The experience in a nutshell
I am not sure how it happened, but I ended up signing up for a race all the way in Miami (from Dubai). I hadn’t given it much thought, and the fact that it was hot, humid and flat was attractive because that is exactly how Dubai is… so, made sense.
The flight distance didn’t make as much sense as there are tons of nearby races all around Dubai and I found myself thinking whether it was a smart decision or not.
As we got closer to October 22nd, there was no turning back and I felt like I didn’t want to withdraw from the race. So I did everything I needed to do. I upped my training, got the time in, my coach was "comfortable", I was "comfortable", and it was all coming together quite nicely.
I made sure I didn’t tell anyone I was planning on going other than my coach, a few of my training buddies and immediate family. Why? Because I didn’t want the pressure of having people watching to see whether I made it or not. The race is for me, not for anyone else and I want to do what works for ME and not feel like I need to prove anything.
Although I love tracking my fellow triathletes, I was more comfortable in the knowledge that no one was watching me and my decisions were not skewed.
On October 18th, my bike was packed (thanks to the awesome guys at Wolfi’s bike shop in Dubai and my cycling guru, Monty!), lists were made, and I was ready to board my flight to Miami.
Arriving in Miami, a wheel on the bag was broken, so I was worried something happened to my bike. I had some issues putting it all together when I opened the bike, but luckily it all worked out in the end — I won’t get into that! I managed to go out for a long practice ride and explore Miami but also got the feeling for the course, the weather and that gave me a lot more confidence overall.
In true Helen style, I wanted to do everything early and be prepared, so I arrived in Miami, got my bike checked, went and registered, racked my bike, got my nutrition sorted, did everything well ahead of time. That always works best for me. I don’t like leaving things to the last minute and as my fantastic coach, Jan Gremmen, always says, no surprises.
What didn’t work as well was:
- It was going to be very windy
- The swim was looking extremely choppy
- They were talking about jellyfish (I don’t know if I would have finished if I had gotten stung!)
But, in my head, I had come this far, and I was going to make it happen.
The day before, I got a yummy meal in, rested my body, got an early nights sleep and although I was nervous about it, I set my nerves to one side of my brain and just let it go. I was also lucky that a friend got me a jellyfish repellent cream so even if it was just a placebo effect, it helped calm my nerves (thank you Farris B.)!
On October 22nd, 4 am, I woke up, put my music on, had my Clif bar for breakfast and started getting ready for race day.
Arriving at the venue
It had rained the night before, so I was grateful that I copied the people around me and covered the main parts of my bike with bags.
I sat, relaxed, organized my transition area and chatted with the people all around me to settle my nerves. Met an amazing Iraqi woman, Mais, who was doing her first 70.3 and was new to triathlon like I was. She and her husband became my family for the day and were amazingly supportive.
IronMan70.3 Miami is a little different in that they don’t give transition bags so you set up your transition like you would a smaller local race.
It was not a legal "wetsuit swim", that was the first thing to catch me off guard. The swim was in waves, and the whole thing seemed to take forever. The pro’s went into the water at 7:20 am, and my wave was to start at 8:37 am. The good thing about that was it gave me the opportunity to relax and get acquainted with the setup, the negative part was I could see how choppy the water was, and I could see many people jump in, start, only to come out a few minutes later because they were seasick.
By the time it was my time to start, I had decided I would sing and dance to the music and forget everything around me. So I did and got a few of the women around me to do the same. We had fun. When we got to the pier, we had to jump in as it was a wet start. The water was very ‘dirty’ since it was a port so you couldn’t see anything — this wasn’t going to help my fear of jellyfish, but it was too late to worry about that now.
The swim is extremely well organized with a lot of markers, so it is difficult to swim off track and lots of guards and guides, which was amazing. The currents, however, were not. For a good 500m, I felt like I wasn’t moving. Every time I would look up it was as though I was back in the same spot. I got seasick and threw up in the water, and at one point I looked at my Garmin, and it said 4000m. Impossible. If I had swum 4000m, I would not have made the cut off time, and I might as well just get in a kayak and go home. So I stopped and checked the time, I was at 41mins. I was later told it is because of how much I was pushed back by the currents as I had swum buoy to buoy. My goal was to be under 45mins for the swim, so I knew I was already not going to make that. But I saw the yacht that signified that the end was near. I pushed through, and towards the last 100m, the currents are great because they push you to the finish line. The volunteers on the swim were amazing, they pulled us up, helped us out — really wonderful. A special thank you to a volunteer, Angel!
The transition area is not too far from the swim and well organized, as long as you had spent time the day before figuring out where you were going! I did, so I had a decent transition.
Oh, the bike!
Riding through the city meant that it was not that straightforward, the first bit was fine although slow because you were twisting and turning a lot. Then you get onto a beautiful high way stretch — visually, it is nothing special, but with a tailwind, it's a great fast ride. But everything that goes one way must go the other.
The headwinds were on the way back… not even funny!
They had changed the course this year, so it was out and back with a small loop in the middle. The winds were so rough that people were stopping, people were drafting, people got off their bikes and just stood on the side of the road, and a few people flew off the bike. I had two choices: Push through and burn my legs, or just let my goal time go and save my legs for the run. I decided to push with the tailwinds, relax with the headwinds, and just let it go. I finished the bike slower than my last 70.3 in Dubai, but I was happy just to have been able to finish it in one piece. The last 15km, I just relaxed, took my gloves off and moved my legs.
The bike was messy in general; the volunteers didn’t know what they were dealing with. They were giving out bottles that were sealed, coming out too far into the course, and going in front of the bikes (I had to yell at a few of them to move out of the way!) Volunteers need to be trained better as it can be hazardous. All in all, the bike course is nothing special.
Fast, smooth, perfect.
The run was three loops, not very scenic, extremely windy at parts but overall, nothing too terrible. It was extremely unorganized. Volunteers were blocking the paths; aid stations were running out of things as simple as Gatorade, aid stations were an absolute mess. It slowed me down a lot. A volunteer decided it would be a good idea to throw some ice on my back to cool me off. Not sure what she/he was thinking. I appreciate what they do, but again, volunteers need to be trained, especially when bringing in well-intentioned school children who don’t know any better.
The weather got extremely hot and humid, for us Dubai dwellers that isn’t much of an issue but I can imagine it being a real struggle for anyone not used to the heat. The course is flat and smooth so it would have been perfect if it was not that messy.
It was much tougher than I expected with the swim and the bike. It felt more like a local race than an Ironman race. Although the athletes' village was great, the people were amazing; they didn’t have the SWAG you’d get used to at Ironman races — no big backpack, no finisher T-shirt, no transition bags, no pasta party the night before, etc.
The post-race meals were OK but very limited with long lines and unorganized — after having been swimming, biking, running for 6+ hours, you want food, and you don’t want to wait!
In the end, I decided I was too tired and hungry to wait, I got the medal, picked up my bag and bike and headed home.
Would I recommend the race? If you’re already in the US, sure, go for it. Would I travel as far as I did it? No way. Not because its a bad race, but because the overall experience did not warrant the distance and expenses to go all the way to the US.
I am glad I did it, and my run was good — my time was 30mins faster than my race in Dubai in January, so I am pleased overall with how it went. I guess one step closer to the full distance Ironman. Let’s see how that goes!
Helen Al Uzaizi