Bionic man Bernard Sia turns into Ironman

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Only 17 mornings remain before the most awaited sporting event in Cebu starts: the Cobra Ironman 70.3 race. One of the 2,150 triathletes joining is my friend from way back in high school, Bernard Vonn Sia.

The Executive Vice-President (EVP) of the family-owned Cebu Bionic Builders, Bernard is also a devoted husband to Cress and a proud dad to Cooper, Brie and Bliss. Here’s my full interview with Bernard…

What sports did you engage in in the past?

“I played bowling quite regularly when the SM Bowling lanes opened in the late 90′s. I was a part of ABC (Architect’s Bowling Club) representing the supplier section. This went on for about 5 years or so playing an average of 15-20 games per night 3-4x a week. Joined at least 4 or 5 tournaments a year only and never championed. hehe! After that, I took a swing at golf when my dad also started playing. Loved the sport, never had a handicap lower than 32 though and had already numerous injuries like tendonitis, back pains (bulging disc at the L4/L5) & even broke my nose! Yup my own golf ball ricocheted and hit my nose missing my left eye by half an inch. I was also part of SAGA (Society of Architect Golfers & Associates) again representing the supplier section. I’d play 2-3x a week diminishing when I got married and especially when we started having kids. The time spent on the fairway is just too long for a new family.”

How did you evolve into getting into triathlon?

“Well, it all started October 2011 when my medical check up showed a slightly high cholesterol and some other ailments. Cress then told me to get some exercise (during that time I almost had zero physical activities). I had actually been putting of exercise for the whole year of 2011- but these medical check ups shake you up you know.. a wake up call of sorts, this coupled with over 10 months of get togethers with Bendy Benedicto and everytime we would meet up we’d talk about his trainings and how it has improved his physical well being.

“So, to get the ball rolling & push myself, I registered for a fun run, not just any fun run, it was the CCM 2012 (Cebu City marathon) 21K half marathon. Take note I have never run and have never joined any fun run of any distance prior to this. This was when my kumpare John Pages would have his patience tested because I would call him almost everyday for running tips, running forms and the like . I would view videos on chi running, read on various training methods and download some training programs online. 2 months to train for the CCM half mary 2012 and I think i did 2:38 on my very first half mary. After that I found myself joining a half marathons once a month until this day.

“Since it wasn’t advisable to run everyday to give our joints a rest, I just figured, why not get a bike? a road bike probably since I’m in my 40′s? bike around the city as cross training? So I did, without any idea that there was a huge bike community in my circle of friends alone. The second I got my bike, it opened up a lot of new and old connections sharing the same enthusiasm for a healthier lifestyle. First ride, Ryan brought me straight to Willys in Busay. Second Ride, Mike Fernan rode with me straight to Danao. Majority of the guys I was riding with were all triathletes and all training for Ironman 70.3 2012 – so i kinda got sucked in their bike training while still doing my runs.

“The swim part was last.  I just toyed with the idea of: i’m running & biking, swimming probably? why not? could it be possible to teach a 40 year old the basics of swimming? So, a month before my first Tri Race, I asked Franz a triathlete and swim coach the basics —  boy did he have a hard time!! it’s really hard to teach an old dog new tricks! But it got done. It was frustrating but it got done.”

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When was your first triathlon event?

“My very first Triathon Race was a sprint distance at the Tri United 3 in Alabang, Manila.  I chose this race, well because it had a finisher’s medal and that was a good remembrance of your first Tri.  900 meters in the LaSalle Zobel Pool that lasted 39 mins; 30 km. biking around Ayala Alabang for 52 mins & 7 km run around narra park for a total time of 2:23landing a 41st place out of 68 age groupers.  Packing & unpacking the bike was hell! will probably not race an out of towner again. hehe!

Can you talk some more about last year’s IM? And the Fearless Hot Mammas?

Since I was already riding with friends training for the IM and i was regularly running, 2 weeks before IM last year, I was trying to sell myself on facebook by posting status update volunteering myself in case anyone needed a biker or runner for any relay team.  The last update i posted 2 days before the event: “Last chance for anyone looking for a Cyclist or Runner to substitute any last minute back out sa Relay for IronMan 70.3this Sunday.  Guaranteed time: Ride: 3:40; Run: 2:35″.  That day I got a message from Francis M & Marget V. referring me to the same team: the Fearless Hot Mammas.  Their runner Maimai H. narrated to me that their biker actress Jennylyn Mercado could not make it because of some misfortune (found out later in the news that she was swindled her money for this cebu trip).  And the rest is history.

“I didn’t have any expectations as I was literally a last minute substitute so i went around my business of registering and bike check in just ‘going with the flow’.  The night before the race though i slept early and took lots of water.  Left the house at 2AM to make it to the 4AM cut-off before they close off the roads. The anxiety set in an hour before swim start.  Heart Rate started to rise as there were so many watching in shang that i had to make sure I don’t fall while trying to mount the bike. hehe! on the route, lots of people & children were cheering and that made a difference.  Southbound was very difficult, the headwinds were so strong I couldnt go faster than 20kph! I just paced myself ‘just to survive’.  Going back and up the bridge was another ordeal, could I still have the energy to pedal uphill?  Saw some guys already walking their bikes up — then told myself: “this is just another willy’s ride, just another willys ride”.  got back to shangri-la 34 minutes faster than my target time and it was time to relax.  I waited for our runner at the finish line excited, I mean exhausted. hehe!

Did you decide right after the event to join the full IM this year?

“I think I was already considering it immediately after but when i saw the exhausted faces of the finisher I said “nah! I’m not that crazy!” It would later turn out I was that crazy! I decided with finality to join this year’s individual half Ironman about 2 months after.

When did you register, the first day when the online reg opened?

“Yes, I registered the first day and first minute online registration opened that was December 1, 2012 8:00AM! I then found out that it only took 4 days to fill up all the slots!

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How has your training progressed from Aug of last year until now?

“Right after last year’s IronMan70.3, most of my training involved getting the hang of the swim segment and also joining sprint and olympic distances just to get the ‘feel’ of triathlon and also so as not to do too much too soon.  The official training allegedly started around March after the Xterra Triahlon race.  So far I have build up my training base mileage the first 3 months making sure I can survive all 3 distances for each discipline with some brick (doing 2 at the same time) training here and there – sort of building up the endurance.  I also joined a lot of races making it part of the training.  The last 2 months until now is more specific with more brick trainings and more intensity but shorter distances and time.

“It is difficult to train solo as well, I was doubly blessed when last year our CCA (Cebu Contractor’s Ass.) had asked us to form a fitness group that we now call Built to Tri and early this year I was invited by the premiere Tri – Running Group TTB (Team TytsBogdo) to join their fold.  The seasoned triathletes from TTB has become my mentors in this new sport while the guys in Built To Tri have been moral boosters and vice versa.   The camaraderie in these groups also have given a new meaning to Training.

“I just have to say this though: Training for ironman is not easy.  If you get to chance upon my workout logs on Daily Mile, you will see the time that was/is spent on training. My mileage though is nothing compared to the others who dedicate more time and of course gets better results.  I aim to finish and make sure not to loose track of my goal in all of these: ‘To be healthy for my family”.  Right now, it’s family, business and training — anything more I take in will be impossible for me to handle.

“My weekday trainings are usually before the crack of dawn and finish in time to wake up my kids, have breakfast with them and bring them to school, everyday.  This means if i need to do an LSD (Long Slow Distance) run, i have to start before 4:00AM otherwise all weekday morning trainings are short and intense.  I’d sneak a 30minute swim during lunch, eat for 30 minutes and be back in the office immediately or do a Brick Swim/Run late afternoon but after the swim, I’d run to the house to save time.  My weekends used to be consumed with every Sundaytraining but over the last 2 months I felt it wasn’t doing any good forSunday family time, so I’d either do a long bike ride on a Saturday and report for work a bit later in the morning or do a quick Sunday morning training to finish before 8:00AM, in time when the kids wake up.  LongSunday trainings are now about once a month with some simulations or bricks.  Again, i cannot stress this enough, my time for family is a no compromise – and I thank my wife for her gentle reminders as trainings can be addicting and you lose track of yourself.

“As far as my progress of my training is concerned, I can’t really tell.  I think it is innate in us to under value ourselves thinking, we’re still slow, it’s still difficult and I think up to some extent, that’s good, it keeps our foot on the ground and not be complacent.  So, to answer your question: I have not progressed, but have become healthier?? Is that a valid answer?

What events have you joined?

“After my relay participation in ironman last year I have joined:

Tri United Leg 3 – Sprint Distance – November 2012
Cebu Loves Tri Leg 1 – Olympic Distance – November 2012
Cebu Loves Tri Leg 2 – Olympic Distance – February 2013
Xterra Off Road Tri – Relay 10K Run – March 2013
Talisay Triathlon – Sprint Distance – March 2013
Nat’l Age Group Triathlon – Olympic Distance – April 2013
Tabuelan 111 Triathlon – 111km distance (1.2km short of a 70.3) – June 2013

coming up after Ironman 70.3 will be Defy 123 – a 1km swim, 110km bike, 10km run in the island of bohol come october – a birthday race if you must say. :)

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Of the three disciplines, what gave you the most difficulty and why?

“First it was the swim because I was a new swimmer and especially if the water was rough but I kinda overcame that already, now my challenge is the run especially after the tabuelan race, I feel I need to improve my run after biking 90km.”

What are your expectations this IM?

“I‘m hoping for the same professionally organized race, better hydration & nutrition support for the bike & run part, a nice cool rain free weather and of course good and safe race.  Other than that, I saw in the race route it’s practically the same as last year so the same expectation of some challenging under currents in the swim part, strong and grueling headwinds on the bike part and super hot and sunny run! :)

Why do you think this sport is so popular today?

“I can probably attribute it to social media? People see what other people are doing so they go with the fad probably? A bucket list of sorts.  The downside to this is the lack of education and respect for the sport which might cause injuries or fatalities.  I have read of a lot of deaths or injuries from triathlon racing.  That’s why as far as my training is concerned, I train using my heart rate as basis so I don’t overtrain / overstrain myself.  Our TTB elders also always remind us of the dangers of overtraining or doing too much too soon, our version of cruel love hehe!”

What will your farthest swim, bike ride and run be in preparation for IM?

“The farthest I’ve swam is the 2 km Olanggo challenge; a 120km bike ride and 21km run during the once a month fun runs.  I hope this will be enough to prepare for IM.”

With the Cebu Marathon, how will you describe your experience?

“Honestly and at first I thought it was a bit pricey but after my first full marathon at this year’s CCM, I have to tell you without any biases it was worth every cent of the fee and more.  the race route was very safe with marshalls everywhere and I think it’s the most important factor.  The support crews were manned by very competent people, sometimes overqualified with no less than doctors on some parts.  Hydration, Nutrition, Ice Bath were in surplus.  They even have efficacent oil spray on some stations.  The route was also filled with lively cheerers, bands, some music, and more.  Lots of photographers that openly share their photos as well. and of course last but not the least, I can proudly say I ran my first marathon at home: Cebu.”

What has sports and exercise taught you?

“Ironically John, though training for IM70.3 is very time consuming, it has taught me time management.  It has extended my sense of patience, forbearance and humility.  Sports is a good release of stress from other factors in your life as long as you don’t let the sport stress you out.”

Do you pray before, during or after an event/training?

“I have this practice of kneeling infront of Senor Santo Nino at home before any training asking for a safe workout and to ‘bring me back safely to my family after each training’.  We also pray as a group before a long ride or event asking for protection and safety.  I have a rosary that I bought in our Lady of Manaoag in Luzon when my wife (then girlfriend) went there that i place on the stem of my bike, that I touch and say a little prayer also before a ride.”

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