The perils of running both without a map, or at least a knowledge of an area, and when that area is breathtakingly beautiful is that a fairly quick/ short ‘explore-run’ can morph into a bit more of an epic. As it was when I ventured out from my picture-postcard countryside dwelling on the outskirts of Frome, Somerset on Saturday morning for a training run of a little over an hour, before getting ready for the wedding between friends Chris and Sarah that I was due to attend.
Such is the sheer natural vibrancy and beauty of this part of the UK, with it’s rolling hills, fields, grazing animals and houses straight out of Country Life magazine, coupled with the fact that the weather gods had clearly been in the best of moods, meant that every step was a feast for the senses. Living and training in a desert, for that is fundamentally what Dubai ultimately is, has it’s major advantages, from the pretty reliably awesome weather for most of the year making training outdoors an easy option, to the vibrant sporting scene and abundance of facilities, not to mention the holiday destination views and beaches, is great and the past year here has certainly taken my sporting abilities and enjoyment to a whole new level, but I don’t think anything can compete with the option of running or cycling through the English countryside at the pinnacle of Spring/ Summer when the whole world just seems to be so full of life, rich colours and the air so pure and easy to draw that it is like enjoying the finest of wines with each and every breath.
My run took me along tree and field lined roads through some of the smaller villages fringing Frome, including the utterly charming Mells, which had a village shop and cafe that is was incredibly hard to resist stopping at. The run into Frome itself was a beneficially undulating one, with some great hill training taking place, followed by a relaxed downhill stretch into the town centre before a long, steady climb out the other side. The next decision to make was whether to turn down the road I knew led back home but which I suspected was not going to take as long as I would have liked to meet my run time target, or opt for what appeared on the face of it a parallel road. I took the latter and was almost instantly rewarded for the choice with breathtaking views of the main town creamery, river and one of the most picturesque farms I think I have ever seen. If that wasn’t enough I then saw what I was convinced was a castle on the top of the hill to discover to my delight that it was indeed a classic little castle and that someone had made a modern home of it – as far as houses go that had to be one of the most epic I have seen. Imagine growing up in a bona fida castle!!!
As the country road continued to wind and stretch out it started to become apparent that it was significantly longer, with no real turns toward home, than I had expected. Thankfully, just as I was starting to contemplate my options, including turning around and retracing my steps, to calling a taxi (not really an option on account of there actually being no signal and the fact that at a fundamental level I was resistant to the idea of effectively being defeated by a run), I met a local out on his bike with his dog, who kindly informed me that I was probably about 6 miles from home and provided reliable directions. With this knowledge secured I was able to pick the pace up and battle through my, by now, fierce hunger and found my way back to Great Elms, my abode and one of the most delicious and welcomed breakfasts that I think I have ever tasted. In the end the short run had morphed into a full half marathon. Great preparation for a wedding.
Run stats: 1 hr 54mins, 21.5km at an average pace of 5.3min/km
Today has been another fascinating one here in London with a somewhat foggy start, on account of some fantastic food and the odd cocktail in Soho the night before, quickly giving rise to a cool yet revitalising jog around Battersea Park, with its incredible views of the power station and the rest of London further down the river.
The number of spacious, beautifully green and tranquil parks here in the middle of the city is one of the perpetually redeeming qualities of London, and coupled with the centuries of history and rich culture really does make the city feel like a truly wonderful place to live and work. This view was reinforced for me during the day as I found myself with time free to simply stroll – a word and indeed action that rarely finds itself in use in my hectic life – through Kensington, taking in the striking architectural presence of the Science and Natural History Museums, followed by a leisurely amble through Hyde Park, past the awe-inspiring Royal Albert Hall, and along the banks of the Serpentine, before jumping on the tube at Hyde Park Corner.
This morning’s first stop was Imperial College London for a lecture on Design Management as part of the MBA programme run at the school. I had contacted the school to see if it would be possible to visit whilst I was in town, as I had heard excellent things about their programme and was very pleased that it was going to be possible to actually sit in on one of the sessions. I was met by one of the Student Ambassadors, Masha, who came to the MBA course from a healthcare background, and found the session engaging, even feeling inspired enough to contribute on a couple of occasions myself.
Next on the agenda was a visit to the offices of social, green sponsorship site The Do Nation, founded and run by my friend Hermione, over on Tottenham Court Road. One of the options visitors to my Iron Vet page have for supporting the challenge is to pledge positive actions through The Do Nation, rather than cash, thus helping to change the world one small positive action at a time. The Do Nation currently runs out of a pleasant, naturally well lit corner of the Wayra accelerator, a two storey space which is home to a plethora of innovative young businesses operating in the digital sphere, and the first impression upon entering is one of ‘Googliness,’ which apparently is what the people behind the accelerator (Telefonica, who own the mobile telephone network O2) were aiming for.
I spent a couple of hours learning a little more about the running of a digital start-up and even had the honour of helping with some beta testing of a new website. One funny thing was that on account of me wearing a suit in what was otherwise a typically ‘starty-uppy’ office space (ie all jeans and casual wear), I suspect many of the people working there assumed that I was either an investor or official from Wayra, especially as they were due to receive a visit from a number of them that very day.
With a very business-centric day under my belt it was then time for a bit of simple R&R, and so I headed off to Picadilly to meet up with a friend, grabbed some tea in a super cute little tea shop just off Carnaby Street before hot footing up the Northern Line to get to an off-the-beaten-track Japanese Restaurant that literally served the best sashimi I have ever had, followed up by an amazing selection of Japanese ice creams. Truly incredible and yet another fantastic day, with London continuing to serve up treat after treat.
With another Windsor Triathlon under the belt today saw me pack up and leave the relative calm of Maidenhead for the altogether zippier pace of London itself, complete with obligatory traffic queues on route to my ultimate destination of Battersea.
My good friend Martin had kindly offered to host me in his apartment overlooking the currently-in-the-process-of-having-a-major-facelift Battersea Power Station, a breathtakingly striking architectural icon, with London to be my base for the next two days of my UK trip. The first challenge of the day, aside from driving there, which was slow but otherwise straightforward enough, was to find somewhere to park! London may have it’s charms but readily available parking options do not feature among them. After confirming that there was absolutely no street parking available in the immediate area, a series of exasperated text message exchanges between Martin and myself finally hit upon the option of parking at nearby Battersea Park, where I had the option of staying for up to four hours (at an exorbitant rate I hasten to add), giving me the chance to hop on a train to Victoria, meet Martin at his offices (Google), grab some food, take a tour and then head back to Battersea, keys in hand, to thus allow me to retrieve the car park access fob and thus be able to relax safe in the knowledge my car and worldly possessions were securely stowed away.
All the above went nicely to plan in the end and the fact that London is actually geographically relatively tiny became very apparent as my initial concerns about not making our agreed-upon midday meeting quickly evaporated as it transpired that Victoria was literally one stop along the train line. Simples!
Google – Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for the Digital Generation
I had the distinctly geeky pleasure of getting a tour around the Googleplex in California back in 2012 and so I had already witnessed with my own eyes the sheer joyful awesomeness that a Google ‘office’ embodies. It was with a similar sense of giddy toddler-esque enthusiasm that I jumped at the chance to tour the London offices (or should I say, more accurately, one of them) where Martin works. We met at the lobby of the fairly standard London office block opposite Victoria, where Google rents space, and headed up to grab some lunch at one of the several eateries found within the Google-sphere. From the minute I walked in it was clear that these were no ordinary offices, with a funky, coloured reception area leading through to one of the cafes, where we grabbed our respective lunches, me going for the healthy option of a delicious turkey escalope and roasted vegetables, and joined the assorted throng of young Googlers all doing the same. Sitting there in my jeans, red Vans, matching red Swatch and Superman T-shirt I instantly felt right at home among fellow nerds, the vast majority of whom would quite easily have been able to totally out-nerd me. I had found my people! Seriously, one of the things that is almost instantly apparent at Google is the relative youthfulness of the employees, with only a couple of guys that I saw clearly being over the age of forty.
With lunch eaten it was time for the tour itself. It would be very easy to get lost in Google given the apparently random layout that seems to have been applied but on reflection this is actually a misleading mis-truth, as it was simply the fact that there is no uniformity to the spaces, as the futuristic corridors open seamlessly onto serene coffee enclaves at one turn whilst guiding Googlers into engineer areas, where the real digital magic takes place on the other. Our first stop was such a coffee area, complete with free snacks, a heady array of fresh coffee options and a naturally lit seating area complete with fake grass that made one feel as though we’d happened upon a San Francisco version of Narnia. Fresh latte and yoghurt covered raisins in hand it was into the recording studio/ music room for a bit of impromptu drum and guitar action before checking out the games room, makers workshop, massage studio, more cafes and even a 1920′s style auditorium where tech presentations are given in some style. Oh, and then there was the informal meeting ‘room’ that is basically the back of a London bus. In the offices! Love it.
Dogs & Cats & Familiar Faces
Google fix had it was back to Battersea to get myself settled before an impromptu, spur of the moment decision to pop in and visit the Battersea Dog and Cats Home, literally a stone’s throw down the road from where I am staying. After asking if it would be possible to get a tour ‘behind the scenes’ on account of being a fellow veterinarian, I was guided by 2007 London graduate Phil, whom I am almost certain I had met before, maybe back in the midst of our university days, hearing about the day-to-day work of the home and the impressive plans afoot for a major renovation and expansion, the evidence of which was already on show, as well as being heard. The Battersea Power Station project is literally set to transform the immediate area and it seems that the dog and cat home is to join in with this major facelift, which will see, in addition to new kenneling, a shiny new vet clinic. This comes after the addition of an impressively designed and very modern cat section, complete with central spiral staircase and glass kennels, with extensive environmental enrichment to keep the resident felines as happy and stress free as possible during their (hopefully) short stays before rehoming. Such is the small world in which us vets move within that it wasn’t long before I met a fellow Bristol graduate in the form of Claire Turner, who later informed me that I literally missed out on the excitement of an evacuation of the site due to a bomb scare! (Apparently there had been an unexploded WWII bomb found over by the power station, which would explain the presence of the police as I walked past en route back from the home. Exciting stuff indeed!)
So, there you have it. In the space of a few hours two very different examples of good work being done here in the capital, and an incredibly interesting start to my short stay in London.
It is always an uplifting experience returning to the homeland – experiencing that which is is all too familiar and yet being able to appreciate even the little things through a new set of eyes. I landed back in London on Friday, promptly picked up my tiny little (manual) hire car and headed off for Maidenhead, my base for the weekend, along the tiny, weany, slow little roads that were apparently both the M25 and M4. For anyone who has not had the pleasure(?!) of driving in the UAE, once you have then both of these major UK highways will simply remind you of the suburban ‘side roads’ that lead to most residential areas in Dubai. And the driving will seem like the most civilised ever!
With the Windsor Triathlon this weekend, Maidenhead, which is a hop, skip and jump over the M4 from Windsor, was to be the base for the weekend, with new favourite website, Air BNB coming to the aid, enabling me to easily hire a townhouse with room enough for the family to venture down to hang out and provide moral support on race day. It was a great chance to spend some quality time with my energetic little nephew, meet my cute-as-hell new niece for the first time, and catch up with mum, dad and sister, whilst also getting to celebrate Fathers Day in a stunning setting.
Saturday was all about registration and bike racking, with the decision to make life easy by renting a bike for the race yet again being a simple one to make. No hassle with dragging a bike box through airports or using all of my luggage allowance on an item that ultimately I will get to use for one day, maybe two during the trip back. Given that the bike course at Windsor was relatively flat, as I recalled from last year, I thought it would be fun to treat myself by renting a TT bike, especially as I have never actually ridden one before. Now I know that race day is not the time to ‘test’ new kit, especially a bike, but I figured that given this was an Olympic Distance race and not my A race of the year, why not just have a bit of fun and try it out. I must admit that I wasn’t quite prepared for the aggressiveness of the position and was glad that it was only 42km and not the full 180km of September’s Ironman. Still, when it came to it I was able to seriously turn on the power, get down and aero and just fly!
Bike racked and ready nice and early, I had the chance to catch up with some good friends who joined the family and I for lunch in Windsor before opting to don the tourist hat and take the obligatory trip up to Windsor Castle. Needless to say it is one impressive place and we even had the pleasure of being present for the return of the Queen herself, with the Union Jack being replaced by the Royal Standard flying high above the keep and letting everyone know Her Majesty was officially in residence. Sadly our paths did not cross on this occasion. I was, after all, far too busy 😉
With less sleep than was either ideal or intended, the alarm sounded to signal race day had arrived. I have been on a high fat, low carb diet now for a few weeks and so my usual race day breakfast was out the window in favour of a lovely fruit and avocado smoothie, and gels on the bike being replaced with dates. Thanks to being a bit OCD all my kit was laid out and ready to go, complete with my Tri Dubai suit, meaning we were out the door nice and early, just in time to sit in traffic for an age en route to the venue!
With the usual pre-race rituals adhered to – I don’t need to elaborate on this I am sure – it was time to don the wetsuit, get in the zone and promptly panic that I was missing my swim start on account of suddenly seeing a load of pink caps already bobbing in the water. The benefit of rushing down to the start just in time was that there was no time to dwell on the fact that the River Thames is both a disgusting colour and pretty darned cold, as I hastily donned my own cap, goggles and simply leapt in, jostling for position as it became immediately apparent how strong the current was today. Incidentally I soon realised that I had in fact joined an earlier wave instead and so was actually early instead of late. The main confirmation came when I arrived in T1 to see that I was apparently the first from my wave to pick up my bike, which seemed odd considering I knew for a fact that I had not been first out of the water!
Against the Current
The Windsor Tri swim sees athletes head up river before turning and swimming back again, with the current particularly strong today, meaning that the first leg was a slow slog whilst the difference on the turn was immediately apparent as I literally felt as though my suit had been fitted with jet packs. Swimming that fast with such little effort was a crazy experience, although with the exit around a reverse hairpin bend, the ten metres to the pontoon was a tough and energetic affair – actually quite good for ensuring blood was moved to the legs ready for the run to transition and the bike leg.
Although the water running through Windsor isn’t the clearest or cleanest looking, and it is generally recommended to avoid swallowing much of it if at all possible, the swim is a great experience as there are very few times when you’d get the opportunity to see somewhere like Windsor from such a novel vantage point. Coming from the current summer heat of Dubai the cool waters of the Thames were, in fact, fantastically refreshing and despite a few slightly freaky moments involving stray river debris which I initially imagined might be jellyfish, the swim was an enjoyable experience. Maybe not as fast as I had been hoping for at 29 minutes, but given the strength of the current up river I was still happy with it.
Aero and Away
T1 was by my standards a fairly speedy affair and with new TT bike in hand, it was off to the mount line and a 42km foray into the Berkshire countryside. I did let my warm weather softness shine through however as I donned gloves once on the bike, feeling swiftly glad that I had and opting to keep them on for the remainder of the race. However, the significant difference in temperature between that which I am used to training in and today’s race meant that keeping my core cool was simple, and I barely had to touch my bottle, only really taking on fluids to help with eating my on-bike dates. The TT bike was fast but I can’t say comfortable and I was pretty glad to hop off and get the run ticked off.
I remember the run being tougher last year, especially with the first of three steep climbs up to Windsor Castle being foisted upon athletes almost straight out of transition, so I guess it is simply testament to the value of training that I really enjoyed the 10km, with a real emphasis being placed on keeping good form and maintaining a respectable, steady pace. The route is great, with a climb through the centre of town to the Castle, before turning and heading back down the hill – a welcome respite for burning legs – before a short section heading out of town, looping back and taking us over the river into Eton and up the high street before turning at the college and returning back to the turnaround just outside transition.
Windsor’s run route is one of the best on account of the picturesque nature of the landmarks that it takes runners past and through, and also by virtue of the fact that the support from the crowd is pretty consistent, and fantastic, along most of the route. The final stretch which takes runners towards the turnaround and then eventually the finish is simply electric and it is almost impossible not to feel like a conquering elite storming home to claim the World Championship title with the level of ear splitting and raucous support that every athlete gets during these final seconds – worth the sign up alone!
With another decently weighty medal in possession and post-race photos taken, it was time to return the bike (sadly), dump everything in the car and find somewhere to get down to some serious eating!
This was the second year of running this race and I definitely felt stronger and more confident this time around, with my Tri Dubai suit being worn with pride and the benefits of training in such a fantastic place shining through on the day. Anyone looking for a fun, picturesque Olympic distance race will do well to sign up for Windsor, with 2015 being the 25th anniversary, and the fact that it is consistently voted the best race of the UK calendar is testament to how much fun it is.
Remember, you can support my Iron Vet challenge for veterinary charity WVS (Worldwide Veterinary Service) at www.ironvet.net.
It was a year ago that I decided to sign up online to do my PADI Rescue Diver course, the natural progression after Advanced Open Water and a qualification that I had heard was well worth doing. A year whizzed by, with the occasional dive thrown in but nothing much done about the course owing in large part to the sudden draw on the majority of my spare time that has come with training for my Ironvet race in September.
With the online course about to time out it was time to knuckle down, do some studying and get the course finished, which I duly did, and then booked my practical training with Freestyle Divers in Dibba. The course covers everything from how to recognise potential risks whilst diving, to managing situations involving tired, panicked and unconscious divers, including those who have gone missing. With the theory firmly established in my brain I was looking forward to getting stuck into the water-based practicals.
The first thing we had to do before starting the Rescue Diver practical training was complete the Emergency First Response course, a one day training programme that equipped both myself and my buddy for the course, Sabah, with the skills to manage an emergency as a first responder, focusing on essential CPR and first aid. I now have the right to be able to utter the words “My name is Chris. I am an emergency first responder. May I help you?” if ever I find myself in a situation during which to actually say them.
With day 1 spent getting our EFR training out of the way, day 2 was all about starting the Rescue Diver practical training, with 10 distinct sections to get through, including how to respond to a tired diver in the water, approaching and, if necessary, controlling a panicked diver, and rescues from the boat. We also ran through how to surface an unconscious diver from underwater, and how to get said victim to safety, including the various techniques for getting them out of the water and either into a boat or the beach. One thing that became very evident is just how tough it is to lift and otherwise move around someone who is unconscious – no where near as effortless as they seem to make it out to be on films!
We didn’t quite manage to get through everything on day 2 so Sabah and I arranged to return to Dibba on our next mutual day off to complete the course and claim our titles of Rescue Divers. Day 3 was more involved, with the most important exercise being learning how to manage an unconscious, non-breathing diver in the water, including towing them to safety whilst providing rescue breaths and removing their diving gear – again, not an easy task and well worth practicing! The final part of the course, apart from the written exam at the end of the day, was a scenario whereby our instructors staged a real rescue situation in which one of them had gone missing, with their buddy reaching out to us for help. As such, we had to gather essential information from the missing diver’s buddy, formulate a search plan and pattern, locate the missing diver and surface them after confirming unconsciousness, and then tow them back to the safety of the beach before removing them from the water and instituting essential first aid, including CPR.
It is true what they say about the PADI Rescue course being the most fun of the PADI courses, and the skills developed are defintely ones that will help expand my enjoyment of diving, in addition to feeling as though I can now be useful if an emergency situation ever does present itself.
Many thanks to the team down at Freestyle Divers in Dibba, and especially our instructor for the course Amir El-kader, who did a sterling job of taking two enthusiastic open water divers and morphing us into bona fida Rescue Divers. Also thanks to both Rhys and Andy, both of whom played diving victims amiably, putting up with our efforts to ‘save’ them, including dragging them from the water somewhat unceremoniously, in the true good-natured spirit of the course.
My journey to Lake Tahoe in September would not even have gotten off the ground properly had it not been for the enlisting of professional training assistance, as provided by Trace Rogers of SuperTri here in Dubai. As motivated as I believe myself to be, I know full well that to get the very best out of yourself, there is no substitute for a knowledgeable and experienced coach.
Biography – Trace Rogers
Trace Rogers is the Founder and ITCA certified Coach of SuperTRI – a triathlon club with specialised training and Triathlon related services.
During her career as a Triathlon coach, Trace has had success coaching beginners all the way up to Ironman finishers. The highlight of 2012 was coaching the UAE National team into 3rd place at the World Biathle Championships. This included 15 individual podium places.
The highlight of 2013 was progressing a client who could barely swim 8 weeks out of his Ironman Race (Ironman South Africa) to the point where he finished the race in 13H33min (Swim time:1 hour 45 min).
Trace’s mission through SuperTRI is to ensure that all members get quality training at all times whilst enjoying every moment.
Last month I had the pleasure of yet again donning my swim shorts, climbing shoes and chalk and hot footing it over to Oman with a bunch of fellow adrenaline junkies, where we piled into a boat and spent the day scaling sea cliffs along the Musandam coast.
Deep water soloing, for those who are not familiar with the activity, involves climbing without the use of ropes, over deep water, with this acting as a ‘safety’ in the event of falling or, eventually, jumping from a chosen finish point. It is insanely fun and one of the best ways to spend a glorious day with like-minded friends, exploring one of the most stunning coastlines on the planet. There is simply no way to access the sites that we had the pleasure of climbing other than by boat, and the combination of puzzle, physical exercise and sheer natural beauty makes the endeavour all consuming. One cliff we found ourselves climbing saw divers surface close-by, a surreal experience in and of itself.
Check out this video I edited, which incorporates footage from both last year’s trip and this year’s. Enjoy!
I have had a few people ask me about the exam that one has to sit in order to become registered as a veterinarian here in Dubai. As such I thought it would be a good idea to write a short piece on exactly that subject and hopefully answer many of the recurring questions that crop up.
NOTE/ DISCLAIMER: The following was correct, as far as I was aware, at the time that I experienced the exam process. Like much here in Dubai, processes are subject to change, often abrupt, and so no guarantees can be made on current accuracy or validity of the following. As ever, you are encouraged to do your own independent research and discuss your specific requirements with your employer (current or prospective) or to clarify matters directly with the relevant Ministry.
To become registered officially as a veterinarian here in Dubai, which permits you to work in a solo capacity in a clinic, the Ministry requires vets to apply for and sit the official exam. Eligibility for this is determined on the basis of having completed and satisfied all of the registration/ licensing requirements, such as demonstrating evidence of 5 years veterinary post-graduate work experience (for non UAE nationals).
The exams seem to run about once per month. There is little point, however, of applying to sit it until you are confident that you have all of the licensing requirements ticked off.
I sat mine at the Ministry that deals with veterinary licensing, which happened to be the Ministry of Environment and Water.
What does it involve?
It was about an hour in length, although it was easily possible to complete it in less time. There were essentially three sections:
1. Short questions on the relevant laws and bylaws, pertaining to the practice of veterinary in the UAE.
2. Short questions of a clinical nature, especially focusing on diseases of a zoonotic and notifiable nature. There were also some basic questions on subjects such as the TPR (temperature, pulse and respiration rates) for species such as dogs, cats, camels and cattle.
3. Long questions, of no more than a single side of A4. There were two of these in my exam, asking me to outline the signs, epidemiology, treatment and cause of certain notifiable diseases, such as TB. Having a basic overview of the various notifiables, as listed in the Ministry guidelines, is essential for passing this exam.
How hard is it?
Honestly? Not very. Assuming, of course, that you have actually bothered to do some revision and go in with the relevant knowledge, even if at a superficial level. Personally, I was not convinced that my answers were anything other than average at best when I left the exam, but I passed, so feel confident that unless you do no work in advance or have a complete meltdown in the exam, you’ll pass.
How quickly did you get your results?
I found out whether I had passed within two weeks, so very quickly.
Did you get anything after passing? A certificate?
Um, no. Just a feeling of relief that it was over and, once I had passed, that I was able to practice as a vet.
I have included a downloadable PDF here of the revision notes that I compiled and used to prepare for my exam. Again, I make no guarantees regarding this content and provide it merely as a learning aid. You are ultimately responsible for your own learning and preparation so if you don’t pass then don’t blame me 🙂
You can access it here: Dubai Ministry Vet Exam Notes