XTERRA experience: Surviving the swim…

(Photos by Dr. Wyben Briones)

Let me begin with the party. Saturday night at the CICC. Gov. Gwen Garcia knows how to celebrate and make the Welcome Dinner… XTERRA-special. As dozens of foreign triathletes arrived, they were accorded the famous “Cebuano hospitality.”

Dancers wowed the audience. Actors Richard Guttierez and Jericho Rosales added glitter to the ballroom. Pasta overflowed. I got to meet the energetic drive behind Liloan, Mayor Duke Frasco. Then, organizer Fred Uytengsu, Jr. beamed with pride as he proclaimed, “I’m happy to bring XTERRA to my hometown of Cebu!”

XTERRA is one of the few events where more participants come from out-of-town than from Cebu. And, judging from their faces that night, the visitors were awed: nowhere are they accorded as dazzling a Welcome Party as in Cebu.

RACE DAY. I woke up at 3:50 A.M. After drinking coffee and munching on chicken sandwich, I donned my one-piece Speedo suit—my solitary attire that morning.

At 5:15, Jasmin, Jana and I were off. As soon as we entered Amara, the usually-serene subdivision reverberated with energy. “Boom-Boom Pow” pulsated from the speakers. Colorful tents littered the marina. Parking was full. I met Gianluca and Matteo Giudicelli and wished them good luck.

It was body-marking time. And no less than Boying Rodriguez, the man responsible for bringing Xterra to our shores, marked “425” on my left arm and right leg.

Kisses and hugs between triathletes and family members ensued. Birthday boy Rio de la Cruz’s hair further electrified the crowd. Photos, ready for FB, were snapped. Gov. Gwen arrived. Eddie and Annabelle Guttierez were next. It was panic time. By 6:40, nobody but the participants would be allowed inside the starting area.

Tenggoy Colmenares helped strap three GU gels in my bike. We took a 5-minute warm-up swim to acclimatize our bodies. Then, as a remote-controlled helicopter circled the marina and the emcee Jaime Garchitorena counted down, “3… 2… 1!” the siren blared as the triathletes were off…

SWIM. Luckily, the sea was calm; but the splashes and bumping of bodies were choppy. They would encircle the rectangle (buoys) twice to complete 1.5 kms.

Our group? About 60 of us—XTERRA Lite competitors—waited for an hour. (My mom Allen sneaked in to give his son a hug!) Then, as swimmer after swimmer emerged, it was our turn.

At 8 A.M., we swam. I had always been anxious about open-sea swimming. An athlete on land, I was not accustomed to the dangers of the ocean. I reminded myself: relax. Yet, I couldn’t relax. Swimming near the rope and buoys, that was where the most traffic was located. Bad move. I had to stop, tread, pedal again. I got kicked. I kicked. Had to overtake; was overtaken. All you could visualize were bubbles and splashes. The sand underneath was 10, 15 feet deep!

Mentally, I told myself to target one buoy at a time. The finish was still far and if you think too far ahead, more pressure sets in. One white buoy at a time.

I struggled. It wasn’t until halfway through our 500-meter distance when the swimmers had spread out that I felt more comfortable. Still, the heart rate was 100 percent max and all you can tell yourself was, “Let’s get this over with!”

Finally, after what seemed like 30 minutes (I finished with an actual time of 14:39; that includes the transition time from swim to bike), I reached the shore. Thank you, Lord! (Compare my swim time to former Olympiad Guy Concepcion – the winner of our Lite swim leg who finished under six minutes!)

I had always told myself that after the swim, my race was done—I can completely enjoy myself. Which was true…

(These photos by Nimrod Quiñones)

BIKE. I love mountain-biking. Given Cebu’s mountainous terrain, it’s one of the most exhilarating activities. And that’s how my 35-km. ride transpired. I loved it. Many times I’d whisper, “Thank you, Lord!” for the fresh air and mountains.

In the first 17.5-K loop, I biked with Matteo Giudicelli and his group. It was good. Why? Everybody knows Matteo. And so, with hundreds of spectators lining the inner, narrow roads of Liloan, they all cheered us on!

One funny moment: a spectator shouted, pointing at me from afar, “Naa si Richard Guttierez! Si Richard!” Then, realizing I was not, “Ay, dili man diay si Richard!”

My goal was not to get injured or have a flat tire. The scary part? I lost my three CO2 bottles—to help fix a flat tire. (More on the bike and run this Thursday.)

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