By Stephen Bourdeau on 04/09/09 at 12:48 pm
My story towards the ITU World Triathlon Championships began shortly after completing my first marathon - the ‘original’ marathon in Athens, Greece last November. Following this race I decided it was time to put my new found running skills and my swimming background together with some cycling and target triathlon.
I live in a small town called Al Ain in the middle of the desert in the United Arab Emirates. About an hour and a half from the proverbial dustbowl that is Dubai, Al Ain is the traditional home of the UAE ruling family and richest Royals in the world, the Al Nayhans. It began as a date growing oasis on the edge of the world’s largest unbroken stretch of desert and with long straight date-palm-lined streets, it lends itself perfectly to long cycle rides, that is, until you realise you are sharing the road with some of the craziest drivers in the world!
Luckily for me, on Fridays - the Muslim Holy Day - traffic on the roads is virtually non-existent with most people at prayer so each Friday morning was my opportunity to hit the roads for a long cycle ride. Unfortunately however, there is no such thing as cyclists ‘sharing’ the road with motorists here – no one will EVER give way to you. Sadly this tragically led to the recent passing of Mark Pringle, a prominent member of both the local racing community in the UAE and of course, the Australian triathlon scene.
The city of Al Ain is conveniently positioned in the shadow of the highest point in the United Arab Emirates - Mount Jebel Hafeet. According to the television show Top Gear, the road up this mountain is one of their top 10 drives in the world. With over 1000 vertical metres covering 14 kilometres and numerous hairpin turns, you very quickly understand why the car buffs love it and your lungs quickly learn to hate the punishment of a ride up there. It’s usual to be riding up this mountain and have a family of locals driving slowly past you videoing you on their digital cameras, tooting their horn and basically letting you know how crazy they think you are!
At the top of this mountain there is a fancy hotel and a Royal Palace which conveniently doubles as the coolest place around to run. Literally, at over 1300 m above sea level it is usually 5 degrees Celsius cooler here than in the city which means fresh night time running temperature of 35 degrees.
Given that sport in general is not a high priority in the local’s way of life, there are very few facilities to support training here, in particular, decent swimming pools. Having grown up as a swimmer, I find doing tumble turns in a 25 m pool with no bottom markings quite a hindrance to a good training session. Luckily I have been able to join a training squad in Dubai from time to time to swim in the sea in front of one of the biggest construction sites in the world. During the summer the water temperatures reached over 36 degrees Celsius and with the city’s desalination plants only a couple of kilometres away - the salinity stings your eyes.
Oh, did I forget to mention that it’s HOT here? During the hottest months of summer, which coincided with my peak training time for this race, the mean daily temperatures hovered around 45-50 degrees whilst dropping to a balmy 35-40 in the evenings. This meant a lot of indoor training rides and runs on the treadmill and numerous 3am wakeups to ride or run outside. Frozen drink bottles will thaw in about 10 or 15 minutes of riding and given that women should be fully covered as per the Muslim faith; being constantly stared at for wearing the usual training clothes can be a little off-putting.
On our Friday morning training rides it is common place to run into a herd of camels grazing in the desert or being taken for a training ride at the local camel race track. Equally as common is to have your path blocked by a drifting sand dune covering the road. On a road bike there is little option other than to unclip and trudge through the sand until back on the asphalt. Unfortunately the sand has a tendency to not only affect the riding surface, but also the air quality when fierce storms blow in whipping dust and sand in your face and skin - they tend to roll in without warning so getting caught in one during a long ride can really reduce the comfort factor.
So here I am, a week out from the race, wondering how much I’ll enjoy that freezing Gold Coast water (21.1 degrees C as I write) or the crisp Gold Coast air (daily temps around 24 degrees C) during the race. I’m sure my fellow kiwi team-mates will be hanging out to flee from the late seasonal cold snap that is undoubtedly due. I really love the idiosyncrasies of training here - it just adds a new dimension to the day-to-day rigour. I’d like to thank my training buddies, Mike, Speedy and the Tri2Aspire crew for all the help and support along the way - its been a great build up, lets hope the race will be too!
Catherine Prattley (NZL) #451
Age Group Competitor – W30-34
Find more details about this event - 2009 Dextro Energy Triathlon - ITU World Championship Grand Final Gold Coast