Meet Raymondted Apostol, the 35-year-old registered nurse, emergency medical technician, and “tryathlete” who is proof that you can start (and enjoy) your triathlon journey on your own terms
Photos by Marie-Lise Modat and Thomas Frowein for #BearmanXTRI and courtesy of Raymondted Apostol
The Middle East is home to many overseas Filipino workers, but what sits entrenched in the urban oases of Dubai, Doha, and Abu Dhabi are stories with an equally grand scale.
One such case is 35-year-old Raymondted “Red” Apostol.
Hailing from Malolos City in Bulacan, Apostol is a registered nurse who has been living in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) for 10 years and currently works as an emergency medical technician. It’s clear from his career and life paths that Apostol is no stranger to living life on the edge—whether on his own accord or when duty calls.
A bit like a meandering nomad in his own right, the free-spirited and jolly Apostol spent his early 20s backpacking in Southeast Asia, China, Nepal, and Europe before settling down in Abu Dhabi a decade ago with his wife Cen Abegail Advincula.
But behind his jovial disposition is a person bursting with intensity.
For one, he dove right into triathlon in November 2017 with no background, coach, and team except for the encouragement of Ultraman athlete Romeo Puncia. He signed up for Ironman 70.3 Dubai in 2018 (“with a lot of courage and guts”), committing himself to three months of training, and finishing in 6:34:52.
“Since then I fell in love with the sport and met a lot of passionate Filipino triathletes in Abu Dhabi,” he says. “I had so much fun racing that day that I registered again at the 2019 Ironman 70.3 Dubai event.”
Then there’s also the fact that Apostol’s job entails responding to traumatic and medical emergencies—and, two years ago, stepping into bigger shoes to be part of the the Emergency Ambulance Service’s Chemical, Biological, Radiation, and Nuclear unit “to treat and transport” COVID-19 positive patients.
It makes sense then that this member of the Cyclezone Shop Triathlon Team (the brainchild of former road cycling pro Albert Primero) and YouTube vlogger always had it in him to flesh out a stellar performance at Bearman Xtreme Triathlon, one of the toughest triathlons set amid the rewarding backdrop of southern France’s Le Vallespir and the Pyrénées.
Without taking too much away from our conversation, Apostol is in full expressive mode as he shares the struggles and successes of his unrelenting exploration of his limits, and how he managed to vanquish the Bearman XXL challenge in the Pyrénées last Sept. 18.
Because who better to tell a story of resolve than the pupil himself who persisted past the unforgiving desert and pandemic?
What was your first triathlon and how was that experience for you?
I was preparing for my first ever Ironman 70.3 in Dubai and I needed to experience how a triathlon event would feel so I signed up for the Roy Nasr Memorial Triathlon Event Olympic Category in January 2018. I had no coach and no team so everything was new to me.
It was wintertime in UAE and the race started at sunrise. It was really cold and it was the first time I swam early in the morning during winter and around 300 meters, I stopped, waved my hand, and asked for help as I felt my lungs were compressing and I couldn’t breathe properly or continue swimming.
I clung onto the rescue kayak for more than five minutes and the rescue guy kept asking me if I wanted to stop or continue the race. I collected myself, focused my breathing, and mustered all my courage and strength to continue the race.
I finished that race with a lot of lessons: the need to use the right equipment and gear including a wetsuit, the necessity of observing the environment and race participants, and the importance of training in the environment you’re going to race in.
How were you introduced to Bearman Xtreme Triathlon and what led you to the decision to race Bearman?
After doing my second Ironman 70.3 in Dubai, I was looking for the next phase of my triathlon journey. People were always talking about the full distance Ironman as a greater challenge. But for me, I always wanted to find an even greater challenge.
I searched the internet and found some amazing Filipino extreme athletes like Shangrila Rendon in 2015 Ultraman, Omar Paredes in Norseman Xtreme Triathlon in 2016, and my friend Romeo Puncia who finished 2019 Ultraman. Then my search led me to Red Bull’s toughest triathlons on the planet and saw the Bearman Xtreme Triathlon. Out of all the events listed it was the only one without a support team—meaning no one will follow me on the bike and on the run, no aid station and no food stops; thus making it bare, authentic, and really challenging. These are aside from swimming in the dark lake and the elevation gains in the bike and run legs.
You were on the 2020 participant list but you did not start. Can you tell me more about what happened there?
Yes, I was on the start list of the 2020 Bearman edition. That was before the start of the pandemic when I registered in January 2020. COVID-19 was still contained in China and wasn’t a pandemic yet. I trained for more than four months (from February to May) before deciding I cannot push through since there were issues with quarantine, lockdown, travel restrictions, and general health safety around the world.
You had 7 months to prepare with no coach—talk about being a self-taught triathlete. What did your training involve?
Bearman Xtreme Triathlon is not an average Ironman distance race because it has elevations of 4,700 meters in the bike leg and 1,475 meters in the run leg. My wife and I live in a remote flat area in Abu Dhabi so my primary concern was how to simulate the elevation gains.
For the bike leg I already have a bike trainer and I used an indoor cycling application called Bkool to simulate real-world terrain. To simulate the elevation of the run, I bought a basic treadmill that can simulate gradients up to 15 percent. And luckily I have pool access near my home.
My training program involved five to six days of training in a week with a light training week at the fourth week of each month to help me recover. I started with 10 training hours a week, gradually progressing to 25 hours per week of training in the last month. I focused primarily on endurance training, climbing simulation, and interval training. In seven months, I lost 12kg—from 75kg to a race-day weight of 63kg, which helped me a lot in climbing mountains.
How did your triathlete friends help you or influence you?
To tell you the truth every single one of them is my inspiration. Being with them pushes me. Every one of them is extraordinary and with their own stories and battles to tell. They share tips, advice, and help—from preparing my competition bike and improving my bike skills to correcting my swimming and running forms.
Did you ever experience any loss of motivation during training and even during the race?
In April 2021, we lost our 13-year-old niece in her battle with brain cancer. It was really devastating for us as a family. I stopped my training, lost my motivation, and tried to heal in peace. It was three weeks of almost no training and physical activity. But slowly, I endured the loss and continued my training. I remembered that the world never stops for your dreams and I’m sure my niece would want that as well.
What was the hardest part about this whole experience?
The hardest part would be making sure that I could be at the 2021 event. There were a lot of travel requirements and restrictions. Most people didn’t want to travel because of the possibility of lockdowns or being stranded in another country.
I’ve traveled a lot but these changing times have been more difficult. It took us one visa application, four vaccines (as clinical trial volunteers), a health pass certificate, and a lot of PCR tests to make this journey possible—and all the time being careful not to get COVID-19.
What were your favorite and least favorite parts of the course? The elevations look tough and severe.
I hated the swim a lot! No matter how much you practice swimming, it’s a different story when you swim in cold and dark waters. It was around 16 to 18 degrees Celsius, which I’m not used to as it was summertime here in UAE. The wetsuit helped but it was still cold.
Second, the swim itself was dark. I have never tried night swimming in open water for safety reasons and it is not legally allowed here. In the race you can barely see the water buoy and the guide light as it is so tiny. I don’t even know how I completed the swim in the lake. I checked my Strava after the race and I was surprised I almost did three perfect loops.
The bike leg was my favorite part of the course. We arrived five days earlier to practice how to climb and descend the mountain in the real world setting. I have never climbed and descended a mountain on a bicycle in my entire life. Luckily, I am a fast learner.
It took me six hours of training in four days to learn how to ascend and descend in real life. The early leg of the bike leg was fun as the course was new to me and I enjoyed the views and the sights. But after three hours on the course, the weather changed from a bright sunny day to a hell of wind, rain, and hail.
It was a brutal day! The weather [had] been like that for a week and there was a forecast of rain and thunderstorms on the event day so I guess that is one of the reasons other athletes didn’t show up.
It was so brutal climbing in extreme weather that some athletes didn’t finish the bike leg and quit; some people finished the bike leg and quit. It was not a day for the faint-hearted. But the bike course is my favorite because it really tested me. Quitting never crossed my mind. I always thought that I just needed to move forward.
The run leg was a standout to me. It was still raining hard when I started the run. I wanted to keep my head dry and my body warm if I wanted to continue. I improvised on this part as I pulled my swim cap from the swim leg and put it on my head and I kept my cycling jacket on the run to keep me warm.
Other athletes and spectators were looking at me in awe. One athlete called me and gave me the nickname “The Swim Running Man.” The run was hard and dark. The torch on my head was the only light guiding me. I was alone in the middle of the mountain with no one who could hear or see me. The organizer called it a run but it was more of a trek as running shoes are not suitable on that kind of terrain.
Lastly, what did the Bearman experience teach you?
Move forward! It is always easier to move forward. As I expected in the toughest triathlon on Earth, it demanded everything in me. But with all the pain and hardship I experience, one thing is true, to move forward. It always takes just one swim stroke, one pedal stroke, and one step to move forward. In the end, you will get there.