At the start of the millennium, mountain biking, an off-road endurance sport, was known just among adventurous expats and Filipinos who had lived abroad.
The sport required special lightweight bikes with precise shifting, strong brakes, and high suspension to respond to the challenging slopes and rough, unpredictable terrain.
Engineer Jose Victor Paterno took up the sport in the United States as a student at LeHigh University, Pennsylvania, before he began working for Nestlé.
When he started mountain biking in the Philippines, he took the 30-km stretch along the bumpy Marcos Highway, passing through farmlands, through the road leading to Quezon.
In the past decade, interest in mountain biking in the country has grown steadily as new bikes designed to ease riders’ experience were introduced on the market.
Paterno, president and CEO of Philippine Seven Corporation, operator of the 7-11 chain of convenience stores, has been holding the famous 7-Eleven Trail Series in Timberland Heights, San Mateo, Rizal.
Some 2,500 have registered for the event on Feb. 18. Riders have the option of taking the 30-km and 40-km distance.
When Paterno saw the potential of the hills of San Mateo, he hired a foreign consultant who had designed the trails in former President George W. Bush’s ranch. Timberland’s trails are made for a single track or about the width of a mountain bike. Beginners can start with the farmer’s trail which is a short distance with a fairly even surface.
Paterno says Timberland has been their bike trail of choice because of the mountainous terrain and forests.
“You can cover a lot of ground,” he says.
The famous Blue Trail has a winding track that clambers up to breathtaking vistas of the city and descends towards a stream. The more challenging Blue Trail is a steeper and more dense ascent to the mountainside.
Other tough trails pass through Timberland’s chapels, clubhouse, nursery and Cliffside with views of the Sierra Madre mountain range.
“Each year, we build more trails. Our advocacy is to build new trails where everyone gets to ride them after the rest,” Paterno says.
The marathon has been attracting cyclists of all kinds, from hobbyists to professionals and elite athletes. The oldest contestant so far, a 67-year-old who lived in the mountains taking care of a farm, beat his younger competitors.
“Although the event is inclusive, many struggle to finish in six hours,” Paterno says. The 40-km trail with 1,200 meters of climbing is like getting to Tagaytay.
Leading the pack is Mark Galedo, a professional cyclist for 7-Eleven-Cliqq Roadbike Philippines.
“He will beat everybody on the climbs. He’s a strong climber,” says Paterno, who finally joined the race last year.
To prepare for the marathon, Paterno says he rides three to five times a week. When he’s in good shape, he bikes from Makati to San Mateo and its trails for a good 75 km.
Instead of going to the gym to keep fit, he has been undergoing intermittent fasting for a year and has lost 30 lbs.
“When you skip breakfast for five days, your body burns off the stored fat. Cavemen had no fridge. They hunted in the morning,” he explains.
Going without food for six hours has made him mentally sharper. He could ride for six hours without any food and feel recharged.
“Normally, you are supposed to eat every 90 minutes because you burn glycogen. With this fasting, you burn fat,” he says.
Paterno also organizes the 7-Eleven Runs in Manila and Cebu and a 100-km tour road race on SCTEX using road bikes.
“We do these things because we are in a unique position to distribute race kits. Since we’ve got the brand, we end up having the biggest races in every segment,” he says.
When the 7-Eleven Trail series started, Paterno wanted to enjoy a fun race. He ended up devoting his time to organizing the event.
“It’s one of the hardest. I made the race but I couldn’t join. It’s expensive to administer because you need more marshals and ambulances on standby. Some racers stay away from the challenging trails for fear of injuries,” he says.
“It’s our way of giving back to the community. The sugar tax has jacked up the prices of the foods we sell. After all, we are a convenience store. The corporate social responsibility is that we are showing ways to get fit. The community is small but it’s passionate,” Paterno says.–CONTRIBUTED