The Fastest Half Marathon in the World

team, RAK half marathonWith sub-60 minute times posted in the past, the Ras-al-Kaimah (RAK) Half Marathon is marketed as the fastest half in the world, and it certainly lived up to that as I came in under my target time of 1 hour and 30 minutes, a personal best by a long margin.

The day started very early indeed, with a 3.15am alarm and a very bleary early breakfast before loading up the car and scooting off to make three pick-ups in and around the Marina. My fellow runners for the day were Jan, a fellow tri-Pirate, Katia, a friend whom I met during the wadi camping trip, and Lauren, who I have been running with in preparation for today and, in eight weeks, her first London Marathon. The drive itself was simple and traffic free meaning that we arrived with good time to spare. As such, there was time aplenty to make the obligatory loo stop – an essential pre-race ritual, as I am sure any athlete would agree – as well as get some more breakfast, and even dash back to the car to apply the all-important Vaseline. Those of you who may choose to snigger at the mention of said lubricant would think again if you had just run 21km, as it is, in my opinion, one of the most useful and important bits of athletic kit there is, saving many a runner, and cyclist alike, from suffering painful chafing. There, I said it: chafing.

The RAK half is very well organised, with a dedicated baggage drop, organised such that belongings are dropped off in the official bags provided, and even post-race printed certificates on offer. Despite the delayed start to the race, meaning that we did have to endure longer than was necessary of being literally deafened by the announcer, everyone was in great spirits as the conditions for the race were perfect: little to no breeze, cool temperatures and a nice wide, flat course, clearly marked and with plenty of drinks stops along the way.

Once the race got under way, I chose to get into the rhythm with The Rolling Stones greatest hits album, in preparation for their gig next week, and quickly established a good comfortable rhythm, finding the first twelve or so kilometers actually pretty cruisey. In fact, I found myself overtaking fellow triathletes that I didn’t really feel as though I had any place passing, which did make me feel a little concerned at one point that maybe I was pushing a little too hard early on and that I might have been due a brick wall to hit. As it turned out that was not the case and I maintained a relatively steady average pace of 4:20 per km right the way up until the 14th kilometer, before stepping on the gears in order to still be in stead to hit my target time.

The first 5km were comfortable and I clocked 25minutes for that – a pretty standard, unimpressive performance. The second 5km, taking us to 10km, was similarly comfy and was, in fact, faster, being completed in a little over 21 minutes. Looking at my splits I did actually get faster and faster as the race progressed, with the third 5km being even quicker at a little over 20 minutes, and the final 5km being run in under 20 minutes, which I am so pleased with. At about 16km I just put my head down, gritted my teeth and went for it, knowing that I had to dig really deep in order to bring home the sub 90 minute time I was so desperate to achieve. The final 700m were tough – I mean, real tough – and I put everything in to cross the line no less than 8 seconds under the 1 hour 30 minute target. To say I was elated is an understatement. The result was a huge vindication of the merits of all the training to date and having a good, solid race preparation and plan in place, something that I am realising more and more to be so important.

The post-race meet up with friends, who had all also run really great times, was awesome fun, and after getting the essential post-race photos, we all piled in the car to head over to the Tower Links golf course for a hearty breakfast to fortify us for the journey back to Dubai, and a well earned afternoon of doing very little other than putting my feet up.

A great race and a fantastic personal result. I am feeling even more buoyed and confident for Lake Tahoe in September. I will just need to ensure I keep up a high level of running fitness over the summer. I would certainly recommend anyone to sign up and do the RAK Half Marathon, whether it be your first ever half or you’re a seasoned runner.

Some stats:

Finish time (net) = 1:29:52

Finish position (net) = 130 (out of a total field of 1831 runners who started the race (in the top 7%)

Gender position (net) = 105th

73rd out of 930 UAE residents.

59th out of 613 UAE male residents.

6th of 45 UAE runners in my specific age group, and 34th out of 270 Brits racing.

First Tri of the Season

Bobbing around at the swim start with all of the other crazy people who elect to get up at the crack of dawn – well, pre-dawn actually – waiting for the start horn to go off, there is a palpable sense of anticipation and a hunger to take all of the training to date and apply it there and then, in that moment, to race. After all, it is why we do what we do. We are racers. Competitors. Whether we’re competing with others or, as for many triathletes, simply competing with ourselves, to push it further, faster, harder, the start line is where it all comes together.

And so it was that I found myself waiting patiently in the cool waters off Mamzar Beach in Dubai on the 7th February, ready to step it up from the last time I found myself there for the Sprint race, my first as a triathlete in Dubai, and take part in the Olympic distance race. Much has changed since that first event. For a start I found I was having to actively tread water considerably less thanks to my lovely new(ish) tri-specific wetsuit, and I felt calmer, stronger and more focused. After all, I have now been training here in the Middle East for a year and no longer feel as overwhelmed with the sensory onslaught that a triathlon serves up. As if to prove to myself how much more ready I felt, I placed myself at the front of the swim pack, sprinted off for all I had and quickly settled myself into a rhythm, surrounded on all sides by other determined racers, something that last year would have freaked me out.

The swim was a two lap course, totaling 1.5km, and I was very pleased to find myself completing the entire swim without feeling the need to stop, or revert to breaststroke, something that I have ended up doing at every race to date, and which I always mentally chastise myself for. The weekly pool sessions with Tri Dubai and the regular open water sea swims have worked their magic, meaning my confidence, and indeed fitness, in the water has come on.

With the swim completed in a time of 26 mins, which I was very pleased with, it was on to the cycle. Transition is still very much an area in which I can get a whole heap faster, especially given that I choose to put socks on after drying my feet, something which a fellow triathlete friend of mine ribbed me for. Still, bike helmet on, bike grabbed and off we went! Literally as I was leaving the cycle mount area I realised that I had left my energy gels behind – DOH! To turn around or keep going? That was the question. Keep going! I made the decision to be careful about not going too hard on the bike, especially early on, given that I had no easily available energy sources to hand. As it turned out, the cycle went well without the extra kick of a gel or two, and although I won’t be winning any records for breaking the cycle land speed record, I was pleased with my 1 hour 41 minute time, especially when pitched against the super carbon machines that I was well aware of as they zipped past me in what looked like an effortless, weightless blur. One day I shall own one of those super bikes, oh yes I shall!

So, cycle completed it was just the small matter of grinding out 10km of running. I’d have to say that running is probably my strongest of the three disciplines and I derive a fair amount of pleasure from cruising past those super cyclists who had previously overtaken me on their bikes now that machine had been chipped away to man. Like most triathletes, and in fact most athletes, I am fairly habitual – some might call it OCD – about some aspects of my racing. For example, I generally always run with a cap, specifically my white Oakley one, turned backwards like some little league wannabe. I realise it probably looks slightly dorkish but I simply don’t care as in my mind it makes me go faster. My aim for the two lap run course was to post a negative split, meaning that I would run the second 5km faster than the first. As it turned out my pace ended up pretty much staying constant, except for the very brief piss stop that I spent the first 3km debating whether to take – I’m soooooo glad I took the seconds to stop as there is nothing better for your running comfort than not having a full bladder – and the run was completed in a time of 44 minutes, which I was very pleased with. The fact that I found it a tougher effort to put in that obligatory sprint finish at the end suggested that my effort on the run was a good one, and I kept up an almost constant 4:27 pace for the full 10km.

Mamzar Tri Feb 2014Medal collected, chocolate milk downed and water cracked open, it was time to bask in that fatigued yet wonderful post-race glow, whilst sharing in the atmosphere with fellow racers and friends. That is one of the great things about our sport: the true sense of camaraderie and genuine interest and pleasure taken in the training and race performance of others.

After a quick check-in with Trace Rogers, my coach, who had been out marshaling the event, I loaded my kit up in the 4WD, grabbed a rather refreshing (read FREEZING and very brief) shower and drove off home with thoughts of an awesome breakfast and a movie dancing through my mind.

A great race and a fantastic day – up to the point some reckless driver ploughed into me and my car, but that is a whole separate post.

FINAL RACE TIME = 2:26:25

Mamzar race results