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In the realm of marathon running, one name shines brightly amidst the sea of athletes: Mary Joy Tabal, a force to be reckoned with from the Philippines.

From being the first Filipina Olympic Qualifier in the Women’s Marathon to holding the national record and clinching gold at the 2017 SEA Games, Mary’s accomplishments speak volumes about her dedication and skill.

But Mary’s journey is not solely defined by her athletic prowess. As a mother, she takes on the remarkable feat of juggling motherhood and marathon running. Despite the demands of raising a child, Mary remains steadfast in her pursuit of running.

Driven by a cause close to her heart, Mary uses her participation in marathons as a platform to raise funds. With every stride she takes, she channels her passion for running into meaningful contributions to society. Her races are not merely about personal achievement but about making a tangible difference in the lives of others.

As the 2023 Kuala Lumpur Standard Chartered Marathon approaches, the spotlight once again falls on Mary Joy. With her indomitable spirit and unyielding determination, she stands poised to not only participate but to seize victory.

In this extraordinary journey of Mary Joy Tabal, join us as we witness the fusion of athleticism and compassion, of motherhood and marathon running.

Can you share your experience of balancing motherhood and being a marathon runner? How do you manage to juggle both roles effectively?

Balancing motherhood and being a marathon runner can be a challenging but rewarding experience for a woman who has recently given birth and aims to train for a marathon. For me, factors include:

Balancing the demands of motherhood and marathon training requires effective time management. I would need to allocate dedicated time slots for training sessions while also ensuring I spend quality time with my daughter.

I may rely on my partner but since his also working, I do have other family members to assist with childcare during training sessions or even participate in childcare responsibilities.

Taking care of my mental and emotional well-being is essential. Engaging in activities that promote relaxation, stress management, and self-care is important for my overall well-being. This could involve practising mindfulness, seeking support from other mothers who are also athletes, or engaging in activities outside of running that brings me joy and fulfilment.

Effective communication with my partner, family, and support system is crucial. I should openly discuss my goals, challenges, and needs, ensuring that everyone is on the same page and understands the demands I face. This enables me to provide the necessary support and understanding while promoting a harmonious balance between my roles as a mother and a marathon runner.

It’s important for me to set realistic expectations for myself, considering the physical changes and demands of motherhood. I may need to adjust my training intensity, duration, or overall goals to accommodate the postpartum recovery period and the responsibilities of caring for a child. This ensures that I don’t push myself beyond reasonable limits and prioritizes my own health and well-being.

Ultimately, finding the right balance between motherhood and being a marathon runner is a highly individualized process. It requires adaptability, self-care, effective time management, and a strong support system. By embracing these strategies and adjusting my approach as needed, I can navigate the challenges and experiences of balancing both roles effectively.

How has your training approach evolved since becoming a mother, considering the physical changes and demands of motherhood?

Gradual Return to Training: Given the physical changes and recovery process after childbirth, my training approach would involve a gradual return to training. Based on my coach, I would start with low-impact exercises, such as gentle jogging, and gradually increase intensity and duration over time. This approach allows the body to rebuild strength, regain endurance, and minimize the risk of injury.

Cross-Training and Functional Exercises: To complement my running training, I include cross-training activities such as swimming, cycling, or strength training. These activities can help improve overall fitness, build strength in different muscle groups, and reduce the risk of overuse injuries. Functional exercises, which mimic movements used in daily life, can also be beneficial for improving stability, balance, and overall body strength.

Time-Efficient Workouts: With the demands of motherhood, time efficiency becomes essential. I may focus on shorter, higher-intensity workouts or interval training to make the most of limited training time. These workouts can help improve cardiovascular fitness, build endurance, and enhance running performance while fitting into my busy schedule.

As a role model for mother-athletes, what advice do you have for those who are trying to maintain their fitness while raising children?

Set realistic goals: Understand that your fitness routine may need to be adjusted after having a child. It’s important to set realistic goals that accommodate the demands of motherhood. Be patient with yourself and remember that progress takes time.

Prioritize self-care: As a mother, it’s easy to put your needs last. However, it’s crucial to prioritize self-care and make time for your fitness routine. This may involve asking for support from your partner, family, or friends to help with childcare, so you can have dedicated time for exercise.

Seek a support system: Surround yourself with like-minded individuals who understand the challenges and rewards of being a mother-athlete. Join local fitness groups, and online communities, or find workout buddies who can offer support, motivation, and share experiences.

Practice time management: Efficient time management skills become even more important when you’re a mother-athlete. Plan your workouts in advance, utilize any available pockets of time, and make the most of short, focused training sessions. Prioritize activities that align with your goals and give you the best results in the limited time you have.

Can you tell us about your decision to run a full marathon at the 2023 Kuala Lumpur Standard Chartered Marathon this year to raise funds? Why is it important to you?

Running a half marathon to raise funds can be a meaningful and impactful decision for several reasons. Here are some potential motivations :

Running a marathon to raise funds allows me to do and combine my passion for running with a desire to make a positive impact in the world. By choosing a cause or charity close to my heart, this marathon journey as an opportunity to raise awareness and funds is a worthy cause. This way, I contribute to a greater purpose and help those in need.

Also, fundraising purposes often involve engaging with the community. This involvement brings people together and creates a sense of camaraderie, and strengthens community bonds. We can then raise awareness about a particular issue or cause. The marathon/running becomes a symbol of our commitment and dedication to a cause, attracting attention and inspiring others to get involved.

Apart from running for a cause, what are your personal goals in the race?

The decision to run a half marathon to raise funds is a deeply personal one, driven by a combination of personal motivation, philanthropic spirit, and a desire to create positive change. It allows us to combine my passion for running with my commitment to making a difference, and in doing so, we inspire others to join their cause and create a better world.

In addition, as an athlete who pursues performance and breaks the boundaries when the community says “You are already a mom”, some also think that at this age, it’s already retirement for us. No, as you can see world-class athletes perform well at any age as long as with constant training.

Being the first Filipina Olympic Qualifier in the Women’s Marathon, the Philippines’ national record holder in the marathon, and the 2017 SEA Games gold medalist, what are your future goals as an elite runner? How do you embrace these roles and use your platform to empower and motivate others?

To continue pushing my own limits and striving for new milestones in my athletic career. This would involve setting new personal bests, competing at prestigious international events, and aiming for more podium finishers. By constantly challenging myself, I would inspire others to dream big and pursue their goals relentlessly.

Next is that I would like to embrace the role of a mentor and coach for aspiring athletes. I would actively seek opportunities to share my knowledge, training techniques, and experiences with young runners, helping them develop their skills, overcome challenges, and achieve their potential. By empowering the next generation of athletes, I would contribute to the growth of the sport and foster a supportive community.

As a female athlete also, I would be passionate about advocating for gender equality in sports. I would use my platform to raise awareness about the challenges faced by women in athletics and promote opportunities for their participation and recognition. By sharing my journey and highlighting the importance of gender inclusivity, I would inspire young girls and women to pursue their athletic aspirations fearlessly.

As a mother, I would also uphold my grassroots advocacy, building programs for children that would bring passion for them not just in running but throughout sports as well. To find their passion for what they would do and maintain a healthy active lifestyle that will bring them to be a better person.

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