Since its debut four years ago, the Ironman 70.3 in Cebu has been my “A race”, it is the event that has the utmost priority and value. All my workouts, tune up races, and extraneous activities revolve around it. In fact, “all roads lead to Cebu” is a common phrase that’s thrown around through the course of my season.
What does it mean to have an A race?
For the most part it’s fairly simple, it’s about looking at the bigger picture. Throughout the course of my year, I put a lot of emphasis on planning out the training blocks leading up to Cebu. This means breaking down each month or so into chunks wherein I focus on a particular skill, a fitness attribute, or a limiter. Think of this as laying down the foundation for my race; each building block is laid down on top of another to form a solid base. In doing so, I can have the best possible performance for this particular event. This also means that other races take a back seat. They are a means to build or test fitness prior to Cebu. That being said, most of the time, I go into these races with a substantial amount of fatigue. I’m neither fresh nor tired as I race them. Instead of aiming for a breakout performance for each of these races, I choose and plot them out carefully and peg them as tune up races in preparation for Cebu. As a result, I don’t particularly excel for these events but I am fairly consistent in terms of my performance.
What does this imply? To those who take a look at my performance throughout the season, most would notice that I’m quite “steady” early in the year yet suddenly explode into a stellar performance come August. This is a result of months of painstaking preparation, careful planning, and perfect timing. The past four years, Cebu has been a breakout race for me. Every time I race it, I leap over new hurdles and boundaries that I thought I could never overcome.
The past few months, I focused a lot of my attention on my swim. Being a non-impact sport, I could risk putting in a lot of miles in the pool without getting injured. This approach helped me develop my aerobic capacity and technique. To non-swimmers like me, this is one of the most steadfast ways to improve. Developing the feel of the water through hours of “conscious” swimming is important for sinkers and “non-swimmers” like me. To supplement the mileage, I also used specific drills and gadgets that would enhance my stroke mechanics. My TYR fins, center snorkel, and paddles are just a few of the mainstays in my swim bag.

Over the course of my career, I’ve often been criticized for having a very short arm turnover (i.e. no glide). While this might seem like a disadvantage, it has helped me clock fast swim times in the open water. The continuous turnover coupled with the strength and timing I’ve developed through training arms me (pun intended) with the necessary power to overcome harsh swim conditions like the one in Cebu. In short, my swim may not be textbook perfect but it’s robust and solid enough to handle strong currents and choppy waves. This goes to show that there’s no actual “perfect” swim stroke; instead, there’s a perfect stroke for each individual.
Going into the race last Sunday, I already expected a tough swim. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, the swim leg for this race is very tricky. Water is sometimes calm (oftentimes choppy), but there will always be a strong current. When my wave entered the water, seas were generally calm but I could already feel the force of the tide. I was unable to attach to a swim pack hence I knew I had to be smarter when it comes to pacing. Swimming alone is difficult; one would have to sight, navigate, and still maintain a solid effort. You just can’t count on anyone to do the work for you. Oftentimes, I would slow down drastically when I’m not with a group. For this race, I learned my lesson and I consciously kept my stroke continuous and powerful. Towards the end of the swim, I was able to catch a lot of people who slowed down drastically. Even pacing helped me stay fresh. I clocked in a decent time of 33mins despite the horrible conditions.

Out of the water in my TYR Torque Pro Speed Suit.
This being my waterloo among all three sports, I decided to focus on it going into Cebu. Similar to the swim, Cebu was notorious for strong headwinds and crosswinds that would really sap your energy. To combat this, my approach was two pronged:
First of all, I developed my engine to handle such a scenario. Being a small rider, I don’t develop as much power as larger and bulkier cyclists. Like the swim, power-to-weight ratio is not a factor when it comes to flat and windy courses like Cebu. One would need to develop absolute power to overcome headwinds. With that in mind, my training (and that of my athletes’) was composed of long sets in the sweet spot or tempo zone. This developed the necessary muscular and cardiovascular endurance to tackle the wind. This was also designed to mimic the course and the conditions that one would face.
The second thing I focused on was my bike fit, specifically my comfort and aerodynamics. I changed frames a few months back and it gave me some time to dial in my position. Having relatively short legs, fitting myself was more difficult than it seemed. I had to find the proper saddle position (e.g. fore/aft and height) that would give me the most power yet would still balance my center of gravity on the bike. I inched my saddle forward, changed to 160mm cranks, and lowered my cockpit. This helped me achieve a very aerodynamic position yet still kept my hips open. Compared to my previous fit, this helped me develop a lot of power and made my setup very slippery with respect to the wind.

Weapon of Choice: Trek Speed Concept
Furthermore, I found that the Speed Concept is a lot more stable especially in high speed descents or crosswinds. Before, I would break out of the aero position because I didn’t feel stable during tricky situations. I feel so secure and comfortable on my current bike that I would stay in the aero position 95% of the time. Of course, this translates to faster times because there’s less drag. Aside from this, the aerodynamics of the bike also plays a huge factor when it comes to watt savings. The Speed Concept (more specifically the TTX before it) is the parent of the superbike revolution. It is often said that most high end bikes, like the Cervelo P5 and Felt IA, borrowed design cues from Trek to help improve their aerodynamics. I made sure I could squeeze out more watt savings by choosing what kind of wheelset to use. I ended up choosing a 60mm front and a disc for the rear. I also meticulously selected a cassette that would suit the course. This choice helped me maintain a smooth power delivery with the proper gearing ratio. I decided to go with tubulars since I find them a lot more supple and forgiving especially for the rough road conditions of Cebu. My favorite is the Vittoria Corsa series and this year, I got to try out the Corsa SC. The handmade cotton tire has one of the lowest rolling resistance results of its class and the latex inner tube gives it a really pleasant ride.
Coming into this race, I had a secret plan that I kept under wraps. Most people know that I’m a relatively weak cyclist. I usually do all the chasing in the run since I’m unable to close down the gap during the bike leg. I decided to be more aggressive on the bike this time around. I hammered the bike course yet still kept my wattage within my threshold. Having done a lactate threshold test the week before, I knew exactly how hard I could push. I finished the 90km bike course in 2hrs and 27minutes. I broke my PR by 7mins; this surprised most people (even myself).
I knew that a hard effort on the bike would sap my energy and it would risk a greater chance of bonking. With this in mind, I loaded up on calories during the bike leg. I took in close to 300 calories per hour during the 90km bike leg. Usually, this would resort in bloating and gastrointestinal (GI) distress. My solution for this was quite simple, I drank three bottles of Vitargo during the bike leg. By thinking to myself “I need to finish this bottle within the hour,” was able to consume the necessary calories and electrolytes. This also kept me conscious about my hydration needs. As a result, I felt really fresh out of T2. My legs were still loose and I had the energy to maintain 4min/km during the first part of the run.

Vitargo Complex Carb Sports Drink: Steady and powerful fuel for the bike!

GU Energy Gels: Compact and Stomach friendly, my choice for the run!
Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned. As I reached the 5km mark, things became extremely hot and humid. My chest started to tighten and I had trouble breathing. My legs felt fresh but I couldn’t sustain the effort. It was the first time this has happened to me and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I was taking a GU gel every 30mins so I knew my nutrition was spot on. I had to ease back on my pace and recover. Since the cups of water in the aid stations were so small, I had to walk, grab, and drink several cups before I could run to the next station. As this was happening, I thought to myself “What the &#*$ is wrong?” This was when I remembered a something I heard from Brett Sutton: “Being tough when you feel good means nothing. Being a hard-arse when you feel awful is everything. ‪#‎getonwithit”. This thought, together with the cheers I hear from my support crew, friends, and Jana motivated me to soldier on. It was probably the toughest 21k of my life. I was digging really deep but I did not give up. I felt like I was going to collapse so I kept my heart rate in check to make sure I’m not going beyond my limits.

Runnning alongside Craig “Crowie” Alexander,
my co-NEWTON Running Ambassador.
Surprisingly, I still finished the half marathon in a very fast time of 1hr 34mins (only 6 seconds/km slower than last year). I may have slowed down a bit on the run but the gamble on the bike paid off as I was able to shave off 7 mins from my previous PR. More importantly, I was able to secure a second place finish in my age group. This was a huge vindication for me as I missed out on a podium slot last year by 2 seconds.

Sharing the podium with Anton Samokhvalov (RUS) and
Brian Borling (Team Herbalife).
Ironman 70.3 Philippines in Cebu has always been an acid test for me. It’s a test of my abilities, mental toughness, and determination. Whenever I race Cebu, I always try to hurdle obstacles, break barriers, and overcome adversity. Luckily, the past four years I’ve joined, I have always been proud of myself. I may not always come out successful, but I’m always happy about the sheer effort I put in. I have continued to surprise myself with what I’m able to achieve because of this event. This race always asks so much of me, and I always try push myself to respond to the occasion.
For the Cobra Ironman 70.3, I’ve finished as the second fastest Filipino age grouper for the third consecutive year. This might seem frustrating but I also know that God has a plan. I believe it’s His way of keeping me hungry and in turn, motivating me to strive for excellence. Things don’t always turn out the way we wanted but finding the silver lining is the true test of character. It’s not yet over, I have so much more to accomplish!
All the best,
Don V