My Pico de Loro Triathlon Experience by Bong Zandueta
I have been wanting to take my family to the Pico de Loro Beach and Country Club since I have been seeing pictures of my friends who have had corporate outings there. Being an exclusive, members-only resort, access is limited.
I eagerly awaited registration to open for the 2013 race. My excitement was short lived as I learned this was a by-invitation event. I gave up any hope of bringing my family this year to Pico and focused on an earlier race in March. I did not count on this race getting filled up 2months before the race!
Thankfully, about 2 weeks later, my triathlon team, Endure Multisport received an invite to join the Pico de Loro Triathlon. A week later, I had the funds and forked out the cash to Bike King. I also made arrangements with the Pico Sands Hotel and booked my family a room. I was in a near faint as I rarely fork out that much cash in one day 🙂
My training was severely limited by all the demands on my time and it was my first time to have a road bike plus, I didn’t have a bike trainer so I could only ride on Sundays. Every Sunday became a brick session. The rest of the week would be devoted to 3 days of swimming and 3 days of running.
I was worried because I read about the numerous bike accidents that happened in the course last year. I bought my 2nd hand road bike early this year and have had two minor falls already, all of which were due to wrong braking and bad cornering maneuvers. It didn’t help any that people were warning me of the dangerous descents at Pico de Loro. I tried watching videos on cornering and braking to allay my fears but nothing really beats experience and saddle time. I increased my life insurance coverage and hoped for the best.
Come race day, I had a light breakfast at 9am. I was hoping to eat a heavy breakfast as the race was at 2:30pm but race day jitters led me to lose my appetite. I planned to eat again at 11am when I got to the resort but due to scheduling problems, I found myself at Pico de Loro just in time for the 12:30pm pre- race briefing. I forced myself to eat a light sandwich at 1:30pm and hydrated myself with Buko juice. The heat was terrible! I remember on the news the day before that we were hitting 34-35C. There were several emails and announcements by the organizers to hydrate properly. I kept on drinking my tetra-packed buko juice as I discovered a week earlier that this had more sodium and potassium than my usual sports drink.
A kiss for luck from my family and I proceeded to warm up for the swim.
My last open water swim was in 2010. This would be the first time I would be doing the freestyle in an open water event as I used to be a breast stroke-r. I met up with my only teammate in this event, Gerard Cinco and we stayed well off to the left side of the buoy line and nearer the back. At exactly 2:30pm, the starting horn blasted.
I walked/waded the shallow water with several other people until it was up to my waist. When I proceeded to swim, I was met by the usual crowd of banging bodies and flailing arms and legs. I reminded myself to breathe properly and not to sprint as this crowd would eventually thin out. I could never be so wrong. Several meters off I could feel people clawing at my calves. I was worried that my timing chip had fallen off! At some point I felt an arm on my back and proceeded to kick faster and pull stronger. I must have fallen into a pace group of people of the same ability. The good thing is we were drafting off of each other. Problem started when I saw the person in front of me start to do the breast stroke. I was pinned on my left and right side and was fast approaching the breast stroker in front. A couple of days ago, I was laughing at a newbie friend who recounted a story of losing his goggles when he was kicked in the face during the last pool based sprint triathlon. I was worried of divine karma as I have kicked numerous people in the gut when I was still a breast stroker. At the last minute, I decided to pull hard and go over the breast stroker. I tried my best not to be too obvious in pushing him/her under me and just swam over his/her shoulder. I sure hope it was not a female swimmer.
When we reached the floating buoy marking the turn-around point, we all pivoted to the right. I kept on bumping into the guy on my right as he kept on moving straight and I still wanted to move to the right. After an elbow to my forehead, I stopped to get my bearings and was surprised that it was not an out and back course but a loop where we had to take two right turns to get back to shore. Newbie mistake number one! I caught up to my pace group again and finished the swim well within my target time.
Exiting the water, and running out of the beach into transition, I saw people pouring water from two huge clay pots to get rid of all the sand from their feet. When I got there, I saw that the water was all gone. No worries coz I had a 1.5L bottle of water for exactly this purpose J
I sat down by my bike and took my time pouring water on my feet and head, hoping to cool down. I was in no hurry to do the next stage that I dreaded. This was also my first triathlon in bike shoes. On go the socks, bike shoes, helmet, sunglasses, gloves (unnecessary but helped put me at ease) and race belt.
After leaving the transition area, we were immediately met with a monster of a climb. I tried the climb at Canley Road/Danny Floro st in Pasig and was able to reach the top but this one seemed longer and steeper. I later learned that it was a kilometer long. About 25m from the top, I chose to dismount together with the guy next to me.
Walking to the top, he strikes a conversation with me, “Pinulikat ako, di ko na pinilit. Ikaw?” Of which I answer “Hindi, pagod lang ako”. And we walk the rest of the way in silence.
Going over the top, I mounted my bike and allowed gravity to take over. I saw the 40kph speed limit sign go by and I knew I was way over that – 61kph max according to the cylocomp. My mind was flashbacking to the time when I was 12 and losing control of the vibrating handlebars, and crashing and scraping my arm. Thankfully I did not panic and was able to brake properly on the descent. After what seemed like such a really long time, I was glad to have finally slowed down at the bottom of the hill.
I had a water bottle full of buko juice in the cage and a mineral water bottle tucked in the small of my back going out of transition. That mineral water bottle was a newbie mistake that could have ended badly.
I remember seeing pictures of bikers tucking water bottles in the shoulders of their tri suit. Newbie mistake 2: I placed the water bottle at my back when I mounted the bike. I was surprised when I felt it slide. Luckily, my race belt held my tri top in place so the bottle did not fall off. It would have been dangerous to the biker behind me if my bottle fell into his path.
I wrongly assumed that there was going to be water stations along the bike route. At about 25km of biking, I started to feel bad. I already consumed one sports gel and the 500ml bottle of buko juice. I saw that my heart rate was 30bpm higher than my usual biking heart rate. I wanted to vomit and poop at the same time. I pulled over in the shade by the highway, ate my last gel and drank the rest of my water from the plastic bottle. I think it was a combination of mild heat stroke and lack of nutrition. I felt better to continue a few minutes later but decided not to push harder.
This was my first time to bike out in the open as I usually practice in the streets around Pasig, shielded by all the structures and buildings. So this was what a crosswind felt like. The sound of the headwind was also deafening. I negotiated the u-turns without falling and completed the 2 loops outside of Hamilo and went back inside the resort to conquer the climb back.
Seeing the climb I had to conquer on the way back, I accelerated and tried to build up momentum. Halfway up, I downshifted all the way and tried to work a faster cadence to sustain my speed. Right or wrong, I still ended up walking the rest of the way up the hill.
Cresting the hill, I was zooming back down, back to the beach club. Nearing the turn to the right at the bottom, I started to apply my brakes. I could see and hear people by the side of the road screaming at all of us to slow down. Lady I’m trying my best!
Luckily, I reach the bottom without incident. I get out of the drops and relax as I go round the condo units, pass the hotel and head back towards transition. I shed a tear as I survived my ride unscathed.
I see a guy waving a green flag in front of me. I see a line in front of him on the ground. I rightly assume that I should dismount before getting to this line. I’ve been out of this for so long that I am such a newbie again.
Bike on the rack, change into running shoes, off with the helmet, move the race number to the front and off I go for the “easy part”. I got to the first support station about 500m out of the transition area. I was so glad to have cold water to drink. I saw the guys manning the station getting bottles of Gatorade from an ice chest full of ice and cold water. I got a glass and proceeded to pour the ice cold water from this chest on my head, arms and legs. I was in heaven!
I soon saw Gerard stop by with his top fully open and looking all gassed out. I was worried coz I didn’t remember how many loops the run was so I asked him “Ge, ilang loops run natin?”
And he answers in an exasperated tone “Second loop ko pa lang ito eh”
And I go “Oo nga, tinatanong ko nga ilang loops ba ito. Tatlo siguro no?” and I leave him there. Sheesh some people J
The run is a flat course around the scenic lagoon of Pico de Loro. You get to see all of the condos, Pico de Loro Country Club and the Pico Sands Hotel. I make a mental note to enjoy all of these tomorrow with my family.
I pass by my favorite water station two more times and always stop to bathe myself in the ice cold water.
Finally, after about an hour of jogging (or rather a stroll in the park), I saw the finish line arch by the beach. I was finally done after three hours. I only hit my target time for the swim and was way off in the bike and run but I was so happy to finish without a scratch.
Lesson learned? That I should better plan my nutrition and hydration. I saw someone with a small ice chest in the transition area which seems like a brilliant idea.
The after race party buffet was pretty good but I was too tired to eat much. I loved the slow cooked pork belly and the fruit platter. During the race I was dreaming of bananas and fruits so I ate my fill of them during the party. The Pico Sands Hotel was spartan but the lagoon view room was well worth it.
I’d like to thank the organizers, marshalls and volunteers for a great race. It was such a beautiful place to race and stay overnight that my family is planning to return soon. I’m sure to join again next year where I hope to finally conquer that killer hill on my bike!