The Cobra Ironman 70.3 Philippines 2015 was a special race because it was the first time my whole family was with me. The way race day turned out, I needed every bit of motivation to will myself toward the finish line.
I did a few things differently this year compared to the past three years.
For one thing, I finally gave in and bought accommodations from race hotel partners. We stayed at Movenpick which is next door to race venue Shangri-La Mactan. I really liked it because although it was close to the race, it wasn’t overrun with activities and allowed me to decompress a bit and have that “race-cation” experience I’ve never really allowed myself to have.
Second thing is I didn’t go on the official bike course ride-outs. The ride through the busy city streets of Mactan, Lapu-Lapu, and Mandaue has always left my stress levels elevated pre-race. Instead, I rode through part of the run course with some friends to check if our bikes were OK.
Third thing is I didn’t have anything more to prove on this course, so I had only signed up for it to race with my friends from T*** Supercamp. To celebrate our reunion, we skipped the pasta party and just had dinner together to catch up.
It was definitely a more relaxed lead-in toward the race. Of course, I still dropped by the expo for the Meet the Pros presscon, the yurbuds Meet and Greet with Pete Jacobs, and picked up a new Ironman 70.3 Philippines Cebu visor at the Atleta Ako booth.
Next year, this race becomes the Ironman 70.3 Asia Pacific Championship, which will bring with it more glitz, more big-name pros, and more hype. I know Sunrise Events will put on a great race, as always… but I’m going to have to sit that one out until Ironman gets its act together and invites an equal number of female and male pros to their Ironman and Ironman 70.3 World Championships. (For more information on why this will be my last Ironman-branded race until further notice, please read here: Why “50 Women to Kona” Matters.)
It thus became really important for me to do this race justice this year. I mean, if you had only one chance left to do something you loved, how would you go about it?
Even though it hurts I can’t slow down
Walls are closing in and I hit the ground
Whispers of tomorrow echo in my mind
“Just one last time”
I have to say that as an “old hand” at the Cebu race I had less stress because I knew what I needed to get done; I was even happier to help my first-time friends with any questions they had about procedures, race course, and strategy.
The day before race day is important for me to get into the proper frame of mind, so it was good to get that started with a bike out, then a swim in the crystal-clear waters off Shangri-La Mactan.
The conditions at 10am were perfect: fish underwater everywhere we looked, a favorable current, and no chop. Ah, if only the race swim had been held then…
My family had gone off to Cebu City to visit some relatives. I took lunchtime and the early afternoon off from thoughts of triathlon and lazed about on Movenpick’s private beach amid German and Korean tourists who were probably clueless about the sporting event that would take place the next day.
I only had a few hours before I re-entered the fray at bike check-in and race briefing, and those few hours were spent snoozing in a cabana beachside. Then it was time to sticker the bike and wheel it into a massive transition area, which was thankfully fully carpeted this year, blanketing the rocks underfoot.
After that it was a good time to meet up with friends for some selfies and fun snaps. I knew that on race morning it would be nearly impossible to find everyone and wish them well.
The race briefing was the best I’d seen in years, with a well-thought out video presentation that showed us all the vital information we needed, plus the traditional weather forecast from Kuya Kim Atienza who said we had a good chance of a cloudy day and some light rains. I also managed to catch coach Lance Watson’s talk for Ironman 70.3 newbies and it reminded me just to have fun and do my best the next day.
After dinner with my folks and Endure teammates, a quick nibble of Chewy Junior from Park Mall Mandaue perked me up enough to finish packing my bike and run bags. Then it was off to bed.
The weather seemed bent on defying Kuya Kim’s forecast. It had been bone-dry throughout the night, and on race morning, dawn came early and cloudless.
I was racked with Greenhills Tri Team girls Eunice Go to my left, who kindly lent me her tire pump, and Gail Consolacion, my lovely friend from many years in running, just across from my slot. On my right was Jaimie Jacobs, Pete Jacobs’ wife and consistent age group topper. In a race that was probably about 60% new faces, it was good to see so many people I knew. It was going to be a long, hot day, but at least I would be out there on the course with friends.
After a light swim warm-up which was spent more on avoiding the sharp coral and rocks underfoot rather than on swimming, I got out of the water and filed into my appropriate rolling start corral. This year, participants would seed themselves based on their expected swim finish time, which was supposed to make for a less crowded and stressful swim. I lined up in the corral for 36-40 minute finishers next to Sugz, Josef (one of my former classmates from swimming under Nonoy Basa), and fellow blogger Victor Basa who was doing his second 70.3 this year.
The swim start was innocuous enough and I was able to warm-up with easy strokes for about 50 meters from the shore until it was time to turn the corner. From there, it was war! It was a constant battle to get past slow and inexperienced swimmers who had not seeded properly, huge clusters of people crowding around buoys, and a current that threatened to stop us in our tracks. I knew then I was going to have a very slow swim time, but no way was I going to end my race there.
I leapfrogged, drafting from swimmer to swimmer, backstroking when people panicked as I moved through their groups. As I rounded the far buoys, the current was so strong it pushed me across the buoy line into the inside of the swim course. I tried to re-enter the swim course where I had left it, but the male swimmers in my path turned aggressive and would almost not let me back in. I went underwater to try to find the buoy line, only to find someone pulling themselves along on it (which explains why it had been submerged). I finally rounded the last buoy correctly, and the current I had been fighting for most of the swim pulled me toward the swim finish.
Not an ideal swim, but I just focused on the task ahead: the bike ride. The course was of course crowded in with bystanders, but there seemed to be much more of them compared to previous years. I had no real issues with my ride except for the head wind (which I expected) and the beginnings of cramps (which I had not expected). This led to using my small chain ring for most of the ride.
On a narrow course like that, drafting was sure to occur among the less scrupulous, and I always gave them a piece of my mind. I also called a few cyclists’ attention to the fact they were riding left and thus blocking the way. With about 20% of participants being first-timers to a 70.3 or a major race, I was wary of those with poor etiquette and handling skills.
I got back to transition feeling good about my bike split. Just to make sure I wouldn’t cramp on the run I spent a bit of time spraying some Kool ‘n’ Fit on my legs and lower back just to release them from all the tightness from the ride. Then I visited a portaloo for some bladder relief, which meant that I had hydrated correctly on the bike ride (but sadly ate into my run time).
Right out of the gates on the run I had already stuffed my pants and top with ice cubes. With no clouds in sight and the midday sun shining down, ice and sponges were going to be in my survival strategy for the rest of the race.
This was going to be my third time to see that run course, and by then I knew what I needed to do to keep myself moving. The ambulance came by three times to pick up people who could no longer go on, but I never felt that way. Aid station to aid station was key, and the distance between those stations was filled with friends from triathlon — my buddy Joel who was also watching the progress of his athletes from CDO, Coach Norman and his Norminions, Leroy from The Brick and Jerry from Ceepo, Anna de la Cruz who had flown all this way to cheer on her Malaysian friends from Team Bunanamo, the unofficial Gatorade ice bath station with Ton Gatmaitan and Carlos de Guzman… And it was good to see so many of my friends had made it out of that swim, off their bikes, onto the run.
I was in pain, of course. But suffering is a state of mind, and in my own weird way I was having fun. Or maybe I was just delirious. Doesn’t matter because soon I was almost at the finish line. Joel ran with me for a bit while texting my folks that I was on the way. I saw my sister, my brother-in-law, and my darling nephew waiting by our hotel. Then I was on my own running in toward the finish line.
As I ran in, I heard announcer Whit Raymond calling my name. That man has called me across the finish line for all six of my half-ironmans. I caught his eye and waved, did a little jig in the finish chute, and ran up the ramp to cross the finish line.
It had been a long 6 hours, 33 minutes, and 33 seconds, but I knew I had pushed myself to my very limits the whole day, and there was sweet satisfaction in that. I had left it all out there, no “what ifs” and no regrets.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from doing the same race so many times, it’s that there are no do-overs. Nothing is ever completely the same — not the course, not the conditions, and not even myself. All that matters is that every time, you are prepared to give it your best shot.
In its fourth year in Cebu, Ironman 70.3 Philippines has earned its spot as one of the world’s bucket-list races. There is no doubt it will be around for a very long time. While I’ve loved my time racing there, I also know there’s a whole world of races to be experienced with their own particular beauties and challenges. I know eventually I’ll come back to Cebu. At the same time, I’m excited to plan my next new adventure!
But for now, it’s time for a well-earned off-season…