What happens when triathlon runs in the family? You train together, you stay together, and you push each other—literally and figuratively—together

By Joy Wong | Photos courtesy of Doc Gene and Bryan Tiongco

Triathletes preparing for the upcoming Alveo Ironman 70.3 Davao would understand when I say, “Ang lapit na!” with panic.

Even if one is able to properly train, religiously follow a coach’s program, and sacrifice social life, it’s just inevitable: We only have a short period before the race and more than ever, we need to keep our focus, value our training time on a daily basis until race day, and be mentally and emotionally strong amid negativities. Finally, remember that triathlon is fun. Isn’t that what you signed up for in the first place?

Speaking of fun, I’m amused at how triathletes and cousins Doc Gene and Bryan Tiongco shared how much more enjoyable it is to train when they are with their family members. Fun is an important ingredient for the members of the Tiongco Family who took the plunge of being triathletes. While it’s exciting to finish challenging courses, get nice medals (and collect them), and meet new friends in the triathlon community, what I hear from them is that ultimately, triathlon races strengthen their bond, allow them to travel together, and, most memorably, train together.

Bryan and Doc Gene

I could sense the strong support system they built throughout the years of triathlon experience, and I am just so inspired by their family stories. Hopefully, I can invite my hubbie Wowie soon or have Angelica aim to be part of the Alaska IronKids Philippines. For now, let me take it one step at a time.

What made you and the Tiongco Family decide to do triathlon?

Bryan: Sharing my story on how I got into triathlon would mean sharing my close relationships with my brother and my cousins and how much we love doing things together. We were all born and raised in Davao and we all grew up together. Ever since, we have always been a sporty active bunch. 

I remember during weekends, we would sell eggs in our neighborhood using our BMX bikes—which required utmost care in riding with the cargo we had. Afterwards we would play, race in the pool or swim in the beach.

When they were kids

Doc Gene: We were into sports. Childhood was spent playing basketball, swimming on the beach in front of our home or pool and biking at least once a week around Davao. We may not have been physically gifted but that did not deter us from pursuing sports because of its benefits, which include camaraderie and determination. We were inseparable ever since.  

Bryan: We just loved to be together so we always looked forward to weekends when the Tiongco Family would have the usual gatherings. Going into college, we all transferred to Manila. Though we went to different schools, we still managed to maintain our weekend meet-ups. Fast forward to 2010, Gene suddenly thought of running a marathon.

Doc Gene: It took an injury (Bryan’s brother) to make us realize that we should shift to another sport. The sport we wanted should be accessible and fun. We eventually got into running!

After finishing The Bullrunner Dream Marathon in 2010

Bryan: He was persistently convincing us to register at The Bull Runner Dream Marathon. That was the first Dream Marathon. I was never into running, but the idea of training together was good enough for me so we did—and we finished it. From there, we got hooked.

Doc Gene: So after the Dream Marathon, we continued running marathons and even did Berlin, Chicago, and New York together or with at least one brother or cousin. By 2012, I felt that we needed something new so I decided that we cross over to triathlon.

Bryan: I thought he was crazy. But since my brother Warren and Gene’s brother Gari were already sold on the idea, I didn’t have much of a choice. I eventually gave in or else I’d be left out of weekend trainings. As they did their first Ironman 70.3 in Cebu in 2013, I was at the sidelines watching them. When I saw them cross the finish line, I decided to finally take the plunge. I bought my first road bike in 2013, and the rest is history.

Doc Gene and Bryan literally swam side by side from start to finish of the Caramoan 10K Swim Challenge in August 2017

Doc Gene: We all knew this sport has created a bond that is unbreakable. That bond crossed over to our lives as we celebrate, drink, and travel together. Since then, we’ve conquered more triathlons, from standard and hybrid distances to Ironman 70.3 and full distance races. Whenever one of us participates [in a race], we make sure they will never train alone This is how we roll as a family of triathletes.

We have a growing community of triathletes in the country yet it would be great to see more triathletes within families. So far, who are now triathletes in the Tiongco Family? 

Doc Gene: The family members who are part of the triathlon community are made up of me and my brother Gari, my cousins Warren and Bryan and his wife Lynette. My younger brother Greg and Warren as well as Bryan’s older sister Pinky are also part of relay teams.  

Doc Gene and wife Anne at the Paris Marathon in April 2017

Becoming a triathlete requires a lot of time, energy, and discipline. With that fact, what are the rewards of having triathlete family members? 

Bryan: We love to travel together, whether for vacation or for a race. Just enjoying the journey together is enough to keep us intact. Fun should always be present whenever we prepare for any race. The best reward is the experience we share together. The difficulties and tough times in training become bearable when we know we are going to prepare and do it together. What’s also fulfilling is when we achieve the triumph together when we cross the finish line. Over time, these experiences create a deeper bond not only among ourselves but also with our kids. That, for me, is priceless.

Doc Gene: Triathlon may take time, energy, and discipline, but what way to do it than to be with family. Having your family experience triathlons means they understand and appreciate your sacrifices and preparation, and they will understand your expenses too [laughs]!

In Davao, people are friendly, food is delicious and affordable, places are safe, and there’s a fast growing triathlon community, so yes, it’s about time we race in our hometown. The swim course passes through one of our aunt’s house and also close to Gene’s place. I’m sure the participants will love Davao

Alveo Ironman 70.3 Davao will finally happen on March 25—in your hometown! What makes Davao a great place for this kind of race? 

Bryan: Yes, finally! In Davao, people are friendly, food is delicious and affordable, places are safe, and there’s a fast growing triathlon community, so yes, it’s about time we race in our hometown. The swim course passes through one of our aunt’s house and also close to Gene’s place. I’m sure the participants will love Davao.

Doc Gene: I’m so excited for it because it will be a homecoming for us. It will be fun swimming in the beach in front of our home again. I’m also looking forward to the bike and run route as well as see how much progress there is in Davao. I’m excited to reconnect with old friends. Davao is a great place for a 70.3 because there is a beach ideal for open-water swims, wide and long roads that make the bike leg enjoyable as well as a great run course that will have Davaoeño’s give triathletes a warm and hospitable welcome.

Showing off their Ironman plaques

How are you preparing for this race? Can you also give us tips on how we can maximize our training time with less than a month left before the race? 

Bryan: It’s important in this sport to know what you are capable of and to always keep your objectives and goals realistic. To train hard is important but always remember to have fun. Most of us are doing this as a hobby, so finding the correct balance is key if we want to sustain it. 

When training for a long distance race like an Ironman 70.3, I always follow my coach’s rule: If you have to miss a training session due to work, miss the short ones (in my case, those are the weekday conditioning workouts) but never the long endurance sessions. In my six years of training, it’s almost close to impossible to follow my training program to the hilt, so if I am unable, I try to at least hit 85 to 90 percent of my program.   

The next couple of weeks will still be important to maintain your condition until hitting taper week. Never forget to get enough rest and recovery between sessions. Remember to respect the taper

For Ironman 70.3 Davao, whatever your condition is at this stage is already the same condition you will be bringing to the start line. So don’t do anything crazy at this point because there is not much that can be done to improve any further. But be cautious because though your condition may no longer have substantial improvement, it may go downhill if you aren’t careful. The next couple of weeks will still be important to maintain your condition until hitting taper week. Never forget to get enough rest and recovery between sessions. Remember to respect the taper.

Bryan and wife Lynette at the 2013 Chicago Marathon

Doc Gene: If you have not been training, then you should be afraid. Be very afraid [laughs]. Triathlon is a journey and that involves a process. The process is the training. You have to build up a foundation and mileage for swimming, biking, and running. Stick to the training plan given by your coach or teammate. Try accomplishing your program or even at least 80 percent of it. Pay importance to the long rides, runs, and swims. Study and strategize the race course, the nutrition and every detail and information about the race. Be mentally strong and keep that fortitude up to the finish line. The mindset should always be ‘I can do this and I will finish this.’ The journey to the finish line is everything so enjoy that journey.

What’s your message to fellow triathletes who would love to encourage their family members to try out the sport? 

Bryan: Other than the benefits you get from this multisport health-wise, triathlon allows you to spend more time with them—with all the long rides and runs. It keeps you close to each other. We enjoy traveling and racing together. We enjoy talking about where to go and what to do next, we talk about our preparation, and we all look forward to the day of the race. It’s always good to have a common ground.

The Tiongco Family with the next generation

Doc Gene: The best thing about family is talagang walang iwanan. The next best thing is that you never have a hard time asking permission from your wife because you will be with your brother or cousins! There is a feeling that you’re never alone and someone will always give you the extra push. You are never alone in your training and  ‘sufferfest’ rides. It’s the (pre and post) celebration that I always look forward to. I mentioned that triathlon is a journey, and to enjoy that journey, it’s always a good thing to train with family. Training with your family brings out encouragement and togetherness. Families bring out the best in each other because no matter how slow you are, they will always have your back to give you that extra push (literally and figuratively).