If someone told me a few months back that this year, I’d be representing my country in a triathlon abroad, I wouldn’t have believed them. I would’ve said, nah-maybe in a few more years… Which is why it was a pleasant surprise to find out that TRAP wanted to send me to Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima for the 2016 Asian champs.
BEFORE THE FLIGHT
Going into this, I knew there would be a lot of preparation needed-training and equipment wise. In a regular triathlon, you need to remember to have your bike, your helmet, cleats, rubber shoes…and the list goes on. However, in this particular race there was so much more to prepare than the standard list I had in my head. I needed a wetsuit, and it was quite a hard decision to choose between buying one or borrowing one. I also didn’t know that there would be a difference in your stroke once you had the wetsuit on. I needed to prepare clothes for the cold weather, which I never really experienced before. I also had to mentally prepare myself for a different racing feel, since I was so used to the 35 degrees sun here in the Philippines. Having all these in mind, I felt even more nervous knowing that I didn’t know everything I needed to.
APRIL 27, 2016
My day started pretty early as we drove to the airport. I was super nervous and excited at the same time, it was my first time to travel without my parents, my first international race and only my second race in the junior elite category. I was (and still am) a total newbie. Our journey to Japan was long and tiring, but it was nice to be accompanied by the other members and coaches of the Philippine team. On the plane going to Taiwan, I was able to relax a little with food served by China Airlines and a movie to enjoy during the trip. I was happy to finally see how the other members of the Philippine team actually were in person, and finally be able to put voices to the faces I usually see in magazine covers or FB posts.
When we got to Taiwan we had a 3 hour layover, this gave me time to explore the huge Taiwan airport. I got to taste some Taiwanese food, see books that were in Taiwanese and even take pictures in a small art gallery in the airport. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed and we arrived in Japan at around 11 PM, from the airport we rode a bus along with the Taipei triathlon team to Aki Grand, where we would be staying for the next 5 days.
We arrived in Aki grand hotel at midnight, hungry and tired from a day full of travel. The staff at Aki, and even on the bus were extremely kind and accommodating. They tended to our needs and were very organized about it. The staff in the hotel also set up a dinner for us (which was an answer to my prayers) to satisfy our hungry tummies before heading off to bed. The clean room in Aki grand was just as good as their staff, with comfortable beds and a great view of the mountains- I was roommates with Coach Ani and her (super cute) 5 month old baby, Amaya.
APRIL 28, 2016
The next day, I woke up-ecstatic to realize I was in Japan. I started the day with a healthy and filling breakfast, courtesy of the buffet in Aki Grand. Some of my team mates biked the race route, but I preferred to do a quick spin on the roller. It was pretty cold outside, so it was a new feeling to not be drenching in sweat after my quick workout. Outside the hotel, there was a Shimano truck that was lending equipment to athletes. I’ve never seen Shimano truck before, and the mechanical services in the races I have joined were very different compared to this one.
After a few hours of rest, we headed to the pool at a school to practice our wetsuit swims. We didn’t expect for the pool to be freezing cold, and even if it made my head hurt for a while- it was good practice for race day. After a short workout, we made a quick stop at a 7-Eleven. It was fun to buy food not knowing completely what it was. It was also my first time to encounter Yen, and it was funny to be so programmed with the Philippine currency that I kinda freaked out when I saw that Pocari was 128 yen, but calmed down after converting to Pesos, haha.
At around 3 PM, the team headed to the race briefing. This was when everything started to sink in, and I started to feel serious race jitters. It was intimidating to see the other delegations, but also quite exciting to see the competition. The race briefing was quite clear and organized, except for a little conflict with the discussion of the bike route. The team then rode a bus going to the swim start.
Most of us underestimated how cold it could get in Japan and didn’t bring as much jackets as we should’ve. The water seemed to be murky and way colder than any other body of water I’ve ever swam in. Luckily, I didn’t have to swim in the open water and just stood to watch the flow of the swim start. According to the guys who did swim, the water was “half fresh, half panis (stale)” and while we were laughing about it then, I started to get really nervous about the swim course. Unlike other open water swims I’ve done, there was 0 visibility in this certain swim course and no lane lines.
It was a long ride back to the hotel, so I got to really see the clean, dollhouse-like city of Hatsukaichi. That night, we had a team dinner to discuss the details for race day. Everything was set for our racers in the Junior boys, the U23 and the paratri categories.
APRIL 29, 2016
I woke up quite late compared to my other team mates, who were already racing or cheering on the others. After a quick run, I decided to head to the race venue to see how my team mates were doing. At first I was hoping that my race day would come before the junior boy’s race, but after hearing all their comments about the hilly bike route and the cold water- I was suddenly glad that I’d be going in the race route somehow knowing what to expect. The race went smoothly for almost everyone, with strong finishes from the members of the Philippine team. It was a tough race for Kim Remolino and fellow teammate, Julius Constantino as they were neck and neck to the finish. Finishing after them was my training mate, Brent Valelo who suffered a flat tire a little less than halfway through the bike course, yet was still able to finish the race. Coming after Brent was Justin Chiongbian. His brother Yuan, unfortunately wasn’t able to finish the race after crashing 1K into the bike course. We stuck around to see Claire Adorna, finish in the U23 division. We headed home to have lunch at the hotel, so we weren’t able to see the U23 men’s race. However, we heard it was a good race for Edward Macalalad. The day flew by pretty fast, and before I knew it I was in bed trying to get some sleep for my race.
APRIL 30, 2016
I woke up at 4 AM to bring my bike to the truck, and was able to get 1 more hour of sleep despite the race nerves. I woke up again at around 6 AM to eat breakfast and head to T2. From T2, Coach Ani and I walked to the swim start where my race would begin.
It was intimidating to be surrounded by older and more experienced girls, yet extremely exciting at the same time. I tried to slow down time by setting everything up at an extremely slow pace, yet there I was being called to the swim start. The airhorn was blasted, and the race was on the way.
Initially, my body was shocked with the temperature of the water. My fingers froze and I got a headache from the freezing water, however after awhile my body got used to it, and I was able to swim normally again. Luckily for us, the water was quite calm. The water was still murky and it was hard to see where I was going. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stick with a pack and ended up emerging from the water in last place. I left T1 with Christy Suriadi, a member of the Singapore team behind me, we ended up helping each other in the 20K bike course.
The course was extremely technical, and while we had to pass the dreaded hill quite a few times, I have to say it was my favorite part of the race. Some of my team mates told me how bad the hill was, and when I did see it I thought, “Oh no…how will I run after this?” However, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and before I knew it, we were approaching T2. Before we arrived in transition, Suriadi and I were able to catch up with a Taiwanese (Wen Chuan Hsieh) on the bike.
The first few meters of the run is always the most painful part of the race for me, and this race was no exception. I thought I was going to collapse, and my chest felt really cold. For a good kilometer, I couldn’t feel my feet due to the cold weather. It felt like I was running on Styrofoam, and I was thinking to myself how bad my running form must look. I was so happy when halfway through my first loop my legs adjusted and I was able to catch up with the Hsieh whom we caught in the bike. I was now in 19th place, and had one more loop to go. The front runners were starting to overlap us, and usually I’d feel annoyed and discouraged by being overtaken…but instead I was a little starstruck and even inspired by some of the girls seeing how fast they ran and how they didn’t seem to be tired at all. On the last lap, my running legs were back to 100% condition, so I ran as fast I could towards the finish. I ended my race in 18th place, with a new personal best time.
The Japanese were so concerned as to how I felt after the race and sent me to the medic immediately. I was trying to tell them that I just needed to walk it out and I was feeling fine, but due to the language barrier-they didn’t really understand. When I was finally able to make my way out of the recovery tent, I was met with my team mates and coaches.
The rest of the day was composed of cheering for our team mates in the elite category, Kim Mangrobang, Kim Kilgroe, Nikko Huelgas, John Chicano, Mark Hosana and Jonard Saim. We were able to see most of the bike portion for the elite women’s race, and made sure to cheer our loudest every time we saw a team mate. Some of us walked back to the swim start to see the male elite category, we got to witness their quick jump mounts and cheer for them when they passed during the bike. Back in the finish line venue, we also saw the male Japanese triathletes racing at their hardest for a spot in the Olympics. We headed back home at around 4 PM, extremely tired from the eventful day.
MAY 1, 2016
It wasn’t over for some of us yet as there was also a mixed team relay event. I didn’t expect to be part of the mixed relay team, however since there were only 4 girls in the trip, I had no choice but to race. The race was a short but intense 300m swim, 5K bike and 1.9K run.
Unfortunately, the mixed team relay wasn’t as organized as the individual races. The tagging was set up differently, which resulted in false starts and even late starts for some of the teams. Despite this, the two Philippine teams finished the race with no protest against us. The ranking is still unclear in the official results, however in the results they came out with on race day-the two teams placed 11th (Kim Mangrobang, Nikko Huelgas, Kim Kilgroe and John Chicano) and 14th (Claire Adorna, Mark Hosana, Marga Delos Reyes and Edward Macalalad).
We spent our last night in Japan riding a train, walking around the streets of Hatsukaichi and in You Me mall. The mall was just like any mall here in the Philippines, only we couldn’t really understand most of the signs. We ended up having to ask some Japanese where certain stores were. We also bought a cake for Coach Ani, who spent her birthday in Japan. That night, most members of the team stayed in our room for awhile to share the cake and bond before we left for home the next day.
I was sad to leave Japan, and the lovely cold weather-but also happy to see my family after 6 days abroad. It was great to experience racing in the cold weather and to get to talk to some of my team mates who I only saw during races and rarely got to have a conversation. I also learned a lot from the coaches who were on the trip who shared some of their tips and experiences with me. This trip wasn’t only a chance for me to see what it’s like to race outside my comfort zone, but also a major learning experience. There were so many new things that I had to go through in this trip, and it showed me that experience truly is the best teacher. Although ranking wise, I didn’t do too well, I still consider this race as a motivation for me to train harder, and to get better. This race made me realize that Triathlon is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life, and something that I will love forever. I do hope that my first international triathlon won’t be my last, as I am truly hungry for experience and eager to learn more.