NEWS quickly spread by word of mouth early Saturday afternoon throughout Remy Field in Subic Bay: the Kenyans are coming.
They filed in, toting backpacks that are quickly disemboweled of running gear as they sat on the grass and put on running shoes in front of an eager crowd.
People gawked as they fitted for the marathon and did short runs to warm up. Look at those legs, several people said, talking animatedly about their runner’s physique: thin frame with long, lean legs.
People were still talking about the Kenyans even after they were bused out of Remy Field to the Smart Subic International Marathon (SIM) 2009 starting line 42 kilometers away in Floridablanca, Pampanga toll gate of the Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway (SCTex). The starting gun was fired at 4:30 p.m.
A little over two hours later, large, loud speakers conveyed the news: the Kenyans are coming.
One by one, they sprinted to finish—Vincent Chepsiror coming in first at 2:27:54; Willy Rofich, 2:28:14; Daniel Koringo, 2:29:57; Alex Melly, 2:30:23; Richard Mutisya, 2:30:30; Hilary Kimurai, 2:31:51; Vincent Kipchirchir, 2:35:58; and David Kipsang, 2:37:50.
Chepsiror, 29, was so far ahead of any local runner he would still have won had he been asked to pay toll to pass the toll gates of the flat and scenic SCTex marathon route. He won $5,000 for his feat.
Hernanie Sore was the top Filipino finisher at ninth place with a time of 2:40:20. Alquin Bolivar, a native of Cagayan de Oro City, was 10th with his time of 2:40:42.
The Kenyans, running in a tight pack, led from the start. They descend on water stations like a marauding party, deftly grabbing two cups of water, one in each hand, before drinking one and pouring the other on their heads.
Bolivar said he trailed the group in the first 15 kilometers but couldn’t keep up when they increased the pace. Sore couldn’t be interviewed, he was lying on the ground, writhing in pain and immobilized by muscle cramps 10 meters away from the finish line.
Chepsiror, speaking to reporters in a voice so soft it could barely be heard over the din in the track oval, said the darkness slowed them. A long stretch of the SCTex does not have streetlight. He said the route was hilly and narrow in some place. He also said they lacked water in the last stretch of the run.
Chepsiror said his personal record (PR) is 2:18, which was set when he won the Standard Chartered Nairobi Marathon in 2007.
Kenya’s Doreen Kitaka won the $5,000 top prize in the women’s event by clocking 3:01:12. The 26-year-old mother of two also won last Sunday’s Quezon City International Marathon.
Kitaka said she found the marathon difficult because it was hot at the start and, while it cooled when dusk set in, the darkness slowed her down. She said there were places where she couldn’t see anything.
Kenyan Cecilia Wangui placed second with a time of 3:22:53 while Filipina Aileen Tolentino won third place with a time of 3:29:01.
Among those who ran Smart SIM 2009 was a group from the Cebu Executive Runners Club (CERC) who set out to post PRs and finish the marathon in less than five hours. Most did.
Kenneth Casquejo finished in 4:55, Roy and Dr. Rosan Trani finished in PRs of 4:52, John Clifford Aranas clocked 4:48 while Dr. Alex Junia posted a PR of 5:20. Other Cebuano runners who finished included JoeFranz Canizares, 5:41; Arnold Palma, 5:18; and Abby Ponce, 5:14.
Smart Sports head Patrick Gregorio said Filipinos can become great runners if they are identified and trained early. He said the country can do well in running if sponsors continue to fund programs and races.
Gregorio said running if one of the sports Smart actively supports. He said the company spent more than P2 million to sponsor the Smart SIM. He said the company has long been supporting running events and will continue to do so.
“We should also do this in Cebu,” said Gregorio, who spent five years as general manager of Waterfront Hotel in Lahug.