Thursday, July 5, 2012
I came to Tri United 2 at Laiya jittery; I went home from the race inspired.
Writing about my pre-race jitters before the weekend race somehow eased my anxiety. I was therefore able to imbibe the positive energy in the race venue and enjoy the activities. The great thing about a major race in a still manageable-sized, growing triathlon community is that you bump into a lot of friends and familiar faces. I saw grade schoolmates from my birth town of Los Baños. I exchanged pleasantries and banter (both excited and nervous ones) with friends and acquaintances from the numerous tri teams. They sure are very many now. Even friends from the running community like Team Boring ultramarathoners and the fast boys in pink (Team Powerpuff Boys) were there. It was a fiesta there in sunny Laiya.
Day 1: Saturday
It was sprint race day. I had wanted to watch the swim start but I was late by about 15 seconds. As I walked to the shore, I first heard the starting horn. Seconds later, the sight of waves assaulted my senses. Uh-oh, I felt for the newbies doing the sprint. I had done the crazy waves of 2009 Corregidor Aquathlon and the 5-foot waves of 2011 Tri United at Matabungkay. I know how rolling waves feel. Exasperating, nauseating. Just like in Matabungkay, I saw a bunch of triathletes standing scared in the thigh-deep waters, holding gingerly onto the buoy line, immobilized by doubt and fears.
Minutes later, I heard spectator-friends shouting: “___ is coming back to shore.” No, my inner voice shouted. Earlier I have seen newbies came back, but it felt more real when it was someone you knew who was coming back. A number of us rushed to him, hoping to calm and cheer him. We intoned in various ways: “It is still shallow midway to the turnaround. Just look at people standing there. If you go past that point, even by wading, the waves calm down.” But fear has a way of clouding over reason. As someone also wrestling with my own fears, I know the feeling. We respected our friend’s decision even as we try to assuage his feeling of dejection. In the end, we managed to convince him to just bike and run, to complete the other legs and salvage what’s left of an unforeseen and unfortunate circumstance.
For the nervous sprint participants, there were many angels in the water. In their casual wear, race directors Raul Cuevas and Ting Joson took to the water and attended to participants immobilized by fear and out there standing or being thrashed by the waves. Camilla Brooks was seen also diving in to help. These gestures are what being in a triathlon community is all about. There are more of these gestures on day two. Doc Topher coming to help revive a delirious triathlete comes to mind.
Emerging early from the waves was Lester Chua-Yap of 24/7. Wow, he was fast out there in the sea. I would see him later on exhibiting his running skills as he chase or ran alongside youngsters from the national training pool. Lester won his age-group in the sprint category, and would race the long-distance the following day. Cool.
I lingered for a while after the swim start and watched other athletes practice their swim in the continuously rolling waves. I could still see some the race sprinters fighting valiantly in the waters. There was something about those valiant efforts that egged me to go out and try it as well. But I was not properly dressed. I was in zipped shorts, without goggles. I saw ultra runner and aspiring triathlete Vic of Team Boring emerged from the water. I borrowed his goggles and tried the waters. I can’t see a thing in the turbulence, but I loved that the saltwater buoyed me up even if I don’t kick as much. I heard Beeps of Powerpuff was trying the waters too. Great. We could all do this. We could all overcome the waves, and with it our fears and jitters.
I walked back to our resort which is about 2.5kms from Playa Laiya. I could see Lester pounding the roads, seemingly enjoying his ability to run despite coming off a swim and a bike ride. I cheered him and a couple of others, and walked to our home base a bit more energized. I could do this.
At the resort, our team monkeyed our way through a fun photo shoot. Afterwards, we all dipped in the sea. As I have just finished my swim, I watched my teammates from a distance. It was fun watching these guys and gals frolic in the sea. Yes, frolic, as they were just playing, swimming and then treading in the deep parts – no buoy lines on hand. Our team was blessed with fine swimmers – those who swam for their schools and those who have learned to enjoy the water only at adulthood.
Day 2: Sunday, Long-Distance Race Day
By now excitement has overcome what remained of my pre-race jitters. So many athletes present; the energy in the air was palpable. Following swimjunkie’s tips, I took time to warm up in the water. The water was calm, clear and lukewarm. I also had adequate time for picture taking :)
Photo courtesy of Jun Neri
I started on the sides, mid-row. I was determined to swim my own pace with the least amount of effort. I need to save my energy for the bike and the run. I thoroughly enjoyed my swim. At first I breathed on my right side, every other stroke, but on my next two laps I did bilateral breathing. Right-side breathing is my comfort stroke although I have been training on bilateral breathing for the last few months. My heart rate never spiked and immediately began to enjoy the swim. I drafted whenever I could: at the legs, at the hips, in between two swimmers. It was fun to freeload. Haha. When I remembered that drafting at the foot of another swimmer penalizes the latter in terms of energy, I stopped doing it and looked for side-drafting opportunities instead. I must have read a lot of trisuit sponsors underwater that morning. I swam evenly at about 21 minutes per loop, pacing myself against Willy Yao of Greenhills Tri who was such an inspiration at his age.
The waters were lovely, but walking on beach pebbles isn't
Photo by Jun Neri
I was ecstatic that I made the swim in 1:03, a little faster than my expected 1:05. The problem with me when I become so happy with my swim is that I tend to relax on the bike afterwards. Complacency? False security? I don’t know. Haha. My bike time? It’s dreadful! Haha. Truth is my biking is my weakest link, but when I got the scare of my life when I did a swim time trial last week, race goal number 1 became: Meet swim cut-off time. The rest of the race is just another training day.
My bike time of 2:44:35, inclusive of transition one, tells it all. I am not yet at my desired fitness state. Hell, I am not even at my 2010 fitness level. My above 200 lbs weight is telling me that I am such a drag on the bike. This is sad truth, I knew it, but I had a race to finish and I was determined to milk it for all its worth.
Surviving 60kms on bike at my physical state would be difficult so I paced myself strategically. I told myself: Just spin. Use lighter gear when you have to. Maintain steady heart rate. Drink and eat regularly – a gel every 10kms in my case. The 1.5 liters of water on my back was very convenient, but on hindsight I think I did not drink enough. About a half a litter was still left when I should have finished it 2 hrs into the ride. I was getting used to bar end shifters, but I tense a bit still when riders overtake or when riding up a hill. At one point, I wobble when shifting and almost fell off my bike. Close call. On my third loop when the road was basically all mine to take, I did practice the aero position. The last minute Saturday morning aero bar adjustments seemed better as I actually enjoyed the position. But again, more practice on this for me. This is a test race for me, and yes I fail on the bike so I would need to re-study and re-take the exam. As a former student and teacher, I know the drill :)
That I failed the bike test does not mean I didn’t enjoy the ride. I did! I had fun watching friends come and go. I greeted, nodded, smiled and cheered most of the way. I took in the scenery – the port scene and the people lining up -- they remind me of Camsur 70.3. I appreciated tri friends passing by and egging me on. Big thanks to my teammates and friends from Beacon, XTRM, Secondwind, Quest, Carrier-GRC, Xycos, PLDT, Unilab, and others whom I can no longer recall due to fatigue. Special shout-out to Jeremy Go of SecondWind who slowed down and cracked a joke as we navigated a false flat. He told me something like this: “ Siguro this is not a good time to approach someone on a bike and ask: Pare, utot lang ba yan, o na-tae ka na?” I had a big laugh. Thanks bro! Good thing I was neither having a bum stomach at that time, nor was I wearing light colored trishorts.
I entered transition 2 as third athlete from the last. But ran I must do to complete this task. As I exit transition for my run, I saw my teammate Al Neri running towards the finish line a few meters ahead of regular age grouper winner Greg Banzon. Al is older but within my age group, and like me he has had battles with the stomach bulge, but there he was clocking way below 4hrs. Awesome, inspiring. That vision of him on his way to a huge personal best was like taking in my favourite Eng-Bee-Tin hopia at the end of a long run. Energizing!
Again, my run strategy was run by feel, by perceived heart rate. I would say I ran, or rather jogged, most of the course with the exception of steep uphills and the parts where I slow down for drink or water splash. On hindsight, I may have stopped too often considering the level of effort I was keeping. By Maffetone rule, I was not really supposed to heat up that much if I keep to my aerobic heart rate. Besides, I thrive on heat. I actually had to suppress a laugh when a concerned bystander offered me sunblock on my last loop. I have not used sunblock in ages. Thanks nonetheless. On hindsight, I may have run too conservatively given that a heavier lady eventually pulled away from me on my second lap. That or fatigue was setting in and therefore I was slowing down gradually.
But I ran still, even if on my last loop there was barely anyone else on the road. Ran and burn fat, I told myself. At some point I knew I would go past 6 hrs, and that the roads would open, but I kept the pace still. Just plod on and keep your form no matter how slow you may be. At one point, Mesh of PLDT who was on her way back to her resort called out to me: “Ang seksi mo tumakbo ah!” "Syempre," I shouted back with a hearty laugh. Haha. I kept my form and ran proud, smiling or hollering back at every car who slowed down to cheer me. Thanks again. I may be slow, but my greatest strength is tenacity, or maybe perseverance. To continue what I started and to finish despite the odds. This is how I ENDURE. In my own small way, I hope I made my team proud.
(Congratulations to all the participants and winners. To my team ENDURE, that was one inspiring race and outing at the same time)