Less than a month to go before Challenge Philippines, so it was high time for a big training weekend on the course in Subic/Bataan. Thankfully, I didn’t have to go and organize one on my own. All I needed to do was sign up for the Next Step Triathlon Challenger Camp and just follow the sessions, and I would be set!
Camp Day 1 started with an open-water swim on Friday afternoon at Camayan Beach Resort, which I missed because I still had work in Manila. There were a lot of campers signed up for Challenge Philippines as a training race before their full ironman at Ironman Melbourne, so some practiced with wetsuits.
I planned to drive from Manila in the wee hours of Saturday morning to make it in time for Day 2’s bike out.
I wasn’t counting on my car’s rear tire blowing out on the expressway. I was trying to change the tire and had already jacked the car up, but I couldn’t get the nuts to loosen! Thankfully I hadn’t gotten too far from Manila yet, so my dad and mom came to my rescue and we swapped cars. But by then I was already an hour behind schedule.
I got to Camayan a bit over an hour since all the other campers had taken off, so I hurriedly slapped on some sunscreen, got on my bike, and pedaled away. I was so thankful this was my fourth time on the course and I knew exactly where to go and what to do. Yes, I climbed those hills alone.
route to rendezvous point
By the time I reached Anvaya, the campers had already reached the turnaround point, so I decided the best place to meet up with them was at the Morong-Bagac boundary arch, which was before a long descent.
I probably only had to wait 15 minutes before the first few campers with Coach Dan Brown ascended around the corner. It wasn’t long before Coach Ani was there as well, and so I got back on my bike and joined them en route to the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant where a pit stop had been scheduled.
It was a sizeable bunch of riders, more than 20 strong. Some of these campers were only joining the bike out, while some campers from the previous day had joined a 200-kilometer cycling race (the Audax) instead of riding the Challenge course.
I have to tell you I felt like such a veteran for having been on this course many times previously! It doesn’t mean I was fast though… After the feed stop, I rode with Coach Ani and our friend Tyrone Regaliza back into Morong Town and guided them through the Bataan Technopark area… before I got dropped. Haha!
The Challenge bike route has rough road and potholes on some descents; it’s jarring to the bones and you really need to keep both eyes on the road. Favor the center and veer slightly onto the left side of the road on the descent after Anvaya if you can; there are some gigantic potholes on the right side and tree shadows can camouflage them!
That said, it’s a beautiful course that shows off a breathtaking ocean view as you huff and puff up the first climb, then takes you past the (white elephant) Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. After the longest and most technical descent, you have a few kilometers on the flats before reaching the turnaround point, the Japanese Friendship Tower in Bagac, Bataan. In the same area is a Kilometer Zero marker commemorating where soldiers from the Philippine armed forces were made to start marching in what became known as the Bataan Death March. (This is a different KM Zero marker from the more famous one in Mariveles, Bataan.)
Another place the route passes is the Bataan Technopark (BTPI), which was formerly a refugee camp for Vietnamese fleeing the conflict in their homeland. The refugees were housed there for quite a while and built houses, a school and park, and shrines. It’s haunting and eerily quiet now.
After BTPI, there’s quite a long climb on Karaoke Hill, then a slalom downhill through tall grass.
I was still missing some 20 kilometers from my target of 90 kilometers for this ride since I hadn’t gone all the way to the turnaround, so after getting past the last climb on the official Challenge course, I rode deeper into Subic and did a loop around the airport before coming back to Camayan.
return from Bataan + loop within Subic
The whole ride, we were battling headwinds and crosswinds that hadn’t been there the first few times I’d done the recon, so I had a lot more fatigue in my legs than normal. How would that affect my run the next day? I was about to find out.
The Subic International Marathon was happening on the same morning, but I didn’t know that its route extended all the way to Camayan! As a result, I arrived just a few minutes before the run would begin. (At least I wasn’t late this time?)
We would use a small loop of the Challenge run route, about 2 kilometers long. Some of us would keep running this loop while others would run out onto the main road to clock up more kilometers. From what I recalled of that small loop when I ran it during the Subic Invitational Triathlon, it wasn’t that tough; just some gentle rollers.
I guess I remembered wrong, because the session turned into hill repeats — there’s even a 49% gradient in there somewhere! It was more beautiful in there than I remembered, though. Because I was running slower than race pace, I had time to appreciate the view.
As the kilometers clicked by, I started getting faster. And then, disaster struck as I ran downhill. I could feel a slight twinge in my right knee. Then it started building until it was a sharp pain on the outer part of my knee. I tried to jog through it for a bit, but it didn’t go away and I knew I’d done something. IT band syndrome? I hadn’t been on my foam roller in a while and had been logging a lot of hours on the bike and run. Whatever this pain was, it wasn’t normal and I didn’t want to risk doing further damage. I cut my run short at 11 kilometers and just sat and watched as everyone else completed theirs.
I didn’t feel dejected for too long; I mean, despite the flat tire incident the previous day and this knee pain, I had made it to camp. I had a clear idea of where I was in my training and what I needed to do in the last few weeks before the race to make it to the starting line healthy and fresh.
hill repeats on the Challenge run course
Race performance isn’t made from one-time, big-time massive training sessions, but from consistency in training week-in, week-out. Everything is cumulative, whether it’s the body building itself up, or breaking down (as evidenced by my knee pain).
Four-time Ironman world champion Chrissie Wellington wrote in her autobiography A Life Without Limits: “Some sessions are stars and some sessions are stones, but in the end they are all rocks and we build upon them.”
Thanks to my experience at the Next Step Triathlon Challenger Camp, I know I will be ready on race day on February 22.