Race to Bahrain

What a season we are having! Hot off the back of a fantastic Dubai International Triathlon, and serving as a great run-in to the other big race of the year, Challenge Bahrain, the aptly titled Race to Bahrain triathlon took place on Friday 21st November at Mamzar Beach Park, site of so many fun events before.

I had once again signed up for the Olympic Distance, with the difference this time being that we had the option of donning a wetsuit for the swim, given the fact that we are definitely into winter now and the water verging on chilly. When given the option of wearing a wetsuit or not for a race it is generally accepted that the consensus is to do so as in theory they do result in a faster swim owing to the increased buoyancy.

SuperTri were yet again out in force, with this race seeing coach Trace and Barbara, of TriPod fame, teaming up for the Sprint Relay, ultimately taking the crown in impressive style. Several of Trace’s athletes were out racing as well, across the Sprint and Olympic distances, all having a really good day.

With an evidently smaller field this time around, the mass deep water swim start had a little more of a relaxed feel to it and I was pleased with my acceleration and sighting, lining up the first buoy and keeping a fairly straight course as I reached and turned round it. I think in hindsight that my rhythm may have suffered overall as I sighted a lot more during this race, inevitably leading to some degree of slowing in the process. Still, I imagine that what I lost in pace I probably made up in terms of reduced overall distance swum on account of not tacking on an extra couple of hundred metres of zig-zagging! With the swim ticked off in little over 30 minutes, I had an initial moment of fumbled reacquaintance with my wetsuit as I exited the water, doing my best to locate and pull down the zip cord, looking I am sure more Mr Bean than Macca in the process. Still, a relatively fast (for me) T1 ensured that I was out on the bike swiftly. Choosing to limit my fluid reserves to one front-mounted reservoir, I was carrying slightly less weight on this race, and gauged the fluid requirements well as it turned out, with a small amount of drink still present by the end of the ride, in contrast to the entire extra bottle of water I was carrying last time – a total waste of energy. Yet again, I stuck to the plan prescribed by Trace, and limited my heart race to an average of about 165 bpm for the full 40km, seeing it rise a little on the sections where we found ourselves heading straight into a headwind. As a result of the smaller field, or maybe because I am actually getting faster after all, I was aware of fewer people passing me on the bike, cruising into T2 feeling pretty good.

The run, as I have said many times before, is definitely my discipline and so it was as I flew out of T2 at a pace of 3:50, eventually settling out to an average pace of 4 minutes per kilometre. An early decision to jettison some of the water taken on during the bike at an early loo stop proved to be a sensible strategic move, with the pace picking up and feeling even more comfortable immediately afterwards. I am not sure what my 2-lap splits were but I feel confident that I posted a negative split for the run. One thing I know is that I had very little left in the tank by the end and was pleased to see the finish line looming up, digging deep to find some last minute turbo pace down the finish chute. Boom! Another race done and another handsome bit of metal in the treasure chest 🙂 A great race overall and if only I can work more on my bike times and fitness then maybe I can hope to see myself start to creep up the placings, finishing 8th as I did in my category for this particular race. Things can only get better hey?!

FINAL RACE RESULTS:
Swim 1.5km (incl T1) = 0:30’43
Cycle 40km (incl T2) = 1:13’20
Run 10km = 0:41’35

TOTAL TIME = 2:25’39

Run in the Dark (Dubai Style)

Scott and Chris_Run in the DarkWith all of the great races on offer over the sporting season here it is nice to occasionally be able to get involved in an event that has a great underlying cause attached to it and to channel all of that athletic energy into more than just chasing PBs and medals. So it was that I signed up to the Run in the Dark after learning of the event from a new friend and fellow vet here in the city, Scott, and his girlfriend, Sarah, a lawyer here in Dubai.

The run, of which there was the option to cover either 4km or 9km, was one of several being staged on the same evening (in terms of the local start time and date) around the globe, and was in aid of the Mark Pollock Trust, an organisation established by Mark himself following a slew of incredibly unfortunate and ultimately life-changing events, and whose mission is to find and connect people from around the world, and across disciplines, to fast-track a cure for paralysis.

The Dubai ‘pop up,’ as it was referred to on the website, saw about thirty of us don runners, strap on our reflective, flashing armbands and congregate outside the Marina Mall, before setting off on our respective loop of the marina, meeting back at the mall.

Chris and Caoimhe_Run in the DarkI recognised a few familiar faces from the local running and triathlon scene, whilst many more were new to me. What was clear, however, was that everyone was out to have some fun, get some decent exercise and reflect in a positive manner on what is ultimately a very worthwhile cause. Although pegged as a ‘fun run,’ the competitive runner in all of us did mean that this was never going to be a simple stroll and so the pace started off steady, gradually picking up towards the closing stages. Although I ended up running relatively up front, along with Sharjah-based teacher and exceptionally good runner, Caoimhe, there was one member of the group who either had a plane to catch or chilli down his pants because he literally flew off and was not actually seen again once the starting signal was given. Still, the fact remains that he came out for a good cause.

The marina loop is always an entertaining run, as the variation in width and activity around the edge makes for a variable experience. The end closest to Jebel Ali always affords a good chance to really stretch the legs and open up the throttle, whilst the more densely packed areas closest to the Dubai end, with the plethora of packed-out restaurants and tourists casually strolling along, call for more of a Rugby Sevens approach, nimbly dodging and weaving, whilst occasionally having to grind to an acute halt before accelerating on again. The other challenge of this section of the marina are the ever-present dangers posed from those pedal-powered go-karts that kids with F1 dreams (if not the skills) charge through the crowds in, often calling for a deft leap and dodge manoeuvre to be pulled from nowhere. Still, all told, both Caoimhe and I posted a very pleasing 9km time, sprinting home in grand style.

Zero Gravity in DubaiFollowing the run, a few of us piled into Scott and Sarah’s car, flashing armbands and all, to make the short journey over to Zero Gravity where post-run grub and a few well-deserved drinks were the order of the evening. A great setting to bring to a close a really fun night with some great people, all really maximising their time here in this great and ever-changing city of Dubai.

To learn more about the Run in the Dark, including how to sign up for 2015’s events, and to read more about the Mark Pollock Trust, head to www.runinthedark.org.

Dubai International Triathlon 2014 – Photos

A few shots from Dubai International Triathlon 2014

Dubai International Triathlon 2014

Triathlon Just Got Bigger!

Just when you think the triathlon scene here in the UAE couldn’t get any bigger, a race comes along that reminds you that it can. And it did. In impressive style.
transition, triathlon
Atlantis glimmers in the background, as transition awaits the athletes the night before DIT

The inaugural Dubai International Triathlon, the brainchild and labour of love of some very forward thinking local triathletes and RaceME, finally arrived on Friday the 7th November, starting and finishing at The Atlantis Hotel, Palm Jumeirah, about as grand a setting as one can get. Every one of us training, racing and generally immersing ourselves in the tri scene here has been eagerly awaiting this race for many months, and you could certainly feel the buzz of excitement as the final days of waiting approached. From chatter about the potential bike route to concerns about the threat from jellies, the digital lines were humming with everyone talking about just one race.

Team SuperTri at DITPersonally this race took on a greater level of importance in my calendar on account of the disappointment in Tahoe. The two halves that I had already scheduled (Dubai and Bahrain next month) have became very much my short term focus and with a nice new TT bike, some decent kit (and a non-coincidental hole in my bank account) and feeling fit and strong off the back of some great coaching I was really feeling pumped for this race. I opted to collect my race pack and rack my bike on the Thursday evening before the race, although the option to collect packs was also available on Wednesday evening, and with a very clear and actually quite comical and entertaining race brief we all went away willing the next few hours of sleep (for those of us who could actually muster any) to pass swiftly so that we could get this thing underway. A few (if that) hours of fragmented sleep later, and with my kit all packed since the day before, the only thing to do on race morning, which started at an insanely early 3.30am (unless it’s summer in which case it is late), was prepare drinks and nutrition, suit up and head off to the Palm. Not wanting to give any margin to potential stress beforehand I chose to arrive very early, which afforded plenty of time to set up transition calmly before a relaxed spot of breakfast, a leisurely coffee and time to go through all the usual pre-race rituals. Our new Super Tri suits had arrived the week before and the relatively large number of us representing the team were, in my opinion, looking slick 🙂
DIT SwimSwim
The 1.9km swim took place in the beautifully calm, sheltered waters of the Palm, just off the beach where Sandance usually takes place. With the stunning backdrop of Atlantis to one side, the Burj al Arab and Burj Khalifa off in the distance on another, and the lights of Dubai Marina in front, the scene was idyllic, with even a spit of rain and cloud cover that made for a comfortable starting temperature that persisted into the bike.
Focusing in on buoy 1 at the swim start
Focusing in on buoy 1 at the swim start

The first wave to head off from the deep water start included the pros, with a 10 second lead, and were swiftly up on the first of the buoys, one of only two left hand turns on the flattened mushroom-shaped swim course. This may have been the only thing I would have personally suggested changing as there was unfortunately insufficient distance between the start and buoy one to get good separation between athletes. As such, there was some serious congestion at turn 1, the only point where there was any kind of issue. I too found myself caught up in the pause and scramble around the buoy, quickly recovering to find my stride and ultimately have a really great, smooth, comfortable swim. Sighting still remains a bit of an area for improvement and with the back straight of the swim being a fairly long stretch, I know that I swam a deviated course and emerged from the water having covered more than the prescribed race distance. Still, all things told, a good swim and a vast improvement from where I was even a year ago.

Sprinting out of T1Cycle
A short run up the beach and around the back of the Athletes’ Village, all the while being spurred on by the amazing support, which was electric and enthusiastic from the very start, took us from the gently sloping beach exit of the swim to transition, where I quickly found my bike but then spent a little longer than I’d liked to have (always the case) getting kitted up for the ride. Considering the bike was to be 90km I decided that I wished to be comfortable, especially as there was a half marathon to run afterwards. Rinsing off and drying my feet before donning my shoes was therefore something that I chose to do properly as I figure one surefire way to ruin a perfectly good run is to develop a blister. Some may mark me out as being a bit of a wimp for stating such a thing but my retort would be that I had a comfortable ride and a storming run. So there.
After turning left onto the Crescent and quickly followed by having to re-educate someone on the “Stay Left; Pass Right” rule that we’d learn’t only a few hours before and that was signposted at very regular intervals in very BIG lettering, the cycle route took us down into the Palm tunnel, where picking up some great speed was somewhat tempered by the numerous rumble strips and significant risk of bottle and fluid loss. I think I probably involuntarily jettisoned about a third of my drink reservoir contents during this opening stage of the race, whilst then choosing to try and bunny hop the rest of the speed bumps down the trunk. The road leading out of Atlantis and the Palm did resemble a water bottle graveyard, with scores of bottles of various shapes, sizes and expense levels littered all over the road. We had, to be fair, been warned multiple times by the race organisers to secure our drinks yet for many this clearly went unheeded.
Bike course_DIT_IronVetOnce off the Palm, a short stretch along Beach Road took us onto the start of Hessa Street and the first of the aid stations, which were perfectly organised, well stocked and expertly administered. With stations spread out sensibly, our options as we cycled past were, in this order (as far as I can recall): water, Aqualyte (electrolytes), Mule bars (energy), Gu (also energy), and then water again. A loo at the very end was also provided, and I must confess that I availed myself of its services at the start of loop 3 and was glad to have done so. The route then took us all the way up Hessa Street, with a little climbing to do at points, before a fast whip round the Motor City roundabout to start the return, taking a short detour into South Barsha before turning back to Hessa Street to continue back to Dubai College for a total of three complete laps.
IronVet bikeFriday was a pretty windy day and so we were graced with a lovely degree of assistance from Mother Nature on the outward leg only to repay this gesture by cycling straight into the wind from Motor City onwards. There was a noticeable strengthening of the gusts as each loop was ticked off, such that by the third it felt as though we were at very real risk of stopping immediately should we have stopped peddling. As I am sure most people find with longer races, the first out and back was spent getting into a good comfortable rhythm and settling onto the bike after the efforts of the swim; the second just good solid fun as we find ourselves in full flow; and the third and final just a tad on the “OK, I’m sort of over this now” level as legs start to groan a little. I personally could feel my lower back starting to tense up a bit by the time I reached the tunnel leading back towards the Palm, more due a twinge I had developed swimming a couple of days before than the fit of the bike, which was spot on (thanks Barbara Ihrig, TRIPod), and so was keen to see the cycle leg close and get the run underway.
After attempting to set the Palm Tunnel speed camera off – what an AWESOME photo that would be! – there was one final climb of the day before turning back onto the crescent and into T2.
Having fun on the run
Having fun on the run

Run…. And Sweet Victory!

By the time I arrived back at T2 the sun was high in the sky and the heat very noticeable. As expected earlier in the week, the run was going to be a hot affair and so it proved. The two lap loop, each one 11km, took us out of the Atlantis car park, right onto the crescent and out along to the end where the Rixos hotel is situated, before heading back to turn just before the main Atlantis Hotel roundabout and back towards the car park to either do the second loop or turn into the finishing chute. My initial lap was slow, as in almost painfully so, and I definitely walked at the aid stations, which were thankfully spread apart at ideal distances to take full advantage of the ice sponges on hand and which I pretty much kept under the shoulder straps of my tri top for the entire race, refreshing them at each station whilst also slurping down flat coke on more than one occasion. I also started grabbing handfuls of ice from the sponge buckets to suck on as I ran, although called time on the practice near the second turnaround once I saw how filthy the water was becoming in the buckets on account of the sponges being collected off the road and then naturally put back in the bucket. Still, ignorance was bliss and I didn’t end up ill. In fact, thanks to ice sucking and sponges used as shoulder pads, I kept my heart rate sufficiently low to permit a really decent pace on the second lap. If my first lap was slow then my second was lightning, as I literally turned the corner onto lap two and felt something within just roar and energy suddenly surge to my legs. I am not certain of my pace for the second lap as I kept my Suunto on the HR screen, keeping my rate at no more than 165 beats per minute (bpm) for lap 1 and then between 170 and 180 bpm for lap two, permitting it to go to max as I ended the run and basically sprinted. What I am certain of is that I felt awesome on the second loop – it would appear that I have become a slow burner: start sluggish but then finish on fire. One of the most satisfying bits of the second lap was when I ran past some guy who simply uttered, “Shit!” as I stormed by. That was sweet and always makes up for the feeling of slight inadequacy that comes on the bike as people pass me, although I am getting less bothered by this as I know I have a plan and that if I stick to it then I will invariably catch and pass them on the run. Why oh why the energy surge can’t come earlier is a mystery as it would be great to tap into it for the bike, but there you go. My body does what my body does!
Finishing is ALWAYS awesome
Finishing is ALWAYS awesome

A looped course does offer the opportunity to see various friends out on the run, although being across a road, it was difficult to be able to engage too closely with runners heading in the opposite direction. There were a few people I was looking out for but didn’t see, although plenty I did. Stand out examples included Hasan Itani, a real figurehead of triathlon in Dubai, who was looking so strong on the run; Lynette Warne, of Skydive Dubai, always an impressive athlete and once again on the podium; Merle Talviste, who stormed in to win her age group in an awesome time. So many examples of impressive athletes to be inspired by that it is almost inevitable that one improves as a triathlete by simply being in the same airspace as them! Other memorable racers include the guy who I saw running very impressively whilst wearing a cycle helmet. I had initially thought that he might have simply forgotten to remove it in T2 and was just so in the zone that he wasn’t fussed, but later learned that he had apparently had recent brain surgery so was wearing the helmet for essential protection – hardcore indeed! There was also Nick Watson and his son Rio (Team Angel Wolf), who looked to be having as much fun on the day as his dad – a lovely story and, again, an inspiration to us all. Within Super Tri we had heroes, with Rafat Shobaki and Edna Coetser both completing their first ever half iron distance races and doing so in impressive style, being relatively new converts to the great sport of triathlon.

It was fantastic to see so many teams and groups represented in the various suits being worn, from Tri Dubai, a force in the sport here in Dubai, Super Tri, coached by the incredible Trace Rogers, and many others, including Skydive Dubai, whose kit I would love to get my hands on! It was a day of digging deep, overcoming challenges, smashing targets and having fun with friends. Triathlon condensed down to it’s purest ethos.

Rafat and I celebrate with our medals
Rafat and I celebrate with our medals

Given that this was the first event of it’s kind staged in Dubai, and the first organised by the company behind it, RaceME, they would certainly have been forgiven for some slip ups. However, the race was, in my humble opinion, planned, organised and executed to absolute perfection. No stone seemed to be left uncovered, from clear pre-race instructions, to humorous but unambiguous and unmissable signposting, to well located, stocked and managed aid stations, to the medal (OMG, the medal! HUGE is the only way to describe it. I love it!). I sincerely hope the organising team gave themselves a massive collective pat on the back because they deserve it and I for one eagerly look forward to their next event.

It seems now is a particularly great time to be a triathlete in this region and with Challenge Dubai announced the day before (mind you, rather odd timing I must say) and Challenge Bahrain fast approaching, and which I look forward to racing as well, the scene is set for some really classic races and great experiences. Ultimately, however, kudos needs to go to Dubai International Triathlon for lighting the fuse on this exciting movement.

FINAL RACE RESULTS:

Swim 1.9km (incl T1) = 0:38’28

Cycle 90km (incl T2) = 2:56’12

Run 21km = 1:45’01

TOTAL TIME = 5:19’43

What do a Wookie, Rubix Cube & Toy Story Soldier have in common?

Halloween Party 2014 Review

 

Halloween PumpkinsAn Idea is Born

What do a Wookie, a Rubix Cube, clowns and Toy Story soldiers all have in common? The answer is that they were all in attendance at this year’s epic Halloween party, hosted by the incredibly cute Count Chompula, but organised by his two housemates. The idea for the party came off the back of the intention to host a housewarming once it was decided that I would be moving in to villa 20, an idea that had to be put on temporary hold whilst each of us either traveled or hosted guests. So when the idea was refloated and it was realised that Halloween was fast approaching, the decision was an easy one: the housewarming would double as a Halloween Party. With date set, theme decided and the fact that Halloween conveniently fell this year on a Friday, preparations started in earnest, with a Facebook event established, invites fired out and diaries urged to be circled by all.

Planning & Prep

I love a project and with so much to consider in planning an epic party I knew this was going to a lot of fun, as indeed it turned out to be. The main issues to consider were the obvious ones, such as food, drink, decorations and music. However, with no intention of doing anything too simple, other additional categories were soon added to my dedicated Evernote page, including ‘Entertainment/ Games,’ of which I soon discovered there were many fun options.

The beauty of a Halloween party is that pretty much anything goes – the only limitation is imagination and, of course, budget, which is a shame because if the latter were not a consideration then I suspect we could have gone even bigger than we did.

Halloween foodFood was an easy decision, with a BBQ being the obvious choice. Consulting with the bona fide Braii King, Emile, suggestions were made for what meat to order and from where, and once ordered from the excellent Springbok Butchery in Abu Dhabi, Emile and Adri duly went above and beyond helpful by offering to collect everything as they were due to be in the capitol on Friday anyway. With Adri and her sister, Alae, visiting from South Africa, on incredible salad and mouthwatering bread duty, and Emile tending to the BBQ like the true master that he is, the catering was faultless and I am eternally grateful to the Dream Team for making sure we were all fed like the Ghoulish Kings and Queens that we were on the night. Lesson learned: always defer to an expert in matters of recognised inexperience. I know little about putting on an amazing BBQ but I know a couple who does.

DrinksDrinks were similarly straightforward, the big decision simply being how much and what selection to purchase. A Thursday evening dash to Baracuda’s, which must have been looking decidedly bare by the time Michaela and Jim left, put our drinks offerings at perfect, with the additional safety of requesting that guests “Bring a Bottle,” a standard party rule, ensuring that glasses would not go empty come party night. The matter of how to chill and keep said beverages cool was solved by the creative purchase and use of a rubber dinghy, into which various cool boxes and buckets were loaded, ice being packed in to start the chilling a few hours before party kick-off. Discovering the existence of the Modern Ice Factory in Al Quoz was a true revelation, with the fact that they are not only open 24/7 but also charge prices for ice that are a fraction of those asked for by the main supermarkets, being an added bonus. The process was also super easy: drive up, tell them how much ice you want, pay them relatively little money for what ends up being a relatively large amount of ice, and off you go. Job done! Remembering to place out glasses (plastic for added safety and cleanup ease), straws, sliced lemon and lime, a bin into which caps and empties could wind up and, of course, a bottle opener or two are also oft-overlooked essentials for keeping the ‘bar’ operating smoothly. Lesson learned: order more ice. Always order more than you initially think you’ll need!

Decoration & EntertainmentEntertainment and decoration was where I had the most fun and where there was certainly some creative bleed into one another. We are very fortunate to have a really cool villa that has a front veranda, with seating looking out over a front garden, complete with amazing looking foliage, a lovely front gate and relatively high wicker trellising above the wall, offering privacy without feeling hemmed in. As such, the bulk of our decorating efforts were focused on this outdoors space, where we figured most of the party action would be centred owing to Dubai’s enviably amazing climate at this blessed time of the year.

Oil lanterns & curtains framed the entrance to Halloween
Oil lanterns & curtains framed the entrance to Halloween

Oil lanterns were lashed up either side of the gates and a royal red set of curtains set across said gate, offering an incredibly dramatic portal from the outside world into our rarified land of Halloween fun. A similar set of thick, deep red curtains were hoisted into place between the two large palm trees that sit either side of the driveway, thus separating the somewhat boring driveway area from the thriving buzz of the garden and served as the best place to stage one of my favourite ideas of the night: a video projection.

Spooky film projections serving as a fun visual decoration
Spooky film projections serving as a fun visual decoration

I had thought early in the brainstorming about how cool it would be to have classic Halloween movies projected somewhere as a visual backdrop, with a separate music playlist serving as the usual soundtrack to the party proper. After seeing the same idea mentioned on a website I knew I was onto something and so became determined to have such a feature at the the party. There were things that needed to happen: first of all, I needed a projector and a screen, both of which I actually ended up buying myself after failed attempts to source them from other channels. I love movies and so knew I would use both again, even imagining how fun it would be to make use of the system over the winter by hosting outside movie screenings for friends and possibly even a fundraiser for my IronVet challenge. As such, it wasn’t too big a deal to sink the investment in a top of the range projector system. The second aspect of the plan was to source some suitable movies. This is where having incredibly resourceful and generous friends comes into play, as between Beth, Rob, Paul and Heidi, enough incredible films were acquired to keep the projector buzzing for days! In the end the most appropriate and visually effective films to screen were the animated ones, such as The Corpse Bride, as they acted as fantastic visuals for the party, without being too gory or macabre for party goers, including the one young child who was present (son of our neighbours Oliver and Elodie). The wind had threatened to put the projection plans in danger on party night itself as they were strong enough to prevent use of the standalone screen, meaning that I had to resort to the idea of projecting onto a white sheet pinned to the red curtains. As a simple initial test before placing the sheet up I trailed the projector using just the curtains and was instantly struck by how incredibly effective the result was. The image was clear and with the red backdrop acquired a really cool, Halloween appropriate hue to it, whilst also just taking some of the brightness out of the image, preventing it from potentially being too distracting to party goers. The fact that the curtains were, on numerous occasions, buffeted and billowed by the wind blowing from behind them, thus causing the projected images to distort, simply added to the spooky effect. In effect, what initially looked to be an annoying problem (the wind) actually led to the outcome being even better than initially planned.

On the entertainment front, I had also researched fun options for party games, as everyone loves a good party game! The plethora of themed games meant that some whittling down of options was required and in the end I decided that having three that guests could get involved in would be fun:

Pop goes the PumpkinPop the Pumpkin, whereby guests pop orange balloons arranged in the shape of a giant pumpkin and full of sweets and confetti.

Donuts on a StringDonuts on a String, which involves stringing up a whole load of sugar donuts for guests to race each other at eating without using their hands.

Apple BobbingApple Bobbing, an absolute classic.

Spooky ArtThe other activity that I figured could be fun was to have a ‘Spooky Art’ station, with a large doodling pad or blank canvas and coloured pens so that party goers could discover their inner artists. As it turned out, in spite of having all the required supplies for the games, time ran away with us and there just wasn’t enough of it to allow the games to be set up. A shame, as I think they would have been really fun and made for some really classic photo moments, but ultimately there was already a lot going on and perhaps the addition of games would have taken things a little overboard. Lesson learned: plan but don’t get too fixated on an idea. If it doesn’t pan out then the world still moves on. Also, occasionally what can initially look to be bad fortune often turns out to be the opposite.

MusicMusic is one of the bedrocks of a great party and getting it right is important. Now I am no DJ and I had thought about asking one or two of our guests to bring their iPods with playlists compiled. However, I figured that this should remain a back-up as opposed to the firm plan, so I consulted some online playlist suggestions, looked through my own collection for both Halloween-themed (even if loosely) tracks, as well as just simple crowd pleasers, and between a few iTunes purchases of very niche tracks, such as The Monster Mash, which I must say I didn’t previously own, and my own tracks, a playlist of over 140 tracks quickly came into being. In other words: plenty of music! Although I had initially been a little anxious about whether our ‘sound system’ would be big enough, comprising just two small speakers and sub-woofer, it quickly became apparent via a simple plug-and-play test that it could easily kick out some serious decibels, sufficient to keep the party well soundtracked. Inevitably, at a later stage in the evening someone changed the music anyway and I think we ended up seeing the night out to some German techno(?!), which definitely saw the smoke machine and strobe light in their element!

Halloween photo frameA last minute addition to the party entertainment mix, and something that was simply born out of having a spare sheet of card handy was to make a large ‘photo frame’ that people could hold for pictures. I remember seeing something similar at festivals before and really liked the quirkiness of what is ultimately just a very simple idea.

Cobwebs, glowsticks, fake graves, a strobe, hanging skeletons and spookily illuminated shrouds made for an eerily beautiful garden setting, and with a similar theme extended into the house itself, the setting was perfect for what was ultimately a magical night. As mentioned before, the beauty of Halloween is that anything goes and so coupling fake cobwebs over plants with glowsticks hanging from branches, to give off an eery glow, didn’t look wrong. Creating cheeky little themed signs for the bathrooms helped to signpost the amenities whilst keeping everything themed, and a genius move by Michaela to purchase a Psycho-inspired shower curtain for my bathroom, coupled with ghoulish toilet decorations and bloody handprints over the walls, made sure that even a usually mundane trip to the loo was sure to be anything but. If we’d not run out of decorating time then there would also have been a whole army of glowing ghosts dotted around the garden and house, with the plan being to make them by sticking glowsticks in white inflated balloons, attaching them to poles, use white bin bags as the ‘cover’ and stick black eyes on them. I reckon they would have looked awesome, especially as the breeze on party night would have helped move the ghosts in a really eerie manner. Lesson learned: let your imagination go wild when it comes to decorations. Halloween is a time for ‘anything goes.’

Halloween decorationsNo Halloween party is complete without Jack-O-Lanterns and we ended up with a large number of incredibly varied examples, which really topped off the aesthetics perfectly. I personally sourced a few pumpkins from the better-than-fairly-priced Dubai Fruit and Vegetable Market, and invited friends to take charge of carving them, bringing them along to the party. The result was impressive as not only did it free me up to focus on the huge number of other party related tasks at hand, but also added an excitement at seeing just how talented and creative everyone could be. We had cute to grizzly, small to huge, all in perfect line with Halloween itself. Lesson learned: involve other people in creating a great party atmosphere and believe in the creative potential of others.

The smallest remote control for the biggest fun: smoke machine!
The smallest remote control for the biggest fun: smoke machine!

The second big idea, or rather ideas, I had for atmosphere and, I guess decoration of sorts, was to have a smoke machine. After Jim had said that he might have one at home I instantly imagined a party with one. So when it transpired that unfortunately he did not in fact have a machine I set out to solve the problem. After all, the party now HAD to have a smoke machine. Renting one seemed to be the most logical and, based on Google searches of options in Dubai, the only way of getting hold of a machine. The one company that seemed to have one quoted me a very steep price and after researching the retail cost of small machines – sufficient for a party of our size – came to the conclusion that paying someone that much money just to rent was out of the question. I did find one option on Dubizzle, our local classifieds, and agreed to contact the vendor the following morning to go and view and hopefully purchase the brand new machine he had advertised. After not being able to then contact him the next day I wracked my brain for solutions, asking in the big party store in town, where I was informed that they were not available in spite of several people asking after them. Determined not to give up – this is Dubai after all, where surely something as simple as a smoke machine must be possible to source – I asked in a music store, more out of a frustrated stab at some lateral thinking than really expecting a result. Lo and behold though they had the answer. I needed to head up to Deira (of course!) and specifically to the various music stores around Fish Roundabout, as they stocked such items. The fact that these mythical stores had no websites and thus way of contacting them before making the blind trek over simply meant that a leap of faith had to be made and so I hopped on the metro up to Deira. The very first store I walked into, a tiny little single room with speakers, the odd mixer and theatre lights on show, said that they did indeed have not just one machine but three. A choice?! Wow! I ended up going for a 1500W machine and a bottle of ‘fake smoke,’ all for the incredibly reasonable price of 345 AED, with a discount negotiated off the back of offering to distribute some of the vendor’s cards to a couple of the party stores who said that apparently there were no smoke machines available. So there we had it. A smoke machine was now to be a feature and another lesson learned: never underestimate the true power of simply asking questions and listening. It is often the most unexpected sources that provide the most helpful answers. Having the machine set up indoors did add a fun twist to the party and making use of the Dr Evil from Austin Powers style mini remote control provided real fun as we were able to fire off jets of smoke at comically opportune moments, of which there were many.

Dry ice is an awesome addition to Halloween
Dry ice is an awesome addition to Halloween

On the subject of smoke, another very Halloween appropriate effect is to make use of dry ice, which is what theatres and nightclubs use to create that amazing fog that gives an incredibly ethereal atmosphere. This was one of the more out there ideas on the party wish list but as mentioned before, I do love a challenge and so how to actually acquire said dry ice and what to do with it made for a fun mini project. Dry ice is actually frozen carbon dioxide gas, and in it’s solid form is extremely cold, at about -78 degrees Celcius. As such, it very rapidly sublimes, which means turns from a solid to a gas, at about -56 degrees Celcius, which is what we see as the flowing gas cloud that rolls over container edges and along the floor – a very cool (no pun intended) spooky effect. Being so extremely cold, it can be dangerous to handle safely and store, touching it with bare skin being a very bad idea and lasts for very little time meaning that the delay between sourcing and using needs to be kept short. After consulting with one of our nurses, whose other half manages nightclubs in Dubai, it turned out that he could sell me a small amount of the dry ice that one of the clubs had ordered for their own Halloween night, and so for the princely sum of just 100AED I swung by their house after cycling on Friday morning, took delivery of a small ice pack containing the much anticipated pellets of dry ice and drove back home mindful of keeping the car window open to prevent the CO2 levels in the car building up too quickly, something that apparently can happen and has made people feel feint or pass out according to online reports. Once home I quickly transferred the pack to another insulating pack before placing it in the freezer, although keeping it cold enough to prevent sublimation with anything other than an industrial freezer was fanciful. Still, it did last until the evening and after some initial testing, the time to roll out the fog came when it was proposed that we could serve up shots, using my surfboard as a serving tray and placing the bottle in a bucket complete with the dry ice (thus effectively chilling it as well). Hot water was duly added and instant awesomeness was the result! Billowing thick fog streamed over the bucket edges and achieved that amazing Halloween effect that we have all seen on TV. The 5kg that I had did not last very long and so it would be cool to acquire a larger quantity next time and think of really creative ways to exploit what is an amazing visual effect. Lesson learned: just because something seems like it shouldn’t be attainable or is too complex, it is probably not. Look into it, ask questions and who knows, you may be surprised by the end result.

Halloween 2014The Buildup

The day of the party came around so quickly but in spite of having to still decorate the place, it was thought that the whole of Friday would be more than enough time. How wrong an assumption that was! I personally started the day super early with the usual Friday morning bike ride, with no option to bail last minute on account of being the one to have actually called this week’s ride. After hopping off the bike, and the compulsory post-ride coffee stop, I was helped out by my friend and fellow Wacky Racer, James, who kindly lent me the use of some tools to knock up a protective box for the projector and to cut out some realistic looking shark bite marks from my mini-surfboard, part of my own costume. Once that was done, it was time to dash round to Beth’s to collect some of the movies to screen, before picking up the dry ice from Aurianne, and finally home to start the preparation. The plan had been to work with Michaela to get the place looking awesome, pick up any last minute items, such as ice and snacks, before kicking back for a couple of hours, grabbing some Z’s and then costuming up at leisure with a couple of drinks before welcoming the first of the guests at 8pm.

Halloween 2014What actually happened was that time literally flew away, and the final touches were still being put in place as the first guests arrived. It was at this point that it became clear the plans for the games were going to have to be put on ice for this year, and with the very last essential touches in place, I handed over hosting duties to Michaela, who had changed into her amazing costume, whilst I disappeared to get bloodied up as a shark bite victim. Costume on, shit-tip of a bedroom sealed off (I placed little ‘Chompy’s Private Quarters’ signs on both Michaela and my rooms, as it was just nice to know that these spaces could be kept private, more so for if we had to provide Chompy with a hiding place to escape from his adoring fans). As much as it would have been nice to show friends my room, as this would have been the first time they had seen my new place, the sheer mad cap craziness of the previous week had manifested itself in utter disarray, meaning that my room resembled something akin to a junk store that had just been hit by a tornado. No one needed to see that!

PARTY!

P. A. R. T. Why? Cos I gotta! Words uttered by the genius Jim Carrey in The Mask and with those words ringing in my head as I donned my own mask of sorts, it was time to enjoy what we had been building up to for the best part of the last two weeks.

Halloween 2014The steady stream of guests arriving through the dramatically framed and draping curtains, complete with flaming lanterns, quickly turned from an initial trickle to a steady flow, with amazing costume after amazing costume soon filling our front garden, and the sound of excited chatter and glasses clinking providing the ultimate soundtrack to the night.

Halloween 2014Coupled with the amazing smell of expertly cooked food emanating from the BBQ, the drinks flowed, the chat was easy and the whole evening went perfectly. So much so that before anyone even realised, it was that time when things naturally start to wind down, guests filter away into the night and the last of the party faithful squeeze the final value out of what was generally agreed to have been a top night. Count Chompula himself even made a brief appearance, although sans costume, as he had been a little freaked out by the number of attendees such that he spent most of the night hiding away. Still, he came out of his shell later and rather enjoyed doing some last minute hoovering up of tasty morsels of BBQ goodness that were laying around for easy picking. I’m sure if he could have spoken and had apposable thumbs he’d have decreed the night a success and given it a resounding thumbs up.

The garden remains spooky
The garden remains spooky

The Aftermath

Needless to say there was a reasonable amount of clean-up, with my bathroom still host to bloody hand prints at the time of writing. The fact that I had to work the following day, including getting my shift wrong and turning up way too early, did mean that I dodged the bulk of the clearing up. The fun thing was that the spider webs and curtains stayed in place for the best part of the following week and even now we still have a lovely pair of Royal Red curtains framing the entrance from the driveway to the front garden. Clearing up after a party is, on balance, not really such an onerous task as it mostly involves binning stuff or cramming things into fridges or cupboards. Super easy. What I certainly would give greater amounts of time for next time is the initial set-up, as that took way longer than anticipated!

What’s Next?

Good question. Watch this space 🙂

Chompy's Halloween 2014

Mamzar Olympic Triathlon – October 2014

Following the plan set out by Super Tri's Trace Rogers paid off
Following the plan set out by Super Tri’s Trace Rogers paid off

With an entry thankfully secured for the Olympic Distance race and a brand new TT bike to really test out, I loaded up the car early on Friday morning, having enjoyed a few beers with a new friend the evening before and less than the desired amount of sleep (as always before a race), and made my way to Mamzar Beach. The last time I raced at Mamzar was earlier in the year when I still had my nice shiny new 4WD, which was then totalled by an idiot driver jumping a red en-route back towards home and thoughts of a well earned breakfast. It was with some sense of exorcising those demons that I returned this time, albeit via a slightly different route, avoiding the main highway and, the logic dictated, the speedier idiots.

Its amazing how much kit is actually needed for a tri
Its amazing how much kit is actually needed for a tri

Mamzar now feels familiar, having raced there twice before, although each race still carries new challenges and requires the utmost level of planning and focus as ever. The usual pre-race routine of setting up transition, mentally rehearsing both T1 and T2, and running through the race plan was adhered to. The differences this time were that a) I was feeling much stronger, off the back of an entire year of Ironman training, and also had my very own TT bike, and thus felt very much more like a “real” triathlete, not that having a TT bike really makes any significant difference. Racking up yet again next to Christian Henn, a powerhouse of triathlon and an athlete whom I admire greatly and can only aspire to match in terms of both training and racing success, conjured up feelings of deja vu, as I’m pretty sure we were racked next to each other last time as well. I guess we both like to sign up to races at similar times! Not that our race times were ever going to be the same. As expected, Christian stormed through the race, finishing, as I understand it, in a hugely impressive time of a smidge over 2 hours versus by 2hrs 25mins. Unstoppable! Anyway, I digress.

My new steed had a good first race
My new steed had a good first race

With the new mean machine (Focus Chrono) settled in ready for the bike portion, and my new Sailfish Speedsuit donned in anticipation of the non-wetsuit swim, with the aim very much being to NOT go anywhere near the sharp rope and cut said pricey new addition to my sporting wardrobe, it was time to get in the zone, limber up and make my way down to the shoreline ready for the swim start. One of the great things about the triathlon scene here in Dubai is the real sense of community that there is, and it is always fun catching up with friends as we all wait anxiously but excitedly, counting down the minutes until we get to enter the water, swim out beyond the rope and tread water before the deep water swim start. I have a pretty good acceleration in the water and so intentionally positioned myself as near the front of the pack as I could, choosing, however, to stay to the right of the main huddle, meaning that I would have a slightly longer swim line to the first buoy but, I reasoned, it should be less crowded and thus a smoother and faster swim.

With the starting horn sounded, a mass of arms, legs and spray erupted as we powered our way through the water towards the first turn, occasionally catching our breath as we spotted the odd large jellyfish bobbing just below the surface, reminding us that we were very much in their marine domain. I had a pretty good swim all told, even though I a) still have some work to do on sighting, swimming a slightly more zig-zag course than would have been ideal, and b) had the distinct sensation of the water being almost effervescent, feeling a tingling sensation which I put down to possible small stings from possibly macerated jellyfish parts that may have been floating about in the water. I later learned that the source of the strange sensation was in fact small jellyfish larvae, which get trapped between our tri suits and skin, administering continuous tiny stings, giving what I experienced as a tingling sensation. Apparently Mamzar is a big breeding ground for jellyfish, and so everyone experienced the same strange sensation, which we all initially put down to sea lice.

With the two lap swim complete, followed by a reasonably rapid T1, it was out on the bike for the five laps, my aim being to follow the plan advised by Trace, my coach, of racing at 95% of my functional power threshold for the bike leg. Not having my power meter attached to my new bike did mean that I had to rely on heart rate as my guide to power, and so my intention was to maintain it at about 163 beats per minute. That did end up feeling painfully slow, with loads of people ending up sailing past me over the course of the 40km. Still, as tempting as it was to put pedal to the metal and race them all, I knew that the thing to do was trust the plan and stick with it.

Feeling good on the 10km run
Feeling good on the 10km run

As it transpired, that was exactly the right thing to do as I entered T2, donned my running shoes and immediately felt strong as I started the 10km run. From the minute I left transition I hit a steady pace of 4:15 and maintained it as my average pace for the duration of the two lap run, relishing the sensation of picking off fellow runner after fellow runner, all of whom had passed me at one point or another on the bike. In fact, I think that the net result over the 10km was that I was not actually overtaken and sill managed to finish pretty strong. Not that there was anything left in the tank mind you, as I slowed to savour the finish, something that I have recently started to do after previously tearing through the finish as if my pants were on fire and missing out on the very real sense of elation that comes from crossing that line. It also means that the photographers actually get a better chance to snap a half decent shot of you over the line, as opposed to some out-of-focus, blurry mess of a grimmacing idiot that I used to see as my usual finish line photo.

Savouring the finish line
Savouring the finish line

With the much appreciated post-race chocolate milk provided by the generous SuperTri crew procured and hastily imbibed, it was time to shoot the post-race breeze with my fellow UAE triathletes before collecting up the new steed, finding a quiet spot on the beach to shower and ‘re-humanise’ before returning home for a well-earned breakfast and rest. Another great race in an altogether incredible city for triathlon. Bring on the Dubai International Triathlon!

FINAL RACE RESULTS:

Swim 1.5km (incl T1) = 0:29’55

Cycle 40km (incl T2) = 1:12’54

Run 10km = 0:43’07

TOTAL = 2:25’57