Fastest, swiftest

THIS year’s Filipino elite division will see last year’s contenders—John Philip Dueñas of Team Ford Forza, Mendel Lopez of Omega Pro Tri-Team and Alaska Tri-Aspire’s Kristiane Lim—facing each other and the rest of the top triathletes in the country in the Cobra Ironman 70.3 at the Shangri-La Mactan Resort and Spa on Aug. 2

The women’s division will also have Cebu’s Louie Villacin of WS Tri Team and Cianyl Gonzalez of Cebu Parklane Tri-Team.

Most of these athletes have full-time jobs, and they have to sacrifice ample time to train. Dueñas is a coach; Lopez is a geodetic engineer and a family man; Lim is a registered nurse turned pro; Gonzalez is a call center agent; and Villacin, a businesswoman.

When talking about sacrifices, Lim, last year’s third placer, tops the chart as the registered nurse and former call center agent gave up the desk job this year to join the professional team Alaska Tri-Aspire and trained under Canadian coach Mathieu O’Halloran.

Leaving his hometown to relocate in Laguna was not a walk in the park for the Alcantara, Cebu native.

u201cThe training went relatively fine. I’m more focused since I don’t have work. Also, I’m well rested in between workouts. So far there were no illnesses and injuries during the past two months.” Lim, 28, told Sun.Star Cebu. “Training has been different because of my coach. I’ll approach the race as I always do, which is to stick to my plan.”

The University of San Carlos (USC) graduate is sticking to his game plan, which is to race at his own pace and not to get tempted to force the issue.

u201cI will stick to my abilities, I’m not going to try and swim with the fastest swimmers, or trade punches with the strongest cyclists,” Lim said. “I feel like I’m more of a balanced athlete. Like in the Dipolog Triathlon, I didn’t have the fastest swim, bike or run. But I won the race.”

Villacin, who’s one of the most experienced triathletes among the five, joined the sport while she was still a University of the Philippines Cebu student in 2000. The 31-year-old, who is the vice president for corporate development of Flame It Burger, had her toughest training program in years.

u201cYou have to be very disciplined; sleep early and wake up early. In the whole course of the preparation, I never had a social life. Most of the time is spent with your coach and training schedules,” said Villacin, who trains twice a day to improve on her eighth place finish last year.

u201cI will try my very best because I believe in the program plotted by my coach. I hope the training I’m doing right now will pay off,” Villacin told Sun.Star Cebu after her long bike ride.

Villacin, a former recruit of the PHL developmental team in 2001, hopes to land in the Top 6 or 5 in the loaded women’s Filipino elite lineup and targets a sub 5:30 time.

Dueñas, a runner turned triathlete from Danao City, is a two-time podium finisher. He got third place in 2013 and second place last year. The 28-year-old Dueñas is the coach of Mary Joy Tabal, the fastest female marathoner in the country, and also coaches other triathletes and runners.


Dueñas changed his schedule for training and had to sacrifice what he started to focus on Tabal’s training for the Southeast Asian Games, where she won a silver medal.

u201cMy usual training starts at 9 a.m. but I have to adjust since I was guiding Joy (Tabal). I transferred my training to 11 a.m. and it’s very hot during those hours but I still swim, after that I rest and go back at 2 p.m. for the bike,” Dueñas told Sun.Star Cebu in an interview at Cebu City Sports Center (CCSC). “Somehow it’s hard for my part, because I’m a playing coach and not a full-time athlete.”

The Cebu City grassroots coach for running revealed that he tried something new this year.

u201cI worked out more on the swim and loaded a little bit even it is only few day before the race. The previous year, I didn’t do hard workouts anymore when the race was approaching. I tried to load in the swim and tapered in the bike and run. Although this is new for me, I have to do it because I have no choice I’m short of time,” he said.

Dueñas admitted he trained early for this year’s edition but it took a back seat when Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association gave Tabal the opportunity to represent the country in Sea Games.

The ace arsenal for Dueñas will be the run and he’s looking to set that up with a momentum coming from the bike leg. He is known to be a constant winner of the fastest run splits in most of his races.

u201cMy goal is to perform my pace in the run, I hope I don’t get cramps after the bike so I could gave my all in the half-marathon,” Dueñas said, who clocked 4:32 in 2013 and 4:40 last year. “The Filipino elite pool is very loaded and they all come prepared. My game plan is to give my best and perform the things I’m doing during trainings.”

Gonzalez, a force to reckon with in the local elite scene, faced a challenge every athlete wish doesn’t come--injury. The 22-year-old call center agent suffered a muscle tear and had to pull out with two kilometers left on the Medellin Triathlon last April. It dampened her spirit a bit as she was advised by the physician to rest for four to six weeks. With the determination to join the Ironman 70.3 this year, she slowly got back and started training again in July despite the pain.

u201cI was already registered before I got injured. I really wanted to join and started training again. My dad knows my willingness to race but my mom kept telling me not to because of my injury. When I was not in the house, I received a phone call from my dad and he said he already booked a hotel room for the family on Aug. 2 and I will be racing,” said the former varsity swimmer of USC and a graduate of Management Accounting.

Knowing that she got the support of her parents, Gonzalez wasted no time and tried her best to recover from injury. The challenge for her, however, was to adjust to the flexible schedule of a call center agent.

u201cAt first, I had different time schedules so it was hard to train, but in the past weeks, my schedule is until 4 a.m. By the time I’m out, I go directly to CCSC for my training,” said Gonzalez.

The eldest of three children of Dino and Jennifer Gonzalez said the best scenario for her this year is to break her personal best time of 5:58 set last year.

Lopez, a geodetic engineer by profession, is the only one married man of the five. The runner turned triathlete was the third placer in the men’s Filipino elite in 2012. For this year, however, the former University of Southern Philippines stalwart runner said he lacks training.

Aside from being a father, Lopez is a full-time head survey engineer at the Aboitiz Land Company. He said that 2012 was a different story, as he could train full time.

u201cI registered in the Filipino elite because I thought I could find ample time to train but it was not the case. My goal this year is just to finish,” said Lopez who never missed an edition in Cebu and clocked 4:54 last year.

He said that more than the competition, triathlon has become part of his lifestyle and it’s his way to stay in touch with the sporting scene of Cebu.

Lopez, 30, is from Negros Oriental and now lives in Cebu with wife Lorhiz, who is also an elite triathlete.

Aside from the five, Cebu’s bets include the Cebuano and Cebu-based triathletes like Jorry Ycong, Ralph Arche, Emmanuel Commendador, Elmo Clarabal, Johnny Ferniz, Ralph Martin Sios-E, and Alan Ting.

The women’s elite field includes reigning champion Joyette Jopson, last year’s second placer Maria Hodges of Bohol, former pro Monica Torres, Lezette Albarote, Ani Karina De Leon Brown, Noemi Andrea Galeos and Jenny Rose Guerrero. The men’s field is headed by defending champion August Benedicto, former champion Banjo Norte and Philippine National Team member John Chicano.


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