Growing up, I have always been an athlete. I was actively playing sports during elementary school and eventually, became a varsity player in high school and college. I did not have any idea what a triathlon is all about. For me, running was done only during practice and games for basketball, soccer and softball. And just like everyone, I ride the bike for leisure. What’s more, born and raised on an island – Cebu, Philippines, you do not think about swimming as a sport, but rather, you simply go to the beach, lay on the sand, get from point A to point B, and you’re good.
A few years back, I worked for a sporting events company that organized aquathlons, duathlons and triathlons. It opened me to this world. In 2015, I supported my first Ironman 70.3 in Bintan, Indonesia, and seeing the triathletes crossing the finish line was just a mixed emotion. That moment made me realize that triathletes are of all forms and sizes, that the sport was not purely physical but it was a lot more mental, and it takes a lot of heart to do it. At that point, I somehow found myself smiling, saying, “Someday.…”
Fast forward to 2017 - I was at 175 lbs, in a foreign country, and a big smoker and drinker. After being in a battle with myself, I came to understand that the only person that could help me was - me. I accepted the situation and I realized that I need to lose weight so I can start running. And with help from new-found friends, I signed up for the Cap10K Race and started training for it by the end of the year. In February 2018, the same group of friends handed me a Rookie Tri flyer and said, “You wanted to do a triathlon, right? Here you go!” And I replied, “I am not crazy and I don’t have the training!” The friendly response I received was, “It is not until May, you have time to train.”
And that was it! That flyer sealed my triathlon path.
The feeling of excitement and anxiety dawned on me at the same time. It was like falling in love, the you know but you do not know kind of thing. If broken down, I can swim 300 meters, ride a bike for 12 miles and run for 2 miles, that I was sure of. But the real question was, if I can do all three in one setting, I had to be sure. Also, I did not want to start something and not be able to finish it.
So, I started with what I knew. Confident enough and given my background on the Cap10K Race, I was going to last a 2-mile run. This left me with only the bike and swim to worry about. Then given my island background, I was confident that I should be able to swim, I mean, how hard can it be. So, I focused on the bike.
As I worked on getting a road bike, I found out about the Bicycle World (BW) Rookie Tri Training weekend and that included a bike route preview. I was going to use this preview as my gauge, if I can finish the course it should mean I can do it and I will sign up for the race. But unfortunately, the bike I purchased will not arrive in time for it, BW was able to lend me a bike. And then, as I didn’t have a car, I had to find a way to get to Decker Lake at 8:00 AM from South Lamar. If you think my challenge is over, well, not quite yet. Looking at the map and bus times, I will not be able make the start time if I will be taking the bus the whole way. Pretty much there was only one option - take bus to Republic Square Station then ride from 4th Street to Walter E Long Park via the South Walnut Creek Trail, what’s 12 miles, right? I never thought I will make it on time, for some reason, I arrived 5 minutes before start time and was able to ride the Rookie route with the group! You do not want to know what went through my mind at that time. I walked up that great big Rookie hill, but I survived. I was the last three who finished, but I did it. Not only did I get through the course, but an entire 24 miles that morning! You should see my smile.
Later that day, I met the best supportive group ever - Meredith, Don and of course, Jennifer! For a then aspiring triathlete, these people are the greatest influences and mentors, particularly Jennifer, who introduced us to the Austin Triathlon Club. I joined the club happy hour that Monday which led to my becoming a member of the club then signing up for the Rookie Triathlon.
When I got my bike, I wanted to make sure I will be race ready, so I practice as much as I can by riding to work almost every day.
Getting accustomed and comfortable with the bike, now I needed to make sure that I am all good with the swim. I was very confident I can, I know the basics, I took swimming lessons the summer before my 6th grade and pretty much spent almost all my summer vacations and every possible time I can on the beach, in the water. Treading the water was not an issue, I am not afraid of the water and I believe I can swim. But I do acknowledge the fact that I do not know the technical side of swimming. To help with it, I signed up with the Open Water Swim Clinic and Wetsuit Demo at the Quarry. The first time I got into the water I was shocked at how cold it was, and for some reason I felt engulfed by it. My body was like lead, it was heavy! I thought it was just my initial reaction as I only stayed in the water for around 15 minutes but it was not. Then, my next open water exposure was during the Splash and Dash. The experience and feeling was the same - the coldness engulfed me and I felt like drowning. I barely made it to the first buoy, but I had to gather up my strength and swim back. With all of this, I realized that the swim turned out to be the most challenging. The water in Texas is not my friend, not just yet and I made a vow to make friends with it, no matter what. Together with my Tri friends and mentor, we had open water swim practices, we swam in Barton Springs, the Pflugerville Lake, Lake Austin and in Decker Lake. I feel a little better every time but the constricting feeling is still there. Aside from the weekend open water swim, I practice in the pool three times a week to prepare for race day.
It is true, the excitement level the night before is just out of this world. I made sure everything is ready and the checklist that I received during the preview helped a lot. To help me sleep, with the information I gathered from my tri friends and mentor, a beer before race night was a savior! I then woke up before my alarm, got ready and rode with Daniel to the race venue. We arrived past 6:00 AM, the flurry of activities and the buzzing of excitement was building up as the sun was rising. I was just soaking everything in. Good thing I remembered Craig’s tip to hydrate while waiting for start time. We did a walk through from the swim start, swim end to the transition area and I visualized the course in my mind. Thinking about all this, I tried to shake the fear that was creeping inside me and it came along the words start time and swim leg. My eyes kept on straying to the water, measuring the distance between buoys and that question of whether I can complete it. While on the line, I was all smiles but deep inside I kept saying over and over, “I just need to finish the swim, I will NOT be fished out of the water…” Then just like that, it was start time, I was not scared, I was annoyed because I was slow. It felt like everyone just kept passing me, and that I was not moving at all. I just prayed, “Please just let me finish the swim, please get me to my bike and I will be fine.” After what seems like forever, I was at the end of the swim leg. I thought I was the last person out of the water, so I took the chance to look back and I saw some others still in the water - I was happy! And so, the race started for me. I ran the hill to transition, dropped my swim cap, goggles and put on my sunglasses, helmet and shoes. I carried my bike to the mount line, got on my bike and rode off grinning. I huffed and puffed uphill and flew downhill. I pedaled as fast as my legs can and before long, I was at the dismount line. Now it is almost over, I thought, just 2 miles of run. The last half mile was brutal, you can hear the cheers echoing from the finish line but you know you are not there yet. My legs were heavy but I know it was just my mind telling me I cannot do it anymore. I was being passed by participants of every age group, I was starting to listen to the little voice inside telling me that I was tired. But then I saw someone in front of me who is in the 50+ age group, so I told myself, “If she can, then I sure can!” I just kept on going and before I knew it the finish line was just up ahead and I crossed it beaming! I was thinking, “I did it! Yes! All the months of training, all done! Yes! Now what?”
So that’s the start of the beginning for me. I decided to choose training over smoking and been smoke-free now for a year, of course I drink but not as much as I used to. I did two more sprint triathlon last year – Marble Falls and Kerrville. For this year, I will be back to improve my time on those races and as my main race, I signed up for the Kerrville Half Distance.
No, I am not crazy, I just know I can, so I will.
See you out there!
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