Triathlon Plus’s Tom Ballard is on his way to Abu Dhabi in search of scenery, sea, but not too much sun.
Tomorrow morning I’m lucky enough to be heading out to the UAE for the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, having jumped (and fist pumped the air) at the gracious offer of race organisers IMG to join them for the event.
With the option of racing the short course also ravenously accepted, there followed a few weeks’ worth of blissful abandon dreaming of swimming, biking and running ‘dressed’ in Faris Al-Sultan style Speedos and crop top in an event I’ve been enamoured with since it was first launched in 2010.
I could see myself darting between sand dunes, shouting words of encouragement to pros nearing the finish as I mounted the bike, and enjoying the sunlit scenery of a stunning city after riding through minus 1 degree temperatures in the UK.
Then, as always seems to be the case, the doubts started creeping in. As gorgeous a location as the race is held in and as beautiful as the event photography makes this distant land appear, it occurred to me that my blond hair, blue eyes and pale complexion might not take too kindly to 40 degrees of direct sunlight in the middle of a desert.
To reassure myself that I wouldn’t come a cropper, I sought advice from Triathlon Plus coaching editor Phil Mosley, who went out to the event a couple of years ago. My worries about the heat weren’t exactly soothed by his response and another can of jet-lagged worms were opened too. His ‘advice’ went like this:
“The hardest thing about Abu Dhabi is adjusting to the time difference, as everything starts at 6am their time, which is like 2am GMT. So I would start getting early nights and early mornings!
“If you’re racing, the heat is a total bugger so pace yourself well. There’s not much you can do to acclimatise either. Just pour water on yourself regularly. And not energy drink like I did, and then got followed by wasps.”
It should be noted here that Phil won the age-group sprint race that year. Even so, by this point, his final remark that “The hotel buffet is splendid” did little to stop the growing stirrings of nerves – but did make me hungry.
Nevertheless, I took on the advice and planned to get to bed by 8 and up at 4 for the next couple of weeks. This turned out to be completely impractical however as it meant getting to sleep before getting home from work most nights, making me abandon the plan as a bad job.
Practical action was what I needed, so I began to scheme ways to cheat the climate. To combat the heat, I’m going for a combination of sun sleeves, a Compressport Triathlon Shirt to cover the shoulders and a lot of sun cream for everywhere else! I’m also going to do as coach Mosley says and add extra water bottles to the bike specifically for showering myself.
If proper preparation prevents piss poor performance, then I’ll be a bit stuck. Like all big triathlons seem to, the race has also crept up on me unawares, my subconscious obviously hiding me from the worry before the event rears up to smack me in the face with intimidating thoughts targeting my lack of organisation, illustrated here by my trip to the bureau de change:
Helpful lady: How can I help?
Me: I would like to change some pounds into the… er… whatever they use in Abu Dhabi.
Helpful lady: And what would that be?
Me: Er… I’m not exactly sure. I probably should have checked before I came over here.
Other than that though, I think – read: hope – I’m generally ready for the event. I won’t be going into it in amazing form (though I can’t think of a race where I have – I’m not exactly Pete Jacobs), but I’m usually quite optimistic when it comes to triathlon, believing you never really know until the day anyway.
One thing that has definitely gone right is the bike selection. Being a strong advocate of using aero road bikes for triathlon training and racing duties, I’ll be aboard the stealthy-looking Felt AR4, which first impressions promise to be a great all-round bike, especially for longer events. Full review coming soon (provided it doesn’t melt).
Regardless of my time in the event, there’s a load more than just the race to look forward to. Hopefully I’ll have the chance to chat with and get tips from some of the greats of the triathlon world including Caroline Steffen – who I’m in awe of, Macca – who I’m in awe of, our very own columnist Phil Graves – who I’m in awe of, and another Yorkshire lad who’s apparently done quite well over the last few years!
In fact, as Alistair Brownlee is also racing the same 1.5km, 100km, 10km distances I’ll be doing, I’m hoping to be able to tell people we raced together, even if I only ever catch the slightest mirage of him as a dot on the horizon.
So, time to pack my remaining kit, lock the bike safely in its case and get to bed by 8 – hopefully for dreams of comfy Speedos and cool crop tops rather than red peeling skin and lying bonked on a sand dune somewhere.
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