Ironman Philippines 70.3 – Race Report
Last Sunday was my first time to compete in the Cobra Ironman 70.3 held in Cebu, Philippines. The talk among the race participants was that it is one of the best produced races in the Ironman circuit. Even the carbo-loading dinner is over the top. This year it was held on the lawn of the picturesque Shangri-La Resort. As you approach the dinner area, you can feel the bass of the PA system blaring trance music and start to feel the energy of the race ahead. As you get to the entrance, you pass through about 70 costumed dancers welcoming you. We got our food and then there was a whole dance show including big screen monitors and fireworks. The whole thing sort of devolves into an impromptu dance party. It was definitely the best pre-race dinner I’ve attended.
The race wasn’t without its hitches, however. With approximately 2500 participants, things get a little hectic in the age group category. For example, the swim starts in several waves, with each wave released in about 2 minute intervals. I was in the 4th wave, which meant inevitably having to battle through at least 1000 slower swimmers, some even doing the breast stroke! I took my share of feet to the face and thew more than one elbow. This year the course went clockwise instead of counter-clockwise, which is great if you’re more comfortable breathing to the right and want to watch the lane lines, which extend around the entire rectangular perimeter of the swim. Despite the congestion, I completed the 1.9k swim in 32:04.
T1 was a quick run up the red carpet to a large sandlot that had been converted into bike parking. I found my bike easily enough and had probably my quickest transition to date, as that is something I’ve been trying to improve. As soon as you get on the bike, you ride through thousands of cheering spectators. The road is completely closed to traffic the whole way, and everyone and their mother comes out to watch the race, which gives you a ton of good vibes.
The course is pretty much flat except when you go over the bridge between Lapu Lapu and Cebu, where the cross-winds hit you full blast. I was passing more and more people on the bike when suddenly the worst happened – I got a flat. I had been unconsciously obsessing over the possibility of getting a flat for weeks because I had never changed a tubular tire before. I pulled over on top of the bridge and grabbed my first fixit option, which was Vittoria Pit-Stop – pressurized liquid latex that is supposed to seal superficial holes. I put in about half the can, but it just kept blowing foam back at me through the sidewall of my tire. I tried 2 more times and eventually my tire seemed to hold enough air so that I could ride again.
After I got to the bottom of the bridge, I got about two turns down the course when, again, my tire went completely flat. This time, I knew I had to change the whole tire. Not to be superstitious, but the day before the race, I ran into Kaon Cho, a pro from Korea who dropped out of the last Tagaman because he wasn’t carrying a spare tubular. I wasn’t going to carry a spare with me either, but after I met him it seemed like I was cursed to get a flat. Anyway, I pulled to the side of the road, took off my wheel and pried off the tire. When I pulled out my spare, however, I realized I didn’t have a valve extender on it, so there was no way to get the valve through my aero wheel. I spent what seemed like hours trying to get the valve extender off my flat, which was impossible without a wrench or pair of pliers. After a while, I just sat on the curb and figured my race was over.
As luck would have it though, another racer eventually stopped to borrow an alan key (which I did have), and I eventually found a pair of pliers. I transferred the valve extender to my new tire and got back on the bike not sure if I should just ride back to the hotel or continue the race. It was one of those moments where I had to consider the value of continuing at all when there was no chance of winning my category. I knew I still had a long, hard ride and run ahead, and that there wouldn’t be any glory at the finish line due to all the time I had wasted. With all the support from the spectators and friends, and having travelled so far though, I decided I would still finish the race. The upside was that I got a lot of practice overtaking slower riders and maybe had more fun riding than if I had been pushing my absolute limits the whole time.
After the bridge, the bike course got to a section they call the double “M” where you go out-and-back four times over the same section. Because there were 2500 bikers out on the course, this is where a lot of people caught drafting violations, though it was challenging not to draft. I made a lot of effort to attack and pass quickly. In the double “M” you passed through a long closed tunnel a total of 8 times which was really fast and fun.
Heading out on the run, again the streets were lined with thousands of spectators. All the kids along the way wanted high-fives. It was blazing hot, however, and it seemed like I had to run through several areas full of smoke from either barbecues or burning trash. Everyone was so nice and friendly though, which made the miles go by much more easily.
In the end, my time was 6:03. I did learn a few good lessons. Most importantly, for the first time, I learned that racing is still fun and totally worth it even when you’re out of the rankings. I can’t wait to come back for this race next year! Ironman is also starting a new 70.3 event in Subic Bay, Philippines. The first 70.3 in Subic Bay is on March 8, 2015.
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