My first open-water triathlon was at the National Age Group Triathlon in Subic in 2011. I competed over the minisprint distance having no open-water experience whatsoever, panicked and backstroked to finish the swim, then recovered enough to overtake others on the bike (wearing running shoes!) except for the eventual first-placer, who I ran out of kilometers to overtake on the run.
So it always felt like a homecoming of sorts to do the National Age Group Triathlon Subic last Sunday. Open water holds far less anxiety for me now, I think I’ve become a better cyclist, and my run has become a better tool to take me home safely. It was nice to see how much I’d grown as a triathlete, and also how much the sport has grown since 2011.
Granted, nobody at this race was at peak condition (except maybe for the elite triathletes like Monica Torres, who showed up in old school swim gear but still whipped everyone). It’s a season-starter great for newbies and those who want to knock the rust off after an indulgent off-season. For me, it was also a dress rehearsal of sorts for Challenge Philippines.
Race packet pick-up and briefing on the previous day was at Harbor Point Mall, where I also picked up a copy of RaceDay Magazine and binged on some Century Tuna. Registration for the ASTC Subic Bay Asian Triathlon Cup (formerly known as the Subic Bay International Triathlon or SuBIT) was also ongoing with a special early-bird rate. I hope some of the participants took advantage of that, because only finishers of ASTC Subic 2015 will be invited to join the Philippine age group contingent to the ITU World finals in Chicago. (I’m vying for a spot, just so it’s out there. ;P)
It was chilly that evening in Subic. As I walked out to the parking lot, I was shivering with every gust of wind.
Race morning came, and in the pre-dawn darkness Coach Rick Reyes (emcee of the event) noted that this was one of the few races in the Philippines to be held under “temperate” conditions. I was bundled up in one of my Mizuno jackets, but my thin spandex trisuit underneath was no match for the 23-degrees Celsius temps, which went down to 21 degrees C with wind chill. Or, as Europeans would say, “Summer!”
I was done way too early with body marking and setting up transition, but the sun hadn’t risen yet which meant our start time would be delayed. While the water was warm, outside of it was windy and chilly. I decided not to do a swim warm-up because it would mean being wet and cold waiting for the gun start. Instead, I jogged up and down the beach to get my blood moving, then swung my arms as I chatted with friends.
They let out the minisprint and sprint participants first. As the second-to-last wave to be set off, we women and relay participants toed the starting mats at around 6:50am, enough time for the sun to hang higher in the heavens.
The horn sounded and… it was a surprisingly non-combative beach start! I steered clear of the buoy line (where most people were likely to get stuck) and quickly found my breathing tempo. I had one companion for most of the two-loop swim; I hung off her hip and heels whenever I needed a break, but mostly I used her as a sighting guide since there was a strong current that pulled us into the buoy on the outbound part, and away on the inbound. We swam strong and overtook some of the sprint participants. Unlike previous swims where I’d get run over by a wave of men, I managed to stay ahead of them throughout.
Did I swim an extra 100 meters?
By the time I was out of the water and running into transition, there were just a few women in there. I heard some familiar strong swimmer names being cheered, so I was definitely on the pointy end of that swim! I charged out of transition (completely forgetting to hit the Lap button on my Garmin, by the way), got on my bike, and charged up Corregidor Road.
People familiar with SuBIT know Corregidor Road; it’s hilly, it’s got corners, it’s tricky both up and down. And I would have to go through it twice.
I was 3 kilometers up the hill before I hit Lap on my Garmin.
I went easy up the first time, trying to find my legs after coming out of the swim. Here, Kriska Sto. Domingo from Team David’s Salon overtook me. A strong swimmer, she had actually come out of the water ahead, but I was out of transition faster. I let her go, opting to save my breath and my legs. I still had no idea what was ahead of me on the two-loop bike course, so I didn’t want to kill myself chasing her on the hills and have nothing left for the flat section.
True enough, on the flats and even on some downhills, we were all treated to a horrible headwind. I spun through most of that, hoping that on the way back the headwind would become a tailwind I could ride.
It was on the last pass through the flats that Mayi Maligaya of Team DMCI (FitPlus Academy) shot ahead of me. Mayi’s a strong cyclist, but I believed I could make up time on the run if I didn’t kill my legs on the bike.
As I completed my second loop of the bike and started to make my way back to transition, I heard my rear wheel go thump-thump-thump. I looked down and saw my rear tire going flat. With only a few hundred meters to go until transition, I decided to ride it all the way in. I’m just thankful my aluminum rims held up well.
I felt good going into the run, but it was just about starting to get hot on that completely exposed course. We would have to do 4 laps of a 2.5-kilometer loop.
I decided to focus just on keeping a steady tempo through my arms and legs, and I held a steady sub-5 minute pace through the first two kilometers. Coming off an open run race the previous week, I couldn’t help noticing the difference in my gait and the muscles I was using. While I used a lot of quad strength for open runs, off the bike I felt a lot more work coming from my glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
As the sun continued to beat down on us, I felt a little of my speed go, but hung on. I was still making my way up past people, so it meant everyone was suffering just like me but I had lots left in the tank. I just had to hold off leg cramps, which were threatening to overwhelm my hamstrings. I didn’t know it, but due to the conditions (high exertion, cool wind, low humidity) I was sweating out a lot of electrolytes and salt.
I had Kriska and Mayi in my sights most of the time… Until finally I caught Kriska. Did I have enough kilometers left to bridge the gap to Mayi? (Note that we weren’t in the same age groups; I was just using our overall placing to help benchmark my efforts.)
Coach Dan Brown, who was there to watch some of his age group athletes (including kart racer Marlon Stockinger), cheered on from the sidelines. “Looking good!” he said. That was probably more of a testament to my acting prowess than my athletic capacity, because I was basically hating life throughout the run leg.
I have to mention here that at last year’s Challenge Philippines, Mayi had a lead on me from the bike and I only caught her around the 18th or 19th kilometer of the half-marathon. So here at the standard distance, I ran out of kilometers. But it was awesome just to get back into the mix. The best part is, I came away with a 47-minute 10K off the bike and a sub-3 hour overall finish all because I was pushing hard to catch up to these women.
Someone once said the winner of a triathlon isn’t who’s first out of the water or first off the bike. The winner is the first person across the finish line. It’s why this sport fascinates me, how getting the mix right across swim, bike, and run improves your overall performance rather than just focusing on one of the disciplines to carry you through.
It’s why I think a lot of these athletes who were doing their first triathlons at this race will be back for more. Congratulations to all who participated at the NAGT Subic. Hope to see you in future races!
Many thanks to my team, Endure Multisport, and our team sponsors Mizuno and Spyder. Thank you also to Ceepo, Salice, and Century Tuna.