What a beautiful morning. Blue sky, gold tinged clouds as the sun comes up in Sidney and already looking to be a 24 degree day. Not a bad place to come back to after a 2 week adventure of Philippine triathlon, sun and sand with the kids. I have always loved travelling and travelling outside North America is always fulfilling. I like the perspective that is gained from living in another culture, and the chance to step outside my routine and comfortable life. Even having to drink Nescafe and Creamo for a week or two shakes things up, makes my espresso pot and locally roasted coffee a thing of wonder for when I get back.
Taking kids overseas, now that is adventure unto itself. Giving them a chance to test their patience in long airport line ups and multiple security checks, to listen to other languages and eat unfamiliar foods, and to get by with what few toys they can carry in their carry on bag…it’s pretty fun to observe your kids negotiate their way around a foreign environment.
Our trip started with a half ironman triathlon, and ended with a stop at the California Pizza kitchen in downtown Manila, but in between those two experiences there were many extraordinary moments, first time events and mangoes.
We left Canada on the 10th of August, at night, on an overnight flight to Manila. Four pieces of checked luggage and 2 Blue racing bikes makes for quite a load, but nothing compares to the days when the kids were young and we also had a car seats and a stroller to lug along! Those overnight flights are quite something, 13 hours in the air but if you can sleep for 7 or 8 hours, watch a movie for 2, enjoy the in-flight meal for 1 hour, they don’t seem so long. And going west is easy. We went to bed at 11PM on the plane and landed 13 hours later at 4 in the morning. We were picked up by Alex, one of the Polo tri club members and by 5AM were on our way through the early morning streets of Manila for a nice breakfast before heading out to the Triathlon site at Cam Sur. Alex took us to the Peninsula for breakfast, one of the nicest more traditional hotels in Manila and before long we were seated in an elegant marble lobby with towering plants, blooming orchids and oversized tapestries hanging on the walls. It was grand, with the sophistication and formality of European influence. The kids feasted on waffles and mangos, my fruit plate was a heaping vitamin fest of mango, papaya, banana, melon and watermelon and there we enjoyed our first wonderful Philippine meal. We were alone in the lobby restaurant at 5 AM, save for one other table, occupied by a man and a woman who seemed to be consuming large quantities of beer and champagne. Hard to imagine how they were going to get through their day after that breakfast, but everybody has their own story.
Soon we were on our way to Camerines Sur for the Cobra Ironman 70.3 Philippines for three days of fun. As we landed Ross pointed out the window with joy…there was a band and dancers right outside the plane to welcome all the triathletes! It was loud and joyous and colourful, we were all given a traditional necklace made of Puka shells and it was a wonderful start to the weekend. Ironman events are always fun and boisterous.
There is a staggering amount of energy around a half or full Ironman and the Philippines race committee went full out. Between the athletes arriving with their blinged out racing bikes, to the extremely loud music that played constantly, to the smoking hot sun and humidity it was triathlon sensory overload. Going to triathlons is like going to a nightclub, without the night and the alcohol. It’s really just a big dance party of people showing up, showing off and having a ball. Can’t say I have been to a smoother run operation as far as checking in and getting ready to race goes, especially since we showed up only 2 days before the event and I was unfamiliar with just about everything.
Race site was a Wake Board Park. A man made oval shaped lake with an island in the middle is surrounded by small cabins, and wake boarders can wait for a moving cable that runs overhead. You grab on to the rope as it goes by (sort of like the rope tow idea in skiing), hop off the launch pad and wake board around the lake. It was great fun to watch. The 70.3 had basically taken over the wake board park, setting up the pop up Ironman Village complete with restaurant, IM store and sponsors booths. Because of the heat, the restaurant tent had to be air conditioned, a feat accomplished by the aid of a WWll diesel engine that was constantly being tinkered with.
My pre race ride was short and I only wanted to test my gears out, but there was no way I was going to venture out onto the zoo of a highway by myself anyway. Philippine traffic, while not aggressive or all that threatening, is mainly, congested, erratic and a crazy free for all, similar to driving in Italy, except for the sheer diversity of vehicles all trying to drive in the same space. Trucks, buses, vans, SUV’s, motorbikes, Jeepneys*, motorized tricycles, non motorized tricycles and bicycles all vie for a right of way, passing and going 2 or 3 abreast in what are mainly 2 lane roads. So my pre race ride was confined to several laps from transition to the highway and back.
We discovered an Iron kids race was being held the day before the half ironman and Maia decided she wanted to race, so Lance hunted down a bike for her to borrow and we got her signed up. She got her own official wrist band and race packet full of goodies, a race cap and even a timing chip that had to be attached to her ankle. It was all pretty exciting and she did an amazing job of getting herself ready. Even though she obviously has great resources to draw on, her motivation is all her own. It was her first open water mass start swim and she was very meticulous about going over the course, the transitions and figuring out exactly where she had to be.
Saturday morning we were woken up at 4:30AM with the sound of a downpour. Water streamed off the roof of our cabin, bounced off the deck outside the window. As she watched the rain she looked at me and said “They won’t cancel the race will they?”
It’s always amazing, as a parent, to watch your children as they grow up, to support their activities as they gain independence. This was one of those moments. My role as mother and parent was being intertwined with that as spectator and fan. In the end, Maia’s race turned out to be an emotional mix of motherly love and fan appreciation.
The 300m swim was a huge challenge for her, and she switched to her fastest stroke, the breastroke half way through. While she rode, I waited at the start of the run course for her, while Ross played in the lake. I couldn’t get Ross out of the water—not that I can blame him, it was boiling hot already at 7AM and the water was nice—so I let Ross frolic, keeping one eye on him, and one eye out for Maia. Finally, I caught sight of Maia, and in that instant I knew something had happened. She had a look of distress and pain on her face. Her legs were covered in dirt; blood was caked in several places on her thighs and elbows. She had crashed and even though she was sobbing, she ran on.
On her second lap of the 2k ran, she was still running on, determined to finish and catch 2 girls up the path. She finished the race, after 2 crashes on the bike: one from being run into by an older kid and the second crash by hitting a spectator who walked across the course at the turn around. While in the medical tent getting her scrapes and bruises tended to, the older boy came and apologised, then a camera crew came over to interview her. She bravely told them about the race and her crashes then said that she would do the race again next year if she was there! Needless to say, Maia got lots of attention for the rest of the day for being so brave and tough after her crashes, and several athletes told her that she instilled a new sense of inspiration in them for their own race the next day. What a way to start the weekend!
I was very relaxed and excited about racing. I think it had something to do with the fact that I was racing age group not pro and it seemed to take the edge off somehow, which of course raised the question in my mind about whether racing pro could ever have that same sense of ‘fun’. Take out the money and the endorsements and the career on the line and it all changes. Or does it? Anyway, the main reason I didn’t race pro, is that at the start of the season, when I was suffering from pneumonia, I didn’t set any triathlon goals for the year, and in April, when my lungs were still healing, I started riding my bike to gain strength, but racing triathlon wasn’t really on my radar screen. When I finished my first triathlon of the year in Victoria I had only set up my Blue time trial bike the week before, and swum 3 times (total since 2009 and that 3 times was all in the week before the race to see if I could survive the swim). After my second 10 day training camp, I was really starting to enjoy riding again, but at this point it occurred to me that all the pro rules had changed for 70.3 and Ironman events and I had missed the boat by several hundred miles had I wanted to race pro anyway this year. Hence, I asked for an age group spot in the Philippines, but decided beforehand that I was not going to take a spot to either 70.3 or Ironman worlds as an age grouper. So that is that back story to my relaxed and calm race demeanour.
I loved the race. I loved the experience of racing age group, and just being around so many other racers during the day. Getting up at 4AM was also a piece of cake and it was a nice treat, with the time change, to be wide awake and ready for action before the sun came up. I was organized and while I was a little nervous about the swim and the possibility of rain I was mainly excited. Because Lance was also racing I had to leave Maia and Ross with a nanny for the morning. Neither one was that excited about that, but our friend Kerri was also there with her daughter Kayla. Kayla is Maia’s age and helps out with Ross so I wasn’t too worried. They would survive just fine without me for a morning!
Lance was in another wave, so I spent the last 20’ before the start by myself. I didn’t even really know anyone in my wave, so it was just me and several hundred swimmers, crowded in a holding pen by the beach. I saw Dan before the start. Dan was at the race coaching ad it was fun to have my brother out there. There weren’t that many women. A remote controlled helicopter camera hovered over the crowd, who all cheered and waved in excitement. I was in the third wave of swimmers, 5’ after the 30-49 age group for men. I just put myself second row and centre and got prepared for a washing machine. It was crazy fun. Usually I am in a wave of 10-20 women and it’s very quiet, especially for me as I usually swim alone. This was the opposite experience. I fit right in; in fact I was actually a better swimmer than most of the people around me for a change. It was great for my swim ego and I found myself right in the melee, doing fine, finding my space and my rhythm finding feet, swimming past people, getting bumped and jostled and swum over. I only got really whacked once. You always realize it later in the day, when you wonder why your brow hurts, then realize it’s the result of your goggles getting jammed into your face when someone hits your in the swim. The swim was very physical. Within several minutes I had swum up into the back of the wave in front and spent the rest of the swim negotiating my way past slower swimmers and people breaststroking along. After swimming around one small lake, we had to get out of the water and run over the second even smaller lake, the shallow wake boarding lake. Water so shallow and cloudy your couldn’t see your own arm pulling in front of your face. But the buoys were large and plentiful and I swam as hard as I could to finish. I came out in 35’, in a non wetsuit effort was instantly buoyed up by my smokin’ fast swim!
Transition was long and narrow, and my bike was at the end. I got out on the course and spent the first 35km filing up past other athletes. I was hard to pass sometimes as people were riding 2 abreast up the road and maybe with the language barrier, my shouts and pleas for “passing on your LEFT” went mainly unregarded. So I had to just go for it and pass up the centre line most of the way. I felt amazing. After the hilly 40k blast fest at the Sooke Olympic the weekend before, the flat constant effort was awesome. Although I was concentrating on riding well and staying aero, the course was interesting and fun. We kept going through small villages, that would be covered in race flags and banners and the street would be lined solid with people cheering. You would buzz by, get out in the open for a while and then hit another little town. To the left and right were mainly fields and pastures, those huge gray cattle standing out there silently amid the green.
The rain started around 35km. Light at first then tuned into an absolute downpour. I had removed my glasses, as I couldn’t see and then my eyes became flooded with rainwater. The rain came down in buckets, flooding the roads, you could see it bounding off the pavement in humungous drops, and it pelted my skin. The rain added to the sensory adventure of the day. It reminded me of racing boats in high wind and the constant spray that soaks you relentlessly. But it was also fun. I was laughing at how hard it was raining, what a crazy experience it was. After the half way mark, the numbers thinned out and the men who had been challenging me fell off the pace. I was alone for most of the way back to transition, just a few people way up to the road to key off.
As we rode through towns on the way home, the people were still there, standing in the downpour, some were holding broad green leaves over their heads, some were holding umbrellas and many just stood there, hair plastered against their heads, rain streaming down their faces. Cheerleaders with pompoms, bands playing, and dance troupes carried on in their vivid outfits. Soon I tuned into the laughter as I rode by. Little children would laugh at me as I passed. At first I thought they were laughing AT me; that I must look ridiculous to them, out there riding in a bathing suit in the rain. But then I realized that they were laughing at the fun of it all, that these triathletes buzzing by was just so fun they wanted to laugh out loud with joy. Their gleeful laughing and smiles reminded me to have fun with my day, not to take myself too seriously. That by being out there in my bike, I was taking part in some crazy fun adventure of sport. The children’s laughter continued on and on through the ride.
The usually fatigue started to set in close to the end of the ride. It was a flat course and I had pushed the same 2 or 3 gears for the whole ride. I had no guide for my effort, being out there on my own, except that I knew I wanted to ride close to 2.5 hours and since I had hit the turnaround at 1:15, I was on target. The perfect cone shape of Mayon Volcano was my guide back to transition. I hit T2 with that ingrained sense of urgency to get out on the run. Dismounting with much more grace than I did in Sooke the week before, and managing to keep hold of my bike this time, I took off with the intention of hitting a 1:30 half. Without doing any heat acclimation training for the humidity and heat, that was my goal for the day. AAAH. That lovely feeling of starting the run after the bike….my quads told me that yes, I had ridden hard. It was such an effort to run. It is such an amazing thing, to be both living the effort and almost beside yourself at how much effort it takes to run even 7 minute miles off the bike in that heat. After 15’ the effort becomes less of an issue as the legs adjust to the pace and your body finds some rhythm in the effort to propel yourself with efficiency. Alongside the triathlon pain, that run was a pure delight. It was hard and somewhat uncomfortable, but it was also beautiful. We ran out through the rice fields, along narrow roads that were lined with shacks and lean tos and all manner of put together dwellings. Chickens ran along the road in front of me, Van Halen’s “Jump” blared from a boom box from under a steel roof shack, a goat was tied up alongside the track. Children ran out from the fields along single track paths that divided the race paddies. Kids laughed and shouted at us, and slapped our hands as we ran through the villages. There was joy everywhere and the more you interacted with the people cheering, the louder and more boisterous they became. The run went by terribly fast. Over the slippery metal bridges I ran, Dan was out there, having run out from the transition to record in photographs and cheers on athletes from the Polo Triathlon team.
I so looked forward to finishing the race, to being able to stop and rest my weary legs, but at the same time I didn’t want the race to finish. I wanted it to carry on for a little while longer, I wanted to stay immersed in this wonderful day, like the time I did the NYC marathon and I didn’t want the last mile through Central Park to end.
In the end I did have to finish. I ran into the Ironman village, completely satisfied, tired and happy. After the race, I did stop. I stopped and chatted with pro Amanda Stevens about the day. And as we stood there, after a while I wasn’t sure I could move again. I was hungry but had no appetite yet. I saw the massage tent so I gravitated towards that and was guided into a mat on the floor, among a hundred athletes. I lay down with gratitude. The tent smelled nice, and there were little bright coloured paper balls hanging from the posts. A nice touch. I gave in to the ground and being able to rest and with the healing hands of a massage therapist rubbing my tired muscles, I had a space in which to feel appreciation for the experience I had just being given.
To see Dan’s photos from the race go here: