*** many thanks to Hasan Itani for this race report ***

Three Punctures and a Testing Day Out

I do Abu Dhabi International Triathlon (ADIT) every year since 2010, either as a prep up for an upcoming Ironman or as a kick in the butt to get my fitness act back together.

This year was my third ADIT Long Distance, and contrary to the recent past two years, I put in more training for it, albeit unstructured and in as much training time as I could manage. I arrived at the start line pumped, positive, and (perceptively) prepared. It was meant to be a step up that would give me racing confidence on my upcoming Ironman in South Africa on April 14th.

However, most of what I was doing in training was cycling. I admit I did not give the swimming and running their fair share, so I was banking on the cycling, relieved to the idea that it’s the longest section of this race.

Swim (3k in 59:41):

Swim was slightly better than I expected and I felt very comfortable despite having only swam on races of the last several weeks and once with TriDubai the previous Saturday, which did prove beneficial especially with tackling the group start and running out and into the water. I was flowing through it wanting to get it over with and get on my bike. Had a slight skin sore pain in the neck from the wetsuit (more Vaseline on the neck next time).

T1:

T1 went well for me, I dashed out of the changing rooms with a bum-bag bumping up and down my hip filled up with nutrition for the 200k bike ride. I haven’t seen any pro’s carry bum-bags, but whatever works.

Bike (200k in 7:50, worst split ever):

Bike section started with me clumsily dropping my water bottle upon mounting the bike, no issue, hurry up, started spinning and washing my mouth with fresh water before starting to pedal my way past other triathletes and I was starting to feel at home on the pedals pushing my way through, self-talk was always there, it’s 200km but take it 20km at a time, and I was determined in as much as possible to break my previous time of 5hrs 54min in 2010 for the bike split, and somehow I was confident I can do that, I have put in the speed work as well as the endurance work (having cycled the previous Saturday for 200km, 150 of which was solo just to get my butt used to the saddle and head used to the loneliness of the course).

I paced some of the stronger looking athletes until we reached the Yas Marina Circuit entrance, that’s when I felt a coarse tread on my front wheel…NOOO.  

Now, I do dread flats, and who doesn’t, but I thought myself prepared for anything on this race. I had a Vittoria Pitstop foam cartridge, a spare tube, levers and a hand pump for worst case scenarios. I somehow believed in a traditional hand pump more than in CO2 cartridges just in case they are hissed out by mistake.

I quickly took off the Vittoria Pitstop and pumped it in the valve extender, tire pumped up, great, but then it went flat again. Despite many trials it wouldn’t give, so I had to dump the idea of the foam cartridge altogether. In 2011 this has happened as well, and I was lucky enough to have one very kind woman who was doing the sprint distance hand me her pump, forever thankful, and this is why I carried a pump this time. Funny how foam cartridges work on training rides but not in races.

I have to admit I did not practice flat changing frequently, I just think since I know how to do it, I can do it, but here comes my first lesson which along with the other lessons I learned that day may sound witheringly obvious to many experienced triathletes: PRACTICE and TIME tire flat changes until you can do it blindly and as quickly as possible. DO IT.

I changed the tube after taking the time in checking the inside of the tire and the rim for anything sharp, nothing, clean, probably it was just the bumps and cobble stones as I was going fast on these. Then used my hand pump which only inflated it enough for me to go but still felt soft, I thought that should be ok and I did not want to waste more time, so I carried on.

Inside the circuit and as soon as I was taking the first turn I heard the tire grind on the rim and I thought that’s not good, so I can’t lean much on the curves. On the second circuit lap it sounded like it was going worse, and I had to stop and try to pump the tire more maybe it will add a bit of pressure but despite taking my time doing that it wouldn’t pump more, so I had to be patient and delicately cycle the rest of the laps before I left the circuit avoiding the aero position. I DREADED the cobble stone pavement on the way out and I was nearly lifting my front wheel off the ground with how lightly I was steering in order to avoid another puncture or ruining the tire/rim.

I finally made it to the mechanical station at the black turn (the beginning of the big 40k or so loop that we need to do three times) where I properly pumped it with a foot pump, the RELIEF. Then I asked for a spare tube, only to be told I needed to PAY for it, (seriously) I was at a loss for words, the mechanic probably did not expect something like that to happen and was probably innocently asking since he was handed over the supplies, so again I had to be patient in explaining that he shouldn’t really expect competitors to be carrying money and I need the tube, “take my number and my name, just let me go on”. I had to be a bit more assertive after he wasted a few minutes trying to call his supervisor before I took the tube and off I went.

Right, can I make up for any time lost? I was sprinting like crazy and I had the tail wind to help, so I thought just do what you can to get back on track, and you can.

I went through the first loop, no problems, and I was happy I was passing a lot of cyclists; then in the middle of the second loop, out before the bridge on the lonely highway stretch it happened again, at the 98km mark. Some thoughts on “why is that happening today?” came and went before I got on it and changed the tube again, thankfully I insisted on carrying the spare tube. The second tire change was more difficult than the first one for some reason and the levers were slipping a lot, but finally I changed it after very thoroughly checking the tire, the inside of the rim and the lining along the rim just in case it took a hit somewhere, all clean. I installed the tube taking care not to pinch it, then I was starting to hand pump it when one of the support motor-bikers on the course stopped and asked if I needed anything, I asked for a foot pump or CO2 cartridge, he told me the next aid station on the bridge SHOULD have, but he will see if he can get me one quicker. I waited a bit, then decided to move on a half inflated tire, and an equally deflated ego, to the bridge aid station only to find that they have nothing whatsoever, I took some sunscreen to put on my wetsuit neck sore as it was starting to hurt in the sun at this point. I continued plodding to the U-turn and back for the next 30km or so before reaching my mechanic friend again at the black station, who was much kinder this time and accepted more quickly to hand me another tube after pumping my tire. Next lesson learned: carry CO2 cartridges as well as a reliable pressure hand pump.

A familiar sight for Hasan at ADIT....

Off again I went on my third big loop and final one but not really as pressured anymore on making a decent time, but self-talk was always there  “you’re finishing this”…which helped until I reached the middle of the third loop, on the 170km mark after a descent on the bridge going to Yas turning point when it happened again, my third flat. At this point I started to laugh, because it was getting funny, and I wasn’t stressed for my race time anymore, as long as I made it before the cutoff time.  A support motor-biker stopped and asked me if I wanted to call it a day after three punctures, I told him I never quit a race in my life and this is not going to be my first, I will stop only if I had to; but I thought at that point it’s better to call up the mechanic to come and check and asked if the mechanical station would have a spare wheel just in case. After around 10 minutes of waiting under the bridge in the shade this time, the mechanic arrived along with the support car in case I wanted to quit, apparently he knew who I was as soon as they told him. The marshal was saying that they are going to open the road for traffic in around an hour or so, that sounded ominous but told me I should be okay going back if I chose to continue. After thoroughly checking every inch of the wheel and tire, it appeared that the rim tape on one of the spokes was slightly exposed, so on bumps at high speed it was pinching the tube and deflating it, and that’s why I could manage to go for a long distance between flats. He repaired it with a makeshift electric tap and changed the tube and off again I went after thanking everyone.

I was playing cat and mouse with some of the triathletes who were still on the course, passing them after flats and then they passed me while I was tanning by the side of the road fixing the flat, so I came to know some of them, one of whom was singing very loudly in Italian as I sneaked past him on a lonely stretch. It was even lonelier heading back but at least I had air in my tire, I could feel the toll of the sun and wind at this stage but I finished the bike finally and I headed for the run after a leisurely slow transition.

Run: 

The run was hard on the legs, especially on the blue rigid tiles, and you felt the difference as you hit the relieving tarmac section, but I was elated on the run and even though I finished with slowest time ever, in 11 hours 5 minutes, more than two hours off my best time on the course, but had a smile on my face to have done it, and more importantly learned a lot.

Thanks to everyone who slowed down and offered help, it was much appreciated, and thanks to the sweet Wolfi’s mechanic who was very helpful in sorting out my problem at the end.

Next stop Ironman South Africa with a pair of trained legs, more running and swimming, good rim tape, CO2 cartridges, good pressure hand pump, extra tubes and wheels of steel so to speak.