Ziad Awartani – Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, March 2014

Ziad Awartani – Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, March 2014

Before anything, I’d like to state that triathlon is one hell of a sport.Untitled

I’ve been dreaming of taking up the sport since 2008, mostly because I was infatuated with the way triathlon bikes looked: aggressive and fast. I love speed, and the thrill and adrenaline rush that comes with going really fast. Also, the fact that it was multisport, which breaks the monotony of a long distance single sport.

I decided around 8 months ago that it was time to do something extremely epic, mainly because I was going through a major slump, and had to break out of it. The slump negatively affected my fitness and physical performance because I was drained mentally, which in turn drained me physically, and feeling my level of fitness go away like that was just killing me mentally even more. Because of that, the idea was to take an active vacation, go to a training camp somewhere far from the UAE where I can just focus on training and getting my body and mind back into gear.

I spent months digging through the internet for active vacations, from muay thai camps in Thailand, to hiking mount Kilimanjaro. After a few weeks of searching, I landed on a nice looking site of a triathlon camp in Mallorca, Spain. I read through all the info, and everything sounded awesome. Got in touch with the folks, and everything sounded legit. A couple more weeks of sleeping on it, and I was sold. Before I knew it, it was October and I was in Mallorca training outdoors for 6 hours a day. It was the best medicine for my ailment, and it was there that I decided to make training for, and racing in, the 2014 Abu Dhabi International Triathlon my goal to work towards for the next 5 months.

On my return to Dubai, the initial plan was to take what I learned in camp and train myself. I soon realized was that my plan wasn’t working. My motivation levels were dropping because of the lonesomeness, and my energy levels were dying fast. I needed help.

It took almost a month searching for a coach, until I was eventually referred by a friend to Coach Neil Flanagan at InnerFight in mid November, and it was a true blessing that I landed with him. Anyone that had the opportunity to be trained by him, and stick to his plan, will tell you the exact same thing. The initial phone convo with him was 15 minutes long, but to sum it up in a few lines, it went like this:

Coach, “what do you want to achieve?”
Me, “I don’t want to ‘just finish,’ I want to go fast.”
Coach, “okay, let’s get to work.”

The Pain Cave

Going fast meant that I had to train hard. I had a lot of work to do to get up to speed, and it was a hell of a 4 months being trained by Coach Neil. His program, coupled with my goal to go fast, put me in a place called the pain cave. A whole novel could be written about the 4 months in the pain cave, but I’ll not delve into any of that.  In short, it’s a very dark and lonely place.

Check Points to ADIT

First check point was the 800m Burj Al Arab swim in mid-February to get some mass open water swimming practice. I had a bad experience with mass open water swimming 2 years ago, and I had to get confident about it ASAP going into ADIT. This swim had a few technical difficulties at the start. Luckily, I managed to overcome them, and make it to the finish line in under what we were aiming for. It was ugly, but it counted, and the lesson from the mistake was learned!

Second checkpoint was Tri Yas on February 28. Although we were using it for a practice run and experience, we still wanted good time. Not going to lie, were going to put months of work to play, and I had the butterflies for days before the race! Thankfully, everything went smoothly going into race day, and we managed to beat the goal time despite some setbacks during the swim and run. Lessons learned, and it was back to the lab for the final 2 weeks of training for ADIT.

Two Weeks to ADIT 2014

The last 2 weeks of prep were nerve wrecking, honestly. I was zoned into the race weeks and motnsh ago, but the last 2 weeks were a totally different zone, just focused on training, resting, nutrition, and my day job of course.

Going into taper week was a blessing. My body and mind were tired, and the week really helped me get some quality recovery time. It involved, some light training, a lot of eating, and A LOT of sleeping, around 8-9 hours every night. I was out cold every night! I also put in time studying the race info booklet, and equipment check was done on Wednesday night, everything packed and ready to go. Thursday afternoon came around, picked up my trusty rental bike, and it was off to my parent’s place in Abu Dhabi. Thursday night involved stuffing my face silly with food, and passing out early.

Friday’s schedule was pretty packed. 7 am wake up call to put in one last run, pick up the race packet, then go to drop off my bike and the rest of the equipment at the race location. Things went smoothly. Of course, I was stuffing my face silly at every meal that day. Everything was by 5 pm, and that’s when it started to rain outside. I was tired as well, so I decided to skip the race briefing that night, and just stay home, relax and zone out to some TV and family time. After a BIG dinner, it was lights out a little after 9 pm.

ADIT 2014 Race Day

My body decided that 5 am was too late of a wake up call, and was wide awake at 4:30 am. After fiddling around with my phone for a little bit (typical), it was straight to the kitchen for breakfast. Oatmeal and coffee + coconut oil was on the menu.

Pre-game shower was next, a long hot shower to get the muscles loose and the mind right. Went through the game plan and race simulation in my head one last time. I’m also convinced that a proper pre-game shower and dental hygiene regimen makes me go faster! Or it’s just an OCD that I was getting out of the way. Gathered whatever equipment I had afterwards and it was off to the race.

First thing I did when I got there was check on my bike. Everything looked good, wiped off the rain water, stuck 3 GU gels to the top bar, and filled my 3 bottles with energy drink. I had two sports bottles in cages with 150 calories worth of energy drink in each, and an XLAB Torpedo bottle on the aero bars with 200 calories. Coach’s order was to take in 200 calories an hour. The estimated total time for my swim+bike was somewhere around 2 hrs, so my plan was to go through the whole torpedo bottle + 1 gel + most of a sports bottle by the end of the cycling leg (200+100+100ish=400 calories). I started sipping on a bottle of Gatorade at this point, 1 hour before race time.

Then, I went into the changing tent to check on the rest of the gear, and did a little race scenario transition role play in my head.

After all that was done, I went out to check out the earlier waves, and to look for a spot to put in a warm up swim as my wave time was approaching. One mishap at Tri Yas was that my lungs didn’t turn up early in the swim, which messed up my breathing for the first 300m or so. Wasn’t going to let that happen again. I ended up finding the warm up area, and put in 10 minutes of fast intervals to get the system going, and had 10 minutes until race time by the time I was done with the warm up, took one pre-race GU gel and some water, then headed to the starting line.

The Swim

I hustled to get a good starting spot and ended up in the 2nd row right smack in the middle of both ends. I felt properly warmed up to go out guns blazing from the start, and the goal was to go fast so whoever pushed/pulled/ grabbed me during the swim was going to get a good shove back or a kick.

The gun went off and we all rushed in. I felt good and confident in the first 100m, lungs were working well and the body was taking the thrashing well. I cruised with the pack to the first buoy, then thankfully found myself in a good position with more space around the corner, so I picked up the speed and maintained it to the second buoy.

It was a sprint to the end after turning around the second buoy heading back to the beach. Found another swimmer swimming at a good fast pace, so I drafted on him for the stretch. Not going to lie, I felt thrashed coming out of the water, and it took me a few seconds to get myself together before rushing to T1. A quick check on the Garmin and I saw the PB swim time, which gave me a HUGE boost in confidence.

T1

Got to my gear in the changing room, threw off my wetsuit, and hustled my helmet and glasses on. The shoes and nutrition were already on the bike, and that saved me tons of times. I took a quick look around the locker room, and everyone else looked like they were dressing up for prom! Ran over to my bike and was off.

Bike

This was epic! I was really looking forward to this part, cycling up and down Abu Dhabi cornice. It was beautiful. Hopped onto the bike out of T1 and got up to cruising speed before tucking my feet into my shoes. It was straight cruising from there on.

Coach’s plan was to base the speed on heart rate, but I forgot to clip on my HR monitor in T1. I just played it on feel, remembering how I felt in training at certain heart rates. I was worried about the climbs going onto Saadiyat, mainly Khalifa bridge. Based on experience, I know that I climb better at low torque with higher RPM, doing more pulling than pushing on the chainset. Stuck to that plan and it worked! I overtook a lot of riders that way while they were huffing and puffing on the way up. Going downhill was also money, quickly switching back to a higher torque and gunning it.

The crosswinds were a pain that day, though, and sticking to Coach Neil’s plan really helped me get through the 50K. Coming back from Saadiyat was the harder (slower) part of my ride. Some riders actually caught up to me coming to the end of the first lap, which meant that they were gunning it into the headwind. I wasn’t worried though because I knew that they’d tire out and fall back going into the second lap, and they did. I picked up my speed and left them behind.

Nutrition was going as planned. Went through the whole Torpedo bottle, 1 GU gel, and half a sports bottle by the end of the ride.

T2

I had my feet out of my shoes about 500m out of T2, and jumped off the bike at the transition point and hurried in. Lungs were feeling good at this point, and legs were feeling alright. Racked my bike and ran into the changing room, threw off the helmet, put on my running shoes and was off. I decided to go socks-less to save time. It was a bad idea.

Run

The run didn’t go as planned, unfortunately. Felt good at the start as I was easing myself into the target pace. Legs were starting to get heavy, and then the dreaded stitch started at around 500m into the run. The stitch peaked at around 2.5 kms, and was really unbearable. My feet also started to blister after 3 kms… I should’ve put my socks on! The cherry on top was the body overheating and the eventual mental black at around 3.5 kms. I tried to cool myself down, pouring water on my head and stuffing my suit with sponges, but it wasn’t working. I had to stop many times to regroup, and ended up being overtaken by many runners.

I eventually made it to the finish line, and thought that I tanked my overall time because of the bad run. Thankfully, I didn’t! I was hoping for sub 2:30:00, and ended up finishing in 2:19:33. Even though the run was disappointing, the overall performance was good, and more importantly, the experience was priceless! I’ve been wanting to take up the sport for years, and it’s just thrilling that I am finally doing it.

A lot of the credit goes to Coach Neil and his guidance over the months leading into the race. He really helped me make something out of nothing, and it was great seeing and feeling the results on race day. I’m looking forward to the next few months of off-season training, and to a full season next year.

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