Tuesday, March 22, 2011

12th Place Abu Dhabi International Triathlon

I’m back in the States after a whirlwind trip to the United Arab Emirates, specifically Abu Dhabi, for the first real race of my season. Having never been to the UAE, I had only the stories of others as a guide, but maintained a relatively open mind about the experience. I knew that the bike leg would be long. I knew that the field was deep. I knew that it was a wealthy region undergoing tremendous growth. I knew the landscape was mostly a barren desert. The rest was left to imagination as I crossed the Atlantic on a jetstream...

Somewhat jetlagged and disoriented, I checked in the very nice race hotel, compliments of the very generous race organizers, and attempted to sleep. The pattern which would prevail for the next 3 nights emerged: Fitful, restless attempts at sleep. One hour here, 30 minutes there, and not more than about 3 or 4 hours total, and then it was light out and time to take care of pre-race duties. I did a little ocean swim in the back of the hotel, ran a quick 4 miles, and briefly spun out the legs before checking in my bike and gear bags. This was some of the fastest turnaround I had done for a race of this caliber, but I decided it was best to avoid interrupting my training too much for a race that wasn't a season goal.

Race morning came swiftly, and I enjoyed the company of a former teammate, Jessica Jacobs as we walked through the opulent grounds of the Emirates Palace to the transition and swim start area. Professionals enjoyed top-notch treatment at the event, and the bike racks were all customized with our names and nationalities. Very cool.

The swim was a two loop affair, and after a couple short delays, we were sprinting from the beach to the questionably non-wetsuit waters of the ocean. I got out okay on the inside buoy line and found a good pack early. Halfway through the first lap we were gapped from the leaders, but I stayed comfortable in the chase pack. It wasn't a great swim, but it wasn't terrible either. When I saw Llanos, McCormack, Gambles, and a few other strong riders within the first kilometers, my spirit was lifted some and I settled in for a long day in the saddle...

And when I say long day, I mean 124 miles of wind, sand, and heat. Abu Dhabi is not known for it's stunning vistas (save some dunes I discovered later), so it was a lot of miles in a moonscape setting, passing little more than highway guardrails and one stand of mangrove trees. Still, I embraced the austerity of the place as a true mental toughness test, and knuckled down. After one loop of very fast riding, our group was completely shattered. Some had dropped, others fallen off, and even a couple had made a heroic bid to get across to the leaders. I remained in a small group as we passed through the Formula 1 racing circuit and then back and forth through the desolate stretches of Emirate desert. By the last time we reached town and headed out for the final half-lap, I dropped the other riders and made a break, riding solo for about the last 30 miles. I felt surprisingly in control, and had managed to stay on top of my nutrition, but I was losing time to the lead group ahead...

Into T2 I just kept in mind that it was a very hot day and people would be slowing down. It was a bit of a mental boost knowing that I would not have to tackle a full marathon too, and I took off with the best of intentions. The first lap was a very solid effort, and then I realized that my chances of picking off in anyone in front were very unlikely, as well as being overtaken. Not proud to admit that my mind drifted a bit to complacency, and I settled into a more comfortable "maintenance" pace and tried to recoup fluid in the last miles. Coming through the finishing stretch, I was very happy to have executed a solid race from start to finish, coming 12th against a Kona-esque field. I was two spots out of the money, and pretty far back, but it was an excellent training day, and gave me a very real confidence boost that I could be competitive against such a deep field in savage conditions.

After chatting it up with the boys from Specialized afterwards, I passed out at the hotel, and then got ready for some Abu fun. My one day after the race consisted of seeing the amazing mosque, gold market, and then participating in a crazy dune bashing/camel riding/sandboarding/dinner expedition in the middle of the sandy desert with good friends.

Abu Dhabi is like no place I have ever seen, and despite harsh conditions, it was a perfect race for mental toughness, and undoubtedly provided a major fitness boost early in the year... very good feeling to have the cobwebs blown out before I undertake the more important races. I have no regrets about traveling over, and I will be back to race again next year.

Achievement, I have heard, is largely a product of steadily raising one's level of aspiration and expectation. Without a doubt this race marks one more step in the right direction.

4th Place Desert Classic Duathlon/ 2011 Kickoff

With heavy legs and a sunburned nose I jumped into the car for a quick trip north… the racing season is back, and just like last year, my first test would be the Desert Classic Duathlon in McDowell Mountain outside Phoenix. Although the miles between Tucson and Scottsdale don’t amount to much, howling winds that were pushing a major storm into the area brought traffic to a slow crawl. I had elected to put my bike in the back seat for aerodynamic/fuel-saving reasons, and it was a rather fortuitous decision since the outside of my car got a nice sandblasting…

I had planned to enjoy an evening of camping in the park, saving the need for an extra early wake-up, and taking advantage of the scenery, and relatively low-key nature of the Duathlon. Certainly not low-key in terms of talent, with the likes of Jordan Rapp, Pedro Gomes, Lewis Elliot, and Maik Twelsiek, but more mellow than Kona.

Rains poured down during packet pick-up at the host hotel and I tucked tail and bailed into a hotel room for the night. I figured with prize money on the line, I now had an incentive to pay back the credit card charge. Went through the gear on my extra bed, got some good rest, and rolled over to the new race venue in the morning to get set.

After a quick set-up in transition, I did a warm-up jog with Montana friend and fellow pro Brendan, and tried to keep the heartrate elevated for the impending sprint. We all huddled shoulder to shoulder on the start line, and took off at an unsustainable pace for the first 800m, but I found a good position near the front before the singletrack section. After a mile or so of racing, it settled down a little, and we had a group that included Rapp, White, Elliot, and myself. The course was changed this year, and it was definitely more challenging on the run portions.

Out on the bike White had put in a little gap right before and through transition, and I took off after him in 2nd. After a few miles I was joined by Rapp and Elliot and we slowly made our way up to the lead. I was having a hard time finding a rhythm, and I kept yo-yoing off the back. Rapp took over the lead near the end of the bike, and I rolled in about 45 seconds back in 2nd with Elliot and White in tow.

Right from the start I knew it would be damage control on the second run. The up and down of the rollers beat up my legs, and I didn’t have much speed left. I was quickly passed and fell to 4th, keeping contact with Elliot, but not closing down the gap. We had pulled out significant time on the pursuing group over the bike leg, so I was comfortably clear in 4th. Not exactly the spot I was hoping for, but I was happy to get paid and show that I was fit enough to temporarily do battle with some other class athletes.

Race season has commenced! Next up will be Abu Dhabi