295 Ali ‘Tiger’ Tabbal, LEB

295 Ali Tabbal, LEB
Position in AG 40-44: 17 // Finish Time: 9:34:52
Swim: 1:01:26 // T1: 4:17 // Bike: 6:25:26 // T2: 3:59 // Run: 1:59:45

Coach’s remarks: I bumped into Tiger yesterday and he told me the truth about his race last week. Again, I asked if he could write a report on it as it was almost unbelievable until you saw his Xray and burnt feet, Ali went on for over 9 hours with 2 cracked ribs and 1st degree feet burns on both feet. But thats Ali and thats why he is the Tiger right?  Please grab a coffee and read this one…

I am not renowned for writing race reports, but you thought that this particular race is worthy of one, and I will oblige to do one. I will try to make it short, however.

Drove down to Abu Dhabi on Thursday afternoon and checked in the event sponsoring Rotana hotel with the family. The hotel was buzzing with the “who’s who” of triathlon, up and down the hotel lobby which was accommodating in one location the fittest people in the world, including me of course J. Chilled out, had dinner and slept early that night with a clear plan for the next morning starting with a 15-15-15 prescription followed by breakfast nutrition run, registration and more chilling out by the pool, etc… A nice early dinner meal with Mr. and Mrs. Suisse Mark and off to bed.

The morning of the race, up at 4:00 along with pre-race butterflies (a frequent Tiger companion). Had a light breakfast with Vinnie and Guy, chatted a bit, picked up the family and off we went to the swim start. By then, feelings were good and spirits high even with the minor delays caused by the late arrival of the chopper, which only added to the anxiety!!! Pros went off, then wave 1 and then my wave.

Swim. Although my swimming preparation has not been up to par lately for various reasons and specifically with no open water preparation, I felt comfortable in the water. I wasn’t particularly swimming fast, but was comfortable to get the swim finished in good form to start the bike. I was looking forward to the bike as I always thought that would be my forte in this race. Obviously I did not plan on what was going to happen only a few minutes and a few hundred meters from T1.

T1 was what I expected. Grabbed the bike and off I went. There was without doubt some obvious confusion as to what side of the road athletes should be cycling on. Cyclists passing on right, in the middle and all around confusion and this was the case throughout the race and particularly as you headed out of town towards the highway. I can now see the first roundabout while reaching into my back pocket to grab a Gu, I felt the force of being hit from the back. These are the things you don’t plan for in triathlon… I tried to maintain control of the bike but in vain. Falling down hard on my right side, all I can remember were thoughts in my mind telling me that my race was over… I really felt that hard impact, even today I can still feel as if it almost just happened. I definitely felt disoriented for a few long seconds as I stood up and looked around me to assess the situation and damage. Unclipped there I stand, bottles everywhere and Gatorade pouring out of the front bottle and I can hear people around me asking me if I was alright. My immediate response was, yeah yeah, I am fine. Apart from some scratches to the aero bar and a completely misaligned saddle, at a first glance the bike looked ok. Funny how we tend to worry about our bike first and then us!!! I checked myself out and I can feel some pain in my right rib cage, a few scratches to my shoulder and arm along with a bit of discomfort and difficulty in breathing. I thought to myself, that is not all that bad and I unconsciously tried to adjust and align the saddle, picked up the bottles while thinking in my mind that my day is not over yet.

Adrenaline still kicking in, I started riding fairly strong those first few kilometers but with a bit of discomfort and slight difficulty in breathing. With time and distance, this discomfort started to get worse now and my ability to stay on the bar started to diminish slowly. Wind and heat added to the discomfort for sure, but was thinking that it will get better and that wind will be in my back as I make my first turn at the Yas Circuit.

I was right for the first few kilometers after the turning point, but that wind shifted and was only to be in my face again and everyone else for the matter just about 5 to 6 kilometers as we pulled away from the Yas Circuit. I was feeling throughout the ride that I was not sitting comfortably and starting to feel some cramps as a results. I kept the nutrition going very well and consistent with Gu, Gatorade, bananas and plenty of salt tablets. I was able to shake off the cramps every time I felt them. Though, I can assure you that continuous thoughts in my mind were telling me to get off the bike and call it a day. It was getting just too hard with wind and heat picking up and my discomfort and lack of proper breathing intensifying. Just like I shook off the cramps, I was able to shake off these silly ideas in my mind to pull out. At the second trip to the Yas Circuit, I felt that the saddle was again misaligned as a result of my weight on it, so I again stopped, got off, realigned the saddle as much as I can, visited the lavatory on the side of the road and off I went again. Lap 2 finished with a miracle and already 160 kilometers under the belt. 40 kilometers to go I was thinking, 20 out and 20 back and the bike would be over. This is when the longtoot hot days came back to mind and I was saying to myself that I have been there before many times for that matter so what is different now. Well, many things were in fact different…

I made it to T2 30 to 45 minutes longer than I planned. Who cares? I was determined to finish now and was thinking only 20 kilometers of foot speed can get me there. Things got worse as I dismounted my bike and racked it. I realized that it was a big mistake to leave the bike shoes on the bike and to have no socks. Obviously the race planners did not consider that it will be so hot by the time some of these poor souls got off their bikes that there is no need to have carpets into T2 that can protect their feet from the burning cement tiles. Blame it on poor planning! It was already late for me to go back to the bike to get the shoes but not close enough to the T2 tent. Needless to say no more that my feet got first degree burns. The doctor did confirm that bit. Can it get any worse for me at this point? Got it the T2 tent, poured warm water on my feet (no cold water anywhere to be found), socks on, running shoes on and off I went again.

Run. With burnt feet and difficulty breathing intensifying on the run even more now with sprinkling heat, I thought this is going to be interesting and perhaps I am up against the longest 20 kilometer run that I have ever done. I was literally running from aid station to another counting meters not kilometers. I had to walk through some of these stations and sometimes thinking maybe I should just keep on walking, but that would not be the fastest way home, so I would start running or shuffling again. Lap 1 was behind me now, I was now pouring water on my head and feet on every aid station. That kept me going to kilometer 15 when I realized that me and another guy were just going through the same motions. He was walking by now, so I slapped him on his back and said “come on buddy let us do this, it is nearly over”. There we were running together now and chatting for a couple of kilometers until another aid station when he caved in to the heat and his own suffering. That wasn’t going to be me. At this point, with another shot of Pepsi and Gu, I started running for it faster than my first 3 kilometers. No burnt feet or bruised ribs and difficulty breathing was going to stop me now. I can feel the finish line with Lara and the kids waiting there for me.

I crossed that finish line and literally collapsed. It was over. I was over. For 9:34 minutes I kept digging deep like I have never dug before into my core and scraping off whatever I can to finish this race. It was definitely the pinnacle of physical suffering that I have ever endured. Many lessons were learnt and I can assure you that some of these rooky mistakes will not be repeated and only with racing you learn these things.

Jason, I know that I was not ready enough for this race coming out of Rio (Riyadh) with limited and poor training conditions and no swimming of late, but with the accident I had and the race’s own circumstances of the day of wind and heat to say the least, I can respectfully say that I am content and happy to have done what I have done. It was a hard day and a humbling day for sure.

To finish what I started with in this email report, after getting the x-ray results the doctor said I have 2 broken ribs and few bruises, not to mention the first degree burn on the bottom of my 2 feet. When can I start training again was the first question I asked. Well, 6 weeks to heal, of which 2 weeks of no training whatsoever or heavy activity, then very light training for the following 2 to 4 weeks until healing is complete.

There you have it Jason. This is why we do this for. So apart from being emotional now for the state I am in, I look forward to yet another race and yet another story of suffering and maybe another race report.

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