Brian’s Abu Dhabi Race Report

March 2, 2013 – Abu Dhabi International Triathlon

This was my first visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and my first triathlon outside of Canada. The trip over there is long but went by reasonably quick with all the in-flight movies. I finally got a chance to see a few of the Oscar nominees. As many dedicated triathletes know, you don’t have much time for movies outside of work, kids and training.

brian abu dhabi

I’ve heard lots about the UAE from friends and coworkers but was anxious to see it for myself. The UAE has 7 Emirates (regions) and the capital is the city of Abu Dhabi. The other major city in the UAE is Dubai and they are about an hour apart. During my time there, I had the opportunity to check out some of the highlights of both cities. This was also my first race travelling without my 2 daughters (ages 4 and 9). The race itself had 3 different distances: sprint, short course, long course. I opted for the long course which consisted of a 3K swim, 200K bike, and a 20K run.

Something pretty cool happened right before I left Calgary. At the last minute, literally the Friday afternoon the day before I flew out I was offered a sponsorship by my company. Now this came as a big surprise and a welcome bonus. My company is headquartered in Abu Dhabi, and they liked the idea of having someone wear the company colors and participate in the race to gain some exposure. I had mentioned to a few people that I was heading over for the race but was not expecting a sponsorship. It made a big difference having my flight, hotel, and race entry paid for!

The one caveat with getting sponsored was that I had to agree to pretty much anything they wanted to gain visibility. So of course, I agreed! Friday afternoon I raced out to the Tri-It store and picked up a new race outfit. They then proceeded to cover it in corporate logos. Pretty cool.

I left Calgary on Saturday, February 23 in the evening. I arrived in Dubai about 1 AM Monday morning due to the 11 hour time difference. Also due to the 21 hour journey from Calgary to Dubai and my inability to sleep on airplanes, I was a little tired after landing. After a couple of days I was about 80% cured of jet lag, but remained a little tired throughout the entire trip. I spent my first few days checking out the sights in Dubai and got in some light workouts.

I was fortunate to be traveling with a good training friend named Has. He has spent some time in Dubai before and has family there. Has helped a lot arranging the hotels, talking to locals, and being my taxi for the week. It is important to know that Canadians cannot drive or get a rental car there unless you have an International driver’s license. Thankfully taxis were everywhere and very cheap. They have meters in every taxi just like home so no worries about getting ripped off.

On Thursday we travelled to Abu Dhabi in preparation for the race on Saturday. We checked in at the hotel, had a short swim, and went to the pasta party race meeting in the evening. What really surprised me was the diversity of nations represented at the race. For example, just at my 1 table at the pasta party I met people from Germany, Sweden, and Italy. I believe the race organizers said they had representatives from 67 countries. Not sure how many Canadians were there but I was happy to represent my country. The race briefing was pretty standard.

Friday was a very short swim and bike. My calves had been cranky the last few weeks so I decided not to do any running the day before the race just in case. I checked in my bike and gear bags, had a small dinner back in the hotel room, and packed it in for the night. My rule is no restaurant food 48 hours before a race. I didn’t have many of the pre-race jitters I normally have. I think I was still tired so ended up going to sleep fairly quickly.

Saturday morning I got up about 4:30 and Has dropped me off at the race start about 5:30. My wave start was 7:20. As soon as I woke up I started getting calls and emails from a video production company. As part of the sponsorship they wanted to get some race coverage before, during and after the race. I ended up meeting the camera crew about 20 minutes before race start because they couldn’t get parking. After getting all set up, they spent about 10 minutes asking me a bunch of different questions they had prepared. Finally about 10 minutes before my wave start, I reminded them that I do in fact have a race starting in 10 minutes so they let me go.

At this time I quickly checked my phone one last time and found out my friend Has dropped out of the race. He had to fly out a few hours later due to a family emergency. That put things in perspective and I said I would keep him and his family in mind during the race.

I whipped on my wetsuit, goggles, and swim cap. I literally got down to the beach start less than 1 minute before the horn. So much for a swim warm-up! Luckily my wave only had about 250 so there was lots of space compared to some other races.

Swim start was good. A little bumping elbows but luckily I’m a fairly strong swimmer (thanks to Todd’s coaching J) and know how to navigate through the washing machine. The swim consisted of 2 – 1500 meter loops around the Abu Dhabi Corniche. This is part of the Arabian Sea and was my first salt water swim. Overall the swim was great and I arrived right at the 50 minute mark.

T1 was good. Felt strong but wasted some time looking for sunscreen since I had no time before the race. I had to head out on the bike without it, but knew I would stop at the first aid station and lather up.

The bike course was one of a kind! The course consisted of a long ride out to the Yas Marina F1 race circuit. You get to ride 3 loops around the same track that hosts an annual F1 race that draws the biggest names in the sport. I will never forget the experience of racing around Yas Marina. After that, there are 3 large out and back loops, then a straight line back home.

I had previously read about the relentless Abu Dhabi desert winds. And after racing in them, I can say that they rival any winds out of the Calgary foothills. For the first 2+ hours of the 200K bike course, I had a killer head wind. By the time I reached the Yas Marina loop, most of the energy had been obliterated from my legs. Once I turned around and made my way back, the tailwind was a welcome change. However I still had a few out and backs and the return of the head wind. I started to feel my legs get very tired right after leaving Yas Marina. One of my favorite parts of the bike course was getting passed by the pros (Chris McCormack, Frederik Van Lierde, Eneko Llanos and Caroline Steffen to name a few).

I think it was part mental tiredness, or simply physical exhaustion, but I missed one of the out and backs on the bike course. So I ended up being short on the bike circuit and when I pulled in to T2 I realized I missed it and would be disqualified.

Getting in to T2 I thought I could still try and at least finish but my calves had other ideas. As I was running my bike in to transition, the killer calf cramps began. I knew immediately that I couldn’t run, so the question was, do I feel like walking 20k. Did I even have time to walk 20K before they closed the course? I thought I would at least try.

I tried to jog a few times, but it was futile. Even walking fast hurt like hell. I was setting a blistering pace of about 5k/hr. BRUTAL. After 3K, I finally decided to turn around and head back to home. A slow walk back to the finish, and my first DQF/DNF. It seems rotten to go that far and not finish a race. But I know that I gave it all I had, and that’s the best I can do.

Perhaps one of the biggest shockers of the day was the finishers area. Every triathlon I’ve ever been to in the last 5 years has had some kind of finishers food and drink. Not Abu Dhabi! After finishing I wandered around looking for something to drink: water, aqualyte, I didn’t care. I was just thirsty. Nope. Nothing to drink. Anywhere. And I was starving too. No food. No fruit, no pizza, no ice cream, no nothing! There were some kiosks there that sold food, but I had no money. So I couldn’t eat or drink anything until nearly an hour later back at the hotel. Ouch. Other than the lack of food/drink the race was reasonably well organized.

At the finish, the only people I knew were the camera guys I met a few hours earlier. Inside I was a mess, but tried to keep it together for the post-race video analysis. I managed not to drop any four-letter expletives during the interview and think I did okay. I still haven’t heard for what purpose they are going to use the video but if it ever makes it to YouTube I’ll let you know J.

Since my friend Has had to catch a plane, I pleaded with the camera guys for a ride back to my hotel. They were happy to do it. I think everyone I met on my entire trip was very friendly. Not once did I experience anything negative regarding the people.

After getting back to the hotel, I cleaned up and had some food. Then got ready for some meetings the next day at my company’s headquarters in Abu Dhabi. The final day I was back in Dubai and took a tour bus around the whole city. That was the first time I really felt like a tourist and the sights were amazing. My last night I had one final Skype with my kids then hopped the plane back to Calgary.

THis has been a very long story but a few things I learned from this whole experience:

–          Biking 200K in March after training indoors for 5 months in Calgary is VERY tough. I don’t think I had the necessary bike endurance. My limit on an indoor bike trainer is 2-3 hours before I lose my mind.

–          Injuries left untreated ALWAYS come back. And often at the worst possible time. I knew I had a nagging calf injury but thought I had worked it out. I hadn’t had physio for a while and running was progressing well. But the couple of weeks prior I did notice some minor aches and pains. Obviously I wasn’t healed.

–          Corporate sponsorship is awesome. I saw a handful of other athletes there who were wearing company colors and logos. It is a great way for the company to gain exposure and also to demonstrate the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. I would encourage everyone to explore this option within their company.

–          It’s OK to not finish a race. Believe me it was frustrating to go thousands of miles and not finish. That was the first time I was unable to finish any triathlon. But you learn from it and keep going. I think it’s important to always have the next goal race in mind so you stay focused. Next race for me is Ironman Couer D’Alene in June 2013!

–          It’s better to share the experience with family. To say I missed my kids is a big understatement. Crossing the finish line isn’t the same if there is no one there to share it with you. Next time I want my kids there too.

This was definitely a race on my bucket list. I’d love to try it again sometime but I wouldn’t go without my kids and I’d make sure I was suitably prepared for the long course distance. Next time the short course might be a more realistic goal to finish that early in the season. Overall it was a great experience.

Happy training!


4 responses to “Brian’s Abu Dhabi Race Report

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Brian. It is the little tips that help up-and-comers like me avoid some of the pitfalls. Your comment about limited access to outdoor riding as opposed to a winter of spin class for early season racing is an important detail to consider.

  2. Brian,
    That’s a great post race write up!
    I could only imagine those strong desert winds. There is no way you could replicate that training indoors during the winter.
    “Good on ya” for taking on this challenge!
    Ken (from Edmonton)

  3. Thanks for sharing your Dubai experience Brian. Well done! This race will only help you for Ironman in June and I’m sure a PB will be in your future.


  4. Hey Brian great report & I am glad to have a friend like ya bud. Dubai and Tulip are going to miss you a lot. I am so looking forward for next year but this time with the kids and my Mom. Keep up the good work bud and good luck with the next challenge. I will see you soon in the training session

    Has Al Akwa

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