I woke up several times during the night, hearing strong rain against our hotel rooftop. My team was booked at Cleverlearn Residences, approximately 1.9 kilometers away from Shangri-La and the race start. I worried about how flooded the race course could become, and if so, could the whole thing be called off? It was hard to sleep with that thought in my head, so I got up before my alarm and began my race day routine. Shower, apply petroleum jelly and sunblock, get dressed, eat breakfast, use the toilet, grab my gear, and go. All the while, I was praying for God to stop the rain and calm the winds. Again, that sense of calm came over me and I knew that whatever happened, He would be in control of the day.
Outside, the pelting rain was now just a drizzle, but traffic was at a standstill so I ended up walking most of the way with teammate Mikes Sarandona, who was also doing his maiden 70.3. We tried to keep our spirits up despite the depressing drip-drip-drip of the rain. “At least we’re getting warmed up,” we joked.
partial team photo
I pulled the shower curtain off my bike (yes, I covered it in a shower curtain overnight — Loki stayed nice and dry despite the rain!) and arranged my bike and run transition bags.
Then, I headed to swim start. Well, tried to. The hotel security had us traipsing all over the place because we weren’t allowed to pass this way and that way. I finally got to the beach at 6:10am, or only 10 minutes to go before the first wave gunstart.
I got in the surprisingly warm water for a quick warm-up. This was also a good time to check if my goggles were letting water in, and the Aquaspheres held up great! I warmed up with my teammates, the brothers Al and Jun Neri, who were formerly of the Ateneo swim team. Then all of us on the team who were competing gathered and prayed for a good, safe race.
Wave start 1 (6:25am): pros, Filipino elite, CEO category.
Wave start 2 (6:30am): male 18-39.
Wave start 3 (6:40am): male 40-above, all female.
It was a floating start in deep water, so I started swimming to the starting line nice and slow, treating it as part of my warm-up. Once I got there, I treaded water gently, floating on my back to rest. I was there too early, as I soon became surrounded by swimmers jockeying for position, pushing people down. Grr! I was so thankful when the horn sounded and sent us off.
Then I got kicked in the goggles and had to swim with my right eye closed until I could peacefully stop and drain the saltwater from my goggles. It was a brawl of a swim, but I reminded myself that it was only the start of a long day. So what if I got bumped, shoved, or kicked? They were only wasting their energy while I slid quietly and smoothly through the water. (Naks!)
I was sighting a lot, but it meant I stayed on a straight path and didn’t waste time zigzagging. Every time I sighted, it looked like people were swimming up a mountain of water — that’s how big the swells were! I settled into the rhythm of the swells and managed not to drink or inhale any water until the last turn back toward the beach.
I felt so fresh coming out of the water that I sprinted down the path toward transition while others around me were walking. It was great to see all the relay participants lining that path, especially Gretchen Fullido (who was done with the swim) and my swim coach Nonoy Basa (who was doing the run leg).
Transitioning into bike gear was mostly muscle memory: race belt, sunglasses, helmet, socks, shoes… I didn’t have to think anymore, and that was good. The male participant in the box in front of me asked, “Do I put the belt on now, or do it on the run?” I told him, “Put it on now. You’ll forget it on the run.”
Onto the bike course, then.
My relay experience from last year came in handy as I remembered the turns, the areas I needed to be cautious in, and where I could get into aero position. The bike course involved a climb over Fernan Bridge, four laps on the SRP highway, and then back over the bridge to Mactan. The only things that differed from last year were that the conditions were cool, and the wind was blowing the opposite way! So going out onto the SRP we had a tailwind, and coming back we faced a headwind.
I stopped for water bottles at the U-turns to wash down my EFS and a Clif Bar. It was pretty much what I had rehearsed during those long hours riding at Nuvali. The difference was the crowd support! I found myself smiling and waving to the people who had lined the roads to cheer all of us on; acknowledging their cheers was the way I could thank them for their efforts. It was awesome!
On my first lap out onto the SRP, I encountered the pros riding back on their second lap, and again when they were on their third lap. Atkinson was in the lead, but Macca was leading the chase pack. I yelled out a “Come on, Macca!” as they sped by. Last year, I’d first seen the pros on the course already on their fourth lap, so I felt I was in a pretty good spot, even if some strong female cyclists had passed me.
I started seeing cyclists stopped on the side of the road changing flat tires, so I prayed that I wouldn’t suffer the same fate. On my third lap, I heard someone cheering me on. It was Teacher Tina Zamora, one of the relay people I had hung out with last year. She and I had both signed up this year. (Sadly, she’d gotten a flat and as a result didn’t make the bike cut-off.)
The U-turns came and went very quickly, and soon enough I was already on my way back for the run. I couldn’t quite remember how long it had taken me to ride the course last year, but I didn’t care about setting a new bike course PR. I maintained a cadence of around 85-90rpm; it was at this cadence I could produce speed without fatiguing my legs.
Finally, the run! All my training for the swim and the bike had been targeted at making it possible for me to run well. My legs felt loose and limber in their CWX calf compression socks, and my feet felt secure in my trusty Mizuno Wave Elixirs as I headed onto the first of two laps.
I could feel the sun shining behind the clouds, so even from the beginning I already started to drink and douse myself at every station. I found Adrien Semblat, one of my Thursday running buddies, already on his second lap. Since we were going the same way, I unconsciously started pacing with him, which could have proven a big mistake because he’s a much faster runner. However, at that point he was managing the threat of cramps, so he stayed around the 5:00min/km mark or slower.
The first lap went by; I knew I was in good shape because I was still able to cheer on the friends I saw on the course.
on my second lap about to overtake Race Yourself‘s Ian Simpao
After I made the U-turn to go onto my second lap, I saw Nonoy on his way to the finish. I cheered him on, happy that he was doing OK; on our last long run the weekend before Cebu, his calf muscle had been acting up (and later on he told me it had started to cause him grief almost from the very start).
During all this time I was feeling discomfort in my legs, but it wasn’t new to me. I’d felt it during my first Olympic distance race in SuBIT last year, I’d felt it in SuBIT and 5150 this year, and I’d encountered it a long time ago in 2010 on my two marathons. I held the thought in my head that if I could finish those marathons and those triathlons, I could certainly keep running through that discomfort in this half-marathon run leg. The knowledge that I’d already been through this kind of pain before and ran well, that was what kept my legs going.
I felt a significant slow-down on kilometer 13, which I slogged through until I realized I’d forgotten to keep taking EFS on that second loop. Once I had that in my system, though, I felt a boost in my energy level, and I was able to start hammering it again.
I passed by my teammate Sid Apolinario, who told me “Kaya mo mag sub-6!” I could finish in under 6 hours if I kept my pace up! I got the same feedback from Maiqui Dayrit of Cascos (distributor of Yurbuds and Salice) as I headed into Shangri-la. I couldn’t let up now!
I was flying on the winding path through Shangri-la. The finish line — and a sub-6 hour finish — was in sight.
And then I had to line up behind people getting their finish line pics taken.
Our swim gunstart had been 15 minutes after the timers were started, so the clock shows that seconds were slipping by and I was stuck behind the finish line. Thankfully, the official time says that I finished in 5:59:47. Thirteen seconds later and I wouldn’t have made that time. Whew!
Joel was at the finish line using the media pass I’d given him the previous day. He gave me a big hug and I almost started crying. Thankfully I held it together, and this huge smile formed on my face. It was over. God had given me, had given all of us the perfect race conditions to get to our goal times, and this body that He had designed had surpassed all of my old assumptions about how far or fast I could go. All I could say was, “God is good!”
Courtney Atkinson ran away with the win. Pete took second, David Dellow third, and Macca slid to fourth after battling a major bonk. Brent McMahon rounded out the top five. On the women’s side, it was a repeat of last year’s top 3, with Caroline Steffen in first, Bree Wee in second, and Belinda Granger in third. Jacqui Slack took fourth, while Monica Torres snagged fifth. Check out the complete results for Cobra Ironman 70.3 Philippines online.
Now that I’ve had time to think about everything that happened, I’ve learned some very important lessons moving forward.