Thermonuclear meltdown in Abu Dhabi
After hearing about the Abu Dhabi triathlon over the last few years, it was a race I definitely wanted to do. They say it is one of the most glamorous races in the world, and it did not disappoint.
Given my brother lives in the UAE, I thought I would take the opportunity to visit and do the race with him. While I was keen to do the short course 1500/100/10, my brother was not so confident doing the distance - so we opted for the so-called ‘sprint distance’ - 750/50/5. Right from the start I was sure my brother would be beat me - he always has. Ever since he was in high school he has been an endurance animal, running sub 10 hour IM’s and many super quick oly’s. But, given his recent switch to x-fit; I though this was my best chance to get one up on him.
UAE as a destination is amazing. It’s basically one big country on sand – apparently millions of years ago it was the bottom of the ocean. The architecture and decadence of both Dubai and Abu Dhabi is seriously of another world, and although this is one of the reasons you go there – I was there to race. However, since the birth of my second child a year ago, working 50 hour weeks and trying to split my time across many different activities, I have not had the time to get much training in. In the 2 months leading up to the race averaged 1 swim, 1 ride and 2 runs per week. Certainly not enough to make any real progress, but hopefully enough to complete the distance. Something that was very much on my mind at the latter stages of the bike and the run.
The morning of the race was very warm, but I was not that concerned, as I knew the race would be over in a couple of hours. I remember trying not to drink too much as I really did not want to have to pee while racing – rookie mistake. The temperature during the run ended up at 33 degrees and I really wish that I had drunk plenty more before the race and during the bike.
If you had of told me 10 years ago, during the second Gulf War I would be swimming in the Persian Gulf, I would have thought you were insane. However, this water was probably the most beautiful water I have ever swum in. Crystal clear, warm and so much salt you would have trouble sinking a brick. If you do chose to do the race, and it’s a non-wetsuit swim, you can be confident that there’s just about no way you could drown. Even though, I decided to wear my safety blanket. I wasn’t the only one; I think probably half the field wore wetsuits.
I’m not sure whether it was because it was so salty, the course was a little short, or I was swim fit, but I did one of my quickest swims over the 750m (12:36). I would like to say it was the latter, but it was probably a combination of the former. The swim is my worst leg – always, but for this race it was probably the most enjoyable part. Exiting the water, with minimal water inhaled, it was a quick trip through the tent, grab my helmet and run to the bike. The great thing about Abu Dhabi is that the whole transition area is covered in red carpet. So it should be – I was coming to race! Just as I ran onto the carpet and was about to take the turn, I heard someone yell ‘careful of the carpet, its slippery!’ Just at that point, trying to slow into the corner I skidded out wide and smacked into someone’s bike, knocking it flying off the rack. I tuned to go and re-rack it, but was signaled to keep going by a volunteer who did it for me (thanks). After a fairly long run of about 200m it was onto the bike to see what my little legs could do.
Bike 50km (40km + explosion)
Getting on the bike, I felt pretty much as I expected – breathless - panting like a Bulldog on a choker chain. After a couple of minutes though, the heart rate settled and I got about trying to ride as smoothly and as fast as I could. My strategy was, given it is only 10km more than an Olympic, to go as fast as I could. However, in hindsight I should have taken it a lot easier. The bike leg is 2 laps on nice slick roads north following the coastline, out to Saadiyat Island and back, though I really was not in any state to enjoy the scenery.
About 5k’s into the ride, I came upon three Emiratee local guys, riding true team time trial style. At this stage I was riding quite well and came up to them easily and as I went to pass the last guy I said ‘come on boys, no drafting today’. I am not sure if something got lost in translation, but one of them started to scream in Arabic at me, as the front guy veered straight in front of me nearly causing me to end up in hospital. With a big shot of adrenaline I decided to just leg it and pedaled on to try and get off the team time trial of terror course. As I did, one of the guys was screaming ‘Yala, Yala, Yala!’ - he didn’t sound happy at all. So, to ensure I didn’t become involved in some local triathlon jihad, I pushed on, only to see the guys trying to ride up onto me. I later learned that what he was yelling was ‘go, go, go’, and it was likely him and his mate were trying to grab my wheel. Where was I? What the heck was going on? I proceeded to not look behind, but could tell that for nearly the whole bike these guys were drafting like true TTT pros.
While the bike course is basically flat, it goes over the Sheikh Khalifa Bridge, which is the only hill in Abu Dhabi. While not that long maybe 500m at 8% or so, I didn’t let up, and really felt my legs hurt more each time I went over. So much so, that the last time, with 11km to go, my legs exploded all over the road. After this point, I could hardly pedal anymore, and along with category 9 pain in my lower back making the next 10km’s some of the slowest and most uncomfortable ever. During this time, I really thought that I might not finish the bike, let alone be able to run. How in the world was I going to be able to run? I really started to think that I might not finish, or probably have to walk the run if I made it that far. Getting of at T2, I was now in no doubt of the hurt that the run was going to bring. After riding really well for the first lap or so, I really slowed towards the end and finished with a 1:29. This was definitely a few minutes slower than I had hoped to do.
The Run 5km
Coming out of the tent and trying to run was one of the most futile experiences of my life. I was trying to run as hard as I could, and it felt like I was walking. I looked at the Garmin and it was reading 4:35 per/k. Far out, I can usually run 3:45 off the bike. This was really hurting and I was hot – really hot! My head was spinning out and I thought at any point I would have to stop. I saw my brother at about 3km, as he was coming the other way - I was ahead if him! But I was in such bad shape I thought he could probably make up the 2k’s or so. Not likely, but I wasn’t thinking straight. In fact, I felt really delirious and ill. I kept pushing at my pedestrian pace, and finished with a 23min 5k- my slowest ever. After crossing the line I wasn’t feeling well and was escorted away where I was bathed in ice and consumed copious amounts of liquids. Over the next hour I drank around four litres and it wasn’t until late in the afternoon, before I went to the toilet. I never thought over such a short distance you could get so dehydrated.
Even given my thermonuclear meltdown on the bike and the run, I was ecstatic to have finished. This was the hardest race I had ever done. Probably a function of being not fit to race at the bike speed I wanted and overheating/dehydration. While I thought I had enough to drink on the bike, given it was 33 degrees, it was clear I didn’t.
My overall time for the race was 2:11, while slower than I wanted, managed to get me 6th in my age group. To say I was chuffed is an understatement, but mostly with the ability to keep going, when I seriously thought I was going to meet my maker. And while during the run, my head was thinking it was never going to let me do this again, I am currently sitting here planning and thinking about my next race.