July 2, 2011
Merlita Arias Dunkin would be the first to admit she’s not the fastest runner on paved roads. In fact Merlita very seldom emerges as one of the top three podium finishers in local road races. In the Cebu City Marathon last January, Merlita only placed seventh in the women’s category.
But, Merlita will race anyone, man or woman, on a trail course anytime. At the TNF Thrill of the Trail in Danao, Bohol, I’ve had the chance to watch Merlita run on her specialty course, and I can tell you she hardly ever runs. Instead, she glides, skips and hops gracefully, while everyone else fumbles through the mud, rock and river crossings. While everyone else looks clumsy, Merlita makes trail running look easy.
|Photo credit: J. Robles|
Last Sunday, Merlita was the fastest woman in the TNF 100 in Camarines Sur, a grueling 100-kilometer trail ultra marathon, clocking 15:52:36.
The 37-year-old Cebuana out-classed last year’s TNF 100 Baguio champion Helen Tacling (17:15.39) and Army Private Ellen Tolentino (17:41.29).
But victory did not come easy for this gritty runner/warrior. Merlita navigated her way through a mix of mud trail, river crossings, jungle trek while fighting off dehydration, torn toe nails and blisters. In graphic detail, Merlita narrates how she struggled towards the finish line after running more than 90 kilometers of the punishing trail course.
|Merlita Dunkin at the Kota Kinabalu Climbathon , Photos by Eng Tiong|
"I experienced what you posted on your blog. My body won’t take anymore food after running or reaching 90 Kilometers. Oh my God, my mouth could not feel [anything]. I vomited even after taking in just water. My toe nail was falling-off already [and I had] bloody toe. But I’m still happy I made it 15hr plus. I cannot believe it. God gave me the strength and power to finish. "
|Marathon Foodie & Merlita Dunkin at the TNF Thrill of the Trail - Bohol|
Years back, this tough Cebuana ran the 42K Milo Marathon even while six-months pregnant, just so she could support her family with the prize money. Today, she no longer has to run for money, but she still has the same go-for-broke passion for the sport. “Running is my religion”, she says.
Just this April, Merlita displayed true grit in the Mayon 360-50-Mile Run for Climate in Legazpi City, Albay. Merlita ran the last 7 kilometers of the 80-kilometer ultra race course despite full blown cramps, and still emerged as the fastest woman in 8:13:10, outshining Kenyan Peris Poywo (8:21:09).
Merlita has her eyes next on TNF 100 Japan this November 6. She hopes to win a few more local races so she can finance her trip and compete with the best ultra marathoners in East Asia.