UmYazan's Blog

Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, Saturday March 15, 2014

Posted on: March 16, 2014

So it all started with an inspiration from the team captain of a charity cycling team… I didn’t start cycling until May of 2013 when I joined my charity cycling team the Qatar Sandstormers. I was inspired. Here was a group of people, raising money for charity by cycling. The big event, the Global Biking Initiative (GBI) ride across Europe. I thought this is great! You can do a sport and raise money for charity at the same time! And Qatar’s relatively flat terrain made it ideal for cycling. N.B. I didn’t know about the headwinds!

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Post Finish Glory at ADIT!

Training with the team was great and I slowly became a better cyclist. Actually, by September I was hooked! I was really getting into the sport, looking at all the gadgets and clothing and accessories that you needed to be a serious cyclist when I stumbled across a really badass cycling kit from Betty Designs. I went to the website when I came across a posting from the designer, Kristin Mayer. Are You A Betty? it said… So I read along and discovered that Kristin was looking for women who could represent her brand. I thought, why not… let’s try this and that’s when I pledged to do my first triathlon if I succeeded in being selected as a Betty ambassador. By the end of September the announcement came in… I was officially selected a Betty Butterfly! I was ecstatic! I officially had a sponsor…

I registered for Abu Dhabi International Triathlon and started training… I was lucky to also get my endurance training sponsored and began training with my coach Sylvie Densereau from NRG Performance Training in Canada. I wasn’t a good swimmer. I was a horrible runner, and my cycling was mediocre. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t swim freestyle for more than a few meters before I would suffer from an asthma attack which forced me to resort to breast strokes the rest of the training distances. But slowly with persistence and training, I was swimming for up to an hour without any problems (see my blog on Breaking the First Barrier), I was running under 6 min per kilometer and my cycling had improved tremendously. Sylvie taught me about nutrition, going slow and understanding how I should be training… train smart she would repeatedly tell me and FUEL properly. That was a really important piece of advice. That along with training smart. It’s not how fast you go… it’s a combination of the effort you put in along with the right balance of fueling. The speed comes along for the ride!

All this led to T-Day! Abu Dhabi International. I was nervous and jittery. I read and re-read the course map and Sylvie’s competition plan for me… How I should approach the swim, what I should do on the bike, how I should prepare for the run. What I should eat, when I should eat, how often I should eat! It was a lot of information and I wanted to make sure I would be ready for  this. Physically I knew I could handle it. But endurance sport is a mental game and you have to focus on it in order to succeed.

I woke up the day of the race at 3am. My swim start was scheduled for 7:25am so I had to have my breakfast at least 4 hours before the race. I was excited but felt calmer than the previous 2 days. I had my breakfast of eggs, toast and fruits. And of course my cup of coffee! I got into the bus at 5:30am to go to transition. I was lucky to be on the bus with three elite women triathletes including Melissa Hauschildt and Jodie Swallow who were participating in the Long Distance course. Melissa won the ADIT Long Distance Course! They were calm and collected, chattering away happily on the bus. It felt calming.

I got to transition and prepped my bike, adding my water and making sure my nutrition was all in check. It was 7am before I knew it! Announcement came that wetsuits were optional for everyone except the Elite athletes. Water was 22.9 degrees Celsius. I decided to wear my wetsuit as I didn’t want to be at a disadvantage and the wetsuit will help a lot with the buoyancy. I had dislocated my thumb about 10 days before and was wearing a thumb brace. A friend of mine from Doha, Lindis, who was also participating in the short course I was competing in, helped me with my wetsuit. Wetsuits are NOT easy to put on, especially with a thumb injury!

I made my way to the swim assembly area and did a warm up in the water and watched as the waves before me took off in the swim. It was crazy! Lots of athletes, in the water, splashing away. But I knew to follow my race plan. Sylvie has mentioned that I should wait until most of the swimmers had already gone in the water so as not to get kicked and splashed and so I could swim in calmer waters, keeping the buoys to my left. As my wave was called to the start line, I started to get a bit more nervous. Wave 5 was required to wear the green swim caps. And there we were… about 50 or more of us… waiting for the start bell to go off… I was surprised when it did! It happened so quickly! I waited for most of the swimmers to go in, then I went in. And in my head I kept talking to myself… swim slow, breathe easy… you can do this. Site the yellow and red buoy and you will be fine… So I started slow (at least I thought I was slow until I saw my timing when I finished the race! More on that later!). I got into my rhythm, siting regularly and swimming straight. I was really proud of myself  for swimming straight and siting regularly. One guy swam across me in the wrong direction… I watched him while I was breathing and he saw that he was going in the wrong direction and adjusted his swim. So I was proud of myself that I was swimming straight.

As I got closer to the first buoy, I noticed that my asthma was starting to act up.  I kept telling myself to breathe calmly and swim slow and straight and robotic, like I had been training for. As I turned the first buoy I was surprised as I was overtaken by the wave that started a few minutes after my wave in the blue swim caps. I found myself amongst a sea of swimmers who didn’t care if you were slower than them… they weren’t even looking, they would swim over you, past you, bumping into your feet, hands, head… it was crazy… that shocked me and I felt my asthma coming on again… so I lay down on my back (that was in the race plan as well… thank you Sylvie!) and did the backstroke for a bit to relax and get my breathing in check. I also watched the swimmers that were overtaking me move away so I could once again swim in calmer waters. I swam to the second buoy and did another backstroke for a while to get my breathing in check. I was heading for the finish line trying to site the white buoy which marked the end but I didn’t see it… so I aimed for the beach and followed the majority of the swimmers before I finally sited the white buoy maybe 300 meters away… that’s when I sprinted. I just wanted to get out of the water and finish the swim! My breathing was heavy but I was robotic about every stroke. I got out of the water and ran for the timing mats… running in sand was NOT easy! After crossing the timing mat one of the race marshals helped me pull off my wetsuit… He saw me struggling with my thumb brace and helped out… pretty cool of these guys.. it’s what they are there for! What was also really amazing were the crowds who were clapping and yelling well done to each person as they got out of the water… it encouraged me to keep going…

The transition area was quite a distance from the swim timing mat. In total the transition areas were about 1.5km distance (for both the swim and bike transitions)… so you can imagine in my head I was like… when will I get to the changing tent??!!) I got to the changing tent and pulled off the rest of my wetsuit. Got my bike equipment from the blue bike bag. Sunglasses first. Helmet second. Shoes third. Fuel in pockets. Inner tube and levers in back pocket just in case of a flat tire (my worst nightmare, I don’t know how to change  a flat yet!) and I had a gel and water before running to my bike…

I pulled my bike off the transition racks, ran down the red carpet area to the bike mount area… this was going to be 100km in what I thought was going to be a relatively flat terrain… ummmm not really, there were some climbs! I got on the bike and remembered my race plan… Find your legs for the first 10 minutes… So I found my legs. The first 10km were hard. I wanted to throw up several times… I knew it was from the swim and my asthma… but as I continued to warm up and ride, I started to feel better… until this horrible burning sensation started in my stomach. For the entire 100km there was this terrible burn in my stomach. I don’t know why. In retrospect I think it was the electrolytes. I was training with Gu gels and Mule bars. So my body was used to it. But I normally use Gatorade G for electrolytes. I used the Gu electrolyte tablets. That might have been the problem as I wasn’t used to them… lesson number 1… never race with a product you have never used. It was in my race plan… I know Sylvie, you are probably shaking your head as you read this, but I didn’t find my Gatorade…

The first 35 kilometers were great! I was going 31km per hour. There was little wind resistance and I had found my legs so I was quite happy… The bike race course would take us to Yas Island where we would race on the F1 track for two laps before heading back to the transition area. It was really amazing on the bike course. I would pass some cyclists, some would pass me and many would encourage you along the way… well done! Keep going! Go 812! What was even more amazing as I was racing in my Team Betty Kit were the women cyclists… three ladies shouted out to me… I LOVE YOUR KIT! So of course I yelled back thanks and told them to check out Betty Designs! One lady on the course was actually wearing the Kick Butt kit that inspired me to become a Betty. She yelled out “Alright Betty!!” I was ecstatic.. I never dreamed that one, I would be recognized as a Betty and two that women competing on the course would compliment me on the kit… You KNOW that made my day and when I thought I couldn’t do it anymore, just remembering their words made me keep going. I fueled regularly, having my gels every 20 minutes and a Mule bar 1hr30m into the race. In my head to keep me going I kept telling myself, this is what you are training for… this is what Sylvie got you ready for… this is why you are here today. I told you, it’s a mental effort. As I made it into the Yas circuit I felt good. I knew that as soon as Yas was over, it would be a quick ride back to transition. Yas circuit is mostly flat and the tarmac was smooth. In some areas I was reaching up to 40km on the course… at one point I was going 36kph when I came to a very sharp left turn… I wasn’t prepared for it despite the signs that said SLOW DOWN, I didn’t realize it was such a sharp turn… I started to break and yell to the marshals to get out of my way and of course expletives were coming out of my mouth to warn the riders behind me that I was watching my life flash before my eyes! Luckily and thank God I don’t know how I managed to narrowly escape kissing that wall at 30kph and continued on… I looked back at the cyclist behind me and said to him… well that was close! He laughed and said, yup!

There were spectators watching at Yas circuit, clapping and cheering everyone on… it was great… as the second lap started in Yas, I don’t know why I just wanted it to be over… I was hating the circuit despite the fact that I knew it was just another 15km to go and would be heading back for the last 35km. As I approached the wall of death (the sharp left turn) and slowed to almost 18kph. Didn’t want any opportunity to kiss any wall! The aid station was right after and I filled my bottles with plain water. It was amazing but I didn’t think my body would crave plain water WITHOUT the electrolytes. I just wanted plain water. I filled up two bottles with plain water (I had four bottles with 2.5 liters total with me) and was off to finish the Yas circuit and ride back to the corniche transition area. At 75km into the race I needed the bathroom, I stopped at one of the aid stations as there were also toilets there… saw how dusty it was and didn’t see any toilet paper and water, and decided, yup, this ain’t happening… I don’t need the bathroom! And I was off again… the mental words in my head… you can do this Waj! It’s what you’ve been training for Waj! You’re crazy for doing this Waj! My stomach hurts Waj! Ignore it Waj!

The last 10km was the best, I picked up speed and tried to make up for lost time. I did my best 100km. Although I may have done a better average speed before, this was after a swim and in competition and without drafting! So yeah I was proud of myself. Mentally the last 5km I was reminding myself to spin more on the bike so my legs would get ready for the run. Sylvie warned me it would be painful so I started to prep my head to be ready for the pain. It was going to be 10km but it was what I was training for!

I got into transition… I have to say, it’s the spectators that keep you going… clapping and cheering along. It was even more amazing when they saw a woman racing and the women spectators would amp up their cheers! Gotta love the fans! They weren’t mine but they made me feel special!

I changed quickly into my racing gear from the red bag and was off on the run. I had a gel and water before so that I would be ready… I started it out at my regular warm up pace of 6:45km/min and then, 1 minute into the run, I had the nastiest stitch in my right side… it was PAINFUL and I wanted to cry from the pain… this couldn’t be happening! Why do I have a stitch now??? I slowed down to a walk. I did see that other runners were walking but I was really upset. I was mentally ready for the run! A competitor next to me told me to drink more water at the next aid station… It was about 2km into the race when I got to the first aid station, I had another gel and drank more water and the stitch was gone. I was really upset as I had walked the first 2km. I started my run but couldn’t get back to my normal speed. Not even my warm up speed of 6:45. So I started running intervals. Run 4 min, walk 1 min. I did this regularly for the entire 10km of the race. It was hard. It was hot. The sun was beating down on us and my stomach still had that pain. There was horrible stinging sensation in my right shoulder. It was a struggle. As I neared the last 1km of the run, I picked up my speed. My goal was to run under 6 hours. If I hadn’t gotten the stitch and the stomach pain I knew I would have finished 15 minutes earlier. I saw that if I picked up my pace I would make it in under 6 hours. So I sprinted the last leg of the race. I saw that finish line up ahead of me and knew that I was home free!

I crossed the finish line ELATED! My first triathlon! 5hrs.59min.34s. Under 6! Just barely. But I didn’t care! I did it… at the end of the finish line race officials were standing with the medals in hand… I felt like a winner… the spectators cheering everyone on! It was great!!! I was given a sweet juice to drink and was dazed with happiness just to have finished. First person at the finish line I saw was Ryan Bowd from IMG, the organizers. He congratulated me on finishing the race. Then Salah from Fast Track PR Agency grabbed me. As one of their local heroes for ADIT, I was interviewed and had a photo taken at the finish line. Boy when I saw the picture I cringed. I looked HORRIBLE! I guess anyone would after completing a 111.5km race plus an additional 1.5km in transition! After the photo op, I was walking around dazed and confused with that horrible shoulder pain when fellow teammate Pierre Daniel found me! Was happy to see him! He had completed the sprint distance in an amazing time, coming in 4th in his age group! He took me to the medical tent so that the masseuse could help with the pain. Pierre then brought Marouf Mahmoud, our charity cycling team captain, who also completed the sprint distance in an awesome time, to the tent to congratulate me on the finish… really felt awesome to have your team with you, knowing they were cheering you on. I want to mention that my girl and charity team cyclist finished SECOND in her age group! Love you Caroline Van Aartrijk!

The masseuse was shocked at how much my shoulder was stiff… she massaged my shoulder for a good 10 minutes before it finally became loose and the pain was gone. We left the medical tent and made our way over to the VIP area. There Greg Sproule, the MD of IMG made his way over to congratulate me on the finish.

I had just missed the Brownlee brothers who broke a record on the 10km run… they ran it at 20km/hour… that, my friends, is FAST!

I remembered my race plan and Sylvie’s advice to eat as much as I could after the race. I made my way over to the buffet and started to eat. I really wasn’t very hungry but I took her advice. I had so much energy and was really happy that I had finished. I wanted to go again! That’s how great I felt… little did I know that exactly 2 hours later that adrenaline rush would leave my body making me feel light headed and sick! I had finished the race by 1:30pm. We headed back to the hotel at 4pm and I just felt terrible. I drank a lot of water and had some sweets but I didn’t feel well.

I rested until 5:30pm before getting up to go to dinner. I felt much better after lying down and actually felt like I had more energy. I was tired but happy.

I’m proud of myself for doing this. It was really a test of endurance and more of a personal challenge to achieve something different. It’s a true testament to doing what you set your mind to do. You can achieve anything if you really put in the mental and physical effort.

Couldn’t have done it without the support of my family, my boys and friends who kept encouraging me along the way. My charity cycling team who kept cheering us on. Sylvie my coach and Nigel Gray from NRG Performance Training who were pivotal in getting my performance up to speed, Kristin Mayer and my fellow Betty’s who believed in me and made me proud to be a Betty. Marouf, Caroline and Pierre for being so passionate and supportive about competing in the short distance. Ryan and Greg from IMG and so many people to name who watched and cheered me on. Thank you all…

Would I do this again? HELL YA! Do I need a couple of days recovery… ABSOLUTELY! Looking forward to more adventures in sports and training as I get ready for two more Olympic Distance Triathlons in April and the GBI charity ride in June.

You can check out my race results and splits here. Search for Wajeeha (I’m the only one with that name… hahahahaha) or bib 812. I had mentioned the swim previously. I thought I was going slow… ummm… turned out I did my fastest swim EVER! That was a PB! In 38 minutes. I normally do 1.5km in like 56-58 minutes! Swim glory! YEAH! My run was disappointing for me… but still, it won’t let me down as overall I did well and most importantly I finished! That’s what’s important. Proud. Accomplished. Yeah it feels good!

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