It’s almost August once again and for a lot of triathletes, one thing comes to mind, Cobra Ironman 70.3 in Cebu. On its fourth year in this particular venue, a lot of athletes are already familiar with the event. This race primer is designed for those who are new to the course and for veterans who wish to aim for a personal record.
The coast off Shangri-la Mactan is well known for its clear water and diverse marine life. However, it is also notorious for its relatively choppy waters and strong currents. The point-to-point swim starts at the beach directly in front of Shangri-la and ends along the perimeter of the resort a few hundred meters away.
Different from last year, there will be a rolling start based on swim speed. This means participants will be released in small batches depending on how fast they can swim the course. Following a clockwise direction, right side breathers will have an advantage as they can easily see the buoy line as they breathe.
Historically, currents have been erratic depending on the time of day and tidal movement. However, as I’ve noticed the past 2 years, current direction is always parallel to the coastline. What does this mean? It just means that at almost any point in the course, you’re either swimming with the current or swimming against it. With this in mind, the swim strategy becomes simpler. If you’re swimming with the current, try to relax, elongate your stroke, and keep a smooth rhythm. Don’t push too hard during this part as once you make a U-turn (and swim against the current), things will be more difficult. The strength of the currents here are almost unbelievable. The past two years, during our swim recons, the current would hold us back as if we were “standing” still. It would take an immense amount of effort to overcome it; to do so, you would need to shorten your stroke, increase arm turn over and even kick harder. That being said, be patient, manage your efforts wisely as the swim can be very tricky.
The bike course is relatively simple in terms of terrain. Since it’s quite flat except for a few hills along the bridge and tunnel, it would make for a very fast course. However, that’s often not the case; the terrain isn’t very conducive to blazing fast splits as the wind plays a big factor. Out of Mactan, during the climb along the Marcelo Fernan bridge, the first thing that one would notice is the wild crosswind pushing against the bike. When this happens, relax and put your weight on your saddle and keep your handlebars straight. Don’t make the mistake of slamming on the brakes as this might cause you to lose balance. Instead, adjust your position based on how the wind hits you and your bike. Take caution on the long downhill segment.
Once you’re in the main island, focus shifts from managing crosswinds to dodging potholes. Hopefully, this year, the road conditions will be better. In any case, be alert and avoid the large patches of rough road. Hitting a solid bump might result in a pinch flat or a wobbly wheel.
As you ride through the course and into the tunnel, remove your sunglasses and let your eyes adjust to the dim light. Make sure you’re extra cautious here as I’ve seen a lot of debris along the road such as visors, bottles, co2 canisters, along this segment. Once you’re past the tunnel, you will be greeted with a very strong headwind coming from the North West, this is often very tough as you would need to mash your pedals a bit while maintaining the aero position. My tip here is to maintain a steady effort without being too aggressive as you fight the wind. Be cautious as well and keep a straight line to avoid colliding with other racers.
In the past, there have been a lot of riders who form a peloton during this part of the course. I would advise against this. Aside from risking getting disqualified, it ruins the experience of others who race alongside you. Even for those who have no intention of drafting, it’s so hard to race hard yet stay out of the slipstream once you get gobbled up by the pack. It would need a conscious effort from everyone to race clean and honest. Remember, you’re also cheating yourself.
The once you reach the bridge back toward Mactan, ease up on the intensity and recover. Alternate spinning the crank and standing on the pedals to loosen up the hamstrings, hip flexors, and quads. This will prepare your legs for a quick transition out of T2.
If you paced the bike properly, you should still feel relatively fresh as you leave Shangri-la. If you feel your quads and calves tightening up, you probably pushed too hard on the bike, had inadequate nutrition, or lacked a proper hydration strategy. In any case, the best thing to do would be to back off the intensity, take a gel along with water, and ease your body into the run.
On the flipside, if you feel too fresh out of T2, you actually have a better “problem” in your hands. It just means that you should make up for the lost time on the bike and hammer the run course. Remember that in no point should the run feel “easy.” It’s a constant battle against the urge to slow down and the will to do your best. The longer you stay out there on the run course, the more you’re prolonging the agony. So remember, keep it fast yet steady and never give up.
The run course itself is pretty simple. Despite having lots of twists and turns along the course, the profile is relatively flat. This makes pacing a whole lot easier. Start off the run relatively slower than your target pace. Within 15-20mins, try and find the rhythm and nail your target speed. Mount a solid and very hard effort for the last 3-5km. Remember that the finish line is only a few minutes away, the quicker you are, the faster you’ll end. As you enter Shang, raise your arms in victory and savor the moment. You have culminated months of training with a strong finish in one of the best races in Asia and the world!
All the best,
Photo source: http://ironman703phil.com/cebu2013/race-maps/