The Cobra Ironman 70.3 in Cebu is no different from the course last year. This isn’t because of a lack of interest from the organizers to keep it interesting but simply because “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” The course went through several iterations over the past 6 years and this has been the layout that works best. If you’re concerned about getting bored because of the lack of variation, don’t fret. This race is very unpredictable and somewhat “moody.” We’ll have to deal with strong currents during the swim, vicious headwinds on the bike, and punishing heat on the run. It’s a game of dice as they say. The best solution is to be prepared for every scenario. Through this article, we’ll try and help you the best we can.
Check out the race schedule here! On Saturday, make sure to register before 3pm., check in your bike and gear before 4pm, and attend race briefing between 4:30-5:30pm. Late check in arrangements can be arranged with a penalty of $100. Take note that transition area opens at 4:30am on Sunday and closes at 6:00am.
SwimJunkie Coach Betsy Medalla actually has a very nice post about the predicted swim conditions. Check it out! But let me reiterate a bit in the following paragraphs.
The waters along Shangri-La Mactan are pristine and filled with marine life. While it might seem calm and serene from afar, don’t let this fool you. Since it’s situated along a channel between Mactan and Olango Island, expect a strong current within the course. Knowing the high and low tide times, our start time is right in the middle of the two. This means, we’re swimming at the time when the current is the strongest. However, since the magnitude of the high tide isn’t extreme, don’t expect swim conditions to be as bad as 2015 (spring tide). Nonetheless, the current will be very significant; however there’s the golden question of whether we’ll swim with the current or against it.
Predicting the direction of the tides can be very challenging. There are polarized changes in direction every tidal cycle. Since the course has a circular orientation, you can expect that with “tailcurrent” comes “headcurrent.” When you’re fighting the flow, remember to use a high turnover rate and reduce over-gliding; this will help you inch your way and prevent being swept back. Water can be choppy at times so remember to stay calm and relaxed. Sight, breathe, and navigate properly. These are essential skills that will help you conquer the swim.
Remember that instead of being released in waves, the race will go through what’s called a "Rolling Start." This means that participants will seed themselves according to their abilities and predicted swim times. There are several brackets: Under 25, 25-29, 30-34, 35-39, and above 40. Remember to seed yourself correctly. Starting in a faster or slower wave will make things more difficult for you. This year, organizers made sure that everything will be based on chip time. Don’t expect to have a “buffer” by starting earlier. Organizers will disqualify you if you exceed the cut-off time regardless of when you start (i.e. the start mat is the basis). Aside from that, it will be very hard to predict when the current will worsen. Depending on tidal patterns, there may be a chance that the first batches will have a more difficult time.
In case the swim conditions turn out to be difficult, remember to stay calm and exert a hard yet steady effort. From past experience, the most difficult part of the swim is the long stretch towards Mactan Newtown (where transition 1 is). In this portion of the race, focus on short fast strokes instead of long gliding efforts. This will allow you to move forward at a steady pace. Be careful not to go out too hard and gas yourself out. Pace yourself properly.
There will be a short run from the end of the swim course to Transition 1. Make sure you take note of the exact location of your bike. This will make things quicker for you. As you exit T1, remember to take caution as the roads are either rough or narrow. There will be lots of spectators cheering; put your game face on while you ease into your rhythm. While you’re still inside Mactan Island, take this time to rehydrate, refuel, and recover. Don’t go out too aggressively. Mentally prepare yourself for the more difficult parts of the bike course.
The climb up Marcelo Fernan Bridge is the first challenge of the day. There are two things that make this segment tough. First, the grade is very steep! Switch to your small chainring before you start the climb. Use a light gear that will allow you to spin up the bridge without cramping up. Second, there’s a very strong crosswind. Those who use deep-section wheels will find it even more difficult. The trick I’ve used the past 5 years is to put a lot of weight on the rear wheel and counter the gusts with your front wheel. Oftentimes, you really have to fight the wind. However, whatever happens, don’t panic! If you hold your line, stay focused and calm, you’ll be fine.
After the bridge, you need to make a left turn. Last year, this stretch of road was very rough and bumpy. It pays to secure your bottles on your rear hydration carrier with rubber bands. I’ve heard a few athletes lose their precious nutrition/hydration items in this part of the course. Slow down and play close attention to the terrain; avoid the potholes and pits of sand/gravel.
As you make your way through Mandaue City, road conditions will start to improve. Once you reach Parkmall, the roads will be wider and smoother. The highlight of the bike course is the road along SRP (South Road Properties). This is the segment adjacent to the newly opened SM Seaside City Cebu. The tarmac is smoother and wider however the wind conditions are terrible. Those who are inexperienced with deep-section or disc wheels should leave them at home. It’s quite challenging to hold your line when there are strong gusts of wind hitting you from the west. From experience, the wind will either slow you down to under 20kph or push you to speeds exceeding 40kph. If you're confident with your handling, it can be a fun ride!
Like last year, the bike course will have its signature M-Loop. You will have to go towards Talisay and back twice. The first loop will be on the right side of the road while the second loop will be on the left side of the road. There’s no chance of making a mistake as the course is well laid out and marshals are stationed at every turnaround. Remember that drafting is NOT allowed! Keep a 12m gap between you and the rider in front of you. Draft marshals are scattered along the course and getting caught will result in a hefty time penalty (or disqualification).
Remember to pace your bike leg properly. Stay in Zones 2-3 (moderate to moderate-hard effort), this will allow you to finish the bike course with plenty left for the half-marathon. Remember to consume the appropriate amount of calories and rehydrate often. I recommend taking in 200-300 Calories per hour. This can be in the form of gels or liquids (e.g. GU or Vitargo). Also, depending on your individual sweat rate, take in 600 to 1000mL of water per hour. This should be practiced in training; don’t try anything new on race day.
There will be aid stations along the bike course and they will be spaced several kilometers apart. Here, water or Gatorade will be handed to you in squeeze bottles. Practice grabbing bottles while on the go to save time. If you’re not too confident, you can stop and replace/refill your empty bottles. Remember to throw your bottles and trash in designated areas only. Discarding them on the side of the road will result in a penalty.
The trip back to Mactan Island doesn’t get any easier. Once again, you will have to navigate the potholes once you reach Mandaue City. The heat from the sun, buildup of fatigue, depleted calorie stores, and dehydration will take its toll on your body. Stay focused and alert! Most accidents occur towards the latter part of the bike leg. You can hold back a bit as you prepare yourself for the run.
This is the make or break part of the race. After racing for several hours now you’d still need to travel 21km on foot! The run course along Punta Engano is notorious for being hot and humid. Out of T2, you will need to run in a narrow side street adjacent to Shangri-La. This segment is very hot and difficult. The wobbly legs from the bike make it an even greater challenge. Don’t push the pace too quickly; start off easy and find your legs after a kilometer or so. I recommend wearing a hat or visor as most of the run course isn’t shaded (except for the parts in front of the hotels). Aid stations will be 1.5km apart, take your time as you approach each one. Be courteous, take a cup or two then move away. This will allow other athletes to grab their share.
From Punta Engano Road, athletes would need to make a left turn into Amisa. This is a preview of what’s in store for you next. The cement is flat, hard, and hot. You will need an extra push to maintain your pace. Remember that you’ve barely finished 1/4th of the race. Race smart and stay within Zone 2-3. This will allow you to have something left in the tank for the more challenging parts.
The most dreaded part of the race is what’s called the “microwave.” This is the looping part of the course towards the end of Punta Engano Road. Here, you feel like you’re being baked alive. You feel the radiant heat coming from all directions as the hard pavement reflects the heat from the sun. It’s very important to stay properly hydrated and fueled during this part of the course. Grab the towelettes and sponges to keep yourself cool. Maintain your proper pace/HR zone so you don’t overheat and bonk. Unfortunately, since the run course consists of two loops, you would need to run this segment twice. The second time around definitely isn't easier.
Luckily, once you’re done with the microwave twice, you’re homeward bound! Start pushing the pace more and dig even deeper. This part of the course is slightly downhill and shaded yet still quite challenging. When it’s crunch time and within a few kilometers from the finish, I try to block out the pain by staying relaxed and calm. Grimacing in pain or focusing on the agony oftentimes makes things worse. By channeling all the negative energy into a positive goal (e.g. finishing strong), you’re giving yourself a better chance of nailing it.
Going into Shangri-La relish the moment. It doesn’t matter how long it took you or how tough it was for you; what matters now is that you’ve come this far and that you’re about to conquer it! Fix your tri suit, visor, bib, and shades and prepare for an awesome finisher’s picture. Raise your arms in victory! Congratulations, you’ve just finished one of the best Half-Ironman races in the world!