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Abu Dhabi Race Report and more travel updates from the Middle East

Tara Norton Blog # 5

I arrived in Abu Dhabi exactly one week before the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon race and every single morning was met with thick fog.  The fog was so thick that it almost felt like it was raining and on the day we drove to Al Ain (so I could train with Hillary), it was so foggy that we literally could not see more than a few feet in front of us.  At the pre race meeting and carbo load dinner on Friday, the race officials warned us that the race may be turned into a duathlon should the fog be too thick.  The following day (Saturday morning), Elsa (my wonderful home stay) and I went out for a 50 minute easy ride before bike check-in and it was once again foggy!  I was sure that the race would become a duathlon because once again we couldn’t see anything more than a few feet in front of us, especially as we rode close to the water.  Miraculously, race morning turned out to be completely clear and it ended up being a perfect day.  And what was crazy was that the day after the race I woke up to see that the fog had returned.  How is that for good luck (or bad luck if you were an athlete who would have preferred no swim)?!  Seven days of fog, one clear race day and then fog again the following day. 


The pro race start time was 6:20am with the pro men going off one minute before the women.  This early start time meant getting up very early to accomplish my three hour pre race meal but I got my breakfast all down in time.  Just as I donned my Zoot Speedsuit (the water was 24 degrees Celsius so wetsuits were not allowed) and started to walk to the swim start, they announced that the race start was delayed by 30 minutes to allow the sun to rise.  You would think the sun rise timing could have been figured out before race day, but I found a nice chair to sit in and relax for the next 30 minutes.


They had us stand on the beach for about 15 minutes after our warm up swim and I had to jump around to stay relatively warm.  Despite feeling a bit cold pre start and despite knowing that I got hypothermia in my last race attempt at Ironman Arizona, my body temperature was just fine in this race.  It was a beach start and I once again missed the best pack for me to swim with.  I led my pack of swimmers most of the way on the first and part of the second lap and then I tucked in behind Edith Niederfriniger for the last 500m or so.


Starting the bike I was in 16th place.  While I was further back than I wanted, I just went to work on the bike.  And wow, this bike course was hard, not just because the course was long (I was well prepared to ride long after doing such great bike mileage at Epic Camp in January), but because the day was HOT – my SRM read up to 34 degrees Celsius and I burned to a crisp.  The course was completely flat aside from a couple overpasses on the highway and the coolest feature of this bike course was riding around the Formula 1 race track on Yas Island, twice.  I think we all felt like superstars as we cornered like race cars around each bend.  The only tricky moment proved to be when the race helicopter came down so low over the track that I was nearly blown off my bike from the gale force winds it produced.


The bike course was altered a couple days before race day due to the arrival of an important sheikh (or some other important person) in Abu Dhabi.  This person’s arrival meant we could not do the first part of the original course that went out to the famous Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan mosque.  Instead, the course had us ride out to the F1 track and back, do that same loop again, and then do a shorter out and back to complete the 200kms.  My SRM actually read 195kms so I think the course was a little shorter than 200K. 


I usually have no desire to do flat bike courses with loops because I want to avoid getting frustrated with drafting that often happens under these conditions.  As a result, I don’t think that I have experienced drafting at its best (or I should say worst seeing as it is illegal).  But I was pretty frustrated at times in this race.  In the past, I have learned not to let negative energy affect my day and so while I was annoyed at how hard I was working while watching people up the road in front of me coasting (seriously!), I just felt good knowing I was racing hard.  I am sure the race officials will learn from this inaugural race and make it even better (because it was great this year) next time around.


By the end of the bike I was in 11th place and 1:30 back from 10th.  Man, there was some strong cycling going on out there and for the first time ever, I wished the run was longer!  I never would have thought that I would say that but I actually started to feel much better as the run went on.  Right out of the gate I was passed by a few speedsters and unfortunately I couldn’t catch anyone myself. 


The run was stinking hot.  Even the locals I became friends with, said it was hot by their standards.  The Monday after the race I swam with six other people who live and train in Dubai and we were all comparing burns.  Although I didn’t take home any of the top prize purse, I get top prize for the best burn, hands down.  I think I will have a permanent tan line for life from burning around the tape I use to tape my shoulder.  Ugh.  And yes, I did put on sunscreen!


The field was extremely competitive and while I would have liked to place much higher, I will use this race as a great day with lots of fitness and experience gained.  My nutrition was bang on and I had no cramping issues at all.  This race makes me excited to race again at Ironman Lanzarote in May.


Abu Dhabi is a great city and it is truly incredible seeing all the construction and massive buildings and the race directors of the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon put on a fantastic event.  Bruce got to enjoy the VIP tent which was a multistory building erected the day before the race that had air conditioning, automatic sliding glass doors, and white suede seating with wait staff serving freshly squeezed juices with white gloves.  Not a bad place to hang out to cool down for a while I was out riding hard for 5 hours.


The day after the race Bruce and I met up with Hillary, Maiki and Sam for a visit to the mosque and for a walk around some local souqs including a carpet souq with some scary aggressive carpet souq merchants as well as a great local fruit and veggie souq.  Sam inquired about an unrecognizable fruit that the merchant called a ‘pear’.  He offered her one and as Sam bit into it, she stated that it crunched like an apple, tasted like a banana and smelled really bad.  So we coined it the stinky apple banana pear (well we might have used another word in there that I just can’t post).  It was good for a laugh or two.


Up next is a travel report post race with more photos!