*** many thanks to Matt Jennison for this race report ***
In June 2013 I was running 5-7k a few times a week, but I couldn't swim more than 50m without needing a break, I'd not sat on a road bike for 25 years and I'd never used clip in pedals!! But I wanted a different challenge and decided to give triathlons a crack.
So I joined TriDubai, started with the Monday beginner rides at the camel track and joined the Friday al Qudra rides when I could. My wife (Van) was completing her Masters between June and November so weekends and evenings I had to be around to look after our 3yr old son Ashton, which meant much of my training was during unsociable hours and solo.
I'd been to Hatta 6 times having heard about the 22% gradient hills in Phuket, I added a weekly strength session in the gym and some yoga so I didn't fade on the run. My training was regular but I probably should have spent more time on the bike and in the sea; all but 3 swims were in the pool.
Apart from a few tips from the helpful TriDubai peeps, I'd pretty much worked out what I needed in terms of kit and nutrition from Google and with that I flew out to Phuket on the Thursday night before the race, arriving around 11pm. I couldn't sleep so decided to assemble my bike there and then, laid out all my gear for transition and checked it for what would be the first of about 100 times in the next two days! At 1am I was still awake, not ideal but I was buzzing... Nervous but excited about cracking this race!!
I met up with the TriDubai lot Friday morning for a test ride, some great advice from Paul Miles, Higgsy and Henry which paid dividends during the race, no issues with the bike, then headed back for breakfast. Picked Van up from the airport Friday night; until Tuesday that week we didn't think she'd get the time off work so I was chuffed to have her there for support. Saturday I checked the bike into transition and headed off to relax for the rest of the day, only checking my gear for transition maybe 20 more times before finally getting some kip around 10pm
Alarm went off at 4.30, had some breakfast but was still nervous, forgot to put sun screen on, forgot to turn my bike garmin on and despite a few cups of coffee, no sign of my usual morning dump... Looked like I'd be racing a few pounds heavier!
The swim start is on the beach, so we jumped on a boat over the lake from transition, looking down into the manky water I would be swimming back through in about an hours time... Nice (note to self - keep mouth closed)
Hung around at the swim start, warmed up in the sea and faffed around with my goggles for 10 minutes, the strap kept coming loose so I decided to switch to my spare pair. Watched the pros start and then made my way over to wait for wave 1 to go... Wave 1 were off and Still no bowel movement, would definitely be carrying some extra weight!
As I entered the start, I made my way to the back left side of wave 2. The swim was straightforward... Out, turn right, right again and back to the beach and I wanted to keep away from the crowds. It worked, I kept my heart rate down, didn't get into a bundle for space and ended up swimming about 2.2km in 47mins... Much slower than my pool times, but this was about finishing rather than a specific time goal.
I struggled with sighting with the sun in my eyes every time I looked up, but felt pretty good as I came out of the swim.
Transition was smooth enough, despite realizing I had not only not turned my bike garmin on but I'd also forgotten to reset it from the Friday ride! So much for checking my gear 100 times!!
The bike course takes you on a route through scenic country side, beautiful coastal roads and through 10 or 11 small villages where the local school kids were out cheering us on, which was a nice touch. I savored the occasion, acknowledged them all and side fived most of the long lines of kids as I rode past... Nearly knocked me off the first time!
In addition to water from a few of the water stations, I went through 2 500ml bottles of Isostar, 2 gels and one of those cranberry flapjacks from Gloria jeans coffee on the bike, random choice I know! I should've eaten more but couldn't get anything else down me.
I loved the ride, the hills were tough (managed to climb them all without walking - cheers for the advice on sticking to the middle of the road Higgsy, saw a couple of people stack it into the gutter). At two points on the bike you have to dismount and cross the bridge over the main road, I'd recently replaced my cleats and they were the kind without any rubber grip on them... I found myself literally skating down the walkway on the downside of the bridge much to the amusement of the guys behind me!! Still, managed to stay upright and cracked on, maintained about a 28k average until 75km when I got the dreaded puncture on my rear wheel. I think it took me 7-8 mins to change and I was gutted, as I felt like I could complete the race in 6hrs at this point if I had a half decent run.
I finished the bike feeling strong, another smooth transition and headed out for the run. Running is my strength, I had planned to run negative splits, starting off with a 6min pace and finishing at a 5.30/5.40 pace to get me in as close to 6hrs as possible. I run a 1hr47 half marathon so that pace should be doable I thought... Phuket wasn't supposed to be about time, but at this point all my pre race nerves had gone and I wanted to see how well I could do.
I quickly realised it was going to be too hot to run at the pace I'd hoped, I was heating up and started slowing at each water station for ice, sponges and coke to keep me going. Instead of speeding up I had to slow down because of the heat and after only 7k I felt like crap... No doubt the lack of nutrition on the bike also played its part. At this point I was walking through every water station, sticking ice in the back pockets of my TriDubai suit, drenching myself with ice cold sponges and drinking two cups of coke. Squelching away from each water station, my lower back was hurting, I was overheating and my legs were screaming at me. At 16k I had the overwhelming urge to just stop and lay down, I'd experienced this before in the Dubai marathon in 2012, I was exhausted but I kept repeating my favorite quote to myself "pain is temporary, pride lasts forever" and cracked on.
At around 19k I ran past my hotel, had it been a bit earlier on the course I might have been tempted to stop off for a kip! At this point I'd also been drinking more and more coke at each water station, so much so that I had to stop for a quick vom at the side of the road.
I was about to run my slowest ever half marathon time, but I looked at my watch and worked out I could come in around the 6.5hr mark if I picked my pace up for the last 2k. It would be a small victory, but it was enough to give me an extra boost and I cranked up the pace back through the shopping area and over into the building site just before the finishing chute. It was pretty muddy through there but I could hear the MC at this point and sped up, passing 2 or 3 people on the way.
As I ran up towards the finishing line there was nobody within 50meters of me in front or behind so it was an awesome feeling. I was scanning the crowd for Van as I ran through, it was great to have her there to share that with me, what a rush, exhausted but chuffed to bits. First 70.3 done. AED 23,000 raised for a kids education charity in Phuket. Time for a Cold beer :-)
Finally managed to have that dump, enjoyed a few beers with the TriDubai lot at the awards ceremony and jumped on a plane home at midnight feeling a little worse for wear :-) next stop... Triyas, Abu Dhabi tri and maybe the Berlin 70.3 in July. Oh and I'll definitely be back in Phuket next year to smash that time, who's coming??!
Thanks to the grandparents for looking after Ashton, to everyone that donated their hard earned cash for the education charity and for my company for matching every dirham raised, thanks to Rob for getting up at 2am and driving the support car on those long Hatta rides, thanks to TriDubai for the training sessions, tips and support and a special thanks to my wife Van for supporting me all the way to the finish line x