Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Run, Tycoons, Run! by Tanya Lara published at Philippine Star 03.29.2009

If you're a roadrunner in Metro Manila, you know all about the best places to run, which roads have the best asphalt, which are hard to create, and which have the worst potholes.  You know about exact distances, where the road lifts and where it goes down.  You know that the UP academic oval in Diliman is 2.3 kilometers, the outer ring of Bonifacio High Street is 1.2, Quirino Grandstand is 1.1, MOA to CCP is 4, Marcos Highway to Antipolo Church is 10, and that Km. 0 in Luneta to Tagaytay Rotunda is 56.

Runners get excited about new courses as much as they get excited about the quality of singlets that come with their packets.  So, when Condura announced a few months ago that its half-marathon this year was going to pass through the SLEX Skyway, you can bet that even those who had no plans of running 21K this time of the year began calendaring their peak and taper around March 22.

Imagine, running from The Fort, going up the Kalayaan flyover, all the way to South Superhighway through Buendia (I have to say Buendia is the most evently asphalted road in Makati), and on to the Skyway, which peaks twice with the highest point over the Magallanes Interchange.

The idea of a Skyway run was so exciting that Patrick Concepcion, vice president of Concepcion Durables and one of the race organizers, posted a picture of himself on his blog (runningshield.com) wearing his e-Pass around his neck with the caption: "Make sure your e-Pass has load for the toll."

Like the first Condura Run in 2008, which was held to raise funds for the Tubbataha Reef, this year's version also had the marine environment for a cause: to help preserve the whale sharks in Donsol, Sorsogon.

Condura Run founder, avid diver, and Condura president and COO Ton Concepcion says they want to underscore the importance of the Donsol whale sharks not only for the Philippines, but for the world.  "We partnered with Bantay Kalikasan (BK) for Girawan, a community based eco-tourism project site of BK located by the riverbanks that lead out to Donsol and into the feeding grounds of the whale sharks.  By developing communities like Girawan, we are able to prevent the deforestation and pollution of riverside communities and at the same time create alternative tourist attractions to ease the overcrowding of the whale sharks during peak season."

Condura also partnered with Runners for Others and Operation Smile.  "I was surprised to find out that one out of 500 Filipino children suffer from cleft deformities.  We sold a special race bib that said 'I ran to make a child smile,' which runners pinned proudly on their shirts."

Condura pledged P50 for every registrant and raised P300,000, which will all go to barangay Girawan (last year they raised P100,000 for Tubbataha).

This year, 6,279 runners registered (there were 2,000 in 2008), with half joining the 21K and 10K events; the other half, the 5K and 3K events, which means that every type of runner, from beginner to professional long-distance, had an event to run.

Ton and his brother Patrick are both passionate runners.  Who's the better one? Patrick says, "A better runner is not necessaril a faster runner.  It is a person who is committed to running regardless of the obstacles in the way; he makes running part of himself because it molds his character to be better."

Ton says, "Pat is a better runner as he runs faster than me." Then he adds with candor, "I am a better runner when it comes to running events."  The truth is, Ton has not run a single Condura Run because he has to attend to important details like rushing to the water stations that have ran out of water.  "My vision is simply this: to be able to run Condura one day!"

Patrick has joined more than a dozen races abroad including the Vancouver Marathon in 1983, which he finished in 3:52:20.  Ton ran five full marathons in a span of 14 months: Milo in December 2006, Hong Kong in February 2007, Milo in July, New York in November, and Clark in January.

He says it was as soon as he crossed the finish line of the NY Marathon that the Condura Run was born.  "I remember being so overwhelmed with pride and joy, a feeling I wanted to share with people back home.  Telling them about my experience was not good enough; they had to experience it for themselves.  Son on that cold autumn afternoon in Central Park I got the idea to have a Philippine version of the New York Marathon and thus was born the Condura Run."

Running a race is one thing, organizing it is another, and for Ton the biggest challenge of Condura "was the sheer logistics.  Getting the hydration stations right, ensuring that the line was not too long as we put the finisher's medal around the runner's neck and distributed loot bags.  When I saw runners crossing the finish line full of pride and joy, I felt like shedding a tear because that it the spirit of what this hard work is all about and that makes it all worth it."

Ton also knows the importance of a race course.  After all, he ran the 28K Lake Kawaguchi Marathon in Japan last fall, which he considers the most beautiful course because it goes around the lake, through forests, and has Mt. Fuji as the constant background.

"If the New York Marathon passes through the city's five boroughs, then the Philippines has the Skyway," he says.  "I approached the Skyway management to ask if they could make our vision of a world-class run on the world-class Skyway come true.  They immediately said yes.  Skyway president Ramon Borromeo and special project head Eduardo Nepomuceno share Condura's vision of a healthier lifestyle and a greener environment.  They were also excited over creating history with the first run on the Skyway and the largest half marathon in the Philippines!"

Patrick adds that the goal is "to have a full marathon next year or by 2012, but nothing is final yet.  To plan for something like this is no walk -- or in our case, run -- in the park."

"Condura is a run by a runner for runners," adds Ton.  "As a race organizer, I find that the only way to do this is to be passionate about what you do, to be hands-on and OC to the point of perfection.  I have received a lot of comments that this is the best race in the Philippines and that everyone had a really great time.  While I am very happy about this I also see a lot of improvements that can be nade.  But for sure there will be a full marathon in 2012 in time for the next Olympics!"

While running is a solitary sport, it also breeds a sense of community among runners -- and for causes.  "Running for the marine environment gives us a chance to showcase the beauty of the Philippine seas so people realize how blessed we are and do something to protect it.  If more people ran, the Philippines would be a much better place."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Running to make a difference

It was a cold but sunny autumn afternoon.  The temperature was eight degrees Celsius.  I could hear the roar of the crowd encouraging us to keep on going and to never give up.  My legs were dead but my spirit was very much alive because I was just a few steps away from achieving my dream of completing the New York City Marathon.

Finally, there I was.  After 42 grueling kilometers and four hours and 49 minutes of ecstasy and agony, I crossed the finish line of the greatest running event in the world.  I raised both hands in the air with clenched fist, had a great big smile on my face and shouted out loud,  "Yes, you did it!"

Then suddenly, there was silence.  Silence I felt for the first time after running alongside 39,000 runners and a million spectators that came to cheer the runners on.  A rush of emotions filled my heart and I suddenly started to tear.  There was the feeling of intense pride and joy like I never felt before.  There was a profound feeling of a great sense of accomplishment.

I have sacrificed so much for running but it was given back to me so much more.  After four months of training, not only was I in the best shape ever in my 37 years; I was also stronger mentally and spiritually.  Running is such a positive experience that has helped me live a full and happy life.  It has truly made me a better person.

I wake up to the roar of the crowd again.  A volunteer puts on the New York City Marathon finishers medal around my neck.  Wow! What an experience I just had.  How will the folks  back home truly feel the way I feel right now? Talking about it just won't cut it.  The only way is for them to have the same experience I just had.  I said to myself we got to have our version of the New York City Marathon in the Philippines!  And from that cold sunny afternoon in the middle of Central Park was born the idea for the Condura Run.

My father has always taught me to give back to the country.  So, I combined my passion for runnng and scuba diving to give runners the opportunity to give back to the country simply by running for a cause.  I thought, that we would be hitting two birds with one stone by getting people to lead happier and healthier lives through running while at the same time running to protect the marine environment.

It was in Tubbataha in the summer of 2006 that I got to see the beauty of our coral reefs and understand why we are the epicenter of the coral triangle in the world.  Sadly, 90 percent of our reefs are damaged or completely destroyed.  As a scuba diver, I felt compelled to do something about this.  So in 2008, the Condura Race for Tubbataha was born.  We were able to raise P100,000 for the benefit of the marine park rangers led by Park Manager, Angelique Songco.  She is a modern-day hero protecting this jewel of the Sulu Sea from the greed of illegal local and foreign fishing companies.  But more importantly, we were able to raise public awareness for Tubbataha making it one of the top contenders in the search for the new "Seven Wonders of the World."

This year Condura has partnered with ABS-CBN foundation's Bantay Kalikasan to help preserve the whale sharks in Donsol, Sorsogon.  The recent newspaper headlines featuring a 15-inch baby whale shark showed that Donsol may not only be the "Whale Shark Capital of the World" but also the "Whale Shark 'Hatchery' of the World."  That's how important Donsol is not only for the Philippines but also for the world.

Aside from Bantay Kalikasan, Condura also partnered with Runners for Others and Operation Smile.  I was surprised to find out that one out of 500 Filipino children suffer from cleft deformities.  For an extra P100, runners will get a really cool race bib and will make a child smile again.

In keeping with our vision of being the premier running event in the country, Condura is launching its centerpiece event, the Smart 21k Half-marathon to the Skyway.  This will be a historical event not to be missed.  I am very thankful to Ramon Borromeo, president of the Skyway, and Eduardo Nepomuceno, head of Skyway operations, for making this happen.  We also have the Kenny Rogers 10k Challenge, the 5k Discovery Run and the 3k Fun Run.

As in previous races, we shall have marching bands and cheering zones to provide runners with the extra adrenaline boost.  There will be Vitwater hydration stations every 2.5 kilometers.  Jollibee mascots will be giving runners high fives! Inspire Inc. will provide motivation signs along the route.  There will be a Cebu Pacific Costume Contest and the top three winners get to go to Donsol and stay at Casa Bianca Beach Resort to see the whale sharks for themselves.  Those that don't win can have their pictures taken in front of the Canon whale shark photo walls by award-winning photographer Gutsy Tuason.  Participants can get a 10 percent discount in Nike stores and can enjoy up to 70 percent off during the Condura Run Expo.  Lots of prizes and raffles will be given away during race day.

This year, there will be about 5,000 to 6,000 runners.  We expect even more celebrities, captains of industries and movers and shakers of Philippine society to join the run.  The ultimate dream is to extend the Condura run to a full 42k marathon and make it an international event.  We also plan to take the Condura Run around the Philippines, spreading the gospel of durable bodies and durable seas for a durable Philippines.

I've always believed that greatness comes by doing the little things that matter the most.  Running as it is can make a big difference in preserving our national treasure - the whale sharks of Donsol and making a child with cleft deformities smile again.