We all knew it was going to be a more challenging event to years gone by as the drive down to Abu Dhabi from Dubai saw those of us taking part in Tri Yas tackle the poor visibility and buffeting gusts that accompany a sandstorm. There were sections of the drive that were akin to driving through treacherously thick fog and I must confess that I felt a wave of relief as I pulled into the F1 track unscathed from what can, on a clear day, still be a hairy drive. Still, I had left Dubai very early with the intention of making a full day of it, and my car, packed to the rafters, was testament to that fact.
I marshalled at last year’s Tri Yas triathlon and so got to see first hand how well organised and fun an event it was, for both competitors and supporters alike. Given that Challenge Dubai is in a week’s time, and is the primary focus of this season for me, the advice from Trace was to sign up for the sprint distance event and to focus on speed, nutrition and rapid transitions, the latter being something that I have had issues with. The benefit of arriving early was that I had the pick of the parking, collected my race pack at leisure and was first to arrive at our waterside team villa, provided courtesy of fellow SuperTri athlete, JP. Having a base – I did have the option of using the TriDubai one as well, and actually rocked up on the day proudly sporting my TriDubai shirt – made a big difference, as it was somewhere to, first of all, escape the winds and dust, secondly, relax, get changed, check gear, eat before the race and generally prepare well in. Views of the swim course were perfect from our site, with a chance to really analyse the best lines on the swim and observe the pros and Olympic race starts.
In the interests of speed in transition, as was my focus for the race, I stripped my needs for each leg down significantly from the longer distance races. This meant no socks for the bike, saving a huge amount of time otherwise spent drying my feet and fumbling to put said garments on as I wobble all over the place after the swim. I also cut the nutrition down to one gel on the bike and a single bottle of electrolytes, and relied solely on the aid stations for water (primarily for cooling) on the run. I felt a difference and can certainly say that I was faster in both transitions, although T1 still needs some work and I did run past my bike initially – a rookie error that had more to do with faffing with my Suunto than having not rehearsed the transition, which I had done several times.
The sprint race, and especially our age group (30 – 40 year old males), was very popular, with the organisers actually opting to split our wave into two in order to avoid the swim being too much of a brawl. I leapt in at the earliest opportunity, determined to get a good spot at the front on the right hand side so as to take the best line round to the right and onto the first turn buoy. It seems that this was the preferred spot of most of the other guys as well and so the swim start was a little frenetic, but nothing that some determined head-down sprinting and sticking to my line couldn’t overcome. I was very glad that I’d opted not to wear a wetsuit, donning my Sailfish speed-suit instead, and felt so much more liberated in the water, which was a refreshingly cool temperature and certainly not cold. Choppy, on the other hand, is what it was, and as we turned right into the wider marina, the full force of the winds were evident, with some decent chop providing at least two swallowed salt water moments – never a pleasant experience! Coupled with a very brief stop to clear my fogged goggles, those were the only challenges faced in the swim, which felt pretty fast, and as I exited the water I was pleased to see 14 minutes displayed on my watch.
The run from the swim to transition was a relatively long one, which thankfully provided sufficient time to rectify my error in stopping my watch by pressing the wrong button. A speedy on-the-run reset and it was time to lose the swim suit et al, don the race number, sunglasses, helmet and shoes and leg it to the cycle start line with the trusty steed in tow. An initial steep downhill and sharp turn into the tunnel, followed by a reasonable up hill, meant that the gears quickly got tested, before merging with the masses on the track and the first of what was to be four laps for me, totalling 20km of cycling.
The bike leg of the race was very much one of very fast sections, with the wind sitting at our backs, and slower, tough sections when the very strong wind and accompanying dust, was blowing directly at us or, on sections, serving up a tricky cross wind that gave those cyclists sporting deep set rims and discs something to contend with. I was pleased with the cycle, feeling that my choice of lines was efficient, especially given that the “Stay Left” rule was clearly not being adhered to by the vast majority of the field. There was one fast section where I was forced to shout out to a slow cyclist who was veering to the right to get over, but otherwise there were no issues with near misses and it seemed that everyone was able to race well. Nutrition-wise things seemed to go well, with a Hi-5 gel on lap 3 being the only additional energy taken. This seemed to position me well for the run as I glided into T2 in a time of a little over 40mins, made a swift transition to the run and felt swift from the get go.
I can run. It seems to be the one part of this triathlon lark that I can do consistently well. And so it was again at Yas. The fact that it was a single lap of the track (5km for us sprinters) did make it feel easier to head off out of transition confident to push the pace from the beginning, knowing that each section of the course passed was the only time I would have to do so. Psychologically that makes a significant difference. I consciously kept my heart rate at between 183 and 186 bpm for most of the race, only pushing it to 190 in the final few hundred metres. I don’t think I could have reliably gone faster on the day, and was pleased with the pace and good technique that I sustained. The aid stations were, as at other races this season, well placed, and in spite of the overcast and windy nature of the day, it was hot, meaning the cooling effects of dousing oneself with cold water was welcome and contributed to the good pace. It was great to see some fellow triathlon friends out on the run course and as I crossed the line, accepting my medal from the stunningly beautiful Etihad flight attendant, I enjoyed instantly getting to relive the race with friends and coach alike. The other perk of having a team villa was getting to shower, with the swim being one of the saltiest I think I have yet experienced, with salt crystals present on practically every part of me that had gotten wet. A post-race swing by Yas Mall for a cheeky but well earned burger and milkshake followed by a Gold Class cinema experience was the perfect way to round off a cracking day and a generally amazing weekend.
Tri Yas is consistently reviewed as one of the most fun and inclusive triathlons here in the UAE, with first time triathletes in high number. The chance to cycle on a world-class F1 race track and take in the stunning view of the Yas Viceroy as the sun sets and the hotel comes alive with colour are both major draws. The marshaling is also first class and, yet again, they did a sterling job on the day. It was disappointing then to hear that some athletes had apparently seen fit to be rude to the marshals, all of whom are volunteers, but on the whole the majority of triathletes are decent, polite people who appreciate the fact that without such volunteers there would be no race or that the entry fees would be prohibitively high. Thank you to everyone that made Tri Yas such a success and more generally to those who make all races possible.
Final Race Time: (unofficial as the official timers on the day seem to have recorded me as a DNS – Did Not Start – which is clearly incorrect. The times here are based on what I pieced together from my Suunto)
Swim (750m) = 14’40.6
Cycle incl T1 (20km) = 42’02.7
Run incl T2 (5km) = 22’51.7
TOTAL = 79’58.3
UPDATE: They found my chip 🙂 So….. official results….
The Wadi Bih race is officially the longest running expat sporting event held in the UAE, started as it was in 1992, and sees runners take on the trails through Wadi Bih, nestled in the top right corner of the peninsula and requiring a crossover into Oman.
I had heard much of the beauty of the views afforded competitors during this race and in spite of also hearing tales of caution relating to extremely lengthy waits at the border crossing, I felt compelled to get involved myself this year. This was the first year that the event was to be staged over two days, with the addition of a few new races, including the solo 50 and 30 kilometre events. Given that the team 72 kilometre relay – the main event of the weekend – was due to be held on Saturday, I was not in a position to put a team together or join another, although finding a last minute fill-in spot would not have been difficult, and so signed up for the solo 30 race. Why did I not go longer? I have the big race of the current season coming up at the end of February – Challenge Dubai – and so as much as I wanted to take part this weekend I certainly didn’t wish to sacrifice good quality training over the next crucial few weeks on account of having broken myself at the longer distances. Plus, to be honest, I have never run further than 36km and am not very experienced at trail running. As such, I know that although I’m sure I could have completed the longer races it would not have been the experience that I would have liked. Ultimately sport has to be fun – after all, I am not a professional and do this for leisure not a living. The price paid for signing on to the shorter distance was that I did not get to fully experience and appreciate the epic views that I know longer competitors did. Oh well…. theres always next year or a separate trip altogether.
With a tent kindly loaned to me by friend and colleague Adri and her husband Emile, and a relatively lightly (by my usual ‘hopeless packer’ standards) packed car, I made the most of having Thursday off and set off for the east coast early, determined to miss the queues at the border. A pleasant journey via Masafi – one of my favourite drives so far in the UAE – with a quick stop off at Lulu for some last minute food items and a spur of the moment camp chair purchase (I soon discovered at the beach that I had in fact purchased a child-size chair!) I pressed on to collect my border papers, only spotting the direction sign by fluke and at the very last minute, before waiting no more than ten minutes whilst my papers were verified and the car searched for alcohol – none was found incidentally.
The Golden Tulip hotel, nestled at the northern end of the large Dibba bay, was our base for the weekend and I set about swiftly commandeering a prime pitch for my little tent and even smaller chair, sheltered by the beach wall, looking back at the hotel and race finish chute, and situated picturesquely beneath a classic palm tree, making the whole scene look like one straight out of Robinson Crusoe. The first significant difference between beach camping and traditional UK camping that I had formerly experienced as a Boy Scout was the fact that pegs are pretty much useless in sand! A solution, thankfully, was on hand as I spotted several large rocks close to my pitch and with the two larger ones placed inside the tent itself at opposite ends, and then the guy ropes secured with the help of two more sizeable slabs, my tent was up and the scene set.
The evening before my race was a fairly relaxed affair, as it should have been, and after a brief exploration of the hotel – it didn’t take long on account of actually being pretty small – I made friends with a group of team 50 relay runners from Doha, Qatar (the ‘Not so dashing expats’) and joined them for a couple of beers. One of them, it was soon pointed out, bore an uncannily striking resemblance to a certain President of Russia, which provided some mirth. Fellow Dubai athlete, Chops Potter, and friend Marcus Smith, who is currently preparing for the epic Marathon des Sables in April, arrived later in the evening and I joined them at their camp for a quiet nightcap before everyone retired for an early start in the morning. The solo 72’ers were all due to set off at the early hour of 0430 and I did poke my head out of the tent to see them off before catching another hour of much needed sleep. My race wasn’t due to start until 0900, although I would have much preferred to start earlier in order to miss the real heat of the day. Still, at least I wasn’t having to run 72km!
Even more members of the Dubai scene arrived, with Doris taking part in the 50km solo and Taka and Tyrone joining me on the 30km race. When they both suggested that I should be aiming for a podium place I dismissed their vociferations as fanciful niceties, especially given that I am not a seasoned trail runner and was sure that the field for our race was playing host to many very fast runners. With that in mind, and a plan to just enjoy myself, I set off finding myself leading the charge and quickly remembering to focus on keeping my heart rate at a sensible and sustainable level, especially with the fact that it was to be a long race. Within about 2km the eventual race winner, Doha-based athlete Stephen Gurr, passed and was soon very much in the distance, with a couple of other runners catching me and so it was that we stayed together for about the first 5km. The funny thing about races is that regardless of what your intentions or objectives for the event, a race is still a race and we are all naturally competitive people. As such, it wasn’t long before you could feel the pace quickening and the temptation to match the renewed speed, knowing full well that to do so may well result in problems later down the line. I therefore made a decision to stick to my plan, keeping my heart rate below 180bpm and essentially allowing the two guys with me to charge ahead. My thoughts were that they were either significantly fitter than me, in which case bravo and good race, or they were making a strategic error and I would be passing them later in the race. It seems I chose wisely as it wasn’t long before I duly passed both runners. Who’d have thunk it – plans do usually work!
There were a few hilly sections on the 30km race, which did really test the lungs, legs and technique. I personally find it much easier to go up hills by pretending that I am holding poles and using my arms in such a fashion as if I am using said fictional poles. The turnaround at 15km coincided with the second aid station and following a swift downing of some electrolytes and a dousing with cold water, I set off towards the hotel and finish, in hot pursuit of the two runners between me and a second place slot. As seems to be the story of my racing career to date, the turn towards home saw me suddenly tap into an additional energy reserve and I felt great as I locked onto my targets, quickly closing the gap and moving into third. The runner now in second had put a reasonable distance between us and the next 3km saw that gap gradually close as I quickened my pace and he slowed his. Eventually I caught him and found myself in the position of having to defend my hard fought second position – my first podium slot – which is basically where the race really started for me.
Not wishing to upset the rhythm that I had established, I chose not to look behind me until the last large hill, when I found a need to walk briefly, expecting my closest rival to pass me. He didn’t and so I glanced back to see that I had actually put a decent gap between us. That gave me the encouragement to dig in, push up the hill and focus on keeping my lead for the closing kilometres of the race, knowing full well that a race is not won until the line is crossed. This is where mental reserves were called on as by this stage the temperature had peaked and I was feeling the heat. I don’t believe I broke any records over those final kilometres, slow as they were, although the pace acutely increased as I turned onto the main road near the hotel, and the 2km left mark, to glance back and see the runner who would eventually take third rapidly catching me up. “Nooooo!” was all I could think. “I have NOT battled this far to let it slip now!” As such, I dug in and was determined to push it as hard as I could right until the end. The first problem I hit upon was the fact that the signposting back to the race start was awful, or rather non-existent, which was an issue given that I could not for the life of me recall which side-street we had emerged from. A pitiful look back to Mr Third Place with a shrugged question of “Which way?” was met, very sportingly I might add, with instructions to keep going and then directions on where to actually turn. If he was set on taking second over me at any cost then he could have stitched me right up and sent me the wrong way easily. But he didn’t. Cos he is a sportsman, and I genuinely applaud and respect him for that fact. So, the final straight entered, the hotel in sight, tantalisingly close yet still far enough to hurt. I was absolutely convinced that it would be in these final hundreds of metres that I would be passed and so I gritted my teeth and just locked on to the finish. Still in second as I reached the sand. Still in second at the start of the finish chute. “Yes!” Second place as I crossed the line and brought this race to a close. I’d done it! I had secured my first UAE podium. It felt great. Well, it actually felt like my legs were about to seize up but the feeling of achievement was wonderful.
Heeding the advice of coach, Trace, I duly hopped – or rather collapsed into – the cool waters of the hotel pool, determined to loosen the legs up, before donning the trusty compression tights and gobbling down some protein and cool drinks. The short siesta I took in my tent – complete with prime views out of the open door to the finish – was serene, and as I dozed I allowed my thoughts to wander back over the race. I’d intended to listen to music, even wearing my ear buds the whole way round. However, as it turned out I actually ran without any music, and so was able to really listen to my body, and focus on my race strategy, which I suspect helped a great deal.
My initial plan has been to pack up and head back to Dubai after the race. However, given the fact that a) I knew the traffic was going to be hellish on a Friday afternoon, and b) it was a great chance to kick back with some friends and enjoy the post-race hospitality, I opted to hang around for the rest of the day, joining in with a few well-deserved beers and making a decent dent in the race buffet on offer. After a demonstration of several Omani songs and dances from a local group we got on to the presentation and I soon found myself shaking hands with the local dignitaries and race organiser, John Young, before accepting my prize for second: a new pair of Saloman running shoes, which were exactly in my size as well. A great result from a really great day’s event. I would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a fun trail running race and I would definitely like to return to take part in the full distance, albeit as part of a relay, perhaps even taking up the option of doing it in fancy dress!
Sometimes things happen that just make you want to rush home, fire up the computer and start typing. Today saw one of those events: a visit to a chiropodist here in Dubai.
“Okay then….” I can hear you saying quizzically. The reason is that it drove home the very real value of experienced, confident healthcare and why paying for it is not something anyone should have any qualms about. I have been suffering, it seems, from a very common ailment, one that affects very large numbers of people, especially when of an active disposition: an ingrown nail. The problem, which seems to have selected my right big toe as it’s victim, started shortly before I headed to the US in 2012 to get my skydiving fix and continued to cause me grief upon my return. Repeated courses of antibiotics from the GP did nothing to alleviate the issue and it was only once I was considering the extreme option of surgery that I reached out to a chiropodist. Boom! One simple visit, a basic explanation of the problem, some accurate trimming and instant relief. Long story short, the issue had recently resurfaced and given that I have a rather big race approaching and do not wish to be crippled for it, or indeed for anything, I Googled ‘chiropodist’ in Dubai and found myself in front of the affable Jorg Stobel, of the Chiropody Center. One look, some even better explanations than before and fifteen minutes of trimming, smoothing, lacquering and general food TLC and I was as good as new. No need for drastic measures such as surgery after all. Awesome.
When presented with the bill of just over 800AED (£140 / $220) I was more than happy to cough up, which got me thinking en route back home about the value of healthcare and some of the issues we face in veterinary.
Why is it that a bill of that amount for what was essentially a fifteen minute appointment feels like good value whereas the same bill presented to one of my clients for a similar appointment would likely be cause for complaint? The answer, I believe, comes down to the simple fact that it was ME who was the direct recipient of the RELIEF that came with the treatment. I felt better, almost instantly, and so the fact that my pain and my problem was dealt with meant that I had a far greater appreciation of the real value of the services rendered. An appointment for a pet is clearly not going to have such a direct, personal effect as when you are the one receiving the medical treatment and so I would argue that the value is not communicated in quite as convincing a manner. What if a pet owner felt the effects of the fever and pain experienced by their cat with an abscess? What if that tooth with the resorptive lesion and tartar was our own, or we could experience the discomfort that our pet felt from it? Would it alter our impression of the value of the services performed by veterinarians and actually lead to the invoices presented being viewed as reasonable, if not cheap? I rather suspect they would. It would make for a fascinating study, don’t you think?
In December 2014 the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in the UK launched a consultation with it’s members, of which I am one, on the subject of whether UK-trained vets should be able to use the courtesy title ‘Doctor/ Dr.’ The main reasons, it is proposed, are that there is the risk of confusion among the public about the level of qualification of vets given that many non-UK trained vets do routinely use the ‘Dr’ title whereas we do not, and that people incorrectly assume that someone going by the title of Dr is clearly far more qualified than a professional who does not. The second reason is simply one of aligning ourselves with our fellow professionals internationally, most of whom do work with the title of Dr, as do I now that I practice in the UAE.
The issue of whether or not vets should, or should even want to, be addressed by the title of Dr raises questions of what exactly the benefits of doing so are. Does it confer any benefits to the holder? Would it be expected to change the professional standing or day to day life of UK vets if they were to suddenly be entitled to introduce themselves as “Dr So-and-so”? This is where the real interest lays in my opinion. The initial, knee-jerk response to the question is “well, of course we should! We ARE doctors!” But we’re not. We’re surgeons, which is traditionally why we never adopted the title. Look at our colleagues in the medical profession who do tread the surgical career boardwalk. They cannot wait until they qualify as surgeons and are able to shed the ‘Dr’ prefix. There seems, apparently, to be a certain degree of prestige associated with NOT being a doctor. Strange.
On the subject of whether it really makes a difference to our clients I question how much, if any, it really does. If the title were restricted to practitioners of the clinical medical sciences then fair enough, although it would still not differentiate between dentists, medical doctors and vets, or indeed any other practitioner who might make use of the prefix. The fact is that you go to physically seek out the services of one of the aforementioned, which then provides the strong clue as to what brand of ‘Dr’ you are getting – it is a context-dependent differentiation. If people are really that confused and that bothered – which I daresay they are not – then surely we should be proposing to make it really obvious that they are in fact dealing with a vet by adopting the professional title ‘Vet’ instead of ‘Dr.’ It would leave very little doubt in the mind of a client that you were in fact a qualified vet if you started your interaction with “Hi, I’m Vet Chris” as opposed to “Hi, I’m Doctor Chris.” To be honest, the fact that they were standing in my consult room in a vet clinic, probably with a sick animal in tow, might mean they get it regardless of the title used. Then, of course, there are all of the other non-medical peeps who are entitled to band about the ‘Dr’ title on account of having completed a doctorate at university. PhD in Political Science? You’re a doctor. Completed a thesis in Financial Modelling? You too are a doctor. Now that’s confusing!
Has it made any difference to me as a vet being able to introduce myself as a doctor? Personally, no. There was perhaps some initial feeling of pride at being able to do so and some clients do seem to respond to me and my colleagues with a degree of deference and respect that could be attributable to the title but my gut instinct says that these same clients would behave politely regardless of whether I was a Mr or Dr. They’re just nice, polite people who respect us for the professionals we are. I still get my fair share of difficult and downright rude and dismissive clients regardless of being known by the ‘Dr’ title. I suspect that my experience would mirror that of any UK colleagues, doctors or not.
So, are we really that bothered with the idea of being able to refer to ourselves as doctors? Sure, it’s fun in a smug, lets impress people at social gatherings, kind of way for a short period of time but it soon becomes just another unimportant thing that ultimately makes zero meaningful difference to our day to day professional lives. I would thus suggest that there are other more important things that we as a profession, and the RCVS as our governing body, could be devoting their time, effort and our money towards. For example, addressing the ongoing issues surrounding breed-related problems in dogs, or putting their weight behind campaigning for a fair milk price, or even just working more on educating the general public about what it is our profession does and it’s worth to society. Whether we call ourselves doctor or otherwise is not going to make these other issues go away. I have completed the RCVS consultation survey and made my views known. It will be interesting to hear the collective thoughts of the profession and general public in March, when the survey closes.