Death comes like a thief of the night.
Today, Death delivered its coup de grâce to one of my very good running friends. I couldn’t say if he were prepared for it while battling with multiple pains for almost half a year, but I could speak for myself. I was not prepared.
How could I ready myself for the demise of someone who was full of life the last time I ran with him? How could I brace myself for his leaving so soon if his words carried so much optimism?
You did catch me off-guard, Ernesto “Ernie” Venancio P. Badong aka our own Bicolano Tony Montana… our smile bringer.
I met Ernie on August 28, 2011 through Vicboy De Lima. He was with another 83nean, Ed Balcueva. That day the four of us joined the 21-k Earth Run Manila in BGC (Bonifacio Global City), Taguig. A natural conversationalist, he blocked any awkward silence during the first encounter. From then on, he partly became a running adviser, on-call pacer, and cheerleader in our infrequent training and registered runs.
August 24, 2013 I did my first ultramarathon and he was one of those who willingly assisted me to cross the finish line.
His high-spirited personality was a gratis energy food which helped me survive the grueling 50-k distance. Having him on the same road turned the ordeal surprisingly sweet. He was a blessing!
I bet those who know Ernie would agree if I say that he’s a certified mamaw, having run the most difficult races in the country. His discipline, determination, and mental fortitude were the traits which I tried so hard to also develop. However, I could never replicate his smart training methods for each ultramarathon that he joins. Admittedly, he’s one of those hardcore runners whom I looked up to as my idol when I ambitiously eyed a longer mileage. Yet, with his impressive record of ultramarathons, he remained self-effacing. Pay him a barrage of compliments, and he’d look shy (or blush?) in front of you.
Receiving the sad news from Vicboy this morning led me to this coping mechanism — writing. As I keyed in the words, I wanted the varied raw emotions to shamelessly flow while reminiscing my own story about Ernie.
I’ve realized that from my first 50-k down to my first 80-k ultramarathon, he was a part of it. Together with the other active 83nean runners, Ernie unselfishly paid it forward.
Hence, when I fulfilled my ultimate dream in 2018, the Running Men for Others joined the list of people whom I became grateful to because of their inspiration.
With the realization of my topmost ambition, it was Ernie whom I comprehensively informed how I got into the New York City Marathon (NYCM) 2018. I found out, we had the same final runner’s goal. Along with this discovery was a confirmation that we’re both musical theatre fanatics! I became more excited for him once he set foot in Broadway.
February 2019, Ernie began the pursuit of his greatest dream. Everything went smoothly and quickly. His Blue Fairy granted what he wished for. It was destined to happen.
September 2019, I was lucky to reunite with my sole brothers for an easy run in UP, Diliman after more than three years. Thankfully, Ernie made it despite not feeling well because of a slight toothache. Team complete, a memorable reunion with Ed, Vicboy, Ernie, and Orly ensued.
For the whole duration of the run, Ernie and I were running side by side. It gave me the chance to personally express my happiness for the much awaited fulfillment of his dream and share some tips and highlights of my own experience. Likewise, I extended my advance congratulations since I didn’t have an iota of doubt that he wouldn’t make it.
When we parted ways, we hoped for another run prior to his trip. It did not materialize.
So, a day before his flight to USA, I sent him this good luck message which encapsulated my journey with him…
… and this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUrUfJW1JGk
Then, everything became a milestone for Ernie. He did not only take a bite of the Big Apple; he almost “ate” the whole of it as he spent the best days of his life after conquering NYCM 2019.
Ernie, I have actually waited for a post-NYCM 2019 celebratory run with the “gang” and you. But I guess, the Lord has already prepared a very special and exclusive race route, befitting an ultramarathon maestro.
At this moment, we your friends are grieving. However, do not worry. We’re starting to find solace in each other for you are now completely liberated from physical pain and suffering. As we all face this profound melancholic longing, please be our constant pacer to overcome it.
Please watch over your loved ones incessantly amid uncertainties due to the pandemic. I will earnestly pray for them too so that the beautiful memories you’ve left behind as a son, brother, husband, and father will be their source of hope and strength.
Run wild and free, Ernie! Make sure to wait for us with your irresistible bright smile at the finish line as we do our respective race to paradise.
Most of the photos are grabbed from Ernesto Venancio Badong’s FB account.