Tabal finds joy in running battle with Natthaya

Mary Joy Tabal had finished second to Natthaya Thanaronnawat in the women's marathon at the 2015 SEA Games.

But after losing the gold medal to the latter in Singapore, the Filipina has since gone on to defeat the Thai on two occasions - at last year's Olympics and during the August SEA Games, where she dethroned Natthaya to win the marathon title.

The 28-year-old Tabal hopes to beat Natthaya for the second time this year at tomorrow's Great Eastern Women's Run (GEWR), where both will compete in the elite category of the 21.1km race.

She told The Straits Times from her training base in Siena, Italy: "When Natthaya won the gold medal in 2015, I told myself that I wanted to beat her the next time we raced. I actually did it at the Rio Olympics last year, but I wasn't happy with my own performance.

"It would be good to see a familiar face in the race on Sunday and this would be the first time I'm racing her in the half-marathon, so hopefully I can beat her again."

Tabal placed 124th in the marathon at last year's Rio Games, six spots ahead of Natthaya. The latter, 38, told ST yesterday that she is proud to have been Tabal's "target".

"It's normal for every athlete to have a competitor she wants to defeat at every competition," said Natthaya, a bronze medallist at this year's Kuala Lumpur SEA Games.

"I'm proud that Mary Joy had (beating) me as part of her goal, and that I've motivated her to improve her performance and result."

The Lamphun resident is not seeking revenge tomorrow, as she knows age is catching up with her.

Natthaya, who is gunning for a top-five finish and a time faster than 11/2 hours, added: "My plan is not just to run or beat Mary Joy, but also to inspire the younger runners in Thailand. I hope they are also inspired by great champions like Mary Joy to train not just in Asean, but perhaps also in Europe."

Tabal, who has been in Italy for a month, is gearing up for next year's Asian Games. She will also compete in a full marathon next month and intends to use the GEWR as a gauge of her current standard.

While she is aiming to lower her personal best of 1hr 16min 29sec tomorrow, she is also out to enjoy the event. "I always look forward to doing that race every year," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2017, with the headline 'Tabal finds joy in running battle with Natthaya'. Print Edition | Subscribe