climb

from zero to hero: 2009 eXTri off-road triathlon

it was evidently the result of some drunken challenge. the lights were down low at tiananmen in makati avenue early last november, and we were surrounded by pillows and buckets of beer when janice asked me to fork over 2,000 pesos to be registered for the extri, an off-road triathlon held annually at la luz resort in laiya, san juan, batangas. i gave the money ungrudgingly, but only the following day with the benefit of sobriety that i realized the great danger i exposed myself to following that brazen decision. 1-kilometer ocean swim. 23-kilometer bike ride. 4-kilometer run. the order was tall, particularly for me, a self-confessed aquaphobe. i was afraid of the swim leg because i am not a swimmer. when i was younger, i had more than two near-drowning experiences, and it was only early this year that i actually managed to swim 50 meters. in between that night at tiananmen and last saturday, i invested time inside the pool not so much to train, but to build confidence. the swim was divided into 3 loops, and i just wanted to make sure that i could actually do 1 loop without stopping. i achieved that exactly a week before the race. but there is an ocean of a difference between an olympic-sized pool, the relative safety of its depth and length, and the wide open sea. upon our arrival at la luz at noon on saturday, i distracted my fear by being busy.

before i was marked, i was already offered an ungraceful exit at the beginning when i said it was my first time to race where water was involved. i would have grabbed it, but i would have disappointed a lot of people who have provided me with encouragement and positive cheer. so i gulped down my concerns and proceeded to park my bike at the transition area, readied my racing paraphernalia, and sat for the race briefing: the tensest 20 minutes of my recent life, until we finally suited up for the swim. i was only briefly relieved when a stranger told me that he sometimes lurks at my blog. during the last minute before the gun went off, i was consumed in silent prayer. i asked the Lord not so much for speed nor strength, but for courage and confidence. i knew that if i had allowed my fear to get ahead of me, i would have been consumed by it, and a string of problems would present itself. at any rate, i was comforted by the fact that i could always hang on to the buoys. the swim course was a crude isosceles that stretched out 35 meters into the sea, 150 meters parallel to the shore, then a 150 diagonal course back to the starting line. rather unluckily, i only breathe on the right side when my left hand is stretched out. the water was particularly choppy during the race, and water kept splashing onto my face. many times, a small wave would crash into me when i peeked to gulp some air, and i had to pause if only to cough out the sea. very early into the race, it felt like a school of rowdy jacks: there wasn't enough room in this vast ocean, and all i could see were hands and legs and bubbles. i also felt a slight pull every now and then.

at the end of my first loop, i had a big smile on my face, but what i really wanted to do was walk out of the sand and go straight to the room and sleep. i just could not do that another two times. but jason barked at me: go swim! so i donned my goggles another time, and went back into the water. what was i thinking? i kept asking myself, until i was finally submerged and got briefly lost. i wasted a few strokes veering away from the course. i went back close to the buoys and it was essentially a repetition of the first loop: stroke, kick, breathe, drink, stop, cough. midway, the sole of my right foot was beginning to cramp and i had to kick with only one leg. i was hardly moving. i caught sight of the race official on the kayak, and i think he was really concerned about me, because i held on to the buoys like my life depended on them. and for brief moments during the race, it did. when i finished my second loop, so many of the other racers had already gone to the transition area. that didn't scare me one bit and i lingered to drink some water, rinse my goggles and talk to the officials. and then my last loop. there were only four of us left on the water: myself, former bb. pilipinas-universe gem padilla, rendo, and another guy. i was smimming alongside gem for most of the last loop, which probably was better than my second, and rendo was only a body length behind. we all rose at the same time, but i stepped on the mat less than a second behind both of them because i was poking fun at myself. i was saying that there's going to be unusually low tide in the coming days because i drank half of the ocean. someone asked me how it tasted, and i replied, salty, perfect for avoiding muscle cramps.

i took more than 3 minutes at the transition area lacing on my shoes. when i saddled my bike, i immediately felt a side stitch developing. i couldn't cycle as fast as i wanted to because each time i exerted any effort, it felt like something was going to burst inside. i was only gingerly cycling along the road, waving and smiling at people, saluting race officials and locals. i was still on the road when the first four finishers were on their way back. when i took the detour into the trail, i finally found my element, and i cycled faster. i may have slowed down by the fact that i was generous with my high five's: i did not decline those hands lining up along the side of the road, wanting to slap palms with me. i felt like a celebrity, and i enjoyed it just as much as they did, i would suppose, because the kids screamed with delight when our hands touched. the trail wasn't as difficult as the trails that i've done with AMCItoda, but i'm not an extremely strong biker anyway, so i took my time. i only managed to overtake 2 racers on this portion of the race. it was a lonely ride back to the transition area for me: i could see no one else ahead or behind me.

then i started my run to the wild cheer of spectators. i'm pretty sure they were paid or pleaded to do that. there was nothing spectacular about my pace, but i accepted their approval willingly. i needed it for the next challenge. the run course is absolutely wild: it begins with the cardiac steps, then up, up, up the hill. i walked the entire time, with even no attempt to gain speed. only when the trail flattened did i increase my cadence. when i saw another racer ahead of me, i was suddenly possessed with glee. i wasn't in it to win, but it sure would boost my ego to go up a few more notches in the rankings! i quickened my steps, and found another runner walking the downhill portions. i told him he could run downward in a zigzag pattern to reduce the stress on the knees. he thanked me from a few paces behind. i was given a yellow scoongee at the last checkpoint and told to head to the shore. that was the most frustrating part of the run course. i wanted to run, but couldn't, because my feet kept sinking into the sand. it didn't help that i had no view of the finish line. there was a huge chunk of rock that abutted the sea, and it was only after that turn that i saw the small arc, and the few people waiting for the last few finishers. a pair of muscle cramps were already eating at my hamstrings and i was tempted to walk the last 200 meters. instead, i opted for drama and comedy. i ran in slow motion, and did a cartwheel at the finish line. "and there goes racer number 25, alman quiboquibo!" someone announced, and i knelt immediately after crossing the finish line. someone draped a towel over me, and i became briefly delirious.

i was trying to make sense of the difficulties that i had willingly submitted myself to. i was happy. not so much that i finished ahead of a few people, but more so because my debut into the sport of triathlon ended well, and did not find me on a stretcher or in an ambulance or at the hospital, or someplace worse. i had two personal goals for the race: to be alive, and not be last. my efforts may not have been as sterling as i would have wanted, but i achieved my humble goals by not going down in flames. the length of the race may be a pittance for a lot of people i know: a bump on the road, but it was already a mountain for me. that is why i feel accomplished: i resisted the urge to quit so early into the race, and actually finished the course in a small blaze of glory. now i understand why many of my friends are so addicted to this sport: you know you could do a lot better with proper training and more expensive equipment. i don't know quite yet if i'm just as sold, whether this small step will evolve into bigger strides towards competing in dead serious triathlon events. since last year, i've constantly been encouraged to take up the sport of triathlon, which i shrugged by saying that i can't swim. but recently, i proclaimed that my decision will depend on the outcome of the extri race. i must confess i haven't quite reached a conclusion. right now, i'm just happy to be alive.

here are the unofficial results. i finished in 2:25:44.9. 37th overall in a field of 48 racers. i beat only 1 person in the swim leg, was faster than 9 others in the bike portion, and outran 18 racers.
Pachi pachi (clap clap)
(Anonymous)
Well done, Alman! -ALTHGoh
Re: Pachi pachi (clap clap)
thank you mrs. goh! give my regards to the husband! :D