When I got the opportunity to race the Century Tuna Ironman 70.3 Subic Bay with two of my teammates from Team Endure, I couldn’t say no. Being part of a relay at a triathlon has always been fun and pressure-free for me. It’s an opportunity to work together as a team in this often very individual and lonesome sport, you can go as hard as you want in your chosen leg without being afraid of blowing the other two legs, and it’s just a great excuse to be away for an active weekend without overtiring yourself.
Normally I prefer arriving at the venue of a half-ironman about three days before race day, but since Subic is so near to Manila I opted to shave it close and arrive on Friday morning just in time for the first official bike recon ride. (Many other athletes arrived on Saturday morning — way too stressful and also you miss the carbo-loading dinner hahaha!)
It was a very easy short ride led by Makoy Almanzor of the race committee and he basically just showed us where we would be exiting out of Transition 1, where we would pass heading to Tipo Expressway to exit Subic and enter the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), and where we would pass to get into Transition 2. This was my most mentally taxing task of the day, because the rest of the day was spent shopping and hanging out at the expo, with just a short swim prior at the WOW Pool beside Remy Field. It was pretty much a very chilled-out day.
Speaking of the carbo-loading dinner on Friday night, only registered participants with wristbands would be allowed to eat, but relay team members would have to register together. Unfortunately, my teammates were arriving only the next day and this would have meant I couldn’t go to the dinner. But thanks to the Sunrise crew for allowing relay members to pick up their wristbands separately — I thoroughly enjoyed the free food!
I said hello to Belinda Granger, who was solo in the Philippines for the first time because Justin couldn’t travel due to a punctured lung. I always look forward to seeing her at our Ironman 70.3 races and it’ll be such a change next year when she enters full retirement from competition.
The banner athlete of this event was none other than 3-time Ironman world champion Craig “Crowie” Alexander, and when he popped into the dinner I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a photo.
At least I had a full meal at dinner, because the next morning I couldn’t exactly have a big breakfast. I needed a trim waistline for the Century Tuna Superbods Underpants Run! There would be two pairs of winners — local athletes (male and female) and foreign athletes (male and female). The winners would take home the Century Tuna Superbods Awards and win USD $500 each. Century Tuna would match the amount of the total prizes and donate this to a beneficiary that will be chosen by the local government of Subic.
As expected it was completely silly, all in good fun, and made for some memorable photos of the Superbods and “Superbads”.
The prize would go not to the fastest, but to the ones certain judges deemed as having a bangin’ bod. The one rule we had for the 2-kilometer run from Remy Field to the Lighthouse Marina Resort was that we would have to run as a pack, so the pace would have to be reasonable for everyone to stay together. As the host Chiqui Reyes told us, one person running solo in their underwear would be weird!
If there were a prize for “Most Outrageous” it should have gone to Frank Lacson and Monica Torres, who were both in legit underwear.
We thought the Superbods Underpants Run was just a side event for the Ironman 70.3. Little did we know it would get so much attention. Check out this article on Gist. It also wound up on the front page of a broadsheet — and guess who was front and center?
At the finish line, Century Tuna fed us some delicious tuna sandwiches and VitaCoco juice, which was great to refuel with. I then went to meet my teammates to register as a relay team at the expo.
As swag bags go, the one from this race was quite heavy and full of free stuff from Century Tuna, Belo, Sante Barley, Gatorade, and other sponsors. (Dishwashing liquid, laundry detergent, shampoo and conditioner? No excuse not to smell clean and fresh!) I divvied up the race essentials between us: swim cap, timing chip, and bike bag went to John, bib number went to Sugz and me, run bag went to Sugz, and bike stickers went to me. We also each had a pair of number tattoos.
It was after lunch when I headed to Transition 1 to check my bike in. The sun was out in full with not a cloud in the sky. It pained me to think about the next day when there would still be people on the run at that time. Ouch!
After checking my bike in and stalking some of the pros’ bikes, I went to see the swim start and exit. On race day I would be stuck at the relay team tent and wouldn’t be able to catch the action, so I wanted to see how it was all laid out.
While the swim was at the Sands of Triboa Beach Resort (formerly Dungaree) which is the site of so many other triathlon swims, they had dressed it up in a way that totally transformed what usually looks like a construction area due to ongoing renovations.
After this I headed back to the expo to catch the Meet the Pros press conference. There, the Aussie host Pete Murray interviewed each of the numerous pros in attendance (the largest pro field in any triathlon in the Philippines) and we found out that Caroline Steffen, a pre-race favorite, was ill and wouldn’t be able to race. Belinda told me that Caroline had gotten some bad food poisoning and had an IV in her arm due to dehydration. Poor girl!
After the presscon, Crowie was set to sign copies of his coffeetable book As the Crow Flies. I had already read my friend Joel’s copy of this book in 2012, but I bought a copy to be autographed. Crowie’s wife Neri even took our photo!
It all felt almost like I wasn’t going to race the next day and I was just at some kind of triathlon convention where we could meet our heroes. But that’s what’s so great about triathlon: we get to mingle with the pros and race on the same day on the same course as they do!
I’d felt very relaxed and pressure-free those two days. But on race day I was really going to put in the work.
Unlike my previous races in Subic where I stayed in a hotel, this time I had taken a spare room in the Team Red Cross Triathlon house in Subic Homes, where pros Michael Murphy and Mitch Robins had taken up residence. On race morning I hitched a ride in a van with them to Transition 1. This small change in routine was sufficient enough to throw me off, and in the pre-dawn drive I realized I’d forgotten my drink bottles and flat tire repair kit at the house. It was too late to go back for it, so I decided I would be able to grab some bottles at the first hydration station on the bike course. As for a flat tire, well I was about to gamble that on the smooth roads of SCTEX I wouldn’t pick up a stray nail or glass shard…
Apart from the lack of bottles, I set up my bike my usual way with my shoes on it. It was just as well because it was a long way from the relay tent to our spot in transition and to the mount line. I asked one of the roving mechanics to inflate my tires, but didn’t think to give my rear wheel a spin even after it spent the whole night rammed into a slot with a prevailing wind pushing all our bikes to one side. That would come back to haunt me during the race.
Belinda was half-walking, half-limping when I saw her; she said she had a hamstring problem and could barely run. Still, she counted her blessings because Crowie’s back had acted up and he could barely move, much less start the race. So this development opened up the field and the podium.
As transition closed, I finally managed to come across John, my swimmer. He handed me his things, which I stuffed into a backpack with my things. After his swim, I would give the backpack to him for safekeeping while I did the bike leg. He would then make his way to T2 and meet up with me after I passed our timing chip to Sugz our runner (who had been required to check in at T2 by 6am along with all other relay runners). This way we would both have clean dry clothes to change into, and our valuables would be safe.
After John left, I made friends with the other relay cyclists. It reminded me a lot of my first Ironman 70.3 experience in Cebu where I was also a relay cyclist. This made the time go by fast, and soon enough swimmers started streaming into transition.
Sooner than expected, John came charging into transition. After a snappy hand-over of the timing chip, I ran to my bike and hightailed it out of there.
I had left my bike on the big chainring because the first seven kilometers of the bike leg was reasonably flat and I could capitalize on the freshness of my legs. I was determined to push the whole way through and leave my run legs on the bike course.
I felt fast and powerful. In my mind and on my lips was one mantra: “Hold nothing back.” I bounced up that climb up to Tipo Expressway with confidence, overtaking many who were conserving their run legs. At the hydration station I snapped up the bottles I needed, then continued at a pretty good pace.
Then, it happened after I went over some speed strips. A rhythmic squealing started coming from my rear tires. I stopped once, twice, thrice trying to move my integrated brake calipers away from the braking surface, but to no avail. I was wasting time and getting passed by so many people! I finally gave up and just rode the bike that way until the next aid station, where there was a mechanic (thankfully!) who figured out it was a misaligned rear wheel. He just loosened my rear skewer, wiggled the wheel back into proper alignment, then re-tightened the skewer. Suddenly my wheel was good as new, and I then set off to chase down all who had overtaken me.
I took some risks on this ride: overtaking packs of cyclists (who may or may not have been drafting), passing cyclists I would normally have been content to let get away, just seeing how fast I could go. On this course I found that very easy to do. The rolling course was definitely not technical, so you could see an uphill from some distance away and could then select proper gear ratio to ride smoothly up it. I stayed down in my aerobars as long as I could, and this saved me from the brunt of the headwind people say they experienced on the outbound portion. With only one U-turn on the whole route, it was so easy to maintain momentum to build speed and keep it. Also on the inbound portion, the headwind became a tailwind which propelled me even faster back to T2.
Apart from a slightly hairy descent from Tipo to Subic where I was stuck behind a truck and in front of an SUV, the bike course was straightforward and relatively secure. Also, a cloud had covered the sun for most of the morning, so the temperature was quite cool while I was out riding.
Unfortunately for Sugz, those clouds dissipated just in time for his run when I rocked up to T2. After resting, dressing, and eating, I decided to head out onto the run course and cheer people on. The sun was brutal, the heat enervating… I wanted to give people a nice feel-good boost, which I knew they would appreciate.
Finally, Sugz emerged from the treeless, hot run course to take our mixed relay team to 4th place. I was hanging out at the finish area and reminded him to zip up his top to look good for the cameras.
In all it had been a great day and we all had outdone ourselves. I had actually felt good getting off the bike, which meant that in the future I could take risks and make it hurt on the bike, but have enough left for a good run.
That night I celebrated with friends from Team Red Cross Triathlon and even got the men’s winner Tim Reed, 2nd placer Mitch Robins, and 3rd placer Josh Amberger to eat a balut each!
Century Tuna Ironman 70.3 Subic was one of the hottest (literally) races in the country, and my hat’s off to anyone who did the whole thing. I was definitely glad to have been there as just part of a relay.
Thank you to our sponsors for Team Endure — Mizuno and Spyder. Thank you also to Ceepo and Century Tuna! Congratulations to Sunrise for pulling off another great race. While any inaugural race will have its growing pains, I’m glad that the tri scene in this country has grown so much to be able to accommodate not just one half-ironman, but two each from the two biggest brands in the world.