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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 28, 2017


"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."

You know people are passionate when they start quoting from great thinkers and poets. Such was the case when I heard race organizer Griv Brown quote from one of the 20th century major poets T.S. Eliot. This happened in the early morning hours of July 22, 2017 at the start of the Catarman Cathedral 2 Allen Church 50km Ultramarathon (CC2AC)., the very first ultra marathon in the province of Northern Samar.   Facing  60+ runners in front of the Our Lady of the Annunciation Cathedral in downtown Catarman,  Griv begun his race briefing with these words of wisdom.   He was motivating the  CC2AC participants not to easily quit by taking risks and wanted them to innately feel victory through self-determination. In essence, this T.S. Eliot quote echoes the "carpe diem" (seize the day) sentiment found in other great idioms. Risk is inherent to gain. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Griv addressing the runners in front of the Catarman Cathedral. 
Listening intently to the T.S. Eliot-quoting race organizer. 

Shoulder to shoulder with kindred runners, I stood there with my pair of Altra Olympus 2.0 and   pondered the question - What did I venture?  What did I gain?   

What did I venture? Coming to Catarman was truly an adventure for me and my fellow row5runner Ernie.  We certainly ventured out of  our usual comfort zone.  The shortest and most comfortable way to Catarman from Manila  is a 60-min  direct flight  from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) to  Catarman National Airport which covers a flying distance of 459 kilometers. But we did not take this route as this is an expensive option with a Philippine Airlines one-way flight to Catarman  costing roughly  Php 8,000.  What we did instead was to take the Thursday early morning Cebu Pacific flight from Manila to the Legazpi International Airport which had a calculated flying distance of 339 kms. Upon arrival in Legazpi, our high school classmate Bodjie drove us for 120 kms  down to the tip of  Luzon island . From there, we took the ferry that crossed the 21-km long distance  from Matnog to Allen in the island of Samar. We rode a jeepney for almost 2 hours to reach Catarman, roughly 54 kms aways from Allen. On the negative side, it took us almost 10 hours from the time we left Manila airport  to to the time we disembark in the Catarman jeepney terminal.   But on the positive  side, our actual transport cost came out  80% cheaper compared to if we took the direct flight to Catarman. Plus, it was my first time to ride the ferry across the San Bernardino Strait.     

The adventure took us to edge of the Bicol Peninsula. where we crossed to the island of Samar.  

Ernie with our HS classmate Bodjie who drove us down to the Port of Matnog. 

Ernie about to board the M/V Grand Star. 

Arriving in the port town of Allen in Northern Samar. 

What did I gain?  There are lot for me to gain with this CC2AC experience.  Primary among them is the fact that my successful finish of  this 50km ultra marathon adds Northern Samar to the list of Philippine provinces that I have finished a long distance running event (42kms+).  One of my running bucket list is to run a marathon or ultra in as many provinces in our country. There are currently 86 provinces in the Philippines and, thus far, with the inclusion of Northern Samar, my number stands at 16 provinces.  

The map in front of my office desk where I mark in yellow the provinces I have ran a marathon or ultra.  16 provinces and counting since the start of my marathon journey in 2010.    
Another bonus is the delight  and amazement of visiting a new  place - - -  Catarman and its surrounding areas which  have so  much to offer (one such place is the White Beach in UEP). Foremost among these delights was the chance to experience the warm hospitality of the people. Ernie and myself were invited to a delicious dinner by the Mijares family in their Patrick's Cakehouse.  Talk about a feast.  We were only 2 guests but the food on the table was good for more than a dozen.  
With Leo Mijares and his mom.  

The seafood bounty feast the night before the ultra.  
What did I gain? Equally important are the friendships and acquaintances I have gained in my CC2AC adventure. For all of the ultra marathons that I have joined, the Bicolano Penguin has been fortunate to have made friends with persons who share the same deep commitment for our sports.     There are many kindred spirits among the  CC2AC runners and here are a trio who have made quite an impression with their passion for running. 

Gray Bateo.

An ex-seminarian, Gray was actually the runner who led the prayer at the start of the CC2AC. The prayer was long and the words sure did  made a mark on the ardent ones among us in the starting line. How can you not when the prayer  speaks of "running is a part of our stewardship."   
Gray leading the prayer before the start of the CC2AC race. 

Gray was kind enough to a send me a copy of the prayer.  
It turns out that Gray, the election officer of Basey, Samar,  is pretty serious with his stewardship. With his finish, clocked at 6 hrs & 19 mins and good for 25th place among 65 finishers,  at the CC2AC, Gray became part of the running history in Samar for being one of only five runners who have finished ultramarathons in all 3 provinces in the island of Samar. This member of the Tenderfoot Organization of Enthusiastic Striders (T.O.E.S.) is prolific with his long distance running:  13 full marathons and 11 ultramarathons.
Gray having fun on the road with fellow T.O.E.S. runner. 

Part of the proceeds of the reg fees from the races organized by Griv are channeled to the Lapis Mo Panulat Ko project. 
Asked about the reason why he joined the CC2AC, Gray replied that missing this ultra was out of the question as he has participated in all of Griv's events. Aside from the wonderful finisher's tokens, what he like most about the events organized by Griv is that part of the registration fees goes to a noble cause like the Lapis Ko Panulat Mo project.  Talk about loyalty and charity.

Aiza Bender

A Bicolana by birth but now a resident of Allen, Aiza is the second place finisher among the lady runners of the 50km CC2AC with a time of 6 hrs & 12 mins. Earlier this summer, she finished among the top 10 (female category) in the grueling 80km Mayon 360 with a time of 12 hours & 14 mins. Doing the math, we can see that her ultra marathon pace is improving from more than 9 mins per km to less than 8 mins per km. She is turning out to be strong runner and she will improve further.
Whether running uphill or...

...downhill, Aiza  has that effervescent smile with matching arm waving and hand signal. 

But what catches us more with our 27-year old millennial is the unbridled gusto she has when she is on the road running. Check out the photos and you can see her always with a big hearty smile and her arms flailing all over the place. I asked Aiza about it and she responded candidly - "Smile lang para po di ako maramdaman ang pagod.   Everytime I run sabi ko sa sarili ko dapat naka-smile lagi para po my camera man o wala pagnakita ako nila manong at manang sa daan, naka smile pa din sabay kaway." Not bad for someone who has asthma.
Night before the race, the Cam Sur runners (BP, Jonas Nacario & Ernie) had a group photo with the top lady runners of Northern Samar (Aiza and Caren Flores).   

Aiza with fellow SAFORUN members in a group photo prior to the start of the race. 
A member of Sales Force Runners Club (SAFORUN) and Allen Runners Society (ARS), Aiza has finished already 3 full marathons and 2 ultra marathons.  She just started joining long distance running events last year. Inquired as to why she joined the CC2AC and what it meant for her to run the very first ultra in the province, she replied - "Dahil gusto kong tumakbo ng 88kms (GB Ultramarathon Special Edition) at isa ang CC2AC sa mga qualifying round. Sobrang saya po kasi unang una hometown pa namin. Tapos pangalawa masaya kami na isa kami sa mga participants ng event na to."  Talk about youthful exuberance.

Bernadette Schlueter

Standing at the center of the assembled CC2AC runners in front of the Catarman Cathedral, Bernadette stood out for her quiet demeanor and solitude. While many, if not all of the participants were loud in their gregarious ways as they await the start of the ultra, she was standing alone, except for a  quick chat with her support crew. Standing just a few meters away and imbued with a little bit of chivalry, I asked myself - Should I introduce myself and offer to pace with her during the 50km jaunt to the St. James the Greater Church in Allen? Good thing I decided not to offer to run with her for it would have been a flustering situation for the Bicolano Penguin. Turns out, the lady would cross the finish line with a time of 7 hours & 21 mins, almost an hour faster than me.
Bernadette right in the middle of the running horde assembled in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Annunciation.  
Talk about silent water running deep, Bernadette, as of her latest count,  has bagged 140 marathons and ultra marathons.  A visit to her  blog  The Global Adventurer  points to the Tacloban native  being a  globetrotter in long distance running.   She has crossed the marathon finish lines of such exotic and fabulous places like Amsterdam, Bordeaux, Copenhagen, Geneva, Ibiza, Liverpool, Marrakech,  Milan, Vienna and Zurich.  A  prolific runner, her recuperating powers are bordering beyond the ordinary. Consider this:  from July 1-4, she finished the Firecracker Quadzilla (four full marathons run consecutively in four days);  then she conquered the hilly 7th PAU Tanay 50km ultra on July 16; then placed as a podium finisher in this CC2AC; and for July 30, she will be participating in the Milo Marathon Manila Eliminations. She is in a zone of the Zen variety.
Bernadette trotting her way ...

...to the midway point of the 50km race.
Bernadette with husband at the finish line in front of the St. James the Greater in downtown Allen.    

Inquired as to why she joined the CC2AC, the Belgium-based Bernadete has this to say - "I joined the CC2AC because it was conveniently scheduled while I was on vacation in my hometown of Tacloban City.  Running in the Philippines is great! I know the language and the culture. I can identify with the mindset of the Filipino runner. The camaraderie between runners is incredible. The heat wears everyone down but meeting other runners along the way is an invaluable plus factor in a local run. I will do a Philippine race again in a heartbeat."

Coming from a long distance runner who has tasted marathons of the African, American, Asian and European varieties, hearing Bernadette talked positively about a race here in the Philippines is music to my ears (check out her blog article) .  Hearing  our race organizer Griv talk about how much he cares for his runners and witnessing his words in action is also music to my ears.    Likewise, the youthful exuberance exhibited by Aiza and the piousness  of Gray towards his running have me feeling very blessed with my CC2AC experience.
Race organizer na, photographer at water boy pa.  Samar runner Frances giving a thumbs up sign on the tender loving care of Griv towards the participants.    
Official race results. 

And let us not forget my last row classmates Nicholas Manalo, Ernie Badong and Zenik Chavez. Together, us 4 brought up the rear  of the CC2AC ultra from start to finish. To be honest about it, the trio could have run much faster and finished much ahead of the last row but in their friendly magnanimity, they never left the Bicolano Pengun  on the road.   They, especially Ernie, knew that it was my first time to run an ultra without a support vehicle. We paced each other.  We took turns buying much needed water, snacks and ice from the sari sari stores along the road. We were one unit soldiering on to the finish line with the intention of leaving no man behind.
Moving slowly and steadily thru the route, the last 4 runners was composed of ...

Zenik Chavez of Team T.O.U.R., 

Bicolano Penguin of row5runnin, 

Ernie Badong of running 83neans, 

and Nick Manalo of ADR Club (Cebu). 

The last row runners enjoying the cool water shower from Griv.  

After the cool water shower at Km 25, back on the road to the finish line, 25 more kms away,   where ... 

...the finisher goodies (shirt, medal and trophy) awaits those who can finish within the cut off time of 10 hours.  The Bicolano Penguin crossed it at 8 hrs & 5 mins.      

Solidarity.  Esprit de corps. Loyalty. Compassion. Piety. Zen. Exuberance. Zest for life. These qualities are very much present in the CC2AC experience we just had.  More than the finisher medals and the finisher shirts, these are the real rewards why we continue to travel long distances to run a long distance.  Sounds poetic.  Yes indeed. The Bicolano Penguin is feeling poetic thus I shall end this story by quoting from the poem "Running the Race of Life" by Cynthia BuhainBaello :  

As we run this finite race of life
To the finish line in swiftness of soul,

We undress ourselves of the baggage of strife
Take love in our steps to reach our goal.

Forgetting whatever lies behind
We set our hearts on the eternal price.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus we find
His strength and power in us will arise.

Photo credits:  Griv Brown, Aiza Bender, Bernadette Schlueter and Gray Bateo.








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