Barely three weeks after doing the Subic Bay International Triathlon (Olympic distance), I found myself on the starting line of another race, the Bintan Triathlon. But this time, it was on unfamiliar territory in a different country against unknown competitors I’d never raced before.
A few hours later, I was partying onstage with fellow podium finishers and the lone pro who showed up, Chris “Macca” McCormack. To say race week was epic would be an understatement.
But first, let’s backtrack to how I got into this race in the first place. The Bintan Triathlon is one of two races put on by the organizer MetaSport in the Singaporean special economic zone on Bintan Island, Indonesia. (Its other race in Bintan is MetaMan, and in Singapore they have the MetaSprint series.) My good friend, restaurateur Raymund Magdaluyo, did this race last year as his second triathlon and loved it so much he decided to take a few more friends with him this time around. We were also there to observe how things are done in an independent international triathlon, hoping to bring some lessons in when we put on the inaugural Bataan International Triathlon later this year, on November 30. So I was with a bunch of high-profile individuals: Coach Jojo Macalintal of Trimac Coaching, mountaineer and brand manager Tobias Bernardo, and ultra-trail runner and race organizer Thumbie Remigio.
We arrived in Bintan on Wednesday afternoon (Thumbie would join us by Friday night) so we could get a good night’s sleep before the next day’s exertions. I went for a 1-hour run with Coach Jomac in the morning, then after stuffing ourselves at the breakfast table we headed over to the Nirwana Gardens, the race hotel, for a swim and bike recon.
It would actually have been ideal to book rooms at Nirwana Gardens since the Bintan Lagoon was a 20-kilometer drive away, but by the time we’d decided to register for the race, the hotel had already been booked up. So if you decide to do this race make sure to book your rooms early!
I’d been warned by a follower on Instagram that there are jellyfish in Bintan waters, but Raymund assured me that last year, there was no jellyfish problem. Unfortunately, this was proven wrong when we went swimming on the course. The guys who had just finished laying out the buoy lines told us they’d just pulled out a jellyfish in the shallow waters. When we forged on anyway, Ias’s arm landed right in the middle of a box jellyfish’s tentacles. The resort staff had scooped out 23 jellyfish that morning, and those tentacles must have been leftovers.
(The organizers later at the race briefing Friday on assured participants they would be on jellyfish patrol right up until gunstart. I don’t think anyone got stung during the race, so that’s good.)
Anyway Ias got his arm treated with vinegar and a steroid cream. Then we got ready to ride the entire course with a big group of fellow participants. I planned to do some race-pace efforts; since we were training through this race, there wasn’t much of a need to taper and save the legs.
It was a good opportunity to see the bike course level of difficulty. The last time I’d done a race with no prior look at the course (the Laguna Phuket Triathlon last November), I’d fallen into a pothole and the uphills were a mental surprise. This time around I was taking no chances, so I studied the road surface and how best to approach the climbs and descents. There aren’t any real shockers — no U-turns, no technical descents, and no steep climbs! — so this was a relatively easier course than I’ve been used to doing in Subic races.
The next morning, we went on an easier ride just to explore the area, which was nice because it was just us four Filipinos riding in a bunch, chatting and laughing. And of course, taking selfies.
While it was nice to be among Pinoys who take care of each other, it was also great to meet up with fellow MaccaX members who are based in the region. Even better was racing for the second time this year with Macca, who was a last-minute entry into the race. The Bintan Triathlon has no prize money so it doesn’t attract pros, so for Chris to race it came as a surprise. Then again, the guy is building up towards Ironman 70.3 Japan and then Challenge USA, so he was probably looking for races he could do near Thailand, where he’s based.
The Olympic distance race starts at 1:45pm for the men, and 2pm for women and relays. This was my first afternoon start, which completely threw my whole race day rhythm off. I was awake at 5:30am feeling as if I’d missed the gunstart, and even though I tried to sleep until 8am I was restless. At breakfast, I couldn’t get the food to go down properly and nearly choked on my omelet when the guys jokingly said I was our group’s only hope for a podium finish. An afternoon start gives me way too much time to twiddle my fingers and be nervous!
Once I got to the transition area and racked my bike, though, I started to get into the groove like I’ve done at countless races before. They didn’t have transition baskets like we’re used to, but I didn’t really have a lot of things to keep in place anyway. I could only hope the lady in the next slot would not kick my running shoes out of place.
The sun was quite high before the gunstart, and then clouds rolled in. In the far distance on the horizon, it was raining, but winds kept the rain away. So it was overcast when we started, which spared us from the brunt of the sun’s punishment, but it was still humid. It was less humid than Manila, though, so for us Filipinos they were great racing conditions!
The swim was a big rectangular counterclockwise loop for the first 750 meters after which you would need to get to shore, run around a column, and then get into an inner clockwise loop. With less than 100 people on my starting line, it wasn’t a brawl by any means. I was out of the water slightly faster than I’d done at SuBIT, which I credit to being fearless in overtaking people. There was a strong current which worked against us most of the way, so I will need to work on raising arm turnover because obviously gliding in such conditions doesn’t help.
I did my best on the bike, clocking a 29 km/h average, which is faster than I expected even with the strong headwinds we encountered on some of the flat sessions, and of course the uphills especially in the Club Med area at the far end of the course.
I started my run a little before 4pm. It was going to be mostly shaded, with some of it on forest trails, so with the overcast conditions I had to take off my sunglasses in transition so I could see where I was going. It’s two loops on a rolling course, and I think this was the most fun part of the race. Families staying in the beach houses were out to cheer and support runners, and some of the adorable kids threw cold water on us to cool us off. Cold water, isotonic drink, sponges, and ice were available at the stations so we were able to manage our heat and nutrition to plan. My first loop through the course was a bit of a slog as I attempted to shake off heavy legs from riding hard, but I still managed to keep overtaking people and not get overtaken. By the second loop I had found my legs, and I was flying. Anyone I could get past, I did; I was still haunted by my SuBIT result where I hadn’t chased down the 23-second gap between me and first place in my age group.
With about 500 meters to the finish line, I saw the path in front of me was clear of anyone else. So I ran into the chute, high-fived someone, and was greeted by cheers of “Go Pinoy!” from some people on the sidelines. These were Filipinos based in Singapore who had come over for the race! Filipinos are everywhere, let me tell you. 😉
I met up with Ias, who had crossed the finish line just moments before me, and we headed to the recovery tent to be covered in ice-cold towels. Raymund crossed with Thumbie a few minutes after us, and of course Coach Jomac had been done a long while. We went to get our results, which was a cool process: you punched in your race number, and a machine would print out your splits and results on a ticket much like a receipt.
What I saw on my piece of paper literally had me jumping around the place.
You see, like any good (adik) triathlete, I had studied the finish times of the women who’d won my age group last year, and I knew I was about 10 minutes slower on a course like this. What was out of my hands was how many of those women would show up this year — and none of them did. The woman who won my age group came in 3rd overall and was ahead of me by 23 minutes! So instead of the feeling of disappointment I’d had in SuBIT because I hadn’t pushed myself enough to close the gap, this time around I knew I’d done my best. Check out my result here.
Many thanks to Mizuno, Ceepo, Spyder, Salice, Yurbuds, Otterbox, and Lightwater for the continued support. I was so proud to represent both Team Endure and Team MaccaX, as well as the Philippines at this race. Many thanks also to Raymund for taking me along on this trip!
As an added bonus, instead of going straight back to reality and work, we spent three days in Singapore. I was able to keep my family and followers updated on all that was going on during my trip thanks to Globe’s data roaming service. The good news is, starting May 23 you can now travel without the fear of bill shock with Globe’s P599/24 hours flat rate for data roaming. You don’t even need to register because you’ll only be charged when you start using data. Visit www.globe.com.ph/roaming for more details.
I also got a chance to catch up and food-trip with some friends who live and work in Singapore.
If you’re a Pinoy looking for your first destination race, the Bintan Triathlon is a good one to go with: fly in via Singapore and a short ferry ride either on Thursday or Friday, get some rest and do the race at 2pm on Saturday, then head back to Singapore on Sunday morning and visit with some friends before flying back home. It’s also got a great laidback family feel and is not as competitive or adrenaline-charged as most of our major Philippines races are.
Now, if you’re reluctant about traveling out of the Philippines just for an Olympic-distance race, the Metaman and Metaman Half that they hold in late August may also be a nice race to head out to, using much of the same course, hotels, and logistics.
What I would love to see happen here in the Philippines — and what Raymund’s group is trying to accomplish — is that we develop uniquely Filipino destination races that attract not only Filipinos, but also people from other countries. I’m happy to announce my participation at the Bataan International Triathlon happening on November 30, 2014 based out of the Las Casas Ciudad de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan. For more details, visit bataaninternationaltriathlon.com.