“No one will ever ace life, but it’s through our mistakes and failures that we become better prepared

By JV Wong | Photos courtesy of Hannah Yulo

I met Hannah Yulo through coach Kaye Lopez in WattUp, where all of us would do our indoor cycling training. It was easy for me to get acquainted with her because of her bubbly personality. While she has a friendly disposition at the onset, I sensed her intense focus and discipline whenever she’s on the saddle. As we were chatting one time, she shared with me her interesting athletic background inspired by her mom and how this paved the way towards her transition to triathlon. With her driven and grounded perspective about the sport she came to love, Hannah today has created a significant dent in the triathlon community as she represents the Philippines in the upcoming Ironman 70.3 Championships South Africa in September through her shining performance at Ironman 70.3 Davao where she aced her age group.

Prior to triathlon, were you doing any other sport? What discipline did you gain from this sport that became helpful in triathlon?  

I’ve played varsity tennis since I could remember and qualified for Palarong Pambansa. However I didn’t get to compete because I got injured during the regionals. My mom has always been an athlete and she dreamed that I would be the next Steffi Graf. She would come with me to every tennis tournament and coached me from the sidelines, but I don’t particularly remember enjoying those competitions nor did I share her passion for it. I did enjoy training with other athletes and not having to go to school for a good part of the year because of regional training camps [laughs].

Hannah Yulo with Polo Tri teammate Amanda Carpo

I’ve always been competitive. I’ve always wanted to be the best in whatever I put my mind into for as long as I can. I would strive to be better and that has helped me a lot as I transitioned from tennis to triathlon. I believe that you need to have that mindset to see how far your body can take you and how you can improve in all three disciplines regardless of your level of passion for each.

Tell us how you started your triathlon journey, and what made you decide to become serious with it.

A few years back, I had one of those life changing epiphanies about what I wanted in life. I have to admit that I’m still a “work in progress” and I made a lot of personal changes then—one of which was to get fit. From there, I started going to the gym every day and I ran five kilometers a day, then eight kilometers a day, then 10 kilometers a day. My triathlete friends encouraged me to start swimming and biking since I spent so many hours in the gym. I really enjoy my alone time working out so I was apprehensive at trying out sports that would involve me joining a team. I eventually caved in. I started swimming and biking, and now I am a complete convert ever since I joined the Polo Tri Team.

Triathlons have taught me so much about life. It’s not about being the best, but it’s about showing up when you don’t want to

It’s amazing what encouragement can do for a person. If you asked me two years ago if I would be doing what I’m doing today, that is, preparing for my first Ironman in June, I would tell you that you were crazy. Two years ago, I would think that there is nothing compelling about running a marathon after you have biked 180 kilometers and swam 3.8 kilometers. Fast forward to now, here I am training for exactly that.

What were your milestones on your first year and how did you achieve them? 

I’m a nervous wreck when it comes to athletic competition. My first Olympic distance race was early last year. I managed to deflate my tire before racking my bike and convinced myself I was riding on a flat the whole time. It was terrible. Halfway through the race I asked myself “Why do people do this?”

My second race was Aboitiz Tri late last year where I promised myself I would just have fun and enjoy it so I never checked my Garmin the whole time. It was the first time I broke three hours and came in second place in my age group. By the third race I had really started to love racing but it doesn’t mean I’ve stopped feeling like a headless chicken right before gun start. I’ve only done four triathlons since I started and have landed in the podium three times. At the end of the day, you are your only rival so you’ve got to make sure you are racing your best self. 

A baby Hannah with mom Mylene Yulo

With her Polo Tri Team at Aboitiz Tri

What are some of the challenges you’ve already faced, and what have been your life reflections from these? 

 Late last year, I was registered to join my first Ironman 70.3 in Phuket. A few weeks before the race, I was hospitalized for dengue. It was a really dark point in my life and laying on my hospital bed I really questioned whether I could continue doing triathlons. It had grown to be one of the best things in my life and I wondered if my body was telling me to give it up. It was a real struggle, but I slowly started to regain my strength and trained myself through recovery. I believe that in every life challenge, there is an even bigger lesson to be learned. We just have to have the right outlook—either we choose to be a victim or take the blows knowing that if it doesn’t kill you it can only make you stronger.

At the end of the day, you are your only rival so you’ve got to make sure you are racing your best self

How do you prepare for races such as a 70.3 and a full distance? 

My coach, Dan Smith of LifeSport, prepares my program every week depending on the distance I’m training for. We have a chat every now and then to talk about my nutrition plan and training results I upload through my Garmin. I won’t lie. I’ve given up quite a bit of my social life because of training. I get up at 5am every day to train before work starts. I’m a lot more conscious about what I consume and the nutritional value of my food intake. I hydrate as much as I can even a week before the race—a great tip from my teammate Amanda Carpo who also came in first in her age group in Davao. I devote my Saturdays to long bike rides, usually in Sierra Madre with Polo Tri co-founder Rune Stroem who has taught me so much about biking—from changing my tubulars to learning how to tell a proper joke while you’re climbing 9% grade hills.

Swim training

It’s amazing how you’ve already qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in South Africa after winning in your age group in Davao. How did you do it? Share your secrets.

To be completely honest, I had zero expectations. This was my first 70.3, and I thought best case I could break six hours. I wasn’t looking to place, I just wanted to finish the race. I kept my pace the whole length of the race knowing it was my first time doing this distance and I had to make sure I had enough fuel to finish strong.

What’s my secret? I have the best conversations with God while I’m racing. We can only do so much, its up to Him to do the rest. You just have to show up prepared and embrace what life has to offer to you in any given day—the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’ve learned to love it all and these are all part of our journey towards self-discovery. No one will ever ace life, but it’s through our mistakes and failures that we become better prepared.

What’s my secret? I have the best conversations with God while I’m racing. We can only do so much, its up to Him to do the rest

How do you plan to prepare for the world championship this September?  

I’m definitely ready to put in the hours to see how much further the next few months can take me training-wise. I will focus on my weaknesses like swimming, which I’m not particularly fond of but I know I can shave a few more minutes off if I log in more pool time. I love biking and so I’m confident I can improve my bike split a great deal if I put in the saddle time. For running, well I’ll run any given day which says a lot! But more importantly, I have to know how to balance it all. Rest is equally important as many triathletes tend to forget. Our muscles need time to rebuild so I make sure I have one rest day a week and insert swim days every time I’ve had two consecutive days on my feet. Finding the balance between getting stronger, staying at optimal weight and taking care of my body is key to staying injury-free. 

While on vacation in California

Many a triathlete would go through the challenging journey of managing priorities in work, personal life, and the sport. As you hold an executive role in DoubleDragon, how do you balance everything?

Triathlons have taught me so much about life. It’s not about being the best, but it’s about showing up when you don’t want to. It’s about putting your shoes on when everything hurts. It’s about getting out of bed and getting in the water when it’s still dark out. It’s about discipline and consistency.

If anything, being a triathlete has made me a better executive. A couple of hours of training in before I get to the office and my mind is sharper and I’m definitely in far better spirits from the endorphin high. I’m more pleasant to be around really! After every race I show up to work the next morning even if I have trouble walking properly, the same way I show up to a long run after an even longer bike ride. It’s not easy, but no one said life would be easy, we just have to show up and keep on going on. At the end of the day, we have to trust the process because it’s building us to become a better person.