Jumpstarting January were three religious events that like tropical depressions that converged, it turned into a super typhoon that mowed down on the country’s spiritual disposition. It also served as backdrop to my next running expedition. In a baffling show of fervent faith and piety last January 9 millions of devotees pushing and shoving each other converged around the Quiapo Church’s image of the Black Nazarene in order to get a chance to touch or wipe the image and painfully slow journeyed the length of the streets of Manila from Quirino Grandstand in Luneta to the Quiapo Church for almost 19 hours. By the time I was on my way to NAIA Terminal 2 Airport at 1:00 am, the Translacion or the Black Nazarene Procession was still at fever pitch somewhere in Bilibid Viejo and still hours away before finding its way back to Quiapo Church. I was flying to Cebu City to participate at Cebu City Marathon 2015 happening Sunday, January 11. Upon my arrival in Mactan, Cebu and was on my way to Tabo-an Public Market to purchase Danggit (a kind of small fish that was dried) and dried squid, I noticed the city was a-buzzed with Sinulog’s Viva Pit Señor beat and dances. Everywhere colorful banners and buntings festooned the streets. A stark difference from the morose marooned Manila I just left. Cebu City Marathon 2015 was actually among the kick-off activities of the weeklong celebration of Sinulog Festival that will culminate in a fluvial parade and a grand procession of the Sto. Niño accompanied by street dances the following weekend, the third Sunday of January, which falls on January 18. Sinulog Festival was a commemoration of the embracing of Christianity in Cebu with Ferdinand Magellan gifting Rajah Humabon of the image of Sto. Niño originally happened in April 28 but was moved to the third January. Other places also celebrates a feast in honor of the child Jesus image such as in Iloilo when a replica of the old image of Sto. Niño de Cebu was given to Iloilo thus spawning a similar festival called Dinagyang celebrated at the 4th Sunday of January. But of course the two above mentioned religious events seem to pale with yet another important religious event happening in the country this January 15- 19, the coming visit of Pope Francis.
From Tabo-an, I dropped off at Ayala Terraces lugging along my luggage and a box containing 3 kilos of dried loots to I claimed my race kit and had my lunch. Then off to my hotel, which was just about a couple of hundred meters away from the race event venue in Cebu I.T. Park, Lahug, Cebu. So far, since my arrival I had met only one runner coming from Manila who was also booked at my hotel. Although I know I have other acquaintances running in this event I have not seen them nor any other familiar faces.
Although the gun start was still at 3:00 am, I was already up and about at midnight at the race venue half expecting there would be some pre-race features. But what I saw was a quiet and still being set up venue. I espied the event ground and noticed that there seem to be few sponsor booths. There were no runners to be seen on the premises. Maybe they were either still fast asleep or having their carbo-loading elsewhere. So, I settled for coffee at a nearby Mc Donald’s and an hour later squatted at the lawn area near the Skyrise 4 building near the race venue. I was registered to run in the 42k. With less than an hour before gun start I noticed that there were still seemingly fewer people than what I usually sees at RunRio’s organized event. The sponsor booths did not multiply either. Later in one of the blog I read about the race, the writer commented that this year’s event was a bit more austere compare to its previous year’s event. Maybe the fact that the “international” in the formerly Cebu City International Marathon was dropped kind of said it all about this sudden less ostentatious version. I later learned that in spite of what I thought were less number of participants it turned out there were about 1,170 participants in the 42k alone, which included a couple of Kenyan, Caucasian and Asian runners. Other runners hailed from various regions of the Philippines like Bacolod City, Cagayan De Oro, General Santos, Dipolog and Manila. There were runners from different category wearing costumes from a swath of diaper to a fabulous mythical goddesses complete with heavy headdresses and blinking lighting ornaments. Suddenly as I spotted Manila’s Green Eyes Val Caro with his green hair wig, he seemed to be not at all out of place.
At 3:00 am runners from the 42k hit the road. From Abad St. and then Geonzon, we spilled at Salinas Drive. While passing the route we were regaled by street performers dancing to the beat of the Sinulog music. The road was slightly uphill going to Gorordo Avenue, which was a bit long stretch. Then we turned right to Escario going to the right direction of the Provincial Capitol Building and into Velez Street or Duterte linking up to Salvador St. The first U-turn was just before the Court of Appeal. Having swept away by other runners who seem to be bent on taking the race before sun up, I too started out running at a faster pace. But by the time I was hitting the uphill portion of the road I relented the pace. At this early in the race I was already panting and resorting to walking the uphill portions of the route.
So far the route we took was still familiar with me having run in the 21k previously at Hunat Sugbo 3. We retraced our route back to the Provincial Capitol Building and headed for Jones Avenue. Again street festivities welcomed us runners. At the end of Jones Avenue we headed for Osmeña Boulevard. We were now at the older section of Cebu. At the intersection along Colon Street I saw an old building and for a moment I thought I was looking at the Intendencia Building of Intramuros. On the other hand, the busy commercial street with its malls and rows of other establishment resembles the of Sta. Cruz district of Manila. At Plaza Sugbo fronting the Church and convent of Sto. Niño de Cebu was an Aid Station and marked the 12th kilometer of the race. Prince Joseph Baltazar of the Prince Multi Sport Event appeared out from nowhere and greeted me egging me for only 30 kilometers more to go.
We headed off to P. Burgos and then to Briones Street. Waiting for us at the other end was Plaza Independencia and an old fortification, Fort San Pedro with some runners peeing beside it. After exiting we turned to Cuenco Avenue and u-turning to enter the Cebu South Coastal Road Tunnel. The tunnel was kind of similar with Kaybiang Tunnel in Ternate, Cavite but much longer. It was brightly lit inside. Music and performers were at full swing in welcoming the runners. Upon reaching the end of the tunnel and emerging to Filinvest Alabang’s Skyway like Cebu South Coastal Road, I was floored by the sight of what I could discerned amidst the dark space the sea at the left side and contrasting on the right side thousands of light sparkling coming from the city of southern portion of Cebu. The route took us all the way to the other side of the bridge, which was a part of Talisay City. Midway portion of the Bridge The Aid Station with live band performers marked the turning point of the 21k while for us 42k runners was 16th kilometer. Then we reached a portion of the route that was not well lit at all. In spite of the fact that this was another Aid Station because the place being bathe in darkness I did not notice the huge SM Seashore Mall being constructed on my right side and almost nearing completion already. The sea was still present at our left side but it was pitch dark to see any detail of the marina. What was so interesting about this Aid Station was that an image of the Sto. Niño was install just after an arch that contains one of the events sponsor’s name. Runners passing underneath this arch pay homage to the image by making the sign of the cross and saying a short prayer. After this the road went on passing by South Road Properties, which was seemingly still being developed for I couldn’t yet discern any commercial nor much residential properties amidst what I could see through the darkness.
Without having anything heavier to eat before the run other than Mc Donald’s Mc Spagetti, I was feeling hungry and felt my stamina depleting. However, when it comes with my plantar fascitiis ridden left foot, there wasn’t much to complain about. But by this time I was greatly slowed down that a lot of runners had already passed me by including some of those costumed runners with heavier accessories adorning them. The dimly lit road just goes on and on frustrating me. By this time the surrounding had more resemblance to Fairview in Quezon City although I haven’t run at the latter yet during nighttime. Cebu South Coastal Road met up with Cebu South Road. By the time I reached the U-turn at Lawaan Elementary School, which was the 22nd kilometer of the race, the sun was already up greeting us and reminding me of my folly of having left behind my cap and arm guard thinking that since there was a Low Pressure Area broiling eastern portion of the country still outside the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) the sun would not be too harsh. But Cebu was like the Equator of the Philippines with its land mostly flat and less forested area the sun was already streaking menacingly even in the early morning. I don’t have my watch with me and without any idea of how many kilometers already I had gone I became a bit worried that I might not be able to cut it across the 32 kilometers cut-off at 7:00 am. Then just as when I was crossing the South Road Properties I felt that a cramp on my left calves was about to occur. I had to walk much of the way. Passing by South Road Property, I finally get to see the SM Seashore in its full glory along with the bay area fronting it. I took a moment to rest and ice my calves. This was the 32nd kilometer of the race and so far no one had stopped me from continuing with the race.
I continued with my run and soon I was again running at the Cebu South Coastal Road. I could not help myself from experiencing awe at the beauty of the bridge and sea it encompasses. I am only used to seeing a lot of Quezon Bridge, the one that connects Lawton with Quiapo over the Pasig River. By the time I crossed the CSCR Tunnel I knew that there was just a little less than 10 kilometer to go but I am still wary about the 7 hours cut-off time at the finish line especially now that I was really tiring out. I tried to summon any more winds left in me and ran as much as I can, walking only if I have to usually on uphill. But Jones Avenue was mostly uphill that was why I struggled a bit in this portion of the road and the length of Gorordo Avenue resting a moment in front o UP Cebu College. Once I reached Salinas I knew my perseverance worked and that I got this race in the bag. I finished the race at 6 hours and 19 seconds and thank God minutes away before the finish arch was blown away by wind and collapse.
I have seen the contrast effect to the people and place of the Translacion and the Sinulog Festival. As I bade goodbye to Cebu I can’t help wonder what impact would the Pope visit will bestow upon Manila, Leyte and the country awash with various scars and scabs of numerous kinds of disasters and afflictions. But one thing that became apparent though as the week progresses, the preparation to the visit of the Pope, with the security measures being implemented by the authorities one of the casualties was the postponement of the Corregidor International Marathon happening in January 17-18 because of the “No Sailing at Manila Bay” policy. For the third consecutive years I will be missing my chance to run in yet another monumental and historical place in the country and would have to be contented in a quiet contemplative walk to find a suitable corner in Manila were I could possibly have an encounter or a glimpse with the most powerful and blessed head of the church.