*** many thanks to Sean McMahon for this race report ***
I have finally managed to sit down and consider a race report for something, which ironically I did not finish. It goes on a bit (but then so did the bike leg) but it was a day of where I made a number of small errors compounded by poor preparation that combined to create the ‘perfect storm so to speak from which I have learnt a lot. I hope that it proves informative/ entertaining for the team if nothing else.
Well after a few months off, to be honest a disappointing lack of consistency with my training, other than regular sea swims, only a handful of 120k plus rides and just the general malaise I found myself in on arrival early Friday morning in Abu Dhabi, I knew I was decidedly 'undercooked'. You could say I had been consistent in being time-poor and an average diet - weighing in at 107 kgs – although that would soon change! However, from a mental perspective, I viewed it as all relative considering my old career – at least I was not in some far off 'Stan" getting shot at or humping 80km with a pack on my back! So let’s get it on.
Plan- sub 10.30hrs
For those who know me I am not adverse to a little bit of competition in training - however, heeding the sagacious advice of Paul Venn who knows the menace of the long course all too well - as well as others, I knew I needed to reign myself in for this race so my plan was simple;
- Smash the swim up (with my lucky pink Speedos under the wetsuit), aiming between 45 to 50 mins
- Build into my ride: slowly riding within myself and increase my speed incrementally countering for environmental factors (wind etc) through the middle segment. Then triage my pace on the back end of the bike leg in lieu of what was going to be just a plain old 'hurt locker' of a run. I was aiming for a conservative 6 to 7 hours depending on weather and trying to keep heart rate under 150 bpm and my cadence up.
- For the run, try to adhere to a 10/1 min run- walk strategy and aim for sub 2.15hrs.
- T1 & T2 were not crazy rush, instead methodical and to remember sun cream!!! - Total time of 15mins
Nutrition wise, I was poorly prepared in having limited practice in my lead up training in Al-Qudra. This was hampered by hatred of chewing and riding and for gels - especially GU and aqualyte - the race sponsored products - yeah for me. Nonetheless, I knew I needed to aim for consumption approximately, every 20 mins (after the first hour on the bike) complimented by ongoing sipping of fluids.
It would be remiss of me not to thank Bekky B, for her efforts in coordinating the fantastic team dinner at ‘Jones the Robber’ the night before the race. It truly was a great turn out and a pity I could not chat to everyone - maybe next big event we instigate some sort of speed dating rotation - just an idea!!!
Woke up 2.5 hours before the (expected) race start and smashed in my first coffee in ten days along with some yoghurt, banana and a pancake. With the coffee doing its trick (and the obligatory PRB sorted) I headed down to transition with some tunes in, and re-racked my bike and found the familiar faces of Andre and Leana.
I was ready as I could be for the race – trying not to think about how my body would be feeling during the various stages and just focus on one discipline at a time – and hoping that I could rein myself in enough so as not to blow up (or at least get through most of the race without doing so).
Once in the ‘race pen’ I caught up with my fellow 'Musketeers' - Venn, Johan Cogs, Higgsy, and Stevie M - for the usual banter and well wishing - I was definitely not going for any PB’s unlike them.
After allowing appropriate handicap for the Elites to get ahead of me - I took my place on the start line (orange wave) alongside Andre and Aya with my usual swim strategy in mind - to race like a maniac for the first 400m and bash my way on to the feet of a fast person and then sit in.
With horn sounded we were off - I raced in hard It was a bit messy for a minute or two, and surprisingly after about 100m I still found myself level with others and not behind anyone- damn it – surged again. Thankfully after about 400m Aya came up next to me and we pretty much paced each other stroke for stroke the whole swim. To my surprise the buoy turns were uneventful and the beach run between laps was surprisingly refreshing - Roy's Saturday sessions must be paying off
Despite traffic from other waves I came out feeling pretty good. Time: 49.23mins - to be honest I think I swam within myself and could of squeezed another 90secs.
No trisuits here – pure comfort would be key - my best bib-Knicks, cycling top, gloves and ‘sun-sleeves’ – BTW these are the world’s greatest invention. Dilemma 1: did not apply enough sun cream.
Bike: 07hr 26mins
The bike seemed to be mainly about dealing with physical dilemmas – and trying to figure out the best approach to each issue that arose and on the fly.
Being fairly familiar with Sadiyyat and Yas Island, to my detriment I decided to dispense with attending the pre-race briefing regarding the course and the three monster laps on the back of the island.
Straight out of the gate I was feeling comfortable, after 20 or 30 minutes I started to question myself - Do I drop the pace? Even though I was feeling good? The wind was only minor. I decided to go on feel and keep an eye on the heart rate and cadence. I averaged 34kph for the first hour. Once I arrived at yas circuit I followed Venny’s advice and decided to ease myself back a bit on the Yas circuit and not to get carried away.
During the second hour I could really feel the wind picking up as I started my first of three loops back to the track. My average dropped down to 31kph. So far my nutrition plan appeared to be working.
Dilemma 2: By the end of the third hour I suddenly started to severely cramp in my VMO’s (inner quads) a bit unusual for me. Taking the long game approach I decided to stop at 100kms and stretch for about five minutes this appeared to do the trick. I was half way in a respectable 3hr05mins – increase the electrolytes
Dilemma 3: Within 20kms I started to wretch from all the gel, banana and chomps. I decided to try and take in some flat coke – which was not and only made things worse. For the next hour I decided to stick to water to try and flush my system a little! By now the wind and heat was becoming slightly annoying.
Dilemma 4: during my third loop back to the Yas, at the 142km mark catastrophe struck - my right ‘bloody’ cleat pops and would not lock into my pedal-WTF. Short of removing my shoe I was unable to identify the problem - I was worried if I took the shoe off I would not put it back on!!! Unfortunately, I was unable to get a rhythm and was forced to compensate my pedal stroke. So for the remaining 2hrs 40mins I was forced to ride in a performing circus monkey-like position trying to keep pressure on one side of the right foot. This in turn was creating severe pain on the outer & upper edge of my right foot, which I know could not be good.
I was for now just focused on completing the bike leg and proving something to myself before considering anything else.
Dilemma 5: shortly thereafter my hamstrings suddenly started cramping hard again I stand up to try to ease them out and immediately my VMOs want a piece of the action. I stopped at 150km and tried to stretch again this was proving near impossible. This then became an ongoing game as I slowly and painfully pushed past the red turn finally back towards the corniche – I was in survival mode and there was no way that I was going to let the bike course, the weather or a 100aed plastic cleat beat me.
T2: No idea, think Premier Timing was turned off by now!!!
As I crossed the bike dismount line I knew something seriously was not right with my foot plus the lump on the top gave it away. So I figured I could walk it off for the first part of the run – I was wrong
Transition was tough – with the usual struggles of trying to change clothes whilst doing the funky chicken ‘cramp’ dance amongst various svelte Euros sitting about with their medals on talking tri-bullocks. Eventually trisuit, socks, shoes and cap on, a handful of sponges and I just manage to walk out.
Run: 5k –then DNF’d
After about a 1500m I could barely manage a shuffle due to the foot. I tried to persevere by increasing my recurring race chant “don’t be a poof’ and tried to push on, no chance of natural running for me today.
After a further couple of kms, hard cramps set in both legs (front and back) and I was physically struggling to move forward – so I made the logical decision to step off the course.
On a funny note a support car dropped me back near the finish shute and as I walked thru to get to medical tent an Emirati kept trying to give me a medal despite my best efforts of diplomacy to suggest I be left alone.
Thanks again to Andre and Leana for the company on the miserable walk back to the hotel.
Hot Wash Up
I would be lying if I said it does not hurt chalking up my first DNF. Ultimately, there are no excuses, poor preparation and lack of attention to details was my undoing. However, from the numerous messages and chats post race with the likes of Roy, Ed and others I don’t view this as a failure, instead I view it as feedback.
I have learnt a massive amount about myself athletically. I never doubted my mental application, I have a new found respect for this previously considered mythical ‘gastro-distress’, the monitoring appropriate salt and electrolyte intake and the practice of race nutrition. I strongly suspect I took in too much calories – as Capt Carl says ‘’less is best’. Also the need to be meticulous with equipment checks – it does not just mean dropping your bike down to your LBS for a pre race service and/or your 15s the day before the event – it means everything.
Rest assured the prognosis positive today with sustaining only a ruptured meta-tasel and an adjacent ligament. Despite a number of reprimands from the Doc there is not much that can be done other than have an osteopath massage it back in (ouch) and a little rest. So it’s a week off for me and then back into sprint work!!!
Separately, one other observation from the day is - the law of averages would dictate that given the varied flavor range of GU gels on offer, the number of the aid stations on the bike course and the human factor (volunteers) that statistically that I should not of kept being handed only bloody ‘vanilla’ flavor ! I have a new appreciation for what I suspect it is like to work in the adult film industry!
I can’t end without saying a huge thanks to all the support out on the course from the team members racing who’d nod or give a quick word of encouragement. It makes a huge difference – thanks to all of you especially Venny and Johan for regular company on the Friday rides, To Cogs on the Tuesdays morning swims and thanks to the whole team – the team spirit for the whole couple of days was something to behold, as were the messages of post race from across the tri -fraternity.
A massive congratulations to the racers, almost all of whom faced adversities more than might be expected on any given race day; Andre, Aya, The Musketeers, Chris B and K, as well as the big event ‘cherry poppers’ in the likes of John C, Vicky and others all of you made it to the finish line.