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Abu Dhabi International Triathlon Race Report

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On the 3rd of March, I opened my season at the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon. For those unfamiliar with the race, it’s kind of a modified iron-distance race and goes as follows: 3k swim, 200k bike, and 20k run. The event is only in its third year, but draws a world-class field rarely assembled outside of Kona. That’s likely due to the unique distance, which is easier to recover from, and the generous prize purse. There’s even money up for grabs for the top amateurs in their respective age-groups. So, if you fancy an early season race and would rather not destroy your legs running a marathon, look into Abu Dhabi.

This race marked the start of my second season racing professionally. Coming from a short-course event background the last few years, I spent quite a bit of my 8-week build up on the bike. My race plan was simple and very similar to what I would aim for in draft-legal events: make the bike pack. The following is basically my thought process throughout each discipline for the event.

Unlike the previous two years, the swim was deemed wetsuit-legal as the area had been experiencing colder than usual temperatures - “cold” is a relative term in a desert though. Acknowledging the depth of the field, I lined up just behind the first line of athletes, whereas, I would usually assert myself at the front. The idea behind that was to see where the largest group would form running out into the water. Once the gun went off, I jumped in with the largest group and focused on finding a pair of feet. The acceleration the pack put in is unlike any I had experienced before. I know what I can swim at my limit for 400 to 500 meters and I was at that. The only problem with such an effort is that I won’t recover terribly quickly, making it difficult to settle into a pace. Either I go out at my pace or push myself and risk blowing up and getting dropped. Being that this was a race, I went for the latter of the two options.

A gap began to form about halfway through the first lap and I had no feet to follow, although, I did have another athlete right on my feet. Once I found my rhythm, I focused on keeping a high turnover and feeling as if I was pulling “heavy” water. Before starting the second lap of the swim, we had to exit the water and run along the beach for 75 meters or so. It’s amazing, at least to me, how exhausting you can feel just by going from swimming to running back to swimming in a matter of seconds.

Starting the second lap, I had a bit more difficulty establishing a rhythm, but managed to after 200 meters. From there, it was solo swimming and hoping I wasn’t losing too much time to the soon to be sizeable bike pack.

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Upon reaching land again, I went through exactly what I needed to do in transition, however, things don’t always happen just as you plan them. For instance, my helmet buckle felt like a jigsaw puzzle - I may have felt a bit of pressure to get onto the bike course ASAP!

Not wanting to ride 200k alone, I got my riding tempo up quickly. I kept an eye on my speed and had researched the bike splits of years past, so I figured if I kept my average speed between a specific range, I may be able to move up a few positions on the run. Even with the flat, relatively straight roads, no one else was in sight. Despite the solitude, I felt good and assured myself that anything can happen on such long days. Approaching the turn-around on the Yas Marina F1 track, I spotted the main pack. They were moving at a very fast clip and a pack of cyclists will outpace a single cyclist any day of the week, but I grow a bit naive during races. After seeing the pack and entering the F1 track, it felt I was just given a massive boost of energy; riding on the track is an experience in itself! Coming back into town to complete the first lap, the winds began to pick up and a headwind presented itself. My pace slowed, but that was not for a lack of effort. Knowing I’d have more of a tailwind heading out on the second lap, I pushed a bit harder. Then came the turn-around and the headwind was stronger too. Same story for the shorter, third and final lap.

In regards to my time assumption, I was off by just a bit. Actually, a lot. While I didn’t ride the split I was hoping for, the pack rode much faster than in the two years past.

Considering I rode alone for 200k, I feel I rode well with 8-weeks of training under my belt. My nutrition was spot on - eating, drinking, and/or taking a salt tablet every 15-minutes - so I was eager to see what would happen on the run; something I had done very little of in training due to a certain ailment.

Just like T1, I went through what I needed to do in T2 well before my bike was firmly racked. After little delay, I was off onto the two lap run course. Not wanting to go out too hard like I did on the swim, I kept an eye on my pacing and asked myself what I needed at aid stations upon sighting them in the distance. I ran very steadily, although I did get quite a bit of water into my shoes, which, as we all know, isn’t that comfortable. Most of the other professionals I saw on the run course were on their second and final lap, but I still ran undeterred despite not having to clue to what position I may be in. The time seemingly flew by and before I knew it, there were only a few k’s between me and finish line.

I finished 17th amongst professionals and although I was hoping for a higher placing that I know I’m capable of, I wasn’t unhappy either. The race definitely gave me a big boost of fitness and confidence considering I wasn’t sure how I’d hold up given a certain ailment. Also, I was very pleased with my mental toughness as I was out there alone the entire time.

Next on my schedule is the Ironman 70.3 Oceanside and I will surely be even more fit for that event than I was for Abu Dhabi.


To read more of Erich's race experiences, keep up with him at his blog to follow his training, racing, travels and life as a professional triathlete.