Philippine Road Running: Its Humble Beginnings

One of the pillars of the RUNNEX Running Club is 86 year-old Ruben “Direk” Trinidad who is the club’s de facto historian. Author of many books, he has single-handedly documented the rich history of the club from its inception in 1983 and still serves as advisor to the many activities of the group up to now. 

Rich in information about the birth of running in the Philippines, he has witnessed the slow growth of running until he got involved in the sport himself, running his first marathon at the Band-Aid Running Clinic in 1983 at the age of 60. He ran his last marathon during the early 90s at the age of 75. He now is content walking his dog, “Pom” at the Quezon Memorial Circle. He shares his story way back during the end of the Spanish-American war in the country. 

Direk Trinidad

When the Americans were victorious in their war against Spain in the Philippines in 1898, the Thomasites, the first group of American Teachers who established the American School System in 1900 were the ones who introduced Running in the country. Running then as a sport was hardly known in the Philippines until the coming of the Americans. Other sports that were introduced during this time were baseball, indoor baseball (softball), volleyball and basketball (which the girls enjoyed but was shunned by the men as they deemed it a “sissy” sport) as part of the PE and Sport curriculum. 

When the First Far Eastern Games (now the Asian Games) competition was held in Manila in 1913, Philippine Road Running was introduced. The first Filipinos who participated were Desquitado and Enerva who were 4th and 6th place, respectively in the 5-mile run. 

The first marathon in the Philippines covering the official distance of 42.195 kms. was held in 1967 and participated in by collegiate students from the towns of Rizal Province. The rules then at that time was very unusual in that the marathon was ran in four (4) installments– on the first day participants ran 10k in the morning and another 10k in the afternoon. On the second day, another 10k was ran in the morning and the remaining 12.195kms was ran in the afternoon! 

All four races were won by Benjamin Silva Netto with an aggregate time of 2hrs, 26 mins and 49 secs. Currently, Mr. Silva Netto is the Secretary General of the Philippine Track and Field Association (Patafa). 

The country’s first official “standard” marathon was held the following year in Roxas City during the 1968 National Track and Field Championships to choose the country’s marathon bet for the Mexico Olympics on the same year. Again, Ben Silva Netto won the race, topping a field of 27 other runners by clocking a time of 3:37:23 to become the First Filipino Marathon Champion. He then proceeded to the Mexico Olympiad and came in at 49th place among 82 other runners with a PR of 2:56:19, thus earning himself and the country the honor of being the First Filipino Marathoner in the Olympics. Among his well-known rivals in this marathon include Mamo Wolde (1st, 2:20:26); Derek Clayton (7th, 2:27:23), Kenny Moore (14th, 2:29:49) and Abebe Bikila (DNF, ran the race with a stress fracture). Eight years later, another great Filipino marathoner, Victor Idava would run the Montreal Olympics. 

The recognition of running as a sport followed with the homecoming of Silva Netto from the Mexico Olympiad. Thereafter, visits to the country were made by Drs. Jack Schaf and John Wagner, the principal creators and Marathon trainors of the Honolulu Marathon Clinic in the early 70s. Dr. Wagner, together with Dr. Aparicio “Perry” Mequi, then Dean of the UP Institute of Sports Physical Education and considered father of the Physical Education Curriculum in the country; Ben Silva Netto, the Olympian and Jose “Jun” Castro, Jr., a chess promoter and founder of the Filipinas International Third World Marathon organized the first running clinic at the Quezon Memorial Circle. Soon after, other running clinics were established at Roxas Blvd., Paranaque, Makati and Greenhills. 

The running boom started in the US when Frank Shorter won the Munich Olympic Marathon in 1972 although in the Philippines, the first running boom was actually felt during the early 80s.