Ironman 70.3

Today, August 9, would have been the ninth edition of the Regent Aguila Ironman 70.3 race here in Cebu. It was in August 2012 when triathletes first dove into the white sand shores of Shangri-La’s Mactan Island Resort and swam 1.9 kms., when they pedaled 90 kms. to do loops around the South Road Properties (SRP), and when they ran a half-marathon under the scorching noontime heat in Punta Engaño.

Before 7 a.m. today, the starting gun would have been fired in Mactan as thousands of hearts from all over the globe would have started the swim-bike-race craze that’s nicknamed IM70.3.

Wilfred Steven Uytengsu, Jr. is the man responsible for bringing the Ironman brand to the Philippines. He’s Cebuano. We know plenty of successful Cebu-based businessmen family-named Uytengsu. 

Fred was born here in Cebu City. And though he was raised in Manila and studied college in America, where better to bring triathlon than a place you call home: Cebu.

“It’s unfortunate that we won’t be able to stage the Regent Aguila Ironman 70.3 event for obvious reasons,” Fred wrote me yesterday. “This event is world recognized and popular with many professional and age group triathletes. It also brings a lot of tourism dollars to Cebu.”

Each August for the past eight years, an estimated 10,000 people — including 2,500 triathletes — converge in Cebu for this spectacle. Organized by Sunrise Events, Inc., the Cebu race is often recognized as one of the world’s best, twice hosting the Ironman 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championships. Participants get to compete alongside pros like Tim Reed, Mauricio Mendez, Belinda Granger and Caroline Steffen.

Back in 2014 when I joined as runner for a relay team, one of the bike relay participants was Pete Jacobs. He was the 2012 Ironman World Championships (Kona, Hawaii) winner. While Pete Jacobs was readying his bike before the Cebu race began, he kept looking at the bike beside him (a sleek Pinarello) and wondered who professional might be beside him. It was my bike relay teammate and best friend Dr. Ronald Eullaran! I can’t think of any other event where you get to stand and prepare beside the world champion.

With the Regent Aguila Ironman 70.3 race, this 2020, we were struck by Covid-19. And though Sunrise Events, through the indefatigable general manager Princess Galura, did all it could to prepare for the race, there was no stopping this ruthless virus.

“We are guided by ‘safety first’ even as Cebu is on GCQ,” said Fred, bowing to this unseen enemy that has disturbed all sporting events worldwide. 

“We would have had to be comfortable enough with our revised safety protocols to hold an event amidst the pandemic and this would have resulted in a drastically smaller race,” said Fred. 

“So while we are all disappointed, we realize we are dealing with a much bigger issue and we all have to do our part to observe safety and help mitigate the risks of Covid-19.”

As for the sport of triathlon, Mr. Uytengsu believes that, while racing is on a hiatus, the urge to train and compete will return.

“Once the situation improves,” he said, “I believe triathletes will resume their usual training regimen and the sport of triathlon (and Ironman) will continue to flourish in the Philippines and around the world.”

“Triathlon is not a hobby, it is a lifestyle,” he said. “So many people are new to the sport and are just getting situated. I expect the pent up demand to result in a lot of racing… hopefully in 2021.”

Fred Uytengsu added: “We hope to return to Cebu to continue this great tradition.”

Fred Uytengsu

The Cebuano who brought Ironman to the Philippines is, himself, an Ironman. And when we say “Ironman,” we mean the full and “pain-full” experience: 3.8 kms of swimming the open seas and 180 kms. of pedaling against headwinds, topped off with a full 42K marathon.

Fred Uytengsu has competed in over 50 events but none more fulfilling than the Ironman World Championships. Of the hundreds of triathlon races worldwide, the one in Kona, Hawaii is most prestigious; it’s the Wimbledon of triathlon. Fred finished twice, recording a personal best of 12.5 hours in 2011.

“But after 17 years of Ironman and triathlon,” Fred told me the other day, “I’ve taken a step back and focused on competitive swimming at the Masters level.”

On swimming, Fred gave this speech during the 2016 PSA Awards in Manila: “I took swimming in a relatively late age, starting off playing baseball, but I like the notion of swimming because, as a baseball player, sometimes you lose because your teammates struck out or someone dropped the ball. 

“What I liked about swimming is that you look at yourself in the mirror whether you won or lost, and it is whether your work ethic or your time in the pool or your racing plan was executed that defined winning or losing. If I didn’t train hard enough, I had no one to blame but myself. If I’m successful, it’s because I worked harder. 

“I enjoyed that notion competing for 13 years, swimming four hours a day, six days a week, 50 weeks a year. Along the way, I learned a lot about the importance of a great work ethic, commitment, dedication, and sacrifice. All of these would turn out to be great life lessons as I began my working career.”

Fred became the captain of the University of Southern California swimming team. He also represented the Philippines in the 1981 SEA Games.

Several decades later, Fred is back to competing in the pool again.

“Last August 2019, I competed at the World Masters Swimming Championships in Gwangju, Korea and was able to finish in the top ten in the 50 meter and 100 meter butterfly,” he said. “So I’d like to improve on that when the Masters World Championships are held in Fukuoka, Japan (now moves to 2022). I’ll be in a new age group next year (60-64), so looking forward to that.”

These days, given the restrictions of Covid-19, Fred has worked-out at home by focusing on strength and core training with just body weight. He also did jump rope but said, “while it’s a great cardio workout, it was hard on my knees.” Lately, when the restrictions eased up, he’s been back on the bike or on the pool.

“I’m also working on improving my lung capacity using a new gadget called Air-o-Fit,” he said. “So far, so good but I need to keep at it for at least 6 months.”

A Lakers fan, Fred has been stuck in Los Angeles the past months, unable yet to fly back to Manila. His parting words to us: “We need to keep a positive attitude and realize things will get better. #cebustrong #philippinesstrong.”

Biking the Ironman

For the sixth time in seven years, I joined last weekend’s Ironman 70.3 race. I replaced Dr. Sander Ugalino as the cyclist to join famed triathlete Abet Biagan (our swimmer) and Dr. Mai Ugalino (runner).

While the 1.9-km. swim off the shores of Shangri-La Resort and the 21K run inside Punta Engaño have remained unchanged, the major question mark was the 90 km. bike route. Having used the SRP for the past six years, how was this route going to fare? Days after Sunrise Events’ top honcho Princess Galura made the announcement last month, murmurs of criticisms surfaced: Six bridge climbs? Three repetitive loops? Narrow roads in Mactan?

Having pedaled for 90K last Sunday, what’s my assessment? I loved it.

First, it was new. If you keep on traversing the same route (like the SRP portion), you know what to expect. Last Sunday, the thousands who biked were treated to a new journey. It wasn’t boring. It wasn’t endless kilometers of straight asphalted SRP roads towards Talisay. You slowed for turns, climbed, sprinted under shaded trees, overheard airplanes flying at the runway. It was fun.

Second, more people on the streets. I know that this is both good and bad. More spectators mean more chances of accidents. And I saw dogs crossing the road on multiple occasions. Once, somewhere near J Park Resort, about 200 meters ahead of me a biker crashed hard as a dog crossed. But generally, the more the cheerers, the more exciting and thrilling. And we got thousands upon thousands lining the streets of Lapu-Lapu City last Sunday. (On the what-to-improve portion: I’m sure better crowd control will be enforced next year to lessen the chances for spectator-related accidents.)

Three, less headwind. Sure, there’s still the strong force of that unseen gust that’s pushing you to go slow. But unlike the open air of the SRP when the sidewinds and headwinds can be brutal, the new route had smaller portions scattered around its 30-km. loop.  (Seven days ago, the participants were also blessed with the best weather of the past seven years: the day was cloudy with no strong rain.)

The old Mactan Bridge wasn’t as daunting as the Marcelo Fernan Bridge. It’s shorter and faster to climb. Yes, it’s a total of six climbs up the bridge but it added to the drama and design of the race.

Also, although this is unrelated to the bike route and is applicable only to those joining the relay, an improvement this year: the transition area had plenty of tents and chairs were available. (In previous years, we had to “pungko-pungko” on the rocks while Piolo Pascual had his cushioned seat and cordon of bodyguards.) Thanks to Jonel, Chipi and Andre Borromeo and their Motor Ace group, there was plenty of drinks and bananas and Leona cakes (courtesy of Jane-Jane Ong).

Would I recommend the continuance of this bike route for 2019? Absolutely. I’ve already heard from friends who did not join last weekend — and upon hearing of the positive feedback — wanting to join next year.

As Oscar Wilde once said, “What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.”



With Dr. Ronnie Medalle and Jourdan Polotan


With the BCBP brothers

Ironman swim

Two Augusts ago, I joined the individual category of the Cobra Ironman 70.3 race. In years past, I joined the relay: pedaling the Vellum bike in 2012 and running in 2014. But in 2015, I decided to do the full event: a 1.9K swim, a 90K bike and 21K run.

I have been running and biking all my life. I’m a land-based creature. The swim? I know the freestyle stroke but I’m no fish; it took me months to get comfortable. On our open-water sessions in Mactan, I got jittery.

August 2, 2015. It was race morning and we warmed-up. When I dove into the Shangri-La waters at 7 a.m. and emerged one hour and 8 minutes later, it was one of the most challenging 68 minutes of my life. Of the swim’s 1,900 meters, there was a harrowing stretch of 850 meters where the current was so strong. By the end of the swim leg, the organizers had to extend the cutoff time (supposed to be 1:10) by more than 20 minutes. If not, hundreds would not have continued. And despite the extended time, 120 were cutoff.

Betsy Medalla, a top swim coach based in Manila who also organizes long-distance open-sea races, wrote an excellent post-event analysis. The cause of the unusual current was the “spring tide.”

“On August 2, (2015) today, in Cebu, the tidal range was OVER FIVE FEET.  Think of that as a five foot wave of water coming into shore, spread out over six hours,” wrote Betsy in her blog,

That was two years ago. Will it be another “spring tide” this weekend? When I met Brian Lim during the Bike Out last Sunday, he mentioned about the very strong current when they did an open-sea swim on Saturday. It was similar to 2015, he said. This was the same comment of Andre Borromeo, who swam for two kms. and found the Mactan waters tough with high waves.

So, what’s the forecast?

“August 6 (this Sunday) is NOT a spring tide date,” wrote Betsy yesterday in her blog post. “The next spring tide in Cebu is on August 9. So the conditions will definitely not be as bad as 2015, but we are close enough to make things interesting.”

Based on her study, the projected change in tide is 3.2 feet and the fastest surge will be between 5:30 to 7:30 a.m.

“In 2015, the tide change was roughly five feet,” Betsy said. “This year, we are expecting a much smaller volume of water moving in our direction. However, this is the Hilutungan channel and as I mentioned in the 2015 post, currents and tides are amplified when forced through a tighter space. So expect the 850m stretch of the course to be challenging. Hope you did your paddles and pullbuoy work early in the training program.

“As far as timing of the tide shift goes, in 2015 the racers who left in the last few batches suffered worst. This year, it is one for all! Yeay! We are starting and swimming in the thick of it. In fact, the force of it will be ebbing by 7:30am so .. I don’t know if you want to use that information to your advantage.”

Betsy, who was the first Asian (with Julian Valencia) to complete the Robben Island Channel crossing, swimming for 8.6 kms., is concerned with the stormy weather (in Luzon) the past week.

“The habagat and monsoon winds have been whipped up by two successive storms and all of that built up energy may carry into the end of the week,” she said. “It looks to be a windy, gusty weekend and that may lead to surface chop, and possibly swells.”

Coach Betsy offers these suggestions: Focus on your STREAMLINE. Reduce drag as much as possible and that includes: 1) Keeping your hips up; 2) Don’t pull with a straight arm; 3) Don’t lift your head up to breathe, keep it low; 4) Maintain your momentum.


Ironman 70.3 Bike Out

Early this morning at six, a few hundred cyclists will pedal from the Mactan Newtown to join the annual “ocular inspection” of the Cobra Ironman 70.3 bike route.

It’s called the Bike Out. From Lapu-Lapu City, the cyclists will climb Marcelo Fernan Bridge, pass through Mandaue, glide along SM City, descend down the Tunnel, emerge towards the SRP, gaze at the SM Seaside City, then sprint towards Talisay City before making a few of the same loops. In the end, the bikers will return to Mactan Newtown.

With the IM70.3 race, reports came out the other day saying that Talisay City was excluding itself from the bike route. This is not true. Ever since the Half-Ironman race started in Cebu in 2012, Talisay has been an important and cooperative piece of the program. To back out now, just days before Cebu’s biggest sporting event, is irresponsible.

Talisay Mayor Eddie Gullas is a sportsman. He was a topnotch basketball star, coach, owner of the UV Green Lancers success story, and we played tennis for many years. He loves sports just as much as public service. I’m sure he will not be an obstructionist.

People also speculate: Will this year be the last? I’m sure it won’t. The Cebu IM70.3 event is too successful to be discontinued. The grandeur of Shangri-La. The thousands cheering along the route. The support of Mayor Paz Radaza and Gov. Junjun Davide. The shaded route for the 21K run in Punta Engaño. The open-sea swim in Mactan. Kenneth Cobonpue’s iconic medals. And even the roots of Fred Uytengsu, Jr., who was born in Cebu, are all symbolic in ensuring that “Cebu” and “Ironman” will be intertwined for a long, long time.

What I’m also sure won’t happen here? A full Ironman. While Subic will organize the country’s first IM on June 3, 2018, I’m sure the linked cities of Cebu, Mandaue, Lapu-Lapu and Talisay will not host the same. Why? The road closure. For an event that includes a 3.8K swim, a 180K bike and a 42K run, it will mean closing the roads the entire day.

Ironman 70.3? Yes. Full Ironman in Cebu? No.

Wilfred Steven Uytengsu, Jr.

As hundreds gather today from 2 to 5 p.m. at the North Wing of SM City Cebu, the highest honor will be bestowed upon a Cebu-born businessman who has helped popularize sports in our sports-hungry nation. To name a few of his brands and events:

Alaska Aces, the PBA’s 14-time champions. XTERRA Off-road triathlon. Ironman 70.3 races in Vietnam, Thailand, Subic and Mactan. The 5150 events in Bohol and Subic. The Alaska Ironkids. The Jr. NBA/Jr. WNBA Philippines (basketball) and the Alaska Football Cup.

Fred Uytengsu — the recipient of the “Sportsman of the Year” award — has brought these contests to our shores. Apart from being President and CEO of Alaska Milk Corp., he also heads a company that has a direct impact on Cebu sports.

Sunrise Events, Inc. is the outfit that has introduced the Ironman and XTERRA brands to the Phils. And for the past five years, including last year’s Asia-Pacific Championships, the triathlon world’s attention has been spotlighted on Cebu.

Born in Cebu in 1961, he went on to obain a Business Administration (Entrepreneurship) degree from the University of Souther California. While in college, he was captain of the USC men’s swimming team. At the same time, he represented the Philippines as national team member and competed in the 1981 SEA Games.

In 1986, he was tasked by his father, Wilfred Uytengsu, Sr., to organize a PBA team. In the storied 31-year history of the Alaska PBA squad, from the Milkmen to the Air Force to the Aces, they have accumulated 14 titles.

Busy with his corporate responsibilities chairing boad meetings and wearing a suit all-day in the Alaska Milk Corp. boardroom, he longed to continue this athletic pursuits.

Enter triathlon. Already a world-class swimmer, he added running and cycling to his daily exercise regimen and, in his triathlon career that has spanned a couple of decades, he has finished the Wimbledon of triathlons: the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. Mr. Uytengsu completed the 3.8-km. swim, 180-km. bike, and 42-km. run event called the Ironman two times, recording a personal best of 12.5 hours in 2011.

More on triathlon: This August marks the sixth year that Cebu will be hosting the Cobra Ironman 70.3 race — considering by participants, including the world’s elite, as one of the most fun and most organized.

To Fred Uytengsu — who has uplifted Philippine sports, in particular helping put the brand “Cebu” in the world triathlon map — congratulations, Sportsman of the Year. Daghang salamat.

Mr. Uytengsu with Ica Maximo, one of the honorees of the 35th Cebu Sports Awards

Dr. iRONman Eullaran

He does not possess the lean physique of an Antonio San Juan nor has he finished the New York City Marathon and numerous other 42-K races like Vicente Verallo. But what this fellow doctor of Tony and Vic possesses, like the two, is a determination and willpower that cannot be bought or taught in Med School.

Dr. Ronald Navaja Eullaran joined the Cobra Ironman 70.3 race. I call him “Partner” because, together with Dr. Ronnie Medalle, we are the best of friends. Two Sundays ago, we left our homes at Ma. Luisa at 4 a.m. and did a convoy towards Shangri-La.

Our journey towards swimming 1.9 kms., biking 90-K and running a half-marathon began 12 months ago. After we joined the IM70.3 relay event (with Rap Sios-e as swimmer, Ron as biker and myself as runner), we vowed to join again in 2015; this time, as individual participants.

Ron and I trained. We’d bike the hills of Ma. Luisa. Often, we’d swim in Casino Español on early evenings. Ron has no problems biking. (It was him, many years back during one of our Rotary Club of Cebu West meetings, who invited me to go mountain-biking.) So, of the three sports, biking was his strength. Last year, given only a few weeks’ notice since we registered late, he finished the 90K distance in 3:40.

Running? This was a concern. Swimming? An even bigger concern.

With running, he was convinced by his wife, my childhood friend Raycia Patuasi Eullaran — a many-time half-marathoner and a 42K finisher of the Cebu Marathon — to join the Sunday fun runs. From 5K to 10K to 21K, he ran. Never mind if his time was not the fastest (3 hours, 10+ minutes for the 21K), he endured the leg pains — all for the bigger goal to be an Ironman.

His two main challenges were his workload and his body weight. Working all day and night, often past 9 p.m., he didn’t have extra time to train, not even on Saturdays. Worse, because he loved to eat (who doesn’t?), despite the increasing hours that he spent on exercising, he wasn’t losing 10 or 20 lbs. like the other triathletes. Undeterred, he pressed on.

With the swim, although he came from Gen. Santos City and grew up near the sea and swam often as a child, he wasn’t a fast swimmer. In the numerous occasions when we swam — often at the Costabella Tropical Beach Resort — though he was unafraid to swim in deep waters and swam steady, his only problem was he was a slow swimmer.

For the Ironman 70.3 race, this posed a problem. There was a cutoff time of 70 minutes. No matter how well-trained you are for the bike, you won’t be allowed to mount your Cervelo if you exceed the time limit.

Ron was deeply concerned with missing the swim cutoff. The Thursday before the race, we practiced in Shangri-La together with Melbourne Ironman Meyrick Jacalan and Jojo Veloso and while the three of us had long finished, he was still on the water, toiling hard with his freestyle.

But mental strength can often work wonders. As one saying goes, “The river cuts through rock not because of its power but its persistence.”

Ron, like a rock, is persistent. He showed this last May when we joined the 8080 race in Sogod. Having slept a total of one hour (he was called at midnight to rush to Chong Hua Hospital and attend to a patient), he could have called me early morning to say he won’t join. He joined. He finished last in the swim (taking over an hour to complete 1.8-K) and, as darkness fell and everybody else was having dinner and drinking San Mig Light, he arrived as the last finisher. Downtrodden? Not Ron, never. All-smiling and accompanied by his two legs named grit and tenacity, he crossed the finish to thunderous applause as Steve and Maricel Maniquis and Quinito Moras of the Cornerstone Group ignited the fireworks. Amazing determination to complete 80.8 kms. (1.8K swim, 65K bike and 14K run) — despite an hour of sleep.

But that was just the preliminary bout because the main event happened last Aug. 2. With the swim, given the current, I thought my best friend would be cutoff. But, I saw him on the bike. I knew he was a good cyclist but I was worried with his running. With the sun so hot, he’d be cooked. But, ever the fighter like his fellow GenSan native Pacquiao, Ron ran. With doggedness, he crossed the finish line and a medal was hung on his shoulders, finishing 10 minutes before the cutoff to become the country’s only “Ironman Rheumatologist.” Fitting because his name is embedded with the celebrated word: I-Ron-man.

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.

Surviving the Ironman 70.3 Swim

Of the three disciplines in this multi-sport craze that has positively afflicted our nation and the sporting world — I’m referring, of course, to triathlon — to me, the most difficult is the swim.

Biking and running, I’ve always enjoyed. I grew up pedalling BMW bikes with my brother Charlie in Bacolod City. Running, thanks to those elementary days dribbling the basketball in La Salle, is easy and natural. We are land-based creatures and cycling and jogging are not performed at sea. The swim? Unlike others who grew up on water, my comfort level when wearing goggles and moving forward horizontally is bad. In my two previous triathlon events (the “8080” races organized by Steve Maniquis and the Cornerstone Group), the stress levels just thinking of the swim were “high tide.”

I joined the Cobra Energy Drink Ironman 70.3 race last Sunday. How was the swim?Brutal. Scary. Difficult. Physically and mentally exhausting.

I positioned myself among the very last triathletes to do the swim. Since the new ruling was no longer based on your age grouping but on your “expected split times,” I didn’t want to get swum over by faster swimmers. I stayed at the back and chatted with Atty. Jess Garcia.

As I stepped on the timing mat before entering the water, I checked my watch. It read “7:00.” Good, I told myself. It will be easier for me to check the cutoff time of one hour 10 minutes. That would be at 8:10 a.m.

The first 100 meters was a straight path. I swam relaxed. Having warmed-up properly, I deliberately swam slow. “Relax, relax, relax” were the words my mind uttered to itself. Surprisingly, the start was easy. Wow. If it will continue like this, it will be a good day. At the end of the initial start, we all turned left. This time, it was a 400-meter stretch. (The entire swim is 1.9 kms.) Even better, the current was behind us and many swam in long and smooth strokes. Yes! Upon reaching the giant yellow buoy, we turned to deeper waters for another 50 meters.

After that short path, we turned right. This stretch, the longest in the rectangular-shaped route, was 850 meters. This was when the torture started.

You’re swimming free-style, punching one arm after another into the Hilutungan Channel, trying to move forward — but you’re barely moving. You exert more effort; slow-motion, fatiguing, arduous. Worse, you’re not swimming in a wide ocean that’s free of obstacles. In front of you are fellow strugglers. To your left is someone doing a wide-open breast-stroke. To your right is another swimmer. Behind you is someone pulling your leg.All this time, you’re surrounded by bubbles and splashes and waves and kicks.

The key word is “relax” but how can you when you’re struggling and barely moving forward?I was hit in the face where my goggles got dislodged. Once — not to the same swimmer and it was accidental — I elbowed hard a participant’s nose. That hurt. I wanted to apologize but he just kept on going.

Many times, I held the buoy just to keep afloat. Five seconds later and having taken a few deep breaths, you’re off again. This isn’t an all-day-I-can-relax Sunday. There’s a time limit and the current was too strong.

My improvised strategy was to breakdown the long stretch into short segments. Big red buoys would be recognizable (in between were the smaller yellow ones). “Just swim to the red buoy!” would be my mantra.Midway through the route, I saw Tinago Brgy. Captain Joel Garganera. We both complained. But there was no choice: either you go or quit.

Slowly, meter-by-meter, red buoy after yellow buoy and swimming like a cha-cha dance where you’d move forward then backward then forward, we charged on. Towards the end of the 850-meter stretch, just when we were yards away from the big yellow marker, people were shouting. A jetski and several boats circled the area. Waves grew taller and the current was at its worst. We were told to cross to the other side. I had to shout to a boat marshal so I could hang-on for a few seconds.

After crossing, I checked my watch. It read “8:02.” Oh no! I was dangerously close to being cutoff. With the current behind our backs, we torpedoed as hard as we could. It was the final few hundred meters. Luckily, as I reached the shore, I made it in1:08. The sad part was: I lost my watch. While going all-out in this final stretch, it must have been hit by a fellow swimmer or just fell off my wrist. And this was the inaugural (2012) Timex commemorative edition given by Princess G. Anyway, after surviving the swim, I trudged on.


BE PROUD. To all who braved the waters last Sunday, finisher or not, kudos to you! Everybody concludes that, in the seven-year history of IM70.3 Philippines (three in CamSur and four in Cebu), that was the toughest swim leg.

DISTANCE. I did a quick survey with some friends on the swim distance and a few recorded a distance of 2.2 kms. Jonel Borromeo’s Garmin recorded that length. A friend told me his was 2.5K. It might have been the back-and-forth due to the strong current; I’m not sure if the rope/buoys got carried farther because of the current.

STAGGERED SWIM START. I think this is favorable to the participants. The idea that you can swim alongside your coach or spouse (as many did), or at least swim with those of the same ability — that’s good. I believe this is better than a “mass start” (the same one as the previous years).

As explained in the excellent blog by Betsy Medalla (, the problem was that majority of the swimmers swam that 850-stretch around 7:30 a.m. onwards. We swam during the worst possible two hours of the month of August. As we say in Bisaya, “Malas lang gyud” (just plain unlucky).

Given the low/high tide information, the only thing the organizers could have done differently was to reverse the sequence. The slowest swimmers swim first! The elite triathletes swim last — and they’ll endure the current.Ha ha. This would have provided us (slower ones) with calm waters at the start. Obviously, this is a preposterous idea. Not possible. But there’s nothing much the organizers could have done, except….

TIME EXTENSION. Good that the organisers extended the time. Can you imagine if they did not? Hundreds and hundreds would have been cutoff — you can easily check it by scanning through the finishing times in the website. Some exceeded1:30 or 1:40. Because this 70-minute (timing chip) cutoff time ruling was disregarded, this favored those who swam earlier. They had extra time (head start) compared to those who started at the back..

(QUESTION: Why only 70 mins. cutoff for the swim? And a generous 4:30+ for the bike? There should be more “allowance” for the swim…)

NEXT YEAR… For the August 7, 2016 race (Asia-Pacific Championships), I checked the tide chart and it looks to be very favorable.

Next year: Low tide of 0.3 meters is at 7:09 a.m. (right smack when the majority of the swimmers are in the water). High tide at 1.6 meters is still at 1:26 p.m. This compares to last Sunday when the low tide was an early 5:32 a.m. This one hour 37-minute gap should be very favorable to us. Hopefully (barring other weather factors such as typhoon, etc.), the Mactan waters next year should be kinder..

Conclusion: In 2016, perfect conditions to Tri’ again!

70.3 miles

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The biggest sporting event in Cebu is happening next weekend. Over two thousand athletes will swim, pedal and run when the fourth edition of the Cobra Energy Drink Ironman 70.3 race starts at 6:27 a.m. on August 2, 2015. In all, this is the seventh time that Sunrise Events, Inc. has brought the IM 70.3 race to the Philippines.

The first three years were held in Camarines Sur (or CamSur). After the venue had become too small to accommodate hundreds more who wanted to join, the event traveled south and landed in the Queen City of the South. That’s Cebu.

The swim will start the event on the white sand beach front of Shangri-La Resort in Mactan. After the 1.9 kilometer free-style strokes, the triathletes mount their bikes at the Megaworld-owned property beside Shangri-La. They exit the Mactan Newtown (Megaworld) mega-project then bike towards the Marcelo Fernan Bridge. While up there, the view of the waters down below and the Busay mountains straight ahead will be terrific.

The cycling portion is 90 kilometers in distance. It will require the participants to enter the South Road Properties (SRP) Tunnel and will lead them all the way to Talisay City. An “M” loop will ensue, bringing back the cyclists to the Parkmall U-turn area before going back to Talisay. After that second loop, it’s back to the Mactan Bridge then back to Shangri-La. That’s not all.

After hours of swimming and biking, it’s on the asphalted pavement of Punta Engaño for the final stage: a half-marathon. That’s 21,000 meters of running, walking, pouring cold water over one’s overheated body. Until finally, finally, the finish at Shangri-La. To all the visitors and participants, enjoy Cebu and enjoy the race.