It’s that time of the year again when triathletes from all over the world converge to take part in one of the most festive and spectacular races the world has to offer: Ironman 70.3 Cebu! For the 7th straight year, we’ve been splashing through the waters of Mactan, traversing the roads of Cebu, and navigating the looping course of Punta Engano. With the significant changes this 2018, this race is sure to be the most memorable yet. Whether you’re a newbie or a veteran, let’s take some time to find tackle some important points about the race.
The swim course along Shangri-La is undoubtedly infamous for its strong current. Acting like a swim treadmill at times, this is one of the biggest challenges you would encounter during the race. While it’s generally accepted that latter waves tend to have the most difficult time, this isn’t necessarily true. Current changes direction every few hours or so (depending on the tidal cycle). This means that in some scenarios (like in 2013), you would actually be swimming with the current for the most part thereby giving you a “free ride” of sorts. What does this mean for us? First of all, there’s no point in cramming yourself in an earlier wave particularly if you don’t belong there. There’s no guarantee that you’ll have an easier time by starting early. Luckily, Sunrise Events has implemented a swim validation/qualification program which makes things fair for everyone. Make sure you check your wave and make sure that it’s correct. This will make things faster, safer, and easier for each individual.
The best tip I could give all athletes for the swim is this: don’t let off the gas. Swimming in open water is very different from swimming in the pool. Although you’ll be more buoyant, you’ll be fighting against waves and currents. Using a long glide will put yourself at a disadvantage. Instead, make sure you increase your turnover rate and maintain a strong, steady, and consistent effort all throughout. Don’t surge and don’t slack off. Think of it as a time trial wherein every second counts!
Luckily, the organizers do a great job of keeping everyone safe. Not only is there a buoy line, there’s also a whole barrage of boats scattered along the course to give us aid and attention if we need it. Moreover, we can distract ourselves from the pain and boredom with the help of the local marine life visibly seen from the swim course.
This particular iteration of the bike course is definitely very unique and interesting. Gone are the days of the double M loop and the strong headwinds that come along with it. The bike course now consists of three 30km loops that traverse the roads of Mactan and Mandaue. Our initial reaction is that this will be a very crowded bike course. Imagine close to 2000 participants squeezing themselves into a 30km loop? Luckily, because of the seeding implementations on the swim, this will become manageable since athletes will generally enter the bike course in a staggered manner. Most of the roads are also very wide and spacious lending itself to a more pleasant experience for everyone. Except for a few segments particularly in the backroads of Lapu-Lapu City, there should be plenty of elbow room for all.
The bike course starts out in Mactan Newtown and goes into the rather narrow side streets along the perimeter of the airport. Thankfully, all roads are deemed one-way and are closed to traffic. This would make things more manageable especially during the latter stages of the race. Once you make your way towards the wider portion of M.L. Quezon Highway, things become less tense and easier to manage. Tuck into your aero position and hammer through this very long straight away. The roads will be lined with spectators so make sure you stay alert and cautious as well. After a few minutes of time trialing, you’ll be forced to make a right and climb up the Osmena Bridge towards Mandaue City. While this isn’t as steep as the “old” new bridge, it’s still somewhat of a challenge especially during the last loop of the race. Be wary of the strong crosswinds as you cross the bridge, make sure you control your bike and pay attention. Maintain an easy gear as you climb and recover on the descent.
Once you’re in Mandaue, you’ll go through a series of fast turns before you finally make a U-turn. It’s the same story as you climb up the bridge again. Remember, you’ll be doing this 6x throughout the entire bike course! Luckily, the rest of the course is pancake flat so everything balances out.
As you make your way through the backroads of Lapu-Lapu, things become narrower, more crowded, and a lot more tension inducing. There will be crowded segments with a lot of spectators. It will be the first time for a lot of them to see such an event so they might not be too familiar with “spectator etiquette” (i.e. when to cross, how much space to give, etc.) It’s always best to err on the side of caution. Marshals can’t control everyone in this scenario. As a rider, always keep right and allow other faster cyclists to pass. Needless to say, drafting (riding closely behind another participant) and blocking (riding in the middle of the road) are absolutely no-nos! If you, on the other hand, intend to pass, make your presence known to other riders if necessary; do so in a kind but firm manner.
Once you make yourself back to Mactan Newtown, expect things to be a lot more crowded than your first loop. Be even more cautious as things will only get worse as time passes. Make sure you keep yourself safe and out of trouble during hydration stops and in aid stations. Don’t block the way for other riders as you grab a bottle or stop for a refill.
The run is where the real battle happens. The accumulation of fatigue, dehydration, and depleted glycogen levels start to compound. Out of T2, you’ll experience the strong, piercing heat of the sun. It’s the perfect time to rehydrate, douse yourself with water, and cool off a bit. There’s still 21km of tarmac we need to burn through. Luckily, once you make your way to Punta Engano road, you’ll be greeted with some shade, lots of aid stations, and familiar faces to cheer you on. Keep hydration and nutrition in check and pace yourself properly. Brace yourself for the hardest part of the race, the so-called microwave!
This is the portion of the race after the short loop along the Amisa Residences. This area is completely uncovered thereby sapping your of your dwindling strength and willpower. This is also where a lot of people cramp up likely from dehydration. The trick here is to take it one step at a time and grab ice or face towels to keep you cool. If you hated it the first time, remember, you’ll have to do it another time!
The first loop is obviously the easiest, the second loop increases in difficulty several fold. The best way to prevent burning out in the final 10km is to pace yourself properly in the first loop. Make sure you pace yourself properly and avoid any surges or gung-ho efforts. Don’t be too overzealous at the very start and you’ll reap the rewards towards the end.
The most ecstatic moment one would ever encounter this race is the final stretch into Shangri-La. Hundreds of people watching and cheering, the lively sound of music and the very animated race announcers shouting your name as you cross the finishline is priceless. In the race course, if you ever questioned why you’re doing this, you’ll find the answer here! 70.3 miles of racing done and dusted! Where to next?!