A marathon enthusiast from Bacolod City outpaced 46 other contenders at Italy's Ultramaratona Milano Sanremo last April 22 to 24, finishing the 285 km race in 38.5 hours.
Silver-medalist Rolando Espina is the only Filipino top runner to participate at the longest ultramarathon in Europe, which ran through three Italian regions, 12 provinces and 54 municipalities.
A supporter of presidential candidate and Vice President Leni Robredo, the 49-year-old Dublin-based ICU nurse geared up in bright pink socks from his first stride at the famed Duomo cathedral in the south of Milan and finished second at Italy’s City of Flowers, Sanremo finish line.
“I'm a dual Filipino and Irish passport holder. I wore pink socks in support of Leni. I'm not big into politics, but as a Filipino citizen, I believe she is the best candidate for the highest position of the Philippine government,” said the endurance athlete.
He sang the Philippine national anthem during the awarding ceremony, which for him was the ultimate reward as this was the first time it was ever done at the reputable annual international running event.
Espina had suffered from severe COVID symptoms in August 2021 but managed to maintain his fitness level, finishing a spartathlon in Greece, a 24-hour ultramarathon in Barcelona, and a marathon in Rome.
“I didn't have any specific training plan for this race. I just made sure I stayed fit and injury-free before the event," he said.
Used to the erratic Irish weather, Espina braved the tumultuous shifts of warm to rainy with hailstorms, thunder, and wind chills in Italy.
The total running time of 38 hours and 27 minutes included a 3-hour break for food, short naps, a change of clothes, and getting lost, which is normal in any long-distance run.
Espina started running in mid-2009 when he got injured playing basketball and gained so much weight and was diagnosed with hypertension and elevated blood sugar.
“I got into running mainly to lose weight but then realized that I have the potential to excel in the field of ultrarunning as an amateur athlete," he said.
Prized with a shirt, medal, flowers, and trophy, Espina has been living in Dublin with his wife Merci since 2001 and has three children Danie, Bianca, and Marc. He is a member of Endurance Pinoy Irish Club (EPIC), Dublin Bay Running Club (DBRC), and PULSE Triathlon Club.
“Ultrarunning is getting more and more popular to Filipinos across the globe. My advice to Filipino runners is to enjoy the sport. Start slowly and gradually and listen to your body,” Espina said.
"It doesn't matter if you run one kilometer or 100 kilometers, it's the health benefits that you get from it that matter the most.