Friday, May 21, 2010

A Race That I Deserve (Part 2)

I climbed up the stairs to Transition 1 heart leaping with joy. At that moment, my worries vanished and all I felt I was pure, unadulterated joy. I was so pleased with myself I did not notice I lingered in transition one for 5 precious minutes! My usual T1 time would be under 2 minutes, but I took a mental note to spend time eating and drinking at transition instead of slowing down and worrying about it during bike time. I was aware of the daunting task of hill climbing up ahead. I was prepared for that, but not the pleasant shock of doing better than expected on my swim. On hindsight may be I could have spent just 3 minutes in transition (nutrition and hydration included). But overall my transition time was time well spent. I wanted to savor that one shiny moment.

I subsisted on cheers of friends to allay whatever apprehensions I have on the bike. Of the three disciplines, running is actually my weakest, but I fear biking the most. I am not afraid to have scratches, but I do not want broken limbs and God forbid, bike-induced disability or death. That my sense of balance was forever affected by a swim-induced middle ear infection in the past does not help.  But thanks to Subit and my cycling buddies I slowly conquered my fear and handicap. In preparation for the race I ventured out of residential villages and Mall of Asia onto the roads of C6, Daang Hari and the treacherous roads to and from Ocean Adventure in Subic. Slowly I was getting used to riders ahead or behind me, and vehicles passing by me.

I left transition one on my bike, smiling for a photo op courtesy of friend Jan. I was also armed with conviction that despite the trials of the week, all was well and that I had prepared well. My God would take care of me.

                                      Out of Transition (photo by Jan Blando)

What Comes Up...

I knew the first 7kms will be mostly uphill. I knew there’s a part there consisting of almost 3 kilometers of straight climb. The first time I did that I was spinning up at lowest gear and speed of 8-9kph. I wished then I could go lower in gear and faster in speed, but that was it. Friend Erick advised me to just comfortably spin and I am forever grateful for that tip. On my second recon, I managed to spin up that same climb at 9-10kph, small improvement but I took what I could take. On the actual race, I adopted the same strategy of spinning up, with that mental image of my hips, thighs and legs acting as set of two coherent pistons slowly but economically chugging to the top. I smiled when I saw my cyclometer reading of 10-11kph on the same climb. Heck, at one point I even reached 14kph! Well what do you know! Yeah, slowly but surely I was improving. Best part was that while I may have panted a little climbing up, the limbs were still relatively fresh. I was saving those limbs for the run. The spectacular forest view was a bonus.

If there was another thing I hope to improve on my biking skills, it was to have just the right dose of assertion if not aggression. I have long abandoned the concept of competing with others and trying to pass or catch up with others. I only compete with the standards I set for myself. But it’s another thing to simply let others pass by when I know I could actually do better. Once or twice during the climb I let another biker go ahead of me, only to be forced to trail behind him and follow his slower speed because I was hesitant to overtake. At the bike turnaround I even let the rider behind me go ahead and make the turn first! I should get an award for generosity, sportsmanship or maybe stupidity! Haha. But I promised to work on the roots of this hesitation:  fear that I would get sideswept as I try to overtake, uneasiness in doing turns, and my still evolving idea of the ethics of overtaking and being overtaken.

...Must Go Down

Then came the downhills. Ah, the downhills. I attacked them still with caution, but the recon we made definitely shored up my confidence. In those downhill rushes, I managed a few times to max the gears and pedaled to go faster. With hands firm but relaxed-as-I-could-be on the handle bar, I leaned forward, made myself as aerodynamic as possible, and let go. I surrendered to gravity, my training and steadfast belief that my God would protect me. My cyclometer which I avoided at downhills would later tell me that I reached a career high of 59.9 kph at some point. I must admit I was still afraid in parts, but I was glad to have actually enjoyed the downhill rush in certain parts. In the years to come I hope to enjoy the bike leg as much I enjoyed the swim in this year’s edition.

But the downhills are not without its downside. On my way back there was yet another long, continuous, curved downhill where I spotted a participant seated on the ground beside his bike. Two bystanders seemed to be checking on him who seemed dazed or maybe momentarily shocked by what appeared to be a fall. It was a sharp curve and a fast fall – too fast that even though I wanted to check on him I was simply going down too fast to safely stop. I hope he was alright.

When I made past the 90-degree downhill curve leading to Airport and away from Dungaree, I knew the treacherous downhills were over. First thought that came to mind was: maybe this time I could safely overtake. Maybe this time I could reap the fruits of holding back a little during the hills and patiently spinning up those climbs.  I surveyed the bikers ahead of me. Uh-oh, they were already few. Have I been so conservative?  Coming from the Ocean Adventure turnaround I was overtaken by 2 bikers. Could I overtake at least 2 bikers on the second half – while sticking to my strategy of comfortably hard ride?

The Long Chase

My first target was to finally overtake the guy whom I kindly or stupidly allowed to make the turnaround before me. Nice fella actually but I think it’s time I took the lead. Prior to downhills I even had to slow a bit so this guy could take the plunge first and I could enjoy the downhills by myself. Safety first for me before ranking. Comfortably spin and mind my cadence and soon enough I would naturally overtake. And I did. I did the same with 2-3 more bikers. Soon enough I saw a friend and batchmate from dragonboat rowing and underwater hockey years ago. I believe the hills took some wind and leg power from him.  With smiles and cheers of “Go, Go, Go”, I passed him. After him there seemed to be a chasm. Uh-oh, where are the rest?

The others I saw after the second turnaround at Asian Auctioneers. Heck, the faster ones are already at km 35 or so and I was just at about km 27. Spin, spin, spin I did again, lured by the speed of the faster cyclists but held back by the thought I still had kilometers more to go. Do not be tempted to speed up by taking so high a gear. Stick to the comfortably hard gear. Be patient. I had my new aero bars on, but since I lacked practice on them, I used it just for one or two stretches where the road was really flat, wide and almost vacant. At that time I was averaging on handlebars around 28kph, which I could have raised to 30kph, but I was so worried about the run. I tried doing instantaneous cost-benefit analysis of gearing up versus saving up, but in the end my desire to have a reasonably good run prevailed. I really wanted to run the last leg. Cramps are abomination for me.

                                     At about km 30 going to Waterfront 
                                                      Photo by Pio Sugay

I passed by the spectator-decked Waterfront almost by my lonesome. Heck, where were the others? I drew in the cheers and the energy of the crowd, but I really wanted to find the others and be part of the race again. I saw them only after the final turnaround at Asian Auctioneers. At that point I also saw a couple of riders just coming from the Dungaree part. Great, I was still part of the race and was far from the last. Spin, spin, spin I did again, until I finally caught up with another friend from the early wave. The hills also made him suffer.  I learned later from results that there were many other riders after me. I might have been too safe and conservative, but I did not do so bad after all. To have survived the hills without incident, even managing to actually have fun riding the downhills at certain moments was reward enough. No flat, no brake failure, no broken chain, no skips in gearing, no incidents. Thank God! My come from behind catch-up on the second half was just a bonus of my patient strategy.
       On the ramp, off to run
    Photo by Carina Manansala

Finally I was running. Now I could ask myself if my strategy of holding back in the bike will pay off in the run. I saw some fast runners - that was a good sign unless they were already in their last round. I was in good spirits and good condition - the legs were very far from cramping, a little tired but not heavy. I was surprised I could actually run the moment I got off the transition ramp. So far so good.

 Photo by Gerard Cinco

I was running slow but steady. I was hoping to run at 7min/km average pace - good enough pace for a standard triathlon considering my 10K personal best is just 1:06. Unfortunately my 14 month old Garmin seemed to be nearing its end-life and died on me even before I biked. I played it by ear. Ran comfortably hard, trying to be conscious of form and heart rate. 

Glad to know I was neither the last biker nor last runner
Photo by Migs Castro

I was doing okay until my my third round. I felt the difficulty of the run after that round. It was not a wall that I suddenly bumped into. It was a slow struggle to win over fatigue. Yes, fatigue was finally seeping into me.  It was very similar to the feeling I had running the last 5kms of my  first marathon. I tried to analyze what it was and what caused it. I was not cramping. I was well-hydrated, maybe even a little overhydrated in an effort to fight the heat. But I was used to the heat. My late training starts always caused me to involuntary heat train, till noontime heat at times. I almost finished my second, big, Clif Brownie Bar. Should I have eaten more?  The way I always eat a lot during training? Should I have brought the hopia I always eat during marathons? Maybe. Maybe I should have run longer and more frequently during training, instead of heavily favoring the bike practice? Maybe. Did the physical and mental stress of the recent week finally catch up with me? Maybe. Ah, lots of theories to test during future training.

I did overtake a couple of runners. Despite the creeping fatigue, I managed a 200-meter dash to the finish. Finished strong and smiiling. Thanks to constant cheers from friend Ellen and the merry group of at the finish line. You guys are a wonderful bunch of people. 

Sprint to the finish line, Stop watch, then Smile =)
No, that was not my time.
Photo by Pio Sugay

But here are some things I do know:
  • I finished 290th out of 318 finishers. Not bad for someone whose initial goal was simply to finish this training race.
  • I outswam 54 triathletes and had a splendid time in that lovely bay.
  • With my conservative bike strategy, I still managed to outbike 17 people.
  • Except for water breaks, I ran all 10kms of the last leg. I outran 45 participants - with a run deviation from personal best of only 10 minutes.
  • I may have not achieved the best case scenario of 3:30, but my 3:41:89 is just seconds away from Gelo Arellano's 2009 time  which I appropriated for myself as some sort of benchmark.
  • I initially thought I had been too conservative. But my immediate post-race heart rate and spent feeling akin to finishing a marathon told me I gave it all that I've got.
  • I came out more confident for Camsur, secure in the thought that slow the improvements may be, they do manifest themselves. I leave this race enriched with more intimate knowledge of what my body could do and knowing specific areas I could actually test and work on.
  • I thoroughly enjoyed the race, and would fondly remember the fun recons we had.
  • The support and cheers of friends - how do you put a price tag on that?

I got a race experience that I deserved - nothing more, nothing less. 
For that I thank God, family and friends. I look forward to doing this again - fitter and wiser next time, and in company of greater number of triathlete friends and supporters.


Anonymous said...

Hi Rico that was a nice recap, and very encouraging too, hope to link up with you on the swim part one of these days.. Congrats!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations!!! Overcoming trials and challenges only makes the fruit taste better.

Regards Mark & Tiffin

Let Guieb said...

Congratulations Commissioner!

Anonymous said...

Congrats poh Sir Rico! wow galing ! well deserve for training hard !



Tracy Carpena said...

Woohoo! Congrats, Rico! :) Cong to you, Commissioner! Hehe.
All set for IM! :)

Gingerbreadman said...

Congratulations on the strong effort bud :) It inspires me further to take up multisport :) Wohooo good jobberss!

Rico Villanueva said...

Thank you everyone. I really had a great time there. Thanks to all the support and help.