Signing up for this event was almost an accident…
When Adam was put on the waiting list for Ironman Malaysia 70.3 it looked very unlikely that he would get a place, so we started looking for other 70.3 races that he could do as his first middle distance.
I had done 70.3 Dubai in 2017 along with some friends and one of these (Olivia) had decided she wanted to do it again, so we looked at joining Olivia and heading back to Dubai for some winter sun.
The dates for this event were announced really late (announced on 30th September for entry opening 5th October) We spent quite a while holding hotel reservations for the dates we thought it might be based on previous years! Eventually dates were released and I signed up in October. When we signed up I was reasonably fit, almost in the final phase of training for my full distance event in Malaysia, I just presumed I would be able to keep my fitness up between the 2 events. But that wasn’t the case. Winter flu, post Ironman fatigue and then a nasty shoulder injury plus Christmas and New Year excuses meant my training was non existent and my fitness had upped and left me!!
So I headed out to Dubai knowing that I wasn’t ready for this event, far from it. But it was a good excuse for a holiday!
We arrived on the Wednesday, dropped our bags at the hotel and walked down to race registration. We registered but there was some confusion over what swim hats people should be taking, and the event backpacks hadn’t arrived yet! Not the best organisation but nothing too dramatic. We wandered round the expo, bought one of the race tops and headed down to look at the beach.
When we did this event last year the sea was reasonably calm. This year the red flags were up for no swimming, strong winds had made the waves and swell quite dramatic and it didn’t look very welcoming. Later that day it was confirmed there would be no test swimming due to the dangerous conditions. This wasn’t exactly good for confidence.
With no test swimming in the sea allowed we decided that we would just have a little swim in the hotel pool the next morning. I had only swum once since Ironman Malaysia and my shoulder seemed to be getting worse not better. It had been strapped up by my physio but by Thursday morning I couldn’t brush or plait my hair, and couldn’t put my own swim hat on, it was looking highly unlikely that I would be starting the event on Friday morning.
Adam made an attempt at plaiting my hair and Olivia helped me to put my cap on. I got into the pool and decided to give swimming a try, I had to know if I could do it. Verdict, my arm would go over my head under duress but it was very painful and my stroke was quite obviously one sided, after a few short attempts I decided I might be better without the tape. The tape was holding my shoulder correctly, but being in the correct position was more pain than I could cope with. So we took the tape off and I tried again. It was a little easier, not much but I wasn’t in danger of drowning!
We spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool and then in the afternoon headed down to rack our bikes and transition bags.
Olivia and I had signed up for the Iron Girl run, we thought a nice social 5km shake out run the night before the event might do us good – plus you got a medal! So we joined this event and ran a lovely 5km together along the beach with quite a few other women, it really was a lovely way to spend the evening and we got a great medal, bag, t-shirt and sweatband for our efforts!
4am Friday morning the alarm went off. Up we got, we had ordered breakfast to the rooms for 5am – yuk! I hate eating in the morning, but it’s a necessary evil on event day. I managed to plait my own hair – progress!!! We had a taxi booked to take us to the start so headed down, checked our bikes over, added water and nutrition to the bikes, then it was time to get into our wetsuits and head to the start!
We got in the warm up area for a quick acclimatisation the water was 22 degrees but it felt cold! Swam a few strokes, my shoulder was coping…
Then we lined up for the start, Olivia, Adam and I made sure that we all started at the same time (it was self seeding and we are normally similarly paced swimmers) we ran down the beach together, shouted a quick good luck and we were off.
The first part of the swim is within a marina, but the safety and stillness of the marina soon gave way to a quite aggressive open sea. It was rough, really rough, I panicked a bit, I wasn’t strong enough with my shoulder injury to swim through the waves as they came towards me and realised this quite quickly, I adopted a weird breast stroke style with my chin on the water, pausing as the biggest waves approached, bobbing over the top and then trying to carry on. The swell was so high I couldn’t see the buoys and I don’t think many of the swimmers could as wherever you looked swimmers were going in all different directions. It took me a really long time to get to the 2nd turn buoy, and by the time I did I was exhausted. I had thought once we turned and swam parallel to the beach that it would be easier, but that wasn’t the case. Depending on the weather report you read the swell and waves were between 3-5ft, that’s not easy to swim through. The next turn point seemed to be getting further away rather than closer and my strange stroke was really tiring me out, I wasn’t sure I was going to make the swim cut off and I have never worried about this before. Eventually the last turn buoy was in sight, surely now it would get easier as we were heading towards the beach? But no! With the sun in my eyes and the tide going out actually this last stretch took way more effort, my attempts at breast stroke were ineffective and I was being carried back every time the current pulled so I had no choice but to attempt a painful front crawl. Eventually I made it to the beach but even standing up and running out was a huge effort as the swell was strongly pulling people back into the water. Volunteers were offering hands to those being dragged back in, I plodded up the beach exhausted, and completely unsure whether I had the energy to attempt the rest of the event.
But I had made the swim cut off so I decided to try! Quick sip of Coke to get the salt out of my mouth, dried off my feet, sunscreen, helmet and bike shoes on. Off I went!
Olivia’s husband Spencer was there cheering me on as I started the bike leg, he said Olivia had mentioned the swim was like a washing machine, so I wasn’t the only person who had suffered!
The bike course is an out and back course through the desert, it’s on a main carriageway and there is a lane coned off for the cyclists. The first half is a gentle incline for the whole 28 miles with a few flyovers and the 2nd half is a gentle decline. In 2017 there was a strong headwind on the way out but a nice tail wind on the return. This year the wind wasn’t quite so predictable. Whilst it wasn’t as strong a headwind on the way out it still felt tough, and a number of other competitors mentioned the wind as I cycled past them. I knew it had been easier on the way back last year so tried to be cheerful. Turns out the wind had other ideas on the way back and actually the last 15 miles or so had a strong headwind which meant no advantage was gained from the slight decline and actually the last few miles were pretty tiring!
By now I was about 25-30mins slower than my event time for the same sections in 2017. I had taken an extra 10mins in the swim and at least 15mins more on the bike. Into transition, one last section to go – 13.1miles to run!
I jogged out of transition trying to loosen my legs up. I had only cycled about 4 times in the last 2 months, not great preparation, especially as the bike leg had been quite tough coming back. After trying to sort out my rhythm and breathing over the first few km’s I adopted a very non scientific walk/run strategy. Walking for 1 minute and running for 2. I saw Olivia running along in the opposite direction she was doing really well and she told me Adam was about 3km ahead of me.
As I came towards the first turnaround point I saw Adam going in the opposite direction, he asked if I would catch him up, but I didn’t think so. He had been about 25mins ahead of me I was pretty sure I wouldn’t make up that much time. But about 6km later I did indeed catch up with Adam. He too had found the swim and the bike tougher than anticipated and was exhausted with sore feet so running wasn’t really on the agenda.
I decided that I would rather finish my race with Adam than a few minutes in front of him, so I walked with Adam for the last 7km. Until the finish was close obviously! We ran down the finish side by side! The first and possibly only time we will finish a race together- turns out my race circumstances weren’t all bad!
Dubai 70.3 2018, you were beautiful, brutal but quite amazing all at the same time. I’m sure il be back one day.
In the meantime you will find me mainly with the physio or at the gym trying to gently repair my broken shoulder and rebuild some strength!