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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 18, 2017

TC2BS: Crossing the Longest Bridge in the Archipelago

Bridges have always been a source of fascination for men and women of all ages.  For many, it symbolizes progress, connections and stability. For some, a bridge is a symbol of hope. If you can just get over that bridge, you may find yourself in a better place on the other side. 

A feeling of hope.  A feeling that things will be better. Such was my feeling when I glimpsed the beautiful red arches of  the San Juanico Bridge on that balmy morning hours of the 20th of November in the year 2016. Up to that point, I have ran a total of 34 kilometers in a 50km race called the Tacloban City to Basey Samar ultramarathon (TC2BS). I guess the most apt term of my locomotion would  be "trudge" rather than "run."

Route map
Certainly, it was a struggle for the Bicolano Penguin up to that point in the race.  The race started almost half an hour late from the official start time of 4am.  The late start increased the possibility of the runners, especially the slow ones, being baked mercilessly by the tropical sun. I prayed for a light rain but none came so far.  Starting at 7am, the sun was merciless in its onslaught on the ultra runners. Me and my  buddy Erwin struggled and we found ourselves the last 2 runners already at the Km 20 mark. At the halfway mark (Km 25), my ITB acted up. The Bicolano Penguin   was now shuffling side to side, just like its feathered namesake. My run was becoming agonizingly painful meter by meter of this 50,000 meter race.
Bicolano Penguin with fellow runners in front of the MacArthur Landing Memorial National Park.   

But I had faith in the power of the bridge as a symbol of hope.   A bridge represents our ability to overcome an obstacle. We stand on one side of a gap and on the other side is our desired location. So it was then when I glimpsed the high red arches of San Juanico Bridge, my racing luck began to turn for the better.  For one, the blistering heat of the sun was all of a sudden covered by grey clouds. When I reached the foot of the bridge on the Leyte side, it began to drizzle. Great timing as the light rain drops helped to cool me down as I started my ascent up the bridge.

Feeling very excited of finally crossing the longest bridge in our archipelago, I mustered enough strength and enthusiasm to go up the bridge without my customary walk breaks. In no time, I have covered the ascent portion and was now crossing  the arch-shaped truss.  Up in the steel beam was the sign "Welcome to Samar."  At 2.16 kilometers long, the bridge crosses the San Juanico Strait from Tacloban in the province of Leyte to the town of Sta. Rita in the province of Samar. Costing roughly US$ 21.9 Million, construction started in August 1969 and was completed in December 1972.  The San Juanico bridge is reputedly a gift by President Ferdinand Marcos to his wife Imelda, a proud daughter of Leyte.
San Juanico Bridge
After the span of the arch-shaped truss, the longest length of the bridge came into view - - a steel girder viaduct built on reinforced concrete piers. It was like the tail of a big dragon with the truss the main body of the beast. But it was a long descent, practically  a manna from heaven for the Bicolano Heaven who thanks the good Lord for every downhill portion of an ultra marathon.  Except for a brief stop to have a photo on this glorious bridge, I breezed thru the viaduct and was soon at the Km 36 marker of the race. Things indeed were turning for the better.
A foreign TC2BS participant crossing the San Juanico Bridge. 

Photo with Erwin on the longest bridge in the Philippines.
14 more kilometers and the ultra marathon would be over soon. More importantly, I have  my sights on other runners.  I would not be lonely again. From being 3rd to the last  place before crossing the bridge,  the Bicolano Penguin ended up catching 6 other runners before crossing the finish line in front of the centuries-old St. Michael Archangel Church in Basey. Time for the BP was at 8 hours and 46 mins.  Good for 98th place among 108 finishers of the TC2BS. Having finished this ultra marathon allowed me to chalk up Leyte and Samar to the list of provinces in the Philippines  that I have finished a marathon or an ultra marathon. That list now numbers 15 provinces.
BP nears the finish line in Basey, Samar.

The finish line in front of the St. Michael Archangel Church  

Receiving the finisher trophy from Race Director Griv Brown.
Showing off the finisher medal in front of the magnificent bell tower of the St. Michael Archangel Church.
A handful of the happy finishers...

...of TC2BS. 
Aside from the bucket list achievement, the TC2BS has given me a couple of  blessings as well. For one,  there is the bounty of enjoying the delights of what the provinces have to offer.   First is of the gastronomic kind. The day before the race, I visited the Tacloban wet market and chanced upon the biggest prawns I have seen in my lifetime. Purchased a handful of the "pasayan" and had it cooked in a carenderia beside the market. It was the most sumptuous meal in a long time for the penguin.
At the Tacloban wet market, biggest "pasayan" I have ever purchased.  

The Bicolano Penguin enjoying the "pasayan" cooked sinigang style in a carenderia beside the Tacloban wet market. 

Second delight was visiting the St. Michael Archangel Church, an old church which had the rare provenance of being built by the Jesuits in late 17th century, then taken cared of by the Augustinians in 1768 and then transferred to the Franciscans in 1795.  The influences of these venerable religious orders were evident in all corners of the church.
The St. Michael Archangel Church in Basey is beautiful. From the outside and... 

...and inside.
The TC2BS experience has given me the opportunity of meeting more new running friends. Of special note  are Frances Mahinay of Samar and Nicholas Manalo of Cebu. My adventure in running in the provinces will surely be enriched with having more province-based running friends.
New running friends I meet at TC2BS:  Frances of Samar, and...

....Nicholas of Cebu. 

At the race briefing, group photo with fellow Bicol ultra runners (TOUR) and Griv. 
As I end this article, thanks are in order for the race director  Griv Brown  and his crew for having the courage and patience to  organize  ultra marathon in this part of the country.  It is no easy task. Looking forward to more of the races that Griv organizes in the Eastern Visayas area. In a way, the races that he organizes serve as a bridge for us runners to connect.



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