Limpag: Mary Joy Tabal’s 7-year quest

Mike T. Limpag

MARY Joy Tabal just lost her six-year reign in the Milo marathon national finals, ended by the same person who cut her reign as Southeast Asia’s best female marathoner.

Still, should she recover Tabal can win a seventh Milo marathon crown in seven straight years.


Don’t be.

Mary Joy won her six titles from 2013 to 2018 and along the way, went to the Southeast Asian Games twice, where she got a silver and gold, and in the Olympics. She also set the Milo record at 2:47:44 in 2016.

But in a span of 44 days, she lost two majors crowns. First was the SEA Games crown on Dec. 6, 2019 and on Jan. 19, 2020, she lost the Milo marathon crown. The Jan. 19, 2020 national finals was actually the 2019 finals that had to be moved because of the SEA Games and since the schedule will resume to its usual December playdate, Joy still has that chance to win a seventh in seven years.

But the bigger question of course, can she?

In all my years of observing running, one thing I have noticed is that whenever a new face comes along and dethrones the old, the old champions eventually fade. Mary Joy Tabal did that to Mary Grace delos Santos and before them there were many running queens in Cebu, who had their reign before facing that inevitable new challenge.

Is that what’s happening to Joy? Is her reign ending? I don’t know. Marathoners, unlike sprinters, have a longer shelf life and at 30, she’s still young.

Virtually unchallenged during her six-year reign at the top of women’s marathon in the country, it must have been unfamiliar for Cebu’s running darling to be staring at someone’s back when she crossed the finish line.

Some would say that it’s time for Joy to quit and enjoy the fruits of her labor. Start a family with her uber supportive BF.

As for me, I think she’s still got a few elite years left in the tank and I think these couple of losses is good for her in the long run. Nothing motivates an elite athlete more than a failure. MJ, my favorite of all time, used the failure of the 1995 playoffs, when he got embarrassed in Orlando, as inspiration for 1996-97. A year after that loss, the Chicago Bulls set the record for the best NBA champion. (The 73-9 Warriors lost in the finals).

Can Cebu’s MJ--our very own GOAT in running--overcome her challenge? It’s all up to her.

But I think if there’s anyone who can overcome such challenge, it is the one who’s not built to be a marathoner and collapsed in her first long distance event. The one who overcame so many challenges to win that first major title, gain that honor to represent the country but had to overcome even bigger challenges to be able to keep wearing the country’s colors.

Good luck in your quest for a spot in Tokyo and that seventh Milo crown in seven years. The Cebu running community, as always, will be there for you.