*** many thanks to Giorgio Cecchinato for this race report ***

The great thing about my first full year in triathlon was that every race was a PB. This also meant that the second season’s focus would have been focused on smashing those PBs, and therefore racing with expectations. I admire my TriDubai friends that race just for the sheer enjoyment of it. I can’t.

Let’s see how it went for the first part of the season before going into the details of the ITU race in Abu Dhabi.

After hitting the target in the 70.3 in June, I took it easy for a while, ticking over for a couple of months while talking about hitting it hard at some point. As usual my main focus was to try and get lighter for the season ahead, with little success. The decent base built over the previous months meant that I was training with much higher intensity for shorter time. First and major mistake was not to change my nutrition around and keep on the trusted LCHF diet that had worked out so well for me in the past.

With some heavy weight lifting thrown in the mix and the power meter on the bike keeping me honest in my bike session I was struggling to recover from muscle fatigue and weight wasn’t coming off. I was afraid to change what had previously worked for me, but finally after many tweaks I did home into a formula that gave me the weight loss and the recovery I was looking for.

Note to self, do not stop changing and adapting to new circumstances. That’s the fun part of the sport and what ultimately keeps it interesting.

I was still living in denial with my swimming struggling to swim more than 100 meters at the time until, like last year, day after Christmas I put the hammer down and didn’t look back.

Eight solid weeks of training alter saw me running a PB in the 10 km with tired legs from a week of hard training, and then spectacularly failing to finish the RAK Half Marathon which was my first “A” race. Went out too hard and didn’t see the point of finishing. I did regret that later, but it was too late then.

TriYas was used as prep to the ITU in Abu Dhabi, went in after a couple more weeks of hard training and surprised myself in the sand storm. 13th in my age group and top ten in the swim. This was unheard off, me swimming in the top of my age group.  Anyway, 9 minutes faster than the previous year was a good result.

After TriYas I started looking again at my position on the bike, feeling that there was some improvement to be had. Not the right time with the “A” race coming up in a few weeks, but I took the gamble and tweaked the position to get me a little lower. Again, I was afraid to change and should have questioned it a long time before. Your flexibility changes over time and it is worth tweaking the bike when you feel something is either not right or could be better. You can always revert back to the original settings.

SWIM – 26:50

Perfect conditions. Beach start, which was a first for me. Full of confidence from my swim at Yas, I started in the front row. Jumped in the water without having previously been in, set up  for another dolphin dive only to realize that the water was too deep. Note to self, check those first 20 meter at the water entry. From the dive goggles moved and I ended up with some water inside. Extremely unpleasant but what to do.  Sighting to first buoy was easy, just aim for big radio mast. Luckily a cloud covered the sun for the remaining part of the swim, so no issues with the glare. I did go a little wide on the route to the second buoy but then managed to get at the back of a pack of four swimming slightly slower than I wanted to, but with 500 meters to go I took full advantage of the drafting and only pushed the last part to go past them   and come out of the water in front.

BIKE - 1:09:10

With beam bikes not allowed by the ITU rules I had reverted back to my first TT bike (you can never have too many bikes! ), which does feel very different to ride and is certainly less comfortable. But fortunately I run the same components over all my bikes so I don’t have major issues switching from one to another. I only have two bikes by the way. Well, and the roadbike. And another frame waiting to be built up… Hey, I started triathlon because I wanted a TT bike… suppose I got carried away a little bit…

After a reasonably quick T1, I was off on the bike with the main focus to try and avoid power spikes that cost me dearly in Yas a couple of weeks before in terms of the ability to run afterwards.  Only issue was that the power meter wasn’t really playing ball and I was getting numbers that did not make sense on the screen.  Last year I would have freaked out without numbers (I was relying on heart rate then) but all I could do is to ride by feeling focusing on cadence. I had to push harder than I wanted to get out of a couple of situations where there were a few riders bunched up together and clearly ignoring the rule of having to fall back once overtaken  but I wanted to ride a clean race and I felt strong anyway.

Great work from the draft busters that took quick action to address my complaint about the group in front that wasn’t riding very clean shall we say….

Not many people went past me, which was definitely a feel good factor. For the first time in a race I had switched from taking gels from the sachets to mixing them with water in a bottle before, and it worked really well in terms of not having to do anything else but drink at regular intervals. I did mix a few crystals of rock salt as well to take the edge off the gels and provide some sodium at the same time.

Couple of laps went quickly and the dreaded run was soon around the corner.

RUN – 47:10

A few weeks back the run at Yas was the slowest ever for me in a race and I was determined to not let it happen again. First 5 km were ok,  but after the turnaround point for the first lap it was about making it to the next corner, one step in front of the other, stopping at aid stations to grab some water and cold sponges. Somehow made it to the finish line and managed to compose myself for the run down the blue carpet.

FINISH – 2:26:23

In one year I have taken 16 minutes off my time in the Olympic distance. Not only that, I have learnt a great deal more about the sport and broke that barrier that was preventing me from changing and adapting to new circumstances.

The race was extremely well organized and a big shout out has to go to Paul Venn and his team at Race ME which no doubt played a big part in helping the ITU team out. Big thanks to all the TriDubai members that turned up as supporters on the day. Sorry I barely acknowledged the encouragement while I was running but it was either that or trying to move my feet!

I am very fortunate that my wife Valeria lets me train as much as I do while she takes care of the little ones. I couldn’t do it without her support. Thank you my love !

I am also very lucky to have a training partner like Bekky. We don’t necessarily train together much but she is always there ready to listen to my winging / moaning /complaining.

Last but not least, a special mention has to go to the mastermind behind my training. It has been a little over a year ago when I signed up with Neil Flanagan and what a year it has been. PBs at every race and a lot of fun getting there.  Now onto the big one.  70.3 Luxembourg here I come. Until then, friends from TriDubai, train safe.