*** many thanks to Mathieu Al Kharfan for this race report ***

Back into Triathlon:

I don’t think this race report will tell many people on how to improve tremendously their performances or training for triathlon, but this is my journey to my first 70.3 and also in memory of Roy Nasr, who is the person who brought me back to this sport after almost 20 years away from it.

 I’ve always been a ‘sportsman’ since I was a kid. I’ve been trying almost every sport I could, but always did stick with swimming all my life.

Eventually at some stage I also tried triathlon when I was 14-16, but wasn’t ready to commit to the long cycling and running trainings, as I wanted to stick swimming… mind you 6 times a week already at least, so there was not much space to add cycling and running on top of this!

After moving through a lot of countries over the last 12 years, I finally settled in Dubai, where I met my wonderful wife, Danica.

Everywhere I lived, I joined the local Masters’ swimming club, and Dubai was no exceptions, as I joined DMSC, with the excellent coach Seth. This is where I met our dearest Roy, which after a few chats, ‘dragged me’ to TriDubai swim sessions to experience open water swim.

On my first Saturday session at Roy’s beach, I was blown away with the number of people who were up so early for a w-e, something I clearly wasn’t used to before I started training for triathlon, and the great atmosphere/vibe around.

One thing led to another and it wasn’t long before I signed up for my first triathlon as a grown-up, a sprint at Mamzar. I borrowed a friend’s bike and completed it… but it was end of May, so clearly suffered from a different effort coupled with the heat. Nevermind, I was hooked back into it!

After a number of races (Sprints & Olympic distances for over a year), I got the buzz and inspiration of everyone at TriDubai talking about 70.3 and IM, so thought that even though it was a daunting distance, I wanted to try and finish a 70.3. Doing some research and looking at the calendar, Switzerland seemed the best for me as I’m not living too far from Zurich (across the French side of the border) and could see my family when racing there. I thought that if I had to do one, best to have some family support to push me to finish!

Got the blessing of my strongest support, Danica, and here I am signed up for 70.3 Switzerland on 1st June 2014! My goal being to finish it, (but with a secret second goal/whish of breaking 6h…)

Training:

The race picked, 5 months before the event, I now looked at preparing a training plan. Given I’m travelling quite frequently for work, it was challenging to try to first plan all work weeks, and then recovery weeks to coincide with travelling week when possible, as there was no chance to do the long rides on a gym bicycle! Eventually I managed to create a kinda suitable plan, hoping that my travel plans wouldn’t change much by the 1st of June.

As I struggle to get up early in the morning, the most difficult for me was the long w-e ride. I rarely managed to get up on time to join any TD session and ended up always reaching Al Quadra at 7 or 8am…. Which was still fine at the end of the winter and spring, but this had to change when the warmer months started…

I also wanted to join one of the Hatta or Jebel Hafeet sessions, but work schedule prevented me to do so. This is where I used an alternative to train for hilly terrain – Flywheels! This is not the same than being on the bike outdoor, but gave me 2 advantages, first it gave me more options to join a group session fitting my working schedule, second it also gave me session samples for when I was travelling and had to train in the gym with gym bikes.

Got to do the best you can with what you have!

Race-day was approaching fast and with this the arrival of our daughter during the month of May… clear priorities had to be set, so I dropped a fair bit of the training schedule. With all the excitement and events in the weeks leading to the race, I was feeling quite tired and was torn between the need to keep on top of training and resting to recover for any space of free-time I had. I decided to listen to my body and rest more than I’d have thought would be good for the race, by starting a long tappering period of 3 weeks. We’ll see how that plays when we come to the race…

10 days before the event, I did get food poising, which left me wobbly for a couple of days, without eating very much… not a great timing for this to happen… I recovered after 2 days (exactly a week before the race) and just thought positive: the tappering will leave me fresher than if I had continued to train harder… well, I was trying to comfort myself. But it did work psychologically somehow!

Race:

I decided to rent a bike in Switzerland, as I was travelling through France for a week after the race, so couldn’t be bothered to travel with my bike. It turned out well, as I rented a Cervelo S2, with Zipp 303. I never tried deep-rim wheels before, so it was the occasion to see and feel the difference compared to my ‘old standard wheels’. The bike-shop renting to me warned me: “If you haven’t tried those before, you’ll be flying on the race”….. ok, let’s see, must be another of these uber-salesman.

I didn’t do any training 3 days before the event. I went for a short run (6km) 2 days before the race and the same day a short 20km ride on the bike-course to recognize the course. Then drove around the course to see the 2 hills per loop: ‘Witchs’ hill’ and ‘The Beast’! Each with respectively 12 & 14% incline at the steepest point… it is definitely not what I’m used to in Dubai!

But then, after reaching the top of ‘The Beast’, reward comes with a long 12km downhill. Much nicer! :-)

D-1… I came to register and soak up the atmosphere. Being my first IM event, it was a little daunting with the bike check-in, red/blue/white bag… which one where again?

Triple checking each bag, making sure I have the right gears in each bag and some kind of nutrition in each.

I had no idea there will be so much nutrition offered during the race, I was expecting just drinks as I have experienced in events in the UAE mainly… so this was a nice surprise to see I won’t have to carry 1kg of nutrition during the race to sustain! :-)

D-day… woke up at 5am. I slept well, even though there were some people partying until 4am in the bar below the hotel. We reached the event by 6am, well ahead of my start at 8.20am for my wave. I feared to be blocked in traffic jams with 2,100 participants rushing to the start line and then would be stressing out. That was a relief and now I had a couple of hours to recheck all the bags, tires pressure, do some light stretching, etc.

I watched the pro starting and then had to jump in the water to warm-up – no time to enjoy the sunny morning and great feeling in the air once the race started.

SWIM (1 lap of 1.9km):

This is my strength and I know that even though I won’t make massive gaps during the discipline, I still have to take the most out of it. So I focused on my arms and after a long sprint of 400m to try to stay in the leading group, stuck behind some feet and made sure to follow through and “draft” as best I could.

The water was at 18degrees, perfect temperature for a long and strong swim. I got out in 28min, 88th time overall. Now I just have to try to survive… for the next… few hours…

T1:

Tried to remember all the tricks from my fellow TriDubai athletes and even the 70.3 organisers. Goggles and hats in the left hand, pulling out the wet-suit, don’t run too fast, pick-up the blue bag. Can’t get the wet-suit out… come-on, eventually, out. Dry my feet, socks on, shoes on (yes, I’ve never managed to cycle without socks without getting injuries to my toes or Achilles…  so socks oblige for the wuss I am ). Took much longer than I thought, but eventually after over 4min, I’m out on the bike

BIKE (2 laps of 45km):

I know I start the most difficult part for me… ok, I tried to stay focus and remember to not overdo it. There are 90km to do! First 10km are fine, I’m feeling ok. I have everyone passing me by right, left, center… clearly the bike is not my strength, or let’s say that swimming is overly disproportionately good for me compared to my bike and run. First hill, I remembered the bike-shop advice: “Don’t try to overtake everyone in the hills (they clearly didn’t know me, I’d have never tried that!), make sure you keep energy for the downhills, you won’t lose much time going up, but will down and on flat”. OK, Witchs’ hill… is definitely a witch… but a lot of people cheering on each side of the road, giving an impression of Tour de France… I stay sitted on my bike and cruise to the top. A few kms of flat and second long hill, “The Beast”, 5km of climbing. I’m taking the time to enjoy the scenery, cows mowing on the side of the road, view over the glaciers, marvelous views of the lake, this is very enjoyeable!

Eventually, managed to the top of the hill and this is when more fun starts, 12km of downhill! Reaching about 70km/h, this is a nice feeling, I already can’t wait to be on my second lap to enjoy more! (and be past the 2 hills again!)

I kept pacing all along the bike and tried to not push too hard in the last 15km flat, I wanted to make sure I had enough energy for the run.

Eventually reached back transition in 2h57… ranked 847… 750 people overtook me! (physically I’m pretty sure, not only virtually with waves! I saw them!)

T2:

This transition went smoother, dropped the bike, grabbed the red bag, got changed… need for a wee, been busting since the end of the first bike loop, can’t wait any longer… out to start the run in under 3min

RUN (2 laps of 10.5km):

When I started the run, I knew this will be a tricky one, as my bike was slightly faster than I thought it would, so I hoped I could manage 21km.

First 2km went very well, I felt very good, but all of a sudden, sore muscles, cramps starting. I was feeling atrocious…. I managed to reach the next Aid Station and had to stop to drink, stretch, eat. I thought I had my nutrition ok so far, always making sure to drink at each station even if I wasn’t thirsty and eat at most of them. But there is one thing I didn’t plan at all…. Salt! Completely by chance, I stopped at Aid Station where personal supply was allowed and a lady saw me stretching and offered me 2 salt tablets. I had no clue and took them, thanked her. Drank a bit more and started running again as I could.

A few km later, I stopped again at the Aid Station to stretch again, but I was starting to feel better already. Clearly I had no clue about the full scope of nutrition and even though I drank a lot of Iso-drink, it wasn’t enough to replenish the salt I was losing.

 As kms passed, I was feeling better and better. I still made sure that I stopped every 4/5km to stretch a little to prevent any further cramps. And by the time I reached km 18/19, I was feeling very good again, so it was time to try to recover the time lost stopping to stretch. Going through the finish line, was an amazing feeling. Closed the run on 1h49, the same time I did the Creek semi-marathon back in Dec’13. I was impressed with my time given how I struggled at the beginning of the run.

Total of 5h21… I never thought I could finish such a long event, but this is when I realized that all the training done over the last 5 months paid… and the miraculous appearance of a lady with salt tablets! :-)

I’d like to thank all TriDubai members for the great inspiration, without which I wouldn’t have signed up for such event, remember Roy, who brought me back to this amazing sport where we all enjoy and learn tremendously about ourselves and with others.

I’d also thank my amazing wife, Danica and daughter Meklit. Without their immense support, I wouldn’t have made it, particularly after these long days at work.

Lessons Learnt:

  • Train, train, train – commitment is paramount
  • Study and prepare nutrition
  • Listen to your body – it’s all about balance, a short break to refresh will only be beneficial, there is no need to always follow training plans to the dot, they can be adapted
  • Don’t use a Polar RCX5… the GPS is never accurate! I’m definitely looking for a new sports watch
  • Surround yourself by people you love! And by passionate sportsmen/women!
  • Maybe look for a new bike with aero wheels…
  • Buy a TriDubai outfit early in the season before your size is not available anymore!
  • Agree with Ian Le Pelley (experience talk) – I don’t think it took me even 5min after the finish line to think I’d do another 70.3 or even try an IM!... but for now, I’ll enjoy some family and resting time!