NOW it can be told: A right ankle injury hobbled defending women’s champion and top favorite Mary Joy Tabal that contributed to her disappointing runner-up finish in the last 30th Southeast Asian Games marathon event last December.
“It was a right ankle injury and it bothered me during my run,” said the 2017 Malaysia SEA Games gold medalists, who faded near the finish line, paving the way for unheralded national teammate Cristine Hallasgo to rule the race that finished at the New Clark City Athletic Stadium in Capas, Tarlac.
The six-time national Milo Marathon women’s champion and Rio Olympic Games veteran said she kept her injury secret, fearing the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association might bar her from running in the race that she was tipped to win hands down.
“But I evaluated myself and thought I was ready for the competition. There might have been other factors na taken for granted going to the SEA Games,” rued the petite Cebuana, who has been holed up in Cebu City for over more than five months now, in the recent “Track Talk” webcast of pinoyathletics.info.
She added that among the other things that led to her sub-par outing and affected her mentally was the last-minute changes in the marathon route as well as the adjustment of the race time from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m.
“I stayed several days in Tarlac familiarizing myself with the original route before the SEA Games. Then when I get back to Cebu the organizers sent me a new one (schedule) so I had to do it all over again,” Tabal said.
She said the rescheduling of the race at a later time, a common complaint of the participants, may have also affected her form since she was coming off her intensive training in Yokohama, Japan where it was relatively much cooler.
“The weather where I trained in Japan was cooler so we made a request for an earlier time to the race organizers but it was not granted. But I have no excuse since lahat naman kami tumakbo at the same time,” Tabal pointed out.
Despite her forgettable SEA Games outing, the country’s premier women’s marathoner remains undeterred in chasing her dream to qualify for the Olympics for the second consecutive time.
Tabal holds the national record of two hours and 43.31 minutes set in the 2016 Scotia Bank Marathon in Ottawa, Canada, better than the Rio Olympics cut off time of 2:45.00 to emerge as the first Filipina marathon runner to compete in the quadrennial meet.
But due to the dramatic improvement of times in the women’s marathon, the current Olympic qualifying standard has been lowered to 2:29.30, a time that Tabal admitted was a daunting challenge.
“But there are other ways for me to qualify for Tokyo without actually making the qualifying time,” said Tabal, who has kept herself in shape with strength and conditioning workouts at home under longtime coach Jay Duenas while selling baked muffins on the side.
“There are two ways I can qualify for Tokyo,” she said, “and these are joining races where I can earn points through the World Athletics Olympic ranking system or join major marathons and to hit the target rank like being in the 10 of these major or ‘gold label’ marathons.”
Tabal said among the “gold label” events is the rescheduled Tokyo Marathon in March in which she hopes to see action.
“It is very difficult to look for these marathons in Asia so we might look outside of the continent to take part in these marathons,” she said, adding she believes she has enough time to train for the Tokyo race once everything gets back to normal.
“My goal in the first quarter is to compete in some races to earn ranking points but if qualifying for the Olympics is difficult then we will shift our focus in preparing for the Vietnam Southeast Asian Games in November next year,” Tabal said.