Iron-willed men and women

Mike Limpag said it best: This weekend is the biggest in Cebu sports. It’s a triumvirate: the Tri’ called Ironman 70.3, the Little Olympics of Milo and the Cesafi opening.

With the IM race, imagine the growth: six years ago in Camsur, less than 600 joined; this morning, it has quintupled.

Of the 2,500 attendees today, based on what my eyes witnessed two afternoons ago in Shangri-La, a huge majority are from outside Cebu. Including the family members accompanying the visitors, this is a massive tourism boost for Cebu — and a testament to the influence of sports.

Last Friday, we trooped to Mactan. I rode with Dr. Ron and Raycia Eullaran and we were joined, meandering through heavy traffic, by triathlete Rap Sios-e. The Marquee ballroom of Shangri-La teemed with super-fit bodies. Six packs did not have the San Mig Light logo — they were implanted on the bellies of the skinny athletes.

Our “Jack Men” team, with Rap as swimmer, Ron as biker and me as runner, waited to secure our race kits. While standing in line, we saw three doctors (as one team): James Guardiario, Tito Macarasig and Elmer Po. The process was a breeze. We received our shirts, snapped-on our wrist-bands, and our number “3360” plastered to both arms. Photos were clicked; smiles beamed aplenty. The Expo was impressive, from Aqua Sphere goggles to Saucony footwear to Cervelo P5 displays.

The pros sat on-stage during the press conference. This is what’s remarkable about this event — some of the world’s best are here. The former Kona Ironman world champ Pete Jacobs is here. (We asked for his photo during dinner but he was busy getting food.) If you’re an IM70.3 participant, you can gloat, saying, “I swam, biked and ran alongside the world’s best!” How many sports can boast the same?

Jenson Button, back after two years, joined the pros on-stage. I looked for Jessica Michibata and, yes, found Jenson’s fiancee standing just meters away. “Hi, Jessica!” I said, as we spoke for a few moments.

By 6 p.m., with a few goodies in the bag for Raycia, we paraded to the open grounds for the Carbo-Loading Party. It was a party! Lining-up the walkway were dancers from Lapu-Lapu City who donned colorful attire. Two large-screen LED screens stood to welcome the athletes. With perfect no-rain weather, the Shangri-La garden transformed into a… shangrila; a sprawling oasis perfect for dinner. A few cocktail tables stood but majority sat on the grass, covered by cloth, to carbo-load on green salad, pasta, chicken and pizza. Lechon? Ha-ha. Not yet. Not until the celebration after the race.

Dr. Tony San Juan got hefty servings, getting ready to do the full 113 kms. We ate with Jun Angeles and Darwin Herbas. Kudos to Lapu-Lapu City, led by Mayor Paz Radaza and the city’s head of sports and tourism, the marathoner Hembler Mendoza, for a superb welcome dinner.

Of today’s weather and because this is an outdoor race that may span up to seven hours, the sun-or-rain hide-and-seek plays a vital role. The past week has been difficult for the swimmers. “We swam for 25 minutes and were still stuck at the same spot,” Ken Salimbangon, who’ll do his second full IM race, told me. The waves and current have been strong. But, thankfully, the past day or so have seen sunny days — and hopefully more calming waters, especially in the early hours (before 7 a.m.) when the swim leg begins.

Rain is preferred to the sun. The best: overcast, cloudy skies. For the run portion, many will be battling the 21K between 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. — the deadliest period of the day. A drizzle would be welcome.

Finally, some statistics for the race: 40 countries are represented with the most entries coming from Singapore (141). The U.S. is next with 54 followed by 45 Australians. Although women are most welcome, the ratio of individual participants (not relay) is disproportionate: 85 percent are male. This means extra kudos to the women in this male-dominated event that is, after all, called IronMAN.

Leona’s Iron Chef is an Ironman

Jane-Jane Ong, the entrepreneur behind Leona Cakes and Pastries, finished the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship in Melbourne, Australia seven days ago. She was the lone female in the Cebu group of five that included her brother Andrew, Dr. Albert Solis, Gianluca Guidicelli and Jacs Jacalan.

By definition, the “Ironman” refers to a triathlon race with a 3.8K swim, a 180K bike and a full 42K marathon. (The Ironman 70.3 in Cebu every August is the “half-Ironman;” meaning it’s only half the Ironman distance.)

With Jane-Jane’s achievement (finishing the 226-km. race in 15 hours and 22 minutes), it appears that she becomes the first female Cebuana to complete the full IM. Here’s our Q & A:

1891751_10200629484738399_1793578638_oJane-Jane with the boys (from left) Jomer Lim, Dr. Albert Solis, Meyrick Jacalan, Gianluca Guidicelli and Andrew Ong

What events have you done prior to Melbourne? “So far I’ve done 3 Ironman 70.3, I joined Tabuelan 111 twice and Challenge Philippines last Feb., which is also a 70.3 distance. As for marathons, I finished 14 pa lang and one Ultramarathon in Cebu (Sept 2011). The 14 marathons are: Singapore (Dec 2008), Amsterdam (Oct 2009), Big Sur (April 2010), New York (Nov 2010), Paris (April 2011), Camsur (Sept 2011), California Int’l (Dec 2011), Rome (March 2012), Stockholm (June 2012), Berlin (Sept 2012), Napa Valley (Mar 2013), LA (March 2013), Chicago (Oct 2013) and Disneyworld (Jan 2014).”

How did you prepare? “Training for a full Ironman is much more grueling and time consuming especially with the long rides. There are days we are out the whole day riding. We leave the house by car 5 a.m., start riding in Carcar round south, end in Barili and ride the car home from there. We would reach home by 5 p.m. More sacrifices have to made. We have to be disciplined not only with our training but also with our diet and rest. On top of our specific training for swim, bike & run, I do a lot of strength training to prevent injuries. With a full training sched, it leaves me with lesser time to work and almost no free time.”

How mental is the IM? “For the full Ironman, one has to be prepared mentally. It is as much a mental and spiritual journey as it is physical. I prayed constantly from the start till the end. During the swim leg, there was a part on the last 1K that I panicked. I got quite disoriented not knowing which direction I was heading since I couldn’t see the buoys and the current of the water was strong. I really prayed that I wouldn’t get cut-off, haha! For the bike leg, I was praying for our safety and that I wouldn’t get any flat tire.”

Your 42K? “Since I’m first and foremost a runner, I was looking forward to the run part. My plan was just to cruise and enjoy it. But running a marathon after a 3.8 km swim and 180 km bike ride is totally different from running a marathon on fresh legs. The first half was still ok and I felt good. But halfway, my runners knee pain (which started during the bike leg) got worse and I could feel my ITB tightening up. My prayers then was that the Lord give me the strength to finish the race strong and that I wouldn’t have to suffer much pain. Praise God the pain was manageable. I was able to run the last 1K faster and crossed the finish line strong!”

What’s next? “I guess IM Melbourne is my biggest ‘goal’ for the year, haha! 🙂 After doing this, a marathon last Jan. and a 70.3 distance last Feb. at Challenge Phil, I’ll take a few months off to rest and recover and then join IM 70.3 in Cebu again and then two more marathons year end (Sta Barbara in Nov and the California Int’l in Dec.).

“I promised myself that I will do the full IM only once and this is it… But after doing IM Melbourne, I am tempted to join an IM race in the US or do Challenge Roth (in Germany) someday which is very popular and according to Chrissy Wellington, ‘The best full distance race in the world!’

“Last Sat, I met a lady who’s into her late 50s and guess what she told me? IM Melbourne last Sun was her 20th! Also met another lady who turned 65 this year who made it to the podium in her age group and this is her 20+ IM too! These women are amazing and so inspiring! :-)”

Post-race Reports of Cebu’s Ironmen (and Women)

CHRIS ALDEGUER: It was my first ever race that I got to smile and enjoy. I never have fun during a race, but this was different. The crowd was unbelievable. I couldn’t believe this magnitude of a race was happening in our hometown. Finish time: 5:30:52.

Photo by Catherine Israel-Angeles

ALAN CHOACHUY: It was very emotional; I broke down at the finish bringing the Biggest Loser flag. First thing that crossed my mind: for all the obese and unhealthy people who thought they have no chance to change. I’m living proof that you can be what you want to be as long as you put your heart in to it. (A year ago I was 309 lbs!) I never life imagined I can finish a 70.3 Ironman.

The race was really tough, my target time was 7 hours (finished in 7:58). I was surprised at my 40-min swim; very relaxing. The second discipline was my favorite but I had mechanical trouble in my bike’s rear tire around Km. 60. A spoke broke and the tire was wobbly. For 30kms, I pedaled harder and that caused my legs to be worn out. I had 4 hours to spare to finish the 21km. It was my longest 21K! At one point, I told myself I’m not going to do this again. But, seconds after crossing the finish, I said, “I will do this again next year!”

Photo by Mike Jo

AMALE JOPSON: Even with the crazy water start and the surprise of the gun about to go off when everyone was way beyond the supposed starting line, I enjoyed the swim leg. The water was clear and calm, which allowed me to maneuver around the slower swimmers from the first wave. Except for a slight current on the way back, swim conditions were great, helping me to clock 32:08 at the timing mat putting us in a good position for the overall win in the all women’s relay. The event was well-staged and made me feel proud that we had a world-class race in Cebu. It made me think that maybe I would like to participate in the individual race next year if I can find a way for my kids not to feel like orphans for a few months while training. 🙂

Amale, Lohriz Echavez-Lopez and Mary Joy Tabal

MENDEL LOPEZ, 3rd placer, Filipino elite. Of all my sporting achievements, this has to be the best ever. I was slow in the swim (34 mins), as I expected. In the bike, I recovered and timed 2:31. I suffered in the run (1:28) because of the biking effort. Triathlon training is not as painful as the marathon. My next target: the Timex 226 (full Ironman) in Bohol this December.

Photo by Jens Funk

JANE-JANE ONG. My 2nd IM 70.3 was very memorable. Of the 3 disciplines, swim is my weakest. However, water on race day was calm, no waves, no undercurrent, no jellyfish. YAY! I surprised myself by cutting my time by 14 min. Bike was very difficult with the strong winds from CICC to Talisay. And I thought Camsur was difficult when the rain poured… but this was worse. But the best part of it being held in Cebu, our homecourt, is that plenty of friends and fellow athletes cheered.

AYA GARCIA SHLACHTER. The most enjoyable part for me was swimming in the open water. It is challenging and you need to be mentally prepared, swimming with hundreds of people. The bike is my weakest but I managed to finish the course in one piece even though I crashed during one of the narrow U-turns. I knew I was going to crash so I decided to gracefully make a free fall to the right without resisting the crash. I picked myself up and continued the bike course injury-free. Most memorable part was when my dear friend Sen. Pia Cayetano was waiting for me in the finish. I will do this again and will recommend it to friends. 7:04:24 was my time.

BERNARD SIA, who replaced Jennylyn Mercado as biker for Team FHM (Fearless Hot Mammas), with swimmer Ripples Faelnar and runner MaiMai Hermosilla. Said Bernard, who clocked 3:06: The IM70.3 will be remembered for a long time. While I awaited for our swimmer my heart rate was already at 112, anxious & excited! During my whole ride I just remembered one tip: keep my heart rate at 150-155. We lost a cyclist, don’t know him personally but would like to dedicate that ride to him. Ramie Igaña, that was for you. Most fun: friends taking time to cheer especially Andy & Renee Ven who took nice picture and this ONCE IN A LIFETIME chance to bike the SRP & the tunnel! Most painful: Fernan bridge Mactan bound & strong headwinds to Talisay!

Photo by Michael Ocana

GANDHI TRUYA, who finished 5:43:49. I enjoy it more than a full marathon, the latter is more painful. Recovery in 70.3 is faster… Cruising at the SRP coastal road getting hit by headwind and blown away by the tailwind is something a cyclist here does not experience often. Compared to Camsur? No offense to CWC but Shangri-La is definitely better. The Marcelo Fernan bridge, the tunnel, and the SRP road are some of the things Camsur can’t offer.

Biking 90 kms. of the Ironman 70.3

To our dear friend Ramie Igaña, may you rest in peace. Life is short and unexpected. Last night while scouring through Facebook, I saw a photo of Ramie together with Richard Ho (who also did the bike relay) on their bikes at the Talisay water pit stop—just minutes before Ramie fell off his bike (possibly due to a heart attack or pulmonary embolism). We pray for his wife, Dr. Humility “Mity,” and their daughter, Niña.

BIKE. I had a personal experience with the 90-km. route because I joined the relay team, doing the bike leg while Jessica Michibata swam and ran. Here’s my short story:

In Shangri-La, less than 40 minutes after the swim start and while waiting at the Transition Area, Jessica runs from the beach area towards the tent. As she arrived, she took off the timing chip from her ankle and handed it to me as I sprinted towards the bike. Less than a minute after pedaling, upon exiting Shangri-La, my chain came off. Oh no! Relax. Don’t panic, I told myself.

The thousands of cheerers–many of them students—along the route was a remarkable sight. Left and right, everybody was cheering. (Funny: in some portions, the children were screaming, “GO, PLAYERS, GO!” as if we were triathlon “players.”) It was hard not to feel excited. As their banners announced and following the DOT slogan, it was “Double the fun in Lapu-Lapu City.”

Biking while the roads were completely free of cars is exhilarating. The asphalted roads from Shangri-La towards the bridge, especially near the MEPZ area, was terrific.

Lohriz Echavez-Lopez, the wife of champ Mendel and a former triathlon star was near me. Climbing the Marcelo Fernan Bridge was easy — because of the adrenaline rush. But the portion after the bridge (Mandaue side) was bad. There were patches of newly-minted asphalt mixed with the old. It was a rough, rocky ride. Scary.

Passing through the Bridges mall (of Alegrado) along Plaridel St. with zero traffic, again, was a rare moment. We zoomed through the intersection (A.C. Cortes Ave.) at full speed. Wow. This is the only time when you can do this.

All was smooth and easy. Until we hit the reclamation area. That’s when the headwind said… not so fast! Pedaling towards CICC, then onwards towards Radisson Blu, you could feel the wind pressure battling your face and body.

The tunnel? Gliding downhill towards the dark zone, you’re in full speed. Then, as you enter, it’s dark. You have to be extra careful because, with the sunglasses on, visibility is minimal. Bikers screamed. Not in fear—but in joy. This was the chance of a lifetime—to bike the tunnel!

The South Road Properties (SRP) was the toughest. The headwind slowed everybody down. It was as if a rubber band was pulling you from behind. Or a giant Iwata fan was blowing in front of you. It was tough. Plus, the sun was out.

Reaching the U-turn point in Talisay City, you’re surrounded by thousands and thousands of residents, many cheering and watching. Again, another awesome sight.

After the U-turn (that’s the 30-km. mark), it was a fast return (often reaching 40kph) back to the CICC where, again, at the Parkmall area, thousands of cheerers congregated.  At the CICC U-turn point (45K), my watch read one hour, 30 minutes–I was on pace to finish in 3 hours.

Photo by Lemuel Arrogante

Then, back headed to Talisay, it was the headwind again. Painful. You just have to lower your head, pedal, think positive.

The return ride was difficult. Upon reaching the bridge (past 80K), your bodily resources are low. Some walked their bikes while climbing the bridge. Finally, it was back to Mactan and, beside Lohriz, a smiling finish at Shangri-La.

My time? 3:09. Slow compared to Pete Jacobs’ 2:15 split but not bad. It was only my fifth time ever on a road bike. Though I’ve been mountain-biking for years, it wasn’t until last week, when I got word that I wouldn’t run and when Chris Aldeguer convinced me and lent me his bike, that I first sat on a racer.

Ironman 70.3 Cebu: All ready except for….

… Potholes on the road.

I met Guy Concepcion yesterday. After he landed in Cebu from Manila, he traveled straight to Marriott Hotel and partook of their lavish buffet. We sat down after breakfast at 9:10 A.M.

Rene “Guy” Concepcion is no ordinary guy. Next to Fred Uytengsu, Jr., he’s the man behind the Ironman 70.3 in Mactan. He’s also an Olympian, having joined the 1988 Seoul Olympics as a swimmer together with Akiko Thomson and Eric Buhain.

“We have 1,700 participants for Cebu, all excited,” said Guy. “This compares to the 500 participants in the first year in Camarines Sur. In the second year in Camsur, we had 700. Last year, we had 1,100.”

If you think 1,700 is plenty—think again. Hundreds more wanted to participate. (This, despite the hefty $275 fee.) That number could easily have ballooned to 2,500 had all the waiting list and interested first-timers been accepted.

“We want to limit the number this year,” he said. “Next year, if all goes well, we’ll accommodate more.”

Guy is in-charge of the race operations. And since two of the country’s biggest triathlon races are held in Cebu this 2012—the XTERRA last March and the Ironman 70.3 in August—then he’s been to Cebu dozens of times thus far.

“Welcome back!” I told him. Welcome back? he asked. “I’ve been here too many times!”

Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort and Spa is ready. So are the cities of Mandaue, Lapu-Lapu and Cebu—the threesome co-hosts. So is, happy for Guy to report, the Marcelo Fernan Bridge. “We’re glad to hear that the bridge repairs are nearly finished,” he said. “At first, reports came out that it won’t be done before August. This is good news.”

Thanks to the active participation of Gov. Gwen Garcia, all preparations are in place. Last week in Manila, Gov. Gwen sat beside Mr. Uytengsu and Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Paz Radaza in a glitzy launching at the Shangri-La Hotel in Makati.

Guy’s only concerns? Potholes. No, not the ones in SRP. “When I saw those huge holes at the SRP a few months back, we were concerned. Imagine the cyclists traveling at 45-kph passing through those? That would be scary. But thanks to the DPWH and other agencies, they’ve been asphalted.”

Guy is troubled with the remaining potholes in certain sections of the reclamation area: The road leading to the tunnel; the road leading to the CICC. He hopes, in a couple of weeks’ time, for these to be fixed. (Paging, DPWH!)

As to the rest of the Cebuano public, those who won’t be joining but are interested to join the revelry?

“Please cheer! This is such a huge event for Cebu and for sports and it’s exciting to watch,” he said. “Spectators can line up the roads along the reclamation area. If one leaves very early, one can be in Mactan to watch the bike and run portions.”

Inconveniences? Plenty of areas will be closed to traffic—half of the M. Fernan Bridge, the entire SRP, portions of the Reclamation Area, most of Punta Engaño—from 6 to 11 A.M. on race day. (Proper advisories will be posted soon.) Access to Mactan and the airport, though, will still be open.

“We ask for patience and for the Cebuanos to come out this August 5 to support and cheer,” said Guy. “Cheering means a lot to the participants, many of whom are foreign athletes.”

Apart from the Cobra Energy Drink Ironman race—which will fire off 32 days from now—Guy and I talked a lot about other sports stuff.

Like swimming. Guy joined the 10K Fina Marathon Swimming World Cup in Israel last April. He timed two hours, 40 minutes. (In most local triathlon races, Guy is the first one off the swim portion. At the XTERRA race last March in Liloan, he clocked five minutes in the 500-meter swim!)

We talked about Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte. “Phelps has a way to elevate himself during the big occasions,” said Guy. “Expect him to win again in London.”

Finally, in one of those you-won’t-believe-who’s-joining moments, Guy revealed that one international superstar will be joining our Ironman.

The celebrity? (Hint: Not Lance.) Soon, Guy will announce that guy’s name.

Only 48 days to go before Ironman 70.3

Barely a month and a half is left before triathletes from all over the globe converge at Shangri-La’s Mactan Island Resort for the first Ironman 70.3 race in Cebu. Exciting! I know plenty, many of whom are first-timers, who are joining. All have programmed their schedules and minds on the biggest race that they’ll join. Cebu is honored and proud to be chosen as the host. To all participants, good luck with the training!

2012: Year of the (Water Dragon) Triathlete

According to the Chinese Zodiac, next year will be the Year of the Dragon. It will run from January 23, 2012 until February 9, 2013. The exact name? Year of the Water Dragon. This terminology is fitting because in 2012, water will be the leading and predominant form of sporting events.

While running has blossomed into an every-Sunday event the past three years, another sport will become so popular that thousands will dive into this exercise. It’s called triathlon and it involves swimming, biking and running. Next year, an astounding two mega-triathlon events will happen in Cebu.

First, the XTERRA. This is the off-road version and will be held in Liloan. The Start/Finish line is at Amara with the race passing through Porter Marina and Papa Kit’s.     “Instead of one XTERRA race in March,” said race organizer Guy Concepcion of Sunrise Events Inc., in his email a few days ago, “it will be an XTERRA Weekend (trail run on March 17; XTERRA full distance triathlon and XTERRA Lite on March 18). The XTERRA Lite will not be a Maui qualifier. It is a shorter distance race to encourage mountain bikers who have not yet mastered swimming and/or running.”

XTERRA is not a Manila or national sporting brand—it’s a world-recognized event. Right here in Cebu. Added Guy: “This past September and October, Lance Armstrong joined the XTERRA USA Championship and the XTERRA World Championships as his first triathlon races in 20 years. As you may know, Lance Armstrong started off as a triathlete before focusing solely on cycling, and the rest is history. Imagine, of all the events he could join after retiring from cycling for good, he chose XTERRA. And he was quoted re: XTERRA:  ‘… it’s cool to come out here and test yourself, and also just support a sport that I think is really cool.’

Does this mean that, like Kobe Bryant and David Beckham arriving in Manila, the 7-time Tour de France champ, Mr. Armstrong, might land in Cebu this March? Abangan.

(Jim Urquhart/AP)

The second “Year of the (Water Dragon) Triathlon” event is the Ironman 70.3. Wow. This is overwhelming news. This is terrific for Cebu, painful for Camsur. This was the one event that made Camarines Sur popular. Now, after three years, it’s taken away from them. In August 5, 2012, it will be held in the cities of Lapu-Lapu, Mandaue and Cebu. The start/finish line is reportedly at the Shangri-La Resort and Spa in Mactan.

What does this mean? Many runners will swim. Many swimmers will bike. Many mountain-bikers will do road cycling. This is a tremendous victory for Cebu.

ACCIDENT. Dr. Raymund Bontol sent me this text message yesterday: “Good day, I have sad news. I was in an accident yesterday during my bike ride. A speeding motorcycle overtook me from behind and to my right side then hit me causing me to crash. My helmet and shades broke in two and I have stitches in my face and many abrasions in my hands and body. I did not lose consciousness and was immediately brought to the hospital by my mom.

“With God’s blessing, I am fine and healing. This made me open my eyes to the poor laws we have for road safety. The speeding motorcycle was said to be driven by a topless man and he was believed to be drunk. He had no helmet, too. If only our laws would be more strict regarding road safety then accidents would be less for us cyclists or pedestrians. We never caught the motorcycle because the witnesses helped me to get out of the road.”

The case of Dr. Bontol, a super-fit marathoner/triathlete, is not the first involving reckless motorcyclists. There have been thousands. Another almost similar accident involved a good friend last month. While biking near Carcar, a motorcycle driver made an unexpected U-turn that caused him to crash and be hospitalized.

“I hope we can impose better laws regarding road safety,” said Dr. Bontol. “Motorcycle drivers are sometimes disrespectful and to think they demand the same space as cars. And yet they can’t even respect pedestrians and cyclists.”