Issue of December 1, 2019
Mt. Province
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Runners mourn passing of guide turned champ
by Ofelia C. Empian

SIMPLEST RUNNER -- The country’s trail running community still mourns the untimely death of Marcelino P. Sana-oy, a mountain guide turned ultra-running champion also known as the “Simplest Runner,” who had proven that nothing is impossible if one learns to dream and achieve their goal in life. He was 29. -- Kian Vicera

He calls himself the simplest runner, not defined by expensive gears or trendy trail running proteins or pricey race equipment, but driven by his grit which enabled him to survive and thrive all throughout his inspiring 29 years of life.

The local trail running community was deeply affected by the sudden loss of one of its finest elite athletes after Marcelino Palitog Sana-oy died after falling off a tree while clearing a garden at Sitio Mangakew, Poblacion, Bokod, Benguet on Nov. 20.  

Sana-oy works as a farmer and laborer when not helping out in organizing trail runs or joining races himself.

Sana-oy was described by race organizer Jonel Mendoza as “the most dependable and humble King of The Mountain marshal” he has ever worked with.

“He is a huge loss for us. He is the person that you could depend on regardless of what time of the day, he would still perform his task without complaining,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza, who has been mounting the KOTM Philippine series of races since 2012, said in all those years he has worked with Sana-oy, he never saw him complain even if their job as an organizer of the 42-kilometer marathon would require less sleep to assist the participants of the annual event. 

The KOTM series features Mount Pack Ultramarathon, Old Spanish Trail 50K, Four Lakes 100K, Pulag 100K and Hardcore 100 miles which starts in January and ends in May, jumpstarting from Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya traversing the towns of Benguet province: Itogon, Kabayan, and Bokod.  

“I have asked him to work with me as a marshal for our KOTM races so he can bring home cash and goodies for his family,” Mendoza said.

Sana-oy, who started ultra-running when he was 18 years old, won the inaugural Cordillera Mountain Marathon in Mount Pulag and the Cordillera Mountain Ultra in Itogon, Benguet. Since then, he has been a constant figure in ultra-running races here and abroad.

His natural skills, growing up in the mountains of Cabayo, Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya has shaped him to go head-to-head with elites from all over the country and even foreign runners who has come to admire his skills. But more than his achievements, it was his infectious smile and humility that has drawn people to him.

“Spent a minute with this man, and he was instantly my friend. I’ve traveled with so many different kinds of people, and in my time with Marcelino, he showed me kindness, utter humility, and what hardwork truly means,” said Baguio’s elite runner Sandi Abahan.

Abahan raced alongside Sana-oy in 2017, when they represented the country after topping the Philippine Skyrunning Association, in the 30th Mt. Kinabalu International Climbathon held in Malaysia.

She topped the women’s division while Sana-oy placed eighth in the elite men’s division during the skyrunning race that drew top runners around the world.

Benguet’s trail runner Jovencio Luspian, meanwhile, has only good things to say to Sana-oy, whom he describes as a person that “makes do with what he has and finds ways to adapt to situations.”

Luspian cited the first international competition that Sana-oy joined, the Zao Skyrunning 2017 in Japan where the elite runners would usually use supplements like energy gels or powdered nutrition to help them perform, as for the simple runner, he  brought chili, ginger and kalamansi to fuel his run.

He then ended up in the top 10 among the strong lineup of runners.

Luspian recounted another experience where Sana-oy, during his race with the PSA national championship (his ticket to joining Kota Kinabalu race), where he stumbled and cut his knee while going down Mt. Ugo.

He said the late runner walked for a while, having a branch of tree acting as his umbrella, onto the finish line where he made it to second place.

“He didn’t complain or tell excuses why he didn’t finish first he just smiled and congratulated the champion. It’s his smile, simplicity and humbleness that makes him stand out among other runners that I know,” Luspian said.

Sana-oy and his family lived along the highway of Bokod, Benguet that is why when friends and acquaintances from the trail running community would come by his house, they would drop by any help they could to his family.

He was laid to rest on Nov. 22 in Bokod and survived by his wife Fely and two children, a three-year old daughter who is stricken with cerebral palsy and a two - week old baby.

Mendoza said, together with the trail running community, they are planning to put up a scholarship fund for Sana-oy’s children as well as a regular therapy session for his eldest daughter.

“I can’t still believe he is gone but we will be there to help his family. We want to make sure that the help we give would go a long way,” he said.

“My wish is for your children to hear stories about you, so that they grow up knowing that their father was a good, good man. I am humbled and so grateful to have known you, my friend. Now you can run all you want wherever you want,” said Abahan.

To all those who would like to extend help, contact Mendoza through facebook: or Team Pinikpikan:

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