I didn’t know how quickly I’d recover after Challenge Philippines, so on purpose I didn’t plan on racing anything in the weeks after it. But because many members of Team ENDURE were signed up, and because my best guy bud Joel was in town and doing the race, I ended up doing the Ateneo Aquathlon.
Every year, the Ateneo Aquathlon always manages to pull in a sizeable number of participants not just from the adiks in the Philippine multisport community, but also from the larger fitness community. This year was no exception: I saw some people from the gyms I work at and I never knew they had an interest in multisport. I guess that as your fitness grows, you start looking for different challenges (which is exactly my life story).
Because this is an aquathlon with the swim leg held in a 25-meter pool, the wave starts for each age group needed to be spaced out. As a result, the wave for my age group started out at 9:25am! I didn’t mind waiting though, as this was time for my teammates and I to socialize and bond. It was also great to observe other tri teams and would-be multisport enthusiasts. I got grilled on the Philippine triathlon scene during Challenge Philippines weekend by Macca and Jurgen Zack, and I told them that it was growing. Small races like this with growing newbie numbers only confirm my observations.
After last year’s Ironman 70.3 Philippines it took a while for me to want to do any sort of racing again. I expected to be the same after Challenge Philippines — but I wasn’t! As my wave of women aged 30-35 finally made our way down to set up our running things in the transition area, I felt that familiar buzz of excitement and nerves fill me, and I was raring to go.
We got in the water, which was refreshingly cold, and then we were sent off! I started in the front of the group, which is actually the best position to be in if you’re not a super slow swimmer but want to conserve some energy. Why? I learned this from Macca at camp:
You don’t get caught in the fray, the stronger swimmers will swim ahead of you and you can draft off their feet and their hips. That’s exactly what I did. As two faster ladies shot ahead of me at the gun start, I started tailing one of them and found that it was a pace I could comfortably sustain without burning myself out.
Between the 2012 edition and this one, I’d gotten coached on my swim, so I knew my time would definitely improve. Instead of trying to run down the leaders from the back of the pack, I hoped I would be on the pointy end from the very start.
The lane ropes had been laid out so that we could do 8 snaking laps across the pool, then get out and do that two more times to complete 600 meters. After the final lap I flit right into the transition area, clipped on my race belt with the bib number, slid my feet into my Mizuno Wave Sayonaras (no socks!), and just grabbed my visor and sunglasses. I’d put them on as I ran.
I’d set my watch wrong, so as I started my run I had absolutely no idea how fast I was going over what distance. But someone from the side of the road yelled, “You can catch her!” There was only one other woman ahead of me, and I was on the hunt.
The Ateneo Aquathlon route is so tough because after you come out of the swim, you have to run up this steep hill. It was there I made my move; completely disregarding any even-pacing or negative-split strategy I may have had, I sprinted up and past the woman who had been first out of the water, and kept up this breakneck pace to put some distance between us. (During that sprint I dropped the Gu gel I’d been planning to take, but couldn’t go back for it.) When you’re battling for position especially in a short race such as this, you can either wait and make your move near the end, or you can try to stamp your dominance early on and just hope you have enough to hold on to the lead until the finish line.
She didn’t come with me on that surge, but I was always running scared that she would have a nasty finishing kick — or that my body would still be fatigued from the previous week’s exertions and I would fade badly.
That road surface is hard; it’s concrete covered with asphalt and it just hurt to run on it. The route was also full of false flats. The time was also close to 10am, so the air was hot and my mouth got dry between aid stations. Only just a little bit more…
I burst across the finish line happy to take the age group win.
I’m proud of my teammates as well. Kira Ang took 3rd in her age group, while Joel got 2nd in his age group. We also had two teammates, Gerard and John, who were within striking distance of the podium in their age groups. Good job, team! What a great start to 2014.
I also want to congratulate my swim coach Noy Basa for clinching the 2nd place in his age group with a strong swim and run.
I find it amazing that these kids (yes, the organizers of the Ateneo Aquathlon are just students!) are able to pull off this race year after year. Sure there are some hiccups, but overall it leaves huge smiles on the faces of all who participate. I know why: it’s accessible, it’s affordable, it’s challenging yet doable.
I know I came away smiling. :)