*** many thanks to Ben Corby for this race report ***
It all began back in August 2014 on a hot day in the Philippines. I was there for the second time and just wanted to improve my time from 2013, my 1st half distance. The race went well for me, swim 38mins (standard non wetsuit time) bike 2.53 (not lightning) and run 1.41 (ended up being very fast in the heat). It was the run that shot me from 36th to 13th but I didn’t have a clue where I had finished, I was just happy to come in with a 5.25 on a tough day. I was there with Julie and Noel from TriDubai and ended up watching the presentation as they had both done well in their age group, no surprise there! Then there was the roll down announcement, so I went across with those guys and there were a handful of different people from different age groups. Noel said you should hang around, so I did. Well to cut a long story short, I ended up with the last spot in my age on roll down. I qualified for a world championship that was being held in Europe 13 months later, shock and excitement was an understatement!
I raced the whole of the UAE season, including DIT and Challenge but never really thought about this competition till May. My wife gave me some swim classes at Fit Republik for my birthday with the tri squad, I bought a new bike and Puma is helped me out with my run gear. I was religious at Fit Republik for 3 months with Brett and Troy 5.30am 3 times a week. I’ve never really swam in a proper pool before, all my swims had been in the sea and very occasionally in an apartment pool with no drills/tools . These sessions were a proper killer!!! I often went in tired but came out feeling like a champion. I would highly recommend these sessions as it really takes you out your comfort zone and you see your swim times come down through performing the drills and you end up feeling a real sense of achievement. The bike was built and set up by the cycle house, after some customisation ;-). I was out riding Al Qudra but also trying to do as many hatta/kalba sets as possible. I do secretly love these sessions as it really pushes you to the limit and we get a lot of crazy awesome people joining the 4am rides. I also went for a power meter so this was all new to me and am still learning as I go. I am not fully dependent on it but it’s a great tool when you feel start to feel the strain. Running has always been my strongest discipline and when Puma approached me to try their range I didn’t hesitate, as they must be doing something right having the fastest man on earth in their shoes. It was a decision I didn’t regret and I am now a proud ambassador for Puma. I have ran in them since December for all of my events. I started with the Faas 300 and 500 and ended up in the Ignites for all of my runs long and short, they are so comfortable and the rebound you get feels like your cheating.. I hate treadmills, so completed bricks of the bike when I could even if it was just 1/2k but most of my run training was in Dubai Sports World, an a/c indoor hall where you can run 700m, yes you do get dizzy but so lucky to have this place to complete longer runs at a good speed and work on sprints without dying in the Dubai summer heat. I was suffering with some nerves/anxiety so my neighbour Aden who is passionate and experienced about mind coaching to use his skills on me, it was my first time and I was open to anything. We worked on some drills that I would use when I felt I needed to refocus. Even though we only had one session I really felt it helped me relax when I needed to.
I am familiar with bike disassembly but with this being a new bike the P5 with a completely integrated head unit it wasn't an easy task. I got all the stuff off but for love nor money I couldn't get the head unit off!! It was the night before the flight, so back to cycle house I went where they had to take off the entire front brake due to the hydraulic pipes etc and then I was good to go!
All of a sudden I’m on a plane to Europe to take part in the 70.3 World Championships, eeeeeek!
I had prepared as much as I could with the UAE summer heat and humidity, but to compete against the best athletes in my age??? (ok some might have got in the back door like me ) but I was still worried about embarrassing myself at this level. I’m not kidding anyone, I’m ok at triathlon but not a super being like others I know in Tri Dubai! I just love being out there competing and having heaps of fun. I don’t have a coach so most of my sessions are done socially and I will just join whatever anyone else is doing and I don’t mind it this way, no pressure and no guilt for missing sets or not doing enough. Don’t get me wrong to take myself to another level I admit I would need some guidance - but hey I’m having fun!
With this competition being so big and with the knowledge that I wasn’t tying it in with a holiday afterward (as we usually have done), I wanted to soak up the full atmosphere of the event. With the two races on the same weekend I knew that the whole place would be buzzing, so I decided to go on the Tuesday before the events. Luckily there were a few others with the same plan, which made the travel go faster and had some eventful funny moments along the way (one was where Brett was climbing in the back as the sliding door of the car opened on the motorway, another Henry and Lisa basically getting a Yaris to fit 2 bike boxes and luggage in ha ha).
This was my first time in Europe during the summer and I was just in awe of the landscape, green and blue as far as the eye could see, then the mountains which were just stunning. We arrived in Zell Am See and found the B&B, which was in an amazing location for the lake and swim start. On Wednesday we jumped in the lake for our first swim, water temp was warmer than outside so pure steam, it was cold when you were out but ok in the lake. We went on to build the bikes with a final check off by chief engineer ‘our Henerey’. We all then headed to the climb section of the bike course which consisted of 15km of climbing, 13k around 6/7%, then 2km at 14% ouch. I found this not to be too bad, anyone who has done Jebal Jais could relate it to that constant grind, but the last 2km was the steepest gradient I have ever ridden, with at least two points where you had to stand. It could have been to do with my gearing, which I was running a 53:39 front and 11/25 rear.
On Thursday we completed another swim and registered, then a run around the beautiful lake. It was noticeably hot even by Dubai standards but it wasn't fazing me as ‘hotter the better’ was my attitude. On Friday we did a swim and then went to try the decent. I love down hills whenever I go Hatta/Jebal Jais and usually go balls out but this 3km section was something else! So I took it real steady and didn't touch the pedals once as full switchbacks and as I passed Brett and Henry could smell the burning rubber of brake pads. It was this evening that my support crew arrived my wife and parents. I was very happy to have them there and am so lucky my wife was given time off work as she just had 8 weeks off and school had started again.
Saturday was the 70.3, which a lot of the guys I travelled with were competing in. It was exactly the same course as the championship race with the only difference being that it started at 6.30am. We cheered on till the very last one of our mates crossed the line. Then it was time to rack my bike and kit bags, there were 3,000 hooks so I took my time to map out where my kit was, bike not an issue ;-).
It wasn't until I got back to the room and sat on the bed that I realised how tired my legs were and how tiring it is to watch Tri let alone do it, so I have a new found respect for all those people standing and walking all day to support!
Race day was an unusual leisurely start of 11.04am for my wave, with pros at 10.45am. So I woke up as normal and had brekkie, also Javier Gomez was staying the same place as us so I observed his breakfast habits and had some of the marble cake he was smashing. We wished each other luck, he is a genuinely nice dude!
I went down to transition said goodbye to the wife and parents, checked the bags and bike over again, loaded nutrition and hydration and set off for the swim warm up area. I will just mention the toilets in transition basically - it was just one big hole in the porta loo, and was just a big pile of everything and guessing well used from yesterday's race too and in the heat well you can imagine, I just had to look up and hold my nose! I got kitted up and had a banana and a snicker, starting at this time was funny and I am not used to as it! It was almost lunch in my eyes. It was really hot, even at this time my head was sweating especially with the wetsuit on and putting on the swim cap, so was a great relief to jump into the cold lake, I did a few strokes to get the heart going. I then found this wooden post to hang off to watch the pro men and women start. Then it was my turn to go to the holding pen and looking around you could tell there were some serious athletes just by the look of them. At this point I just smiled and it was if the whole pressure/anxiety had just lifted I don't know why or what? I just know I felt proud to be there with these guys on the start line for a world championship, its still not sunk in yet!
There was a cannon setting each wave off and this thing was loud, I'm not going to lie each time it went off it shocked me. Countdown was on 2min then 1min, so set the garmin rolling 30 secs or so early and folded it under my wetsuit as to get an easier transition out of the suit without having to mess with the watch too. BOOM! Even though I knew it was coming I still actually swallowed water when the cannon went off. It then went from clear water to white water with the usual wrestling/tussling, even if you've done many before it's still a bit daunting not wanting to take a hand on your head or foot in your mouth. Buoys were spaced at 50m intervals with different markers along the way; it was a straight out swim 925m with 30m turn and same back. It wasn't until the 150m I felt free water and noticed as I sighted the majority were in a pack in front of me but I did have some company to my side so tried to stick with them, I felt pretty comfortable on the way out especially after all the swim work I had done coming into it, I was just focused on my stroke and sighting slightly. The first turn buoy came and I was expecting some contact but nothing. I then tried to get my sighting line which I could see the finish arch and put my head down again, my goggles had filled up with a bit of water on one side but as much as it was uncomfortable as I breathe both sides I didn't want to stop and it was fresh water. It was probably about half way back down this stretch when the super fast guys of the 25-29 wave behind me came flying past and mentally made me felt like I was going backwards. My arms were starting to get heavy and its funny as you never know what speed your currently maintaining or what you've done but I did manage to find a pair of feet to draft and I tried extra hard to keep with him which I managed but those last 150m never seemed to end. As soon as I touched down with my feet I pushed the transition button and saw 32minutes something, I immediately smiled, as this was a PB by a mile! Official time 32.20.
Then for the transition, which was longer than I would have liked I got my hat and goggles off, and got my wetsuit to my waist, picked up my bag which I easily found as super swimmers were gone. It was then to the tent to empty bike bits, and return the swim stuff. I had a little issue here as my visor had popped out my helmet. As I ran to my bike I could feel my pecs had a good work out in the swim, I collected my bike and then started the long run out of transition. All this time I had a smile on my face again just from being a part of it and hearing the crowd cheering. I spotted Brett and as soon as I jumped on the bike I saw my wife, parents and friends so gave them as a good as they were giving me!
I flicked on the bike computer, changed watch mode and we were off. The start of the course I hadn't ridden before but it was through some windy roads and towns before getting onto the highway, it was here you could hear the cow bells going and chants of “zuper zuper”. At this point I just wasn't feeling right my stomach was turning. I was drinking aqualite for electrolytes and force feeding myself some of my bars to try and settle my stomach. I knew even though it was the last thing I wanted now, I knew I'd need the energy for the rest of the 90km ride and 21km run. I knew the first 20km was pretty easy on the highway before we got the hills, so I tried to keep an eye on the power meter and keep up what I had planned. This is where I believe the power tool comes into its own for when your not feeling great or when you hit the hills to see where your at. I was trying to maintain around 180watts when I could but I was still focused on my stomach. I wasn't sure what it was and was certainly new to me but it could have been from going hard on the swim and swallowing the water which didn't agree with me or I think it was the nerves/anxiousness that I didn't want to fail with my wife, parents and friends here to watch. I so wanted to make it back round to them without crashing or having mechanical issues. I'm not lying when I say I got passed by everyone, a constant stream of cyclists all from my wave and waves behind, mentally again was difficult but kept an eye on power. It was then time to enter the hills, there were some serious technical downhill sections with a lot of red crash matts at certain areas, which was a first for me to witness. I started the climb which as I said before is around 13km of 6/7% with a couple of flatter spots, I was grinding it out mostly in my bottom gear with no control on power at this stage. I'm usually strong in the hills but could still feel my stomach so was being cautious in safety mode. I also noticed the heat as it was now around midday or after, and at 30+ degrees with no breeze to cool you on the climb. I used this time to get in more hydration/nutrition, it was that hot even my snickers had turned into a GU. Bikes were still continually coming past me but at last I started to pass some of the larger guys, only a handful but still made me smile. I got to the next aid station before the big climb and fully stocked up on water, I didn't care about the weight/aerodynamic factor, one bottle went straight in my helmet and all over my body to try and cool down. The main climb was 2km at 14% and to me it felt even steeper than when we had ridden it on the training ride! There was plenty of support though with the usual cow bells clanging! I reached the top and knew most of the hard work was done even though I was only 35km in. On the decent I was hesitant when we tried it out before, but today I just went for it, 3kms of switchbacks and it was the most people I'd overtaken all day but It was short lived as they soon came back past me. This section of the ride was predominantly downhill and through some lovely countryside with great views back at the mountain.
It was at this point I witnessed 3 full pelotons come past me blatantly drafting but what to do I was still trying to focus on my power and still slightly worried about my stomach. I was still getting down my nutrition but it was properly forced with big gulps of water and electrolytes. I then saw Stefan the flying German come past me doing TriDubai proud. Eventually I made it back into the town where I knew the guys would be waiting for me and they gave us a huge shout out again which was a boost.
After this again it was like the anxiety had past and my stomach seemed to be back to normal. I Still had 20km or so to go so pushed on but this route had a lot of sneaky inclines and turns and it was hard to get going, it was here I had my first pee on the bike so knew it was hot as I'd had probably around 4/5 litres of liquids already and normally I'd have gone at least 2 times by then. On the last 5km we went over some rickety bridges where you just hold on and hope for the best, on the last bridge I felt something hit my shoulder, it wasn't until I got off the bridge I saw the stinger from a bee still in there, eventually managing to get it out. One more pee and we were home, I remember looking at my time on the bike and I knew the guys were 10mins slower than normal the day before and that was in cooler weather at that time. I could have gone slightly harder but in all honesty I was just happy for my stomach to be feeling normal again. Official bike time 3.02
Back into transition I racked the bike and collected the run kit, this is the most simple bit runners on, sunnys on and visor on, dump the bike gear and go!
The run took us from the swim start to the town of Zell where we went into town to do a loop and then head back out to the lake on a two loop course, so good for spectators.
It was really hot at this stage even by Dubai standards but I decided to go out at a 4.30km/min pace and immediately started to overtake people, it was on a surface of compacted gravel which I wasn't used to running on and wasn't the fastest running surface. I soon reached the town feeling comfortable and maintaining a good pace. I knew there were a few small but evil hills in town that I didn't think it would bother me and the first loop was fine and I found the support crew again screaming their hearts out :-) It was then back onto the lake where the rest of the TriDubai clan were for another buzz and free boost of speed.
I was just loving running, even though my pace had dropped of to 4.45s I was still feeling good. Every aid station I did almost the same, stopped walked collected two waters, first one over my head and drank the second followed by isotonic. Lastly I collected the ice cold sponges which I dowsed myself with and shoved down my top. Some of the run was in the shade and some was in the full sun but there wasn't much of a breeze and it surprised me how many people were walking considering this was world champs? A bit of my smile contained payback for all those that smoked me on the bike ;-) I collected my first band and headed to the other side of the lake I hadn't been here before and I was surprised when I noticed it getting tougher and tougher, it ended up being a slight gradient up hill for around 700m-1km and it really slowed my pace to around 5.30s and felt it in my legs and lungs. This was the turnaround with another aid station so the same ritual but this time I tried some coke, but it didn't agree with me and I ended up with a bit of a stitch so I didn't have anymore and went for a banana instead for energy. Along the run course it was packed with people sunbathing, swimming in the lake and out the back of their gardens with much needed hoses to spray and cool people down and even though I was soaked through and squelching a bit, my feet in the trainers stayed perfect with no slipping or blisters insight. I was back into the town to collect my second and last band. Those little nasty hills really take it out of you but I still managed to keep a good pace especially getting egged on by the support crew cheering away- you find a little more to give. With little to no people passing me, I knew I was going ok. Then back to the far end of the lake for the second time, up what felt like a mountain which really set me back to around 5.45 pace. It never mentioned anything about run course elevation in the race info, it was all about the bike! With only training on the flat I really felt the strain on my legs and I actually stopped a few seconds longer at that aid station to catch my breathe and rest my legs. That left only 5/6km to do, so I was just visualising all those hot slogs around the Dubai Autodrome, saying its only 3 loops, it's only 2 loops, I finally hit the town and those nasty little hills for the last time and took the left turn for the finish shoot. Running down the red carpet giving out high 5s is the ultimate adrenalin high of any race for me, looked over my shoulder I gave it the signature cartwheel and was so buzzing decided on another on the finish ramp I will agree with my supporters the second cartwheel was around a 3 out of 10. You try doing a second cartwheel up a ramp after a little swim bike and run ;-) I was really happy with my run, especially I those conditions. Official run time 1.44.
Once I'd crossed the line and received the huge piece of silverware, I knew no one could take this away from me and just a massive sense of achievement came over me and I couldn't help but get emotional on what I had just completed. I grabbed a well-earned beer and went to meet my wife, parents and friends. It was great to share the moment with the people who mean the most to me in my life! I had my medal engraved and then went to watch the others come in. One thing I was dreaming of all day was jumping in that lake again, SPLASH…. job done!
Thanks again to my wife for all of her continued support, coming all the way just for the weekend and putting up with some very early starts for training. My parents who drove thousands of miles to see us compete and my fellow Friends of TriDubai who were there racing/supporting and who helped make the week what it was! Not forgetting all those people who spent their day tracking my progress online. Cheers to the guys at PUMA ME who support me with their training/racing/leisure gear. Not forgetting the swim coaches at Fit Republik who really improved my swimming time.
A big shout out to the guys at the Cycle House for sorting out my bike and Aden at www.peakperformanceuae.com for helping with the mental coaching. Also all those that have trained with me over the summer period. Finally I’d like to say thanks to TriDubai, without this club I wouldn’t be where I am now loving what I’m doing!