level-headed. 

Coming back to the Philippines after 20 years of overseas work, our bagong tunay na bayani continued the active exercise lifestyle he cultivated in the Middle East. His constant running inside the MMP must undoubtedly have brought him into contact with the festive members of the PRC. Harry is now an active member of PRC. A wise and veteran member.  

Looking back at what I have just heard from him in  more than an hour of running in that B2B @ MMP  , the Bicolano Penguin cannot help but be inspired and impressed of both the life story and running  story of Harry. Given his athletic talent, experience  and discipline,  I should not be doubting whether he can finish the  106-km challenge that is the Andres Bonifacio Day Ultra Marathon.  He can and he will.

No doubt also that if he does join this race (or any other ultra for that matter), his good friends from the PRC, led by President Mannix and constant running companion Vic will be on hand to provide all the support that can be mustered for the road master we call simply as “Harry.” 

Truly, good things come in small packages. 

Harry and Charlie still standing. The penguin sitting down after running for 12 kms with no Galloway walk break.
Penguins graphics

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