Tag Archives: cycling

Training Setbacks

The track stretches off into the distance of the desert at the Al Qudra cycle track, Dubai
The track stretches off into the distance of the desert at the Al Qudra cycle track, Dubai

This Thursday evening again saw a few of us venture out to the desert and bike track at Al Qudra. The programme once again called for a 5 hour cycle set followed by a 30 minute run, and spirits were good as we set off at the earlier time of 6pm, this time in the last hour of daylight. This week I was joined by fellow Tri Pirates Jen, Jan and, later, Kyle, whilst UK Ironman preparee Matt also joined us for the session.
The first loop felt fine in spite of setting out in 42 degree heat. The pace was slower compared to last week but it was windy and very warm so this was certainly not an issue. I seem to cycle at an average HR of about 166 bpm and have been wondering whether I maybe should be keeping below this(?). Consumed about 1.5 bottles of the stronger electrolyte solution, in addition to topping one of the bottles up with water at the mosque on the return leg. Did not take on any additional nutrition during this period, although had eaten a reasonable meal about 1.5-2hrs prior to starting: chorizo, spinach & eggs, followed by apple, dark chocolate and milk. Also drank two cups of coffee. Adequate pre-training nutrition?

Also used the Fusion Sport Ice Vest system for the first loop, although by the end of it the gel pouches were warm, so clearly very hot.

We stopped to refuel prior to the second 50km loop, during which I ate a banana and topped up the bottles with water. Felt fine as we started the second loop. Fast initial third of the loop, then started to feel the energy levels wane. Took on a gel at approximately the 30-25km to home mark but felt pretty un-energetic. Pulled in to the mosque at the 10km to home mark and as we came to a stop succumbed to agonising cramp affecting the right leg (calf muscle & lower hamstring). Never felt cramp quite as bad before! Dismounted and ended up getting the ‘whites,’ feeling faint and sick and having to hit the deck, where I lay for about ten minutes recovering. Jan gave me half a Race Fuel bar and I sipped water until I felt better and able to resume riding. The rest of the ride was at a very leisurely pace and I did not feel great. Needless to say the ride was called early & I did not complete the 5 hours or run, as per the programme. Instead, took on a banana smoothie and can of Coke, before returning home. A disappointing result and a somewhat concerning trend for the longer cycle training session.



1. Heat/ overheating – did I simply succumb to the heat without ever realising that I was dangerously overheating? It was hot when we set out, although the Ice Vest system did take the sting out of the tail. We only cycled for about an hour or so in daylight, so questionable how much influence this had.
2. Dehydration/ electrolyte imblance – did I drink enough? Not once during the ride did I feel as though I needed to go to the loo, in spite of drinking small amounts frequently. Averaged 1.5-2 bottles per loop, with 2x electrolyte solution bottles for the first loop and then a dilute solution plus electrolyte on the second. Did I need to add a higher concentration of electrolyte to my bottles for the second loop? With the wind it may be that I was sweating more profusely than I initially imagined. I understand that cramps are usually related to electrolyte issues and I have not had issues with cramping for the entire year to date. It has only been the past two Thursday evening cycle sessions that has seen me cramping.
3. Inadequate nutrition – I ate a carb light meal prior to starting the session, and did not take on any additional nutrition during the first 50km. Then took on a banana prior to starting the second, and a Gu gel during the loop itself. Enough?! Suspect I need to start taking on nutrition earlier and more consistently throughout the session, especially given my low carb diet at present.
4. Time of day – is it purely coincidental that it has been during the Thursday evening cycles that I have suffered physical setbacks? Could it simply be a manifestation of ‘end of day’ fatigue? Maybe a return to very early starts on Friday morning, following an early night of rest on Thursday is the key?

Some food for thought as training enters the really hot part of the year and the volume continues to build. A meeting with coach Trace is called for I reckon…

To keep up to date with training and developments for the Iron Vet challenge, be sure to check out the Facebook page (Iron Vet 2014)

Normal People Don’t Do This

It’s gone midnight, it’s pitch black apart from the small slits of light emitted in front by our respective bike lights and the twinkling lights of the highway off in the distance, and we still have another two hours to go. Ordinarily I would be found out on the Al Qudra desert cycle track – all 50km of this tarmac loop stretching off into the desert before spinning back towards civilisation again – most Friday mornings, when it seems most of the cycling and triathlon community of Dubai drag themselves up early, don their lycra and venture out in pairs or packs (rarely solo) for one, two, maybe more loops of this wonderful training resource we have. Not this week though.

With the daytime temperatures now reaching the mid to high forties, and the humidity knocking on uncomfortable, training in the daylight is simply becoming a silly thing to attempt to do. The value derived from braving the fierce heat is, in my opinion, negligible whilst the risk of simply getting sunburnt and succumbing to heat exhaustion makes it not worth attempting. So….. training simply ceases, right? No. Training continues. In fact, training is increasing in volume and intensity as I find myself a mere 12 weeks away from standing at the start line of Ironman Lake Tahoe. What has to happen then is to either train indoors, which I find impossibly dull, or to become nocturnal. Hence why we find ourselves peddling around in the desert in the first hours of Friday morning.

My programme prescribed a 5 hour bike ride with a run off the back of it for this week and so I pitched the idea of a Thursday night cycle marathon to the triathlon community here in Dubai. A few people got back to me and so it was arranged that we would meet at 9pm at the start of the AQ loop. I would have preferred an earlier start to be honest, especially given that 5 hours would lead to a finish after 2am, but such is the nature of working as a vet that even getting away from the clinic at 7pm was a blessing. So a quick turnaround at home, including shoveling some food down, loading up the ice vest system which I had planned to test out (didn’t need to in the end as the temperatures experienced made it redundant), and water and nutrition for the bike, it was back in the car and heading straight out to the desert.

For anyone who doesn’t know where the AQ track is, one drives past Arabian Ranches, out towards Bab Al Shams desert resort and just keep going for what feels like a long, long time. The stick (an extension of the cycle track) runs alongside the road for the last 18km of this approach before reaching a roundabout and the main parking area with amenities such as a cafe (closed at that time of night sadly) and toilets which are mercifully open all the time.

Jan cycling at nightLoop one saw four of us band together for the ride: good friend and fellow Dubai Tri Pirate, Jan; Ironman Zurich preparee, Stephen; another Ironman, Matt; and myself, yet to join the ranks of the men of metal. A fast first loop was had and we came home in good time and spirits, with Matt ending his session, which had started much earlier in the evening, and Jan, Stephen and I heading straight out for the second loop. By the end of the second legs were certainly starting to be felt and water refills were in order, as was a quick top up of the fuel tanks, although in hindsight the choice of chocolate and a can of Red Bull (I still don’t know why I touched it?!), was less than optimal, as I didn’t feel wonderful heading out on the third and final loop. Stephen spun back round at the 15km mark, as he was on track for a total distance that evening of 180km, having also started earlier, and so Jan and I forged on for the remaining 35km towards home and a total distance of 150km in a little over the target 5 hours.

One of the rather interesting features of cycling in the dead of night is that all that can be seen is what is immediately around you. As such, one cannot see the horizon, which means that the impression of it not getting any closer on those impossibly long stretches of track does not occur. Which is probably just as well given how uncomfortable I was finding the third loop. By now my legs were well and truly complaining and I unfortunately cramped up on at least two occasions, one such requiring a gritting of the teeth and some real willpower to move through. I am still in the process of figuring out my optimal nutrition plan for the bike, and suspect that it may have had a role to play. Although I had taken electrolyte in the bottles, I wonder whether I should have added additional at the water bottle refill after our second loop and looked at something more quick release, energy wise, than the nuts and dried fruit that I had with me. The process of experimentation continues therefore.

Wildlife experiences were a little closer than usual in the day, with at least two episodes when we nearly had impact with an Oryx, as they suddenly dart out across the track. Hitting one of them would not be fun and a few bruises and some road rash would, I daresay, be the best case scenario of such an accident. We also saw several smaller species on the track, all doing their best to try and get run over, thwarted in their efforts by some quick and deft swerving on our part. A desert rat was the coolest thing I remember seeing, with its long, kangaroo-esque back feet and lengthy tail that made it look like a Stretch Armstrong version of a gerbil.

Chris cycling at nightHowever, even the interesting nocturnal activities of the desert wildlife could do little to distract me by the end of the third, and thankfully final, loop as my legs were screaming at me to stop. If I hadn’t fully appreciated the enormity of the challenge that I face in September before then I do so now, as I simply felt unable to even contemplate any further time on the bike. Unfortunately I found myself feeling a little dizzy (again, inadequate nutrition? Or maybe pure fatigue, as it was afterall gone 2am?). Anyway, it did mean that venturing out solo for my run felt like a poor idea and so I made the executive decision to forgo that element of the session and head home. The drive itself was a challenge as I had to stop at one point back towards Arabian Ranches to deal with a sudden onset of cramp in my driving leg, and then there was the very real risk of actually falling asleep at the wheel that I had to contend with. Scary stuff indeed and I was ecstatic at arriving back, dumping my stuff in the house, grabbing a much needed protein shake and a shower before collapsing into bed for what ended up being an epic and well deserved period of sleep. All in all, a big session but nothing compared to what is to come. Thank you sincerely to both Stephen and Jan for accompanying me out and if it were not for Jan and his encouragement that third and final loop would have been sheer and utter torture.

Main points:

  1. Cycling at night is certainly much more comfortable in terms of the heat, with the temperatures a perfect mid to late twenties for most of the time, and at times even a little on the noticeably chilly side. This certainly translated into faster speeds at the same effort than would be possible at higher temperatures.
  2. The track was very, very quiet, as one would expect at those insane times. In fact, the only other people we saw were two cyclists going in the opposite direction on both of the first two loops. There were then a couple of crazy morning warriors clearly starting when we finished at gone 2am, otherwise the track and desert belonged solely to us.
  3. In spite of the challenges and discomfort associated with heading out overnight, the fact that I was able to simply sleep on through Friday morning did make it all worthwhile.
  4. Nutrition is still something I need to figure out. I should not have cramped up and I suspect that I need to examine my electrolyte intake more closely. I shall not be taking Red Bull out again and some more natural quick release energy sources, such as bananas, may have been of more use during the actual cycling.

Heights of Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mountains & Milestones

Hatta mountains, DubaiMountains & Milestones

How’s your week been? My third week in Dubai has proven to be one of professional milestones in addition to some real life mountains. The week started fairly uneventfully with work as usual on Sunday – the new Mondays – and was, as is commonplace with Monday’s back in the UK, a pretty hectic one. I am really feeling more and more settled in the new job and kind of feel as though I have been here longer than just a couple of weeks, which I am taking as a good thing. One thing that is clear from working so far is that the hours I worked in the UK didn’t really have much on those that I am working here. It seems that you are actually expected to earn your money here! We are, in principle, supposed to be able to have about two hours off for lunch, assuming we finish everything by 1pm, which given how busy the clinic is and how long our surgical list can, and has, been often isn’t the case. An hour and a half is more like it on a good day, with less if it’s been especially mental, before starting consults again at 3pm. Consults end at 7pm, although we often get extras or late arrivals, meaning that a finish closer to 7.30pm is more the norm. All in all, that’s nearly 12 hours at, or near, work and at least 10 hours per day, or 50 hours per week – not quite the 38 hours a week that many are used to. Still, the perks are there, with year long sunshine and views of the iconic Burj al Arab to enjoy as I eat my lunch 🙂

I have, save for one unfortunate occurence on Tuesday, been much better at arriving on time, or actually early, for work, which is so much more professional than walking into the clinic with the clients, as seemed to be the case previously. The unfortunate morning I refer to was one in which I ended up taking a different road out of The Springs, the area of Dubai where I live, and which ended up taking me further and further AWAY from Dubai instead of closer and closer to work. I have a sat-nav so rather naievely assumed that I could rely on it to get me out of the fix that I had found myself in. Well, it did eventually get me to work but the problem was that the route it appeared to favour involved taking me, what seemed like, half way to Al Ain, with the Burj Khalifa becoming a distant point on the horizon. At the last minute it seemed to sense my panic, as the ‘estimated time of arrival at destination’ changed progressively from pre-8am (ie no worries – you’re safe) to after 8am, or “yep, you’re so going to be late!” I am rapidly coming to the realisation that sat-navs out here should only ever be considered a fall-back, safety option, for those times when you really just need to get close to a vague area or hit the ‘get me home’ option, and not the accurate, reliable guides as I have previously considered and found them to be. As I say, the device eventually seemed to take pity on me and prompted me in that rather patronising tone that sat-navs the world over seem to have been programmed with, back towards Dubai, with the chosen route taking me directly past Downtown and the Dubai Mall, into Jumeira – basically, the opposite side of town to which I would normally approach work. No wonders I was late! All I could do was make the grovelling, apology call that we all hate having to dial in and accept the looks of quiet disappointment and ribbing about alarms not going off that were clearly inevitable. Grr. Still, the rest of the day went fine, especially as I was on surgery that morning, which meant I got to flex my scalpel skills for a decent period of time, something I had been yet to do so far.

If I were pressed for a preferred discipline between medicine and surgery, I would say that my leaning is definitely towards surgery. I just like the ‘see it, fix it’ air that surgery has compared to the hidden mysteries of medicine and the reliance on tests, medicines and ‘monitoring responses’ that comes with the discipline. It was somewhat frustrating, therefore, that my first few ops were just that: frustrating. I was advised at my practical interview back in November that my cat spay incisions were too big, something that I hadn’t been aware of really until then, as a) I had always managed to remove the ovaries and uterus quite soundly, and b) all my patients had, as far as I was aware, made a speedy and uncomplicated recovery. Still, in the interests of self improvement and towing the party line I was happy to try and downsize my window into cats. The theory is sound: make a tiny little stab incision in the left flank, as normal, in the correct place (this, as it turns out is most definitely the KEY), use a spay hook (something I have rarely reached for in the past, preferring to visualise the uterus) to exteriorise the organ blind and crack on with the neutering as per normal. Spay one: frustrating! Malcolm had to scrub in to find the uterus and get me started, which considering I have done this procedure umpteen times before made me feel a little impotent. Spay two: no less frustrating, although the fact the cat turned out to be pregnant and Scott had to enlarge the incision to exteriorise the uterus did make me feel a little less like a tit. Spay three: I reverted to making (slightly) larger incisions, as I normally would have done in the past, and found my mojo again. Although I had vowed to ‘spay my way’ at that point, I did perform one under Monique’s watch and with her instruction on hook use actually managed the blind exteriorisation and so was able to perform the op through a teeny tiny little hole. It did make for a much faster closure and an almost imperceptible closed incision, so I daresay I shall be converted after all.

Surgery wise, this week was a bit of a milestone moment, as Thursday saw my first case of the afternoon being a young cat who had become acutely off colour and had been vomiting. Although the cat was apparently not normally happy about trips to see us, the fact he kicked off so wildly at any attempt to palpate his abdomen, coupled with his history of vomiting and pyrexia (temperature of 40 Celcius), made the only sensible option to gas him down, run bloods, including Felv/FIV as he was a confirmed fighter, and have a good old feel of him under GA, with radiography an option depending on what we then thought. Thankfully the owners were fully on board and just wanted the best for their cat, so with the cat asleep we set to work. Our concerns were compounded by the fact that even under GA he reacted noticeably to palpation of his cranial abdomen, and when we X-rayed him we saw that he had a lot of small intestinal distension. A further palpation revealed a firm palpable mass, or certainly a mass effect, exactly where he had been reacting and so a call was made to the owner to advise exploratory surgery that same afternoon. With the risks and estimate (4500 – 6000 AED, or roughly £800-1200) understood and accepted, time was blocked out and I set about finding out what was going on with our little feline friend. This was the first non-routine surgery that I had done since starting with Al Safa and so the pressure, it seemed, was on, not that I necessarily felt it though. After all, a clinical decision had been made, with the considerable assistance of Anni, who was brilliantly supportive and happy to do the surgery herself, and I had performed just this same procedure previously back in the UK. As such, the training kicks in and you just go through the motions. So, abdomen entered, it was time to do some exploring. All in all it was somewhat less exciting than we had expected, which is sometimes how these kind of cases pan out. The swelling we had felt was either the firm, reactive mesenteric lymph node we found and which was biopsied, or the area of distal jejunum-ilium that appeared distended and contained what appeared to be firm material. A decision was made to perform an enterectomy, with the subsequent release of gas instantly improving the appearance of the local intestinal tissue, and the palpable material rather disappointingly proving to be nothing more than faecal. Still, we removed it as it was pretty firm and I would have felt uneasy leaving it in place, especially considering that the rest of the intestinal tract, including liver etc, all appeared normal. So, with single enterectomy performed, lymph node biopsy taken and the cat closed up, it was now time to basically wait and see how our patient fared. I won’t know until I go back to work on Sunday but fingers crossed that it was nothing more than a particularly nasty and acute viral enteritis, or something similar. We will see I guess.

One thing that I was reminded of with that case was the fact that we don’t have the option of reaching for the good old opioid analgesics, instead having to rely on a combination of torbugesic and low dose petcam, a non-steroidal, which would never normally be my first choice in a gastrointestinal case. Still, with options limited and the cat in need of pain relief, all we could do was prescribe gut protectants and keep the cat comfortable as best as we could.

Whilst we’re on the theme of the clinic, we had our newest recruit start today: Scott, or Aussie Scott as I think he will probably have to be known, owing to the fact that we already have a Scott and so it is likely to get very confusing without the use of a prefix of some sort. As he is from Australia then I reckon the prefix ‘Aussie’ seems ok. He seems like he’s going to be a great addition to the team and it has been fun to be able to pass on some of the pearls of wisdom that I have managed to glean from my three weeks here already, such as advice on driving and places to consider getting an apartment. We both headed down to Knowledge Village on Thursday to get our Emirates ID card biometrics done, following my wasted attempt earlier in the week at the ID Authority building, and it seemed like we both had the same initial concerns, questions and excitement about making the big move to a completely new, and in many respects, different country. As such, it should be good fun a) having another new recruit along for the ride and at a similar level of experience as me, and b) another bloke, as veterinary is obviously very weighted towards the fairer sex so its never a bad thing to have a few more guys around for some banter and just to avoid overdosing on oestrogen, which is an occupational hazard!

Other notable cases of the week included the following:
1. Two kittens that were presented for toxoplasmosis blood testing as their owners were concerned about the risks owing to the fact that the lady was pregnant. They were advised that there was, in all reality, more risk of contracting it from unwashed vegetables and the fact that her husband had already assumed kitty litter duties was the best step to take. They did, however, duly receive their full check-ups and restarted their vaccinations, including rabies.

2. A stray cat, that had been presented by the lady who regularly fed him, due to the fact that his tail was basically black, necrotic and essentially in need of chopping off. The issue with this particular case was the fact that there was marked swelling and fluid right at the base of the tail, meaning that the surgery, which was most certainly needed, would have carried significant extra risk of post-operative complications and wound breakdown. As such, it was near on impossible to give a realistic ‘final cost’ for the case. Thankfully, the initial couple of days of antibiotic and anti-inflammatory that was given seemed to make a marked difference and at the recheck the ‘owner’ was feeling much happier about proceeding to surgery, even with the same concerns and risks present. As such, the cat is scheduled for admit on Sunday.

3. A really sad case of a young (10 month) old dog that came in for further investigation of persistent vomiting and weight loss. The same dog had previously undergone exploratory abdominal surgery and was discovered to have a pyloric stenosis, which it was initially assumed may have progressed. However, on running the bloods – which we routinely run on all patients scheduled to have anaesthesia, unless the owners specifically ask for them not to be run – it was clear that the dog had severe renal pathology. In spite of checking for possible Addison’s disease (the great pretender), the diagnosis of renal dysplasia and failure was made and the very upsetting, but correct, decision to euthanase was taken, something the owners were understandably devastated about. No one ever expected that a dog of such a young age, and who was outwardly still bright, would have kidney disease and so it really came as a shock.

Apparently, according to both Malcolm and Monique, I have thus far managed to handle a few of the clinic’s known ‘difficult’ clients well, in as much as they actually allowed me to see their animals, listened to me and responded positively. Being informed of this was obviously quite gratifying and I just hope that if I can manage to ‘win over’ the challenging clients then the others should prove to be less of a concern. I daresay the very fact that I have even mentioned it here will mean that next week I get a client that kicks off and ends up hating my guts. Lets hope I am wrong, eh?

Cycling & Pushing the Boundaries

Socially, the week has been a busy one with another trip to the Nad Al Sheba cycle track on Monday evening, although that looked like it might have been in jeopardy as Monique, and most of the nursing team, ended up in theatre that evening with a Great Dane GDV. Thankfully, I was not actually needed and so was able to drive up there to meet Kevin and another Dubai Tri Pirate member, Hassan, who had completed the Abu Dhabi Long Course Triathlon, in spite of suffering three punctures on the cycle leg, which is super unlucky. I cycled well and must be getting fitter as four laps, for a total of 32km, felt good. We even ended the evening with a short run, just to help loosen the legs. Who knows, maybe the prospect of signing up for an Ironman in the near future isn’t such a ridiculous notion.

There had been plans to head to the auto track on Wednesday in order to take advantage of the fact that they open the racetrack to cyclists but Kevin had to cancel and as my hire car has proven to be unsuitable for transporting my bike (the back seats don’t fold down!) it meant that I didn’t even have my bike with me. Still, it did mean that I had the chance to head out for my first proper run since arriving, and I managed a good 10km around the area in which I live, taking me very close to the marina area. I had been concerned that the heat would considerably affect my ability to run but I posted a pretty respectable time so I can only assume that my heat tolerance must be improving.

Today was the big test as far as cycle fitness went as I joined Kevin, his girlfriend Adriana and three other Pirates – Tyrone, Reggie and Hassan, all of whom are currently in training for imminent Ironman races – for a ride through the mountains near Hatta. I had, initially, hesitated in accepting the invite to join them as I wasn’t sure if I was actually fit enough, but was reassured that there was going to be a support car with us so that if I wasn’t able to finish then I had the option of jumping in. The start was a rather unsociable 5am pickup from the house, followed by an hour’s drive out to the desert, with a couple of coffee stops en route, before arriving at our rendezvous point as the sun was coming up. Simply knowing that we were about to start cycling whilst most people were still tucked up in bed and hours from hauling themselves up was quite satisfying, and I felt really pleased that I easily kept up with them all for the first 80km, only finally accepting my limitations as we started the seriously big climbs that my legs simply were not going to get me up. I did, however, hop back on the bike on the return but did finally have to tap out for good about 15km from the end as my legs simply were not going to give any more. In light of what happened on the drive back to meet the remaining cyclists on the road I am quite glad I had been in the car.

Adriana had also had enough before the end and so we were both in the support car as we we were signaled by Kevin to slow right down. The issue, as became clearly apparent, was that there had been a really bad accident on the highway in front of us in which a jeep had hit the central barrier and flipped. There was a moment of real concern as we approached due to the fact that we couldn’t see Hassan and so thought that he might have been involved. Thankfully he came into view and was unharmed but was looking after the driver, who was sitting by the side of the road clearly shaken and with a nasty cut to his head. Apparently the driver had, for whatever reason, swerved into the outside barrier before then swerving back into the central reservation, having lost control, which then flipped the car. This had apparently happened mere metres from Hassan himself, meaning that by sheer good fortune he had been unscathed. Given the shite luck Hassan had already had that day, with two punctures, the second of which pretty much exploded his tyre on a speedy hill descent, it was almost as if some higher force was trying to really screw his day up. Thankfully he made it back to the car safely and two punctures were the worst of it.

The accident did highlight some rather unfortunate facts about the Emirates and driving. The first is that many people choose not to wear seatbelts, refusing, it seems, to believe that they actually do save lives, and the second being that lots of people drive way too fast and way too erratically. There really was no good reason why the car in question should have swerved, lost control and crashed the way it did, and with no other vehicles involved, it seemed to be purely down to driver error and excessive speed. I am not sure I am ever going to get completely used to the style of driving here, with a much higher level of aggression and recklessness displayed, but one thing is for sure and that is it does make you become a more defensive driver, with the general rule being that it is sensible to just assume that everyone around you is about to do something stupid and make the necessary moves to counter the risk.

The cycling itself was brilliant and although I didn’t complete the entire route I feel chuffed to bits that I got out there and rode well for 90km – considerably more cycling than I have even done in the last year. And in mountains too! In the heat! Not too shabby even if I do say so myself 🙂 The mountains themselves make for quite a stark, barren landscape, made up of crumbling, jagged rock, with very little in the way of vegetation, like we are more used to seeing in the UK and Europe. The addition of wild donkeys, goats and camels along the way just added to the unmistakable fact that we were very much cycling in the Middle East and not Surrey! I am currently writing this bit sat in front of the Burj Khalifa and the Downtown fountains, and was fully expecting to be walking really stiffly but have thus far been pleasantly surprised by how good my legs feel. We shall see if I still feel the same tomorrow, although I hope so as I have a kitesurfing lesson booked and really want to be in top form to get up on the board.

Family Meetup

This week saw me finally meet my 2nd cousin in law (I think I have that correct), Eyad, who I had been in touch with prior to heading out to Dubai. We had not managed to meet up until this week and so it was a really pleasant surprise to receive a message from him asking if I wished to join him and some friends at one of their houses for dinner, also meaning that I would get to meet his vet friend (Jayna) whom he had been telling me about. It rather helpfully transpired that the friends in question (Richard and Alia) lived literally around the corner from the clinic, on Al Manara Road, and so a short drive later found me parked outside their stunning villa, complete with amazing flowering frontage, and I met everyone before Eyad actually arrived. The food that Jayna prepared was incredible and a great example of her Greek origins, with amazing stuffed peppers, lamb, sweet potatoes and some really incredible courgette fritters. Unfortunately I cannot for the life of me recall the actual Greek names of the dishes but suffice to say they were delicious. I felt very welcomed by everyone and by the time Eyad arrived I had already had a chance to chat with Richard, who is currently recovering from a knee op, his fiance, Alia, Jayna, who is having a bit of mission getting all of her veterinary registration documents sorted, and Bakh, who, according to one observation, could have been my brother. I think the fact he has dark hair, was wearing glasses and was slim were the only features that warranted this comparison but as a brother from another mother he was cool.

One of the great things about the climate here in the Middle East is that it lends itself perfectly to social gatherings in the garden, and we sat outside both before and after dinner just enjoying the stunning garden that Richard and Alia have developed over the past year, and just chatting. Its been marked how little TV I have actually watched since moving here, with most evenings either being spent out doing something physically active, such as cycling, or hanging out with friends, such as that evening. The only things I have spent time viewing on a screen have been the occasional film or trip to the cinema, and I must admit that I am really enjoying the shift away from just spending dead time staring at a TV screen.

On talking with Jayna, it became clear just how helpful it has been having my registration and visa dealt with by the clinic, and the fact that much of it was able to be done whilst I was still back in the UK was a very good thing. Unfortunately, and rather unfairly, for her she had been told by her clinic to move over to Dubai and basically go through the whole process herself, which has meant at least two months of treading the often frustrating and drawn-out path of trips to various Ministry departments and not really being able to work. It would have been a mission if I had been expected to do the same and, besides, it seems really unfair for an employer to expect their brand new employee to know what to do, especially if they’re not originally from the UAE. Still, she seems happy and is now, by her own admission, rather an expert on the whole process. We joked that she could hire herself out to other new vets to help them get registered!

Bakh, I discovered, lives in Oman and was talking about the diving opportunities over on the east coast, which are apparently plentiful and stunning. You can dive off the coast of Dubai in the Arabian Gulf, but in the summer the water becomes uncomfortably warm whereas, due to the ocean swells that pass Oman, the water remains comfortable for diving in the summer. Apparently you can routinely see turtles, sharks and a whole host of other marine species, which I definitely plan to check out at some point. There really is so much to do outdoors here that it seems you could easily fill an entire year with different sporting activities each weekend. Although it would be easy to become unfit and overweight here if you chose to simply indulge in the plethora of food options and remain completely sedentary, especially given how easy it is to drive everywhere, I can’t imagine not being even slightly more active here than you would be back home, given how plentiful the activity options are and how incredible the weather is.

Talking of activities, I was supposed to be having another kitesurfing lesson today but as is the way when relying on Mother Nature, there appears to be no wind (although there was plenty yesterday, which was definitely apparent on the bikes) and so plans have changed. It has meant that I have been able to catch up, however, on CPD and editing the new book, and also just relax, something that it is important to remember to do. We’re heading out later for afternoon tea at one of the fancy hotels down in the Marina and plan to check out the sheesha cafes at the same time, which should be good fun and a great way to end the weekend. Talking of recreation, I purchased a copy of Time Out magazine earlier in the week and picked out a new cafe that they had reviewed to go and grab some dinner in before heading along to the cinema at Dubai Mall, as they were showing a final screening of Silver Linings Playbook, an awesome film by the way.

It was really nice being able to just cruise along to hang out at a beachside cafe in the late afternoon and then make a very short trip to the breathtaking scale and visual feast of Downtown and Burj Khalifa for the evening. Its always easy to become blasse to your immediate surroundings when you live somewhere but it is good every now and again to sit back and really appreciate the fact that you have the good fortune to actually live somewhere as incredible as Dubai. The hour or so that I spent before the film screening was such a moment for me, as I watched the crowds of tourists and Dubai residents all enjoying the amazing views and thrills of the fountains and the mall. In fact, I am gravitating more and more towards the option of renting in Downtown instead of the Marina, for a number of reasons. I think many of the decisions we have to make in life start life based on assessment of facts and research but ultimately the final say comes down to gut feelings, and for me Downtown is ticking more boxes on a visceral level at present. It just feels a little closer to ‘real’ Dubai compared to Marina, although quite what is meant by the phrase ‘real Dubai’ is difficult to pinpoint. I have a couple of months to decide anyway so we’ll see – maybe I’ll change my mind completely and find myself in another villa someplace.

Right, afternoon tea is calling so I should answer. Laters….

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….