I’d entered the Dubai 70.3 back in May ’16 before really thinking about the practicalities of training over Christmas.  A fine idea.  Anyway, despite training a lot less than would be ideal, I was really looking forward to this one, especially after having a complete car crash in my only other hot / international race in Puerto Rico 10 months earlier (7h 35 for a 70.3.. ouch).

Tough times in work meant it was only during the day Karen and I were meant to travel that I was finally able to confirm I would go.  I  managed to arrive home very late and had the usual stress disassembling my bike and packing it into the bikeboxalan and going through my checklist of all the other stuff required for an abroad race.  Further stress when a black cab turned up to take us to Heathrow but we got on our way.

One lesson learned in 2016 was that I get more race ‘passes’ for nice places if Karen gets to come, so this was the first of two international races in 2017 with Aix-en-Provence 70.3 to follow in May.  We made it in time for the plane, I failed to resist the free beers in the lounge and was ( pleasingly ) sat next door but one to Kate Moss on the plane.  Loud and drunk but not terrible looking at all.

I’d be meeting up with four work colleagues for the race rather than the cr@p tri crew and was looking forward to racing with company.  I expected to finish middle of the pack…

We landed about 8.30 in the morning, only 24 hours before the race so big fingers crossed the bike was on the same plane because there was no room for logistics cock ups this time.  After a panicky 15 minutes the bright red box was wheeled out and we headed to the race hotel, the Jumeirah Beach ( very nice, not cheap, right at the swim start, so the obvious choice ).  Our room wasn’t ready so we met up with Andrew and got his plan for the morning ( registration, swim practice, lunch, bike check, rest, bike racking, dinner ).  Our room then became ready and it was a quick change and over to register.

Registration was super-smooth and the IM village was superb – on red carpet right on Jumeriah Beach – a fantastic, iconic setting.  I must have spent enough money with IM last year to get All World Athlete status for 2017.  The main perk is a smaller queue to register, but as it happens there were no queues.  Reg was easy and the rucksack was very nice indeed, as was the IM trucker cap.  Spend a little money in the merchandise store, but not quite enough race specific stuff for my liking.

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The four of us ( Andrew plus Chris and Stefano ) headed to the beach ( actually the swim exit ) to practice swim.  It was 22 degrees in the sea so just about wetsuit legal.  the temperature was perfect and the swim was lovely.  A few waves but lots of buoys and sighting seemed easy enough.  800 metres or so then dried off on the beach with some sun.

After a fantastically expensive buffet lunch which I could have stayed at for a week, Andrew and I put my bike back together surprisingly quickly then headed out for the bike check – just a quick half hour up and down a busy 3 lane motorway.  Not fully sure Dubai’s traffic was embracing the cyclists on their road and some VERY close shaves with busses meant I was quite glad to get back to the hotel.  Bike in good working order, but as feared, the wind and the sun were both pretty strong.  Which way and how fast the wind was blowing was going to have a big influence on the bike tomorrow.

Then it was time for putting the various bits into the different IM bags for bike and run, a rest, then off to rack the bikes and drop the bags off ( half mile walk from the hotel ).  Superbly organised, this was all very smooth.  My spot in transition was lovely – right next to the pros ( another AWA perk ) who had their names on their racks and loads of space.. Javier Gomez was the hot favourite.  With the sun setting it was a pretty amazing setting…

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Then back to the hotel for a Jamie’s Italian early garlic-fest dinner with the full group.  Food was good and we enjoyed betting on our expected times for tomorrow.  I was hoping for a PB given the course was pretty flat, but ended up going a bit over at 5h 35 in total… we would see. I resisted the Peroni, just.

Early to bed, terrible sleep and 5am was soon on us.  5am is pretty late for IM events, but we were so close to everything I could afford a lie-in.  Some porridge, a banana and a can of red bull ( never normally but what they hell ) for breakfast then off to the bikes to load the computer, bottles, spare tubes and stuff.  Nice atmosphere building but still pitch dark at this point.  Despite only having been in the country for 20 odd hours I was feeling full of energy and ready to go.

After a toilet stop back at the room, we met up in the reception and headed to swim start, basically in the hotel back garden and in the Jumeirah marina.  Beautiful location, with the sun starting to rise and the atmosphere starting to build.  We planned a quick dip to get acclimatised but there was no time and we soon were in the self-seeding pens ready to go. Devastated to realise I hadn’t put on the IM tattoos, so no showing off in work next week…

Good luck wishes to everyone and Chris ( who’s an absolute animal swimmer ) was off to the front row aiming for 25 minutes (!), with Andrew not too far behind and the rest of us somewhere around 40 minutes.

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It was a rolling start (pros 7am, AG-ers 7.10), super well organised with 6 athletes going in every 6 seconds on a buzzer.  This meant a very gentle start with very little bashing which was lovely, though it took 10 minutes for us sluggish swimmers to get wet.  Swimming out to the ocean through the marina was pretty amazing, through super yachts and with the Burj Al Arab Hotel just off to the left.  Sighting was going well, though pretty quickly I had a right eye full of water so had to stop to sort that.. few seconds lost, grrrr.

Out into the ocean, I felt the swim was going well… arms felt strong and felt my lines were pretty good.  There was some usual contact at the buoys but nothing to worry about and progress seemed encouraging.  I wanted under 40 minutes.  Then I noticed ( like at IM Wales ) my swim cap was coming off.  Not a problem but it was annoying and I wasn’t losing it!  I ploughed on, at this point parallel to the beach but eventually the cap was ready to pop off so I took the silly decision to stop and try to stuff it up my sleeve.  Mental. It’s surprisingly hard to do, so wasted about 30/45 seconds treading water.  Andrew said later ‘why not shove it down your neck?’  Why indeed.

After the final white red bull buoy we turned to shore and RIGHT into the rising sun.  Basically couldn’t see a thing.  Should really have breast stroked for a bit to find a line, but carried on as normal, hoping to get guided by the rest of the field.  Unsurprisingly the field was really spread out and I was drifting way off to the left.  I eventually found myself in some metal cables and realised I was off line.  The lifeguard on the paddle board encouraged me to head right ( with loads of other swimmers ) and I finally got sight of the finish arch and put in some effort to get home.  Out of the water feeling good, but disappointed to see 41 minutes something.  Say hello to Karen and then off into transition, quickly moving on from the swim.

Official swim time was 41m 50s, a very poor 948th place out of apparently 1,900 athletes ( but probably more like 1,500 finishers ).

T1 was very smooth – found my bag easy, wetsuit came off OK without too much calf tightening.  Shoes and rest of bike kit on and then off onto the bike.  T1 time was 4m 50 which is OK for me.  Pretty happy with that.

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Basically the bike course at Dubai is a tiny bit along the coast, then inland for 40 odd km, then a quick detour, then 40 odd km back to the beach.  There’s not much elevation, but it’s uphill for the first half then nice and downhill for the rest.  The slight uphill on the way out ended up feeling more than it sounded on paper.

Coach’s advice was to be very cautious for the first half of the bike bearing in mind I went too crazy in Puerto Rico and paid a massive price later.  I know it’s good advice but it’s not an exciting race strategy is it?  The first quarter of the bike was fine.. about 30kph average, AMAZING road surface, uphill and into the strengthening wind.  Packs were forming of 20-30 riders and it was hard to break away from them.  Bike referees were busy with the anti-drafting whistles but really hard to pinpoint individuals who were cheating ( there were some ).

The second quarter was the least enjoyable bit of the day.  Steeper hill ( still not South Wales steep of course ) and stronger wind.  Saw the pros FLY past on the other side of the road and was really looking forward to the turn and praying that the wind carried on blowing the same way.  By the 45km mark my average speed had disappointingly dropped to 29kph, so 1h 32.  Needed a fast return to get close to PB territory (5h 30 in Staffs).  And the third quarter would not disappoint.. it was downhill and with a 20/25kph wind right behind.  Speed quickly climbed and there were times on the flat pretty much without pedalling hitting 45-50kph with heart rate in the low 120’s – very nice indeed. Most of the time in aero and passing plenty of people.  One thing did worry me a bit though and that was that there were very few people going the other way and I was worried I was WELL down the field.  Average speed was however moving up nicely and at one stage I reckoned I’d do 2h 40.  That wasn’t to be though as the final quarter was flatter and with less wind.

Bike time was 2h 44m 59 – my fastest bike split and picking up some places to 835th ( I was right about still being well down the field ).  I need to get more powerful on the bike that’s for sure.

The run is usually my strong leg so I was looking forward to finishing off with the half marathon.  The heat was increasing though and the sun was high and strong.  T2 was smooth and even took the time for a toilet stop.  Slightly off-putting smell of hot piss aside it went fine at 3m 50 – again pretty good for me.

The run course is a 3.5km jogging track on the beach, padded for comfort… very Dubai.  Basically out and back three times = half marathon.  There was plenty of support and it was a lovely place for a run in the sun.  Karen and Carley were there so I’d see them twice per loop which was good.  Lawrence’s advice was first lap easy, second lap easy, third lap easy.. think he was trying to tell me something..

As usual I started WAY too fast and did a 4m 20 first km.  Slowed down to more sustainable pace and basically ran the half between 4m 50 and 5m 15 per km.  Decent pace for a half in a 70.3 but not as fast as I’d have liked.  It was getting hotter though.

Luckily this was a race with a lot of money spent on it, so the aid stations were really good. Stacks of choice and magic cold sponges to cool down with.  I was taking a sponge and a bottle of water 4 times per loop (with a salt tab every other bottle).  I like races where they give you the bottle so you don’t have to stop running and can carry it a bit rather than have to neck a cup at the aid station.  I wasn’t having any of the red bull or flat coke or any food though.  I took the decision early to not eat on the run as I didn’t think my stomach would handle it.  So I’d have to rely on nutrition taken on the bike ( which had gone to plan ).  Probably a mistake but pretty much what’s happened to me on all previous 70.3s.

Midway through the first loop I pass Andrew ( he’s flying ) who says Chris is just in front of me… I assume he means a lap and a bit in front of me which was the case.  Into the second loop I started to feel I might hit a wall unless I took some calories in, so I braved one of the gels that had spent half the morning being cooked in the sun and the last 45 mins warming up in my back pocket.  It tasted pretty awful but went down OK and probably helped me out a bit.

I eventually caught Chris on the second loop and shortly after that saw Kevin and Stefano.  They saw me before I saw them which I put down to the beautiful cr@p pink.

The final lap is usually more relaxed as I know the end is nigh.  It’s hot though so it’s tough to pick the pace up.  I keep going though, see Karen one last time who shouts to go for the PB, then as you hit the expo, it’s a sharp right hand turn, then another onto the red carpet and into the finishing shoot.  Paul Kaye sees the pink kit and gives a lovely shout to cr@p tri.

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Run time was 1h 46 which is respectable I guess but a bit slower than I was hoping for given it was literally pancake flat.  If I’d have found a bit more pace I’d have broken 5h 20 for the race which would have been nice.  As it was I did 5h 22 which I most definitely would have taken at the start and was an 8 minute PB.  595th overall, so overtook a few hundred people on the run which was nice.  Despite the PB though, this was the lowest IM points total since the Puerto Rico fiasco when I took 2h 15 longer to do the run (!) so I have to put this time into context.. it wasn’t really that good.  But, for the time of year and given the heat, I’m happy.

After collecting the medal, there’s a bit of a queue for the nice finisher gilet ( no t shirts here ) and then eventually I find Karen and Chris and have something to drink in the athlete village ( not ready for food at this point ).  We go back to the hotel, shower and change and quickly head back to find Andrew ( who’s been finished for about 10 hours ) and hopefully see Stefano and Kevin finish.  We meet Stefano on the way back who looks tired but very happy and then we see Kevin finish just after we’ve sat in the bleachers at the finish line.  Four of us regroup in the finishers area for a fantastic ice bath and some more red bull and share some race stories.

Collecting the bike and bags is easy and we’re on the way back to the hotel.  I have a hankering for beer, asap.  Karen and I head to the beach bar for some food and the most amazing pint ( followed by several more ).

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Eventually everyone else joins us and we spend a few hours reliving the race, reading down the bet results ( I’m pleased to have got everything horribly wrong apart from T1 which I win ).  PBs for most of us including a 4h 41 from Andrew which is some time.

This bit of the day was amazing and I could have stayed there for hours and hours.  A huge part of the attraction of doing these races is doing it with friends and colleagues ( and Karen this time ) and drinking beer in the sun with a view of the beach and the Burj Al Arab is a pretty nice way to spend the afternoon.  The pints are outrageously expensive but I don’t care, life is good.

Lovely Mexican dinner to end the day and manage to stay awake till pretty much midnight.  Andrew and Kevin do the athlete celebration banquet which looked spectacular.  The next day is spent relaxing on the beach with a few more beers, lunch with Andrew, packing the bike up and a very nice steak dinner to end the stay. Oh and a visit to have some beers with cr@p Tri legends and Christmas tree entrepreneurs Jamie and Kim which was  fun.

Early the next day we’re flying home and another race is over.  This was a REALLY good one — would highly recommend it.  It’s a strong PB chance if the wind behaves and I’ll be back to do better in the future.  I’m happy with the time, happy I stayed active over Christmas ( thanks Lawrence) but again reflect my position in the field wasn’t great.  Next 70.3 isn’t until May ( Provence, again with Karen, this time with some cr@p tri mates ) so plenty of time to get stronger.  Next race is club championship Mumbles Duathlon in 6 weeks.  Can’t wait.

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