*** Many thanks to Eirik Hooper for this race report ***

Trust no-one will mind too much - this has been mostly written on the plane on the way home, after far too many beers and wines. The vast majority of my training was solo, so this is somewhat cathartic for me. Hence the length. That, and the fact that my EK flight TV won't work so I've nothing else to do for the next 6 hours!

Synopsis: Ironman Barcelona. 1st timer. Target 12 hours. Finished 11:03:21 hrs. Great swim (1:05), fantastic bike (5:13), OK run (4:33 – pretty happy with that for my first marathon!). Rest was transitions. Loved every second of it. Hated it (immediate post-race messages included lots of Anglo-Saxon 4 letter words amongst others such as mad, sadists, bastards etc.). Loved it really.

This race report should be read in conjunction with whatever Chops Potter writes. We were both Iron virgins and it seems like we followed different training paths and have very different strengths (as is immediately obvious from our time splits) but still ended up a mere 19 seconds apart over an 11 hour race! You wouldn't script stuff like this... :)

Most of the following will mainly be of interest to first-timers, apart from the race specific stuff. Read this at your peril and with the understanding that everyone is different and this is just my particular and peculiar take on it and all advice contained herein comes with all sorts of unspoken caveats and is worth exactly how much you paid for it.

Conclusions:

1. Just do it. Ignore absolutely everything I've written above and below (apart from step 2!). Its awesome. If you have ever had any slight urge, or daydream, about Ironman, just do it. Pick a date at least 6 months away, then go forward until you find an event that seems interesting and/or fits your diary/family/holiday plans and sign up. The Chinese proverb "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" is particularly apt. This is that step. You won't regret it......honest :)

2. Once you've signed up for an Ironman, time to get yourself a training plan. Get one. DONT SKIP THIS STEP. Get it from a book or from a coach - doesn't matter which. It will detail what you need to do so you don't have to think about it, you just have to do it. I went for the cheap option (a Kindle book) by a guy called Don Fink "Ironfit" which detailed 3 plans (compete, just finish, and something in-between) plus a whole lot more about it all. I chose the latter and it did exactly what it said. I ended up doing almost exactly 10 hours per week (over a slightly shortened 25 weeks). The "compete" plan was about 12.5 hours per week (over 30 weeks) and the "just finish" program was about 8 hours per week. Every plan is different, but I mention this just to give you a rough idea of what it takes to get into the right shape for an Ironman. Note that training for IM is very different from training for sprint tri's (at least it was for me). All my training was about time & effort (effort measured by heart rate). This is surprisingly liberating. The first 10 weeks is entirely low HR training - which is actually what you race at. During the race, apart from the swim, my average HR was about 70-75% for the bike and 75-80% for the run. About 90% of your training will probably be in this zone - which means you'll often be tired, especially your legs, but not shattered/exhausted during the 25-30 weeks of training.

3. Once you’ve got a training plan, make sure your bike is set up properly (lots of chat about that on TriDubai FB page), if you’re not a regular/strong runner get a gait analysis done (I missed this step, to my cost), join a masters swim group or get a swim coach if you’re not a confident swimmer. Consider getting a body composition profile done – this is the thing that gives you more detailed understanding of your proper training zones. I didn’t, but do think it would probably have helped.

4. Read all the TriDubai race reports. Then find on-line reports from the race you’ve chosen. Arm yourself with all the knowledge that you possibly can – this will make it more likely that you deal with the inevitable hiccups in your training and/or race.

5. Stick to the plan as much as you possibly can. You want to arrive at the start line knowing that you've put in the hours to get through the event. It probably won't stop you from crapping yourself in the days beforehand, but it does help to know that someone else (coach or training manual) thinks you're ready.

6. Enjoy it. I know it sounds trite and rather "reality TV", but the race is simply the culmination of many months of effort (the "journey"). The training is part of the fun and if you're not having fun doing the training, why do it at all? As it worked out I did almost all of my training solo, which might be good practise for the event, but on reflection I think this also meant my "efforts" were possibly not as hard as they should/could have been. Everyone is different, make up your own way of doing things (but always stick to the plan)!

7. Make sure you have someone with you (either supporting or doing the event) for you to share the event with. This is surprisingly important (even for curmudgeonly bastards like me)...especially during the low points (i.e. the run!) and after you’ve finished!

8. Finally, and most important of all, unless you are one of the very few who truly compete (in which case why on earth are you reading this?) this race is against yourself. Not anyone else. Race your own race. There will be surprisingly athletic-looking people destroyed half way through the bike, and there will be large ungainly people killing you stone dead on the run. Don't sweat it. You are racing your own race. Everything else is noise. Please remember this - its really important! I recall a very interesting, if rather philosophical race report from David Labouchere from Kona last year where he wrote down his internal dialogue during the race – 90% of it was about his actions (eat, drink, monitor effort, listen to body, think about form, remember the plan) and 10% was about other athletes (look at them – they’re going to suffer for that effort!). Thanks for the tips David!

The Event - Ironman Barcelona Race

- This used to be a Challenge event - this year was the first IM branded one, and has doubled in size...meaning some small logistical issues, but nothing too bad. 2600 entrants, about 2450 starters. Big event just the week before Kona, which means many people who didn't qualify this year chose IM Barcelona to qualify for next year. Lots of Kona places (50 places - 7 places for the main male 40-44 age group) which I'm guessing means the field is rather competitive (just a guess...this was my first event)!

- The event is the same weekend as "Oktoberfest" meaning you'll have lots of drunken/bemused support during the run (each lap goes past the main beer tent) and just generally in town during the event. Fun...I think. Again I'm not sure if this is usual, but the entire town seemed to be "Iron-crazy". It certainly felt like an experience and one I'm very glad I did. Water temps about 20 degrees, and air temps around low 20's during the day (mid 20's in the midday sunshine). Usually good weather for the event (from the research i'd done), but often a little bit of rain around. The two days before the race were warm & sunny. On the morning of the race it absolutely bucketed down with a lightning storm delaying the start by 30 mins but cleared up just in time for the ride. I found myself getting a bit cold on the second half of the run, but that probably had more to do with me running on fumes rather than the weather!

- It is a very fast course. See bike section below. Top 88 finishers in my age group (40-44) were all under 10 hours and age group winner got 8:44 with a 3hr marathon.

- Swim is wetsuit (always has been) but at the upper end of the temp scale. It is an ocean swim, in a single loop with a beach start. Out from the beach 200m, turn right 800m, out again 100m, then left and a long straight (parallel to the beach) 2400m, then left back into the beach (300m). My first IM event, but i've done a fair few ocean swim events in Sydney (and Tri Yas and ADIT and a couple of Race ME events) but this swim was brutal. There were NO prisoners taken during the first 1500m. The Aussie ocean swims are notorious for being a tad boisterous, but this was something else. I'm happy to give as good as I get, but I did feel sorry for those swimmers who aren't so strong/confident. The  huge 40-44 midlife-crisis group (at 450-500 the largest wave i've ever been in) went out after most others which meant the whole 3800m we were chasing down weaker swimmers from earlier groups. Not sure if this is a usual IM thing, or simply because the wave was so large, but it is a factor if swimming isn’t your thing.

- Bike course is flat. Not quite Al Qudra flat, but as close as you'll get outside Dubai. Road conditions (apart from first 3 kms) were better than I expected - and this after torrential rain during the morning of the event. The course is rather narrow in sections, which (I think) accounts for the 'fast' nature of the bike course. You literally can't help but draft to some degree and as I was fortunate enough to get a good swim, i guess it meant i was in a good bike group to start with. After the first 3 kms (tight turns and speed bumps getting out of town) and then 30 mins proper cycling, my HR was barely over 130 and i didn't even notice i was tracking along at 38-40 kmph. The marshals tried to stop this, some haphazardly and some more aggressively, but sometimes in doing so actually created large "grupettos" behind their motorbikes. In the pre-race briefing we were told that the drafting zone for both pros and age-groupers was 10m (which differs from the pre-race document which had 11m for pros and 7m for age groupers) – but I reckon they weren’t massively bothered unless you were under about 5m. The worst offenders appeared to be the fast age-groupers who seemed to be "stuck" in a grupetto of about 20-30 people for the whole way (especially into the wind...curious that...). Again, like the swim, it felt like a fairly aggressive ride – much more so than Tri Yas or ADIT or any of the comps here - which might have been due to the big midlife-crisis group, the efforts people put into training for an IM meaning they are so much more selfish on the day, the tight course, or just because with a good swim I was higher up the ranking than I’m used to! Anyway, it was fast, but occasional difficult cornering on roundabouts at speed, at which some poor competitors came unstuck in a really bad way. I saw at least 4 guys being loaded up onto ambulances during the ride. This is where my “zen riding” (solo Al Qudra night-time listening to music and podcasts) during training doesn't help as its quite draining/tiring in its own right to be constantly aware of the road and worrying about sudden turns and/or fucking idiots who throw away bottles in non-bottle-drop zones that rebound off the kerb and end up under your back wheel (happened to me twice!). Fast, flat, a little bit wet and dangerous. Niiiiice... :)

- Run course was 4 loops completely flat. Some of it was on gravel/shale, but most on pavement or road. Feed stations every 3 to 3.6km. Every km marked (still not sure if this is a good or bad thing!). Friendly crowd & volunteers. Lots of high-fiving. Lots of support around the finish line end of the course, but pretty quiet up at the other end of the course. Nothing really to add here, other than by this stage everything started to hurt and didn't really let up until it was over. Usual run for me then.. :)

The Boring Bit

Me: I've played at lots of sports over many years, but I guess mainly rugby for the last 7 years. Which means (together with a fondness for good food & beer) I'm at the generous end of the triathlon weight range. Tall and heavy, pretty good swimmer, not a natural runner and have never been ‘scientific’ about my training.

I've been doing various bits of triathlon-ing over the past few years - there's a splinter social tri group based in the Ranches which has been increasingly active over the past two years (hat tip to my DubaiTriFri team) and we've been mostly doing the various running, swimming, cycling & tri events (Mamzar, Race ME, Tri Yas, Dubai 92, Burj Swim...). As frequently happens in Dubai, there's been a fair bit of competitive creep with people doing cheeky training runs and upgrading bikes etc. Having also upgraded my bike, and having done OK at Tri Yas (2:30 from memory - pretty crap run as ever) I thought it was about time to plunge into something more serious.

I bought the book first and even though it's the only one I've read/followed I can thoroughly recommend it. It goes into a good, but not exhaustive, amount of detail as to why the training program is the way it is. It details the final week, the final days, the post race week etc. For me it was exactly what I needed and no more, though if I were to do something like this again, I might consider getting an online coach to provide more detailed feedback during the training. Very happy to share the basic training plan (for 11-13hr target time) – if anyone is curious about it – but still strongly recommend you buy the book it you’re serious about entering for a race!

I think the summer in Dubai is an ideal time to put in some serious hours training. My family were away for an extended spell and work tends to be a little quieter over July/August. So whilst the heat makes everything harder, if you're happy to put in your long rides at unsociable hours (8pm-2am for me) and your long runs on a treadmill (very, very boring) then it works incredibly well. It also means trips away during the summer are perfect to get in long outdoor runs/rides and you feel remarkably energetic doing these in more hospitable temperatures!

I kept to the plan pretty well - I kept a log of every training session and had a couple of printouts of every week’s training plan (1 at work, 1 in my swim bag, 1 in my bike bag etc.). Every now and again I broke out of the routine to do a full effort session to see if there were improvements (e.g. the stick return at Al Qudra is ideal for an hour TT, or 1hr swim TT at Hamdan, or a single lap bike or run during an otherwise low HR Autodrome brick session). The improvements you see help you to stick to the plan for another month :).

So stick to the plan, keep a record of all your sessions & enjoy the improvements. As you start getting into the serious end of the plan, start to practise your fuel strategy (incredibly important!) and work out what kit you'll be using. I changed for each leg - full cycling kit, running top/shorts - rather than tri suit or tri 2-piece, thinking that comfort was more important than the small advantage you get in transition. There were others that did this, but not many and certainly not many finishing around 11-12 hours. This meant I had a lot of kit to keep track of. Do make a check-list and also write down each step for each transition – when do you put on suncream, when do you put on socks etc. Detail literally every step. This visualisation exercise makes you approach T1 and T2 in less of a panic and you’ll soon realise if you’ve forgotten something

Some of the race advice is actually very hard to put into practice – even with the best intentions. For example – only race in what you’ve trained in. The problem for me was that the 25 weeks training saw my body shape change quite considerably. I was losing about 1kg a week for the last 5 weeks before taper and all my training/race gear was beginning to hang off me!

Another example is your food/fuel strategy (important and really tricky!). All my long training rides were in the Dubai heat, where you can drink your own body weight without ever needing a pitstop! If all your riding is at 35-40 degrees, what is your fuel strategy at 20-25 degrees? I was lucky in that it all worked out – but it could easily not have. I had a few long sections early-mid cycle when I hadn’t picked up enough liquid and was definitely not drinking enough – solution was to absolutely load up for the final hour…which stopped me from getting into trouble but meant I had to piss twice on the run! For at least the 2nd half of the run I was trying not to throw up but had to keep taking on fuel – I thought this might become an issue after feeling much the same just after my long training rides. On the race day, I mixed gels, ISO drinks, water, some dates, some nougat, some bananas, some orange segments etc., and just about made it. Luckily the feeling passed shortly after the end, and 4 hours later (and for most of the next 2 days) just could not stop eating!

Some other “Learnings of Ironman for Make Benefit Glorious Club of TriDubai” (and yes, I was one of the muppets who got most of these wrong):

  • don’t forget to pack a head-torch (generator for lights in transition kept getting flooded due to torrential rain – equals 2,500 nervous racers doing last minute kit checks and getting changed in the pitch black / by the light of their mobile phones…)
  • make sure you cover seat/feedbag/bike with bin-bags…even if the weather looks perfect!
  • bring spare trainers for walking to/from transition to start/finish line and hotel – flip flops can rub your feet and give you blisters before you even start
  • make sure your hotel room isn’t directly above the “entertainment” (in the loosest possible terms) that the hotel put on from 9pm-12pm every night.
  • If it’s absolutely bucketing down, don’t wear your post-race kit on the way to transition. You’ll regret that later! Consider wearing your wetsuit instead.
  • Do make use of the post-race food, beer & massage. This was the best thing I did to aid recovery - the massage in particular made me able to move around without pain afterwards, which in turn meant I was not very stiff the next day.
  • Keep active after the event – clean up, get changed (keep your medal on!), get some hot food, get down to the finish line to cheer on others, find a bar to celebrate with other finishers etc.

I’m sure there are many more things I should mention, but it’s 10 days later and already the memories are fading. Time to find a new challenge…

Thanks to all TriDubai-ers for your race reports and helpful FB posts. And good luck with whichever race you decide to do. See you out there…