Dubai-based Filipino to run in the ‘toughest foot race on earth’

Dubai-based Filipino to run in the ‘toughest foot race on earth’

Yuri Cipriano says he is running in Sahara ultra-marathon to raise funds for cancer patients

Dubai: A Dubai-based Filipino safety engineer is embarking on the “toughest foot race on Earth” in Morocco beginning on Sunday not for personal gain but to celebrate the life of a running mate who died battling cancer and raise funds for cancer patients.

Yuri Cipriano, 40, will run his first Marathon des Sables (MdS), a six-day multi-stage ultra-marathon, in one of the world’s most inhospitable environments — the Sahara Desert.

The self-sufficiency race, where participants must carry their own backpacks containing food, sleeping gear and other material all throughout, will cover 257km. This is twice the distance between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

A passionate long-distance runner, Cipriano said he found out about the race in February last year from her Russian running coach, Natalia Sedykh, who dominated the MdS women’s race in 2016.

“Back then, I already wanted to join. But I didn’t want to participate in MdS just for the sake of participating. I needed an awe-inspiring reason to do it. I wanted others to benefit in the process,” Cipriano, also a published poet, told Gulf News.

He then asked his long-time friend Amor Bautista-Baylosis, and her husband, Budo, to join the race with him so they could run as a team. Both had been his constant companions in run-for-a-cause campaigns in the past, including running to raise funds for distressed workers in the Philippine labour office and two cancer patients.

Finding the cause

Although the couple declined, Cipriano kept the thought in mind.

By September 2016, Amor was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), a type of cancer where the bone marrow makes too many lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell.

Cipriano said it was then that he found the reason he was looking for.

“Amor’s treatment was covered by insurance. But she shared with me stories of fellow Filipinos who have cancer but don’t have the means to get treated. While listening to her and seeing her battle cancer, I knew then why I would join MdS — to run for cancer patients and raise funds for their treatment.”

Not long after, Amor passed away in January. But her memories lived on as Cipriano and his other running mates formed Running With Cancer, a volunteer organisation that continued her advocacy to connect caring and concerned individuals to cancer patients who need care, financial assistance and advice.

The organisation then linked with the Sharjah-based non-government organisation Friends of Cancer Patients that gives holistic support, including financial assistance, to cancer patients.

Cipriano is funding his own trip in partnership with his company Arabian Gulf Switchgear. He is raising Dh50,000 through Just Giving that will go directly to FoCP. The funds raised remained at 5 per cent of his target amount before he started his race, but he never let this get him down.

Cipriano said he trained for MdS from September until December by running 10km every day in the sand dune areas in their neighbourhood.

Tough conditions

He also joined several races in January and March as a lead-up to the April “race to hell” in the Sahara. But an injury and a two-week flu threw him off his training schedule in March.

“My fear is not to be able to finish the race because I wasn’t able to train properly because of my injury and because I fell ill. But I’m here already, there’s no turning back.

“It’s hard to prepare mentally because I don’t know what to expect. In races like this, the biggest enemy is yourself. But I watched videos of past MdS so I could somehow have an idea what could happen and know how to address it.”

Cipriano said his biggest worry is overcoming heat stress as the mercury in the desert could go up to 50 degree Celsius, although the published expected temperature is 30C.

If successful, Cipriano will be the first Filipino male to finish the race.

Cipriano will be joined in the race by 19 other UAE residents, mainly Britons. A total of 1,300 French and foreign participants will tackle the all-terrain route divided into six stages.

Weeping runner

Communal tents will be pitched every night for the runners. Water is rationed and anything in excess of the allowed amount will mean a time penalty.

Also known as the weeping runner, Cipriano feels the weight of the challenge ahead in what he calls “the loneliest sport I know”. He admitted to crying while running in most races as the sport gives him so much time for reflection.

“Long-distance running is like weeping with people going through difficulties in life, including those battling illnesses. It is my way of connecting with them — by weeping, with the thought that I am somehow one with them in the pain they’re going through.

“Long-distance running keeps me grounded, makes me humble and able to share the burden of others out of love. This is what I would like to inspire among other Filipino runners here in Dubai — to pursue their passion while making a difference in other people’s lives.”