She has done nine international marathons and close to 70 triathlons and running races—simply too many, she has lost count.
Ting Joson is turning 59 in June and is fresh from completing all six Abbott World Marathon Majors, her last being the Boston Marathon, which concluded just two weeks ago. It was certainly no mean feat. What makes her story even more compelling is how she turned her life around from alcohol dependency.
“For a long time, I didn’t like sharing that part of my story because my daughter was so young then,” Joson told Lifestyle. She also feared that her daughter, Isabella, would get bullied in school.
“But now she’s of age to understand that people go through mistakes.” Boo, as her daughter is fondly called, is now 19, a freshman at University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman (where Joson is also an alumnus) and competes for the State University’s varsity swim team.
“I would always share it with my students because, for all you know, some of them may be going through the same thing and are just embarrassed to ask for help, or in denial, like me back then.” The students she refers to are those who take her ride classes at Saddle Row, the indoor cycling and rowing studio at Power Plant Mall.
In 2007, Joson was treated for alcohol dependence. She was in denial at first, and thought of herself as a fully functioning alcoholic. “I was even proud of that back then, because I could wake up to do a 6 a.m. yoga class and be at work by 8.”
She had a full-time job as the first vice president of a major bank at the time.
But then, she would turn to alcohol every day after work. While driving home from the office, she would call their yaya and after asking about Boo, Joson’s next question would be, “Meron ba ‘kong malamig na beer? Kung wala, bumili ka na, ilagay mo na sa freezer.”
Joson recalled how she would down five bottles of beer or an entire bottle of wine a night. She would find excuses to drink, and she had no problem drinking just by herself. She didn’t need a party. She even met a lot of bar owners because she had become a regular.
She knew she needed help when Boo, then 3 years old, would bring her mom a bottle of beer as soon as she got home. “Pag-uwi ko ng bahay hindi na tsinelas yung inaabot niya sa akin, beer na. Kasi alam na niyang ‘yun ang unang hahanapin ko after I see her,” Joson recalled.
The last straw was when Boo got hold of a pair of scissors and gave herself a haircut while Joson was passed out drunk. “Can you imagine?” Joson said. “Buti she didn’t hurt herself. I had to bring her to a salon the next day to fix her hair.”
“At some point, you would know that it’s not leisurely drinking.”
She searched for a psychiatrist with whom she had sessions every two weeks and who put her on antidepressants. Since alcohol dependency is an addiction, Joson’s doctor advised her to find something positive to get addicted to. “So I had to find something that I could focus on, and I started running.”
She started with 5-kilometer long distances.
“My first 5K race took me 48 minutes to finish. I was like, ‘Oh my God ang bagal nito,’” she recalled, laughing. “Yes it was my first, to be fair, and I didn’t have a coach so I didn’t know how to run properly. But I knew it was also because I was smoking.”
She quit cigarettes cold turkey.
“Before that I had tried so many times, from two packs a day to one pack, a little at a time, but they never worked. Until finally I just threw away my cigarettes and never went back since.”
She would run every weekend at UP. “Runrio then was already doing races in UP. He had this small table in one of the kiosks in front of the Faculty Center. You’d fill out a form—it was by hand, nothing online, unlike now. And then you’d be handed a bib, the timing was done manually, the timers would have a stopwatch. That was every Sunday and I’d join each time,” she reminisced.
After six months, Joson got injured. Her doctor then suggested that she try biking instead, just so she could have a cardio workout. She borrowed a bike. She would also swim every now and then.
Not long after, she chanced upon a poster for a triathlon race in Alabang and signed up.
“There I met someone who had a coach in triathlon and I also started to train seriously,” she said. “Bumili na rin ako ng bike, hindi na borrowed ang gamit ko.”
Going into running sparked her competitive nature and she wanted to push herself to do better. In 2010, she started focusing on doing marathons.
Responsibility to yourself
“When I did the New York Marathon, I just wanted to do it because I had heard a lot of nice things about it, how it’s such a nice race,” Joson recalled. “It’s true. It was like a 42K street party, it was so much fun, ang galing ng spectator support.”
She initially thought that it was a “one-and-done thing,” especially since she fractured her metatarsal bones on both feet after running two marathons that year. She stopped running full marathons for six years, and turned her attention to doing triathlons. During that period, she did two iron-distance races. It has also become her intention to empower more women, especially moms, to be active and work out.
“It’s really about making sure that, even if you have children, you have to find time and you really have to commit,” said Joson. “Because at the end of the day, you’re doing it to make sure that you live long enough to take care of your children. You also have a responsibility to take care of yourself.”
Even Joson’s mom, who’s 82, is still very active. “She would watch 20- to 30-minute dance workout videos on YouTube and follow them.”
Her mom also has an indoor bike, and would walk around the village almost every day.
Having a family is not an excuse to not work out. “In fact, all the more it becomes compelling for you to do so.”
In 2016, Joson thought of giving full marathons another chance so she joined the lottery for the Chicago Marathon. She got a slot and took it as a sign that she was meant to get another Abbott World Marathon star.
“And tuloy-tuloy na,” she said with a chuckle. She got to run in the Berlin Marathon the following year as well as in London in 2018 and Tokyo in 2019.
In the run up to her sixth, and final, star, the Boston Marathon, Joson decided to run for Running for Rare, a charity program in which runners help raise awareness for rare diseases as well as funds for research related to rare disorders.
Running 42 km is no piece of cake. We asked her, what do you tell yourself when it gets so hard and you want to quit?
“When I was in Boston, at the back of mind I was like, ‘Oh my God, if I don’t finish it, a lot of people are rooting for me, hindi ako puwedeng umuwi na walang medal!’ she said in between laughs.
“At some point, you’re not just doing it for yourself. You inspire, you motivate people like I do, so I cannot go home and not finish this, kasi anong klaseng inspiration ako?”
After completing her six stars, Joson said she’s retiring from running full marathons.
“I will continue to run 10K, 5K but I told myself I will not run a marathon anymore,” she said. “Except when my daughter’s ready to run a marathon.” Boo has made plans with her mom to run a marathon after she’s done with college.
“One of our dreams is, we want to do the New York Marathon together.”