A five hour drive east of Dubai lies Muscat, Oman. Home to the third and final 70.3 of the season in the GCC region. No pro field, an out and back sea swim, a scenic and diverse bike route, followed by a looping run course through a park gives this race a different feel to the other two races in the region. If the route description doesn’t make clear how this this race differs to Dubai & Bahrain, imagine this... A race village made up of three food stands, one local honey stand, one bike servicing stand and of course our good friends and nutrition sponsor to the race, Secret Training. It is small and you better hope you remembered everything…
Transition is basically a lawn, with the usual bike racks but the unsual feeling of grass under your feet instead carpet. Volunteers are extremely friendly and want to be helpful but unfortunately struggle as they don't seem to have a clue what triathlon even is. The atmosphere is extremely relaxed and it brings you down to its level. There’s no tense faces, no one is doing last minute panic rides and runs, everyone seems happy to be there, happy to able to clearly see how transition works and happy to get the chance to be racing in such a beautiful setting.
Race morning, you can pretty much park right next to transition, unheard off in other races. Some technical faults with announcement speakers, no biggie though as with only 700 participants you can pretty much shout to them all. The speaker gets fixed in the end and the MC begins getting people hyped up! The MC is local to the region and doing a great job, he knows the local clubs and he even knows most peoples names, it all adds to a great atmosphere. A practice swim is allowed, this makes all the difference to people as they can finally execute their pre race warm up. The start time is 7am, the starting pen slowly fills, people chatting and mingling like a Saturday club sea swim is about to go down.
It’s warm, probably too warm to be allowing wetsuits for the swim but they do and most take advantage of the extra swim speed. It’s a wave start, every 4 seconds 4 athletes rush into the water, having to run around 80 - 90m before they can begin to swim. A proper beach start! The swim is fast because it’s calm, straight forward and you have an incoming tide with you on the back half. You exit up soft sand with the help of volunteers and into T1.
The bike begins with some winding road action which obviously means some bunching up or as the rules call it, drafting. It’s clear there is nothing to be done so relax, focus on the road and be aware at junctions and roundabouts because drivers dont seem to respect rules as they should. Volunteers also seem to be ok with adapting their briefs and not paying attention too. Don’t expect to be pointed in the right direction in time, keep an eye on what is going on ahead. After some technical riding of roundabouts and junctions you head through some rolling hills and get the delight of descending down into coastal ports and towns. The few moments you have to look around you get to see the typical middle eastern ports and fishing villages, all quiet on a Friday. Crowds are limited but those who have made it out cheers like mad. This sets you up for the best climb of the 90km, 700m+ elevation bike course. It’s a 2.2km stretch with a 6% avg gradient and a great chance to tap out some rhythmic peddling and break off from the early groups (or get spat out the back). This climb along with a few shorter, punchier ones prior and a few more long drags to come really sets itself apart from Bahrain and Dubai. Fear not though, if long open roads is your thing, from 60km onwards you are in for a treat. You will also get to ride into and then with the warm Omani winds. The final 10km wakes you back up from your dual carriageway slumber and you need to be back to paying attention to other road users and non focused volunteers ready for T2.
If a wall of noise is how you like to start your runs then this course may not be for you. It still feels very quiet as you begin the run, it then feels even quieter when you hit the stretch of road towards Qurm park. Triathletes who have come from the ground up, as in small local races to big city races will appreciate the real ‘local’ feel this course has. Pockets of support go crazy for you, a few steps later you are on your own again. Feed stations are well placed and you get to your first one as you enter the park grounds. The course is a little windy but not annoying as some can be. It is clear where to go, there’s also plenty of room. Spectators in the park are relaxed with great freedom to move around and the best support of the day hits you as you head past the finish shoot which you will get to go down in another 18k’s time. Overall it is a great run course, a punchy hill, a few turns and trees and solid stretch of ‘why do i do this’ road with a turn around at the end.
While it is certainly not a PB course and though it may sound harder than Bahrain and Dubai (it likely is depending on your strengths) I would absolutely 100% recommend it over them. It’s what a true triathlon should feel like, it’s what we call an ‘honest’ course. The relaxed atmosphere brings relaxed racing, relaxed racing means more overall joy. Yes, it has faults and areas it can improve but everything from the small field to the over helpful/under trained volunteers makes it. If there is one race i’m re-booking for next year, it is 99% likely this one.
By; Tom Walker, Endurance Coach