April 16, 2024

In the heat of the sweltering sun, a group of would-be policemen were training to handle firearms and on how to spot an enemy in the middle of the oval field of the Benguet Sports Complex in Wangal, La Trinidad, Benguet.
In their midst is a lone athlete, running around in his own pace at the oval track, with its white lines already fading from the previous provincial games of the Department of Education and where grasses grew here and there.
He runs steadily, almost in a meditative state, unmindful of the rookie cops in full battle gear, as the sun hits its hottest temperature that day.
Just like the cops, ultra-runner Jovencio Luspian also benefits from the sports complex as a training ground that helped prepare him to be physically and mentally ready for his order of battle – conquering all four 100-mile or 160-kilometer ultra races in the country. 
The 38-year-old Luspian of Mankayan, Benguet has conquered and emerged as champion of the 2018 Taklang Damulag 100, the first ever 100-mile race in Southeast Asia, with a time of 28 hours and 52 minutes; the 2019 King of the Mountain (KOTM) Hardcore 100 with a time of 32:54:00 and landed in the top five; the 2019 Altra 100 with a time of 44:51:00 and placed second, and the inaugural edition of the 2019 Sandugo Pacific Coast Ultra 100 in 26:42:00, where he also placed second.
“I really aimed to finish all these 100-mile races,” Luspian said, finishing all four races in a span of two years.  
Once working as a nurse and a pharmacist, Luspian started running in 2009 to get rid of his vices and unhealthy lifestyle. Like any first timer, he started doing fun runs then pursued longer distances. When he encountered trail running, he realized there lies his strength.
His first trail running experience was the Philippine Skyrunning Association’s 33-kilometer Akyathlon in Tinongdan, Itogon in 2012.
“I was starstruck with the elite runners. I was only within one-fourth of the trail route when I met some of them going back already towards the finish line,” he said.
Since then, he trained hard to join ultra running events. He finished the 50-kilometer category of The North Face 100 Asia Pacific Series in Baguio and Benguet in 2013. The next year, joined and finished the 100-km. of the TNF 100.
“Running changed my outlook in life, especially when running 100K to 100 milers. My first 100K was The North Face 100 and it took me almost 27 hours to finish the race without any sleep. That’s when I knew I was capable of pushing beyond my boundaries,” he said.
He pushed himself further, joining the 2016 Taklang Damulag in Fort Magsaysay, Paleyan City, Nueva Ecija. But seven hours before the cut-off, in the 127-kilometer point, he gave up, earning a DNF (Did Not Finish).
“That moment, I experienced the worst fatigue. There was a lot of river-crossings and mountain and road runs that caused big blisters in my feet, plus the hot weather; it was really hard for me,” he said.
The following year, he joined the KOTM 100 and finished the 160-km. course in 39:43:00, his first achievement in 100 miles. This was a home court advantage since it was held in a higher elevation area, something he had the training for.
That same year, he again joined the Taklang Damulag 100. 
He joined KOTM for the second time in 2018, breaking his record by less than three hours, 36:15:00.
This became his ticket in joining the world’s oldest 100-mile trail race, the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, that same year. He made it two hours before the 30-hour cut-off time with 28 hours record. 
Carrying the Philippine flag and the Cordilleran traditional hand-woven blanket as a proud Igorot upon crossing the finish line was for him an achievement that boosted his confidence in conquering his unfinished business with Taklang Damulag.
Third time’s a charm when he not only finished but topped the event with a time of 28:52:00. This was the third fastest time in the history of the event, which was launched in 2011. 
Striking while the iron is hot, Luspian gunned for the remaining 100-mile events in the country, thus returning for the KOTM 100 early this year where he received the Hall of Fame award; Altra 100 slated in Ifugao as second placer; Sandugo Pacific Coast Ultra 100 also in second place – all in 2019.   
“I make my own challenges, to train more and train harder,” he said adding he could have finished all four races if the Taklang Damulag 100 happened this year.
He could only wish that there would be a grand slam award in the country for those who finished multiple 100 mile races, like that of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning Series award given in the U.S. reserved for elite runners who completed four of the five oldest 100-milers in the country.  
Life lessons from running
Trail running is meditative that enables him to focus. It has showed the Kankanaey runner that he can push himself beyond his limits.
“I took that motivation in other aspects of my life. Whenever a challenge or problem presents itself, I try to look at it as a big mountain waiting to be conquered. No matter how difficult it is, it just takes a great amount of self-determination to get through it. Like a race, it has its finish line. One just has to be aware of what their capabilities and push beyond their limits,” he said.
He does all these as a self-taught baker and family man, having three children together with his supportive wife Katrina, who is also a trail running enthusiast.
The couple is running a small bakeshop in Km. 6, La Trinidad where they make homemade pastries and cakes.
“Since my wife is a runner too, she understands my needs as a trail runner and supports what I do. As an athlete, it’s important to have a very good support system,” he said.
He talked of strong trail running contenders from the region who suddenly stopped running when they got married. 
“It’s quite sad; we have so many talented trail runners representing the locality in national and international competitions but due to lack of resources they opted to stop. Being an athlete needs sacrifice and determination because most of the time you have to finance your own to join competitions,” he said.
And it doesn’t help that the government does not prioritize trail running athletes either, unless it’s basketball, he said. He had to raise funds when he joined the WSER in the U.S. 
Ultimately, he hopes to inspire other ultra running athletes especially the younger ones that they can balance family life, career, and being an athlete.
He lauded the family of Ibaloy triathlete Jet Ramos and wife Lou, whom he said are examples of well-balanced athletes. Despite their full-time jobs, the couple is active in triathlon while their son Josh is part of the national triathlete pool and their two other sons are also active athletes while attending school. 
“Having a career and family shouldn’t be a hindrance in pursuing their passion in trail running. But you have to be careful to strike a balance; separate trail running funds from family funds,” he said.  
Whenever he has the chance, Luspian would influence someone to go for the local races held in the Cordillera.
Like other local athletes, he does not rely much on the government to support his endeavors, but he is still thankful there are accessible oval tracks where athletes like him could train, such as in Benguet State University and in the Benguet sports complex track, especially when he only has a limited time to spare. 
There is still that dream to train in an oval track with facilities fit for running, but for now, he and other young runners would have to make use of what they have, where they are, to go beyond their limits. – Ofelia C. Empian