LAST Sunday saw over 1,700 professional and amateur triathletes descend on Mactan Island, Cebu for the fourth installment of the Cobra Ironman (IM) 70.3 Philippines triathlon. The race name’s figure, 70.3, is actually the total race distance expressed in miles (IM being an American franchise); however, more people (basically, the rest of the world) are familiar with the distances expressed in kilometers. An IM 70.3 triathlon covers a 1.9-kilometer swim followed by a 90km bike ride, ending with a 21km run. End of lesson.
After holding the IM 70.3 Philippines in Cam Sur for the last three years since its inception in 2009, the move to Cebu appeared to most as a welcome change. IM Cebu would feature an ocean swim as opposed to Cam Sur’s two lakes swim leg. The bike leg would take participants outside the city, over two bridges, through a vehicular tunnel, and traverse part of the countryside with a great view of the ocean. The run leg promised a relatively flat tour of the local town teeming with townsfolk and support stations.
The festivities before Sunday’s hostilities started as early as Thursday, as the race venue that was Shangri-La Resort Mactan played host to a number of activity areas to keep participants and supporters enthused throughout the extended weekend. Registration was quick and easy, allowing participants to secure race kits, timing chips and souvenir event shirts in a matter of minutes. The product expo introducing some of the latest triathlon equipment and apparel was a hit with those in attendance, though I settled with the option of buying a modestly priced sub-compact car over the latest model tri bike that was on exhibit. As for the rest of the merchandise on sale, I could’ve seriously compromised my month’s allowance by giving in to shopping frivolity, but being the pragmatic shopper (translation: tightwad) that I am, I safely walked away from the expo with a three-pair socks deal from the bargain basket as my only purchase.
I planed in early Saturday morning so that there would be enough time to attend to the essential to-dos. It was pretty much a full day that followed. Get my bike assembled, claim my race kit, do a ride out to survey part of the bike leg, run off the bike for ten minutes or so, check into the hotel, grab lunch, prepare and deposit transition bags and bike to the transition area, have some team pictures taken, and attend the race briefing. This still left me with enough time for a leisurely Japanese bento dinner with the missus, a quick shower (without the missus), and relaxing TV time before lights out.
Waking up refreshed before a race is a huge anomaly in the Book of Bob. I’ve always had trouble sleeping before a race, wrapped up in thoughts that range from items I may have forgotten to pack in my transition bag or worrying about my nutrition and hydration plan to forgetting the name of that guy I ran into in the hall earlier and seeing him at the race. So when I woke up at 3:40 AM feeling like I’d slept for a day, I just had to smile at myself in the bathroom mirror while smearing on sunblock, anti-jellyfish ointment, and skin lubricant. Breakfast was uncomplicated, and filling enough to hold off any hunger pangs for the next few hours. A quick trip to the loo for an articulated biological warfare strike and I was on my way to the race venue.
The transition area, where race number body marking and last-minute transition preparations were underway, was abuzz with activity. Participants waited patiently in line to have their arms stamped with their respective race numbers, while others made final checks on their bikes and transition gear. The mood wasn’t particularly tense, save for some panicky souls racing around, looking for bike pumps, electric tape, extra gels, and other contingencies.
What made the Cebu swim leg different from Cam Sur, apart from the ocean swim, was the floating start. It would be the first (and perhaps not the last) non-shore start for an IM 70.3 Philippines race, and this added to the excitement, as well as tension among the participants. Having to tread water while waiting for the start horn to go off can provide either relaxation or tension. Fortunately, it was the former for most, at least from where I was treading.
The start of the swim leg, as most races I’ve done, can be described as a washing machine on high spin cycle. You do NOT want to be caught in the middle of that maelstrom, because you’ll definitely end up on the unfriendly end of other people’s limbs as they flail, kick, and push their way forward through the swim course. I decided early on that this would be a relaxed swim and opted to hang back and let the moving whirlpool advance before playing catch up. The payoff? Getting out of the water with my heart and lungs in the same place, and running to transition at a pace that allowed me to smile and acknowledge cheers from friends in the crowd.
The bike leg started out predictably, as I knew what to expect having done the short bike out the day before. The mini potholes, cleavages, and the countless asphalt patches along the route made for a bumpy ride. There were some high points, though, that made the ride memorable and worth looking forward to next year. The quick and steep climbs up either side of the first bridge and the strong headwind on the way out were interesting intermissions to an otherwise straightforward ride. I particularly enjoyed the ride through the tunnel, howling and barking (yes, barking) as loud as I could, while listening to the other riders making their own noises to announce their entry into the tunnel. It was exhilarating and powered us up the incline of the connecting bridge. The tailwind on the way back proved tempting to a lot of eager participants, who jumped at the chance to race the wind. As a teammate later put it: You’ll pay for it in the run. She couldn’t have said it any better; more on that later. While on the bike, I made sure to take more than the usual nutrition and hydration portions and felt good about the absence of any twinges of cramps. For once, I felt really good about myself as I got off my bike and headed into the bike-to-run transition.
The run route wasn’t ‘flat as a pancake,’ as described earlier by one of the race coordinators, but it wasn’t terribly hilly either. It was hot though – surely nowhere near Death Valley temperatures, but balmy enough for most humans to reach for some form of hydration at every aid station that dotted the course. Ice, water, and sports drinks were available for the toasted, scorched, and blistered. It was just before the end of the first loop that I realized my tailwind folly on the bike ride back came to collect posthaste. My old friends, the Cramp Twins, Twisty and Twitchy, were threatening to camp inside my legs. I decided to slow my pace and take in more gels, anti-fatigue tabs and salt capsules to keep them at bay. Looking around, I found I was in good company: competitors who normally kill the run leg were struggling to put left foot over right, others even walking. This was definitely not going to be an ‘eyeballs out’ finish for me, or them, but it certainly wasn’t going to be boring either. I flicked on my autopilot switch and trudged through the remaining distance on a run-walk strategy, stopping at nearly every aid station along the way for hydration, ice that I tucked under my suit, and generous dousings of cold water on my head and arms.
The longest part of any race is the last one or two kilometers that somehow stretches out the way a really bad movie refuses to end. You know you’re near the finish and yet you’re not quite sure where it is. Entering the resort’s driveway, I knew I was close because I could hear the announcer over the PA system barking out names of each participant crossing the finish arch. And as with most of my races, I made sure to break into a trot as the finish came into view.
It wasn’t that dramatic a finish, as I crossed the arch some eleven seconds over my target time. There were no tears, regrets or misgivings, as I raised the finisher’s banner above my head and cheerfully bent forward to receive the finisher’s medal from the race volunteer. Bumping fists and exchanging high-fives with teammates who finished ahead of me, and waving an “I finished and I’m all right” to the missus on the sidelines, I walked away with my fourth consecutive 70.3 IM Philippines finish wearing the same bright smile that I started with that morning.
This was going to be a beautiful day.
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