Sport360°’s Chris Bailey has signed up for the challenge of his life in November – an Ironman. Follow his adventure as he prepares his body for a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile cycle and a marathon to finish …
Swimming, how I love and hate thee.
Cutting through the water is both glorious and horrifying, soothing and traumatic, synchronised and discombobulated – sometimes all within the space of a stroke.
The mission over the next eight months is to turn down the chaos and crank up the calmness for a swim leg of an Ironman that, if all goes well, should only encompass 10 per cent of the race.
It’s certainly doesn’t feel like 10 per cent at the moment. In fact, coach Dmitriy Firsov and I Love Supersport (ILSS) Dubai have given me a thorough drenching.
Before knuckling down into serious training I considered myself an adequate swimmer, a couple of notches above doggy paddler and a few lengths short of confident.
Endurance and strength has followed rather rapidly since racking up the kilometres both on land and in water but tailoring technique, as I’m finding out, is a lifelong process.
Take writing. Picking up a pen and jotting down a few words should flow naturally. But when was the last time you thought about angle, finger placement, letter shape? Try it – the mind rebels having become accustomed to the same action after thousands of repetitions.
Exactly the same applies to swimming technique. Suddenly I’m trying to process the angle of my hands, keeping my elbows high, ‘feeling’ the water, body balance, kicking, propulsion, and recovery within a couple of seconds.
If you’re a beginner all this is coached from the ground up. As a so-so swimmer it’s much harder to untangle bad habits from the good.
Thankfully Dmitriy – a former national triathlete who used to swim two kilometres just for warm-ups – is at hand to help demystify the process.
I’ve joined the ILSS Swim Squad, which runs at various locations throughout the week and includes both veterans and improvers in an extremely welcoming environment.
Not that Dmitriy lets you get away with slacking. Sharp with his whistle and incisive with his advice, it’ll amaze you just how far you can push yourself with such little rest in between lengths.
My first session in the state-of-the-art 50-metre pool at SIS School, in Healthcare City, left me glowing. By the start of the second I was blowing.
The accumulation of the ‘loading’ phase of six-day-a-week training – adapting the body to heavy triathlon workloads – and some late shifts at work set me sinking during the first technique drill (look up – sculling it’s certainly not my favourite activity in the water).
Dmitriy ordered me out and told me to change. A little embarrassed, I eventually shambled pack poolside. But instead of a scolding, he told me I should relax and observe.
Lesson learned? Recovery is more important than any tweak of technique.
Whether I heed that advice regularly is another thing entirely …
Swimming works on a very simple basis: 80 per cent of success is technique, and 20 per cent is speed, endurance, stamina and strength. Even for myself, in a swimming programme, I put a lot of attention on the technical drills. It’s better to correct mistakes from the beginning, and not create bad habits.
Technique is not just simply learning stuff. We have to put lots of effort into the beginning stage, so that a swim is delivery from ‘Point A to Point B’ on raceday. As of now we have a swim accented block which will give us more time to develop the bike and run in future.
If you are afraid of the water, change your attitude to it. Love it, and swimming will be the most pleasant thing you’ve ever done.
The ILSS swim squad is based on three abilities for the body to develop: strength, endurance and speed. The technique aspect is implemented inside the programme, but not like level 1, 2, 3 (technique educational swimming). Mostly it’s intervals and endurance sessions. In combination, all these things will bring you the best result. You also challenge yourself, competing with other team members to give you extra motivation.
Chris was tired at the beginning of the session a couple of weeks ago. At the start everything was good, but suddenly Chris started to make simple mistakes like imbalance and being uncoordinated. He was tired from the loading week. It is sometimes good to take a small step back, and make small changes in the plan according to your body condition.
Although training is important, recovery is more important. That’s why I let Chris rest, and play a role of the coach, observing different levels of swimmers from the side. It’s a very good experience, and I use it a lot in the preparation of athletes of different levels.
I Love Supersport Dubai is the premier international endurance sports school. No matter your age or ability, achieve your goals as a swimmer, runner, cyclist and triathlete under the tutelage of some of the region’s best coaches. Visit dubai.ilovesupersport.com for more details.
World champions Vicky Holland, Mario Mola and a host of the world’s finest triathletes will be the main focus but there are some far more powerful stories to tell ahead of the Daman World Triathlon Abu Dhabi 2019.
The event, taking place from March 8-9, is the season-opener of the ITU’s Global World Triathlon Series, and will welcome the strongest elite field ever witnessed in Abu Dhabi – 112 athletes including nine of the world’s top 10 females and the full roster of men’s top 10 athletes.
The field, representing 27 countries from around the world, is highly decorated with Olympic and World Championship medals, with the athletes again using the season opener as a springboard to 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics.
But the elite names are not the only ones with desires on Olympic gold next summer. Just as hungry for success on the grand stage are the countless athletes in the myriad other categories.
The Daman World Triathlon Abu Dhabi will feature three main categories: Elite Individual Men’s and Women’s races and Elite Mixed Relay race, as well as the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi triathlon, age grouper and junior races. In addition there is the family 1km Run Fun as well as a dedicated para-triathlete waves and the first sports competition of the Special Olympics World Games 2019.
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Have someone faster than you to push you. You will either push your bounderies or find them.. Thanks @t_h_dickinson for the push at #tracktruesday @ifendurance 💨 And good luck to everyone running the Dubai marathon tomorrow - there should be plenty of people to push your pace 😉 #mostrecognizableathleteintown
One man who has his eye trained on the latter event is Dubai-based Dane Sebastian Engwald who is targeting a place at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
Engwald, 31, lost a leg in a boat accident back in 1999. He is now a lower limb amputee triathlete and sport therapist and one who is on the road to Tokyo 2020.
Most people would find it hard to get out of bed each day had such tragedy befallen them. Not only has Engwald swallowed his pity and anger, he actually considers himself “lucky” to have gone through what he has.
“It may not seem logical, but I feel lucky that my accident happened very early in my life,” he told Sport360.
“I was only 11. It had me build my identity as an amputee through the teenage years. Before the accident, I was always a very active child, moving from football to tennis, ice hockey and on to sailing. So for me there was no doubt that being active was motivating for me.
“In serious situations like the one I had, family and friends moved in close and supported all they could and also insisted that I would keep up with them in sports and activities.
“When I reflect back on my early years as an amputee, I think somehow I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up on the short term attention and goals that ‘normal’ children were aspiring for, and I therefore strived for long term goals and achievements, that I knew I could master with patience.
“Going into triathlon started with a wish to not just keep up with everyone else, but instead try and achieve something great and use my disability to inspire people.”
Engwald staggeringly climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania – at 5,895m the tallest mountain in Africa – in 2013 and narrowly missed out on his first Paralympics in Brazil three years ago.
“After I reached the summit of Kilimanjaro in 2013, I set the goal of one day doing a full Ironman,” added the Dane.
“When telling people around me about my plans, they recommended to try and go for the sprint distance first since it became a Paralympic discipline for the Paralympics in Rio 2016.
“I had to face that all the hard work wasn’t enough to rank me for Rio, and I chose to use my fitness to finally complete a full Ironman in Copenhagen in August 2016.
“Tokyo will be my first Olympics. The Olympics has always been something I could only dream about, and just seven years ago I wouldn’t have thought that I would be aspiring for this. I feel that I have unfinished business with the Paralympics.
“After my first attempt in 2016, I realised that it would not be possible to qualify with the current classification categories of disability. Me racing against someone missing ‘only’ a hand or a few fingers, just wasn’t fair.
“For Tokyo 2020, the ITU have reassessed the classification criteria, and we now have a lot more competitive balance in the PTS4 class that I compete in.”
And he has a bold dream he is aiming for in a little over 12 months’ time.
“To qualify would definitely mean a lot, but it is just a step on the way toward the top of the podium, where I feel I belong,” he said.
“I haven’t really dared to say it out loud before. But with the time and structure I have put in training the last six months with my coach Tom Walker at InnerFight, I realise I want to be on the top of the podium in Tokyo 2020.
“I have always been a very competitive child also before the accident, and still was after I lost my foot. And the feeling of being underestimated is still to this day the thing that motivates me the most.
“Also to see many other amputees or people of determination doing incredible and inspiring achievements has also inspired and motivated me through the years.”
As for this weekend and the season opener, Engwald is excited to compete in his back yard.
He said: “I always wanted to come to Abu Dhabi and race this event. Until now I have not been able to make it, since this was not part the Paratriathlon World Cup calendar. Now that I live in Dubai, I can’t wait to race in Abu Dhabi, and at the same time inspire and show people in the UAE what a paratriathletes can do and look like.
“My aim is to win the paratriathlon category. When racing in Abu Dhabi, I will arrive straight from the Paratriathlon World Cup in Australia, and will be top tuned for this race.”
Sri Lanka. Home of sun-kissed beaches, glorious weather, a rich heritage, stunning scenery – and now one of the world’s most punishing sports.
Chances are that, if you’re living in the UAE, you have come across several people who have hopped on a SriLankan Airlines flight and visited a country that has recently thrown its arms open to the world.
However, a select 497 visitors last month weren’t attracted to Sri Lanka for the sun and sand, nor the sea – with the exception of a lung-busting swim.
They came for IRONMAN 70.3, which has found a natural landing spot along the picturesque coast of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo.
If you’re unfamiliar with the organisers that stage the world’s most recognisable triathlons, Ironman has grown from humble beginnings in 1978 with just 15 participants in Kona, Hawaii – the iconic venue of the World Championships to this very day – into an all-year calendar spanning across six continents.
Colombo holds a ‘middle-distance’ triathlon, but the 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride and 13.1 mile run that make up the 70.3 brand is hardly a middling effort.
Race director and proud Sri Lankan Rajan Thananayagam has competed on the hallowed ground of Kona and always knew his homeland would make a superb addition to Ironman’s diary.
“This event is not just about Ironman, but what can Ironman do for this country,” said Thananayagam, an 18-time Ironman finisher. “As an Ironman athlete myself I have travelled around the world and done this race, and I can see what impact this race can have on communities. I thought ‘Why not bring Ironman to Sri Lanka’?
“This is a country that had decades and decades of civil war, and we are trying now to rediscover ourselves, recreate ourselves and be more relevant in this world.
“It is not an easy journey, it’s is a hard one. So it’s not about swim bike and run, but what this event can do to this country. There are nearly 800 athletes out there and everyone has a unique story – this event is about showcasing those stories.”
Colombo proved quite a parchment for those stories. The swim launched off the beach strip in front of the historic Galle Face Green, a promenade first established in 1859.
The clock rolls back to ancient times when cycling through the Port of Colombo, where thousands of years ago traders from the Roman Empire, Arabia and China all mingled with locals at the harbour.
The Indian Ocean is the backdrop for the run – something to take the mind off the previous few hours of punishment – before a raucous crowd at Galle Face Green ushers athletes over the finish line.
This year’s men’s winner is surely now an honorary Sri Lankan – he won the inaugural edition, too. UAE-based Olivier Godart, who has lived in Dubai since 2004, plunged through the finishers’ chute in just four hours and five minutes, somehow defying the oppressive 30-degree late morning heat.
“There’s no secret, it’s hard work,” said the 44-year-old, who hails from Luxembourg. “You have to be a very tenacious person. It sounds like an easy task, ‘ooh yeah, you’re swimming next to the Shangri-La, it sounds like a lot of fun’. It’s a different level, it’s a different beast.
“I’ve been doing this for 10 years, I’ve won pretty much every Ironman 70.3 as an amateur under the sun. So I know that I have a certain pedigree in the game that I’m proud of.
“This is the half distance, you need to put a lot of ‘boom boom’ out there. Over Ironman and long distances I can do this for a couple more years, but after this year I think I’ll retire – it’s over I think. I feel as fresh as a daisy though.”
It’s clear that Colombo isn’t a by-the-numbers Ironman – if there is such a thing. But the statistics are quite staggering all the same.
A total of 276 natives took part out of the 773 entrants, while nearly a quarter of all participants were women.
Ironman ambassador Julie Moss, who famously crawled over the line at Kona in 1982 only to be pipped by Kathleen McCartney, believes Colombo is an example of just how far the sport has come.
“I have a lot of choices in the races that I go to, but this one wasn’t a choice because I met Rajan in Kona,” said the 60-year-old. “We had a conversation and there was no place else I was going to be in February.
“The fact that they had a goal to raise the percentage of women taking part in the race to 25 per cent, we’ve come really close. To extend that, there was a 25 per cent off entry fee for women and 25 extra slots to the World Championships in Nice. This is saying that not only are we treating all our athletes to a world class event, but we’re encouraging women to step up and enter in more numbers than they have.
“I’ve watched the sport grow for more than 37 years. One of my greatest privileges is to see the sport at the level it is at now.”
Ironman and Sri Lanka have both come a long way indeed.