Biking and running the Cobra IM70.3 race

I peed on my shorts while standing in the middle of the transition area. I wasn’t inside the restroom or Portalet – I stood public beside my bike, all-needing to unload that liquid off my bladder and it was the fastest way to pee. Yes, it’s one of those crazy, no-choice, I-have-to-go moments doing this crazy, our-choice, let’s-go sport of triathlon.

While swimming the harrowing 1.9-km. leg of the Cobra Ironman 70.3 race the other Sunday, I felt like peeing. But, given the effort and the challenges while swimming, nothing would come out. And so, bahala na, I did it beside the bike. (Good thing I still had the sense to do it before putting on my cycling shoes! Ha-ha.) No wonder, together with eating a banana and Cloud 9 chocolates, I took over nine minutes for this transition phase.

Off the bike we sped. Passing through the Mactan Newtown Megaworld complex, we headed out towards the airport road. If you’re a long-time fan of this sport that involves pedalling and crouching low and embracing the wind, you’ll love the bike portion of the Half-Ironman. No cars, no tricycles criss-crossing the road; the asphalted and cemented roads are all yours for the morning. In no other time of the year other than the first Sunday of August can you experience this.

Climbing the Marcelo Fernan Bridge is a highlight. It’s not a difficult ascent; it’s gradual and it offers a view of the channel and the cities of Mandaue and Cebu that you can’t find anywhere else.

My complaint was this: While heading down the bridge, all the bikers are crammed in one lane of one side of the road. Unlike the previous time I joined the bike (three years ago, during the 2012 edition), the entire side was closed for the cyclists. While manuevering down, a portion of the buntings that helped cordon the road was blown away; it cut further the road space and made it scary when the elite cyclists started heading back at the opposite direction.

Plaridel St. in Mandaue City, that stretch of a few hundred meters that was littered with potholes, wasn’t too bad. They cleared the newly-cemented portion and let us traverse there. Good move. And I’m sure this portion will be fully-cemented in 2016.

Passing the SRP Tunnel while pedalling on two thin wheels is an unforgettable experience that only those who participated can explain. As you enter, the bright sunlight from outside turns dark. Screams from eager triathletes echo and bounce off the walls. It’s both eerie and exhilarating. And it passes quickly; after one kilometer, you’re out, back to sunbathe.

The South Road Properties (SRP) segment is enjoyable. Again, completely no-vehicles, no spectators running. (The scary moments are when kids shout for you to throw your empty water bottles and they run in the middle of the road to grab them.)

The route was “M” shaped, meaning it’s twice an out-and-back loop (towards the tip of Talisay and back to Parkmall, twice); it meant that heading towards Talisay City, you’d experience headwinds but coming back, you’d be easy-pedaling because of the wind pushing you from behind.

To me, my two prayers to the Lord were not to crash and not to get into mechanical trouble. Though most participants brought along inner tubes and bike pumps, a flat busted tire can often mean the end of your adventure. I biked easy and relaxed. Knowing that there still loomed a 21-K run after 90 kms. of biking, I knew I had to reserve energy. Upon reaching T2 (Transition 2, bike-to-run), you’re all thankful to God for keeping you safe.

After changing footwear to running shoes, you’re off unaided by the bike. And the question starts: What happened to the rain? Forecasts declared a 60 percent chance of rain. Instead, the sun melted the gray clouds and exposed itself to bake the runners. It was a hot, good-for-sunbathing day. Unlike most Fun Runs that start at 5 a.m., at the IM70.3 event, you’re starting mid-day. I started around 12 noon. Can you imagine, after that swim and bike, running a half-marathon from 12 to 3 p.m.?

Luckily for the runners, there was plenty of shade found along Punta Engano, starting from Shangri-La down to Be Resort, until you reach the end. The challenge arrives when you enter Amisa and Discovery Bay and are forced to run naked, with no tree cover. The run is two loops. After you conquer these scorching hot portions and head back to Shangri-La, you’ve got to do it again. It’s a physical and mental Mt. Everest. All this time, you drink Gatorade and bathe yourself in ice and water.

By the end of the first loop, I was cramping; I walked, slow-jogged, strolled. Around Km. 15 and after consuming multiple GU energy gels, I felt like vomiting with the thought of swallowing another Gu gel. (Since I had lost my watch during the swim, I repeatedly had to resort to asking the spectators for the time.) I needed to take something refreshing. What? I thought.

Coke! Ha-ha. I love this drink and I know it would re-energize me. Forgetting to bring money, I had to plead from a store owner to loan me a Coke. It certainly helped because moments later, I felt better and was able to take the Gu. This, I know, is true: Coke adds life.

Finally, starting at 7 a.m. and finishing at nearly 3 p.m., I crossed the finish line fully exhausted, near-dizzy but enveloped with that indescribable sense of fulfillment that can only be felt by those who suffered the same.

John Pages

By John Pages

I've been a sports columnist since 1994. First, in The Freeman newspaper under "Tennis Is My Game." Then, starting in 2003, with Sun.Star Cebu under the name "Match Point." Happy reading!

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