By Rikki Suarez
Three newbie conquerors reveal what it takes to become Half-Ironman finishers.
The premier triathlon race in our country is the Cobra Ironman 70.3, no doubt about that. From the start of the race, with its 1.9K swim leg along the white sand beach and clear waters of Shangri-La Mactan Resort and Spa, it stamps its class as “the” destination race in Asia and the Pacific. Add the challenging 90K windy bike leg that navigates from Mactan Island to the nearby towns and cities of the mainland through Marcelo Fernan Bridge, to the blazing hot run leg across the island’s peninsula, it combines intense competition with nonpareil “Tour de France” fiesta atmosphere throughout the race. But of course, every triathlete worldwide knows that by now.
Almost all local aspiring multisport enthusiasts look up to Cobra Ironman 70.3 as the race that could cement their status as “real” triathletes, almost like a rite of passage. Their quest for the absolute triathlon baptism of fire will not be complete without the IM logo emblazoned in their finisher’s shirts and medals.
Rapzkie Geson, Ronald Bolo, and Edsel Eway were three of the hundreds, if not thousands, of newbie warriors who braved not only the distance but also the rigors of engaging in multisport in unpredictable environmental conditions. Very unpredictable, in fact, that by the cut-off time of the swim leg, one hundred and twenty disheartened participants were left cursing the paradisal shores unable to continue with the race. However, that is triathlon for you, or rather, Ironman triathlon for you – tough and untamable, yet undoubtedly desirable.
It is this intense desire that brought these three greenhorns at the starting line of the half ironman race last August 2. They did not come without preparation though. Well, maybe not for everything nature has to offer but enough to get them to the finish line in one piece. Not even the spring tide that climaxed in ferocity midpoint of the swim leg when majority of the participants were struggling in deep waters could deter them from reaching their goals. They did not let inexperience get the better of them.
Let us get to know more about each of them — what made them join the ever-growing number of “insane” triathletes, their fears and trepidations prior to the race, as well as their preparation and experience during the race. Find out straight from the horse’s mouth what clicked and what did not during the entire endurance-sapping distance.
Up Close and Personal
Meet Edsel Eway, a 31-year-old Nursing professor. He took up swimming only January of last year. Luckily, he has a pro swimmer and triathlete friend who gave him proper training and advice. For 6 days a week, he saturated himself in chlorinated water just to jumpstart his swimming “career.” Then a terrible accident happened. A nasty bike crash in Bohol during the Giro d’ Luca in May of last year brought his training to a screeching halt, as he needed to undergo two major operations on his clavicle. His Ironman dreams were in jeopardy. However, Edsel is not your average multisport enthusiast. He’s got the will of steel (or iron to be race-specific, ha-ha)! In fact, the only thing that would stand in his way is his fear of sharks!
Rapzkie Geson Photo by John Marl Morilla
On his way to finishing his Master’s Degree in Marine Biology from the University of San Carlos, Rapzkie Geson is not someone who will let a bad swim stroke stop him from conquering Cobra Ironman 70.3 and earn his coveted “bragging rights.” After all, his line of studies necessitates him to be attuned with the water world with or without the swim aptitude. After several years contenting himself as a race spectator, he got inspired to try it himself. This year, after just one triathlon race under his race belt in Tabuelan last June, he dove in head first, believing that proper mind and goal-setting will see him through the entirety of his first Ironman 70.3 race.
Ronald Bolo came marching, actually, running into the triathlon world. He is not just your ordinary, weekend-warrior type of runner. He is, in fact, an ultramarathoner. This gives him an edge over other newbies in the sense that he has the endurance to begin with. However, he needs to learn the rest from scratch. Postponed last year due to wedding preparations, this mechanical engineer working in an aerospace manufacturing company made it happen this year with added motivation from his Team Triaholix teammates. This is despite not having joined any standard distance triathlon ever and with a poor swim form barely four months leading into the race! For someone who believes in the cliché cigarette commercial tag line “No Guts, No Glory,” nothing is indeed impossible.
Question and Answer with the Conquerors
What made you think that you are ready for your very first Cobra Ironman 70.3 triathlon? Did somebody or something motivate you to conquer the distance?
Rapzkie: I was never truly ready for the race to be honest. I still had butterflies in my stomach until the moment before gun start. I think nobody will ever be ready for the race. Nevertheless, we hope that all our training has made us prepared for what’s to come during race day.
Edsel: It took me a while to develop the confidence to tell myself that I’m 100% ready for the race because of so many factors, like the fear of drowning, fear of sharks, and getting kicked in the clavicle by other swimmers since I underwent two major operations last year. Thankfully, God helped me find the courage to join the race without giving in to my fears.
What is your preparation like for your first half-Ironman distance? Did you have any race plan?
Ronald: My race plan was to join any standard distance, unfortunately, as I have said, wedding came first before any races. Unluckily, I cannot join due to my poor form swimming skills way back 4 months ago before this Ironman. Therefore, I decided to train more on swim.
Rapzkie: I would say that the first things you need to prepare are mind and goal-setting. Second would be to have good attitude towards your training. Lastly is to give it your all during training. Without proper attitude and mind setting, I doubt if anyone would be properly motivated to prepare for the race. If all else fails, just think about the registration fee you paid and signed up for and the waste it would be if you would not finish the race.
Edsel: I really prepared hard for this race. Raymond, my friend and teammate, devoted a lot of time to construct a realistic plan to help bring out the best in me in all three areas especially in swimming since it is my weakest discipline. I am just lucky enough to have found a pro swimmer and a triathlete friend at the same time who believes that I can be trained to become an Ironman.
What were your fears going into the race and how did you will deal with them during the race?
Edsel: For the swim leg, as mentioned earlier, fear of sharks and drowning, or getting kicked by other participants, and most of all, not being able to finish within the cut-off time. I’m one of those who joined triathlon without any background in swimming that’s why I dedicate 6 days a week to train in this area.
For the bike leg, I consider the fact that I can’t remember anything about my accident in Bohol last year other than it took place in the downhill part of the Chocolate Hills Tourist Spot a blessing because it did not create a “phobia” every time I ride my bike now. Now, I try to be very calm and alert when it comes to downhill areas in the route.
It’s actually getting a flat interior or experience mechanical problems that I really don’t like because attending to these type of problems during a race is actually hard for me to do. I asked my friend to teach me how to change tires and interiors prior to the race just in case. I actually brought 4 interiors and 5 CO2s last Sunday. My coach actually laughed at me and told me “ mag sideline ka ug toolkit along the way?” Hahahahahahaha!
The reason why I brought many was because I planned to share the items to other participants should they need one. I actually had the opportunity to share my CO2 to a fellow racer somewhere at the Mactan Bridge and it made me feel so happy. I am thankful to God that I was not able to use the items on my bike. Bike training is not hard for us in Dipolog and the Province of Zamboanga del Norte because we are fortunate enough to have safe and fully concreted roads to practice. You can actually practice anytime you want. Traffic is not an issue.
For the run leg, cramps and side stitch are two of my major problems. I hydrated myself properly and avoided stuff that can contribute to such troubles. Good thing both were absent during the race.
Ronald: My fear of fast swimmers pushing me down and drowning me in the swim leg is my biggest fear.
Rapzkie Geson by Running Photographers
Rapzkie: I had only two fears: the first would be not finishing the swim and the second, cramps during the bike/run leg. I have a weak swim to begin with, which is the reason for the fear I guess. Moreover, it is with the swim leg where you start off, and if you cannot finish it, it is goodbye to the rest of the race. I just took a deep breath and “tried” to relax before the swim leg started. Once the gun sounded, I just let go of my worries and swam as best as I could. For the cramps, well, I just made sure I hydrated myself well and stored enough electrolytes during the race to keep those cramps away. In addition, I properly paced myself during the entire race.
The swim leg was extra challenging this year because of spring tide, how did you manage to conquer this?
Rapzkie: Sadly, I was part of that last few groups that started the swim leg late, so we ended up being caught up with the strong current. I just swam as best as I could with the knowledge that all the other participants were already panicking since the cut-off was already near. We barely managed to survive it. We could not have done so if it were not for the race marshals redirecting the route since the current was already too much to handle.
Edsel: I dedicated a lot of time to practice swimming this year with the help of my coach. I can now swim and have the endurance to finish 2000m in a maximum time of 50-55 minutes, still very slow but at least I can finish. My strokes and kicks are not that strong that is why it took me a lot of time and effort to finish the 1900m course during this year’s Cobra IronMan 70.3. Fortunately, the organizers were considerate and kind enough to add 10 minutes to the swim leg. I was at the right spot at the right time when the marshals announced the additional time. I would have not finished the swim leg if not for the said adjustment.
Ronald: The swim leg this year, I can say, was very unpredictable. However, for me as neophyte, I expect the unexpected. As per my teammates comparing it to last year’s which was calmer, it was still unlike what we experienced in Aquaman Leg 2 held last July 18.
How about the bike and the run legs, how did they go? Did you encounter any problems during these legs?
Ronald: I had minor cramps in the swim leg but managed to handle it. I did not expect the headwind to be very tough in Cebu. My run is manageable; I have conserved a lot of my energy from bike since I did not push it too much. I decided to stay put on my pace that day.
Rapzkie: Terrible! I had cramps most of the duration of the bike and run legs. Hahahaha! I don’t know why, maybe I got too excited with the tail wind coming from Talisay to CICC junctions that I probably had over sped, which caused my cramps. I managed to finish the bike and run leg just by pacing myself properly.
Edsel: The Bike leg was very good except for some scary areas particularly the downhill part of the Mactan Bridge going back to Shangri-La. The road was very narrow and the small curved area made it harder to maneuver the bike without the possibility of hitting other bikers or objects. I almost had an accident in that area. Thankfully, I did not panic and I managed to avoid other participants. My planned time for the bike leg was 3:30 and I was able to finish ahead of my plan.
The run was tough. My plan was to finish in 2:20 hours but I was drained already because I spent too much energy during the last additional 10-minute period of the swim leg. The cheer from the people really made a big difference. Each cheer was like an “energy gel” that inspired me to continue running. No cramps and side stitch. Thank God.
Was there a point during the race that you wanted to give up and cursed the day you signed up for this race?
Rapskie: YES!!! When we were caught up in the current and the marshals were already saying the cut-off time was near. I just wanted to give up then. During the bike and run leg, it was the opposite, I just wanted to finish the race and get it over with, ha-ha!
Edsel: During the swim leg! It was just nasty but we can’t do anything about it. Tides are natural occurrences and you just have to do your best. I thought I was not going to make it because I was still at the 1000m area at 43 minutes when I checked my watch. My normal 1500m swim is 42 minutes. My will to finish the swim leg within the 70 minute cut off time was strong but Spring Tide was stronger. I am just thankful to the organizers for the consideration given to us.
Ronald: I did not think of that. I always listen to my body. If the race is not for me, I accept it. Well, my case on the race was different, not that hyped nor excited.
As a parting message, do you have any words of encouragement to wannabe Ironman 70.3 triathletes who could not yet find the courage to join the race?
Ronald: Do not restraint your dream of joining an ironman event. Like me, before it was in my bucket list, but now, it is already history. Just like Marlboro commercial, “no guts no glory!”
Razkie: Do not get discouraged about joining because “I don’t know how to swim” or “I’m bad at running”…blah blah…save your excuses! I started with knee pains at 3km during a jog when I first started my training. I even had the worst swim stroke and could not even breathe properly during freestyle. However, I never let these things pull me down. I just went religiousy during my training and pushed myself to the best I can. We all have to start somewhere. Like I said early, triathletes are not born but made.
Edsel: My message to all triathletes out there planning to join the IronMan 70.3 next year is a line from one of my favorite songs by Mariah:
“…Cast your fears aside because you know you can survive. When you feel like hope is gone, look inside you and be strong, and you’ll finally see the truth that a hero lies in you.”
Also, do not forget to dedicate time for training because there needs to be a balance in everything. No matter how many mantras you memorize or ink all over your body, if you will not train and prepare properly, you are most likely to fail.
If it’s going to be a rolling start next year, try to avoid being released in the last group because “Spring Tide” might decide to party again with us. He he. The best way is to train smart and race smart.
And of course, no matter what religion you practice, it is always very helpful to dedicate your race to God.
Be Inspired! Start Training Now!
Next year’s Cobra Ironman 70.3 will be the venue for Asia Pacific World Championships. Top caliber professional triathletes from the region will converge in Cebu to gun for the crown. It will be the best time, too, for wannabe Ironman 70.3 conquerors like me to make our dreams a reality, or like Ronald Bolo puts it, “making a bucket list item, a history”.
This interview with these three admirable multisport enthusiasts surely opened a lot of eyes and rekindled aspirations from those who read about their experience, including myself. As Rapzkie Geson himself was motivated by watching a sundry of triathletes in all ages, shapes, and sizes, including the so-called “less athletic” ones, conquer the distance, we too can get motivation from our interviewees.
Edsel Eway particularly impressed me by not letting two clavicle surgeries hamper his dreams on conquering the race. Neither did Ronald and Rapzkie let an inefficient swim stroke and lack of triathlon experience deter their stepping on the starting line along the Shangri-La shores, with the latter stressing the importance of mind and goal-setting during training.
So cast away those fears and just register! Just do it! Well, that is the encouragement I am giving myself more than anybody else.
Rikki Suarez, a triathlete wanna-be and a Fabulous Running Diva. I started out by running a few hundred meters and felt faint. After more than 5 years, I am still running and still felt faint a few hundred meters before the finish line of a marathon. I belong to a group of runners turned aspiring triathletes who believe that the road is our red carpet, the trail, our ramp, and the finish line, our stage. During my spare time between multisport and painting faces (I am a make-up artist), I write.