Race Report – IRONMAN 70.3 Dubai
Gavin Bell - Race #405
2 February 2018
Two years ago a friend said I should join her at Ironman 70.3 Dubai. My immediate response was that she must be crazy, and totally out of her mind. After all, who would want to go to Dubai…it’s hot…it’s in a desert…and it must be as boring as hell. It was anything but that.
Ironman 70.3 Dubai was held on the 2nd of Feb, which is the ideal time to have a race there, as it is their winter. The ambient temperature was 20°C for race day, with a sea temp of 21.6°C (wetsuit legal) - absolutely ideal.
Race village was located next to Jumeira Beach where you would register, browse through the very boring expo, and later rack your bike the following day. The expo was the most uneventful and uninteresting expo I have ever been to - our expos in East London, PE and Durban have way more to offer. There are no exciting vendors and nothing of interest, besides the Ironman merchandise store, the expo is a complete joke, and pretty disappointing. Being an AWA athlete this year, I felt extremely special as we had our own area with the Pros to register, I had a low number for a change which made me feel super important haha! Transition was on Jumeira beach with a solid floor and red felt carpet as the surface, really smart, with the iconic Burj Al Arab just a few hundred metres away. In keeping with the smart look, the change rooms had chandeliers hanging from the roof, as you do in Dubai.
The Opening Ceremony and race briefing was nestled between the beautiful Jumeira Beach Hotel and Burj Al Arab in a setting that was fit for VVIP's. Silver crockery, white linen and a buffet that was out of this world, with attentive staff looking after your drink needs (all the bottled water, fruit juice and Pepsi was freely available). Sure beats any pasta party that's for sure! A total of 95 countries were represented at this year's race, so there were many languages and accents all around me, which made conversation slightly challenging, but this was all part of the experience, but we all had one thing in common - swim / bike / run / fun!
Come race day, the swim is set on a private beach in front of the Jumeira Beach Hotel, and we were allowed to have a warm-up swim around the starting area. It was pitch black at the time of our warm-up swim, and felt rather strange going into the water with zero visibility. As it was a wetsuit legal race, I wore my Orca 3.8 enduro wetsuit, an extremely buoyant and flexible wetsuit which is the most comfortable wetsuit I have ever worn. This wetsuit is in a completely different class and one that makes me enjoy the swim even more. The flexibility, the Core Lateral Stabilisers, along with the Aerodome 2 along the lower back and legs, all make the swim so much more easier. I swim with the Orca Killa 180 goggles, these goggles are the most comfortable I've worn, and makes things crystal clear, truly a must-have for any swimmer. Once the race started the sun was starting to rise, and we swam through the harbour between massive luxury yachts and the gorgeous Burj Al Arab on our left hand side looking over us. The water was beautiful, a perfect 21.6°C, it was soft and clear, but we did have rather large swell to deal with going out of the harbour, the swell was so high it was difficult to see the buoys and it did make me go off course slightly as I was following everyone else.. luckily it didn't take me too far off... Once completely past the breakers we then swam along the coastline, and breathing to the right I could see the Dubai skyline which was absolutely incredible. On exiting the swim, we had another challenge, that of the blazing sun as it was now rising which made it difficult to see the shore, and then we had the large swell to deal with.. all-in-all it was lots of fun, and I managed the swim in a time of 0:39:06.
Next was the bike, an incredible experience of riding on the highway out of the city and into the desert. At times I laughed to myself thinking I am riding on a highway, in Dubai, at 70.3 and heading into the desert... totally surreal! The road surface was silky smooth and an absolute dream to cycle on, and the entire course had a gradient of no more than 200m, which made this course extremely flat and fast. We had a bit of headwind to deal with on the way out and a few inclines, but certainly nothing to complain about, I was a little bit disillusioned with my bike going out as I was not hitting the speed I was initially wanting, but luckily on the return I had a slight tailwind which definitely helped me on the way back. Coming back into the city seeing the Dubai skyline in front of me, and the Burj Khalifa in the distance was just amazing, truly awesome. The drafting on this course on the way back was an absolute shocker, you could see the blatant drafting and there were no marshalls in sight, which I was not charmed about. I finished the bike in a time of 2:39:31, with an average of just under 34km/h. I raced in our new Orca Dream Kona suit, this is an amazing aero suit that fits like a glove and is incredibly comfortable, it certainly allowed me to enjoy my race without any hassles at all.
The run is certainly one of the most beautiful and memorable I have ever done in a race, after leaving transition we run along a run track that has been built alongside Jumeira Beach, there is an actual run track which has a fairly soft surface, which I loved, as it didn't feel as harsh as being on tar or pavement (I found out later that the track increases fatigue and slows one down - which I'll now happily blame for my slow run haha!). The track winds along the Jumeira beachfront in between cute beach restaurants and fantastic supporters, and on the right in the distance I could see the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, it was amazing to see and again I laughed to myself in disbelief that I was running alongside this beautiful beach seeing the Burj Khalifa in the distance, and actually racing in Dubai. At one point I even said to another athlete running next to me that I wanted to pinch myself as it was so unreal and beautiful. The run was hot, and I looked forward to the cold sponges at each water station to keep me cool. The first 7kms were tough and often had the evil thought of walking, but that was not an option, I just kept at it moaning to myself that I will not walk. I fought off many demons, and there were at times that I felt incredible, but I continued soldiering on making sure that I was not going to completely crash, but on nearing the finish I could hear the voice I had been waiting to hear for the last 6 Ironman races, the voice of Paul Kaye. I was so happy to see him standing on the red carpet as I turned the corner and give him a high five before crossing over the finish line, it made my race. I crossed over the line in a total time of 5:27:18, a PB for me so I am happy with my end result.
We got amazing backpacks, a smart sleeveless goosedown Finisher's jacket and a cap for finishing, not to mention the very cool medal. The finishers area was very vibey with large poef cushions scattered around, there were also two “ice baths”, but by the time I climbed in it was just like a warm pool, but maybe for the local it would be considered an ice bath! Massages were also available, who were done by Thai ladies who knew exactly what they were doing, and gave a good 30-40min massage, I felt so good after that massage!
The awards evening was once again where we had race briefing, this time the food was prepared by Jumeira Beach Hotel, and a 5* buffet was laid out, it was absolutely delicious and we truly were treated like VIP's.
Would I recommend Dubai 70.3? Absolutely, 100%!! This is an unbelievable race, and for those that want a flat and fast course, this is the ideal race to get a PB.
Dubai is an absolutely incredible city and one that definitely needs to be explored when you are there. I was lucky to be able to cycle out in the desert prior to the race at the Al Qudra cycle track, this is a cycle track that has been built exclusively for cycling only - no cars allowed. The track is about 60kms, but there are other 20km loops that branch off from the main loop, so you can easily clock up 180km's no problem. Cycling out there between all the dunes on a silky smooth road surface was surreal, who would have thought nothing could be so beautiful. I also had a short brick run which was totally unbelievable to run out there in the desert with absolutely nothing around me. There are men placed in little tractor-like sweeper vehicles that are stationed around the track at various parts, and their job is to ensure the track is kept clean from sand and any debris, so getting a puncture or skidding on sand is not going to happen there... makes training an absolute bliss - but if you want hills, you won't get that as it is flatter than a pancake!
For fun activities after the race I went skydiving over The Palm Jumeira, an absolute must do for anyone who goes to Dubai, the views are mind-blowing! Jumping out of a perfectly functioning aircraft at 13,000ft was truly the most insane and exhilarating thing I have ever done to date. In keeping with seeing amazing views of Dubai, I went to the Dubai Mall and up the Burj Khalifa in the evening, this is the worlds tallest building and to get to the 124th floor takes a mere 60 seconds in the world's fastest lift. You are able to walk up a flight of stairs to the 125th floor as well. We booked the 18h00 trip so we could see the city night lights, Dubai sparkles at night and it turns into something truly beautiful. I then got to see the magical Dubai Fountains while having dinner alongside the fountains, this is something everyone needs to see when in Dubai as it's truly spectacular. These fountains are the world’s tallest performing fountains, at over 275m in length and water nozzles that shoot water to heights equivalent to that of a 50-storey building. Spectacular is only one way of describing it. The fountain performs every 30 min to a range of different songs, and I found it pretty cool that the first song I saw / heard, was an African themed song – just brilliant. When in operation the fountain has over 83,000 litres of water in the air at any given moment! The following evening we visited a place called Global Village, which is Dubai’s leading cultural attraction with 30 massive pavillions, each representing a different country. It was seriously impressive and the size of this village could possibly be the size of Cape Town’s City Bowl. You could buy anything from spices to amazing honey, clothing, jewellery…you name it – it was literally one very big fancy flea market! The following evening I went on a desert safari, this is a 4x4 experience over sand dunes in the desert about 1h30 outside Dubai and must be one of the most fun "rollercoaster" rides I have been on. We watched the sunset sink below the dunes, rode a camel, and then had the most amazing food under the stars in an incredible camp - this camp, in the middle of a desert, had electricity, flushing toilets and running water, totally self supportive - amazing. They switched off all the lights for 5 minutes after dinner and you could see every star in the galaxy. My final day was spent being a big kid at the Atlantis resort on Palm Island at Aquaventure. There are so many awesome rides, and I loved being a total kid again standing in line with other like-minded people wanting a thrill. The rides are all so much fun, but the two that have a major thrill factor are Poseidon’s Revenge and Leap Of Faith. Poseidon’s Revenge is a slide that has a clear trap door that opens beneath your feet after counting you down from 3 and you go plummeting down the chute hitting speeds of over 60km/h – an absolute rush of note!! The Leap Of Faith, very similar to that of the ride at the Valley of the Waves at Sun City, is where you hurtle yourself down 9 stories in a near vertical drop. It’s seriously loads of fun – but after jumping out of a plane at 13,000ft, how could I beat that!
I went to Dubai not expecting much. After all, I had this misconception it was this hot, dusty, dry city in a desert, that couldn’t offer much, nor could it be very exciting. How that city proved me wrong! This city is vibrant, modern, thrilling and enchanting, clean, beautiful, with super friendly people, and I was truly blown away. Dubai is a destination for everyone, and the Ironman 70.3 Dubai is a no-brainer. You have to do it!
Trisuit: Orca Dream Kona
Wetsuit : Orca 3.8
Goggles : Orca Killa 180
Bike : Orbea Ordu M20i aka "Bullet"
Peak cap : Orca
Compression : CEP Ultralight calf sleeves and CEP Ultralight low-cut socks