Challenge Philippines: Tough Race, Open Arms

I’m a bit of a control freak. I like to eliminate the potential of added stress and I prefer that things flow as smoothly as possible. This is a large reason why I often choose races that are close by or, if not close in location, simple to travel to. I guess this isn’t anything to be ashamed of, as I view racing as a “job”; hence I consider the cost/benefit analysis before choosing events. But I have to admit, it felt kind of good to opt in for Challenge Philippines less than 6 weeks before the event; to embrace the adventure of it all, and to realize that yes while this is a job, there can also be a little room for adventure; and it isn’t a bad thing to ease your grip on control every so often.

This event was a first in a few ways; first Challenge race, but also our first time traveling to Southeast Asia. The opportunity came up somewhat last minute, and I decided why the hell not…being so early in the year, I figured it may be smaller event, it’d be an adventure and a good way to go and blow some cobwebs off. While I considered Challenge Dubai as well, when honest with myself, I wasn’t sure that I was prepared to step into such a big race. When I toe the line, especially at a very competitive race, I want to have the confidence I can contend for a win. Realistically, I had taken many months away from half distance racing. I felt like this was a good way to keep the nerves low but also get out and RACE; maybe with a bit less pressure. Little did I know how much I would be able to look back with amazing memories of not only a hard and fun race but incredible people, new friends made, and some crazy experiences that I’ll carry with me forever.


We arrived late Tuesday night (technically Wednesday morning, ~2am) to the Camayan Beach Resort, after 25 hours of travel. Of course, running into a guy…no, let’s call him angel…in Dallas who offered up two of his Business Class upgrades to us for the 17-hour flight may have helped ease the travel stress! I actually didn’t want to get off of the plane. The Dallas to Hong Kong flight entailed eat, recline and watch a movie, sleep; repeat 3x. When we scored these upgrades, I decided it was going to be a good trip! We adjusted well and were welcomed with open arms from the Challenge staff and the local Filipino triathlete community. Wednesday we relaxed, and Thursday we headed into Olongapo (about 20 km away where the race expo was) for the check in, press conference, an awesome dinner and a brief social event. Friday I headed back to town to do a signing for Zoot and Felt, both of whom were sponsors for the event. And let me tell you; Zoot and Felt have got some seriously awesome representation in the Philippines! The signing was slammed, and for a solid hour, I signed hats, coffee mugs, cards, backpacks…even one guy’s shoe; everyone who came up was genuinely friendly and so excited to race. The positive energy was contagious! As it seemed the entire weekend.


Finally race day came. I was more excited than I was nervous. The body felt strong, rested and just ready to “go”. That is a feeling I’ll never take for granted. We were off right at 6:35, into the beautiful waters of the Ilanin Bay; warm waters meant non-wetsuit so I used my Zoot speedsuit. I went out hard, totally digging the yellow lane rope we had to follow the entire course; and never looked back. This was a good confidence booster as I feel at times I’m not aggressive enough in the swim; despite swimming solo the entire time, I know I can swim as well as the other women and I need to replicate this swim confidence in future races. It felt good to come out of the water with a big lead.


Onto the bike and I knew I had to try to hold the lead as long as possible. With Emma Pooley behind me, no doubt she would appear sooner or later. The bike course was gnarly and technical, hilly, winding, hot, scenic; and I loved every second of it. It took us over some nasty climbs, through some small towns loaded with people alongside the roads, among bright green rice fields. It was tough not to smile at the beauty around me despite working so hard. The legs felt good and responsive, but they also felt like it was February. There was some ‘snap’ but not a lot. I managed to hold off Emma and Parys for about 30 km when they came cruising by me. I tried to stay positive, keep the effort up; remembering that even though they had passed me, every minute counts. No doubt I lost tons of time on the technical aspects to Emma, but overall I felt good about how the legs were on the bike. I also knew there was a tough run to back this up; so in my mind, no matter the gap, it’s never over yet.


Off the bike and into the Zoot TT’s, I took off for the 21km run through the Bataan National Forest. And what a run it was! Up a large hill out of transition, onto a path overlooking the ocean, leading us onto TRAIL… beautiful dirt trail in the forest! But wait, we’re off the trail now. Back on the path. And onto road, a long climb; and… back to the trail, descending. Back on the path. This is how the run went the entire time! Ever-changing, but loaded with volunteers, course markings and aid stations. While it was very tough, it was also a hell of a lot of fun to run on such varying terrain. My run legs felt great. Of course I had little sight of the two girls ahead of me; until I saw Parys on an out and back at about 12 km. At this point, I guessed that I may catch her at 18km. Surprisingly, it was 19km mark when I finally managed to do so. It felt good to move into 2nd, where I knew I’d likely stay; but of course, I pushed myself every step of the way until I saw the beautiful finish area that Challenge is so known for. It’s nice when people compliment my run, and I appreciate it; but I realized, when you have a big gap off the bike, and you’re extremely gritty and persistent and have the belief that ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN… it’s easy to just run your ass off; it’s my only option!

I’m left with a lot of positive feelings about where the fitness is, excitement at what is to come for 2015, and optimistic about future races. But I cannot attribute this alone to my race; I feel like the entire experience both Derick and I had at Challenge Philippines enhances this. People we just met welcomed us like old friends. Everyone we met was happy, genuinely positive; it seems that this race, event, and the vibe we got from the entire experience renewed my passion for what I do and why I do it. Get out on an honest course, push your body to it’s fullest, find your limits; but at the end of the day, enjoy a life well-lived with good, honest, genuine, real people. Props to Challenge for creating this kind of atmosphere. No doubt there is more to come from them.

As always, thank you for reading. Many thanks to my incredible sponsors; I could not do this without an army of support, and each one of you make this possible; as well as a huge thank you to the Challenge Family and all of our new friends across the sea!

After a couple of weeks in Austin we’ll head back to one of my all time favorites, San Juan…taking my own advice to seek out places that make your soul smile.

Awards-by-Jamil-570x380   With-Maggie-and-Marge-Zoot-Felt-570x570

Kelly Williamson is an American triathlete who races in non-drafting, long-course events. She ranked 2nd under the Individual Female category in Challenge Philippines 2015. 

Kelly Williamson’s Website