"Crossing the starting line may be an act of courage, but crossing the finish line is an act of faith."
I have long been hearing about these wise words from one of my running idols - John "Penguin" Bingham but it was only that morning of Dec 11, 2016 that the Bicolano Penguin came face to face with its naked truth.
The event was the Baybay City Marathon and for the first time since I took up running almost 10 years ago, the Bicolano Penguin was late for the start of a race.
|Our Lady of the Immaculate Parish Church in Baybay City.|
|BCM 42km participants started running at 3am sharp.|
|All smiles for the marathon runners, all 60+ of them, as they pass the Veterans Park.|
The 42 km race participants have already crossed the starting line almost 30 minutes have elapsed when I arrived at the assembly area in front of the centuries old Our Lady of Immaculate Concepcion Parish Church. I was both ashamed and unsure as to whether to push thru with the marathon. Nobody else was to blame but me for being late. Thanks in large part to the comfort of our breezy accommodations inside the picturesque campus of the Visayas State University, I overslept. Knowing this, I had to cajole Alex the driver to push the pedal to the metal for the support vehicle to cover the 7 km distance from the school to downtown Baybay in 5 minutes flat.
Alighting from the vehicle, I could see that the seconds and minutes have been ticking off already in the timer above the starting line. Pangs of doubt began to cloud my mind and for a second or two I entertained the thought of not starting. But one's innate courage quickly took over and I found myself sheepishly coming over to the race marshal and declaring with whatever ounce of pride left in me the words - "Good morning. I am a late runner. How do I start?" The lady marshal quickly checked on my race bib and pointed me to the west while giving instructions in the Cebuano language. I had no idea what she was saying while precious seconds and minutes kept ticking. I was thinking the direction of the start was eastward. Good thing a guardian angel appeared in the form of the head of the race organizers - Doreen Danas. She quickly pointed me to the right direction which was the west and asked me if I was ok. I said in the affirmative but added that I had no idea as to the route, especially on the early stages of the race. Quick thinker that she is, Doreen immediately requested, more like commanded, a biker to guide me. With a biker shadowing me, I found myself running past the lighted Veterans Park and into the dark streets. My Baybay City Marathon adventure was on.
|42km Race Route|
|The biker escort of the Bicolano Penguin came from this group of Bayca cyclists.|
Key for me to survive the marathon is to have faith in my "3+4" strategy: 3 hours for the first 21 kilometers and 4 hours for the last 21 kilometers. This was key as I have to avoid the temptation to quicken my pace at the early part of the race to be able to catch up with the other runners. Quickening the pace would leave me vulnerable to burn out or "laspag" in the local parlance.
It was sure lonely in the dark roads in the early part of the race. Good thing the biker whose name is Fred, was very helpful in giving directions to me. If not, I would have been lost in the route. In addition, each barangay that we passed had water stations manned by barangay tanods and race volunteers. And these water stations were not only providing H2O and chocolates but were also an oasis of encouragement for the runners. Despite the fact that it was still early in the morning (the race started at 3am), there were many barrio folks congregating in these water stations and they were enthusiastically cheering the runners as they passed by. There was even one barangay, I think it is Brgy Jaena, that had a drum and bugle band playing festively on the early morning hours.
Fiesta was in the air which brings me to a significant point as to why I love joining races that are organized in the provinces by local-based groups. Unlike in Metro Manila, running events in the provinces are big events in that locality. As such, the local organizers together with the cooperative LGU administration and the local community in general put their best foot forward and made the running event a truly special one. Upon reflection, this sense of community pride was very much evident in Baybay.
|Race volunteer providing much needed cooling refreshments to the runners.|
|Brgy officials and tanods manned the water stations.|
|The uphill portion at the Diversion Road at Km 14 of the full marathon distance.|
With more persons to talk to, the Bicolano Penguin was energized some more and by the time we reach the Km 17 mark, we have overtaken a pair of half marathon participants from GK Runners. I was thinking the "GK" meant "Gawad Kalinga" but when I asked my biker escort, the answer was bit amusing. "GK" stands for "gwapa kaayo" which just goes to show that runners in these parts of the archipelago are as creative and peppy, if not more, as what we have here up north.
|A pair of GK runners from Cebu.|
|The entrance to the Visayas State University campus.|
|Lots of green plants and trees inside the VSU campus.|
|A pair of Bayca bikers shadowing the Bicolano Penguin.|
Lost in wonderment, I was awakened by the clapping of hands and when I looked ahead I could see the final U-turn in Brgy. Bunga. I have now covered 27 kilometers. The clapping was from the enthusiastic race marshals and race volunteers. The cheering got me in a good mood and when I pass by the U-turn I declared matter of factly to the people gathered the following words of confidence cum arrogance : "Ako po ang last runner. Puwede na po kayo maka-uwi." This elicited more cheering and more laughter.
|The last runner approaching the last U-turn.|
This playful banter between me and the race volunteers was to be repeated in the succeeding water stations as the Bicolano Penguin slowly but steadily labored thru the balance of kilometers of the full marathon. The last 15 kilometers gave way to the last 8 kilometers to the last 5 kilometers. And in each of those milestones, the biker escorts from Bayco never failed to congratulate and remind me of the balance. I was very much impressed with their patience and never once did they abandon me in the vastness of those multitude of kilometers. In fact from the last 9 kilometers onwards, the pair of bikers were joined by another pair of bikers. And by the time we reached the last 2 kilometers, the 4 bikers were joined by a pair of race marshals who patiently walked and jogged with us towards the finish line.
|Last 8 kilometers to go for the last runner standing.|
|In the same way that the Bayca bikers never abandoned the Bicolano Penguin in the whole of 42 kms,|
|...my smile never did too.|
In no time, the tall bell tower of Our Lady of Immaculate Church was visible and inspired with this view, I managed to turn my trudge into a jog. Pretty soon, the finish line was visible and thank God, the set up (with the timer and the banner) was still intact. Better yet, I could see a lot more runners and spectators, more than expected, still milling around the church and the park. This was all the inspiration I needed and my jog improved to a canter. I could hear wild cheers and exuberant clapping. And there underneath the finish line banner, a charming lady was waiting with the finisher medal in her hand. With such a sight to savor, I crossed the finish line feeling like a rock star. Hugs and high fives were given. Such is the reward for the last runner standing of the Baybay City Marathon. And looking up at the time, the penguin's pride was intact as I finished well before (more than an hour) the cut off time of 8 hours for the full marathon.
|Last Runner Standing approaches the finish line where...|
|...beauty and charm awaits with the BCM finisher medal.|
|A handful more of strides for the Bicolano Penguin and|
|the medal is mine...|
|...plus a welcome hug amidst...|
|...the exuberant cheers...|
|...and vigorous handshakes from kindred runners.|
|Wow. First time for the Bicolano Penguin to feel like a rock star.|
|Photo with race marshals from Cebu, Adding & Fred of 3ofme.|
|A brief chat with Dennis, a podium finisher (half marathon) from Mindanao. He sincerely asked me - "What happened? Did you get injured?" To which I had to reply - "No, I did not get injured. I started late but my being late is not an excuse. I am a really a slow runner."|
|Group photo with fellow First Balfour runners. While the ladies donned the First Balfour multisport shirt, I choose to wear my "No to Coal" shirt - a personal and corporate advocacy as First Balfour focuses on renewable energy projects.|
|Doreen joined our First Balfour running group- Alice, Delsie, me, Rose and Tato - in a photo.|
Looking at the numerous finish line photos of the BCM, all runners really felt like rock stars. Sharing a sampling of these awesome photos just to show that the organizers of the Baybay City Marathon did a first-class job in delivering an awesome experience for the finishers.
|Triumph under a colorful sky.|
|As the rap lyrics go - "throw your hands in the air and scream."|
|A trio of runners approaches the finish line where a big crowd awaits.|
|Team spirit was at a high in the finish line area.|
|Mother and child, running version.|
|Action hero pose for this adult runner...|
|...while this kid was on Superhero mode.|
|Leis, medals and beauty at the finish line which are...|
|...a big hit among the runners, locals ...|
|...and foreigners alike.|
|All these excitement captured by hard working photographers.|
|The BP with John of FotoSmile|
|With lead organizer Doreen at Captain's Grill and Restobar - the venue for the bib/time chip release and carboloading.|
|BC Runners officers and volunteers busy with the bib releasing a day before the race.|
|First Balfour running group with BC Runners president Noriebel in front of the tarpaulin with the names of the race participants (42 kms, 21kms, 10kms).|
|First Balfour runner Tato pointing to his name on the tarp.|
|With Joy, another BC Runner officer, at the carboloading dinner.|
|An unexpected treat for the Bicolano Penguin - a photo with the country's marathon queen - Mary Joy Tabal.|
|List of running groups who participated at the BCM.|
|List of Corporate Sponsors for the BCM|
|More corporate sponsors and partners.|
The conduct of the race itself was above satisfactory. The race started on time. There were more than adequate water stations which did not only have water but Pocari and Mountain Dew plus sweet goodies like chocolates and water melon. Security was tight with local policemen and barangay tanods stationed all throughout the 42km route. U-turn and kilometer markers were present in strategic locations. The finisher medals were beautiful and trophies for special prizes were plentiful. There were some setbacks like inaccurate time in a few of the timing chips and the finisher shirts ran out for a few runners. But the minuses are very minor compared to the major positives that the BCM generated among the runners and the community itself. As mentioned earlier, one truly impressive thing about the BCM is the inspiring sense of unity among the BC Runners and the Baybay community to make the marathon event a success.
|BCM Finisher Medal|
|Trophies for podium finishers and special awards like biggest delegation and fastest delegation.|
Support from the local government unit (LGU) is a key success factor for the BCM. Mayor Carmen Cari and Vice Mayor Michael Cari were present at the awarding ceremonies. One of the City Councilors, Jorge Reduccas, joined in the fun run. The Baybay Tourism and Investment Promotions officer Josefina Granada worked actively with the organizing team, making sure that the band and dancers were present to add more festivities in the finish line area. The BCM is one of the events of the month-long celebrations for the Baybay City fiesta scheduled for Dec 26.
|Baybay City Mayor Carmen Cari and Vice Mayor Michael Cari with the Kenyan runners who topped the marathon race.|
|Doreen with Josefina Granada of the Baybay Tourism and Investments Promotion Office.|
|Calendar of activities for the Baybay City fiesta.|
|The Mayor with the fastest delegation - Spectrum Runners.|
Truly, the 2016 Baybay City Marathon is a big success. To quote veteran runner Dennis Scott, the words incredible, awesome, fantastic and more are all appropriate to describe the BCM experience. Many if not all of this year's participants are looking forward to the 2017 edition.
And to that expectant crowd for the 2017 BCM, kindly do include one Bicolano Penguin - the last runner standing.
P.S. Thankful for the photos from FotoSmile, Paksit Photos, Monstar Production, Willie Estepa, Francis Mahinay, & Rose Dalawampu.