CHALLENGE DUBAI 70.3, FEB 2015 – Race report by Tony Cullen


I have a friend and fellow athlete in Dubai called Jason Harden, who called me up to let me know that Challenge had announced a new race, ‘Challenge Dubai’.  He asked if I wanted to go over and stay with him and do the race.  He is the general manager of Taj Hotels so he kindly offered to put me up.

It is pretty well timed being four weeks out from Ironman South Africa so it was a no brainer!  I got a race entry in as quick as possible and booked my flights.  My prep had gone reasonably well over the winter considering how cold and grim it had been.  I have really tried to be patient this year and not be at my fittest in February and March and rather try and hold it back to peak in the summer for Ironman UK.  I would describe myself at the moment as being pretty fit but not necessarily fast which is exactly where I would like to be for this time of year.

After arriving in Dubai, Jason had put me up in one of the best hotels over there, the ‘Taj Dubai’.  It was brand new and not even open to the public yet so I had a team of staff looking after just me! So as you can imagine I was looked after very well, so a huge thank you to Jason for that.  It was fantastic having such an amazing room and a stunning view over the Burj Khalifa.

Race Morning through up some very very windy conditions which is pretty rare over there and nothing like the day before when I had swam the course in perfectly calm waters.  There was talk in transition about them cancelling the swim.  Eventually the organisers had decided to make it two short laps and although I am not a strong swimmer, I am a confident swimmer so I was happy with the conditions knowing that lots of others would have been a big disadvantage due to the winds.  I was happy to use this to my advantage as the rough sea didn’t bother me and I just wanted to get round it as fast as I could.  It was great to be in transition with some of the legends such as Javier Gomez, Pete Jacobs, Luke McKenzie  and Tim Read amongst others.

The race started in four waves, the first wave was male pros, then female pros, then sub 4.40 hour age groupers then everybody else.  It was a mass start off the beach.  After seeing the male and female pros start I did notice that a lot of the female pros we being swept by the current so I chose to move to the inside of the mass start and that way I could just allow the current to take me slightly as I swam out to the first boy and that seemed to work quite well.  Sighting was very difficult with the swell and the chop, you had to time the sighting as well as possible so that you could see as the swell brought you up to the top of the wave or else you were swimming blindly and couldn’t see any of the safety buoys or boats.  You could barely see who was around you for most of the swim.  The swim went pretty uneventful with most people just trying to survive the swim rather than trying to fight for places.  I knew there was plenty of swimmers in front of me although I had no idea how many but I finished the swim feeling comfortable and with no problems.  I ran into T1 feeling confident and ready to head out on my bike.

After a quick transition I was out on the bike not knowing what position I was in but I just decided that I was going to have a real go at the bike. I didn’t really know how my fitness or power was for this distance as I hadn’t really trained for it but it was all about just going out on the bike and having a blast and seeing how many places I could pull back in.  As we set off I knew that I had to be careful as there was a tailwind on the way out and a strong headwind on the way back in, average paces on the way out were up at 28mph!  As I began to reel the top swimmers in I decided to ride on the opposite side of the road to keep well away from everybody as there was quite a long paceline of riders in a group, I managed to slowly work my way past them.  I could then see in the distance a group of another 4 or 5 riders so slowly but surely over the next 30 minutes or so I managed to pull those guys in.  It seems, although I didn’t know at the time, that I managed to take the lead in the AG race after just 30 minutes of the bike course.  I was still thinking there was another group of top guys up the road and my idea was to just keep riding to pull those guys in but that wasn’t the case.

I got to the turn point and we started to head back.  By this point I had a pretty significant lead and we were then riding into a head wind and found it really hard to maintain any sort of speed with my pace dropping to about 17mph, the wind was blowing me all over the road.  On the course almost all of the marshals and directions were pretty obvious and you couldn’t go wrong but we came to one roundabout where the first exit was wide open so I presumed that this was the one I had to take so I took it,but it turned out to be the wrong exit.  I think the wind must have had blown the course signs away.  Luckily the road wasn’t that long and I came to a dual carriageway which was full of traffic so I knew that it must have been wrong, I managed to cross the carriageway and rejoin the course.  As I joined the course, the 3 guys that I had passed about 50 minutes earlier were now back on top of me.  It turned out by looking at my Garmin after the race that my wrong turn had cost me 3 minutes.  So now I was back in the race but I had 3 other guys with me and I tried to work hard to pull away although my legs were beginning to go on me.  Myself and another guy from Guatanamo managed to pull away from the other two and he rode behind me for the rest of the ride until we got into T2. My legs were completely goosed and I really struggled in the last 30 minutes of the bike.  I got into T2 and a quick transition and I was out onto the run.

The run was along the coastal path with great views of Dubai’s surfing population taking advantage of the very rare waves of the day.  As I exited transition I was in first place in the AG race with the guy from Guatemala right behind me.  The idea was to hold as close as possible to 6.30pmile pace which would then give me a 1h24/1h25 half marathon but within 500m I quickly realised that this wasn’t going to happen.  Although I wasn’t completely knackered, it was just that my legs wouldn’t turn over at the speed I needed them to so I had to settle in to 7 minute miles for the duration as that was the only pace that my legs would hold!  This was no surprise due to no speed work in the lead up.  As we ran along the coast the guy from Guatemala overtook me in the second mile, his pace was only a little quicker than mine but I just couldn’t hold onto him so I had to let him go and hope that he may have faded in the latter stages.  I was enjoying the views and the sea breeze which was helping to keep me cool.

I held a pretty steady pace throughout the run and could see from the switch backs that there weren’t very many age groupers out on the run course yet.  I knew I was in second place and could see that my position was quite safe as I couldn’t see any age groupers coming the other way.  In the last couple of miles of the run I was caught by a young GB athlete called Luke Matthews who came past me, I tried to stay with him but he managed to hold me off and cross the line in front of my by 16 seconds.  My finishing time of 4 hours and 27 minutes was 16 seconds behind Luke and 2 minutes behind the overall winner from Guatamala.  My split times were:

Swim – 31 mins (including T1)

Bike – 2h21

Run – run 1h31(including T2)

I finished 2nd in my AG , 3rd overall.  Really happy with a solid race and it felt good to get a 70.3 in the bank being 4 weeks out from Ironman South Africa.

It was a great experience, now bring on Ironman SA!!

Check out some of my pics on the gallery page.

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