*** Big thanks to Giorgio Cecchinato for this report ***
After spending the last few months of 2012 cycling with the aim of doing the Spinneys 92 I was looking for an excuse to build a time trial bike. Triathlon seemed the only way to go, and I found myself sucked into the swim bike run vortex before I knew it. The first race was a Sprint @ Jebel Ali in late spring last year. After barely surviving I realized how hard the journey ahead would be. Summer followed with some epic Al Qudra rides together with Johan and Freddy, giving me that false sense of security of being reasonably ok on the bike. More on that later. I was still living in denial about my swimming, doing it on and off without any real commitment. Same for the running.
In September I decided that it was time to set some goals for the season and get serious about things. Plan was 10 km @ the Dubai Marathon, RAK Half , Yas Olympic and ADIT. I was still going to do all this without a coach. Or that is what I was thinking at the time. I knew that my running needed sorting out, and with Ed's help I went from being a heel striker to landing mid foot and resembling a proper runner rather than an elephant trying to run. Suddenly my body was able to function normally after an hour run rather than be in pieces for days afterwards. Running became enjoyable!
Next it was time to get a coach. Not having one was just an easy way out of my commitments to the plan I drafted earlier in the season and I was lucky to link up with Neil Flanagan who agreed to help me achieve my goals. Many of us beginners probably look at getting a coach as being overcooked, but it is hands down the best thing one can do. I thought I knew a little bit about training from the extensive amount of reading I do on the subject. Well, it's amazing how much we know and how we decide to ignore what we read day in and day out in our training. One of the things you read very often is that age groupers go too fast when they need to go slow and too slow when they have to train hard. This was to become reality for me when I started Neil's plan. Slow meant real slow, and fast meant I found myself throwing up in between sprints a couple of time (Neil's comment was: good!).
On the slow side of the training I was lucky that Paul Stevens had his slow bike sessions comparable to mine and we kept each other sane through the now renamed "soul destroying sessions" on Friday at AQCP. Going against the wind at less than 20 km per hour requires a lot of willpower and trust in your coach but it does pay off with dividends in the long run.
A structured training plan, with a great coach always ready to deal with my moaning, coupled with an aggressive LCHF diet brought me to PBs at the 10km, RAK and then at the first real test, Yas, in good shape, with some form of confidence I could perform to the numbers we agreed before the race. Before RAK I did an Aerofit scan, which is another of those things that I would strongly recommend. The results were nothing short of amazing. The diet and the slow training had lifted my anaerobic threshold in the run through to more than 90% of my maximum heart rate but it did also show that my bike threshold was a lot lower than I thought. Knowing this proved vital to setting race strategy for the coming races. Yas was good, barring the extra lap on the bike with a very solid sub 50 run that validated the race strategy and the results from the Aerofit scan.
ADIT 2014 - the day before
The week before AD was the prime example on how not to prepare for a race. I was away for the whole week in Europe for work, slept very little, didn't train and had some epic diet failures. The tri bike was all but sorted, gears where still all over the place, and I never had more than 50 km on her let alone a proper bike fit done, all because of leaving it all at the last minute. I had ruled out the new tri specific bike shoes a couple of weeks earlier as I didn't get enough time to get used to them which meant I had to put socks on in transition and run with cycling shoes on. Did I mention my cycling shoes are half a size too small and my feet get numb in them?
I landed in Dubai at 2 o'clock on Friday morning. A couple of hours sleep and off I went to Abu Dhabi trying to be there first thing to register and rack the bike. The idea was then to catch up on sleep. Made it to registration at around 10. Bought some gels (I always trained on water only so I didn't have enough for the race) and went to the hotel to park the car. In the meanwhile there was a violent squall coming though with rain and strong winds. Great tri weather. NOT ! Made it to transition area and had to get the Adventure HQ mechanics to sort out the gears. Felt really bad about it as it took some time and I was also very surprised to see at least 50 other people waiting to get the bikes checked. By the time I had the bike racked it was way past midday, and I only had a small bottle of water to drink for the whole morning. And it was hot. Hardly the ideal pre race hydration plan, which for me reads drink plenty the day before and you will be ok on race day. Back to the hotel, lunch with Bekky and her family, back to transition to leave all other stuff for the race, quick trip to the supermarket where I bought nothing of what I needed ( lack of sleep and lack of hydration didn't help my brain functions) and before I know I am back at the hotel and it is past 4 o'clock. Easy 15 min run with Bekky in a rain squall (perfect timing) and back to the hotel to dry my running shoes. Early dinner with John, Karen, Bekky, Matt, Richard and the kids and then early in bed.
Not having my kit 100% ready and not having asked enough questions to all my friends to understand how to set up for the race turned my planned rest & hydrate day in a near disaster. Lesson learned!
THE RACE 4:38:47
Got up early, had a small breakfast and headed out to transition. I was relieved to hear that it was going to be a wetsuit legal race. Quick check on the bike, put the toolkit in one of the bottle holder slots at the back of the saddle without realizing that I used the right hand spot, which made using the left hand one for bottles very awkward during the ride. My gels were taped on the top tube already. Having them taped individually means that when you take one off it is already open and the tear away part stays on the top tube.
I put a lot of factor 50 waterproof sun cream on to avoid wasting time in T 1 and getting sunburnt on the long bike course. As for the chamois cream I use Sudocrem, the stuff you use for baby's bottoms. Once it's on , it stays on through the race and it's great to use on saddle sores as well. With 20 minutes to go, I went for a short warm up swim, which I used as a chance to check which way the tide was going. It felt like there was a gentle tide sweeping the race course right to left, so I decided to start as far right as possible.
Took position on the start line behind the front row and found myself chatting to Johan to the point that we both hardly realized the moment when the gun went off. We got to the water and rather than diving in straight away I walked until I saw a gap that I promptly made mine and started swimming. I paced the swim trying to go as straight as possible while trying to dodge the occasional swimmer steering well off course. Didn't really find anyone that I could draft for any length of time as the people close to me seemed to have a strong desire to swim everything but a straight course. Had the same issue at Yas but I rather swim the shorter distance rather than benefit from drafting.
Polarized goggles were priceless in the return leg to the beach with the sun straight into our eyes.
I had left talcum powder at home, so I had to wrestle the socks on as best i could, and then run with my cycling shoes on for what seemed a rather long way. Easily 2 minutes left In transition than in the future can be saved with proper shoes clipped on the bike.
Agreed race strategy was to keep HR below 140, but I knew straight away that I was pushing harder than I was supposed to at the beginning. The Garmin was still dead so I took that as an excuse to keep pushing and only after 20 km I got HR readings. The following 10km were the slowest of my race, and after that I decided to risk it and ride at a slightly higher HR. nutrition wise I was on a gel every half an hour and Aqualite. I had to stop at a couple of the aid stations to grab the new bottle and some more gels. In the great scheme of things it is a lot easier to do it like that rather than risk a crash. In my mind I was still going to back off for the second part of the ride, but I felt still good and reasonably fresh after the two laps at Yas and decided to keep pushing, knowing that the run would have been a matter of survival regardless.
Shoes left on the bike, helmet off and off I went for the run.
Plan was to run 5:15. First km was a high 4:30. Second was a 4:45. I knew I had to slow down but the damage was done. Stomach felt full and borderline so any nutrition was out of question. Energy levels were good, but I knew that it was a matter of time before my body decided it had enough. At the fifth km it all started going downhill, I was overheating and had to force myself to slow down. Walked the last 3 aid stations in the attempt to grab as much cold water and sponges to cool down. Again, a few seconds walking through wasn't going to spoil my race but rather ensure I got to the finish line. At this stage I was starting to feel slightly dehydrated, a result of not having drank enough the day before and probably on the bike. Picked up the pace in the last 500 m and crossed the finish line with nothing left in me.
While we agreed with Neil that TriYas was to be a reality check and not a race as such I felt the pressure of having named ADIT as the race of the season and while I had already signed up for 70.3 Luxembourg, my next A race, I knew deep down that I had to give it a bloody good shot to justify 3 months of training and not spending very much time with my very understanding wife and my little boy. She very rarely complained and ultimately I have to thank her for letting me train as much as I want. Valeria, I promise you that after Luxembourg I will spend some more time at home ( off season, right coach?). I also have to thank Bekky for all the help and support and for always being there to listen to my ( occasional) moaning.
All this off course would have not happen without Neil. Not in a million years. Thank you coach!
And last but not least thank you TriDubai. I could have only dreamt of being part of such a great group of people when I first came to Dubai.