99% of all Challenge Philippines race reports will include the clichéd statement, ‘Challenge Philippines was challenging’. Indeed it was. The 1% who do not state this in their reports are lying! The inaugural Challenge Philippines was undoubtedly, a tremendously difficult and testing course. Taking place in Subic Bay, the race’s discordant and unsettling terrain contributed to its magic. On completion, I really did feel as though I had overcome a significant challenge.
A non-wetsuit legal swim saw the competitors swim 1900m in warm choppy waters near the Camayan Beach Resort. An uneventful affair, I exited the water on Laura Bennett’s feet. We started only 1 minute behind the lead men and had caught many of them by the time we reached T2. Once out onto the bike, the hills were immediate. The bike course meandered through villages in a third world rural setting, saw-toothing for a continuous 90km. The roads were at times barely paved and potholes, cracks and rocks dominated the surface. A road bike would have been far better suited to this course, yet the Scott Plasma and Profile wheels did a fantastic job of getting me through. The juxtaposition of $10000-$15000 bikes set against villages that had no running water or electricity, and huts that were made of rudimentary farm material, was thought provoking. Whilst my heart was in my mouth on some of the descents and my legs burned on hill after hill, it was hard to be absorbed with one’s own struggle in a triathlon compared to the daily struggle these villagers faced to survive.
Melissa Haushcildt, who had exited the swim roughly 2.30 down, caught me fairly early into the bike leg. She was flying and by the time we reached the halfway point, she was 2.30 up on me. I wasn’t prepared to take any limb-threatening risks, nor did I have the legs to ride at her pace. By the time, we finally reached the end of this treacherous ride, I had managed to reel back some of the time I had lost and was now 1.40 adrift. Emma Pooley, an Olympic silver medalist in the time trial, had also made up 3 minutes on me. Luckily for me, she had exited the swim roughly 9 minutes behind and was still a long way back.
As with to the bike course, the hills commenced immediately once we headed out onto the run. It was only two kilometers before the run left paved surfaces and headed onto a sandy path through the jungle. It was very warm by this stage, hovering just above 30 degrees Celsius. Whilst the jungle canopy was a welcome relief, the screech of monkeys hiding in the trees was not. I like monkeys as much as Indian Jones like snakes. I hate monkeys. Fortunately the run was marshaled well with volunteers, as it looped maddeningly for 21km. Amazingly I didn’t get lost on this course. My one criticism with the run leg was that there were few mileage markers and the ones that were present, were not accurate. By halfway of the run, I was starting to feel both heat and fatigue, making me irritable. I lost focus on run form and became entirely consumed with the mysterious location of the finish line! Eventually I popped out of the patience consuming forest and had maintained second position, with pocket rocket Emma Pooley only 40s behind me. Whilst I was at no point challenged, I had lost considerable time in the second half of the run to the commendable Pooley. It was a timely reminder that being mindful for the entire half ironman is a different beast than my previous expertise in Olympic distance. Melissa’s form was incredible and she extended her lead to win in 4.39, 8.30 minutes in front of me, and only 13 minutes behind the men’s winner, Matt Burton.
Challenge Philippines is no race for the faint hearted! If you want an honest course and to be tested like never before, then it is the event for you! Getting to the start isn’t simple, with a five-hour bus trip from Manila to Subic Bay to endure, but then again nothing about the race is easy. Prepare yourself as a stoic, and you’ll have a grand time!
I’m now in Tokyo, enjoying a week holiday. Jogging every second day and visiting the pool once or twice while I’m here is great recovery. Then I’ll have two weeks once I arrive back in Melbourne to get ready for the kids race (1.5/100/10) in Abu Dhabi. From there my early season race block will be over and it will be time to commence my first solid training block for the year. You can only race yourself into fitness to a certain extent. Racing is a lesser substitute for consistent training.
A big thank you to all my sponsors, especially Cellarbrations, Jaggad, Scott Bikes, Profile Design, Aquasphere, Smith Optics and Mizuno Australia. This journey is only made by possible by their support.