Monday, February 24, 2014

Racing Qatar - Transhajar

          Transhajar is a four day mountain bike race in Oman which I knew about for a long time, but somehow I never even considered going. Until this year when everything nicely clicked together. My old bike got just too old and I brought a new bike from home. Ultimate mountain bike championship was being postponed and delayed, so I could at least some racing on my new machine and put my training in use. So I signed up on the last minute, booked flights and car and was looking forward to easy four days biking and chilling out reading in silent Omani mountains.
          And everything started exactly as planned. At Muscat airport I got everything sorted very quickly, so I could without pressure go to nearby Carrefour to buy some food for long after stage afternoons and evenings and to buy a tent, because I somehow lost mine and Ondrej’s was just too big. I found a nice one for 35 ryials and by midnight I was already in the race camp setting it up.
          The first stage was 40k time trial so whenever you got ready, you could walk to the start line and ride the stage. So I planned to sleep enough, have easy breakfast, assemble the bike and without stress start around 11am or midday.
          The problem was that it took me much more time to put the bike together than expected. But it was my mistake that was doing something for the first time! Obviously my brake discs bent during transport so I had to try to bend them back, which I was doing for the first time with a tool I bought few days back. Took some time! Then I really wanted to go tubeless, but because floor pump didn’t work and compressor was not around yet, I wasted four CO2 cartridges to pump the wheels. And it took even more time! Then because it was for the first time tubeless on those tires, I discovered quite a few big holes which the sealant took some time closing and the tires felt leaking a bit anyway. Also I didn’t know the right pressure I had to put to feel comfortable on these tires in tubeless setup, so I pumped them too low and it felt kind of wobbly.
          Anyway…when I saw temperatures rising considerably and wind picking up I was little bit in rush and when I started at 11:45am, I was not calm and focused as I should have been.
          Maybe I was not calm, but I was super motivated! I had new bike which I knew was fast, I liked flat fast stages where I thought I was the fastest, it was a time trial so I said to myself “Let’s give everything now once I see where I’m in the standings I’ll see what to do next J” and I wanted to beat Les to get some confidence for the Ultimate championship. So I started as fast as I could towards the first uphill.
          There came a new surprise. The terrain was very different than I knew it from Qatar. Steep climbs on loose rocks mixed with dirt, sharp turns with sudden direction changes, huge wadi boulders washed out by floods, soft wadi gravel pots being same dangerous as sand, but much less visible…basically the terrain was completely new to me!
          So after I climbed the first super steep winding uphill, where I had to even push the bike for few meters, there was same steep downhill. There I had to stop and tighten my badly assembled head tube. The downhill itself was something I haven’t done for many many years. Steep and scary track on loose stones and dirt with deep drops lining sharp curves.
          Then came some easier flat terrain, but it was no mindless Qatari desert track! Turns, humps, holes, big stones here and there…then a bit of tarmac and again under some trees and crossing dry streams. You couldn’t drop your focus for a single second and had to pay attention to everything. And if the traps on the ground were not enough, you had to follow route marking not to get lost!
          And I was in the struggle. One side wanted to pedal hard and race 100%, but the other side was getting a bit scared and unconfident from all the new things around which I didn’t have any recent experience with and which I kind of forgot how to deal with! And the bike didn’t help. I was constantly watching and worried about the tires losing pressure. I was listening to brake discs squeaking in calipers. We were not one unit. I was torn. I was distracted. I was thinking about the finish. It was not good. It was a mistake L
          When I was approaching the half stage turn point under the highway from a little downhill I looked at my Garmin route and saw it coming somewhere after 200 meters. Then I suddenly saw a race marshal and markers going to the right already.  In that moment I felt the racing me decide to immediately turn to not to lose time. Unfortunately it forgot to check the speed and the ground and in the next moment I heavily landed on the loose wadi gravel, where my front wheel got stuck and threw me forward and sideways!
          It happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to let go the bars and landed directly on my left shoulder with all the weight. I got up, made few jumps and sighs and immediately started checking the damage. Firstly it seemed that everything was ok, but then I remembered “When you fall on the shoulder, that’s when the collar bone gets broken!” and I started to inspect my left collar bone with the fingers. And then the first shooting pain struck my arm and then I touched a sharp edge and crack on the collar bone!
          “Shit! That’s it!” I thought, but didn’t panic. I asked the marshal to call the organizers, but he didn’t have the number. So didn’t I, so I took my bike, went up the highway and rode 1k to nearby petrol station to seek help. There were basically two streams of thoughts in my head. One was thinking about what would happen now and how to deal with broken bone and the other was realizing that the race is over. The first one was stronger, so only after I found an Omani who took me back to the race village from where organizers took me to hospital in Muscat and back, I started to feel sad!
          I saw all the things I arranged and which got wasted, I saw all the bikes and bikers around chatting about riding the next stage, I saw all the unpleasant things which were coming, but mainly I saw the unfinished race which ended just after one hour. I completed 20 out of 300 kilometers L
          The next morning when everybody left for the second stage, I packed up, rebooked the ticket and got ready to go back to Qatar. I couldn’t stay there any longer, because it would break my heart. I said bye to Les when he came back, gave him all my supplies I bought and left for airport.
          When sitting there, reading a book and washing this experience away in the Irish pub, I started to think a bit differently about it. “If something was supposed to happen, nicely broken collar bone is the best thing what could have happened”. Then I remembered how I felt during the stage and thought about it as a lesson learned…as a sign…as a warning. Then I realized that I would have more time for some other things, because I would have to skip any training for at least a month.
          All the bad things will be sooner or later replaced by some good ones! And everything bad is good for something, so who knows. Life goes on! I think I needed a break anyway J

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Racing Qatar - Tri Club Doha ¾ Olympic triathlon

          Another week and another race. Maybe I wouldn’t have attended if I haven’t paid already, because going 30k on bricks was going to be tough and I haven’t swam 1k for a long time. But still…I like triathlon and the longer it is, the better!
          Unfortunately the start time was not at pleasant 9am and I had to be there already at 6:30 to put my bike in the rack. Then I had to wait another hour until my time came for 20 laps in the pool. I knew the venue, the race course and procedures very well, so I got everything prepared, felt confident about it and was eager to race. I got even my tri shoes attached to the bike with a rubber bands like a pro J
          There are ten lanes in the pool, so you have to swim there and back in each lane and then switch. I started strong with long strokes gliding as much as I could and for the first time in a race I did a flip turn at the end of the pool! For the first lane change I did it normally, for the second also, but then I tried to a barrel roll for the third. Big mistake, because I focused so much on doing the flip quickly than I can look underwater where to swim next, that I flipped so quickly that instead of staying down I emerged from the water on the spot and completely disoriented! I had to kick water and count lanes to check where I was, then cross to the next lane and continue. “I hope I haven’t changed one lane back!!” I worried and kept swimming. But all my tempo, calm and technique was disrupted and gone, so I was just slow, splashing around and waiting for finish!
           When I got out of the water my time was the expected 20 minutes, so I got back in the mood a bit. I did a proper tri transition just putting on sunglasses and helmet, grabbing the bike and running away in 17 seconds. And then the bricks came again! In the first corner my only nutrition fell off, then after one lap I lost the CO2 inflator and luckily I put the bottle holder on the frame and not behind the seat, because I’m sure I would have lost it also!! So like this I was pushing through all the corners, ratting on the bricks and somehow I felt I couldn’t push as hard as last time. I just couldn’t get my heart rate higher than 165. Maybe I was fearing a puncture J
          But good thing was that Cameron and Ryan were gaining on me only little as I was meeting them almost at the same spot each of the 6 laps. “So maybe I’m not going that slow” I thought and the third best time almost five minutes better than fourth proved it J
          Then my favorite discipline came. I had to save a lot of energy on the bike, because I was just flying! Going rather easily 3:30-3:40 min/km pace and feeling like a wind. Wind actually played a role here, because headwind was shaded by trees and buildings, but the tailwind piece was quite open, so it was a really fast run. The feeling was just awesome. The lightness, the speed, that ease of such movement…it was like in a dream and I felt like watching my body from outside. So empowering…so invincible J I ran 8.5km with 3:34 pace…in a triathlon. So I really don’t dare to say how fast I could be when doing a solo 10k run!
         Anyway…with my decent bike and super run I easily recovered the lost swimming time and finished 3rd overall with 1:42:46, behind Ryan with 1:35:06!! and Cameron with 1:42:03. I won also my age group 30-39, but again I just got some medals and no prize, but I actually don’t care, because I’m happy with my time and improvement J Maybe next time for overall series placement…

Racing Qatar - Aspire aquathlon 3

          One week after my record marathon I was already fully recovered, but because my main focus was training for the MTB championship, I didn’t pay much attention to the third race of the Aquathlon series. But I couldn’t miss the best possible Saturday warmup before my afternoon long bike ride, so I just went to stretch and enjoy. Well, I don’t think I could go to a race and for just a warmup J So I went full throttle from the start, but just without any pressure. “If I improve a little…good! If not…then nothing happens” I thought.
          I did improve a bit indeed. Ten seconds on the swim and even almost another ten on the run. I lost something on the transition, but overall I was 12 seconds faster. Without any special training, without any special motivation I did 28:46, which was a lucky bronze spot on the podium, because Ryan didn’t show up J
          But the most surprising thing was how easily it happened! I couldn’t believe that I was struggling two years to get below 30 minutes and now I can just easily do less than 29? Where is the catch? J

Monday, February 17, 2014

Racing Qatar - Ooredoo marathon Doha

          I finished 2013 with a running race and I started 2014 the same J Mountain bike championship scheduled originally for the week after the marathon got postponed again so I thought: “Why not to try going under 3 hours?” and signed up.
It was just at the beginning of my Christmas week at home and the weather couldn’t be better for some training. Temperatures above zero, no snow, no ice…it was not even raining or windy. Just super calm, grey and moist weather perfect for running. So I went out almost every day, including the Christmas Eve, and was doing medium long runs around the house experiencing what hills and mountains are. Felt so great and the confidence was growing…
          But when I came back to Qatar, I immediately started using my new mountain bike I brought with me and started to train for the upcoming MTB championship. I did some runs too of course, but just as a part of duathlon training. I took a four day rest before the race and I was ready to try something, what wouldn’t have ever though I would be ever able to do in my life J
           The race morning on Corniche was rather cold so I changed to long sleeve last minute to increase comfort, but unfortunately I drank too much and had a slight urge to pee, so it was far from perfect! The goal was to run 4:15 min/km for 42k. That would put me just in below 3 hours. Simple as that!
          And I started exactly like it. Watching my Garmin not to run slower or faster than this. But straight from the start I felt that is it not going as smooth and effortless as I was expecting…and doubts started to crawl on my mind. Anyway, I tried not to get distracted and tried to focus solely on my body and pace. But at around 12k it was not possible anymore, because I really needed to pee! I had to make a difficult decision to lose 45 second and gain the cost comfort or try to hold it, struggle, but save time. I chose comfort. “No point to try to recover the lost time now! “ I decided. “I’ll just run 10 s/km faster at the last 5k and I have it back! If I cannot, everything is lost anyway J” and I went on.
          Feeling better I finished the half in time, put on the music and went for the second lap, the lap of truth. And it didn’t start well, because I started to feel my legs already after like 25k! And that was not looking good L But again, as it is in all sports, there is so much more in your body that it seems. It just has to be unleashed with the mind! And I somehow new, actually I was almost sure, that I have the strength to just keep going and finish it. “Muscle pain is just pain! It can’t slow me down if here is still power left inside the muscles” I though and pushed forward, closely watching my speed not to drop below 4:15. And I was really confident that there is enough strength to get to the finish like that…and even faster!
          Sighing, talking to myself, sometimes shouting and screaming I got to the kilometer 35 and I had to start thinking about paying for my pee break ;) I remember my last marathon where in over-confidence I sped up too early and just ran out of energy 5k before the finish! But if I wanted to keep my dream on, I had to try. So I sped up gently first to 4:10 and when I saw it working I gave it all out for the last 3k running at around 4min/km. I didn’t feel my legs anymore. I was screaming and making painful faces. It was not that bad, but it somehow help me to get over it like that ;) But I was still going…
            42k lap beeped on my Garmin, but the finish was not there yet. It was there even after another 300m where it should be! I had to run almost the whole 1k more to end it. 3:00:10 was the official time, if it was the real 42.195km marathon, I would be at 2:58…so securely sub-3!
          I did it. I managed something I would never thought it would be possible. I was happy, I was enjoying the accomplishment, I felt strong…but still…”I think I could try 2:50 next time! And that would be something J

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Year of The Warrior

          Again!! One year gone and the new one ahead!! Learn from the past, live the present and think about the future!! Off we go…
       I’ve just rounded five years in Middle East, raced through countless of competitions and been to many different places with thousands of different people…so there is a lot to learn from.
       I’ve found my eternal love, happy routine of an endurance junkie and wisdom I want follow…so there is a lot to live for.
        I’ve seen crossroads, clouds and darkness in my life also…so there is a lot to think about!

       Where is will, there is way…and my way is now going to be The Way of The Warrior!

       I’ve been a lone wolf hiding in the shadows long enough. I observed, learned and practiced hard. I devoured daily portions of experience and knowledge. I grew stronger, bigger and wiser. I became ready to leave my shrinking and darkening lair. I became ready to fight for my place on the sun!
         No transformation is easy. There will still be a lot of challenges, obstructions, uncertain and unknown to overcome, but surrounded and supported by the people I love and care about and by people who care about me, there will always the light ahead to guide me and put me back to feet when I fall down.

So let this moment be the start of something big. 
Let this day be a start of something worth it.  
Let this year be the start of me becoming The True Warrior of Life...

Monday, December 16, 2013

Racing Qatar - Sharq Village Charity 15k run

          For several reasons I was really looking forward to this race, rather than MTB on Friday. It was on Saturday at 2pm so I could sleep enough, have a good and long breakfast and slowly drive to the start having plenty of time to warm up, stretch and put my head together. It was a run and a long one, and I knew that I’m much better in running. I was eager to try if I can push my limits and finish within one hour and I knew that I can fight for the victory. And although I didn’t know if there were any prizes, I had a feeling that it might be something like last year at The Torch staircase run since a hotel resort was organizing it J
          It was a nice sunny and warm day, perfect for running. The route got changed last minute to the airport cycle path instead of Corniche because of construction which was bad for the attractiveness of the venue, but was better from the running point of view, because there was more space. We walked across the street to the start and along with other around 40 runners I lined up at the start. And off we went!
          he leading group shot ahead quite fast and I had to follow them, because I didn’t want to lose contact with the front. It was a long race, but it is always to be in front and put pressure J 3:45 min/km was just 15 seconds faster than my intended pace, so I rather easily ran 30m behind and was waiting what this pace will do to the others. 3:45 is fast running and not everyone can do this for 15k! I felt that I might and wanted to try.
          The pace was stable for 2k and then everyone started to slow down. Everyone except me and one guy and soon we were running together far ahead of the rest. There was quite strong headwind and maintain even my 4 min/km was difficult, but not that much that my heart rate or me would go out of the comfort zone. Breathing easy, running lightly, doing long steps and hearing Victor’s heavy breath and short stride on my shoulder was the first half of the race.
          There was a bit surprise waiting for us, because the halfway mark and turning point was on the kilometer 8.5 and not 7.5! This meant 2k more of running and it brought a tiny worry into my mind! “No problem! Now it is downwind…let’s take advantage of it, speed up and be there sooner!” I said, spun around the half way cone, prolonged my pace and started to open the gap.
          It was an amazing feeling. Flying 3:45 min/km on the tenth kilometer and not being much tired. I again wondered where all this came from. But who cares…it was there so I used it and finish those 17k in 1:06:35! I was running a bit out of energy and slowing down the last three or four kilometers, but there was still a bit left for a push or sprint if needed. But Victor was far behind, so there was no stress J I think this was probably my the best run I’ve ever done and I don’t think I ever felt that powerful!
          And guess what was the first prize? One night stay with breakfast in the Sharq Village and Spa resort J Couple more of races like this and I will know all the best Doha hotels for free! Now let’s catch up with biking and get the same empowering and invincible feeling on two wheels!

Racing Qatar – Ambassador’s XC MTB race

         At the beginning of the season sometime in October there have been rumors that the Filipinos are organizing a huge MTB racing championship of 6 races of different styles and disciplines, with huge prize money, hundreds of racers from all around Middle East, brand new dedicated bike track with hills and amazing support.
          First tentative schedules were presented and people started to get really excited. Including me of course! But as is always here where local authorities are involved, in this case Qatar Cycling Federation, some local sponsor from Wakrah and Lusail city development, it started slowly to drag. December 13 became December 27 and then January 10. Although they say it is fixed now, there is still not much relevant information posted and carved in stone!
          Well…for me it was actually much better like this, because slowly all the pieces were coming together as I got more time to train properly, because I’m out of cycling shape and I got time to bring a new more race like bike! So this race under patronage of the Filipino ambassador to Doha was their kind of rehearsal for the real championship and my examination how much I will have to do to be competitive.
          The race itself was almost the same as our well known Duhail track only with few new twists. 34k of fast biking in the most technical terrain available in Qatar!
          And for me the race started and finished already on Thursday evening when I kind of mentally conceded and prepared just to ride and try to have fun. I was more looking forward to go to see the new Hobbit movie and almost preferred to sleep a bit extra than to go fight in the wasteland! No motivation, no hunger, no drive…and when you are thinking like this, you can’t do anything…and I knew that.
          I had to borrow bike from Denrei, because mine was sold within 10 minutes I put the advertisement on Facebook. It was a nice full suspension 29er, but one size smaller and with a very short handlebar and a bit out of alignment shifting. I pumped the tires too much because I didn’t know the bike was tubeless, so for all the above reasons the ride was a bit cramped and bumpy.
          I lost a way twice, because I was not familiar with the new track layout. I fell down twice while I got cornered when overtaking and once my shoe got caught under the rear bracket. I tried to push on the flats and sometimes I even thought I was going fast, I was not! My hopes to see Ondrej ahead of me sometimes other than the start went null and I finished 5 minutes behind on second place!
          The only difference so far between the small hobby QCR races in Duhail organized by Davy and 100k dollar professional MTB project was a big tent, couches, music and bigger trophies. But let’s hope that all the promises will come true, UMBC will become one of the biggest bike events in Middle East and we will all be part of it!