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The longest year

by December 31, 2016 General

TO SAY that 2016 was a busy year for Olympian marathoner Mary Joy Tabal is an understatement.

Tabal had two goals in mind coming into 2016: to make it to the Olympics and to defend her title in the Milo Marathon. Did she achieve all these? Well, she is not this country’s Marathon Queen for nothing.

2016 was an Olympic year, and the Cebuana proudly waved the Philippine banner on the world’s biggest sporting stage. The first Filiipina to have achieved the Olympic grade for marathon. But it was not easy getting to that point.

Tabal became a household name as Cebuanos and the entire running community followed her journey through the treacherous road towards the Olympics, which for the diminutive Cebuana’s case, was laced with thorns known simply as the Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association, having had to fight tooth and nail just to keep her spot in the national team.


Making it to the Olympics is something a lot, if not all, athletes aspire for. And Tabal has trained long and hard, shed sweat and tears under the tutelage of her longtime coach John Philip Dueñas. After having won her third straight Milo Marathon in December 2015, as a reward, she was set to compete in the Boston Marathon, an Olympic qualifying, in April 2016. That, to Tabal, was her ticket to the Olympics. She finished the Milo Marathon in 2:48.16, just a few minutes shy of the Olympic qualifying time of 2:45. It gave her the confidence to dream big: Why not the Olympics?

Tabal was a member of the national team having had represented the country in her silver medal finish in the Southeast Asian Games in 2015. Tabal opted out of the team after deciding that she would rather train locally with Dueñas and map out her own future in the sport themselves.

And as fate would have it, Tabal made the right choice.

She started her year on a positive note, winning the 21K Run of the Hong Kong Chartered Marathon and finishing in 1:21.47.

Motor Ace

Although determined to achieve the goals she set with the meagre earnings she is receiving from corporate sponsors, it was in February when things started falling into place.

Motor Ace Philippines, a Cebu company in the business of selling motorcycles, decided to take Tabal into its fold. And by that it means, throwing in all the needed financial support to help the Cebuana make it t the Olympics. Allowances for races, nutrition, vitamin supplements, medical needs, therapy, and most especially trainings abroad were promises Motor Ace Philippines owners Jonel and Chipi Borromeo held up to.

Later that month, with the company rallying behind her, Tabal found a spot in the Nippon Sports Science University training facility in Japan, where she trained under renowned Japanese coach Akio Usami.

“I learned a lot from my Japanese teammates. I grew a lot as a person and as an athlete,” Tabal had said. And this wasn’t just lip service.

In early April, while still in training in Japan and just days before the Boston Marathon, Tabal’s improvement were manifested when she not only win the Adachi Half Marathon, but also broke her personal best, clocking a 1:18.44.

But almost three months of training crumbled in the Boston Marathon when she fell short in making the Olympic grade. In one of the most devastating moments of her life, Tabal managed to wipe away her tears, stand up and try again.

Never give up

Upon discussion with her team, they decided to try another Olympic qualifying race, this time in Canada. So Tabal went back to Japan for more training and therapy from strained muscles in her legs. And by May 29, she was in Canada running the Ottawa Marathon and surpassing the Olympic qualifying time.

While making it to the Olympics was torture in a sense, making it back into the Philippine team, was equally arduous. Tabal can’t compete in the Olympics if her own NSA, the Patafa, will not recognise and endorse her as a member of the national team.

After several meetings and negotiations, Tabal finallygot reinstated.

Olympic experience

Tabal finished the Olympic marathon in 124th place, collapsing at the finish line. Although she received some backlash for finishing outside her target time, Tabal considers it an achievement to qualify, run, finish the Olympic marathon and unite a nation even for a short time.

Having done so, the experience pushed Tabal to use the next four years trying out one more time for the next Olympics.


Tabal took a break from racing after Rio but went on to focus on her grassroots running program in her home baranggay in Guba. Along with Dueñas, the duo went full blast in their training even bringing the kids to different tournaments. The duo also got busy organising a Run for a Cause, where they managed to raise enough funds to purchase armchairs for Guba Elementary School, Tabal’s alma mater in one of Cebu’s mountain barangays.

Perfect ending

In between, Tabal’s training continued. Her year isn’t finished yet, after all. She raced in Singapore to warm up her legs for a bigger tournament, the National Milo Marathon, which was held in Ilo-ilo for the first time.

Nervousness may have set it as stakes were higher: the Olympian had to perform well. and just as she started the year with a bang, she ended it on a winning note winning her fourth straight National Milo Marathon title breaking her own Milo Marathon best time. Her Milo best was 2:48 in 2013 and finished in 2:47:49 in 2016.

And as to the future, Tabal has no other goal but to improve and continue to dream big for the sport and for the country and is looking forward to, as cliche goes, a fruitful 2017.