These are the words I told myself when I made my graceful fall off the MTB last November. I was training for my first full marathon then, and when the trail scratched my hands and knees, I thought it’s about time for me to kiss trail biking good-bye for good.
But nature has a way of creeping back to you, whisper to your ears, tease you to immerse yourself in its beauty and appreciate God’s creation.
And so there. After six months of no offroad biking, I was tempted to take another stab at an offroad duathlon, just so I could overcome the trail biking fear, which I developed from a series of semplang moments. Queenie entrusted me an individual slot for the duathlon.
I had to meet up with Mhel, Mar, Nao and Erick, so I was at the Start/Finish line by 4:20am because I had their kits. Soon, we were bibbed and with our bikes and helmets numbered, we lined up at the registration booths (which were fool-proof and labeled Steps 1-5), and lined up for the body marking. (I later realized I should’ve applied sunscreen BEFORE the body marking. Sheesh).
We went to transition and tried to find our spot in the bike racks, only to find out that with such a crowd, not everyone has a spot on the racks. I laid my bike, helmet and gloves near the stage, along with other MTBs already on the ground. I was forced to check in my other stuff in the baggage area.
Compared with the other duathlons I’ve attended, this one seemed to be much more crowded. The emcee announced that there were 500 duathletes! I’m just not sure if the count also included the relay teams.
There were no long lines at the queues of Steps 1-5. However, this big number of participants affected gunstart: It fired a little before 6AM, because some were still being bodymarked.
First 5K run: Defining easy.
“Easy lang tayo?” Mhel, who was very nice to volunteer to pace me and Mar, asked.
“Yup, easy lang,” I said. Mar also agreed.
“Anong pace natin?” he asked, pointing to his Garmin. “Six?”
“Six?! Ang bilis! That’s not easy for me!” I protested.
The group decided to just play it by ear, then.
With the emcee of the event shutting up (after protests from duathletes saying “Ang init na!!!”) and with Mr. Sun almost up, we were surprised that the gun signaled us to start.
Hello mud and sun!
The 5k run led us to single-tracked trails. In this run leg, Mhel allowed me to set our group’s pace. We ran it easy and just ran along with the pace of the runners in front of us.
Whenever I’d see a big gap enough for three runners, though, I’d overtake the runner in front of me. And Mhel and Mar would follow suit.
“Bike trail din ‘to,” Mhel, a trail master himself, said. He said he had taken this course with his MTB. I tried to pay attention to the trail, then, trying to take note of the difficult parts.
The sun’s after us!
I could see Solenad from a distance and I knew we’re nearing the start line. I checked my watch: It’s almost 30 minutes.
My watch’s memory was full so I wasn’t able to review the splits; but the last time I checked my watch a couple of meters from transition, it read 30:25.
“Ganun din,” as Mar said. It was pretty close to the 6:00min/km pace that I tried to shun.
Bike leg: Nature immersion
Enter beautiful trail.
This is it, I thought. The adventure would officially begin for me in this leg. I must admit that I wasn’t trained for this. I stayed away from trail biking for months; the last time I tried to do a brick session on road, I stopped because it was too humid; and my workouts had been mostly done indoors to avoid the sun’s roasting power.
The bike leg led us to single-tracked trails. I rode like I wasn’t racing at all. I watched out for rocks, for upcoming uphills or downhills so I could shift gears on time.
From time to time, mamaws would appear from behind us to overtake. This ruined my momentum; not only did it make me feel I was very slow, but it made me want to stop and dismount to make way for them. Trail master Mhel would say it’s ok and would also warn me every now and then when there’s a biker on my left or on my right.
There were easy parts. Some ascents weren’t technical; some weren’t that steep that I didn’t have to downshift at all.
The strategically placed markers reported how far we’ve come and gave us an inkling of how much energy we should still conserve. Direction posts and marshals were also visible at major turns. Blue ribbons were tied to stick posts along the trail and Columbia banners were visible, thus giving participants an idea that they’re still on track. Water stations, which are not always abundant in duathlon events, were aplenty here, serving water and Gatorade.
But there were difficult parts. And more difficult parts followed. There was also a technical descent (the wooden bridge), which I found difficult, but thanks to marshals who assisted us, we all crossed it one by one.
Did I just say it was difficult?
With Mhel behind and Mar far ahead, I was pedaling through this single-tracked trail and was surprised that we caught up with another biker who dismounted; he was pushing his bike up at an uphill. I slowed down a bit so we could be spaced farther apart, downshifted my gear to 2 and was determined to pedal my way through that ascent, but—
Uh oh. Fail!
My bike’s not inching forward anymore. My left hand gripped the handlebar tightly, while my right held on to the nearby tree.
Whew! I stayed hanging there for about a second or two; it was like a dose of caffeine that woke up my senses. Mhel helped pushed the heavy hardtail MTB forward.
While I was pedaling through the seemingly endless incline, I realized why it was called “Trail Masters Duathlon.” Though their teaser said they “want to encourage Filipinos to embrace an active, outdoor lifestyle,” this duathlon wasn’t exactly designed for every Filipino couch potato. It wasn’t for the faint of heart, and the bike trail wasn’t newbie-friendly.
But the beauty of the outdoors and the route of this duathlon would definitely push you to leave that couch. You’d long to see the green grasslands and the profile of mountains (e.g. Mt. Makiling), feel the dance of assorted flora with the wind, listen to the unique harmony of various faunas’ voice, and relish the shade and cool that the canopies provide. This experience would definitely make you want to embrace an outdoor lifestyle, and make you think that those hours spent in front of the laptop stalking people in Facebook, Twitter and Multiply could’ve been better spent with your true friends and with Mother Nature.
After a couple of minutes of silence in the trail, Mhel broke into a conversational tone and said we’re deep into the trails. Nature na nature ang dating, he said.
We were treading single-tracked trails. And deep into this rainforest-looking area, we were being serenaded by chirping birds and being protected against the sun by the trees. It felt like not racing at all.
I’d only feel the race pressure whenever we’d pass by other participants who were probably repairing their bikes or taking a short break. We also took a short water break near a water station, which was after a seemingly endless ride with my gear set to 2, yet I was still panting.
We trod on. I felt refreshed after that short break that I kept going. We spotted one participant, one who probably outpaced us early on, taking a sip from his bottle. He seemed to be in a mood to take a break in his spot by the trail when he saw Mar approaching. Then I saw him look at me, and noticed he seemed to have gulped his entire hydration and then fumbled with his water bottle as he closed its lid, as if he’s in a hurry to get on with the race.
Race pressure? I thought.
We’re halfway done. We covered those downhills (after the uphills) that drove me nuts: despite hitting my brakes every now and then, I’d still accelerate forward and all I could do is hold on to dear life by gripping the handlebars tightly, maneuvering through the dirt and rocks, trying to maintain balance as the wheels—which seemed to have a mind of its own—rolled, and not minding the impact of every hard bam of the wheels and of my butt on the saddle. Heck, the faster the bike would roll without any pedaling effort, the faster my imagination would fly on how seriously I could get injured with the downhill thrill.
At the end of a long descent, Mar and Mhel would be waiting, who were both thrilled with the speed.
The single tracks ended. Less than 12k to go. And here we were, re-united with other participants. Mhel had taken the lead, pulling us forward. I pedaled harder, outpacing other participants, hoping to catch up with Mhel before he’d reach transition. He was almost in sight. One biker outpaced me again. Hmm, so this is still a race, isn’t it? I thought.
I shifted gears and accelerated. I didn’t want to be marked as someone that they’d want to outpace. So I pushed. We reached that uphill road portion that was also part of the TBR Dream Marathon route; I didn’t want to downshift my gears; I didn’t want to slow down; someone behind’s after me! I tried to maintain my cadence, but my quads could feel the burn. It was much easier running it. I surrendered–I shifted to a lower gear to ease the climb.
The road—ah, how happy am I to see you again! You promise me no life-threatening stunts.
Last run leg: 5K of heat
Upon leaving transition, I saw Nonette, Virna and Randy cheering me on. Naks, Team Gatorade (and Excited) represent! Wearing those cheerful smiles and waving hello, these guys have somehow let me forget about the heat melting me and roasting me to a five-tone darker tan.
Mhel was waiting. I ran a bit. Then walked. The heat was melting me. Slacker me walked again.
With the shady trees gone, I had goose bumps. Waaah! This was like my Condura experience—goose bumps due to too much heat. Thankfully, water stations were strategically placed and we were able to cool our bodies down. Mar, Mhel and I would run-walk, chit-chat and outpace other walking participants, punished by the sun, too.
The familiar buildings were in sight. We’re almost there. We slow jogged. I could feel my head complaining of the heat that it was hurting.
Mar and Mhel spotted the showers as we neared the finishline. Mar even promised he’d be going there immediately after we cross the finishline.
I walked. And Mhel and Mar would slow down, too. I realized I was slowing down two other duathletes whenever I walk, so I thought “Let’s just get this over with,” and ran with my pace buddies.
We clocked in at 3 hours, 33 minutes, with no one detaching the stub from our bibs. One marshal, however, rushed to us to get our bib numbers.
It’s over. Whew. I thanked Mhel and Mar, exchanged greetings of congratulations, and as suspected, they rushed to the shower. I lingered by the transition area to look for Team Excited. Kuya Glenn was still running the last leg. Meanwhile, Randy, Virna and Nette were near the stage. Then I did what I’ve never done before: showered with the MTB!
In a nutshell
The trail, as always, fed our eyes with picturesque scenes. The rains poured for days prior to race day, but the heavens heard our prayers and the weather was calm on Saturday and Sunday. The trail experience, as usual, was humbling. Paraphrasing what I said earlier, the whole outdoor experience couldn’t be captured by photos and words alone, you just have to be there with Mother Nature to experience its beauty with all your senses.
Considering the race, on the other hand, I was lucky to have a pacer at this duathlon. (I wonder if Mhel considers himself lucky pacing a slow duathlete and Mar for having a slacker as a pace buddy. Haha.). One of the best lessons I learned from this race (and from TNF) is that the outdoors is best experienced when not racing.
Specifically, for this race, I’d like to give two thumbs up for the following:
- Steps 1 to 5 tents—fool-proof registration!
- Abundant water stations
- Gatorade served in hydration stations–On BLC mode, I didn’t take in GU and avoided unwanted calories. One cup of Grape Gatorade at one station was enough to refuel me and avoid a cramping finish! 🙂
- Strategically situated markers and enough marshals
- And the bestest best: a very beautiful trail! The next leg should top that! 🙂
However, I hope the organizers would take note of the race’s shortcomings and work on improving them on the next leg, which I hope would feature another beautiful province. I’m sure they did take note of these, as we were able to have a chit chat with them after the race:
- Late gunstart (we melted under the scorching heat :-()
- Lack of bike racks
- Race results accuracy during the awarding (Good thing the participants who were once proclaimed age category winners had left. I actually thought I placed second in my age category because the winners who were previously announced finished in 4 hours.)
Epilogue: Digital Dasher is destroyer no more!
Let me share with you my former hidden powers during duathlons: a magical, destroyer’s touch.
At my first cross country duathlon, I lost the pedals’ reflectors. At the Powerade Duathlon, I used my dad’s full-suspension MTB. Since it was a road race, I was confident that I wouldn’t have a major semplang moment and I wouldn’t have to unleash my destructive powers. However, the hilly portions provoked me to break the shifter. Hence, the strike two.
This duathlon seemed to have broken the curse. 😀
Cheers to more duathlons! 🙂 (and dirt?!)