Should the US Open close?

In a list of Risk Levels that’s been circulating in Viber, with “going to Bars” scoring a very risky 9 and “playing Basketball” a high 8, the risk level for Tennis is “1,” the safest of sports. This is understandable. If you talk of social distancing, your opponent is 78 feet away — the length of the tennis court. Your strongest Maria Sharapova-like scream won’t cough out any viruses from across that far net.

But tennis is in a quandary. Wimbledon has been canceled — the first time since World War II (1945).  

The US Open is scheduled soon, set from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13. Like the NBA, it will be a crowd-less match — no spectators. That’s a given in all sports this year. But even with that strict ruling, obstacles are aplenty.

One, the US Open is in New York — the site of what was previously a danger zone for Covid-19 cases (386,000+ afflicted with 30,500+ deaths). 

Two, the ironclad restrictions the organizers are imposing on the players. They include: 1) forcing the players to stay in a hotel outside Manhattan; 2) limiting the support team to just one person per player; 3) no singles qualifying; 4) only 24 doubles teams instead of the usual 64. It’s envisioned to be a “tennis bubble.”

Roger Federer is out of the Open. He’s had a second surgery on his right knee. Rafa Nadal is out sunbathing with his new wife Xisca Perello and his new yacht, an 80-foot luxurious boat costing $6.2 million. Said Rafa: “If you ask me today if I want to travel today to New York to play a tennis tournament, I will say no, I will not.”

Novak Djokovic, the world’s No. 1, has voiced the loudest opposition.

“Most of the players I have talked to were quite negative on whether they would go there,” said the Serb. “The rules that they told us that we would have to respect to be there, to play at all, they are extreme. We would not have access to Manhattan, we would have to sleep in hotels at the airport, to be tested twice or three times per week. Also, we could bring one person to the club, which is really impossible. I mean, you need your coach, then a fitness trainer, then a physiotherapist.”

Valid points, Novak. But while the Top 3 won’t join or remain undecided, others want to resume. (The US Open organizers have to make a decision whether to proceed or not by next week.)

Dan Evans, ranked 28th, disagrees with Djokovic on the one-assistant-only policy, saying, “Not everyone’s travelling with physios and fitness trainers like Novak said, so I think his argument there is not really valid for the rest of the draw, apart from the real top guys.”

My take? Djokovic won’t skip the US Open. He’s undefeated this 2020 and, during the lockdown, he stayed in Spain and trained daily because his friend owned a tennis court. He also has 17 Grand Slam titles compared to the 19 of Rafa and 20 of Roger. 

Don’t you think he wants to win the last two majors in New York and in Paris (the French Open is scheduled from Sept. 20 to Oct. 4)? He’s just voicing out his complaints to force the US Open officials to relax their draconian rules.

For tennis, it’s: Game. Set. Let’s watch.

Online Gaming

POGO stands for Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator. This is the infamous acronym for those companies engaged in online gambling for clients abroad. But there’s another meaning of POGO. One that I’ve just coined: Players Operating Games Online.

Since March, the world of sports has stopped. The NBA was the first major league to halt their games. This was three months ago yesterday — March 11 — when, after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, the games were suspended. Since then, all contests have been cancelled, none larger than the Tokyo Olympics.

But quietly — and that’s meant literally and figuratively, minus the boisterous and rambunctious fans — several sports have returned during this pandemic. They’re labeled online tournaments.

“Last May, some members of Dancesport-Team Cebu City made history after winning a silver and bronze medal in the first ever 1World Dance Online Competition organized in Italy,” wrote sports editor Manny Villaruel in The Freeman yesterday. “Real-life couple Shardie Abellana and Marjorie Pasaje, competing under lockdown in Alaska, Mambaling, snatched silver in the 35-under Latin-rumba dance, while Trixie Dicdican of Barangay Ermita got bronze in the under-13 lady-solo five event.”

Caecent Noot-Magsumbol, another fellow sportswriter from The Freeman, added in her article last May 19: “Just like in a regular dancesport competition, the participants had to undergo eliminations up to the semis and the finals with a set of adjudicators rating them carefully via Zoom.”

Zoom! You know this videotelephony company that’s being used by everyone. This software platform is also being used in the sports platform; by the judges who watch and score via Zoom.

“Despite the limited space and not dancing on a standard dancefloor,” Ms. Magsumbol said, “Abellana and Pasaje were still able to get the judges’ nod for a silver finish.” 

Manny Villaruel also wrote about the Smart/MVP Sports Foundation Online National Taekwondo Poomsae Championships. Over 1,000 jins participated and Cebu’s Aidaine Laxa won a silver medal.

Chess is another sport. Here at home, the Cebu School of Chess (CSC) and the Cebu Executives and Professionals Chess Association (CEPCA) have organized online tournaments.

Wesley So, ranked world No. 8, won the first-ever Clutch Chess online tilt in a big event joined by World No. 2 GM Fabiano Caruana. The 26-year-old So, born in Bacoor, Cavite but who now competes for the U.S., won $40,000. 

Zwift is a familiar name to cyclists. It’s an online program where cyclists can train and compete against each other in a virtual world. Since the lockdown, thousands of online events have sprouted — including several won by world champ Rohan Dennis.

Esports, naturally, is the biggest winner. With everyone imprisoned in their homes, the go-to device is the computer. The video game market, propelled by the COVID-19 lockdown, is forecast to hit $159 billion in 2020.

Should you wear a Face Mask while Exercising?

I wore a face mask while biking last Friday. At first, while warming-up and the pedaling was relaxed, it felt normal and good. No complaints. But after a few minutes and when the bike pointed upwards, my breathing turned heavy. It felt uncomfortable. As the trajectory of the climb turned skyward, I had difficulty breathing. My washable cloth mask felt like a suction. As I exhaled, it pushed outward; when I inhaled, it stuck to my mouth. 

Out-in, out-in. This is not good. I stopped. 

I don’t know about you but I can’t exercise with the face mask on. Walking, yes. Leisurely cycling on a flat asphalt, yes. But anything that involves the heart pumping over 121 beats per minute, no. 

Running with the mask on? I can’t imagine doing it. I’ve seen Chipi Borromeo running loops around Phase 8 in Maria Luisa Park and I’m amazed at how he’s able to keep his stride.

You’re panting and sweating and struggling to engulf oxygen; your lungs are expanding and compressing — on an unmasked 9-kph run. Now cover your nose and mouth and restrict the air flow into your lungs. I can’t do it.

Wearing a face mask while exercising may be a risky affair,” wrote Jahnavi Sarma in, “COVID-19: Wearing a face mask is important but avoid it while working out,” from thehealthsite.com. “This is because, when you exercise, your lungs need more air. As a result, your heart pumps more blood, which is why your heart beat increases. But when you are wearing a mask, there is restriction in the flow of air to the lungs. This can make you feel light headed, breathless and tired. Your lungs may collapse if you really overdo it. You may also be in danger if you have any underlying health conditions like heart disease and hypertension.”

Here’s the point: Be careful. While there’s no denying that wearing of masks keeps you and those around you safe (and, I know, it’s mandatory everytime we go out), be careful when you wear one while exercising.

Listen to your body. With extreme workouts like sprints, 14K runs or high-intensity interval training (HIIT), for example, in case you feel lightheaded, stop. Sit down. Check the intensity of your effort and make sure it’s within the light-to-moderate range. Avoid symptoms like dizziness. Take your mask off and breathe normally. 

There was a 26-year-old runner from Wuhan, China who was hospitalized after complaining of chest pain after a 6K run. Doctors concluded that his lungs collapsed — possibly because of his mask that limited his ventilation and impaired his oxygen levels while running. 

To me, if you can exercise alone or be at a far distance from other people, this is best. Maybe there’s no need to wear that mask. Run at night or very early in the morning and in an area where there’s nobody around. Exercise in isolated or private areas. Workout at home.

NBA rebounds

(Photo from ESPN.com)

The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is humongous. It spans 220 acres and it’s situated inside the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. Our family had the chance to spend New Year’s 2015 inside Disneyworld and the footprint is colossal. The sports grounds include 12 volleyball courts, 10 tennis courts, and a 7,500-seater baseball stadium.

The ESPN Complex is also home to six college-size basketball courts — the venue where NBA players will play the remainder of the season.

July 31 is the target date. Players, coaches and staff will be invited to the facility by mid-July so they can practice. A limited number of family members are expected to join. They, too, are to be subjected to the same rigorous COVID-19 testing protocols.

Of the NBA’s 30 teams, not all are expected to return. Those in the bottom cellar won’t be asked to come back. The Warriors, for example, carry a 15-50 win-loss record. No need for them to return. Only those teams that have the chance to make it to the playoffs will be asked to come back. 

Twenty, maybe 22, teams will return. And while the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks (53-12) and the Los Angeles Lakers (49-14; leading in the West) are guaranteed playoff spots, there are a number of teams that are still vying for the remaining slots. Sixteen teams will comprise the playoffs. 

All this is not final yet. The NBA’s Board of Governors, who talked last Friday, appear to be excited with the return. They will meet again on June 4 and a three-fourths majority of owners are needed to give the go-signal.

“We are lining up behind (Silver) on this,” an owner confided to ESPN. “The posturing will end. Nothing is going to be perfect for everyone.”

Silver, as you know, is Mr. Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner. He is the man at the center, juggling the demands of players who want to return and the concerns of many who are scared.

There will be a “series of bad options,” Silver says, of the NBA restart. He added that no decision that league makes will be risk-free. 

What if Kawhi gets the virus from a Walt Disney Hotel staff member? Or Giannis gets infected by one of his assistants? Or Kyle Lowry’s family member gets sick? Simbako. But the risks are high. The hundreds of players, referees, arena staff, mediamen and family members will live inside a quarantined bubble. Like a cruise ship, when one gets infected, it easily spreads; the same thing can happen.

The NBA is preparing for this eventuality. Even if one or two or a few get infected, the plan is to isolate these cases and continue. Easier said than implemented.

Money is a huge factor in the equation. Although millions of dollars will be lost because of the absence of fans, the TV deals are still big bucks. The NBA’s national TV package hovers around $2.7 billion per year.

The man most excited for the NBA rebound? LBJ. After watching The Last Dance, the 35-year-old LeBron is in probably his last best chance to wear NBA ring No. 4.

 

E-bike: E for enjoyment

My brother Charlie and I have been biking since we were 8 years old. Every weekend, every summer, everyday when we don’t have school in La Salle Bacolod and when our BMX bikes are begging for a joyride, we ride. Wearing slippers or Adidas Pro Models, wearing sleeveless or being shirtless, we’d cycle over 110 rotations per minute. Our playground was Mountain View Subd. in the City of Smiles.

Fast forward to a few decades later and I’ve shifted to the mountainbike and road bike. But there’s been another ride that I’ve tried lately. 

An E-bike. The “e” stands for electric. There are various types but the one my buddies James Co and doctors Ronnie Medalle and Ron Eullaran and I use is termed “pedelec” (pedal electric cycle): it’s a regular bike with a small motor that gives you assistance as you pedal. In our Giant Fathom e-bikes, for example, there are 5 settings and you pedal hard but with the added boost. 

My verdict? I’ve never had more fun. I used to detest it. When friends would mention the word “e-bike,” I’d cringe and my ego would say, “That’s for the oldies. I’m a true-blooded cyclist and I only need my God-given legs.” 

What a mistake! Now that I have an e-bike, I’m smiling, pedaling, smiling, pedaling — even on a 15% climb. 

On an e-bike, you’re much faster. We bike in Maria Luisa and you know this village. It’s littered with mountains. On a regular bike, if I climb towards the Busay gate, I’d switch the gears to the softest one and grind slowly at, what, 7 kph? On an e-bike, I’d attack that ridge. I can go on a Niño Surban-like 18 kph on the steepest hill. It’s amazing. And you won’t understand these words unless you try it yourself. 

You cover a much farther distance. In Maria Luisa, if I bike for 60 minutes, that would normally take me to a just few sections in the subdivision. On an e-bike? I can go down to the Banilad guardhouse, trek all the way to the Busay gate — twice. No kidding. Banilad to Busay to Banilad to Busay in 50 minutes. I feel like I’m Chris Froome.

Your workout is (nearly) the same. Dr. Arnold Tan and I were “e-biking” for over two hours last Sunday (elevation gain: 878 meters) and, being Cebu’s top cardiovascular surgeon, he should know plenty about the workings of the heart. 

“You almost get the same workout on an e-bike,” he said. “You burn the same calories.”

I agree. Since you’re going much faster, your cadence increases and so does your heart rate. Your leg muscles will not be subjected to the hard, painful grind but your heart will pump just as fast. And because you’re less “laspag,” you can ride again the following day. And the day after that.

The Bicycling.com article, “13 Reasons to Get Stoked About E-Bikes,” confirms this: “Getting an e-bike can dramatically increase how often you ride, according to a recent survey of nearly 1,800 e-bike owners in North America. Beforehand, 55 percent of respondents said they rode daily or weekly. After buying an e-bike, that number soared to 91 percent.”

An E-bike is a game changer. Try it.

Biking boom

One “positive” from the COVID-19 pandemic is this: More people will bike. Instead of taking the bus or NYC subway or private car, more legs will pedal and sweat and cycle. This surge will happen here in Cebu, in Manila, in Los Angeles, in Osaka, in London. 

Why the cycling boom? Biking is free. Well, obviously, you have to buy a two-wheeled vehicle. But after that, you don’t have to pay for Shell gasoline or Grab Taxi or hire an Angkas rider. By pedaling your way to work or school, you save plenty.

Second, in this “new normal,” when everybody is scared of sitting two feet away from another human being who might have germs, biking is done solo. You’re safe. And in this era of long lines while waiting for jeepney rides, you’re much faster riding a bike. You simply strap on your helmet and pedal away. You cut through traffic. I’m sure you’ll arrive at your destination faster by pedaling.

On pedaling, here’s Reason No. 3: Biking is one of the best ways to burn calories. Your heart beats 3X faster. It’s a terrific cardiovascular workout. So while you’re saving on expenses, you become fitter. How good is that?

Yes, biking is that good. It’s also good for the environment. There are zero fumes emitted — unlike, for example, a similar two-wheeled vehicle called the motorcycle. Biking helps Mother Earth.

BIKE-FIRST. Since COVID-19 unsettled our lives two months ago, urban planners around the globe have started planning “bike-first” cities.

In Barcelona, new bikes lanes are being constructed and existing bike paths are being widened so that bikers will be able to keep ample distance from each other. We can term this “bike distancing.”

“What we’re seeing across Europe is a brilliant move in cities like Oslo, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Paris, Milan, Vienna – the list is extremely long now – that will remove the old, obsolete car infrastructure and actually make infrastructure for all of us,” said Morten Kabell, CEO of the European Cyclists’ Federation, in a Euronews article.

Rome, Paris, London and Brussels are building hundreds of kilometres of new bike lanes. And in France, the government is subsidising bike repairs and purchases of e-bikes. 

Isn’t that fantastic? The government providing incentives for people to avoid the “old normal” (cars, buses, etc.).

Here at home, the Philippine Olympic Committee, led by the POC Chairman Bambol Tolentino, is planning to distribute 100 bicycles for free to our national athletes.

“Bicycling is not only a healthy way to get from one point to another,” said Tolentino, also the president of the national sports association of cycling, “it also promotes social distancing, not to mention a means to avoid traffic.”

John Burke, the president of Trek Bicycles, summed it best.

“The bicycle is a simple solution to some of the most complicated problems in the world,” he said, citing traffic problems, obesity and climate change. 

I agree. And I add: “You can’t be sad while riding a bicycle.”

Covid-19 is a marathon

Running 42.195 kms. is strenuous. It’s long and painful. It requires patience and diligence. There are episodes when when you want to quit. Along the route, you walk, stop, grimace, checking your cramps and massaging your knees and questioning why, why, why. The marathon requires perseverance — that decision by the brain to fight and to continue. 

Today’s marathon is called Covid-19. We know this pandemic will not disappear in July. Possibly not by Christmas. This is an arduous and lengthy journey and we need to mentally embrace it as if we’re running an endurance race. Much like a marathon. Or, if this corovirus extends past 12 or 18 months, much like an ultramarathon that’s 50K or 100K.

I’ve ran seven marathons. What are a few lessons from running that I can relate with our situation today?

Stay positive. In a 42K run — the distance from the Cebu Provincial Capitol to Carcar — you will experience moments of negativity. (Maybe somewhere in Naga or San Fernando? When I-can’t-do-this thoughts will penetrate your mind?) No matter how hard you train, your legs will tire and your mind will beg you to stop. 

Don’t stop. Walk if you want to. But move forward. The marathon teaches us to keep moving forward, one stride at a time, in the most difficult moments. 

Tell your legs to shut up! It’s all in the mind. It’s not the marathon you must conquer. It’s yourself. Stay positive.

Another lesson: Be with friends. I know this is impossible for many because of the lockdown but if you can find creative ways to talk and bond and laugh and waste time with friends, you’ll survive this ordeal.

It’s like running. An avid runner during his less-busy days, the favorite quotation of Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella runs like this: “If you want to run fast, run alone. But if you want to run far, run with friends.”

This is true. For running and for life. Same with laughter. Here’s a quotation that I like: “Laughing is one of the best exercises. It’s like running inside your brain. You can do it anywhere and it’s even better with friends.”

Third lesson: Pace yourself. The marathon takes a long, long, long time. So will this coronavirus. “You can run a sprint or you can run a marathon but you can’t sprint a marathon.”

Prepare yourself for this prolonged stretch. Save money as you would save energy (in a marathon). Get plenty of daily exercise; at least 60 minutes. Go outdoors and sunbathe.

“Run your own race.” This is my favorite marathon quote and, in life, it’s the same: relax and run at your own pace.  

Final (and most important) lesson: Pray. The last recourse of marathoners who are writhing in pain is to turn to the Lord. Same with us today. In Hebrews 12: 1-2: “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.” 

Air Jordan

GOAT. This stands for “Greatest Of All Time.” After watching the first two episodes of The Last Dance, what appeared obvious before has become even more indisputable. 

Michael Jeffrey Jordan is No. 1. In basketball. In all of history. Maybe in all of sports.

This documentary, amidst the dread and darkness of Covid-19, is inspirational. As we’re feeling distressed, this has boosted us. It has made us smile and taught us to both forget and remember. Forget the sadness of the virus; remember the joyfulness of MJ. 

Watching Michael Jordan is nostalgic. For many of us who grew up watching His Airness, we’re brought back to the greatest era in basketball. To an ‘80s music lover like myself, it’s like listening to Duran Duran, Dire Straits and Depeche Mode. You feel good during and after. Watching the two 50-minute episodes made me feel good.

The Last Dance is perfectly-timed for this gloomy period. And let’s not forget that prior to the coronavirus shutting down the planet — the basketball world was shocked by the death of Kobe Bryant.

It’s been a sickening 2020, worst for basketball devotees. The Last Dance is a much-needed morale booster for the 7.8 billion people on earth, basketball fan or not.

The 10-part miniseries produced by ESPN and Netflix was supposed to be released in June, in time for the NBA Finals. But it was shown earlier because, as the official trailer said, “As society navigates this time without live sports, viewers are still looking to the sports world to escape and enjoy a collective experience.”

Apart from the “feeling good” experience, another reason why this documentary is important is this: It reminds the youth of Jordan’s greatness. 

MJ is now 57 years old. To the Gen Z, those born between 1995 and 2010 (and maybe even to some Millennials), I’m sure everyone has seen footages and snippets of His Airness. Everybody knows that he’s better than LeBron James, the second greatest player of all time. I mean, who doesn’t know Mike? Who doesn’t know No. 23? Who hasn’t seen YouTube videos of him sticking his tongue out, floating for 23 seconds and beaming that gigantic smile?

Everybody knows Mike. But not everybody watched those 1990s games “live” — all six championship years.

The Last Dance is our last chance to see the life story of this man who now owns the Charlotte Hornets and is worth $2.1 billion.

Thank you, MJ. And despite the leaked files that have surfaced (8 of the 10 episodes are now available by Torrent), I’m going to watch the Netflix series twice per week, as advertised, prolonging the indulgence as our lockdown is prolonged.

No fans

The NBA Playoffs would have started today. Instead, the entire planet is on an extended timeout. The world is frozen. Can the NBA (and other sports) resume? 

Given the state of COVID-19 in the U.S. (over 720,000 infected and 33,000 deaths), there is no way for the games to restart next week or next month. Not with 19,000 fans screaming inside the Staples Center.

The only way to resume the contest?

“Nobody comes to the stadium.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading U.S. infectious disease expert, had this response: “Nobody comes to the stadium. Put them (the players) in big hotels, you know, wherever you want to play. Keep them very well surveilled, namely a surveillance, but have them tested, like every week. By a gazillion tests. And make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family. And just let them play the season out. I mean, that’s a really artificial way to do it, but when you think about it, it might be better than nothing.”

LeBron James, when was asked about this possibility, had this reply: “Ain’t playing if I ain’t got the fans in the crowd.” 

But LBJ’s reply was back in March. This was before the world realized the cruelty and venom of the coronavirus.

So the possibility of fans sitting side by side in a packed arena is hallucinatory. It’s not possible. Not even the “checkerboard” arrangement, where fans sit one or two seats apart, is acceptable.

President Trump concurs with the no-fans option, saying, “It’ll be made for television. The good old days, made for television.”

Here’s the viable scenario for the NBA: Choose a couple of key U.S. cities. (I’m sure New York, given its epicenter status, won’t be one of them.) Group together the teams and restart the league with a locked-down hotel and stadium without fans.

The “quarantined bubble,” it’s called. It’s muted, boring, desolate and lifeless — yet possible. But herein lies a problem: Can you fully isolate the hundreds of players and staff of the 30 NBA teams?

Dr. Caroline Buckee of the Harvard School of Public Health is frightened with this approach.

“It sounds like potentially a bad idea,” Dr. Buckee said. “I don’t think it’s realistic to completely isolate and quarantine the players. For a start, there are people who will need to clean their rooms, feed them, wash their clothes, janitorial staff and so forth. And those people will not be protected and they will be interacting with their communities. It is very difficult to truly self-isolate. Purposefully putting people at risk seems foolish.”

What if there’s one COVID-19 case that will infiltrate this bubble? Think of a scenario like a cruise ship.

This is a risky option. But the league doesn’t have a choice.

Exercise? Yes and no 

My wife Jasmin and I were scheduled to run the London Marathon. 

It was set on April 26 — just 41 days from now. But yesterday, I received an email from the organizers: the Virgin Money London Marathon, one of the planet’s biggest events drawing over 40,000 runners, will be postponed to October 4, 2020.

Like the marathons in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Barcelona and Boston —  like the NBA, PBA, and possibly the Tokyo Olympics — sports are put on hold.

Which led me, while scouring the internet, to ask these questions: Should we continue our individual sports and exercise? Is running good for us during this threatening state of the Covid-19?

The quick answer is Yes. Exercise boosts the body’s immune system to make us stronger and more resistant to infections. 

In the article, “How to boost your immune system to avoid colds and coronavirus,” Amy Fleming of The Guardian wrote:

To be immunologically fit, you need to be physically fit. ‘White blood cells can be quite sedentary,’ says Prof Arne Akbar, the president of the British Society for Immunology. ‘Exercise mobilises them by increasing your blood flow, so they can do their surveillance jobs and seek and destroy in other parts of the body.’” 

Exercise is good. But here’s a word of caution: “light to moderate exercise.”

Marathon training, like what Jasmin and I have been doing (25K to 28K runs on Sundays), is not light and moderate. It’s extreme.

Hard, continuous, long-effort exercise like marathons and ultra marathons can lower your resistance for 24 to 72 hours, and lead to increased colds and respiratory illnesses for a week or two,” wrote Amby Burfoot in the Women’s Running article, “This is Exactly How Running Impacts Your Immunity.”

In simple language: Yes, it’s good to sweat but don’t overdo it. The dictum “more (exercise) is better” is not to be applied these days when we want to be more immune to illnesses.

“Too much exercise volume and intensity turns the corner on what experts refer to as the J curve—and your risk of infection goes up,” added Ms. Burfoot.

“After a marathon, your immune state is close to that of an older, not particularly healthy individual,” warned exercise physiologist David Nieman. “And those are the ones getting really sick and sometimes even dying.”

So, what should we all do?

First, the basics, added Ms. Burfoot: washing of hands for 20 to 30 seconds several times a day; sneezing and coughing into the elbow (or best, using tissue paper); and avoid touching our face with our hands. 

Mr. Nieman added a few more tips in his article, “The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system.” He said:

1) As you workout, run and exercise, make sure that you also get ample sleep and recovery. 2) Avoid overdoing your workouts. 3) Skip the gym. Exercise outdoors. 4) Monitor yourself for early signs of sickness or overtraining and stop or adjust. 

Be safe and continue working out, my friends.

 

Cebu Sports Awards

Now on its 37th edition, the Sportswriters Association of Cebu (SAC), of which I’m the current president, will be honoring Cebu’s top athletes today. 

If you’re free, please join us at the SM City Cebu this afternoon from 2 to 5 p.m. (at the Lower Ground Floor across The Rib Shack restaurant). 

Mary Joy Tabal will lead the invocation. The PADS (Philippine Accessible Disability Service) Dragonboat Team will kick off the festivities with an opening number. 

Ms. Brianna Leverenz, a top-notch American swimmer and the sister of Olympic bronze medalist Caitlin Leverenz, will provide the inspirational message. 

Wilbert Aunzo and Pearl Marie Caneda will render a dance number and show the crowd how they won multiple gold medals in the recent Southeast Asian Games.

Over 155 athletes representing most of our major sports — from Arnis to Boxing to Cycling to E-sports to Jiujitsu to Scrabble to Taekwondo to Volleyball; plus many, many more sports — will be recognized today.

Is the event open to the public for free? Absolutely. This annual honoring used to be exclusive. It started at the “1521” diner inside the San Miguel Brewery in Mandaue. Over a decade ago, it was held in the posh ballrooms of Casino Español and GrandCon. But the sportswriters, several years ago, decided to make this occasion open for all to see.

Thus, through the years, we’ve had the best of the best in Cebu sports climb the stage and be recognized for all to see. 

I remember Matteo Guidicelli, long before he became famous as an actor, receiving an award as a youngster for his exploits as a go-kart racer. He was about 12 years old then we he received the SAC-SMB Award.

Donnie Nietes. Z Gorres. Michael Aldeguer. Antonio Aldeguer. Michel Lhuillier. Jonathan Guardo. Ricky Ballesteros. Boojie Lim. Felix Tiukinhoy. Edward Hayco. These are a few of the luminaries who received the highest of honors in previous SAC awards.

Manny Pacquiao, then a full-time boxer, graced our event in 2009. He was mobbed by the athletes and parents. POC Chairman Monico Puentevella also rendered a song that night.   

Cebu City Councilor Dondon Hontiveros has been a recipient of the basketball award for many years. This afternoon, he’ll be joining us as one of the city’s top officials. 

Special thanks goes to Ms. Girlie Garces, the Corporate Communication Officer of San Miguel Brewery, Inc. Through the years, SAC has partnered with SMB in organizing this activity.

The Athlete of the Year? That one person (or team) that shone brightest in the past year? Who will the winner be?

I know the answer. But you’ll have to attend today’s activity to find out. 

Happening only once a year — or once every four years since today is February 29 — see you later from 2 to 5 p.m. at the SM City Cebu.

All Stars

The NBA All-Star Weekend was a huge and spectacular success in Cebu a couple of weeks ago.

This Saturday, February 29, our own version of the All Stars will be happening.

Named the 37th SAC-SMB Cebu Sports Awards, over 150 of Cebu’s top athletes (based on their accomplishments last year) will be honored. Calling on all awardees (below), see you this Feb. 29 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Northwing of the SM City Cebu.

Here are the honorees:

MAJOR AWARDEES: Arnis (Dexter Bolambao); Archery (Aldrener Ygot); Athletics (Mary Joy Tabal and Natalie Rose Uy); Basketball (Junemar Fajardo and Greg Slaughter); Billiards (Rubilen Amit); Bowling (Alexis Sy); Boxing (Johnriel Casimero); Chess (Jerish Velarde); Cycling (Nino Surban); Dancesport (Wilbert Aunzo and Pearl Marie Caneda); Dragonboat (PADS Dragonboat Racing Team); Golf (Lois Kaye Go); E-Sports (Team Adroit Dota: Marvin Rushton, John Anthony Vargas, Bryle Jacob Alvizo, Jun Kanehara, MC Nicholson Villanueva and coach Paolo Bago); Gymnastics (Daniela De la Pisa); Judo (Kiyomi Watanabe); Karatedo (Sarah Pangilinan); Karting (William Go); Motorsport (Team Toyota Cebu and Daniel Miranda); Obstacle course racing/OCR (Sherwin Manangil); Rugby Football (Aumi Ono); Sepak Takraw (Metodio Suico and Jean Marie Sucalit); Shooting (Ditto Nestor Dinopol and Diogenes Avila); Skateboarding (Margielyn Didal and Daniel Ledermann); Softball (Mary Ann Antolihao); Swimming (James Deiparine); Table Tennis (Richard Gonzales); Taekwondo (Rinna Babanto and Aidaine Laxa); Triathlon (Andrew Kim Remolino); Volleyball (Cherry Ann Rondina); Wakeboarding (Raphael Trinidad); Weightlifting (Elreen Ann Ando and John Februar Ceniza).

CITATION AWARDEES: Arnis (Jude Oliver Marie Rodriguez); Athletics (Dr. Yong Larrazabal, Noel Tillor, Azlan Pagay and Prince Joey Lee); Basketball (SWU Phinma Cobras, SHS-Ateneo de Cebu Magis Eagles, Shaquille Imperial, Leobert Andrew “LA” Casinillo, UV SBP, Team Cebu City/Abellana National School); Baseball (Isaac Bacarisas); Billiards (Warren Kiamco); Boxing-pro (Rey Caitom Jr., Joe Noynay, Carlo Demecillo, Mark Vicelles, Dave Penalosa); Boxing-amateur (Pathricia Mae Sumalinog and Bienjemar Codoy); Cycling (Jonel Carcueva and John Mier); Dancesport (Crisologo Rendon); Dragonboat (Sugbu Mighty Dragons); Football (Raya Tolentino, Maegan Alforque, Mia Evangelista, Roseton Barinan and Dean Ebarle); Golf (Gen Nagai); Gymnastics (Leanne Manning); Jiujitsu (Overlimit Jiujitsu Academy); Karatedo (Rhodee Ann Saavedra); Motorsports (Sylvester Ramirez); Muay Thai (Jemarie Josh Ybanez, Zion Alexander Melecio, and Buen Algono); Sepak Takraw (RheyJey Ortouste); Shooting (Roygbiv Barro); Scrabble (Learjet Dela Cruz); Softball (Jasper Cabrera and Jerome Bacarisas); Swimming (Jasmine Alkhaldi, Maxime Rooney and Raven Faith Alcoseba); Taekwondo (Nica Garces); Tennis (Iggy Pantino, Tiffany Nocus and Chad Connor Cuizon); Triathlon (Moira Frances Erediano and CJ Lipura); Volleyball (Floremel Rodriguez, Edmar Bonono, James Buytrago and Jobert Almodiel).

 

Yong 2020

For an eye doctor, the numbers “20/20” are special. (Don’t we all want to hear the words, “You have 20/20 vision,” from our ophthalmologist?)

For Dr. Potenciano “Yong” Larrazabal III, the year 2020 takes on a special, double meaning as a top eye surgeon. Just last week, he completed the most incredible of accomplishments: running 7 marathons in 7 days in 7 continents.

From Feb. 7 to 14, he ran a 42K in Cape Town (Africa); Novo (Antarctica); Perth (Australia); Dubai (Asia); Madrid (Europe); Fortaleza, Brazil (South America), and Miami (North America). Dr. Yong was one of only 23 men and 12 women to have completed the event and he became the first Filipino to accomplish this World Marathon Challenge. 

Yong started running in 2006. That was only 14 years ago — I say “only” because since then, he has completed a mind-boggling 68 marathons. On one of his first, the 2008 Hong Kong Marathon, we were together.

In preparation for a talk (“Exercise is Medicine”) that I gave to a group of doctors two years ago, I asked Yong why he chose this sport.

“Running clears my mind from everything that goes on in my busy daily routine at work,” he said. “I feel my day is not complete without exercise. Mental and physical sluggishness usually happens when I don’t exercise. Joining marathons not only makes me strong physically but mentally as well. In every marathon, there is always an end goal. And just like in life, to reach your goal, there has to be focus, commitment and determination.”

Yong tries to run five times each week (four times on the treadmill) and he joins local races for his long runs. And unlike many of us who prefer morning runs, Yong cannot because of his early daily surgeries. 

“I started exercising because my work became too stressful and I knew then it would eventually take its toll on my health,” he said. He opted for running because his preferred sport (basketball) was too dangerous for his fingers and body — considering his profession (apart from being the CEO and Chairman of CebuDoc). 

“Not only is running safe,” he said, “it also compliments my lifestyle since I finish work late. I can train alone anytime after. Later on, after joining international races, I appreciated travelling abroad and learning about their different cultures. Travelling was rarely done before I started running.”

In my interview with him in 2018, he had just completed back-to-back events: first, the Boston Marathon and, six days later, the London Marathon — achieving the coveted Abbott World Marathon Majors Medal (finishing all six majors).

Last month after Yong completed the Cebu Marathon, I texted to congratulate him that night. He said thanks and told me he was running 42K the next day.. on a treadmill! This was all in preparation for his amazing 7-7-7 (World Marathon Challenge). 

Yong’s advice to us all: If you want to live a long, healthy life with your wife/husband and watch your kids grow old and graduate from school, you should prioritize your health. 

Yong (center) with me and Dr. Peter Mancao

 

Jesse Bernad

When we studied at the UP Cebu for college, everybody who played sports looked up to Jesse Bernad.

In an article I wrote about him years ago, here’s how I described Jesse whenever we played the Intrams: 

“If you saw Troy, he’s Achilles. Our Michael Phelps of the Athens Games. Everybody sweated facing Hulk. As softball pitcher, he threw underhand fastballs that screamed at you like a bullet ambulance. How do I know? I stood meters from him as batter and almost fell off my backside at the zooming softball’s pace. As basketball center, Jessed pulled down rebounds like he were picking mansanitas, deflected shots like one would mosquitoes, and owned the low post like a Tim Duncan.”

Fast forward three decades later, Jesse Bernad is still into sports. But no longer rebounding the basketball or throwing that softball pitch or standing as football goalie and intimidating opponents with his 5-foot-11 frame, he’s into this another workout.

Jesse with Ken Griffey Jr.

I started running in 2015 when I joined a running club created by Amale Jopson in my previous job at Aboitizland,” said Jesse. 

Like all of us, he started running 5Ks. Then, when he experienced that “runner’s high” and wanted to go further, he did 10Ks. Months later and wanting to go for a bigger target, Jesse prepared for a half-marathon. 

“With my first 21K, I was nervous but prepared well enough to finish at 2hrs, 20mins,” he said. “Ever since, I’ve been running 21Ks the past 5 years and must have finished 12 races.”

But Jesse had an ultimate goal: To run 42.195 kms. 

“I had opportunities to run my first marathon elsewhere but I decided to do it here in my hometown of Cebu, to make it meaningful,” he said. “I saw the Facebook posts of friends Hans Congmon, Bernard Sia and Bryan Tan training. I asked to join their practice runs. This was last September. ‘No excuses this time.’ I told myself, ‘If don’t do it now, I never will.’

His goal: the 2020 Cebu Marathon on Jan. 19.

Jesse continued his 5K runs before increasing his mileage twice a week. He ran 5 to 7 kms. on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Ateneo de Cebu oval and Angelicum and long runs on weekends while integrating speed and tempo programs.

“We did our long runs at Cempark, in the hills of Casili and Talamban, and on various city roads every Sunday,” he said. “We trained with the New Balance Running Club. This helped a lot. The program was to run for six straight Sundays, gradually increasing the distance from 15K to 35K. There were about 30 to 35 of us who participated all throughout, and I looked forward to it every weekend.” 

Waking up at 3 a.m. every Sunday was challenging.

“It was quite an investment on my time despite my busy work and family schedule especially during the holidays,” he added.

As a result of his training, Jesse lost close to 30 lbs.

Finally, when the new year dawned and the race day drew close, Jesse said he felt “confident and anxious.” He said: “I hardly slept the last two nights before the Cebu Marathon.”

January 19, 2020 arrived and Jesse fulfilled his dream.

I finished with a time of 5 hours and 13 mins. (my Garmin read 44K total distance),” said Jesse. “The final push I planned did not materialize as I felt a cramp about to happen. The salt sticks I took, given by ultra racer Julian Summers, helped. Overall, I was happy with my time.

“Finishing the race was an exhilarating experience, something I will never forget. Seeing my teammates, especially my childhood buddy Mark Tolentino, whom I coaxed to join me, crossing the line and celebrating made it rewarding for all of us. 

“Most of all, having my wife Emma, who did her first 21K, congratulate me at the finish line was the best feeling. I would love to have another opportunity to run another marathon, this time with Emma at my side.”

Jesse and Emma

Jesse shares his tips for all runners:

  1. Find friends who can do it with you. Create a chat room where you can share ideas. Seeing my teammates working hard helped motivate me. Training alone would be a lonely trip.
  2. Ask advise from others who’ve done a marathon. My neighbor and running guru Jun Angeles told me his secret of eating camote with its peeling, which I did for 3 months. It helped me gain more energy. Esteemed triathlete Noy Jopson introduced me to “Double Run” – one in the morning and another at night – two weeks before race day to gain more mileage but less pounding on your legs. I was shocked but understood the concept.
  3. Nutrition is key. After watching “Game Changers” in Netflix, Emma and I learned to eat more complex-carb food: lots of fruits, grains, seeds/nuts and veggies. We avoided fatty food and sweets and became plant-based eaters. Drink lots of water.
  4. Change your lifestyle. Avoid vices, sleep and wake up early. Sleep is your best friend.
  5. Train hard. 42K is no walk in the park. Include leg and core strengthening. Coach Allan Choachuy introduced me to his superset of 10 reps: jumping jacks, squats, push-ups and lunges, to be repeated as many times in 4 minutes. This helped me in the latter stage of the race.
  6. Being busy is no excuse. I continued training despite supervising the opening of our new restaurant – EatsaHabit in Robinsons Galleria – where construction starts at 10pm and ends at 3am. I ran at dawn, at night and in the middle of the day.
  7. Find a running buddy who has the same pace. Veteran runner Roy Trani was my mentor and pacer to the end. I couldn’t have done it without him.
  8. It’s a mental game. Train your brain to deflect pain and the urge to stop. Think of happy thoughts. Your mind will bring you to the finish line.
  9. Age doesn’t matter! It’s never too late to run a marathon. I did mine at age 50. Neither does gender. I came across women who were faster than me.
  10. If you can afford it, invest in a smartwatch. 
  11. Commit yourself wholeheartedly. What you put in is what you get. There are no shortcuts.
  12. Lastly, enjoy the whole experience, it’s once-in-a-lifetime.. or so I thought!

2020 Australian Open

Melbourne ranks as one of my favorite cities in the world. (It was voted “the world’s most liveable city” for seven years until it was toppled by Vienna in 2018.)

If you love the outdoors and you bike, you can pedal endlessly around Port Phillip Bay. If you’re a runner, this city of 5 million people has thousands of kms. of jogging paths. If you enjoy the water and rowing is your passion, you can exercise those upper-body muscles along the Yarra River, which snakes through the city. Melbourne is an exercise haven that’s heaven for fitness aficionados. 

Which brings me to the city’s grandest sporting event, the Australian Open. For two lung-busting weeks, over 800,000 spectators will visit Melbourne Park, a massive complex housing 35 courts, including the main stadium named after their best ever, Rod Laver.

Back in June 2016, my daughter Jana (who’s the team captain of the Ateneo de Manila women’s tennis squad) and I got the opportunity to rent the Show Court 3 for a full hour; we swatted forehands and smashed volleys, the sound of the yellow ball reverberating throughout the empty 3,000-seater Court No. 3. It was an experience that we’ll forever cherish.

Tomorrow’s start of 2020’s first grand slam tournament has been controversial. No, Nick Kyrgios did not slam his racket to destroy the Plexicushion surface; the controversy surrounds the recent national calamity called the bushfires — which have burned 18.6 million hectares and killed over a billion animals. The bushfires and the smoke they’ve generated have threatened the event.

“There is a lot of speculation about the Australian Open not happening, or starting later,” said tournament director Craig Tiley. “The Australian Open is happening.”

Mr. Tiley had to make that statement after receiving complaints from players related to the air quality. Earlier this week in qualifying, Dalila Jakupovic was forced to stop after succumbing to nonstop coughing brought about by the smoke. But the show will go on. 

Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic are the defending champions and favorites. The world No.1s — Ashleigh Barty and Rafa Nadal — will also be strong contenders. 

Ash Barty is popular in Australia. Only 23 years old and standing 5-foot-5, the Queensland-born star won the French Open last year. Her fellow Aussies hope she wins on home soil on Feb. 1.

Among the men, the biggest question is this: Will the “Big Three” finally be toppled in the majors? Roger Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have won the last 11 (and 54 of the last 65) majors.

My answer: Yes, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Dominic Thiem or Andrey Rublev will triumph in Melbourne, Paris, London or New York this 2020.

One name that we should all watch is Alexandra Eala. She grew up in Manila but now studies and trains at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Spain. Alex, who’s playing her first Australian Open (girls juniors category), is only 14 years old. In juniors, she’s world No. 9.

21 fun facts on the 42K

As the 2020 Cebu Marathon unfolds at dawn today and as thousands of runners pound the streets of Cebu City, here are interesting tidbits about the 42.195-km. event.

  1. The Everest Marathon is the world’s highest marathon, starting at 17,000 feet at Gorak Shep, close to the Everest Base Camp in Nepal.
  2. During the 2007 Boston Marathon, astronaut Sunita Williams ran 42K (in 4 hours and 24 minutes) while onboard the International Space Station.
  3. The world’s oldest marathoner is Fauja Singh, who finished the 2011 Toronto Marathon in 8 hours and 11 minutes. He was 100.
  4. In 1990, only 25% of road race finishers in the US were women. Now, women comprise nearly half of all finishers.
  5. In 1977, an 8-year-old (Wesley Paul) ran the NYC Marathon in 3 hours.
  6. At the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, 17 competitors ran 40K.
  7. Football freestyler John Farnworth completed the 2011 London Marathon in 12 hours and 15 minutes, juggling a football the entire distance — not dropping the ball once.
  8. It wasn’t until 1921 that 42.195 kms. became the official distance.
  9. ‘Marathon’ comes from the legend of Pheidippides. He ran from the city of Marathon to Athens to spread the word about the Persian defeat in 490 BC. After completing the run, Pheidippides collapsed and died.
  10. In the Midnight Sun Marathon, held in Tromsø, Norway, runners compete under a night time sun.
  11. The oldest female marathoner is Gladys Burrill, aged 92.
  12. The North Pole Marathon holds record for the northernmost marathon, with competitors running in temperatures of -30C.
  13. There is a “Man vs. Horse” marathon in Wales. Humans have won twice since 2004, especially on unusually hot days.
  14. At 200 meters below sea level in the Jordan Valley, the Tiberias Marathon is the lowest marathon in the world.
  15. Eliud Kipchoge holds the world record (2018 Berlin Marathon) with a time of 2:01:39. For the women, it’s Brigid Kosgei (2:14:04).
  16. The fastest average for men (in 2017) was from Ukraine. Their average marathon time: 3:51:10.
  17. The Boston Marathon, which started in 1897, is the world’s oldest annual marathon.
  18. As part of the 42K distance of the Great Wall of China Marathon, runners also climb 5,164 steps.
  19. The world’s youngest marathoner is Budhia Singh. He finished 48 marathons before his fifth birthday.
  20. The 2019 NYC Marathon owns the world record for the number of finishers: 53,627 runners.
  21. Markus Jürgens holds a world record. At the 2017 Hannover Marathon, he timed 3 hours and 38 minutes — running backwards!

 

2020 Cebu Marathon

When you utter the word “marathon,” it doesn’t mean 5K or 10K. It’s one specific distance: 42.195 kms. Why that odd number? The marathon dates back to the Greek time when a soldier named Pheidippides ran from Athens to Marathon to announce the Greek victory against the Persians. Sadly, Pheidippides died of exhaustion after running 40 kms.!

True story? Ha-ha, no; this is all a legend. 

As to why the “42.195 km.” number? This can be traced back to the 1908 London Olympics. Originally, the route was 25 miles but distance was added because, among other things, one: complaints were received that the final miles were cobbles and tram-lines and, two: that the British Royalty wanted to watch the start and finish.

Thus, for concocting this preposterous torture (the marathon), we should blame the Greeks; and for the odd 42.195 number, we ought to blame the British.

Here in Cebu this Jan. 12, 2020, over 1,200 runners will attempt to run the same 42K. (Over 1,600 will run the half-marathon.) They’ll commence at the Cebu Business Park (CBP), traverse towards the Provincial Capitol, jog to the Mambaling Underpass, return to Osmeña Blvd., dash to the Sto. Niño Church, dive into the SRP Tunnel and gallop towards the U-turn point in Il Corso, SRP, before returning to CBP. 

The starting gun will be fired at 3 a.m. and there’s a cutoff time of 7 hours. Along the way, there will be 14 stations that will be loaded with water and entertainment. 

Why, you ask, do people spend months waking up at dawn to prepare for the marathon? As one Bill Buffum once said: “The marathon is not really about the marathon, it’s about the shared struggle. And it’s not only the marathon, but the training.”

True. The actual race is the “easy” part. By easy, I don’t mean it’s effortless; I mean it’s the electrifying finale of the whole process. The most difficult times are these: the 3 a.m. alarm clock rings; the Sunday 30K long runs; the weekend sprints; the knee pains. 

As the saying goes, the marathon is hundreds of kilometers; the finish is the last 42K.

To all running the Cebu Marathon, especially to the first-timers, I salute you. It’s time to taper and rest those muscles. Like Manny Pacquiao days before his Las Vegas fight, it’s time to stop the sparring (running) and get your body relaxed for Sunday.

Carbo-load days before. Drink lots of water. Buy your energy gels. Get enough sleep. Don’t run too fast in the first 21K. (It’s often said that the first half of the marathon is up to 32K and the last half is the remaining 10K.) Best advice of all: enjoy it. Smile, take photos if you can bring your phone; high-five the volunteers; ask your friends to cheer you on. You are lucky to be among the world’s first to run a marathon this new decade.

New Year, New You

This Wednesday, we welcome not just a new year but a new decade. The “2010s” decade has passed and we unveil a brand-new 2020 to 2029 term.

What will this new 10-year era bring us? We can plan, dream and create “New Decade” Resolutions. But life has many turns and twists that we’ll never anticipate. 

My aspiration for all of you, dear readers?

For each one to embark on a pursuit of getting healthier and fitter. 

How? By making exercise a priority in your life. That’s why I’m excited for the 2020 Cebu Marathon participants. Over 1,200 will run the 42K and 1,600 the 21K (plus several hundred more for the 5K) this January 12, 2020.

To all runners in CCM: Did you know that you will be one of the first lucky people in the entire world to run a marathon this new decade? I did a quick Google search and there are only a handful of 42K runs in the first days of the new decade.

To my dear readers: This 2020 Decade, aim to run a marathon. Join an Ironman 70.3 race. Train for a Spartan race. Not interested in enlisting for an extreme-type of sport?

Pay for that full-year gym subscription. Purchase that treadmill that you’ve long-planned to acquire. Buy the most expensive sports-related equipment that you can’t afford. 

Remember: the more you spend on something, the more you will use it. 

Spend on sports and fitness.

Specialized Bikes (through AutoFocus Bike Center) has incredible deals of up to 60 percent off. Visit their Facebook page and order that road bike.

Aim to incorporate sweating into your daily routine. Like eating and showering and brushing teeth, target to brisk-walk or swim or play badminton each day. Climbing stairs to your 8th floor office building is a guaranteed way to increase your heart rate. 

Increase your heart rate. If you don’t have much time, go for a 15-minute sprint (or sprint to the top of your building stairs). Any way to force your heart rate to spike to 190 beats per minute (for a short period) is good.

Climb in the morning, climb down and up to do an errand; do the same climb for lunch and before you leave the office. Don’t take the elevator.

Walk to work. Run to work. Bike to work. 

As the author Jim Rohn once said, “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”