*** many thanks to Craig Jordan for this race report ***
I found myself in a slightly unusual position going into this race. Normally I have very fixed goals for major races and all my training for the weeks leading up to race day is focussed on achieving them. As part of my 50th year celebration this year though I have set out to do at least one major international race every month and it doesn’t leave a lot of time for proper preparation or recovery. I am well aware by doing this that I won’t necessarily get the best results but the year is more about fun and enjoyment than athletic achievement. Having said that I am still competitive by nature so would never go into a race intending to hold back. The challenge for this particular race was I was still in recovery from my April race, a very tough marathon I did in Holland just 3 weeks previously so I had no idea how my body would react. Add to that my training in March and April was compromised and I only managed about half the volume I normally would have done
So with that in mind I did set myself a couple of targets but wasn’t too worried if they were not achievable. The two main goals were a: get a top 10 in my age group and b: try to get sub 5 hours (my PB was 5:04). We would see on the day.
With so many races on the calendar this year another issue I being very limited to how much leave I can take for each one so this particular trip was going to be very short flying into Berlin on the Friday and back out again immediately after the race finished. I do prefer having 2-3 days before the race to check out the course etc but in this case I didn’t have that luxury. On the plus side most of the bike and run would take place around the old Templehof airfield which is also where registration and the expo was so in the end it was quite easy to check out the course. The swim was in a river a few kilometres away but that was only a short trip by train so again no dramas.
I always worry about water temperature with races in Europe but with wetsuit the conditions this time were more or less perfect. There was a bit of a current and some wind but it didn’t seem too bad. We went off in waves on the swim so apart from some mild pushing around at the start it was fairly open water most of the way. What I did notice though is how poor the Europeans are at the technical side of open water swimming and they sometimes struggle to hold a line and get involved in unnecessary pushing and shoving. In my previous races in Australia and New Zealand the athletes were much more aware of what was happening around them. I guess in Europe with colder weather it is not easy to get the kind of open water practice we take for granted here in Dubai.
I don’t know what happened with my swim as everything felt comfortable enough but when I got out and saw the time I was shocked, it was my slowest ever in a HIM and over 12 minutes off my PB. Having said that everyone’s times were slow so I guess the current was stronger than I had anticipated. Still it was a poor time and hitting my goals now was going to be very tough. Still if there is one thing I’ve learnt through all the racing I’ve done it’s not to panic after the swim, that is just the warm up and there is a still a long way to go. As I ran out of T1 with my bike I saw my girlfriend giving me a cheer and wave. “My swim was sh**” I shouted to her but at least I still had a smile on my face.
Obviously I need to get out and join the TriDubai swim sessions a bit more often!
The original plan for the bike course was a nice flat relatively straight out and back course through the local forests. In the end they didn’t manage to get the necessary permits so the course was changed to cycling to the old airfield then three very technical loops around the runways with a short out and back open road section. There was a lot of speculation and complaints about how bad the course would be but in the end it turned out fine.
I was actually quite happy with the changes to the course as the technical nature of loops really suited me and would work against the big power riders. There were 24 turns in each of the three loops with about 8 of them being full on u-turns or very tight corners meaning that we would all need to slow right down almost to a stop. Being smaller and riding a small frame bike I can get around corners much faster than the big powerful guys (think of a small Mini going around a corner compared to something like a bus and you have an idea of the difference) so I hoped I wouldn’t lose as much time on the bike as I otherwise might have.
The second factor on the bike was the wind which was forecast up to 23kph. On city roads or through the forest you might get some shelter from this but on an airfield there was simply nowhere to hide from the elements like it or not we had full on headwinds for much of the ride but we also got good tailwinds going the opposite direction. The longest straight on the course was only about 2km so my reckoning was simply to hit it as hard as I could going into the wind and see what happened. I have to say all those horrible sessions at the Camel Track, Ghantoot and Al Quadra when we are exposed to the wind really paid off and while many people struggled I was quite happy riding into the wind and gained a lot of places that way. Again being a smaller rider and getting in a good tuck I had a lot less wind resistance than the bigger guys.
I felt strong all the way through the bike and smashed my own PB for a HIM getting off in 2:32:22. Given the wind and how technical the course was I was really pleased with this time. I did start to feel it a bit in my legs around the 80km mark but it only lasted for a few minutes so when I hit the run I felt ok.
As I set out on the run I saw I had about 1:39hr if I was to break the 5hr mark. The course was an out and back loop down the airfield with no shelter so again we were very exposed to the wind meaning a good section with some strong headwinds. The good news is we had to run through the finish area 4 times in total and it was all kicking off with great support and a fantastic atmosphere. My girlfriend was moving between different points on the course making as much noise as anyone out there spurring me on towards the 5 hour goal.
When I set off I gave myself a 50:50 chance of getting the 1:39 I needed and all went well certainly for the first 12km just keeping myself on the line of going sub 5. There were only two aid stations on the course so about 3.5km apart and my one slight error was as I came to the one at the start of the loop on the second circuit I planned to pick up a gel and some power drink but a whole lot of people were coming out of T2 just at the same time. The aid station got very busy so I just grabbed a cup of water and kept going. With hindsight I should have taken the extra few seconds it would have taken to find a gel but sometimes in races we don’t always make the best decisions. It wasn’t a major error by any means but the leg down to the second aid station I began to feel the pace a bit and the lack of nutrition even for that 3km did start to have an effect. The impact was double in that it slowed my running a bit but also meant when I finally got to the aid station I had to take the time to make sure I got plenty to drink as well as the gel the needed. Overall my decision not to get the gel one station earlier probably cost me 30 seconds or so on the run plus another 30 seconds at the next aid station to make sure I fuelled properly. When I was on such a tight target time this was costly.
For the last 9km I calculated if I could keep up 5mins per km pace I should just be able to duck under the magic 5 hours mark. I managed to hold this pace up to 15km but then it slowly started slipping. By the 18km mark I had to run 4:20min per km to get my target so put my head down and gave it all I had but in the end I came up short. Still I crossed the finish line in 5:02:14hrs for a new PB.
At the finish I was very pleased with the result especially in context of all the races I’ve done so far this year including 3 ultra marathons, 2 marathons, 2 half marathons, a half ironman, the Abu Dhabi triathlon plus all of the local races I’ve done as well. I also managed to finish 8th in my age group so at least one of my goals was achieved and I was still smiling at the end which is after all why we do this sport in the first place.....simply to enjoy ourselves.
My usual thanks to my coach and all of those I have trained with over the last few months, it is always a pleasure just to be out doing what we love. Special thanks to Wei Ming Wong who is not only my main running partner these days but also my number one fan and provided unstinting support on the day with her usual mile wide smile.