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Tabal’s major shift

by Rey Bancod

KUALA LUMPUR – Science and the old-fashioned Filipino perseverance made Mary Joy Tabal what she is today – the country’s premier marathon runner.

The second of four siblings, the 28-year old reigning Southeast Asian Games marathon champion started as a sprinter before she was prevailed to try long-distance running in college.

 Mary Joy Tabal

Mary Joy Tabal

“Nagsimula po ako na sprinter noong elementary. Mahilig kasi po ako makipag-karerahan nung bata ako,” said Tabal who hails from Cebu.

Tabal said she competed in a number of events, including Batang Pinoy.

She stopped running when she entered high school.

“Nag concentrate po ako sa pag-aaral, pero bumalik ako sa pagtakbo para makapasok sa college,” said Tabal, a graduate of commerce, major in business management at Southwestern University.

When she was in third year, Tabal was convinced by her current coach, John Philip Duenas, to shift to long-distance running.

“Anong gagawin ko daw pagkatapos ng college. Sa marathon, marami daw akong events na masasalihan,” she recalled.

She was 22 when she made the shift, beginning with the 1,500 meters, 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters at the oval.

Eventually, Tabal graduated to road racing and placed third in her first foray in the Milo Marathon in 2011. She again ended third the following year before becoming the first woman to win the country’s most prestigious marathon for four straight years starting in 2013.

The prizes she won in marathon enabled her to send one of her siblings to school.

Through the help of sponsors, mainly Jonel Borromeo of Cebu-based MotorAce Kawasaki, Tabal managed to train and compete overseas.

Sports commissioner Ramon Fernandez, one of Tabal’s ardent supporters, said Tabal’s sponsor spends at least R2.5 million a year.

Duenas said it took some time before Tabal did away with what she does as a sprinter.

“Kailangan, relax ang shoulders mo sa marathon, unlike sa sprint,” he said.

During her three-month training in Europe under Italian coach Giuseppe Giambrone, Tabal learned how to pace properly and save enough strength for the final push to the finish line.

Fortunately, Tabal had built such a big lead and no longer needed to push harder in taking the gold last Saturday.

Her next goal is to improve her best time at the end of the year. She’s going for an unprecedented fifth Milo crown in December.

The Asian Games in Indonesia next year is also in the radar as she gets ready for another crack in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Tabal, who also holds a master’s degree in public administration, was set to return on Sunday, but was asked to extend her stay by Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association (PATAFA) to cheer her teammates.