Heights of Training

There is nothing quite as refreshing and enjoyable as the rush of cool, clean air flowing over you, zapping away the heat and sweat of a steady, concerted effort, especially when accompanied by the heady aroma of exotic herbs and the sound of nothing more than your own breath, the rush of the breeze and the whizz of a freewheeling bike. A little piece of paradise right here on Earth!

At the top of Generator Hill
At the top of Generator Hill

With September’s Ironman race in California set to be a hilly one on account of Lake Tahoe being an alpine setting, hill training of some form or another is a pre-requisite of my preparation for the big day. Compared to Europe, however, the selection of truly big hills on which to cycle here in the UAE is a little more limited. Hatta, sitting about 10km from the Oman border, is one of the options we UAE cyclists have and the route from the Hatta Fort Hotel, a beautiful oasis of tranquility, up and over towards the Kalba side of the range is a fantastic workout.

I first experienced these same hills almost exactly a year ago when I arrived in Dubai. On that occasion I was a fresh-faced young Tri Pirate and barely made it a third of the way up what felt at the time like the steepest, highest, longest mountains I had ever had the misfortune to try and pedal a bike up. As it turned out I ended up having to bow out and jump in the support car such was my level of sheer fatigue on attempting to conquer the Hatta Hills. Fast forward twelve months and the difference that training makes is clear to see.

Hatta cyclistsTrace and Barbara had arranged for SuperTri to base ourselves at the Hatta Fort Hotel on Thursday evening in preparation for an early 5am start and a full on hill session, with some running thrown in for good measure. The plan was to start at the hotel, cycle the twenty odd kilometers to the small shop by the roundabout the other side of the Hatta range, before returning, parking our bikes back at the hotel and setting off on a short 2km run, making for a good brick session. And to do this three times!

Shoes lined up ready for transition from the bike
Shoes lined up ready for transition from the bike

In spite of not feeling in tip top state right at the start, as soon as I was up and away on the bike something just clicked and I was away, leading the charge as we started our first ascent. In spite of cycling with guys who I would normally expect to royally thrash me on the bike I found myself in the rather satisfying position of remaining out at the front for the entire session, eventually finishing a full 2km ahead of the next triathlete, both us being the only ones to push on through for the full three repeats, a tough undertaking given how quickly and precipitously the desert heat ratcheted up once it hit 8am. A super session indeed!

There is something quite magical about the hill rides, whether it be the knowledge that you’re going to have to really dig deep and hard for the push to the top, cresting just as you imagine your heart is about to explode out of your chest, to then have the blissful ecstasy of a long, cool, exhilarating coast down the other side, providing the legs with a well-earned rest and serving up the excitement of a rapid descent which saw me at times whooping and hollering like a six year old who had just been out on his first bike ride.

There is a variety, in terms of the terrain, scenery, including wildlife, smells, sounds and people encountered that we just don’t get cycling on the big desert loop of Al Qudra, and it is one of the factors that I think leads to me finding cycling here so much more enjoyable and as a result why I seem to be performing well on the hills.

I am under no illusion that there need to be many more visits to Hatta before September and the truth is that the same sessions are going to have to a) start earlier, and b) will end up being hotter, sweatier and generally a little bit more uncomfortable than they have to date, what with summer very much upon us. Even in the face of these facts I still know they will be some of my favourites.

Hatta Fort Hotel poolThe Hatta Fort Hotel is the perfect starting point for anyone looking to explore the Hatta Hills on two wheels and I arrived on Thursday afternoon, having booked a chalet-style room for only 375 AED for the night. This did not include dinner or the famous ‘Biker Breakfast’ the following morning, although the additional expense was reasonable. The rooms resemble what one might expect from a small game lodge, with all of the usual trimmings and a bathroom almost as big as the room itself.

hatta fort hotel gateOn arrival, it was a pleasure to be able to amble down to the beautiful outdoor pool, one of two, with views out over the surrounding countryside, across the expanse of lawn that runs down the hill towards the main gate and the town of Hatta itself. Completing my 2km training swim before sunset and then dinner was easy when in such blissful surroundings – if only one could train with such views all of the time. One thing is for sure: when given the choice of staying the night at the hotel, rising at a more sensible and less brutal 4am, or a 2.30am start from Dubai, I know which I now prefer!

IronVet – Into the furnace

May 2014

It’s getting hot. I mean really hot! My car thermometer registered 41 degrees Celsius over the weekend, officially marking, in my mind at least, the start of summer and the need to move ever more towards more nocturnal training. The fact of the matter is that in spite of having the privilege of living in a locale that sees almost year round sunshine, perfect for fair weather athletes such as myself, once April creeps into May that warming sun rapidly becomes a toasting sun, sending training athletes scurrying for cover as it reaches it’s thermal crescendo, which is normally by about 10am! As such, the desire to train effectively as opposed to die effectively means early mornings and late nights: a great combination for a normal, balanced life. Not particularly.

Hill training is a big part of training.
Hill training is a big part of training.

Yesterday saw the start of May’s training programme and the fact that the volume/ time/ distances to be completed have shot up in conjunction with our move into summer means that training is set to get a lot tougher. Take last night for example. I had a 105 minute turbo training interval session on the bike followed by a 50 minute run, all in all that saw me roll back in at just after 11pm. Evenings, it seems, are going to get very single-streamed. It’s perhaps a good thing then that my very recent dabble back on the dating scene appears to have fizzled to nothing, as it appears that the only ladies I am going to have any time to devote to are both “Miss Pain” and “Miss Constantly Tired & Hungry.” And something tells me they’re going to be around a lot.

Pool sessions, in addition to distance work, is also key preparation.
Pool sessions, in addition to distance work, is also key preparation.

For those of you following the IronVet challenge I thought it might be interesting to actually offer some level of insight into what training is actually being done up to this point. Following Abu Dhabi’s triathlon, the emphasis has been back on base training to gradually build up my stamina level and prepare me for the challenges of endurance work. Given the relatively long hours and variable shift pattern of my job as a vet, Trace gives me my sessions for the month, split into weeks, and allows me to then organise when to get them done. At the moment that generally ends up meaning a swim early in the week, with a run, a bike-fit (interval) session midweek, and the main, long cycle being reserved for Friday, when many other Lycra-clad loonies tend to descend on the hills of Hatta or the bike track out at Al Qudra. The May sessions are generally seeing me do two swims a week – one pool session and a long 2-2.5km swim – followed by two bike sessions – an interval session and a long ride, always with a run off the bike – and two runs, with a mix between long, base efforts and shorter sessions, such as hill training or intervals. It is tough to get them done and I am appreciating more and more the sacrifice that training seriously for an Ironman entails, including the real compromises that invariably have to be made in terms of private and social life. Still, I am certain that the pain and sacrifice will all be worth it as I cross that line high up in the beautiful mountains of Lake Tahoe.