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Traveling to the Middle East

Tara Norton Blog #3

I am currently on a plane on the first of two flights to Abu Dhabi. How exciting! First stop is Istanbul and then on to Abu Dhabi.

One of the great things about racing professionally is having some fantastic travel opportunities. Not only have I been able to travel the world and see some spectacular parts of our planet, but as a result of these travels I have also been fortunate enough to have made friends around the globe too!

The triathlon race organizers understand that accommodation expenses while traveling are considerable for professional triathletes, so as a result they usually ask people in their communities for offers to put us up for race week. This is a big help from a financial perspective. Also, by nature, the people who are kind enough to offer up their homes are always passionate and caring people, hence, the amazing friends I have all over the world.

I am on my way (with Bruce this time) to stay with Elsa and Raul in Abu Dhabi. Our flight lands at 2:30 in the morning on Saturday and when I told them that we would hang out until a reasonable hour, they responded with, “no, it’s perfect…we are getting up at 4am to take a hot air balloon to watch the sun rise over the desert…would you like to come with us?” And while hot air balloons kind of freak me out, I can’t possibly turn down such an offer. If you had told me last year that on March 6, 2010 I would be in the United Arab Emirates watching the sunrise from a hot air balloon, I wouldn’t have believed you!

When I travel to race Ironman, Bruce usually follows me up a number of days later. I arrive at the race location a little early to acclimatize to the often different climate and time change, and to check out the race course and Bruce essentially arrives to support me a couple days pre race day. However, this time we decided to take the opportunity to explore this unique part of the world together and so I am lucky to have Bruce with me from the get go. Bruce lived in the Middle East when he was a child and he was eager to return to that part of the world again. Because he was so young when he lived there, his memories are few, so in some ways it will be like seeing a place for the first time for him anyway. We are stopping for two nights in Turkey on the way home which I hear is incredible. This trip I did bring my camera and will use it!

While travel is a bonus to being a professional triathlete, struggling to make a living with this career is not! This has become even more difficult now that WTC has implemented new rules that state in order for professionals to collect any prize money, we have to finish within 8% of the winning time. Not only did WTC implement this prize purse rule, but in order to qualify for the Hawaii Ironman World Championship race, pros have to finish within 5% of the winning time.

My good friend Hillary Biscay just finished Ironman Malaysia in third place, good enough for a podium finish, but she did not win any prize money because her time was 8.3% out from the winning time. While Hillary dedicates her life to triathlon and Ironman specifically, and while she gutted it out there last weekend to finish in 10 hours and 10 minutes, she had to finish seven (if my math is correct) minutes faster to be eligible for the $4,000 US prize. There has been talk about the pros waiting at the finish line to cross (in the correct order) close together to ensure everyone gets their prize money and I think it is a great idea.

Abu Dhabi on the other hand, has a generous prize purse and no such regulations (that I am aware of)! Instead of winning $9,000-$12,000 (approximate amount one wins for a first place finish at Ironman), first place at the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon will take home $50,000. I do hope that more races like these are organized so that we can make a better living at this crazy career.

This triathlon is also unique in its distance. It is a 3km swim, 203km bike and a 20km run. I like the concept that it is super challenging due to the long bike, yet doesn’t totally smash you due to the shorter run. It will be interesting to see how it goes. I will report back once the race is done!

Cheers from the air!