Noel Tillor, a reformed addict turned champion runner of Bogo, Cebu and Roselyn Balongcas, a single mother of Dumaguete, Negros Oriental, both ran uncontested to the finish line to clinch the 21K distance titles of the highly successful Cebu eliminations of the 38th National Milo Marathon held early Sunday morning.
Tillor, a 29-year-old multi-titled runner for six years now, took the male title after crossing the finish line in one hour, 13 minutes and 10 seconds and broke his personal best for the distance which previously stood at 1:15 for two years already.
Balongcas, a mother of one who started running last year, dominated the distaff side with a time of 1:40:55, also a new personal best as she had clocked 1:53 in another same-distance race in Tanjay last July.
Tillor had owned the race when his closest pursuer Jerry Adap, a Typhoon Yolanda survivor from Tolosa, Leyte, got hampered by cramps with just five kilometers remaining in the race.
With the resiliency that made him survive Yolanda, Adap was still able to finish the race in second place with a time of 1:15:21. The third place was clinched by Robert Daang with a time of 1:17:38.
In the distaff side, Balongcas was clearly in a class of her own when she posted more than nine minutes over second placer Christy Sevilleno, one of Cebu’s top runners, who finished the race in 1:49:16 while the third place was bagged by Sandra Soliano with her time of 1:49:54.
MARIJUANA USER TURNED CHAMPION RUNNER
Tillor unabashedly said that before he became a multi-titled runner, he was a marijuana and shabu user.
“Grabe kaayo ko ug bisyo to una oi. Di lang mabantayan nilang mama ug papa kay maayo man ko sa eskwelahan (I was severely into vices before. My mother and father did not notice because I was doing well in school),” he said.
The primary reason that Tillor got into the sport was because he wanted to break free from his addictions and he did so with the help of a friend, Steve Cortes, who encouraged him to run.
Asked how he successfully turned his life around, Tillor said that “naa ra jud na sa taw kung ganahan ka mausab (it is up to that person if he really wants to change).”
And since then, Tillor has made a name for himself by winning not just local races but national and international races as well. And, he is paying it forward by training the less privileged for free.
Tillor has joined and made podium in several Milo races before but last Sunday was the first time that he won the 21K title.
Including last Sunday, Tillor now has run six Milo races, the first time in 2008 when he run the 10K, then in 2010 and 2011, all here in Cebu. The rest were in Manila.
But it was in last Sunday that he really aimed for the title as he had decided to focus on marathons rather than what he is used to, the ultra runs.
The eldest among six siblings said that he tried to get in as much training as his job, as an auto mechanic, would allow him in the three months prior to the race.
Aside from his job, he also had to balance training four times a week with coaching as there are some who insists on getting him for a fee.
During the race, the father of two said that he was under no pressure and just worked on maintaining his phase.
Asked who among his opponents he was looking out for, he said no one as he only considers the Kenyans as fierce competitors but he made special mention of second placer Adap.
It will be back to training for Tillor in preparation for the national finals in December. With the finals record at 2:18, Tillor said he has a lot of work to do with his personal best being 2:43.
Tillor said he dedicates his win to all those who continue to believe in him and trust in his capabilities.
He added that because of his achievements, a lot of people has high expectations of him but instead of getting pressured, he uses this as a motivation to do good in his races.
According to Tillor, not many people who are not full-time athletes get that kind of trust and for that he is grateful.
SINGLE MOTHER, NEW RUNNER TO WATCH OUT FOR
In contrast to Tillor, 33-year-old Balongcas did not have proper training nor a coach and only aimed at finishing the race.
“I was just excited because it is Milo and it is my first time. All I really wanted was to finish the race and get a singlet. I had no thoughts of winning because this is already Cebu,” said the mother of one in vernacular.
Being her first time to race in Cebu, Balongcas said she had no idea where the route was “basta kay dagan lang jud ko, sunod ra kos mga directions (I just run the race and followed the directions).”
Balongcas, who is originally from Butuan before she transferred to Dumaguete for good, had planned to join the eliminations in Bacolod but was not able to beat the deadline of registration there. With her win now, she is happy that she got shut out in Bacolod and acknowledged that it was a blessing in disguise.
She said that she was really getting tired at the end of the race but someone told her that the finish line was near so she forged on ahead.
The feeling went away, Balongcas said, when she learned upon crossing the finish line that she had finished first.
The Milo Cebu eliminations was her fourth major race since she got into the sport last year and her second 21K race.
A gym buff who is also into dancing, Balongcas started running as one of her exercise regimen. However, a friend told her that she had potential and that’s when she started joining competitions.
Balongcas also had to balance her meager training with finishing her studies, she is on her fourth year high school studies via the Alternative Learning System; attending to her 11-year-old son and making a living by making and selling Italian sausages.
Hopefully, she would graduate high school this November and Balongcas is contemplating on taking up Hotel, Restaurant and Management or a caregiving course.
Although she finds this race very tiring than her previous races, Balongcas said that she is very thankful to God for her achievement.
“Ako na jud gipangadye sa Ginoo gabie (night before the race) nga kung ako, ako, ikaw na ang bahala Lord, ihatag nako sa imo tanan (The night before the race, I prayed to God and told him that if it is mine, it is mine. It is all up to you, I give it all up to you),” Balongcas narrated.
Also before leaving Dumaguete for the race, Balongcas said she asked guidance from her common-law husband of eight years, who already passed away three years ago due to bone cancer.
“I held his ashes and asked that he guide me in this race,” a tear-eyed Balongcas said.
Hopefully his spirit is just around and he is happy for me, said Balongcas, who also hopes that her winning would serve as an inspiration to her son to exercise.
Joining races is also one of Balongcas way of coping with the grief of her loss.
The top 3 male and female winners will be joining 80 other runners who qualified for the national finals in Manila on December 7.
Of the top 3 finishers, only Tillor and Adap will be getting an all-expense paid trip to Manila while the rest only gets a free registration, singlet and a ticket to the carbo-loading party.
This because according to the rules and regulations, a 21K participant must meet the requirement of not going beyond the time of 1:15 for the male and 1:35 for the female to avail of the all-expense privilege.
Those who qualified via the time specified in their respective age-groups will have to shoulder their own travel, accommodation and other expenses, except for the registration fee, singlet and carbo-loading party ticket.