When the star of “The King and I,” Leo Valdez, takes off his shirt and bares his chest to whip a slave girl, he’ll be showing off his 29-inch waistline and a lean runner’s body.
“Running is a huge part of my lifestyle. My social life can take a backseat so that I have the stamina for the work with all the dancing and running onstage. When I’m training for a marathon, I’d come to party in my running gear. I won’t stay long—leave after 10 p.m., then run,” says Valdez.
His favorite time is when the city is asleep, like 1:30 a.m., and he does trail runs between Makati and Taguig. Aside from having the street all to himself, with no cars and people, he doesn’t need sunblock, and the weather is cooler.
Valdez recalls that in Pontevedra, Negros Occidental, he would cut through the Cojuangco hacienda and pass over a haunted bridge. One midnight, he challenged himself. Although he felt the chilly air, he crossed it. “Although it was pitch dark, nothing happened,” he says with a chuckle.
Friends said he was gutsy. No, it was acting.
In the past few months, Valdez has been ensconced in a pied-à-terre in the city in preparation for the title role in “The King and I.”
He gave up his computer and television to concentrate on his part.
To fit running into his schedule, he would sleep at midnight, wake up at 3 a.m. and run for 10 km, sleep in the morning then go to rehearsals in the afternoon. On weekends, he would build his stamina by running 20-30 km.
Valdez’s passion for running began in the ’80s, when he starred in the musical “Magsimula Ka” and got more job offers. Successful and focused, he felt he had mastered every aspect of his life except for one territory—his body. He challenged himself to shape up through an endurance sport.
In the ’80s, his personal best in marathons was 4:25.
After playing the Engineer (“Miss Saigon”) abroad for a long time, he decided to take it easy and concentrate on being an endurance athlete. Since he resumed serious training three years ago, Valdez has joined three full marathons.
The Subic International Marathon was his biggest challenge. Before the event, Valdez was told that the course was mostly downhill. When he joined the run, he realized that it was uphill and downhill.
“From the Floridablanca exit, you go the way of the mountains of Zambales and Subic. It’s like ‘Climb Every Mountain.’ My mind would say ‘OMG, look at the incline!’ When I started, I’d say, ‘Thank you, Lord, for a wonderful race. After 15 km, it was ‘Thank you, Lord, I’m having a great time. At the 30th km, I was still saying, ‘Thank you, I’m holding up well.’ For others, after 30 km, the legs usually feel like rubber. In the last 4 km, I felt a twitch in my leg. I cried, ‘Lord help!’” he recalls with a laugh. Still, he made it in five hours.
In the past two Condura marathons, his record was sub-5.
“No full marathon this year, but I’ve joined most of the big local races and always in the longest leg, the 21k half-marathon distance,” he says.
Valdez attributes his success to mind power. Even when he’s tired, he psyches himself up that he can still run the extra mile. That attitude is also reflected in his work.
“Running is like a statement for life. If you prepare, it will be easy. Pile on the mileage. The training coach, John Lozada, holds drills so that my muscles are well-conditioned. Distance is not a problem. Speed has been my downside. I’m not fast, but I can run like a diesel engine. I don’t overtake.”
In training, the pacer tells Valdez if he is slowing down or tells him to maintain his speed. Still, the singer’s self-discipline and drive are more than enough to push him to his limits.
Asked what’s on his mind when he’s running, Valdez replies, “Nothing.” It’s like Zen and the art of running.
Sometimes he pits mind against muscle by reviewing his songs. Once, while running in Pontevedra, he sang at the top of his voice. “Then I heard dogs barking.”
Although running seems repetitive, Valdez doesn’t get bored because the sport brings contentment.
“I’ve achieved something. When I reach the top of the hill, I see a nice view. It’s one of the best things I’ve done for myself.”
The sport requires a controlled diet. “I avoid salty foods and eat a low-fat diet. I avoid tasty and delicious food without depriving myself. I’ll have a grilled salmon. I like sinigang with kangkong, kamote alugbati, saluyot and feel good about getting all the nutrients. When I’m hungry, I’ll have a cereal, skim milk, raisins and banana.”
When Valdez flew to Hong Kong to perform in a private party, he eschewed the eight-course dinner which included truffles, Wagyu beef and champagne.
As a result of his discipline, he’s down to size 36 from size 38. “My suits are hanging loose. I never thought it would come to this. But, I’m trim and healthy.”
After the musical run, Valdez hopes to prepare for the Condura Marathon next year.
“It’s very organized. The water stations are a mile long so we don’t need to elbow each other. The marshals clear the road. You run up the Skyway and the overpasses, which feel as if you’re running uphill. It’s not daunting if you’re used to it.”
At his age (“I’m over 39”), the still-youthful Valdez doesn’t allow anybody to define his limits. “I’m more fit than ever. This is my second wind.”