What a season we are having! Hot off the back of a fantastic Dubai International Triathlon, and serving as a great run-in to the other big race of the year, Challenge Bahrain, the aptly titled Race to Bahrain triathlon took place on Friday 21st November at Mamzar Beach Park, site of so many fun events before.
I had once again signed up for the Olympic Distance, with the difference this time being that we had the option of donning a wetsuit for the swim, given the fact that we are definitely into winter now and the water verging on chilly. When given the option of wearing a wetsuit or not for a race it is generally accepted that the consensus is to do so as in theory they do result in a faster swim owing to the increased buoyancy.
SuperTri were yet again out in force, with this race seeing coach Trace and Barbara, of TriPod fame, teaming up for the Sprint Relay, ultimately taking the crown in impressive style. Several of Trace’s athletes were out racing as well, across the Sprint and Olympic distances, all having a really good day.
With an evidently smaller field this time around, the mass deep water swim start had a little more of a relaxed feel to it and I was pleased with my acceleration and sighting, lining up the first buoy and keeping a fairly straight course as I reached and turned round it. I think in hindsight that my rhythm may have suffered overall as I sighted a lot more during this race, inevitably leading to some degree of slowing in the process. Still, I imagine that what I lost in pace I probably made up in terms of reduced overall distance swum on account of not tacking on an extra couple of hundred metres of zig-zagging! With the swim ticked off in little over 30 minutes, I had an initial moment of fumbled reacquaintance with my wetsuit as I exited the water, doing my best to locate and pull down the zip cord, looking I am sure more Mr Bean than Macca in the process. Still, a relatively fast (for me) T1 ensured that I was out on the bike swiftly. Choosing to limit my fluid reserves to one front-mounted reservoir, I was carrying slightly less weight on this race, and gauged the fluid requirements well as it turned out, with a small amount of drink still present by the end of the ride, in contrast to the entire extra bottle of water I was carrying last time – a total waste of energy. Yet again, I stuck to the plan prescribed by Trace, and limited my heart race to an average of about 165 bpm for the full 40km, seeing it rise a little on the sections where we found ourselves heading straight into a headwind. As a result of the smaller field, or maybe because I am actually getting faster after all, I was aware of fewer people passing me on the bike, cruising into T2 feeling pretty good.
The run, as I have said many times before, is definitely my discipline and so it was as I flew out of T2 at a pace of 3:50, eventually settling out to an average pace of 4 minutes per kilometre. An early decision to jettison some of the water taken on during the bike at an early loo stop proved to be a sensible strategic move, with the pace picking up and feeling even more comfortable immediately afterwards. I am not sure what my 2-lap splits were but I feel confident that I posted a negative split for the run. One thing I know is that I had very little left in the tank by the end and was pleased to see the finish line looming up, digging deep to find some last minute turbo pace down the finish chute. Boom! Another race done and another handsome bit of metal in the treasure chest 🙂 A great race overall and if only I can work more on my bike times and fitness then maybe I can hope to see myself start to creep up the placings, finishing 8th as I did in my category for this particular race. Things can only get better hey?!
FINAL RACE RESULTS:
Swim 1.5km (incl T1) = 0:30’43
Cycle 40km (incl T2) = 1:13’20
Run 10km = 0:41’35
With an entry thankfully secured for the Olympic Distance race and a brand new TT bike to really test out, I loaded up the car early on Friday morning, having enjoyed a few beers with a new friend the evening before and less than the desired amount of sleep (as always before a race), and made my way to Mamzar Beach. The last time I raced at Mamzar was earlier in the year when I still had my nice shiny new 4WD, which was then totalled by an idiot driver jumping a red en-route back towards home and thoughts of a well earned breakfast. It was with some sense of exorcising those demons that I returned this time, albeit via a slightly different route, avoiding the main highway and, the logic dictated, the speedier idiots.
Mamzar now feels familiar, having raced there twice before, although each race still carries new challenges and requires the utmost level of planning and focus as ever. The usual pre-race routine of setting up transition, mentally rehearsing both T1 and T2, and running through the race plan was adhered to. The differences this time were that a) I was feeling much stronger, off the back of an entire year of Ironman training, and also had my very own TT bike, and thus felt very much more like a “real” triathlete, not that having a TT bike really makes any significant difference. Racking up yet again next to Christian Henn, a powerhouse of triathlon and an athlete whom I admire greatly and can only aspire to match in terms of both training and racing success, conjured up feelings of deja vu, as I’m pretty sure we were racked next to each other last time as well. I guess we both like to sign up to races at similar times! Not that our race times were ever going to be the same. As expected, Christian stormed through the race, finishing, as I understand it, in a hugely impressive time of a smidge over 2 hours versus by 2hrs 25mins. Unstoppable! Anyway, I digress.
With the new mean machine (Focus Chrono) settled in ready for the bike portion, and my new Sailfish Speedsuit donned in anticipation of the non-wetsuit swim, with the aim very much being to NOT go anywhere near the sharp rope and cut said pricey new addition to my sporting wardrobe, it was time to get in the zone, limber up and make my way down to the shoreline ready for the swim start. One of the great things about the triathlon scene here in Dubai is the real sense of community that there is, and it is always fun catching up with friends as we all wait anxiously but excitedly, counting down the minutes until we get to enter the water, swim out beyond the rope and tread water before the deep water swim start. I have a pretty good acceleration in the water and so intentionally positioned myself as near the front of the pack as I could, choosing, however, to stay to the right of the main huddle, meaning that I would have a slightly longer swim line to the first buoy but, I reasoned, it should be less crowded and thus a smoother and faster swim.
With the starting horn sounded, a mass of arms, legs and spray erupted as we powered our way through the water towards the first turn, occasionally catching our breath as we spotted the odd large jellyfish bobbing just below the surface, reminding us that we were very much in their marine domain. I had a pretty good swim all told, even though I a) still have some work to do on sighting, swimming a slightly more zig-zag course than would have been ideal, and b) had the distinct sensation of the water being almost effervescent, feeling a tingling sensation which I put down to possible small stings from possibly macerated jellyfish parts that may have been floating about in the water. I later learned that the source of the strange sensation was in fact small jellyfish larvae, which get trapped between our tri suits and skin, administering continuous tiny stings, giving what I experienced as a tingling sensation. Apparently Mamzar is a big breeding ground for jellyfish, and so everyone experienced the same strange sensation, which we all initially put down to sea lice.
With the two lap swim complete, followed by a reasonably rapid T1, it was out on the bike for the five laps, my aim being to follow the plan advised by Trace, my coach, of racing at 95% of my functional power threshold for the bike leg. Not having my power meter attached to my new bike did mean that I had to rely on heart rate as my guide to power, and so my intention was to maintain it at about 163 beats per minute. That did end up feeling painfully slow, with loads of people ending up sailing past me over the course of the 40km. Still, as tempting as it was to put pedal to the metal and race them all, I knew that the thing to do was trust the plan and stick with it.
As it transpired, that was exactly the right thing to do as I entered T2, donned my running shoes and immediately felt strong as I started the 10km run. From the minute I left transition I hit a steady pace of 4:15 and maintained it as my average pace for the duration of the two lap run, relishing the sensation of picking off fellow runner after fellow runner, all of whom had passed me at one point or another on the bike. In fact, I think that the net result over the 10km was that I was not actually overtaken and sill managed to finish pretty strong. Not that there was anything left in the tank mind you, as I slowed to savour the finish, something that I have recently started to do after previously tearing through the finish as if my pants were on fire and missing out on the very real sense of elation that comes from crossing that line. It also means that the photographers actually get a better chance to snap a half decent shot of you over the line, as opposed to some out-of-focus, blurry mess of a grimmacing idiot that I used to see as my usual finish line photo.
With the much appreciated post-race chocolate milk provided by the generous SuperTri crew procured and hastily imbibed, it was time to shoot the post-race breeze with my fellow UAE triathletes before collecting up the new steed, finding a quiet spot on the beach to shower and ‘re-humanise’ before returning home for a well-earned breakfast and rest. Another great race in an altogether incredible city for triathlon. Bring on the Dubai International Triathlon!
It is always an uplifting experience returning to the homeland – experiencing that which is is all too familiar and yet being able to appreciate even the little things through a new set of eyes. I landed back in London on Friday, promptly picked up my tiny little (manual) hire car and headed off for Maidenhead, my base for the weekend, along the tiny, weany, slow little roads that were apparently both the M25 and M4. For anyone who has not had the pleasure(?!) of driving in the UAE, once you have then both of these major UK highways will simply remind you of the suburban ‘side roads’ that lead to most residential areas in Dubai. And the driving will seem like the most civilised ever!
With the Windsor Triathlon this weekend, Maidenhead, which is a hop, skip and jump over the M4 from Windsor, was to be the base for the weekend, with new favourite website, Air BNB coming to the aid, enabling me to easily hire a townhouse with room enough for the family to venture down to hang out and provide moral support on race day. It was a great chance to spend some quality time with my energetic little nephew, meet my cute-as-hell new niece for the first time, and catch up with mum, dad and sister, whilst also getting to celebrate Fathers Day in a stunning setting.
Saturday was all about registration and bike racking, with the decision to make life easy by renting a bike for the race yet again being a simple one to make. No hassle with dragging a bike box through airports or using all of my luggage allowance on an item that ultimately I will get to use for one day, maybe two during the trip back. Given that the bike course at Windsor was relatively flat, as I recalled from last year, I thought it would be fun to treat myself by renting a TT bike, especially as I have never actually ridden one before. Now I know that race day is not the time to ‘test’ new kit, especially a bike, but I figured that given this was an Olympic Distance race and not my A race of the year, why not just have a bit of fun and try it out. I must admit that I wasn’t quite prepared for the aggressiveness of the position and was glad that it was only 42km and not the full 180km of September’s Ironman. Still, when it came to it I was able to seriously turn on the power, get down and aero and just fly!
Bike racked and ready nice and early, I had the chance to catch up with some good friends who joined the family and I for lunch in Windsor before opting to don the tourist hat and take the obligatory trip up to Windsor Castle. Needless to say it is one impressive place and we even had the pleasure of being present for the return of the Queen herself, with the Union Jack being replaced by the Royal Standard flying high above the keep and letting everyone know Her Majesty was officially in residence. Sadly our paths did not cross on this occasion. I was, after all, far too busy 😉
With less sleep than was either ideal or intended, the alarm sounded to signal race day had arrived. I have been on a high fat, low carb diet now for a few weeks and so my usual race day breakfast was out the window in favour of a lovely fruit and avocado smoothie, and gels on the bike being replaced with dates. Thanks to being a bit OCD all my kit was laid out and ready to go, complete with my Tri Dubai suit, meaning we were out the door nice and early, just in time to sit in traffic for an age en route to the venue!
With the usual pre-race rituals adhered to – I don’t need to elaborate on this I am sure – it was time to don the wetsuit, get in the zone and promptly panic that I was missing my swim start on account of suddenly seeing a load of pink caps already bobbing in the water. The benefit of rushing down to the start just in time was that there was no time to dwell on the fact that the River Thames is both a disgusting colour and pretty darned cold, as I hastily donned my own cap, goggles and simply leapt in, jostling for position as it became immediately apparent how strong the current was today. Incidentally I soon realised that I had in fact joined an earlier wave instead and so was actually early instead of late. The main confirmation came when I arrived in T1 to see that I was apparently the first from my wave to pick up my bike, which seemed odd considering I knew for a fact that I had not been first out of the water!
Against the Current
The Windsor Tri swim sees athletes head up river before turning and swimming back again, with the current particularly strong today, meaning that the first leg was a slow slog whilst the difference on the turn was immediately apparent as I literally felt as though my suit had been fitted with jet packs. Swimming that fast with such little effort was a crazy experience, although with the exit around a reverse hairpin bend, the ten metres to the pontoon was a tough and energetic affair – actually quite good for ensuring blood was moved to the legs ready for the run to transition and the bike leg.
Although the water running through Windsor isn’t the clearest or cleanest looking, and it is generally recommended to avoid swallowing much of it if at all possible, the swim is a great experience as there are very few times when you’d get the opportunity to see somewhere like Windsor from such a novel vantage point. Coming from the current summer heat of Dubai the cool waters of the Thames were, in fact, fantastically refreshing and despite a few slightly freaky moments involving stray river debris which I initially imagined might be jellyfish, the swim was an enjoyable experience. Maybe not as fast as I had been hoping for at 29 minutes, but given the strength of the current up river I was still happy with it.
Aero and Away
T1 was by my standards a fairly speedy affair and with new TT bike in hand, it was off to the mount line and a 42km foray into the Berkshire countryside. I did let my warm weather softness shine through however as I donned gloves once on the bike, feeling swiftly glad that I had and opting to keep them on for the remainder of the race. However, the significant difference in temperature between that which I am used to training in and today’s race meant that keeping my core cool was simple, and I barely had to touch my bottle, only really taking on fluids to help with eating my on-bike dates. The TT bike was fast but I can’t say comfortable and I was pretty glad to hop off and get the run ticked off.
I remember the run being tougher last year, especially with the first of three steep climbs up to Windsor Castle being foisted upon athletes almost straight out of transition, so I guess it is simply testament to the value of training that I really enjoyed the 10km, with a real emphasis being placed on keeping good form and maintaining a respectable, steady pace. The route is great, with a climb through the centre of town to the Castle, before turning and heading back down the hill – a welcome respite for burning legs – before a short section heading out of town, looping back and taking us over the river into Eton and up the high street before turning at the college and returning back to the turnaround just outside transition.
Windsor’s run route is one of the best on account of the picturesque nature of the landmarks that it takes runners past and through, and also by virtue of the fact that the support from the crowd is pretty consistent, and fantastic, along most of the route. The final stretch which takes runners towards the turnaround and then eventually the finish is simply electric and it is almost impossible not to feel like a conquering elite storming home to claim the World Championship title with the level of ear splitting and raucous support that every athlete gets during these final seconds – worth the sign up alone!
With another decently weighty medal in possession and post-race photos taken, it was time to return the bike (sadly), dump everything in the car and find somewhere to get down to some serious eating!
This was the second year of running this race and I definitely felt stronger and more confident this time around, with my Tri Dubai suit being worn with pride and the benefits of training in such a fantastic place shining through on the day. Anyone looking for a fun, picturesque Olympic distance race will do well to sign up for Windsor, with 2015 being the 25th anniversary, and the fact that it is consistently voted the best race of the UK calendar is testament to how much fun it is.
Remember, you can support my Iron Vet challenge for veterinary charity WVS (Worldwide Veterinary Service) at www.ironvet.net.
Bobbing around at the swim start with all of the other crazy people who elect to get up at the crack of dawn – well, pre-dawn actually – waiting for the start horn to go off, there is a palpable sense of anticipation and a hunger to take all of the training to date and apply it there and then, in that moment, to race. After all, it is why we do what we do. We are racers. Competitors. Whether we’re competing with others or, as for many triathletes, simply competing with ourselves, to push it further, faster, harder, the start line is where it all comes together.
And so it was that I found myself waiting patiently in the cool waters off Mamzar Beach in Dubai on the 7th February, ready to step it up from the last time I found myself there for the Sprint race, my first as a triathlete in Dubai, and take part in the Olympic distance race. Much has changed since that first event. For a start I found I was having to actively tread water considerably less thanks to my lovely new(ish) tri-specific wetsuit, and I felt calmer, stronger and more focused. After all, I have now been training here in the Middle East for a year and no longer feel as overwhelmed with the sensory onslaught that a triathlon serves up. As if to prove to myself how much more ready I felt, I placed myself at the front of the swim pack, sprinted off for all I had and quickly settled myself into a rhythm, surrounded on all sides by other determined racers, something that last year would have freaked me out.
The swim was a two lap course, totaling 1.5km, and I was very pleased to find myself completing the entire swim without feeling the need to stop, or revert to breaststroke, something that I have ended up doing at every race to date, and which I always mentally chastise myself for. The weekly pool sessions with Tri Dubai and the regular open water sea swims have worked their magic, meaning my confidence, and indeed fitness, in the water has come on.
With the swim completed in a time of 26 mins, which I was very pleased with, it was on to the cycle. Transition is still very much an area in which I can get a whole heap faster, especially given that I choose to put socks on after drying my feet, something which a fellow triathlete friend of mine ribbed me for. Still, bike helmet on, bike grabbed and off we went! Literally as I was leaving the cycle mount area I realised that I had left my energy gels behind – DOH! To turn around or keep going? That was the question. Keep going! I made the decision to be careful about not going too hard on the bike, especially early on, given that I had no easily available energy sources to hand. As it turned out, the cycle went well without the extra kick of a gel or two, and although I won’t be winning any records for breaking the cycle land speed record, I was pleased with my 1 hour 41 minute time, especially when pitched against the super carbon machines that I was well aware of as they zipped past me in what looked like an effortless, weightless blur. One day I shall own one of those super bikes, oh yes I shall!
So, cycle completed it was just the small matter of grinding out 10km of running. I’d have to say that running is probably my strongest of the three disciplines and I derive a fair amount of pleasure from cruising past those super cyclists who had previously overtaken me on their bikes now that machine had been chipped away to man. Like most triathletes, and in fact most athletes, I am fairly habitual – some might call it OCD – about some aspects of my racing. For example, I generally always run with a cap, specifically my white Oakley one, turned backwards like some little league wannabe. I realise it probably looks slightly dorkish but I simply don’t care as in my mind it makes me go faster. My aim for the two lap run course was to post a negative split, meaning that I would run the second 5km faster than the first. As it turned out my pace ended up pretty much staying constant, except for the very brief piss stop that I spent the first 3km debating whether to take – I’m soooooo glad I took the seconds to stop as there is nothing better for your running comfort than not having a full bladder – and the run was completed in a time of 44 minutes, which I was very pleased with. The fact that I found it a tougher effort to put in that obligatory sprint finish at the end suggested that my effort on the run was a good one, and I kept up an almost constant 4:27 pace for the full 10km.
Medal collected, chocolate milk downed and water cracked open, it was time to bask in that fatigued yet wonderful post-race glow, whilst sharing in the atmosphere with fellow racers and friends. That is one of the great things about our sport: the true sense of camaraderie and genuine interest and pleasure taken in the training and race performance of others.
After a quick check-in with Trace Rogers, my coach, who had been out marshaling the event, I loaded my kit up in the 4WD, grabbed a rather refreshing (read FREEZING and very brief) shower and drove off home with thoughts of an awesome breakfast and a movie dancing through my mind.
A great race and a fantastic day – up to the point some reckless driver ploughed into me and my car, but that is a whole separate post.