*** many thanks to Annabelle Rust for this race report ***
Having read a lot of tri race reports in the past, I feel quite a lot of pressure as they have been so well-written, witty, insightful and instructive. Plus, I'm not particularly succinct so here's hoping I don't bore any readers to tears! I know it's meant to be a race report but let me ramble for a bit first...you’ll want to skip a fair bit further down if you just want to hear about Bahrain.
A Bit of Background...
I did my first sprint tri for charity in 2006, and slowly, year by year, did a few more and added to the distance. By no means very fast, although that has improved somewhat, or very clued up on the technical side of things. That still stands. I really have no idea what cranks or clinchers are, I wouldn't know what heart rate zone I should train in not to mention any of this power business. I know I should start each training session with more of a purpose, but I can’t honestly say I do. I didn't have anything but a stopwatch for my first half-ironman race, the Trentham Big Half, in 2011 which I finished in 6hs49mins...almost prouder of having fixed a puncture mid race than the race itself! I don't have a coach, I inherited a Garmin this summer from my gadget loving older brother, (without the HR monitor which I have yet to purchase) so at least now I know what pace and distances I’m doing! My bike is a road bike bought in 2011 through the UK cycle to work scheme, with tri bars added last year – it has been called retro, a collector’s item and even a shopping trolley (you know who you are) but she handles the abuse and has served me pretty well.
The reason I mention all of this is because I think sometimes those who are keen to get involved in this sport can feel daunted by all the things you could have to help you improve and that you do actually need them all. In the summer, prior to training for DIT, I myself was worried about my amateur-ness compared to a lot of other triathletes, particularly in Dubai. My quote-loving sister said to me "there's more than one way to skin a cat". Weird saying and gross image, but I think this makes sense when it comes to training and how each person approaches it. Everyone has something different they want to achieve, different personal and professional circumstances, different financial situations etc. You just have to make the most of what you have!
I do triathlon because I genuinely enjoy swimming and running...with varying levels of cycle-liking. Hit me with an aquathon any day. And I have actually come to love races, even though I would not call myself competitive (until the race starts, and then maybe a little). Through TriDubai, training with fellow TDers has just naturally pushed me a lot further and taught me a lot . Pre-DIT I toyed with the idea of paying for a training programme online, but decided that if I had succeeded with a half before just following a free online programme, it should work again. So I used the same free half IM programme off www.beginnertriathlete.com & combined it a little with the ones on www.triradar.com, tying my solo trainings in with some TriDubai training sessions particularly Wednesday Autodrome, Sat swim and previously the cycle sessions that really got me going at NAS & Al Qudra, as well as weekly run sessions with the Mirdif Milers. My goal for DIT was to finish in as close to 6hs (under) as possible, and I was therefore pretty thrilled with 5h35m and 5th in my age category.
So onto Bahrain! I am so glad I did that race. I absolutely loved DIT (well, maybe not the end of that run) but didn't think I’d go off for another just a month later. But, I'd won entry to the race, and then thanks to RaceMe, also got on the sponsored flight. I could not have gone otherwise and these opportunities do not come knocking everyday! I was also rather daunted by the prospect of travelling to a race (other than hauling myself with my bike onto a Virgin train to Milton Keynes) and really had not paid enough attention to the bike packing sessions I’ve attended at Adventure HQ. So to be able to travel with other experienced TriDubaiers was reassuring.
So I borrowed a bike box (thank you Anne!), asked Wolfi's to pack it (I'll learn next time...), got some travel insurance (reminded last min by somebody on TD Facebook page thank you) and was pretty much ready. Packing took me ages; this travelling to a race was not a speedy process I found. I was not feeling as physically fit as for DIT having dropped my training hours after and I'd had quite a niggle in my calf the week prior –I definitely need to give stretching more time in future. This is where my foam roller showed its true genius...I used it every day and it really does work wonders. At the same time I was perhaps somewhat more mentally relaxed. I guess this is the advantage of 'B' races (that's what people call them right?!) I tend to get pre-race hypochondria when it's a race that I've been training for long term - this issue might be solved somewhat with all the 70.3 races cropping up around the Middle East! Also, the rumour was that Bahrain was going to be a fast course with wind up our bums the whole time. Sadly, that was not quite the case but more on that later. My goal for Bahrain was really just to finish the race and I did not have any particular time in mind. That's what I said anyway, but I think I did have little goals in mind, or at least I did once the race started.
At arrival in Bahrain we were herded into a plush waiting room while our visas were sorted for us, then whisked straight through an express queue. We had heard that there might be some transportation and right we were, some guys outside chucked our bikes in the back of a van and up drove a swish Audi for us. Bikes were already waiting in the lobby of the hotel when we arrived. Not too shabby.
We checked out the swim start the following morning where I also tried on and then ended up buying a new Orca wetsuit. I was determined to just go without but the water was cold and it seemed everyone else would be wearing one. I haven't raced or in fact trained in a wetsuit since moving to Dubai two years prior, I'd left my wetsuit in storage assuming the sea would always be warm?! Being able to try this one on was lucky, and it was great to be able to swim where we would be the next day, something I'd never done before at race. Goggles were leaking at this point so I was also grateful that I could adjust them pre-race. Apparently copying Kona somewhat there was a little coffee station set up opposite to the start that you could swim to. There was also a breakfast laid on for athletes. A group of TriDubaiers, several of whom I had never met, had gathered at this point and so we all went out for a little ride and run. It really added to the experience of the weekend to have such a great group of people around. I had assembled my bike that morning with the help of my roomie Merle, and although I had thought there was something odd about the way my handlebars looked, it rode alright apart from the tyres not being pumped properly as none of us had a track pump at this stage. I was quite proud that I'd actually managed to do that. I was to find out later that I shouldn't be so proud.
Bahrain is a point to point race, which I'd never done. Nor had I ever done any triathlon where you get separate transition bags for all your kit. During the race this ended up being fab, but at the time of sorting, I found myself missing the simplicity of just setting everything up next to your bike in transition. Nonetheless we had to go collect all this at registration. There were shuttle busses at certain times but we all got a taxi to the Expo and T2/finish to register and collect our amazing Challenge Bahrain tri bags (this thing has so many incredibly useful compartments!) numbers and kit bags. Following that, after sorting these bags back at the hotel, we had to go back to swim start/T1 to drop off bikes, run kit bag and if you wanted, your bike transition bag. Thankfully, Wolfi's guys were there supporting the bike maintenance team, and upon asking them to pump my tyres and also check what seemed to be wrong with the handlebars, it was confirmed that I had totally put my handlebars together wrong. Could have been bad. I don't know quite how bad, because I don't know anything about bikes, but it wasn't good. So, not for the first time, million thanks to the Wolfi's bike guys. I was rather pleased with my bike transition spot, right at the end of a line just diagonally in line with Mirinda Carfrae's (mildly fancier) bike. I spent quite a lot of time elbowing people out of my way to get a photo of that disparity. I have to say that after all of these tasks, I was exhausted. It's a long, busy day before race day and I did just want to put feet up!
I realise I still haven't got to the actual race report...
After a lovely dinner with about 50 TD people organised by Chops Potter, the alarm was set. Woke up and had my pre-race brekkie of oats, banana, drizzle of honey & spoonful of nut butter. It might sound a bit heavy to some but it works for me! It was a relatively late race start (for here anyway I guess) but we went down to set up bikes, drop off our bike kit bag and after-race bag. It felt very strange not seeing my run stuff but trusting that it would be there when I needed it. There was quite a bit of waiting time pre-race filled with loo stops, applying Body Glide & getting into my new wetsuit with its special white gloves to avoid ripping the suit with your nails (I’ll no longer take the piss out of people using those, they are useful!).
I'll skip through to seeing the pros set off. We watched how the male and female pros started, and it seemed that in both, they split off into two groups. One seemed to be sighting the far buoy and heading straight there, whilst the other group was veering to the first buoy and then onwards. It was hard to see which the better option was but it seemed the group sighting the far buoy was a bit ahead so I decided to do that. Despite waiting around for ages pre race, I went for a last minute wee (I wasn't ready to baptise my new wetsuit) and then ended up rushing a little to get in the water for the female start. It was a big group but it was quite a wide starting area (deep water start) and I went to the far left which I'd decided before. I usually go to the side as I don't want to be in the middle of a brutal swim start, moreso when it's mixed and there's the risk of big male feet slapping you in the face (although after reading a few race reports it seems there are some vicious females I have yet to encounter myself). I also swim with a mouth guard - this is somewhat embarrassing to me especially upon swim exit when spectators are there to see me quickly remove it - but as a result of a couple sporting accidents with my teeth in my childhood years, I have implants as front teeth and I just can't risk it. Anyway, this time I thought screw it, I'm going to the front. I figured I would start out hard and then slow into my race pace. At DIT I did find the start a bit frustrating stuck behind people and this was a good chance for me to trial it. Plus, the buoyancy of the wetsuit really helped get into horizontal position pre gun start, almost too much!
It worked and I managed to pull away to have a start with very little melee, but I found it harder for my body to know to slow down into my pace than speed up into it. I found it relatively easy sighting on the way out, looking towards the bridge and last buoy. The problem was more on the way in; I took the same approach of sighting towards the far buoy which wasn't all too clever I think there. Didge had kindly pointed out to a few of us the previous morning to remember that the last buoy before exit was quite a bit further right than it looks/you expect. But I totally forgot this useful little nugget of advice. Sighting far ahead also meant I missed spotting a guy from the previous start in front of me and I completely swam into him. Oops. I managed a gargled ‘Sorry!’ before plodding on. I wasn't wearing my Garmin because of the wetsuit but I wish I had been as I would have liked to know how far I actually swam!
One thing that I either got from Chrissie Wellington's book or a race report was really thinking about my stroke during the swim, and to focus on my pull as this can be something I neglect. I have to say that recently buying paddles has helped with that and after reading the Brett Sutton blog post Johan recently shared about pull buoys and paddles, I'm going to incorporate them even more in my training!
Upon swim exit you ran on lovely carpeted red stuff and through a shower, luxury! As I was pulling off the top half of my wetsuit I remembered someone's tip in a race report to leave your goggles and cap in the sleeve. I liked this. Grabbed my race bag and ran into the changing tent with a special women's section. I wasn't sure if it was obligatory for women to go through there or not, after all I wasn't getting nekked or anything, but I did anyway. And you had a helper who dumped all the stuff out of your bag and put your swim stuff back in for you! When I got my bag back however I discovered my mouth guard was gone, so either the wetsuit sleeve trick failed me a little or the lady was too grossed out to pick it up and put it in the bag. Understandable, really.
Off I ran on the nice red carpet to my bike - I don't know if anyone else has this problem but the bike tag just would not fit behind my saddle with my bag containing spare inner tube. But I had put all my gels into my 'bento box' & decided to squeeze the tube in there instead. I don't worry too much about a few more grams of weight on the bike as my bike isn't exactly light either way so I figure it won't make a difference. And so the bike begins. I still wasn't sure of my swim time; I had heard another TDers name called out after mine upon swim exit but this didn't tell me a lot. I waited until a bit later to check, and worked out that I had done a similar time to DIT, so that was fine. It turned out to be around 32 minutes (I can’t actually check this as their race results page is down). The bike starts with a big loop around the city before starting on the long straight stretch towards T2. There was quite a cross wind in sections, and some inclines. The roads were completely closed off so we had some curious Bahrainis stuck in traffic getting out of their cars to look and occasionally cheer on. For most of the race, there was so much space between each competitor (at least near me) that keeping the drafting zone was no issue. It was also nice to know that any women passing were definitely from my start, and I was just waiting for the sound of the 18-34 male age-groupers to start passing me. You just have to accept this & cheer the speedsters on! Cycling isn't exactly my forte, and although I wouldn't say I'm bad at it (can you be bad at cycling?) I'm not sure I really 'put my back into it' shall we say. Although I am working on this, and Autodrome sessions have probably helped the most for me to improve on speed, a recent one with Johan and Ben being especially gruelling! I think it was David Labouchere’s Kona race report that talked about focusing the mind during a race and I think this is something I need to work on more during the bike leg, as my mind wanders and I should focus more on what my body is doing. I seemed to be having a relaxing stretch every time somebody I knew passed me. Bad timing. I exaggerate perhaps slightly, but I think I have a bit more to give there. Certainly after each of those over-takings I focused a little bit more on the fact that I was racing and not out for a sight-seeing tour of Bahrain.
Speaking of which...after reading the description of the Bahrain race route online, it seemed that it would be the most picturesque race course imaginable. I am rather gullible it seems. Do not be fooled by race descriptions and all those flowery adjectives. Following recommendations from a friend, on the bike I consume something everything 15 minutes: water, energy drink (currently Gu Roctane lemon-lime I think but only through lack of trying/finding anything else before as it tastes kind of rancid) or a Gu gel (rotating espresso, peanut butter & salted caramel). I know plenty of people use more natural sources of fuel during a race, and ideally I would probably like to, but actually this seems to work well so far and my stomach can handle it, so I'll probably stick to it. I also find this breaks the time down well, so I'm not thinking too far ahead but rather just to the next feeding! I also took a small bit of banana at one of the aid stations, as well as exchanging my water bottle for a fresh one (partly as I just wanted a Challenge bottle). It was hard to keep going through aid stations and not take something from the guys working them, all local Bahrainis, they were so enthusiastic and encouraging throughout the whole of the race!
And now to the wind. We were super lucky, in my eyes, that race day ended up being the least windy day of the three we were there. I kept waiting for the wind to send my average speed soaring beyond the imaginable, and although there were definitely sections where we had a tail wind, there was also plenty of cross & head wind. So the tail wind rumours are not to be believed. And I overheard pros talking about this too so it's not just me feeding excuses! Either way, I was determined to finish in under 3hs (ok so I did have some targets) as I had come in just over at DIT. As I came into the F1 track I was cutting it quite fine, so I zoomed as fast as I could to transition, just making it with 2.59. Wouldn’t it be nice I thought, to spend even less time on the bike? The aim for next time...
Now here's the awesome bit. There's a guy who takes your bike off you (reassuring you the whole time that he's not just some bike thief hijacking the race) and you run ahead towards another guy who is handing your run transition bag out to you! I do normally like to do things for myself (except bike related things) but I tell you I felt like they were my best friends. Then you run into your gender-specific transition tent and a lady is there dumping your bag out and taking your helmet etc off your hands.
I took off running happy with probably the fastest transition times I've ever had (no thanks to me but all to those amazing helpers). Now normally on the cycle I don't worry too much about running coming up, because it's probably my favourite and best bit. I can then also stop fretting about a bike puncture or other mechanical disaster. I did a bit this time however as I just didn't know if my calf would play up. It didn't at all in the end, thankfully. I started out a little too speedily as I tend to do, also boosted by the shouts of some TriDubaiers on the sidelines (thanks guys!) but I had told myself that I needed to slow down and try to keep a 5-5.15 pace, with the hope that I would have enough in me for a negative split. You set off along the road, but soon the route veers into the wildlife park. Here there were the supportive aid station guys again, some of the park "rangers" (?) plus a couple DJs stationed around - their music did give a real boost. I had one more gel at the start of the run. Possibly unnecessary but it did me good. Then I spotted orange slices and ran thinking about one of them until the next aid station. At this stage I was drinking water and some Aqualyte. I only start drinking coke with about 8-10km to go, another recommendation due to the 'once you start you can't stop' deal with coke consumption. Pretty much for the whole run until the very end I felt quite good. I love running when it feels good!
The wildlife park was quite pleasant to run through, and I saw an enclosed monkey and some camels I think as I went through. Not quite the oryx of Al Qudra. You could see more competitors here as well because at a couple points the out and return route were along the same stretch. At this point even the aid station guys were starting to lose some of their oomph, a long day for them too! The negative split plan didn't quite work or only a bit at least. I had kept more like 5-5.30, but then a headwind on the return just would not let me get much faster. I had a nice little chat with Martin Bond on his marshall bike, where some shady maths had me coming in with an overall time about 15 mins faster than my actual. At about 3-4kms left my tummy was hurting a bit and I was a bit over it. The Challenge billboards on the way back with their motivational quotes were most welcome! I did get a bit of a second wind at last and was able to speed up and finish the last couple k's strong, and lots of kids high 5ing on the last stretch was appreciated! I was pretty pleased with my run time of 1.46, and overall managing 5.22, 15 minutes off my DIT time (most of which possibly thanks to the transition fairies?!) and wangling 5th in age category again. I would highly recommend the race next year if you didn’t take part in this one. Also a good way to attempt travelling for a race for the first time if you haven’t before!
It's safe to say that triathlon is addictive, isn't it? And the more wonderful triathlon friends you make, the less likely it is that you will at any stage find a way out of this cult ahem I mean group. Also, probably best not to read any inspirational books such as Chrissie Wellington's ‘A Life Without Limits’ - I couldn't stop talking about Chrissie for weeks - because if you do, you're likely to get sucked further in and do something incredibly foolish like sign up to an ironman distance race in Roth this year. Oh yeah and then there's Challenge Dubai and probably Challenge Muscat...
Having said all that, I would not feel as fearless about this upcoming challenge (there is still loads of fear actually what am I talking about) if I hadn't met so many kind, supportive, fun & knowledgeable people through TriDubai who I won't go on to name but who I know I can bore with my gazillion questions and go out training with or who randomly invite me on a training camp. And I'd encourage anyone to jump on the triathlon bandwagon and get involved, even if you don't have any of the fancy kit or know anything about anything. You'll soon be spending a fortune on it anyways once the brainwash really kicks in!