Manila Bulletin Article: Breaking Boundaries

By Aimee Lagman

Breaking boundaries

Champion triathlete coach Ani de Leon Brown’s secret to success

Published February 6, 2018, 12:05 AM

By Aimee Lagman

It was like any other day for the Kona legend. Wearing her simple black dress that couldn’t hide her beautiful athletic physique, Coach Ani welcomed me to her house with a warm smile as she carried her one-year-old girl boss, Amaya. Soon would follow, Dash, a handsome foreign-looking boy calling her “Nanay.” To them, she is their mother. To me, I see triathlon royalty. I am Ani de Leon Brown, a Philippine triathlon icon with a long list of impressive credentials, including becoming the first Filipina to qualify for the Ironman World Championships twice. As a coach, she is the driving force that brought home silver and gold medal in women’s triathlon for the past two SEA games. She is also responsible for bringing the biggest female contingent to the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. Coach Ani, year on year, has proven to break boundaries in the Philippine triathlon scene as an athlete, coach, and a woman. This is why she is at the top of her game.

Coach Ani de Leon Brown is a Philippine Triathlon icon

Her last race was the 2017 Ironman World Championship in Kona Hawaii, the Holy Grail of triathlon. My first question was what made this race different from her first Kona race. To my surprise coming from a seasoned triathlete with several titles and podium finishes under her belt, her answer was humbling. “It was hard.” She explained no matter how you prepared or even if you were racing the exact same course, the race day conditions would affect your performance. This year, the strong winds came from all directions. The scorching hot weather didn’t make the 226-kilometer journey easy. But it’s more than just a race. “What it represents is bigger than me,” Coach Ani said. It shows where the Philippines stands in this sport. According to Coach Ani, this is the biggest Philippine contingent with eight Filipinos and the biggest female contingent with three Filipinas. “We’ve come a long way since 2002, as before we were just two. Now we are eight.” We came in as a surprise.

The biggest misconception about doing triathlon professionally, as a full time coach, is that you have all the time in the world. Not for Coach Ani. It’s like a 10-to-12-hour job. She has her hands full with her duties as a high performance coach at the Triathlon Association of the Philippines, head coach of the Active Health Triathlon Team, and founder of Next Step Triathlon Coaching. Not to mention other responsibilities such as brand ambassador of big sporting brands like ActiveHealth, Rudy Project, 2XU Gatorade, etc. Imagine doing all these while being a hands-on mom of two. “You don’t get to train when you are with your students, you monitor their progress. The squad trains twice a day. In between, I have to take care of the kids and work on administrative tasks.”

So how did coach do it?

Her secret is maintaining a schedule. She does her workout late in the afternoon after the squad’s training sessions.  For longer workout, she splits it into two. For example, she is required to do a 21-km run in one day. She runs 11kms in the morning and finishes it off with a 10-km run in the afternoon. On weekends, she takes advantage in doing long rides and long runs with her students. She swims regularly as the race day approaches.

Of course, nutrition is equally important as the training itself. This may vary for every individual. But the basics should cover knowing what works for you. “Nutrition doesn’t only apply on race day but the preparation leading to it. Eat clean and eat based on what your body needs for that particular day. During long trainings, I take kamote and Active Health Carb Gel, for hydration I drink water and Gatorade. Multivitamins also help me with immunity and a post-game drink to help my body recover faster so I am ready for my training the next day.” explains Coach Ani.

Coach Ani’s slot to Kona wasn’t handed out in a silver platter. She qualified when she raced in Ironman Xiamen and Hefei where slots for Ironman in Kona were offered, earning a spot among 2,000 world’s best triathletes competing in the World Championships. Coach Ani always has a plan and knows how to strategize according to each goal. Her understanding and familiarity with Ironman races led her to decide which races to join to earn her points to qualify. Because of this strategy, she wasn’t the only one who got in. Her students Chang Hitalia and Berns Tan also qualified. At the SEA Games, the teamwork demonstrated by Claire Adorna and Kim Mangrobang resulted in a huge seven-minute lead, as well as a historic back to back first and second place win.

Ani is not slowing down in fulfilling her goal: To bring home an Olympic gold for the Philippines in triathlon. “We have a mountain ahead of us. With our back to back SEA Games win, we are getting closer. We’re going to get there. You just need someone to pave the way. I’m a strong believer of growth mind set to be able to exceed yourself,” says Ani.

An athlete’s disposition is vital. They have to be mentally, emotionally, and financially secure. Let them focus on their training so their only concern is performance. Athletes now are very fortunate. It was different during our time. Aside from the government, the private sectors are also supporting the athletes. You can feel that everyone is working together to achieve the goal.

Ani De Leon Brown is showing no signs of slowing down in placing the Philippines in the global racing scene, a true Iron Woman who continues to define the sport as an athlete, coach, and a woman.

You seem to have what I call The Midas Touch. Your touch is equivalent to glory for athletes. What’s your secret?

You have to set a goal that is realistic and you have to be honest with the athlete. Then, you have to plant seeds that it can be done. Training is one thing, mental check, as well as planning, strategizing, and knowing your competition is another. For Claire and Kim, it was finding a greater cause bigger than themselves. For Berns and Chang, they have the discipline. They have built their skills and endurance through the years. The only thing that was lacking was self-confidence.

What do you think is the impact of the SEA Games win to the youth and Ironman Kona adult qualifiers?

It means a lot for the growth of the sport, especially for the kids. You need someone to open the doors and show that it can happen, paving the way for others to follow. Berns and Chang’s accomplishment gives us hope, they are living proof that it’s never too late to start.

You have the killer instinct in spotting the next big players in tri. How do you find promising athletes?

It can still be the hit or a miss. For Dan and I, we look for the “mongrel” attitude. We describe it as an animal instinct that an athlete possesses. It’s that hunger to win and you usually see it during race day. That one is special because it can’t be taught. Of course attitude, love for the sport and discipline is also important too.

Ten years from now where do you think this sport will be?

Sport is getting bigger and promising. Looking at Alaska IronKids, it started with 80 kids. Last year we had 350. This is where we want it to be, to draw in the next generation to the sport.

When is the best time to get the kids into the sport?

Better to start them young. It’s the best time to learn technical skills and form. You can mix their activities with other sports to avoid burn out. Most important is that they are enjoying it. When they reach ages 13 to 16, it is crucial because they can decide for themselves. This is also the best time to build fitness and motivation.

Why is triathlon big in the Philippines?

It’s a sport that everyone can do and everyone is a winner when they cross the finish line. Your biggest competition is yourself. Here, everyone is equal. You also get to compete with pros. You all get to start in the same starting line and do the course together. Plus, you can start at any age. You just have the heart to do it.

What can you say about safety issues surrounding the sport?

What I see now is that race organizers are starting to be stricter by requiring validation and proof of participation. Aside from organizers, athletes have to be responsible and honest with their capabilities. They must not leave it to chance or rely on race day magic. As a beginner, I fully recommend to get a coach. Coaches like me take precautions and proper assessment of our students. For those doing the full Ironman next year, we require medical clearance. Our standard is if they can’t finish a 70.3 in 7:30, we don’t recommend doing the full next year. We all need to be responsible for our safety.

What’s it like being a female and a mom in this sport?

I can say triathlon promotes gender balance. It is one of the few sports, which started with equal price money for men and women. The rules are the same. There are even women that are faster than men. The cut off time is the same as for everyone.

On being a mom and bouncing back from pregnancy is challenging. If you are a mom of two like in my case, it didn’t stop me from racing. After five months after giving birth I raced. I wanted to prove to myself that I could go back, that I could still race. It’s hard to get back into shape definitely. It’s all in the mind and how bad you want it. Also for females, it’s okay to be pregnant and active. You have to listen to your body. You need the right people to support you and of course work with your doctor.

What are your thoughts on the new technologies and breakthrough for the sport?

These are tools to guide you. Just don’t let them define you. Mental and emotional state cannot be measured. You must know your body. Like what Chris Wellington said, “I don’t need a watch to know I’m going my race pace.” You need to memorize the feeling of your effort. The strengths and limitations of the human heart can only be defined by the individual.

Tags: athlete, Ironman World Championships, training, Triathlon Association of the Philippines, World Championships


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A Golden Moment: The Philippine Triathlon Team’s SEAGames journey

A Golden Moment

By Ani de Leon-Brown

The Philippine Triathlon Team’s SEAGames journey

(Reposting from

I’m standing in anticipation near the finish line. There are other Filipinos waiting there with me—Coach George Vilog, TRAP President Mr. Tom Carrasco, Dr. Martin Camara, Mon Marchan, and other Filipinos who happened to be in Singapore that weekend—Lara, Cha, Rizzo, Deo, Glenn, among others. We are half-celebrating already. Tears are streaming down my face, and Lara laughingly tells me—don’t cry, don’t cry! It’s going to be a 1-2 victory for our country. But who would come in first? At this point, it could be any of our two women racers…


To read more….

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Inspiration, On: Two Race Weekends In Subic

Ani Finish Happy Pushoff Ani Finish Jump Ani Happy Finish

I found inspiration yet again while racing the past two weekends. Not just from those who were on top of the podium, but also from those who were participating in the race for various other reasons. Someone in an unhealthy situation, taking steps to be healthier. Someone who had lost motivation, fighting to make a comeback. Someone who dreams of conquering an open water swim. Someone who is racing for a loved one, or a worthy cause. Someone who just wants to nail a bloody darn good race, once and for all.

They are all champions, and I saw them in the flesh the past two weekends in Subic, battling under the hot sun and winning. It’s sometimes a small war for me to get out of bed early in the morning, but I’m reminded on race day by these athletes why I like to sprinkle my year with even lots more days like these.

It’s been a long break for me, since due to unforeseen circumstances my last proper race was back in July 2014. I felt very rusty in Tri United 1 and Century Tuna IM 70.3. Slowly, though, I am getting the engine oiled up again, and just in time.

Thank you for the past two weekends of awesomeness, my fellow triathletes. It’s a real honor to share the race course with you. Inspiration, on.

I’ll see you in Ironman Taiwan soon!!!

Biking in Tri United 1

Biking in Tri United 1

Unilab Elite Team at TU1

Unilab Elite Team at TU1


Going into T1, removing my BLUESEVENTY speedsuit. Photo by Joni Lopez


Goofing off upon seeing Marichu in the only square meter of shade to be found in the scorching run. Photo by Marichu Talastas.


Before the swim start with Forza Tri Team.


Dan on the bike. Photo by Mary Ann Saquing.


Good times with the pros at Ironkids Awarding. Katy Duffield, Dan and Dash, Tim Reed, Belinda Granger, Craig Alexander.


By the pool with Alaska Ironkids Host Chiqui Reyes.


With Army Navy South Tri ladies Vanessa, Lea, and Bea.


Celebrating at the Finish Line with Last Minute Tri Team.


With one of our Ironkids participants, Reign Mallari. Photo by Ryan Mallari.


Briefing the first wave of Alaska Ironkids. Photo by Jun Mendoza.


Photo by Ryan Mallari

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The First Phil Bike Expo 2014

Yesterday, I was invited to attend the first ever PHIL BIKE EXPO in the country, and was asked to do a talk as well. I spoke on behalf of the whole triathlon community, and was encouraged by the enthusiasm of Sarita Zafra of TRAP (Triathlon Association of the Philippines) and David Almendral of Light N Up Marketing.

I am now very glad they cajoled me into coming, because this was a landmark event for all cycling enthusiasts in the Philippines. I have been lucky enough to participate once in the famous Las Vegas Interbike Expo, and I honestly think what the organizers did last weekend achieved a bit of the same atmosphere. There was a half pipe, lots of speakers, activities, and all sorts of bike organizations and advocacies present. It was not just a bazaar for bikes and biking accessories.

I genuinely wish this endeavour great success and am very excited about how much better the Phil Bike Expo next year will shape up to be! Congratulations to all the participants and organizers!!!

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Itching to train for a full Iron Distance this weekend?

Then join our Enervon Activ 226 Camp on Nov 8-9, 2014 at SEDA HOTEL NUVALI! Free registration for all Registered Enervon Activ 226 racers…but if you aren’t registered yet, don’t worry, all you need to do is present a receipt/ proof of purchase for 20 capsules of ENERVON ACTIV, or you can just buy the 20 capsules in our booth during the weekend.

Camp participants get special discounts for SEDA hotel room and restaurant rates!

You have until Nov 7, 3pm to reserve your slot at See you there!

Coaches: Ani de Leon- Brown/ Andy Leuterio

*The Enervon Activ 226 Race will be held in Panglao, Bohol on Dec 6, 2014.

*Visit our FB Page:


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Challenge Roth 2014 Race Report: Still Learning, Still Loving Every Moment, Still Living The Dream


It’s no secret that I love Ironman Distance racing…of the hundreds of multisport races I have done, I honestly only really remember the epic ones- ones wherein I have had to dig deep to finish. The others are unfortunately just blurred images of lycra, sweat, aid stations and pasta parties.

But that’s me, and people are different. I actually prefer swimming, biking and running for longer distances, and I’m not going to apologize for it. I love the race and the whole process that I have to go through to get there—it makes me feel alive. I WANT MORE, SO I DO MORE. And this here is the story of my 11th Iron Distance journey.

And oh, what a journey it was. It was not just any other race, this was Challenge Roth, the triathlon race of lore.

GRFB and GLENDA: Two forces to be reckoned with!

My running group Girls Run For Breakfast had organized a send-off dinner a few days before I left. They are an amazing bunch of Kick-Ass women and just amazing friends and I really wanted to do this race well for them.

Getting out of Manila was a bit of an ordeal in itself though, as I had left the Wednesday Typhoon Glenda decided to showcase her wrath. The airport was in utter chaos, and it took us more than an hour to go through immigration, so our flight was more than two hours delayed. I had a connecting flight from Abu Dhabi to Dusseldorf, and when I landed in Abu Dhabi the flight to Dusseldorf was already on its Final Call. That was my main workout for the day, running as fast as I could with my luggage from one gate to another, and I made it just as they were about to close their doors. From there it was two more plane rides, one subway ride, one train ride, and one car ride to get to Roth on a fine Thursday afternoon. And what a lovely welcome I received from my homestay family, the Woelfels:

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3 Flags: Philippines, Roth, and Germany

The Rhine–Main–Danube Canal

On Friday Morning I arranged to meet with one of the other Filipino participants, Noelle, at the swim practice.  I felt great in my brand new Blueseventy Helix Wetsuit, and the water temperature suited me perfectly.

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Yay my Blueseventy Helix wetsuit fits! Phew (Photo by Sven Woelfel)

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Was great to see Noelle (Photo by Sven Woelfel)


Roaming Around the Expo

I picked up my race packet afterwards and roamed around the humongous expo grounds.

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Cool ZOOT car!

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Lunch with Sven

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Hanging out by the registration


Roth Town Welcome Party Friday Night

In the evening I had a blast at the Bayern 3 welcome party!

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Bayern 3 Party

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My lovely German Homestay Family, the Wölfels

Challenge Women Run on Saturday morning

The next day the Woelfels and I cheered for Eva as she ran the 5k Womens Race.

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My homestay Eva raced in the Challenge Womens 5k on Saturday morning

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A photo with race emcee, my favorite Belinda Granger (Photo by Sven Woelfel)

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Cheering for Eva with Leo, Johanna, Sven, and Lucia

Bike Check In on Saturday afternoon

It was getting very hot so we fled from the sun and came out again in the last hour of the bike check in to tuck my baby in for the night. It was going to be a long day tomorrow. I kissed my trusty steed for luck.

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See you tomorrow my trusty steed! (Photo by Sven Woelfel)

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All Racked Up! (Photo by Sven Woelfel)










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3,500 Individual participants and 650 Relay Teams make for a Giant Transition Area


Race Day Beckons

Yes, I still get very nervous, very very much so, on race morning. People ask me this question all the time. This is what I live for. The gut wrenching feeling which signals the impending battle you are about to take on.

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Arland checking out the swim (Photo by Sven Woelfel)

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Noelle and I started in the same wave (Photo by Sven Woelfel)

The song choices of the DJ that morning were very motivational, including an Olympics anthem which made my hair stand up even more.

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We swam underneath this bridge (Photo by Sven Woelfel)

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250,000 Spectators on Race Day. 40,000 Spectators at The Canal. Crazy! (Photo by Sven Woelfel)

Individual Participant Sister Madonna leads the prayer

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Rockstar Sister Madonna Buder, 83 yo (Photo by Sven Woelfel)

Inspirational CAF (Challenged Athletes Foundation) Ambassador Rudy Tolson Garcia

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Out of the water

Walking to his bag

Walking to his bag

Prosthetics On

Prosthetics On

Out of the swim in good spirits

I felt like I swam well enough, so I was very happy. I set out to do a fast transition as every second counted!

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Photo by Sven Woelfel

Smashed on the Bike

On the bike I started out fine but began to worry when after 2hours or so the hills didn’t seem to let up. Then I realized they weren’t going to. Haha. I shook my head and laughed. The times here are fast because of the strong Germans, not because it’s a fast course!

Okay Mathias, Jurgen, Thomas, Dirk 1, Dirk 2,  Jens and Wolfgang. You have permission to overtake me!!! 🙂

After that I let myself relax a bit more as there was still a long way to go. I had to maintain a decent pace but made sure I did not overdo it. Energy management: that is Ironman in a nutshell for you!

Solarer Berg

I just need to talk about this hill. It is amazing. It is magical. I was sobbing and laughing wildly at the same time. I am a big fan of classic cycling races and the Tour De France, and I have always wondered what it felt like to be cycling in one of the stages. Well, you get a wicked glimpse of it on Solar Hill. It may have lasted but a few minutes, but these are minutes from my life that I will always remember.


 Slugfest on the Run

The marathon course of Roth is very scenic and forgiving on your joints due to the hard packed trail surface. I would have probably appreciated it better on any other day. But today, it was a slug. I just did not have the energy left to produce a decent run. I only had myself to blame as I had to admit I probably did not do enough bike and run volume, which had now led to this. But every race you learn. Or re-learn.

One of the things I love about Iron distance racing is that it always give you a big serving of humble pie when you need it most. At this point in my career I tend to take basic things for granted, like laying the groundwork properly, and when I go to races like this unprepared I pretty much pay for it. Racing long distance constantly keeps me grounded. I can never stray too far once I start being too complacent!

Emotional Finish (yes, again)


I saw my host family waiting for me in Town at the 40k mark, and I was very very happy to see them. Little Leo ran about 150meters with me. It was great. Macca just happened to be standing nearby too and ran to give me a High Five as I passed.

Finally, I was on the last stretch. Once you hear the noise from the stadium you are home free. I looked for Sven as I wanted to get the Philippine Flag from him. It meant a lot to me to carry it through the finish line.

When I saw him a few hundred meters to go I was in such an emotional state already. I always am. I just can’t help it. I let the tears flow. I guess my finish does not feel complete without them.

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Unfolding the flag before I take the last few meters towards the finish line (Photo by Sven Woelfel)


Forever Grateful to be able to Finish. Always grateful to be able to FINISH. Thank you God for another amazing journey.

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Women’s Champ Mirinda Carfrae, blazing fast run

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Challenge Roth 2014 Winner TIMO BRACHT











Auf Wiedersehen

And just like that, the race weekend was over. I stayed two more days in Roth before heading home mostly because I wanted to spend some time with Dan’s homestay family the three times he had raced there.  It was great to meet the Wölfs as I had heard so much about them from Dan. They were very happy to meet me as well. They showed me some photos during Dan’s stays with them. I could see why my husband liked them very much.

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I was very happy to finally meet Dan’s family in Roth!

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Dan’s homestay family in Roth got out their photo albums and showed me some pics of Dan the couple of years he did Roth and stayed with them

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Some gelato in the square with Lucia and Leo

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My parting gifts…Timex watches for Eva and Sven and some dried mangoes from the Philippines!

On my last day in Germany the Wölfels took me to Nuremberg wherein we had a few hours to stroll around before my train took off. They are a lovely family and I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to stay with them.  I thought of my own small family, Dan and Dash, and how much I longed to see them. It was time to go home.

It had been an eventful and productive trip, with new friends and lasting memories made. Auf wiedersehen Roth, until we meet again!



Girls Run For Breakfast and UNILAB–THANK YOU!!! Timex, Gatorade, Rudy Project, Zoot/ Light’N’Up Marketing, Yurbuds, ALASKA Milk, Enervon Activ, Shimano, Glen Colendrino for my RETUL fit, my ULAH teammates and my boys Tyrone Regaliza, David Almendral and Maiqui Dayrit.

Felix Walchshoefer and Elke Angermann.

Thanks to my ever loving family, Dan and Dash, the de Leons, Sarabias, and the Browns. My Team Transformers Claire and Epoy, Ben, Philip and Mark 🙂 And of course my homestay family the Wölfels and Dan’s homestay family the Wölfs.


See Related Feature by SWIMBIKERUNph here:




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Ironman Melbourne: 10th Time’s the Charm

The first time I had a taste of proper triathlon training was when I hooked up with Coaches Tony Benson and Sean Foster from the Melbourne Triathlon Club, back in 2002. I learned so much from that stint and have come back to Australia several times since, to train, to coach, and to race. I have always had a soft spot for Melbourne though, because of my wonderful first trip.

It took some time, but I was finally able to return and race the Ironman there this year. And it sure was worth every minute, as for the first time in my Ironman racing career, I was able to finish in daylight! I guess you could say I am a slow learner, and yes, maybe I should have been able to go faster for Ironman sooner. I don’t mind though, and I do what I can–each and every Ironman I have done is a gem of a learning experience. I am still discovering new things, I still don’t consider my time fast, but this is exactly the reason why Ironman continues to challenge and excite me.


I’d like to enumerate my Ironman Distance races here just for fun, and also because I have never actually kept a list before–I might start forgetting what I did down the road, haha 🙂

1. Ironman Distance Race, Matabungkay Philippines, Nov 2002.  13:04

2. Ironman Langkawi, Feb 2008. 12:21

3. Ironman World Championships Hawaii, Oct 2008. 12:07

4. Ironman Langkawi, Feb 2009. 11:45

5. Ironman China, Mar 2010. 13:39 bad, bad, race 😦

6. Ironman Australia, May 2012. 13:36 first IM race after giving birth, Dashy was 5mos and 5days 🙂

7. Timex 226 Philippines, Dec 2012. 12:18

8. Challenge Taiwan Full, May 2013. 12:24

9. Ironman Cairns, June 2013. 11:51

10. Ironman Melbourne, Mar 2014. 11:08

At the Bike Turnaround, amazing crowd!

Moving forward, I have plans to do other Ironman races this year (given a sibling to Dash doesn’t come along yet 😉 and will announce them soon enough. I am so blessed to be surrounded by a great group of family and friends, and this is the main reason why I can continue to do this. Dan’s Family and My Family gave us the gift of time for a week– Dan’s parents took time out of their busy schedules to fly into Melbourne from Sydney to watch us, and my family took care of Dash for a whole week in Manila. Our friends, both in Manila and Australia, sent so many lovely messages of support throughout the week, especially my Girls Run For Breakfast ladies! Our sponsors, Timex and Unilab among others, to whom I will always be grateful.DSC_1433

We had a remarkably sizeable Philippine Contingent in Ironman Melbourne this year, thanks to the efforts of Fred Uytengsu and Princess Galura of the Sunrise Events/ Ironman 70.3 Philippines Team. It was a record number of Filipino participants and I was so proud to be part of it. We are already planning the next Ironman destination as I write this, and I am very happy to travel again with such a fun and energetic group.


It has been over a week already and I am still smiling from all the wonderful memories. I love Ironman and I always will. I Thank God for always blessing an ordinary person like me with so many opportunities, as I may not be that fast, but I am able to endure. Which is why I know I am tailor-made for this. Be it a daylight or night time finish 🙂

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