If you want a refreshingly unique kind of race, Durianman is perfect for you.
While I have nothing against all the races in Subic bay (Disclaimer: I love racing there because of course familiarity, organization, and convenience), sometimes, it’s nice to break out of the norm and try something different. Durianman is a race that’s both comfortable yet challenging, unique yet familiar, exotic yet close to home.
I boarded a Cebu Pacific plane to Davao City. The aircraft is huge enough to seat 9 people per row (That’s 3 groups of seats separated by two aisles). This not only provides ample carry-on space for each passenger, it also means there’s lots of space for your bike in the cargo bay. I purchased 30kg of allowance for my test equipment and luggage, and another 30kg for my bike via sports package; this meant I had a whopping 60kg of luggage allowance. I doubt anyone would need such weight but it might just come in handy if you want to bring home some Durian or Pomelos.
After a couple of days of lactate and metabolic testing in The Holiday Gym and Spa, I finally had time to relax and recover. Saturday was reserved for rest and travel to the venue. After picking up the Fiance from her late morning flight from Manila, we made our way to Samal Garden Island. Luckily, the airport and seaport are quite close together. I would suggest arriving in Davao as early as Friday since there’s a very long queue for the RORO (Roll-On Roll Off) boat to Samal. We had to wait for around 2 hours just to cross. Luckily, this was the only inconvenience of our trip and we crossed the channel within 10mins.

Upon arriving in Camp Holiday (the race’s headquarters), I immediately got my race kit, unpacked and prepared my bike, and proceeded to transition to check in my bike. The race was only half a kilometer away and there were lots of tricycles or habal-habals (motorcycle “taxis”) so moving to and fro was not a big deal. A few minutes later we were back in Camp Holiday for race briefing. JJ Sarona and his team did an excellent job of giving an in depth overview about the race. They went through the schedule, course map, pointers and reminders thoroughly. Being an olympic distance race, most of the audience was relaxed and cheerful since it’s not unfamiliar territory in terms of length. I was asked to discuss some race tips that would help each athlete finish strong. After giving some swim, bike, and run pointers, we had a mini-contest wherein we gave away a MilestonePod to a lucky winner. This pod allow its user to keep track of his gait and run form (i.e. footstrike, leg swing, cadence, impact, etc.) and would surely be useful in the race the following day. After the delicious carboloading dinner, we were off to bed to recharge our batteries for the hard day ahead.

Race morning started very early. I had to wake up before 3 am since transition was only open from 3-4:45am. By 5am, we were asked to prepare to board the ferries that will bring us to the opposite side of the channel. You read that right, instead of having to swim loops, we were given the task of traversing Pakiputan channel. This was both scary and exciting. We found comfort in knowing that the organizers commissioned 70+ boats to guide us throughout the swim leg. After a couple of delays here and there, we were finally ready to begin our race from the opposite side of the channel. One interesting fact about open water current is that it’s never constant. It switches intensity and direction every couple of hours or so. It’s quite hard to predict the pattern unless you have special equipment found on merchant or military vessels. On race day, the organizers observed that the current was stronger than usual and that we would be basically swimming upstream the whole time. Prepared for such a scenario, the whole fleet of ferries were asked to move a kilometer or so north. This meant we were swimming with the current. Sounds a lot easier right? Not necessarily.

Yes swimming towards the shore was quicker than expected but navigation became somewhat of a problem for most of us. Because of the strong current, we overshot T2 and ended up a few beaches downstream. Not a big deal since we could just swim our way back but we were basically on a “swim treadmill” because of the conditions. I, myself, had to go nearer the shore to hide from the current and make my way gradually to transition. I initially thought I’d be way behind my competition but swim time was a couple of minutes slower than my usual finish. Not bad considering my lack of overall fitness. Almost everyone suffered the same fate as well so everyone was on even ground.

The bike leg was a lot hillier than I expected. Rolling hills is actually an understatement because of some tough climbs we had to encounter. Since I used a 23t cog, I had to mash myself up the steeper sections. Coming back from a long training-less vacation in Japan, I tempered my expectations. I only had around a week to prepare for this race so I did my best to stick to my watered-down race plan. As much as I wanted to hammer the bike leg so much, I knew the smarter thing to do was to hold back and save my legs for the run. This is definitely one of the few races where one could really appreciate the beauty of the race course. Biking close to the shore allowed you to see the contrast between the lush greenery of Samal Island and the light blue waters of Pakiputan Channel. The scenery alone was worth the trip!

Once I got off the bike, I rushed through transition and dialed in my race pace. I didn’t find it hard to get my legs going from the get go. This might be from all the walking we did in Japan earlier in the month! Kidding aside, I focused on keeping a steady cadence and effort throughout the course. When we reached the hilly segments of the race, I held back to prevent any cramping and kept my heart rate in check. I knew I was up against a lot of strong athletes so I knew I had to dig deep. Luckily, after managing my efforts wisely throughout the race, I had a lot left in the tank after the turnaround. After the U-Turn I picked up the pace and pushed as hard as I could, I was able to catch up to a few guys but they were really strong. I knew I couldn’t let up in terms of effort so I just sucked it up until the end. Luckily, my strategy worked. I was able to bag 2nd place in my Age Group and 11th overall including Elites.

As with any race, one of the things, athletes look forward to the most was the postrace celebration! We were served lechon, pancit, and caldereta! After a hard race like that, refueling is the first step to recovery; luckily, we weren’t disappointed! We extended our stay another day to recover and relax a bit more but if you need to rush back home, booking a Sunday afternoon flight is very doable. To be honest, our only regret was not being able to go around the beautiful island.

This race is perhaps one of the most underrated or underhyped events in the triathlon calendar. It’s something very different from what we’re used to but it’s not a place that’s hard to visit. The distance was familiar but it presented some unique challenges as well. It was a small race, but it felt like a bigger one in terms of organization and flow. Given the chance, I’d definitely sign up and race again. Maybe the second time around, I’ll allot more time to tour the island or Davao city itself!