By Camille Anne M. Arcilla
From barely sustaining a 3-kilometer run two years ago, 26-year-old Jessica Lina found herself on the track, competing against national athletes in a major sporting event last December.
Lina, together with We Ken Run teammate 23-year-old John Ephraim Gay, competed at the 2021 Ayala Philippine Athletics Championships, organized by the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association on December 16 and 17, 2021 in Baguio City. We Ken Run is a group led by running Coach Ken Mendola.
“It didn’t register in my head what big of a deal it was when Coach Ken encouraged us to apply. Only when I saw the list of whom I was competing against, I realized how big time my competitors were,” Lina said.
With high hopes from her and her running team, she placed 4th in 10K Women’s Division. Gay, on the other hand, placed 4th in the 5K Men’s Division.
Both Lina and Gay were not trained athletes and were only given three weeks to prepare prior the competition. However, their coach Mendola believed it was not a hindrance for them to go to the nationals.
“It was really a matter of giving them the needed exposure. I had to put them in an environment where their competitiveness steps up,” Mendola said. “When you start to compete at this level, you also somewhat elevate yourself. It’s already not what the regular runners do.”
Lina initially joined We Ken Run with a goal of losing weight. She admitted that she was not even as active as she was before but now her workouts are now consistent.
“I definitely wasn’t active or committed to running. Although I was part of the track and field team in high school, I only did it to get out of PE class,” she said. “When I met CK, I got into it and felt like I was good at it, so that’s why I stuck.”
Gay, on the contrary, grew up as a hyperactive kid and he was already joining all kinds of sports, especially basketball. He only stopped playing when the pandemic happened.
“All the basketball courts in our were closed, so I had no choice but to run every day. It’s the only available option. It’s easy. You just have to go put your shoes on and run around,” he said.
Similar to Lina and Gay, one of We Ken Run’s fastest runners Dean Ellison Cunanan was also gunning for a spot in the PATAFA competition. However, he was not able to reach the qualifying time.
“I was really bummed out. I questioned myself and I tried to think as to why I can’t do it. Good thing, CK was there and he said to get it next time,” he said. “This year, this is one of my goals—to be able to get in the National Open this year. “
For these potential athletes, Mendola said it was not planned as you cannot choose your athletes. Whoever is there and is interested, he works with them and pushes them to be at the best version of themselves.
He said the common denominator with the three athletes is that they all love what they are doing.
“From there, you just really have to improve yourself and learn not to just dream big, but to take action. Dreaming big is one story, but getting things done to commit to those dreams is another story,” he said.
Training with CK
All three runners met Mendola by chance, but with a goal of getting better in running. Them participating in sporting events wasn’t really the plan initially.
“I have no idea what the group (We Ken Run) was until we joined and ever since then, it was super fun. It was a great experience with the team,” Gay said.
Mendola said that he does not check his runners’ backgrounds, but instead, he takes it from the fitness level they are currently in.
“With me, whatever their fitness is, how they respond with the training, where they are at right now—I only started to notice after their first training block and by the end of their second training block. I started to notice that their [running] times are not normal for an average runner,” he said.
When PATAFA announced APAC, Mendola encouraged the three to join. He checked the qualifying times and he thought that they are all within that range. As their coach, he said he got excited and asked them to submit the requirements.
“For me, that’s how they would get the exposure, at that level. Whatever their event was, just give their best,” he said. “The goal was just actually to give their best, with their PR or personal best, without thinking that they had to place in that competition.”
Mendola said that there is nothing extra special with the training they have been doing, but the difference would be on how he connects with his athletes. He said it’s not going to be effective if the athlete would not be able to do what the coach wants them to do.
“So, for me, it’s good that they knew about their goal. And of course, their trust with me as a coach is the biggest factor among all,” he said.
For Gay, joining the PATAFA was the best decision he has made recently because now, he sees the path he’s heading towards to.
“Running for me feels really good. I want it to become my actual job. I want to get paid to run one day. It’s not far from happening because I’ve been training really hard and been hitting the goals I’ve been setting myself,” he said. He plans to qualify for the Southeast Asian Games, and hopefully, for the Olympics soon.
Cunanan, on the other hand, besides pursuing the PATAFA tournament this year, also aims to be part of the SEA Games.
“With my age, I’m already 29, I’m already in my latter part of my career in Track and Field… but my ultimate goal is to complete the six marathon majors at below three hours,” he said.
Lina, meanwhile, sees to continue improving her skills to be able to represent the Philippines and inspire more people. She said she’s been getting messages from others who are saying that she inspired them to work out and run.
“It’s definitely more than a hobby right now. I want to do more races, eventually do a marathon. I’m happy about that and it makes the journey more worth it,” she said.
For aspiring runners who also dream to be part of the Nationals, the three all echoed in that part of the process is to love what you do, have fun, and embrace the failures.
“Loving what you’re doing makes the process so much easier and you’re going to want more. You have to think of the three Ds: Desire, devotion, and discipline,” Gay said.
Cunanan added: “Embrace the suck. It’s not always the good parts. Failing the workouts, not finishing the runs, it’s part of the progress. So you have to embrace those along with the positives.”
For those who are interested to join the WeKENRun community, you can follow or message their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/WeKenRun.