First I would like to thank Artistic Jewelers, the premier Jewelry retail establishment of the Caribbean, they helped to make the race possible. Awesome trip. Great value, as the race entry was less than $100. Abu Dhabi will be cheaper than IMCDA will be this year. If you have to fly to an IM race, Abu Dhabi will be cheaper if you wait for a good deal on airfare. The race was well run, but had a few growing pains this year. I look forward to returning, the venue is great, and I had a great experience. If you get the chance GO!
My Race Results (Official)
The big fear of the trip was the airlines and their bike fees. Flying international can leave you with even greater charges than flying domestically. Fears of charges from $100-$300 each way weighed heavy. Thankfully I chose NOT to fly any US based carrier. I live in Connecticut, and my two closest airports are not real international airports (1-3 flights to Europe), so I opted to drive down to JFK and fly out of there.
Based on recommendations / price / current situations in the Middle East; I chose to fly on Turkish Airlines. I would fly them again. I was allowed to check 2 pieces of luggage, with a combined weight limit of 46kg. My bike box was 17kg, and my luggage was 20kg. Knowing that I would continue to fly with a bike in the future, I decided to purchase a bike bag to travel with the bike.
I checked out quite a few soft cases, and bought one off of the ST forum. As part of our purchase agreement, I stated that I needed to have the bag by the Friday before I left, as I flew out on Monday. The bag turned out to be a no-show. So Saturday I was left with a hard scramble to figure out what to do. Remembering that Chris Lieto travels with his bike in the cardboard Trek originally shipped it in, and the boxes made by the Wongstar, I decided to make my own. I called up my LBS, and asked if I could have a box. I showed up and they gave me two. I then went to Home Depot, picked up a hot glue gun, staple gun, and a mix of foam/rubber pipe insulation.
I took my seat off, wheels off, pedals off, handlebars off and rear derailleur off of my bike. I covered the bottom of the box, with extra cardboard and some extra foam that I had. I carefully wrapped all of my bike parts in the padding that I had bought and put the bike in. I then placed cardboard between the bike and the wheels as I put them in. I placed another sheet of cardboard between the wheels and box. I then wrapped the tools I had use and taped them to the inside of the box and put my bike shoes in there. I filled the extra room with a mixture of cardboard and foam.
The total weight came to 17kgs, far less than a hardshell case weighs by itself. I felt safe in the job that I had done. The last touch was to disguise the box; I went to the store, debated Princess vs. Toy Story wrapping paper. I went with Toy Story and wrapped the entire box, so that it looked like a giant present with handles where the box them.
When I checked in they questioned the size, but when they realized how light the box was let it go. I never mentioned it was a bike and they never asked. When I fly to Kona, I used a hardshell case and shipped it, so that it was waiting for me when I arrived. For a very brief time, I made the 1k Club with United. I still have quite a few miles saved, but I have no status. As an alliance partner I had hoped to upgrade from Economy to Business class for the long haul. Repeated calls to Turkish and United proved fruitless.
I waited too long to book at the race hotel, and chose the Sheraton, known locally as the Sheraton Corniche, but on travel websites as the Sheraton Abu Dhabi Hotel & Resort. It was priced lower, than the host hotel, just as nice, and provided additional amenities. The hotel had very nice gym facilities, including cold showers in the sauna area. The hotel is also 1 of 2 hotels with a beach, the other being the Emirates Palace. The beach at my hotel is manmade, and connects via a water way that goes under the Corniche to the Arabian Gulf. Food at the hotel was over priced, but that is too be expected. I did make use of their breakfast for room service, and race morning they were nice enough to accomdate early breakfasts for racers. Day after the race I used their buffet for breakfast and found it to have an great selection of fresh fruit, fresh juices, and made to order foods.
The flight over was uneventful, I had a long layover in Istanbul. Thankfully Turkish Airlines provides a free tour of Istanbul; I later found out that they also give a hotel room as well. I took the tour, ate a free lunch, got out of the airport, stretched my legs and had a good time. On the long flights, I received two meals and a snack, the short flights I received one meal and a snack. Alcohol was abundant and free if you so desire. Abu Dhabi
I made my connection and arrived in Abu Dhabi at 230am. The box arrived in perfect shape, the TSA was even nice enough to open it and re-tape it with their tape. My guess is they opened the box, realized it was a bike and left it alone, because nothing seemed altered. There were two other racers on my flight from Istanbul, a guy from Italy that works for Polar. He was traveling with a hard case, and was charged. The other guy was from Germany and flew with a box, and was also charged. It seemed that everyone that I spoke with was charged for the bikes, the worst charges I heard of were from a guy from Norway (150euro).
I made it to my hotel at 330am (taxi was 40aed). I had planned to leave my bags, surf the internet some, hang out a bit, check in early and get a nap. They allowed me to check in at 5am, so I was able to actually sleep more than I thought I would. Score for the Sheraton.
Each morning of my week, I woke up ate breakfast at my hotel from either the room service menu or from food I had bought locally and then headed to the Emirates Palace to swim. The water was nearly a perfect temperature to swim in but would have been a bit cool for kids to play in. Living on the Atlantic Ocean in New England, I am used to the salt water now, but the water in the Arabian Gulf has a very high salt content.
When I checked in to the race, things went smoothly. The swag bag included a bag of stuff from a local pharmacy, this included shower gel, spray deodorant, hair gel, and sun cream. You also received a voucher for free entry to Ferrari World. Beyond that, there was nothing which was fine. I was able to get the 2XU race shirt I had paid separately for. Mornings are a great time to ride in Abu Dhabi, but I would not suggest riding midday or later in the day as the roads get crazy. When I ran, I ran along the water on the Corniche.
It was a nice path and good area to run, but I had two poor experiences on the way. The first was a small kid (8yo) that ran into me from the side on his large tricycle that he was riding. Thankfully he just left a tread mark on my leg but otherwise I was fine. At the time I said I was fine and asked if the kid was, after he went running to his mother and someone else told me it was ok I kept running.
The second was a man who asked to borrow some water, which I obliged and gave to him. He then drank all of my water and spit it out. I believe he was looking for a fight. I simply thanked him and continued running. There were other people running along the Corniche, some looked Arab, but most looked foreign. I did not do much sightseeing before the race. My hotel was a 20min jog from T2 and a 20min bike ride from T1. Checking in my bike/bag at T1 and bag at T2 went quickly and smoothly. There was no real race expo to speak of. 2XU had an area setup with race check in at the race hotel.
Wolfi’s is a bike shop with a location in Germany and Dubai. There are no real LBS in Abu Dhabi. I had actually forgotten I had my training tire on until the day before the race; Wolfi’s quickly swapped it with one of my race tires. Very nice workers, and efficient free service.
The carb dinner on Thursday night was great, I even attended the athletes briefing before it. Instead of just a basic salad, pasta, and bread there was a large spread of more traditional food, hummus, pita style bread and flat breads, rice, pasta, fruit and drinks. For a pre-race meal it was fabulous.
The roads we ride during become totally shut to traffic during the race, and as such shut early to ensure that we have clear roads. I was up early (415am), ate and was outside my hotel waiting for a taxi just after 5am. I ended up sharing a taxi with 3 others (15aed). We got to the venue quickly, and had a ton of time to wait. My wave was supposed to go at 740am (pro start was 630am), my wave left at 804am. Delays are just a part of the game, and it was nice that the organizers provided so much sun cream, Gatorade and water before the race started. We had a high temperature of ~40C. It was hot. The week prior there had been sandstorms, thankfully we did not have any during the race week. Race day was the hottest day of the week.
I was in the last wave of the short course, so this meant that all of the long course athletes (2-lap swim) and other short course athletes were already in the water before me. The swim start is a beach start, and was total chaos and packed until the first turn unless you are a FOP swimmer. I still had a decent swim, just a slow start.
Transition was great, hopped on the bike and I was off. Bike The bike course has 1 really long hill and a few smaller ones, but overall is flat and fast. Race day was windy, but no brutal head winds like you would experience at Kona. If you have side guards for your sun glasses, wear them. I had sand blow between my glasses on eyes. Riding on the Yas F1 track was great. Fast, tight turns. None of the official pictures show me on the track which is a bit of a disappointment. Next trip I want pictures and would like to get a tour of the Abu Dhabi Yas F1 track. The place was stunning.
Aid stations were hit or miss on what they had available, and toward the end of my bike ride, the course was ultra packed with people on it. It was difficult to receive bottles at a few stations, simply because they were under staffed. Take in more fluids than you think you need. I struggled to open my first gel, and got some of it on my leg, because of the temperature it quickly dripped to behind my knee and I had some terrible chafing as a result where the skin touches behind my knee, it was like skin tearing. Beyond that a great ride.
In my opinion the run could use 1 more aid station. For even such a short course they seemed spread out, I think because of the heat. Sponges at the stations were cold, if they had water. Some were not wet and as a result did not assist. Water/Gatorade was hit or miss. All of the drinks were warm. The little out and backs could be an issue in future years if the race continues to expand, but otherwise the run course flat.
I did not receive a massage, but that was my choice as I did not want to sit in the sun baking while I waited. The Post Race Athlete Recovery room was lacking. While there were drinks, the choices were diet sprite, diet pepsi, water and orange soda. If you were not in one of the 4 chairs in there, it was only slightly cooler than the outside was.
Post race food was good, but many apparently had difficulty locating it. It was nice to watch the professional men finish and 2 of the women. I sat around a bit, then gathered up my bags and rode back to my hotel. I hit up the cold showers, then cleaned up for real, took an hour long nap and headed back to the race site.
I watched more people finish, then headed back to my hotel got a good nap in and then went to the post race award ceremony. It had been billed as a party, but was not. They had big fruit platters out and drinks. I had some of both, watched the awards, got some dinner and headed back to my hotel.
Post Race Abu Dhabi:
The morning after the race, I slept in the best I could and then got a swim in. Afterward I took a cab out to Ferrari World (40aed), it was virtually empty and I was able to walk from exhibit to exhibit without any lines. I rode the World’s Fastest Rollercoaster twice, in the last row and the front row. It was fast, and they have to cool the ride down between runs with water, some of the water stings when it hits you in the front, but they provide nice safety glasses when you ride up front. I would probably not go back to Ferrari World, unless we got to drive real cars on the track. It is HUGE, but not a whole lot going on.
I got another nap back in and then waited around at my hotel to get picked up for my Dune Bashing / Safari trip (290aed). I went with a couple from Norway, he was racing, and she was watching. We had a collectively good time. It turns out that there is a major company that runs the trips, and we met up with 10-12 other Land Cruisers and headed out in the desert. Luke McKenzie, his wife (Amanda Balding), Belinda Granger, and a few others were in one of the other vehicles, most of the vehicles were filled with other people that had raced. We got stuck in the sand, and had to be pulled out at one point.
Vehicles felt / looked like they could roll over at any point. People in other vehicles got sick from the most. You drive on the edge of dunes, up and down them, sideways, it was a really good time. When we stopped at the camel farm, the camels are just by themselves, with no one guarding the camels or the people on the trip. When we got to the venue for dinner, we had the chance to go Sand Boarding, which was fun, I got to do that with Luke McKenzie. Macca was also there, I am fairly confident that he bribed one of the workers to let him go out and drive one of the ATVs.
I got to briefly meet and chat with Macca prior to dinner. He is incredibly tan. Dinner was a pleasant surprised in how nice the food was. It was buffet style, but a huge selection and everything was great. After dinner there was a belly dancing show and shisha for all of us to partake.
My flight out was the next morning leaving at 330am, the return flights were fine, but an hour before we landed something hit my stomach. I received some sort of stomach virus / parasite. I lost 10lbs the first week I was back. I had no nausea, did not vomit, and had no appetite. Everything I tried to consume quickly exited, but I did not overly dehydrate. Lab tests are still outstanding; I did receive some Cipro from the Doctor. Just not sure what was going on.
Thoughts on Next Time:
When I go back, I will try to stay longer, and probably fly in and out of Dubai, there is more touristy stuff to see in Dubai and I would like to experience a bit more of that. Abu Dhabi is the richer neighbor to Dubai, which has been more conservative in their expansion. They seem to be planning better for the future.
It gets very hot during midday, but the mornings have incredible weather and the evenings are very pleasant. The exchange rates were great, and you can choose to be frugal on the trip or spend like there is no tomorrow. There is a ton of stuff to do, I am not sure if I would travel with my daughter at 4yo because of the 9hour time change and of how hot it is during the day. Taxis are cheap just make sure you get in one that has a meter.
Improvements for the Future:
- Have volunteer staff place bracelet on athlete at the time of check-in. I liked that I could do it at my leisure, but I could have put it on anyone.
- Have the number on the bracelet correspond with bib number. They had no bearing to one another.
- Times were inconsistent for check in, and briefings. The official papers you received at check in would state one time, the internet another and race employees thought a third. Make sure everyone is on the same page as best as possible.
- Plan for even greater fluid consumption. I was done with the Short Course before the professionals finished the long course and there were aid stations on the bike that had no water, and on the run some had water/Gatorade, others were out of Gatorade.
- There is no need for Pepsi/Coke on the bike course.
- Gels were hard to come by on both the run/bike courses.
- Please do not have twist top water bottles on the bike course, most of the time it was in squeeze bottles, but not always.
- More volunteers are needed. There was a lack, of volunteers but that is because of the location and the infancy of the event.
- Have assigned places for bikes in transition. I had a sweet spot to put my bike because I checked my bike early, and had no issues, but it may have been a cluster later on.
- Most importantly: MORE toilets. There were 2 toilets in an air-conditioned traveling toilet trailer along with 15 urinals. There were an additional 4 port-a-potties in the changing tent in transition. Lines were long, but seemed to move pretty quickly.
Awesome experience and I would go back in a heart beat, I would also like to go there just to travel and enjoy myself. The race is well run, does have a few areas for improvement, but easily ranks up there with Kona as an incredible experience.
I am not sure if I ever fully adjusted to the time change. I thought that I had at first, as I got one good night of sleep and then moved to napping 3-4 times a day. Overall I got a decent amount of sleep each night, just never in a row.
Again I would like to thank Artistic Jewelers, the premier Jewelry retail establishment of the Caribbean, they helped to make the race possible. Please check them out.