Bike Hell of a Challenge

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Warning: The blog post may be peppered with expletives. This is after all an account of my first attempt to ride through the hellish bike course of Challenge Philippines.




After reading a description of the bike course of Challenge Philippines (see Seven Hills of Bataan), I tried to negotiate for a shorter, lighter bike sentence from our course reconnaissance group. Can I just do 60m, and start from the center in Morong town? I can then just focus on the more difficult parts (near SBMA Morong Gate and Bagac, Bataan). I was thinking that while I have been regulalry doing Nuvali hill repeats, I haven't gone past 50kms the last few weeks. Besides, while I have lost about 5 pounds recently, I am still heavy.

Dead ma, no reaction from my recon teammates.  Hmmmnnnn....Minutes later, biker chick/kikayrunner teammate Noelle authoritatively wrote in our Endure WhatsApp group chat, "Do the whole course." Hanna also pleaded, "Do the whole course with me." The ladies have spoken, so help me God!  I countered, "Ok, but you have to follow my slow pace." It did not help that teammate BongZ cannot make it to the recon ride. He would have taken some load off me and I can bike in my leisurely pace. While I have been making progress in my cardio-vascular fitness, I am still cautious about taxing my heart too much at current weight.

I planned to use my hybrid bike (mtb frame with disc brakes, road bike wheel size) and have made arrangements to get it back from an officemate who borrowed it for his first tri. I need those disc brakes as security blanket in those terrifying downhills. Give me hills to climb and I shall dare, but please spare me from those terrifying down spirals. I love my life so much I can admit to being a downhill sissy.

Should I muster courage and opportunity to try, I did bring along my ride bike. Upon seeing my road bike inside my vehicle at course start, Challenge ambassador Noelle once again spoke:  Use the roadie. You might be left behind. Everyone else are using road bikes." The female tribe has spoken; I gulped and offloaded the road bike.

Surprisingly, the 4km uphill along Ilanin Road was a relative breeze. A month back, I struggled a bit there during the Subic Fit Festival triathlon. Yehey, I am improving! But I was still slow and still hogging the last man slot. 

I was rejoicing a bit in conquering hill one when suddenly I felt signs of the terrifying downhill. The downhill came like a thief in the night, stealing my wits and sapping all courage within me. It came so fast. I was mentally expecting it after seeing the course map, but I could not have prepared for that level of fright. It was swift, curving, blind descent into the depths of my fears. I was silently screaming in fright. In a hollow, silent voice the child in me cried:  Please, please, please God, make it stop. Make the bike slow down. Imagine a toddler crying asking his mom to make the mini-roller coaster stop. That was me, only silently agonizing.

My right hand was on the hoods with three fingers clasping the brake dearly for life. Friends have repeatedly advised me to put my hand inside the drop bar for better brake grip. I tried before but I only came down much faster. My left hand was clasping the handle bar tightly for balance and stability. They say a biker must do finger brakes to control his descent. I was braking all throughout, but I  still rolled down like a wreaking ball. My effin' weight is pulling me down fast! I wanted to stop and get off the bike, and end my mental suffering, but the damn bike won't stop no matter how hard I press the brake. I wish it was only a dream and I could stop the nightmare by simply waking, but the reality is I was trapped in that mad descent until the ground levels off. I only prayed I would not meet head on any obstruction, and that I would not fly off the bike. Just keep your hands on the bike. Wag kang bibitiw, no matter how much your mind wants to give in. Minutes later, the terror stopped. I was horribly shaken, but alive. I survived. Thank you God and all the saints. I would learn later from Waze that that mad descent is about 2kms of terror. I wish it will get less frightening with time and experience.

I passed moderate climbs enroute to Anvaya Cove. The next challenge was surviving the partially eroded cements road after Anvaya. Rains have removed the top layer cement and exposed the gravelly rocks. It was a gradual but very rocky descent. I was riding an all aluminum Giant, and I felt every rock of that mad road. The vibration was so bad I could feel my mouth and teeth chattering, so bad I wanted to take off my hand off the handle bar. And I was already wearing some shock absorbing gloves! There are also some potholes and deep cracks, so beware.

The second hill (Anvaya Hill) felt a bit more challenging than the Ilanin Road climb. It was at this point that I made my first bike stop. I was already breathing heavily through my mouth and I could feel my heart pounding fast. My objective at that time was to recon the course, not have a heart attack on the road. My legs could take the work even if I was actually riding on Mizuno running shoes, but I dared not test the limits of my heart. I was just happy my bike resistance training in the gym and my Nuvali hill repeats were working. For the cardio endurance, I am still progressively working on it.
Photo: Morong, Bataan. This view is worth a thousand calories. Ang hirap!

Morong, Bataan, past Anvaya Cove


It was at the Anvaya Hill climb that the driver of the support vehicle of the Team Black Pearl would repeatedly and patiently check on me. Black Pearl was kind enough to support everyone, especially big fat laggards like me. To the group of Chance, MJ, Carmina, E. Sanchez and others whose names I failed to catch, a big Thank You. It is support and camaraderie like this that make triathlon a great sport.

The next kilometers are also undulating, hard by themselves, but pale in difficulty compared to the rest of the course. I would pass mahogany forests, seaside views, irrigated rice fields, small communities, the Morong town proper, the Pawikan Center and resorts like Vista Venice which I visited by car last summer. Yes, I have driven the bike course before, and even in my Altis 2.0 I had some difficulty traversing those roads, what more if I am riding a low-end aluminum Giant road bike.

I actually rode part of the relatively flat bike course portion on the pick-up of Team Black Pearl, upon the nth prodding of the driver. My teammate Hanna, whom I was supposed to guide and guard provided she keeps my pace, was already kilometers ahead and the support vehicle driver was worried about her as she rode through the town proper. Baka kasi raw my loko-loko who might get an interest on her or her bike. The Morong people I saw along the way were all nice, but I saw the wisdom in manong driver's point. Hanna would also look for me minutes later and call me to rejoin her. It was also the flat portion I am already familiar with so no loss in training for me.

I tried to keep up with Hanna enroute to Bagac. I was starting to feel the mountain inclines again, pushed a few kilometers and made my second voluntary stop about 2-3 kms from the Bagac course turnaround. The ever reliable support vehicle asked me again if wanted a ride, but I said I needed just about 5 minutes to bring back my heart rate to more cautious levels. After minutes, I did ride up again. Minutes later, I would see the Black Pearl riders going back and also advising me to turn back already. I would also catch teammate Noelle, but I wanted to see Hanna, make my turnaround and join her. I knew I would miss part of the Bagac climb, but in my mind I knew there are tougher hills on the way back anyway.

Somewhere near the resorts our bike contingent met for a quick check on each other. At this point, Chance asked if my quads are already fired up after seeing me not using bike cleats. I told our group that my quads were still fine, pero yung puso at baga ko hirap!  We decided to have Petron Morong town proper as next stop before we assault the climb back to SBMA. There are a few tricky turns at the Morong town proper so I repeaedtly asked bystanders for directions just to be sure. The correct route is to pass through BTPI (Bataan Technical Plant Inc).

I was hoping to catch the group in Petron, and hopefully the support vehicle. I missed the group by 5 minutes although our Endure girl Hanna was loyally waiting for me. Thanks, thanks. Noelle had to guide the rest of the bikers. That time was the only time I wanted the ride the support vehicle back because I thought I had enough lung and heart work-out for the day, but it had to attend to its proper master. But team Black Pearl, thanks really for sharing your resources with us. At that moment, I wished my kennel hand slash weekend driver was not on provincial home leave. 

We initially intended to eat at Petron as it was already lunchtime but there was not real food there. I just replenished my drinks and ate a Magnum bar. Hanna castigated me for the ice cream bar, but I countered that my mind was already set on a heavy lunch. My big body needed calories to propel itself up those damn hills!  Hanna also noticed the 500 peso bills I brought along. Why so much money she asked. I was hoping there were gourmet meals in Morong as reward, and should something happen to me, maybe I can rent out a car or chopper perhaps!

The way to BTPI was a gentle climb full of interesting villas, but mostly the roads are deserted. The abandoned Vietnamese refugee camp looked quaint but eerie. The next big challenge was the Karaoke Hill. I thought it was named as such because you will be coaxed to sing because of the difficulty. It was difficult yes, but it is an actual karaoke machine that gave the hill its name. Midway through the Karaoke hill, probably a few hundred meters from the singing machine, I made my third voluntary stop. Again, I did not want to tax the heart. Not yet. It was at this third personal stop that I felt my left quad muscle finally protesting. The large muscle was not yet twitching, but throbbing and threatening to cramp. The sensation actually worsened when I stopped, but improved when I began to walk up the hill. At the top of the hills, my lungs, heart and left quadricep have recovered.

It was at the Karaoke Hill when I wondered how high was I in terms of elevation. The mountains across seemed already at my eye level, and trees higher than my eye level seemed getting less and less. I must be reaching a peak. The course map actually has this as the second highest peak after Bagac. At that precise moment I shuddered. What goes up, must come down. The memory of the terrifying downhill earlier was still fresh.

I was already on my bike when I noticed the descent. I was familiar with the descent to Anvaya having driven through it before, but I was totally caught unaware by this downhill. I looked at the map just now and indeed this is actually the steepest and longest descent. Whereas the SMBA Morong gate descent was full of trees and spirals, this one is clear space with mostly straight descents. What made this descent highly technical is the gradient and the occasional blind corners due to overgrowth of talahib grass. I keep debating within myself which descent is more terrifying. Let me just tell how I felt about this second one.

Suddenly, I was whisked once more into the depths of my downhill fears. This one was so steep that my brakes were screeching, crying. I thought this type of screeching only happens on carbon brake surfaces, but for the first time in my cycling life, I could hear the wailing of the rubber pads as it tries to hold on to the aluminum rims. It was a scary wailing. I tried to settle for feathering the brakes, but I was simply going down too fast. Once more, I was pleading. Please Lord, make it stop. Please make me slow down. I had the scare of my life when out of the blue, the mostly deserted road end up with an SUV powering up the climb towards me on the left and at the same time, a boy appeared from the tall grass on the right. I think I muttered a quick curse and prayer as I tried to squeeze through them at breakneck speed. I was still moving at dizzying speed when my phone would be ringing incessantly. I rightly thought it was Hanna checking on me. I wanted to stop and answer, but there was no flat ground to stop, only descents that seemingly do not end. The long ringing happened twice, with intervals of quiet, but all throughout that ringing I was clinging and praying that the ground would finally level off. I could not stand my heart being on my throat any longer.

Finally, the ringing stopped, and a little later I was on more solid ground. I felt emotionally spent. Earlier, I gave Hanna the vehicle keys because I know she would finish first anyway. After that descent, I wished Hanna would simply whisked me away. When I finally found opportunity to answer the phone, I realized there was no signal. I was in the middle of nowhere. It was just tall brown grass everywhere. It would take me another 5-10 minutes of biking before I could reply to Hanna. I was probably 8kms from Ocean Adventure at that time. When I finally managed to call her supposedly to request her to get me, she was crying. She thought something bad happened to me because I was not responding. It was thoughtful of the girl to worry about me, when I being older and supposedly more experienced should be protecting her, except that I am not yet fit enough to effectively do that.

I threw in the towel at roughly 6kms from finish line. All in all, I logged in 57kms of mostly hills that day. I missed out on the last hill climb, Manang's special, but it was ok. Hill climbing for me is all about strength training and giving it respect. I shall be prepared for them when race day comes. As for the descents, I wished those twin devils of terrifying descents would transform into knowledge and confidence I can use on race day.

When I signed up for Challenge Philippines on its first day of registration, I embraced wholeheartedly its race slogan:  Challenge Your Self. I am doing it by facing my fears, two terrifying downhills at a time.

Lord, with you I can conquer my fears. Keep me safe.



Read more...

Breaking the Jinx

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Race account:  UPLB National Age Group Triathlon, December 14, 2013


The UPLB triathlon is a sentimental favorite. It was my first triathlon in 2003. That was a decade ago! Has it been that long? I also hail from Los Banos - born inside the former university hospital (now CMT building) about 200m from the race start/finish, schooled in its womb till college, with the University as my childhood and adulthood playground.

You would think that such familiarity with the locale gives me race advantage, but for some strange reason, my race performance almost always suffers when I am in my hometown. I rarely cramp during the swim leg, but I somehow did in my first triathlon race and several years after when I sought some revenge. On those freak cramping incidents, the debilitating cramp happens when I pull a calf muscle as I haul myself off the pool in the first round of the swim. It was the type that remained lock despite all efforts to relax and would hound me till the finish line. In short, on multiple occasions, I would finish the swim without kicking, bike with a single leg and basically walk off the run leg. The jinx was so bad that for this nth try I decided not to inform family members who live nearby.


 On my nth try:  Athlete #147
I was also there to accompany an officemate doing his first triathlon. I would have wanted to do the sprint distance which was my first race, but I opted for the mini-sprint so I can guide my friend. It turns out I have other friends joining for the first time, also accompanied by mutual friend. Great. That kind of support environment makes for memorable triathlon, and a lot of teams have been founded on this helping out spirit, my team Endure included.




Officemate Kazu in his first triathlon


My race plan was simple:  Enjoy and try not to cramp. I swam just two notches above leisurely, practicing what I preach to my newbie friend that there is no point in exhausting oneself in the swim when that means gaining only a minute or two at the expense of labored effort in the last two legs of the race. I was extra careful going up the pool in my first leg. Success, no pulled muscle. Three rounds more and I finally finished my stroll in the pool. I was so conservative in the swim I probably finished near the bottom of my swim wave.

The funny truth is, we are only three males in our age group. Half-Ironman finishers James and myself, and first timer Noy. There was supposed to be a fourth person, but he could not make it. The three of us joked it was just a matter of determining the ranking. All I wanted really is to break my UPLB jinx. I came in to help and enjoy, not race for myself. But we did jokingly admonish the perky youths 13-19 in our swim wave to respect their elders :)

I really intended to catch up in the bike leg. With the hilly Challenge Half Distance looming large in my mind, I have been spending more time on the bike. I hope to harvest some pay-off. In my assessment, I did reasonably well on the bike for the current fitness and training level I have. I tried to narrow the yawning gap between James and myself, but he was just way ahead in the swim and bike. I was expecting my friend Kazu who started a wave later than me would catch up with me on the bike, but we basically maintained our bike distance. In our assessments, we both enjoyed and met our expectations on the bike. By some miracle, the bike gap between Noy and myself narrowed down to as close as 400m, but I would learn from Noy later that he had cramps on the bike leg. Noy has not fully recovered from a recent illness.

I was surprised to catch Noy on the transition area. We left the area just seconds in interval. While I was not yet spent, I knew then that I haven't gotten back my previous running speed. I was still on the jogging phase of my training so there was no way I could outran Noy. All I wanted is to run after Noy as much as my training will permit. A newbie can pull up an overweight half-ironman. Overall I was happy with my run. For the first time, I was running on Baker Field grounds without cramps! My steady jog was interrupted only by short walks on inclines near the auditorium.

Eventually, I crossed the finish line: running, challenged but not spent. Just how I imagine perfect race should be. For the kind of excess weight I am carrying, it was a perfect effort. I was extremely happy to break the jinx. I made a mental note though that I can be faster and happier if I just lose at least ten pounds. I have the experience and maturity, but these qualities can only partially offset excess baggage.

Breaking the race jinx was my chief reward, but the sweet icing on the cake was getting a foot-tall trophy for simply showing up and finishing. James, Noy and myself, we had a dozen laughs on the happy accident that put us three on the podium. Newbie Gail, wife of Noy also ended up first place in her age group. Sometimes, the stars align, allowing ordinary blokes like us our moment in the sun.

Thank you God for the happy memories.



Noy, Gail and James





Read more...

Stroke Correction: Mind those Arms and Legs

Monday, August 19, 2013

Among the three legs of triathlon, swimming is the one I enjoy most. Quite naturally, it is also my relative strength. The thing is I am more of an endurance swimmer rather than a fast one. Two decades of meditative swimming allowed me to go to a dream-like state, floating through and in water for hours with very minimal exertion - but very slowly. Now I must learn competitive swimming. I thought I was an efficient swimmer because I can propel myself for hours with minimal effort. It turns out I have developed two "bad" habits from competitive swimming perspective. I rarely use my legs and I avoid catching the water. I last in the water because I exert very little.

Why did it take me so long to realize this, and how did I discover this?

There was no impetus for me to go faster. I have never come last in a swim leg and typically there are a couple of athletes behind me in the swim. I still make it to cut-off times in big races. But through the years I noticed that athletes who just learned how to swim were now overtaking me. More importantly, I need to make it to bike or run cut-off times so I must swim faster. There you have it. The specter of being cut off pushes one to swim faster.

I consulted teammate Hanna Sanchez, former varsity swimmer of La Salle. On our first session (mid-2012) she gave me her verdict:  You are not catching water nor kicking enough.  Ah ok, it was like being told you do not know how to swim. We'll it's partly true. I was self-taught for most part. She quickly told me to change my swim catch and do kicking drills - lots of them. Coach Ani De Leon-Brown also observed my weak swim catch in one of the triathlon camps held last year in Pico de Loro. Thanks to these coaches, I became conscious and somehow my half-ironman swim time dropped from an hour to 49 minutes in 2012 Cebu (although I think the swim course was short).

Last Saturday's drills were a revelation. While I can do 50m in 1:03-1:06 with a pull-buoy, I was struggling at 1:08-1:12 without the buoy. I was slower kicking than with leg steady. Clearly, my legs were a drag instead of pushing me further. I asked a teammate to record my swim in video. He correctly pointed out that while I was generally in horizontal position, I tend to stop kicking at times and then my legs drop. Old habits die hard!

In six months to Challenge Half, I shall form better habits. Propel from the core and position those arms like dragonboat oars. Maybe if I get to do this I will finally have a swimmer's well-defined back. Progressively extend and intensify those kick drills to 2k. My coach Hanna says 500m to 1K of drills may be enough, but my gut feels I need to progress to 2K to erase almost two decades of very little kicking. Let us see. May all these kick-start in a powerful way my personal crusade to wellness and life balance.


Read more...

About This Blog

Lorem Ipsum

  © Free Blogger Templates Columnus by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP