"Sporting Stories": Fernando Casares Tan
Updated: Feb 8
"Sporting Stories" is a series of interviews that features athletes from around the globe. Whether they race on the world stage or at a club level, my aim is to give them a platform to share their stories, and to give you an insight into their lives, backgrounds and mindsets. I hope it will inspire you and show you that anything is possible if you are passionate and committed.
Fernando Casares Tan is an elite triathlete racing for the Philippines. He recently won both the Philippines National Duathlon and Triathlon Championships and is a 2 x SEA Games champion (2019 triathlon mixed relay and 2022 individual triathlon).
Last summer, I spent a few weeks living and training with Fer in Spain, which was great fun and I learnt a lot about and from him - not to mention the wonders it did for my Spanish! Yet when I first arrived in Madrid in July 2022, I had never actually met him before. He had seen and spoken to my dad at a few races, who mentioned that I'd also be training in Europe over the summer. Fer shot me a message and two months later I was training with him in the Spanish heat...
What struck me was Fer's discipline and meticulousness in everything he does, but also his generosity (as well as his confidence, though perhaps with good reason!). He will always try to make time for others and is always happy to share his experiences. So without further ado, I'll let you read Fer's interview below.
Hi Fer, how are you today?
In good shape considering I raced on Sunday!
What training have you done/got on today?
After Sunday's race, I had 2 days off and today I started training again, just 45mins worth of run drills and a 2400m easy swim, nothing special.
You are a Filipino national athlete but you are also Spanish - actually, Spain is where you were born and grew up. Can you tell us about your background and why you chose to represent the Philippines?
I've practised many sports in my childhood - swimming, cycling and running among others - so I guess it was just a matter of time before I joined triathlon, which I did at the age of 19. I then met a few teammates from the National Triathlon Team of the Philippines in a race held in Quarteira (Portugal) in 2018. They suggested I get the dual citizenship in order to represent the Philippines, so I moved to Subic Bay in January 2019 to give it a go. I stayed there for four months to join a couple of national races alongside the best Filipino triathletes. My main goal was to become known by TRAP (Triathlon Association of the Philippines) and to earn a slot in their team, and by May I was already representing the Philippines internationally.
In the Philippines, Fer is part of the national team and trains with his club The Next Step Tri.
Last year you won the SEA Games triathlon, which is arguably your biggest win so far. How did the race unfold for you?
It depends on how you define "big": in term of intensity and level, it wasn't the hardest race I've ever done, not even close. However it was one of the most important ones since every medallist receives a salary by the government, not to mention the sponsors that come with this achievement.
The most unexpected fact was the huge gap opened by the Vietnamese Nhat Lam Quang, who finished the swim leg 2mins ahead of the chase group. My teammate Andrew Kim Remolino and I thought we were going to be the leaders so I had a short moment of stress and uncertainty, but after the first loop of the bike (out of 8), we realised how much of the gap we had already closed without expending too much effort. That's when we knew we would eventually catch him up - we did so on the last loop, to be precise. Once I started the run, it took me 2km to drop my teammate, and from there I got to race with no pressure until the finish line.
Leading the bike.
You were seen as one of the favourites coming into the race, and after the race you got a lot of media attention. How did you deal with the pressure and demands in each case?
Even before the race I felt some pressure, not only because I knew how much this event meant, but also because of my rivals - I could feel their eyes on me which is a feeling I don't usually have, but my coach Ani de Leon gave me some practical tips to overcome this situation.
The most stressful part was the media - all the interviews and press conferences. Please don't get me wrong, I love that this sport gets more attention through the media and I also enjoy sharing my thoughts about the race, but there comes a point where you get sick of repeating the same thing several times, let alone how hard it is to organise my schedule around these obligations. Luckily for me, it was not my first time facing this: I already had a bigger experience in my SEA Games debut in 2019, especially as the event took place in Subic Bay, so there was a greater impact. I remember having a hard time since I was still a rookie and had no clue how to deal with all this, so again, I asked my coach for some advice and we got to sort it out. Nevertheless, my biggest problem was my need/duty to reply to every single message and greeting; deep inside I know it's the least I can do, even though that might mean spending the whole day on my phone. I try to ignore some but I feel guilty, so what I do is I reply to a few at a time, whenever I feel like, essentially on my free time. But eventually I end up replying to all of them.
You then got selected for the World Games in Alabama, USA, where you finished 14th in a very strong field. How was that experience?
One of the toughest races so far! Firstly, it was only my second standard duathlon, my first one was actually a few months ago in Bahrain which was the qualifier for the World Games. Secondly, that day was so boiling that the organisers almost cancelled it, but they finally postponed it by an hour. The field was small but incredibly strong - the leaders completed the first 10km in less than 31mins whereas I did my best to make it on 33mins. Thankfully I got to bike with three other guys and beat them on the second run, so I was quite happy with my result, although I was also a bit worried about how I was going to manage to race the next day in the mixed relay. It was a 2x2 format: the boy starts first with a super sprint duathlon, the girl does the same, then the same boy repeats the same format a second time, and finally the same girl does her second round. It was nuts and would recommend it to no one.
You spend most of the year training with your squad and coach in the Philippines but go back to Spain during the summer, where you are also part of a club. How do the set-ups and environments compare?
I find quite interesting and convenient how easier and quicker I recover in Spain thanks to the cold dry weather compared to the hot humid weather in the Philippines. That's not the only factor that affects my performance, though. For instance, in Spain I live with my parents and work partially as a coach in the same team I started with (Club Triatlón 401), so I don't have to worry about anything but training, racing and coaching. I also get to meet up with my old friends and relatives, which is nice. In the Philippines, I share a house with some of my teammates, and we have to buy our own food, cook, do our laundry… So I'm not going to lie, it gets tedious and stressful sometimes, but nevertheless I enjoy it because it means being responsible and mature - one step closer to becoming an independent person! Besides, I've got a strong squad with some of the best national triathletes, so it's a wise decision to stay here.
Fer races for Club Triatlón 401 when he is back in Spain.
Training together last summer was really fun and I found it very interesting to see how you approach and reflect on sessions. How would you describe yourself as an athlete and what do you think has enabled you to get this far?
I had so much fun too - every time I train in Spain, it's by myself since my squad has a different programme to mine, so I really appreciated having a partner to train with, even though you slowed me down (just kidding).
I'd say my best feature is my discipline to always stay focused on my goals and trust the process. There's a quote I really like to remind myself every once in a while: "you don’t set out to build a wall. You don't say I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built. You don’t start there. You say, I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid. You do that every single day and soon you have a wall".
I would also describe myself as a passionate person; another famous quote that is etched in my mind is: "if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life". That's exactly why I train and race with passion, it not only helps to keep me motivated, but it also helps me gather strength in the moments when I feel exhausted or blue.
Ultimately, though, the feature I like the most is my confidence and warrior mindset. In my 8 years of doing triathlon, I've never doubted my capability to achieve any goal. Of course I'm aware of how far I still am from my dreams, but that doesn't mean I believe it's impossible, not by a long shot.
Post open water swim at the Embalse de Bolarque, near Madrid.
You raced Ironman 70.3 Puerto Princesa at the end of last year and finished 5th overall despite struggling with cramps on the run. What did you think of the race and will we see you moving to the longer distances?
I barely had 2 weeks of preparation for this race since I had recently raced the Miyazaki World Cup (sprint distance). As such, I had no expectations for my first 70.3, I just wanted to finish and enjoy it as much as possible. Even though I did take care of my nutrition and hydration, I still got cramps on the run, most likely because I pushed too hard on the bike in order to maintain the gap with the leader. Consequently, I didn't get to run properly and even had to walk several times - and that's not mentioning the fact that that day was unusually hot. All in all, I was quite grateful for being able to cross the finish line but it felt a bit bittersweet. I'm pretty sure I could have performed better so I'll probably join the next 70.3 in Puerto Princesa this coming November, hopefully with a TT bike unlike last year.
You are clearly strong in all three disciplines, but the bike and particularly the run are where you really stand out (no wonder, after spending weeks trying to not let me drop you). You definitely proved that in your last race of the 2022 season by winning the Philippines National Duathlon Championships. How does your training look like to work on your weakness while maximising your strengths?
As triathletes, we should never skip training any of the three disciplines, no matter if there's an upcoming duathlon or aquathlon. However, it would be smart to reduce the intensity/duration of the discipline you won't be doing in the several weeks leading up to that race. That's basically what my coach and I did a few weeks before the National Duathlon Championships: in order to optimise my energy during the bike and run workouts, we had to decrease the effort level on the swim sessions, otherwise I would have probably got ill or injured.
Fer and I after racing the Philippines National Duathlon Championships in December 2022.
On the other hand, you also unfortunately experienced some disappointments last season, like for instance getting lapped out of a race. How do you deal with it on the moment, and how do you then bounce back?
I knew that moment would eventually happen... During the Asian Championships in Aktau (Kazakhstan), my group and I were working together so as to avoid being lapped, but unfortunately we got caught on the last lap of the bike. I remember I took it better than I would have expected: there's always a first time, right? What I did not expect was to be lapped again 2 weeks later, in a World Cup in Tongyeong (South Korea). I was the last swimmer and got no help on the bike, yet I didn't give up and still managed to catch a few guys, but it was too late and I got lapped again about 300m away from the dismount line. I couldn't believe it, I didn't want to talk to anyone, all I wanted was some space to reflect. After a week, I got back to work more motivated than ever. I guess it's true what they say: "an arrow can be shot by pulling it backwards".
How do you ensure you properly recover from sessions?
In my view, it doesn't matter how many high-tech machines you possess unless you take care of your nutrition. Eating healthy and sleeping are the best recovery you could ever get. Nevertheless, I'm lucky to have recovery boots that I use daily for about an hour. They help increase blood circulation which in turn helps remove waste products and can prevent injuries. If I have a particular pain, though, I'll always seek professional help, and fortunately I can count on a trustworthy and experienced physiotherapist.
Fuelling right is just as important as training hard...
What do you like doing in your free time? (Apart from training to beat me in bowling and billards?)
Here in the Philippines I barely have free time since I have several duties, but back in Spain I can afford to meet with some friends for different activities such as bowling, indoor rock climbing, "padel"... A funny fact about me is that my childhood dream was to be a rockstar. I've always admired them and they are the reason I learnt how to play the guitar. Sometimes I play in front of the mirror and pretend I'm on a concert stage.
What are your race plans and goals for the 2023 season?
After getting the gold medal at the National Triathlon Championships on Sunday, my next goal is to race in New Zealand thrice, two Oceania Cups and one World Cup. Those races will definitely give another perspective - we all know how strong they are, especially as swimmers. Then I'll go back to the Philippines to race SubIt and two weeks later I'll face the main event of the year, the SEA Games. Afterwards, I would like to participate in a few European Cups and even World Cups back in Spain as preparation for the Asian Games in September in China.
Fer taking the tape at the Philippines National Triathlon Championships.