Tag Archives: Abu Dhabi

The Hairdryer Tri

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.
Tri Yas 2015, MarinaI 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.
Bike transition, Tri YasIn 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.
Swim
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.
Cycle
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.
Tri Yas, transitionThe 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.
Run
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….
Swim (750m) = 14’23.0
T1 = 2″59.0
Cycle (20km) = 38″50.0
T2 = 1″50.0
Run (5km) = 22’04.0
TOTAL = 1:20″05
Sprint 31-40
Category Rank: 9 of 230
Your Gender: 8 of 154
Your Age: 3 of 32
Your Nationality: 5 of 93

An International Triathlon Affair

Wow! What an incredible weekend I just had. A veritable feast of triathlon that was so jam packed that if I were to actually eat it then it would set my training back by at least a year!

The Abu Dhabi International Triathlon has been my main A-race of the season this year, in preparation for the biggie that is my first ever Ironman race in California this September. The decision to enter this race had been made last year after hearing such wonderful things about the event, with the decision made to sign up for the short (most misleading race description ever, incidentally) race being made on account of the fact that I am a) not mental (no offence to those super athletes who did sign up for the long) and b) the long would have been a significant step up in distance from what I have raced to date, a challenge that I very much doubted I would be ready for by the time of the event.

As part of my preparations for the Ironman I have enlisted the help of a coach (Trace Rogers of SuperTri) and have been getting stuck in since the beginning of the year. As such I approached race weekend feeling confident, strong and excited at what lay ahead. In fact I can honestly say that I did not feel any nerves in the lead up to the race, which is quite unusual as I normally would. I guess that is the benefit of focused training and meticulous preparation, including getting all my gear organised in good time and a full pre-race service on my bike.

On the advice of friends who had done Abu Dhabi in previous years I booked a hotel close to the start months in advance and took time off work such that I was able to head down on Thursday, register before the rush on Friday, attend the elite athletes signing session, and then kick back and relax after the race, affording me the chance to join friends at Yas Waterworld the day after.

The weather in the lead up to race day was anything but optimal and concerns about high winds and possibly the threat of rain were certainly felt right up until race morning when it seemed as though prayers had been heard and heeded, with clear, still skies, and an almost millpond-like sea for the swim. In other words: perfect!

Elite-rich

Ali & Jonny Brownlee, plus me. In the presence of champions.
Ali & Jonny Brownlee, plus me. In the presence of champions.

One of the exciting features of the Abu Dhabi Triathlon is the fact that it attracts a field of high profile elite athletes, with the beauty of triathlon being that we get to race alongside, meet, greet and enjoy the event with our sporting heroes. As a Brit the chance to even see, let alone meet, the Olympic Gold medalist, Alistair Brownlee, and his brother, Bronze medalist, Jonny, was incredible. Surreal but awesome nonetheless. But it was even better than that! There were legends of our sport at every turn and by the end of the weekend it felt like a completely normal thing to just, you know, hang out with people like Jodie Swallow, James Cunnama, and other tri big-wigs. One of the first things I did upon arriving at registration was purchase two official race shirts: one to wear and one to ask pros to sign; quite a cool keepsake from the event. One of the pleasures of conversing with the elite athletes is that you quickly realise that they too have to deal with many of the same challenges and set-backs that us age-groupers do, a realisation that can only ever help to allay any last minute nerves that might be hanging around. The buzz associated from their presence at the event also just added a real sense of electricity to the entire weekend and heightened the excitement felt by all.

Laurence Fannous, Jodie Swallow, James Cunnama & me at Abu Dhabi.
Laurence Fannous, Jodie Swallow, James Cunnama & me at Abu Dhabi.

Things got even more surreal when, on Sunday, some friends and I found ourselves at Yas Waterworld literally racing our heroes down many of the park’s slides! I even had a comical moment when on the lazy river, I swam to join some fiends, went to jump into an unattended ring only to see that there was someone submerged inside it. “Oops! There’s a small child in this one,” was my call to friends, before up popped said ‘child’ only for it to transpire that it was in fact Alistair Brownlee himself. Oops indeed!

Race Day

With bikes racked the day before and kit all safely stowed away in the official transition bags and placed in the changing tent, there was little left to do on race morning other than get some breakfast on board, apply the race number tattoos and start to get in the right frame of mind for a race. Being away from home and without the usual amenities of such, breakfast ended up being the best source of oats I could find – oat bars (the peanut ones, as I would normally have peanut butter on toast), a banana, orange juice and coffee. Having only ever raced at events where numbers are written on in pen, the ritual of applying official tattoos was actually quite a fun one and I certainly stepped away from the hotel, tri suit donned, feeling like a professional.

The atmosphere at the race village and start area was buzzing and by the time I had donned my wetsuit, sauntered down to the beach for a short swim warm up, watching both the elite long and short course athletes set off from the perfect vantage point in the water, the adrenaline was pumping and I was raring to go. To the start line I went and lined up in excited anticipation with the throng of fellow athletes in my wave, waiting for the signal to be given….

Swim

Listening to the expert advice of Crissy Harris I duly positioned myself to the far right of the swim start, owing to the fact that it afforded the closest straight-line sighting to the first buoy and got myself to the front of the pack, something that I would have been way too nervous to have done a year ago. Such has been the benefits of training with Hasan and Lynette during their Ibn Battuta pool sessions, the Tri Dubai sea swims, and the swim sessions run by my coach, Trace, that I feel so much more confident in the water and am now able to complete the entire Olympic distance swim without stopping to swim breaststroke or catch my breath. When the start signal was given I ran in to the water and sprinted as I had practiced, attempting to put some clear water around me. Granted this didn’t quite work and I found myself within the typical washing machine of a triathlon swim, but rather than get all freaked out by the melee around me I just stuck to my line, got my head down and swam. When push came to shove I felt confident in my own ability to stick to my line when I had to defend it, out sprint a fellow racer if necessary, and make the buoy turns confidently and smoothly. As such, I exited the water in a time of 25:56, a significant improvement to similar sea swims in previous races.

T1

The provision of a water trough to run through was, in my opinion, inspired as the worst thing about trying to transition from a sea swim is usually getting rid of all the wet sand on your feet – there is nothing worse on a long cycle, and before a run, than sand rubbing your toes to oblivion! Although a little wobbly, T1 was a relatively swift affair and with helmet and sunglasses donned it was off out to the bike and the main challenge of the day.

Cycle

Brownlee bikes in transitionAs I had only recently invested in a proper set of cycling shoes, complete with non-recessed cleats, I was somewhat apprehensive about my first real attempt at mounting my bike with the shoes already attached. No flying mounts though! Starting the cycle in a pile on the floor would not have been a good look. The mount was actually quite easy, especially if the shoes are opened really wide meaning you can slip straight into them and once the velcro straps had been swiftly tightened it was straight into the 100km of long road ahead of us. The temptation to sprint off was strong, given that up to this point it had felt like any other Olympic distance race, but I knew that with a significant increase in distance to my usual races, pacing was going to be important. The few ‘hills,’ in the form of bridges were, as I had been informed, longer and steeper than initially expected, especially the very first bridge that goes over the port on the exit from Abu Dhabi. That is one big bridge!

The key with the cycle for me was to take it easy on the hydration, avoiding the temptation to drain my two bottles too quickly and drink too much water. Fueling was also a key focus and my decision to take three gels, two of which I ended up using, plus a few dates to munch on, seemed to work well. As for the fluids, I was pretty good at not over drinking and used much of the water handed out at aid stations to pour over my head, neck and, well, all over really in order to keep as cool as possible.

The Yas Grand Prix circuit section was a rare treat and in spite of needing to have eyes in the back of your head and a much greater level of responsiveness to other athletes around, the ride around the circuit was brilliant – certainly one of the highlights of doing this particular race. Once the second lap had been completed, the excitement mounted again as the homeward leg of the ride began and the thoughts of the finish line started to realistically dance in my mind. Seeing the long course athletes making the turn back towards Yas, and knowing how my legs were feeling at that point, really made me feel thankful that I had chosen to sign up to the short. Having said that, I was also reminded of the fact that I will be cycling a similar distance in September, with a marathon to run afterwards, and that I have the Dubai summer during which to prepare. Fun.

The final stretch to transition along the corniche had to have been the longest bit of road I have ever been on – it just went on forever!!! Still, the bike was long but a fun challenge and no one can claim that they’re not warmed up for the run by the time they arrive back at transition!

T2 & Run

The run along to T2 is actually quite good as it is long enough that by the time the changing tent is reached, the legs already feel as though they’re ready for the run. The run was, for me, the toughest part of the day, which was a little disheartening given as it is normally my thing and the part of the race when I usually find myself passing many of those people who had previously whizzed past me on the bike. The main factor, and one which I understand was shared by most others, was simply the heat. It was so hot by the time of the run that keeping cool was the main challenge. The aid stations were perfectly spaced, with the cold water sponges quickly becoming my new favourite thing in the entire world.

One other, less welcome, new experience was cramping on the run. I was a short distance from the first turn to head up towards the Marina Mall when I felt the ominous twinge before the full blown pain of a leg cramp. A bit of grimaced stretching and the acceptance of the fact that I had indeed just had to stop on the run, which was a blow to my pride if anything, and it was back on my way, albeit at a significantly reduced pace. Another first was the ingestion of flat cola on the run, something I had never previously used, but which I must report was very gratefully received. The challenge was to avoid the temptation to consume too much and thus disadvantage myself further on the run by having a belly full of fluid sloshing around. I had been aiming for a 40 minute 10km pace but ended up significantly reducing my pace to finish in a little over 51 minutes, albeit with the final third being run at a much faster pace which actually saw me overtake a decent number of people and cross the line at a decent run rather belying the way I actually felt by that stage.

Overall….

Abu Dhabi 2014A great race! Tough, especially the run, which is just so hard to keep cool on. In terms of race preparation I feel that enough was done, my nutrition was adequate and in spite of a run which I know was well below what I am ultimately capable of, the final time of 4 hours 37 mins is a respectable one. I guess I shall just have to return next year and beat it! I am already mentally purchasing my first TT bike! One thing that the race did drive home with no apologies was just how tough a challenge the Ironman in September is going to be. Although the heat will not be a factor – in fact, keeping warm is likely to be more of an issue – the distances certainly have my respect much more now than they did before, and I know there is a lot of work still to do to get me to the start line in fighting fit form, let alone cross that finish.

As a triathlon indulgence, the weekend was literally the best. The combination of feeling like a holiday by actually staying down in Abu Dhabi, combined with the presence of pros, the heroes and legends of our sport, all of whom were just so incredibly approachable and, dare I say it, normal was fantastic. I never imagined that I would be able to say to someone that I got to race down a waterslide with Olympic medalists as though they were my mates from home. Try getting to do that with a premiership footballer! I challenge anyone, seasoned triathlete or newbie beginner, not to leave Abu Dhabi feeling energised and full of renewed enthusiasm for the sport. It’s ultimately a bit mental what we do – like most things to be honest – but as a lifestyle, a social scene and a way to challenge and develop oneself, it is hard to beat. Triathlon rules!

The Ultimate Mates Day Out

Two of my good friends from back home in the UK have been over very recently and although our week saw us indulging in such fun activities as heading to the top of the Burj Khalifa for high tea, a classic Dubai evening brunch, and even neon crazy golf, one of the highlights from my point of view was the day spent in Abu Dhabi, which managed to somehow combine a spot of culture with pure, adrenaline-fueled awesomeness. Unfortunately one of the aforementioned friends was not present that day as he had to return earlier to the UK, such is his unflappable devotion to the health and well-being of the country’s pets. Still, one of my good mates from here in Dubai jumped into the void and so our trio of musketeers headed down to the UAE’s capital.

Grand Mosque Abu DhabiThe day started in actual fact with me dragging myself up at my more usual 5am to attend a regular triathlon swim training session, followed by a leisurely breakfast and a chance to plan the day ahead. The bare bones of the day focused primarily on Al Forsan, a big sports campus in Abu Dhabi, which includes such activities as shooting, paintball, equestrian sports, karting and wakeboarding. As my friend was visiting then it was decided that it would also be a great idea to make a brief stop off at the Grand Mosque, which even from a distance is an impressively humbling structure, gleaming bright white in the sunlight, with what feel like hundreds of perfectly aligned minarets towering toward the heavens like proud shoulders on parade. I had incorrectly always assumed that the mosque would be situated in a busy, difficult to navigate and park in section of the city and yet was surprised to discover that accessing it was super simple making a visit an absolute doddle and a must for any visitor or resident alike.

shoes outside Grand MosqueIn spite of the large numbers of visitors present, the mosque is so large and expansive in it’s design that one cannot help but experience that same level of calm and tranquility that you get when quietly shuffling around some of the huge cathedrals in Europe, albeit with a much brighter atmosphere given how light the mosque is both inside and out. One of the features that I particularly liked were the large pools that run around the perimeter and which on a windless day perfectly reflect the grandeur of the mosque itself, creating a powerfully striking visual image. Even the restrooms are a sight to behold!

A visit to the mosque can be as lengthy or rapid as you choose, and we managed to see most of what we wanted within the hour, hopping back in the car to make our way back out towards Al Forsan and the rest of the day’s fun.

Fun, however, cannot start until bellies are full and so an impromptu pause for lunch at the Abu Dhabi golf club was called for, where I had what my friend reliably informed me was voted the “best dish in the world” (beef rendang) – it was pretty amazing to be fair. One thing that the UAE does have in spades is good eating and it is so easy to understand why many new residents pile on the pounds during their initial few months. Good job there is so much sport then is what I say!

Al Forsan has quickly become one of my favourite places to spend time over here and until this day I had only actually used the wakeboarding facilities. In our eagerness we arrived early, as most of the park’s activities didn’t start until 3pm. Still, another excuse to take a break and enjoy some tea with friends, whilst finalising exactly what our afternoon was going to look like. The decision was pretty much this: start off by shooting some guns before getting all competitive on the karting racetrack, and then finish the day pulling some gnarly moves on the water down at the wakeboarding lakes.

Bang Bang

Pistol shooting in Abu Dhabi, Al ForsanI have fired air pistols and rifles before but have never discharged a real gun, even when I visited Texas, which is probably the kind of place it is almost illegal not to have fired a gun in! With identifications checked and our weapons selected – I went for a Sig pistol – we headed downstairs to the range to meet our quartermasters and start the session. It was quite surreal and felt quite edgy as we were handed our pieces, always careful to follow the exact instructions of our tutors on how to best hold, aim and finally fire our guns. The kickback that they gave was more than movie and TV depictions of pistol firing allude to and the advice to breath in and hold your breath steady prior to gently squeezing the trigger once the ‘bite point’ had been reached really did help. In fact I found myself hitting pretty much the centre of the target each time, only dropping a couple of shots slightly wide once the target was moved to a range of fifteen metres, which happens to coincide with about the limits of my contact lenses. Still, maybe with some laser surgery perhaps I do have a promising future as a double ‘0’ after all 🙂

On the grid

One macho activity ticked off, it was time to get our petrol heads on and hit the track for some kart racing. The track at Al Forsan is a fantastic playground, with wide sweeping bends, hairpin chicanes and full throttle straights on which to exercise the Hamiltons and Alonsos in all of us. Our session was a little light in numbers, with the three of us paired up with just one other young lad, whom we did all end up lapping several times, and as such it often felt like we were just driving solo. I am convinced that a larger group on the track would make for a far more competitive, faster and overall more fun session, but it was still awesome.

Big Air

Third and final on our list for the day was wakeboarding and a chance to once again hit the ramps and improve on some of the skills I had previously been working on, especially after I pretty much concussed myself during the last visit. With some really good boarding on show all round, we felt that the smaller lake had been tamed enough to allow us to graduate onto the big, fast lake, where I finally plucked up the courage to take on one of the bigger kickers. The difference between the first and second lakes’ ramps was pretty noticeable, as I literally felt like I was back skydiving coming off the larger kicker. In spite of looking and feeling on several occasions as if I was going to stack it on the landing, I managed to remain in control to power on through to the rest of the run. The next challenges are to a) try the opposite kickers, and b) have a go at a basic trick such as a 180-degree rotation off the ramps. Hmm, we’ll see how that goes….

Good Samaritan

There was an unexpected bonus end to the day when as we were leaving, a very pretty girl who had been wakeboarding as well and whom all of us had noticed on arrival, was leaving at the same time. Wanting to be polite I casually enquired as to how her session went and then wished her a good evening as we disembarked from the bus and headed for the car. We then saw that she was waiting as though for a taxi, which was confirmed when she started walking towards the road itself. Bearing in mind that Al Forsan is a little out of the way, the chances of being able to flag down a taxi were remote at best. The dilemma was do we do the gentlemanly thing of pulling up and offering a lift, running the risk of perhaps freaking her out as would always be the case when an unknown 4WD with tinted windows and three guys pulls up. I figured that the worst that could happen was that she politely refused an offer of assistance and we all went on our merry way, with the best being that we could be of help.

As it turned out she happily accepted our offer and when it transpired that she was basically heading back to the same area of town as my friend lived in, it seemed like divine providence: we were meant to stop and offer assistance. Miss France, as I shall refer to her as to save giving real names here, was originally from Paris, having only recently moved to Dubai to continue working in telecoms security, a pretty cool, techy sector as far as I could tell. She had recently decided to take up wakeboarding and had taken a taxi from Dubai to Al Forsan and back on a couple of occasions in a bid to really progress, which is some commitment to learning! She was actually the perfect car companion, not only stunningly beautiful and French, always a winner in my eyes such is my penchant for the accent, but clearly incredibly intelligent, confident and easy to talk with. Basically the perfect woman. As I said, a great bonus end to the day: the warm fuzzy feeling that comes from doing a good deed for others and a new friend here in the big city.

Tips for a trip to the Grand Mosque & Al Forsan:

Grand Mosque

  • Remember to take/ wear something to cover your knees if a guy, as you’ll otherwise be asked to don a kandoora for your visit. Women need to dress modestly and cover their heads, so bringing a scarf to do so is a good idea.
  • Be prepared to take your shoes off as you won’t be able to enter the main prayer hall with shoes on your feet. You can keep your socks on but you might want to leave either the brightly coloured Super Ted pair or the ones with big holes at the toes at home.
  • Be prepared to say “WOW!” I did as the mosque came into view for the first time. It truly is an impressive structure.

Al Forsan:

  • Take your ID – if you want to do any shooting then you’ll definitely need it.
  • Plan to spend several hours there, as there is sooooooo much to do.
  • Take some mates with you as it is a cracking place to hang out with friends.

Pampering is Compulsory

What do you tend to do to mark your birthdays? I made a vow to myself back when I turned sixteen that I would spend each birthday either “doing something different or be somewhere different,” and I am pleased to say that to date I have managed to stick to this informal plan. To date the experiences have included enjoying chips and champagne with investment bankers at a rooftop bar in the Square Mile, London; diving in Turkey; exploring Florence and Pisa in Italy; and getting my skydiving license.

This year as I turn 21 again (amazing how one can do that, isn’t it?!) I find myself kicking back and relaxing with a very agreeable view over the Yas Marina and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix circuit, as I sit writing in my room at the rather fancy Yas Viceroy hotel. When deciding what to do to mark my ‘annual addition of 1’ I figured why not just take advantage of the fact I live close to some of the very best hotels in the world, and the Yas Viceroy certainly fits that category.

The hotel is actually the only one to be built pretty much on top of the F1 racetrack, and the room that I am staying in is located in the Marina Building, connected to the main part of the hotel by a really funky skybridge, which literally takes you over the track – a great viewpoint I am sure come race day.

The first thing you notice about the hotel is the crazy web-style shell that it has covering the entire hotel, which makes it look as though it is encased within a pure white exoskeleton – a great way to smooth out and curve what would otherwise be a typically straight edged building. It has the effect of making the place look quite space-age, which I daresay was the intention, especially when you see inside the rooms, all of which are very modern, clean and, well, I guess I would say minimalist.

birthday cake at Yas ViceroyFirst thing was first upon arriving…. order food! There is something very indulgent about ordering room service, even when it is just soup that you request, although the hotel went and did a fantastic job of adding some “WOW factor” to this simple transaction, by including a lovely handwritten note and a birthday cake – yes, a birthday cake – with my order. Nice move Viceroy! Nice move indeed 🙂 Thoughts of cake thus spurred me on to seek out the hotel gym, which I indulgently had all to my self and so could pretend that I did indeed live here in my own, big, expensive millionaire pad!

Before too long the place has seen my bags metaphorically explode and in spite of having only been here for about 12 hours, the room looks like I moved in days ago and have no intention to leave 🙂

yas viceroy, pool
Not a bad way to kick start a birthday stay

Last night saw me suit it and boot it before enjoying the delicious culinary wonders of the hotel’s Indian restaurant, Angars, with so much food that I simply couldn’t force it all down. It certainly meant that I slept like a log and had the pleasure of waking without the assistance of an alarm, to remotely open the curtains (silly, simple but a giddy joy) on a stunning Abu Dhabi morning. What does any self-respecting hotel guest do of a morning? Check out the pool is what. No day is a bad day when it starts with a swim and when the pool is as calm, quiet and, well, awesome as the one here then who can fail to feel rejuvenated and ready to take the day by the horns?!

So I have a couple more hours to enjoy the hotel before checking out and heading off for some wakeboarding at Al Forsan resort. I may just have to make this a bit of a birthday tradition….. Oh, and I guess I had better munch my way through the cake 🙂

cake eating at Yas Viceroy

 

Oops… I did it (not quite again)

Burj al Arab, DubaiOops….I did it (not quite again)

As you may have guessed by the digital silence on the blog for the past week it has been somewhat of a busy one. The good news, however, is that there should be lots of fun and interesting things to tell you about.

The working week for me now starts on a Sunday, which I must admit I still haven’t gotten used to, meaning that my mind and body are still very much in ‘downtime’ mode when the alarm goes off at what feels ridiculously early. The fact that I haven’t been sleeping brilliantly probably doesn’t help matters – I am still adjusting to the heat and seem to have a choice to make most nights: either sweat it out or freeze with the air-conditioning running, something that I have opted for on several occasions, although this does come with a price, which is that you make up with a mouth and throat drier than the desert in which I know reside. Still, come the summer months, when the temperature apparently hovers almost continuously at a sizzling 40 degrees celcius, or higher, I am going to be more than happy to trade a dry throat for some comfort. Anyway, I digress. So, the alarm now goes at 6am each morning, with plans for this to gradually be pushed back as I start to get out in the cool(er) mornings before work to train, and after the usual pre-work preparations – I’m really not going to bore you with details of how I get ready for work – it’s in the car and a forty or so minute drive from The Springs to the clinic, in an area of Dubai called Umm Suqeim, which is but a few blocks back from the beach itself and the famous hotel in the shape of a huge sail, the Burj al Arab. In fact, I often pop across to the small mall across the street at lunchtime and am able to sit there gazing at the surreal sight that is the Burj. I still haven’t become used to it, even after two weeks.

The clinic is a pretty busy one and the appointments start fairly punctually at 8am, with the expectation being that we’re in a little earlier, especially if we have any in patients to attend to first. I have been consulting pretty much since starting, although have done a couple of neuters as second, relief surgeon, on one morning after a couple of hours seeing clients. This is really to help me get familiar with the computer system – not that tricky actually, although it’s the various pricing codes that are always the sticking point when you move to a new place – and to allow me to familiarise myself with the specifics of vaccinations, and other Dubai-specific matters. There are, it transpires, certain conditions that we see more of here in Dubai than I would have seen back in the UK and a few that we really see hardly at all, such as ehrlichiosis.

drawing up a dog vaccineVaccinations are something that I have now done dozens of since joining and the key points to remember are a) everything gets vaccinated against everything each year, so no two year this or staggered vaccination patterns. Basically the authorities have decreed that dogs and cats are to be fully boosted each year, including against rabies, which does make choosing which vaccines to give much simpler. In order to get their annual Municipality tag, which is effectively a registration and must be worn on a collar at all times, they have to have a readable microchip, so every animal is scanned, and then a valid rabies vaccination. We can then issue new tags in house. We actually have a few clients who visit us from outside of Dubai, such as Abu Dhabi or Al Ain, and so they don’t require a tag. It’s only animals local to Dubai that are required to have one.

With cats, the same principles apply as do in the UK, in as much as pure house cats are not routinely given FeLV vaccine, but any cats that do venture out are strongly advised to have the vaccination, as we see a lot of FeLV/ FIV positives here. The cats just seem to be a whole lot more feisty and have serious attitude, so the fact that FIV is rife comes as no surprise to be honest. In fact, the new challenge, it seems, is to remain cat scratch or bite free each day. I had one vaccination consultation where the cat was fine, albeit with very gentle and calm handling, right up until the third and final injection, when it literally switched and went feral on me, scratching me but thankfully not landing a teeth shot. Although getting bitten by a cat must suck anywhere, it’s more of a pain here as any of the antibiotics or, God forbid, hospital treatment that would invariably be required ends up coming out of your own, private pocket, as there is no NHS here and we are not covered by any work-provided health insurance. Personally I think it would be fair for any ‘work related’ injuries that require treatment to be covered by the clinic, but that’s not the deal so its extra important to take care. Even the kittens here are little savages, and I had one spirited little stray to jab the other day, which made for a real challenge – good luck rehoming that one!

EM image of Psoroptes miteIn terms of the species split, its fairly even on the dog versus cat front, with the odd small furry and rabbit thrown in for good measure, much as back home. I’ve seen a couple of rabbits in my first two weeks, the first unfortunately requiring euthanasia as a result of being really badly affected by psoroptic mange, to the point that it’s paws were all thickened and crusty, and it had small facial abscesses where it had been scratching itself. It was also ridiculously thin and clearly wasn’t going to handle the pretty intensive treatment that was needed in order to try and resolve the issue. In the UK, all we would do in such cases is some ivermectin spot-on, with it clearing quite easily. Not so in Dubai, where mange seems to have some oomph and rabbits need systemic ivermectin, anaesthetic to bathe and remove the crusts and scabs, antibiotics to manage the skin infection, and ongoing regular treatment, often with a poor outcome anyway. Diet, as ever, is another issue for rabbits here, with the same poor understanding about optimal rabbit nutrition being prevalent as it is anywhere. There’s no reason why we can’t change that though.

So, you’ve had some insight into the professional side of things here in Dubai. Now comes a story that may make you laugh, or possibly scowl disapprovingly. Either way I would like to point out that it was in no way intentional and will not, repeat not, be happening again.

wine glassesOk, so last Monday I was invited out by one of our clients, Simon, who had kindly offered to give me the low down on Dubai given as I am a newbie in town. He had an extra ticket to an exclusive wine tasting being held at Hotel H, one of the many fancy and swanky hotels here in Dubes and so, after a (typically) manic day at work, whereby I didn’t actually think I was going to get away on time for the event, I dived in a cab as it screeched up to the clinic and the two of us darted for the venue. A quick splash of water to the face at the hotel was the best I could do to try and mask the fact that I probably still smelt faintly of ‘animals’, and off to the hotel restaurant it was to meet our host and other guests for the tasting. This will give you some notion of how small a town Dubai actually is: the host for the event and the very first person we met was none other than my friend Majid’s friend, Laurent, who I had literally met for the first time the previous evening! I recalled him telling me that he was in events and marketing and so, here I was, able to see first-hand exactly what he was talking about. The company he works with, Lime & Tonic, are a specialist events company who host really cool, unique events – I recommend checking out their site, especially as they have a presence all over the world. The format for the evening was that we were going to sample about six different wines, from a number of locations and all selected by Hotel H’s gifted new sommelier, Valentino Minotti. In fact, we were handed rather large glasses of incredible sparkling wine as we arrived, and these were kept topped up in expert fashion. Before I knew what was happening, we were being presented with an incredible Merlot, and all before we had even officially started the event. I think you can guess where this story is heading….

Fast forward a brilliant evening with some incredible wines, equally delicious food and some riotously fun people, including a guy and girl from MyDubaiMyCity, a couple of Aussies and a Brit, who has been over here for a number of years and writes a great blog of her own, Debbie. I do have recollections of Simon leaving and in hindsight that should have been my cue to do the same. All I can say is that my brain must have just been in full-blown holiday mode, given that I am still adjusting to the reality of the fact that I actually now LIVE here, and so going home didn’t seem like it needed to be done. Anyway, eventually we left, hopped in a taxi that went via TECOM to drop Debbie off and then to my place in the Springs. I do remember being sick, checking that my alarm was set for 6am and then, well, then it went blank. That was until I woke to the sound of my phone ringing and the sight on the screen of a) the time (0905!!!!) and b) the caller (my boss!!!!). I was awake at that point! I could not believe that I had allowed such a thing to happen, and less than a week into a new job too. Needless to say, I couldn’t apologise enough, leaped into a shower and then found a taxi to whisk me to work over an hour late and feeling like my brain was trying to peel itself away from my skull. If you have never suffered a hangover in the heat then you haven’t really experienced the full force of a hangover, full stop. The only other time I felt like that, albeit that time it was a tad worse, was in Ibiza during my final year holiday with my original year of vets. I remember waking up feeling the desperate need for water but at the same time feeling too decrepid and ‘in pain’ to haul my carcass up in order to go downstairs to the shop to buy some, as you had to do due to the tap water being pretty much unpotable. So now, here I was, being taxied in to do a full day’s work at a busy clinic, in a country where alcohol is tolerated behind closed doors but where it is illegal to be ‘drunk in public,’ and where it is not unheard of for taxi drivers to take offence at people who are clearly drunk and promptly drive them to the nearest police station. Not my proudest moment!

All I could do was just keep my head down, do my job and accept the huge avalanche of ridicule and ribbing that inevitably poured my way. Thankfully, I actually felt pretty normal by the early afternoon, and even managed a 32km cycle at the purpose built Nad al Sheba track that evening. I was granted a pass for this, my first offence, and it was very gracious of Malcolm and Monique to see the funny side in it all, although I assured them numerous times that it was totally out of character and not something that would be happening again. In fact, I think the lessons to take home are that a) I definately can’t handle my drink (already knew that) and b) it is a bad, bad idea to do anything that involves alcohol on a ‘school night.’ In all seriousness, the law on drink driving here is very clear: zero tolerance, and even though I knew not to drive the next morning, there is always the danger that there may still be traces in the blood the following evening, with even a trace marking you as instantly guilty. As such, I think I can envisage my contact with alcohol to be limited to the odd one or two beers and only ever on a weekend. If at all.

On the subject of driving, that is one thing that demands some serious attention here in Dubai. The roads are very similar to the system employed in the States, and my journey to work and, well, anywhere really, involves traveling on the six lane monster of a highway that is the E11, or the Sheikh Zayed Highway, which runs the length of the UAE west coast, linking Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Although there are clearly marked speed limits on all roads, very few people seem to ever stick to them and it is a bit of a free for all on the roads, with lots of tail-gating, flashing of lights, beeping of horns and swerving in and out of spaces, with undertaking a given. In fact the journey to and from work each evening is an adventure all in itself. One thing that it takes a lot of self-discipline to avoid doing is gesturing at bad, or rude, drivers, such as those who speed up behind you and flash their lights for you to get out of the way. I will be the first to admit that in the UK, if I had someone do that to me when I was in the fast lane doing a decent speed, then I usually just sat there and, if they persisted in flashing or beeping, they would then get a flipping of the proverbial bird, which if anything always manages to make me feel better about the whole unfortunate interaction. Not so here as gesturing in any way to another driver that could be perceived by that person to be offensive is illegal and can land you in hot water, regardless of the circumstances. As such, it is just best to ignore the idiot behind you, signal to pull over out of their way and let them speed off on their merry little way. The problem is that I am now not even sure if it’s ok to wave in order to thank someone on the road, for the fear that any gesture could be construed as insulting. As such, I have become more of an active head nodder, which I don’t think you can get into trouble for(?).

The working days here are very long, with 8am starts and finishes of 7pm, or often later. Granted, if we get the morning’s ops and consults done by 1pm we can theoretically have a little under 2 hours off for lunch, but its rare that happens, as anyone in practice will be able to attest to. As such, by the end of the working week I am finding myself feeling pretty cream crackered. This may be one reason why I ended up feeling a little under the weather this week, as I suspect the mild fatigue just added to the challenges my immune system is having adjusting to the new food, water and environment in general. There’s a whole world of new bugs out there to start getting used to, and that fact seems to have conspired against me a little over the past few days. Either that or I am having one of my classic reactions to Subway sandwiches?! (we had really nice sandwiches provided at our CPD evening the other day, which was run by Dr Rachel Ballantyne, with the talk being on Eukanuba urinary diets and urinary crystals). I have no idea what it is (all psychosomatic i’m sure) but every time I eat at Subway I always end up feeling ill. I just can’t explain it. Weird.

Kitesurfing in DubaiThankfully, the fatigue and general feeling of malaise hasn’t impinged on my weekend too much and I got out for a kitesurfing lesson yesterday afternoon, which was awesome. The beach on which the lesson took place happened to be hosting a kitesurfing competition which, despite making it a bit crowded, especially when added to by the legions of sunbathers who chose to put themselves at risk by soaking up the rays on a kitesurfing beach, looked amazing. The sight of scores of colourful power kites and their boarders speeding off, set against the backdrop of azure blue seas and the view of the Burj al Arab made for quite a fantastic view. The lesson itself ended up being more of a refresher of the course I took in Wales back in August, and we went over safe kite handling on land before progressing on to body dragging in the water. Before I knew it, two hours was over and it was time to pack up the kite, with thoughts heading forward to the next lesson in a week (wind permitting), in which the plan is to get out on the board. That is one of the major advantages of living and working out here: the great weather, which means that fun, outdoor recreational activities like kitesurfing and skydiving are serious options. This fact means that working a busy, hectic week is way more tolerable, as you know you’re going to get some serious fun in at the weekend. My instructor was a guy called Craig, who is originally a joiner from the Isle of Man, who came over to Dubai with his wife and did his instructors’ qualifications, meaning that his office is now the beach. Not a bad way to earn a living, something he’ll be the first to admit.

The other great thing I managed to do yesterday was get hold of some tickets to go and see Metallica, who are due to play in Abu Dhabi in April, and who I have been eager to see for a long while now. Thankfully, it seems the only gigs that really sell out quickly here are pop, such as Justin Bieber, which means that unless you leave it right to the last minute there is none of the usual desperate panic to get concert tickets that you get back home. And no touts as far as I can tell. Which is awesome as touts really are a scurge on the music and entertainment industry. The tickets had sold out online but it seems that if you have the get-up and go enough to head to any of the Virgin Megastores, such as the one in the colossally huge Dubai Mall, then they normally have plenty of tickets, as was the case this time. Roll on April!

Talking of Abu Dhabi, today was a bit of a bind to be honest. I had planned to head down nice and early to watch a load of friends, and some people from work, compete in the big triathlon, as well as do some big star spotting. In fact, I was up at 5am and in the car super early only to be met the other end of an hour’s drive by road closures, no signs or directions and, most annoyingly of all, blank looks from the very same people closing the roads. At one point they ushered me through a set of cones and I had the uneasy feeling that they had directed me onto the course and so had visions of being met by a hoard of disgruntled cyclists. Instead, I just had to admit defeat and turn the car around, heading straight back to Dubai. The upside is that I now know where the concert venue is. Oh, and Ikea 🙂 So, no triathlon but it has given me a day at home to catch up on the writing, so not a major drag then.

Anyway, that’s pretty much it for this week. Until the next exciting installment….