Challenge Camsur

Four years ago, I came to Camarines Sur as a last-minute substitute runner for a relay. As I went through the run course I saw the suffering on the individual competitors’ faces. It definitely gave me perspective on how prepared I would have to be to attempt my first half-ironman. I would do just that two years later, but it was in Camsur I started to dream. “What if? Why not?”

Camsur is where it all began for the boom of Philippine triathlon and for a number of us, we signed up for Challenge Camsur due to the nostalgia factor. But every race brings something new. For me, Challenge Camsur was the hottest, spiciest race I’ve ever done.

Challenge Camsur

I made the 10-hour drive down from Manila with my parents on Friday, and while we made pretty good time considering the number of pit stops we had, thinking of the return trip made me wish we had just flown in to Legazpi City, Albay and rented a car from there to drive the two hours to Camsur.

I had booked a wood cabin at the race venue, the Camsur Watersports Complex, which was built on the provincial capitol grounds in the town of Pili. CWC is a good 10 kilometers away from the other hotel options in Naga City, so for a hassle-free experience booking at CWC is the best option.

Challenge Camsur
Plenty of good memories in this place.

The carboloading party was held on Friday night, sponsored by local food chain Bigg’s Diner. The expo was also open so I picked up a new XLAB bento box, since I ruined my old one when I left gels to putrefy in it. I also bought my mom a Trangko.PH trucker hat, and dropped by the Cascos booth to browse Zensah compression calf sleeves. I initially had decided not to use any, but as the hours before race day ticked by I changed my mind. This probably saved my race…

Saturday I woke up to do a short run before breakfast. Camsur is more humid than Metro Manila; in fact it reminded me of Phuket as I struggled through the muggy morning. An hour before lunch I happened on some friends swimming in the lagoon, so I decided to get a test swim done before the sun warmed up the water too much.

Challenge Camsur

Challenge Camsur

While visibility wasn’t great, I didn’t expect it to be; in fact, this swim reminded me so much of the Challenge Roth swim — a somewhat man-made enclosed body of fresh water, murky but clean. The water had no odor to it, and no weeds were floating around. Having done a test swim back in 2011 I can say the water is better! The only thing that made me feel bad about that swim was that after I did one loop, I discovered someone had taken my flip-flops. 🙁

Bike check-in was later in the day, so I went off to SM Naga with the folks for lunch and to buy supplies like water, petroleum jelly, a cover for my bike, and of course new flip-flops. I don’t mind walking barefoot too much, especially in Camsur where there is virtually no air pollution so dust isn’t black and sooty underfoot — but with sun bouncing off the pavement, I didn’t want to burn my soles.

We got back in time for me to do a quick ride on Aki. Got to say thanks to Primo Cycles for the great tune-up in Manila. They were also present at the expo but I didn’t have any problems, so I went ahead to rack my bike.

Challenge Camsur

Challenge Camsur

Challenge Camsur

I definitely didn’t have enough run mileage or intensity in my legs, but the goal for this race had always been to swim well, bike fast, and see how badly I would blow up on the run.

Based on those goals, this race was a smashing success. 😉

It was raining when I woke up on race morning, but all hopes of a cloudy, drizzly day were dashed when the sun rose in a cloudless sky.

Challenge Camsur
So beautiful. So cruel.

I set up my transition area my usual way, then hung out with friends while waiting for our respective gun starts.

Due to a swim course change, the planned seeded starts were scrapped in favor of the traditional wave starts. Women and relays would be let out last.

Challenge Camsur
I actually took a photo of the wrong bike before I realized the bike next to mine was also a Ceepo.

Challenge Camsur
With my favorite small but gritty warrior Eli Malicdem

Challenge Camsur
With fellow MaccaX member Sam Calma

Challenge Camsur
With Robert Crespo of Century Tri Hard

After I watched the pros go into the water, I had a little time to visit the toilet and do a warm-up swim in the CWC pool. It was much-needed time to gather my thoughts and prepare myself for what was to come.

And then we women and relay swimmers were summoned to the start arch. It was game time.

I got caught behind the third line of swimmers, so I muscled my way into clear water. Once there, I took the first 200 meters easy before looking up to find people to draft off. From there I leapfrogged from swimmer to swimmer until we rounded the end pontoon.

Challenge CamsurChallenge Camsur
First time to do a two-lap 1.9-kilometer swim

Swimming back toward shore I didn’t draft as much because I knew I was coming up behind the slower men, so I stuck to my own pace and tried to stay as close to the buoy line as possible. On the second lap I felt overheated as the warmth of the water took its toll, so I was glad when the swim was done. I was raring to get onto my bike!

Because I hadn’t pre-ridden the bike course, I relied on the marshals and directional signs to keep me on point and they were clear enough to keep everyone on course. First thing I noticed was the road surface: so smooth! It was such a pleasure to pedal faster and feel my bike speed up under me, instead of the momentum being absorbed by a bumpy road. With only 50 meters of total elevation, I stayed in my big chain ring and in aero position the whole time, only coming up onto my basebars on sharp turns.

Challenge Camsur
photo by Doc Bob Mendoza

Challenge Camsur

The crowd support in each of the towns we passed was impressive. School children lined the roads, waving. There were marching bands and dancers. There were announcers calling out our numbers as we passed them! Again, it felt so much like Challenge Roth how the locals took such ownership of the race and the experience they wanted to provide the athletes.

All the MaccaX training plan bike sessions paid off as I quite easily started to overtake people one at a time. This is the kind of course Aki was made for, a time-trialist’s dream.

That didn’t stop some people from forming draft packs and blasting ahead of those of us who were playing fair by the rules. If I wanted to join a draft-legal long-distance triathlon I would have signed up for Defy 123. Seriously, this is a 90-kilometer individual time trial, not a 90-kilometer cycle race. It ticked me off, and I let them know on no uncertain terms what I thought of them. They benefited unfairly from increased speed at less effort. This helped quite a few get ahead of the field, and when they started the run they did so on unfatigued legs. Cheaters. You know who you are. And you have the gall to call yourselves triathletes. Shame on you.

I recorded my fastest bike split ever on this course. Although I didn’t break three hours, I shaved 10 full minutes off my previous best. I was feeling good…

…But I still had to run.

As I headed out of the transition area I saw Robert standing off to the side cheering athletes on. He had done the swim and bike, but dropped out before the run due to an old ACL injury that had been bothering him for weeks. Dear God, how I envied him. The sun was not giving us any respite and beat down mercilessly.

I lived for the aid stations, where I loaded up my pants and trucker hat with ice cubes. The locals had also set out buckets of water and dippers so we could douse ourselves between the stations.

I thanked one old man who was refilling his bucket. “Nakakahiya naman sa inyo, dumadaan kayo sa napaka-init,” he replied to me. I was dumbfounded. He felt an obligation to help us out because of the heat we were willingly running through? Wow.

I did OK up until the turnaround point on the run, when I saw my nearest age group competitor bearing down on me. I picked up the pace, trying to stay away, but she still passed me at kilometer 16. At this point I took my foot off the gas pedal. I wasn’t necessarily bonked, but I was starting to feel twinges of cramps up my calves. Sure it was hot out there, but this certainly spiced up the experience. I’ve never had such cramps before in a triathlon! I was thankful for the calf sleeves, because I was able to stuff ice down them and still the cramps for a while.

Those cramps hobbled me and humbled me. This is what you get for not running enough, they reminded me as I was forced into a limping walk over the last four kilometers. My vaunted strength became the weakest part of my race, proving the adage true: use it or lose it.

I thought I would be able to run the last kilometer before the finish line, but 10 steps in and I could barely extend my legs. As a sop to my pride, my photographer friends only took photos when I was running.

Challenge Camsur
Thanks Mark Que and Van Agdon. I walked again immediately after this photo was taken.

On the approach to the finish, I was trying to run in alongside one guy, and suddenly we both were attacked by cramps! I won over mine just a bit sooner and made it across the line ahead of him, to the strains of Avicii’s “Wake Me Up”.

The agony was over, finally. I stumbled into my mom and dad’s arms, jumped into the pool to cool down with the chill dudes from Tri Clark and Wu Crew, and crawled into my cabin to sleep the afternoon away.

I was in and out of a delirious sleep for the next few hours, but managed to rouse myself for a shower, a walk to get the blood moving through my legs, and then I shot the breeze with the fun Sabak and friends crew before the awards banquet.

Challenge Camsur
I don’t know which one was more painful: Challenge Philippines, or Challenge Camsur.

In my age group, I had the fastest swim, slipped to second place on the bike leg, then dropped to third on the run.

View full results for Challenge Camsur here.

Every race is a learning experience, and for this one I was schooled. I now know can’t rely on swim and bike fitness to maintain my run; I’m going to start putting the work as I head in towards the next big race in Cebu in August.

Challenge Camsur

Many thanks to the following: my parents and Team Endure for the support; Mizuno, Ceepo, Salice, Zensah, and Trangko.PH for the great race-day gear; the province of Camarines Sur, governor Migz Villafuerte and his father L-Ray for rolling out the welcome mat for all Challenge athletes; Yellow Cab for taking on the title sponsorship for the two Challenge Family races in the Philippines; Silverworks for a beautiful medal/pendant combo; the entire organizing crew including the Hubble Multisport guys.

I started dreaming of becoming a full-fledged long-distance triathlete in Camsur many years ago because I saw how great the triathlon community was — how everyone knew each other, how everyone became brethren in suffering and helped one another, how everyone celebrated when someone finished because everyone knew how difficult it was just to get on the starting line and hold on until the finish line. Those very same things were present again on this trip to Challenge Camsur, and it made me appreciate what I have found in this sport.

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