Abu Dhabi International Triathlon 2012 Report

 

Since the inaugural race in 2010, the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon has been on my to-do list.  In just a few years, the event has already established itself as one of the premier races outside of Hawaii, with the who’s who of triathlon competing.  After spending 5 days in Abu Dhabi and competing last weekend, I can see why the event has become such a success – it’s simply a very, very well run event.
My start time was scheduled for 7:05am, which was the first age-group wave to go off.  I woke up at 4am to start the morning preparations.  Fortunately the hotel we were staying at had breakfast available from 4am for all athletes.  At 5:15am I got a taxi to the race site, getting there nice and early with plenty of time to spare.   
I spotted Herbert (editor of Slowtwitch) and had a quick chat with him before getting into transition and going through the process of prepping the bike.  There were some rumours around that the start had been delayed by 30 minutes, and there was soon confirmation of this on the loud speaker.  Purely by coincidence, I’d racked my bike next to two friends who were in the same wave as me, so after we found out about the delay we just sat down and relaxed.  With the race start approaching, I put on the sunscreen and wetsuit and headed down to the beach.  
We had a minute (literally) to warm up, so I quickly jumped in the water, did a few strokes then ran back to shore to get my place on the start line on the beach.  With no countdown, the horn sounded and the race was underway.
I’d positioned myself slightly to the right of centre on the front row.  I wasn’t expecting to be one of the best swimmers, but I didn’t want to handicap myself by starting too far back.  I managed to run a fair way until diving in, at which point my right goggle filled with water immediately.  In a lake swim this wouldn’t have been such a big deal, but in the salty Arabian Gulf, my eye was burning.  I wasn’t going to stop to adjust my goggles for a few reasons.  Firstly I would have been swum all over, and secondly I’d have made my task of sticking with the leaders impossible.  I decided to wait until the first turn buoy to adjust them, which was about 500m into the swim.  Unfortunately by that time I’d already lost touch of the lead group, and I remember thinking there were at least 10 guys ahead of me.  I swam the remainder of the first lap solo, just about keeping those ahead in sight.  As we approached the swim exit for the first loop, I made a bit of a navigational error which cost me a bit of time.  There was a short beach run before starting the second and final lap of the 3k swim.  
The leading group ahead of me had broken up a bit and I could see that I could potentially catch some of them.  It wasn’t until this second lap that I started to get into a nice swimming rhythm, and I was feeling a bit more confident in the water.  From 2k onwards, I started passing some of the slower swimmers from the wave behind us who were on their first lap.  There was a bit of dodging to do for the remainder of the swim, trying to avoid swimming into others.  I knew I hadn’t had a great swim, having swum almost the entire portion alone.  I looked at the watch to see nearly 45 minutes, which for 3k was a slightly disappointing start to the day.  This was going to be a long race though, so losing a couple of minutes wasn’t the end of the world.   
I ran through transition and unfortunately proceeded to waste quite a lot of time.  It was a catalogue of errors from not being able to put my wetsuit back in my bag, dropping my nutrition and having to re-pin my race number.  I was quite relieved to get on the bike and start what would be the longest ride of my life.
I was prepared for the bike to be flat and perhaps borderline boring, but it turned out not to be the case.  The first 20km or so were flat and fast and I was seeing speeds of 25-30mph for the majority of that time.  There were a few athletes around me, some I passed, and some flew by me.  My strategy was to stick to my race watts and not get caught up in what others around me were doing.  On the way to the Yas Marina Formula 1 circuit there were a number of bridges to go over, which provided the chance to get out of the saddle and change position briefly.  Around the 40km mark we entered the Yas Marina and had our chance to play F1 driver for the day!  I must say, it was cool! 
The first 50km went by very fast and I was preparing for a slow ride back to town.  Surprisingly, the speed didn’t drop significantly and I made the turn, which should have been approximately 80km, in less than 2 hours.  I then realised that without doubt, conditions were giving us a seriously fast bike leg.  I made the 180 degree turn and headed back out for the second lap.
With the halfway point of the ride approaching, this was where the plan was to settle into a nice pace effort than I could maintain to the 200km mark.  The course was now quite congested with athletes taking part in the other distance events, so there was a fair bit of concentration needed to ride safely and avoid any collisions.  The wind was picking up, but the average speed was staying steady.  The thing about a flat course is that, whilst it sounds easy, there’s no opportunity to coast or take a short break from pedalling.  It’s a relentless effort.  I was now welcoming the bridges as a chance to get out the saddle and change gears.  I wasn’t feeling particularly comfortable on the bike, but neither was in any discomfort.  It was just one of those days where you get through it.  I tried to concentrate on sticking to my nutrition and fuelling plan as my watts started to drop off slightly. 

 

 


The final 40km was quite a bit slower as the wind was blowing harder, proved by more and more cones on the road being uprooted.  I’d been keeping my eye on the competition at the various turn points on the course, and I figured that I was in second place in our wave, but about 8 minutes behind the leader who had a really strong ride.  As I rode the last few miles back to transition I saw that although my pace had slowed slightly, the ride time better than I had anticipated.  Total ride time of 4:56:45, although it should be noted that the bike was very short at around 188km. 
Unlike T1, I went through T2 smoothly and quickly and I was soon out on the run.  The plan was to ease into it, starting out at a steady effort and trying to finish the final miles at a good pace.  One of the pro women had exited just ahead of me and was going at a nice pace, although a touch faster than I wanted to go.  I kept her in my sights for the first three miles, keeping even splits at just under 6:45min/mile.  The wind and moderate temperature meant that it felt reasonably cool, allowing for fast running.  Aid stations were everywhere, and it never seemed to be long before you were being handed out another sponge or more coke and water.  I was really enjoying the run and felt completely comfortable ticking over the miles.   
 
I went through the halfway point in around 39 minutes, which I was very pleased with.  Sticking to 6:45min/mile pace, I was still feeling extremely comfortable.  I’d made up about a minute on the age-group leader, but he still had 7 minutes over me with half the run to go.  The miles seemed to pass quickly and I soon had 3 miles to go.  I made an effort to pick the pace up slightly towards the 6:30min/mile mark.  I remember thinking ‘this is great’!  I was absolutely cruising at what felt like a low effort.  I approached the finishing chute, grabbed the Seychelles flag from my mum and crossed the line, delighted with the way I closed out the day.
I'd managed an even run split of 1:17:56, but as with the bike, the run was short at 19km.  Still, the average pace was better than I expected, especially given that we haven’t been prioritising run training in the last few months.  The finish time of 7:05:36 sealed 1st place in the 20-24 age-group and 2nd age-grouper overall.  After chatting with a few pros around the finish area, I went to pick at what was one of the better post-race food areas.
Overall I’m delighted with my first result as an Accelerate 3 coached athlete and I’m looking forward to the upcoming training months.  There are certainly some things to take away from the race which I can work on, but considering its March, I’m pleased with where I’m at.  To anyone considering doing the race, I’d encourage you to give it a go.  The distance is unique and there’s a great atmosphere around the event, with everyone from first-timers to the world’s top pros racing.  There’s certainly a lot to do in the UAE and everyone that I met was extremely friendly.  Who knows, maybe I’ll be back next year as a pro ;)  Cheers.