Espina conquers Greece ultramarathon.
FILIPINO ultramarathoner Rolando 'Junjun' Espina gleefully guzzled a can of beer for the first time since the eve of the biggest race of his life as he looked at the Philippine flag raised next to the statue of Greek warrior Leonidas.
After running through rolling hills and dirt roads in the Greek countryside for a little over 33 hours from Friday to Saturday, any kind of celebration would have been warranted for the first Filipino to qualify and conquer the 246-kilometer Spartathlon, one of the toughest ultramarathon races in the world.
Racing against a cutoff time of 36 hours, the 43-year-old Dublin-based nurse wound up 89th from an original field of 390 after clocking 33 hours, 17 minutes and 34 seconds in Sparta.
It was an amazing feat for Espina considering that only 234 participants finished the race that started in Athens. The flags of the finishers' countries were raised next to Leonidas' statue in Sparta as soon as they finished the race.
With an all-Filipino support team monitoring his progress, Espina completed his toughest race yet. He waxed emotional near the finish line with a huge crowd cheering him on.
Espina, who hails from Bacolod City, said the memory of his mother, the late Dr. Lourdes Espina, spurred him on.
He also dedicated the race to his older sister, Grace Engallado, who underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor while he was competing.
'The tears just fell. I thought about my sister (Grace), Nanay, the flag, my team while the crowd was shouting Philippines,' he told the Inquirer. 'It was just an emotional moment for me.'
The Spartathlon terrain may not be as tough as the other ultramarathon races in the world, but it had 75 checkpoints where runners need to make the cutoff time in order to continue racing.
Espina felt he was experienced enough to handle the toughest race of his life. He has already finished 100 marathon races, including two 161K races and four 100K races, since October 2009, apart from five full Ironman races. His record includes running 42K races for 10 straight days in Ireland.
'I thought about my sister and Nanay, especially on the second day when it became really hot and we were running through the hills,' said Espina.
'It's all about grit and the will to finish. This race is ready to spit you out anytime.'