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The Inside Scoop on Ironman 70.3 Dubai

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Ironman Dubai. February's fast and flat feature, and the first major 70.3 on the calendar for a lot of the long course pros. But what's this race - now in its second edition - like to compete in as an age grouper, or even a novice triathlete? Passion Fit Coaching's Tom Ward dissects the dos and don'ts of what is becoming a pre-season staple! 

'The build up to Dubai is, as expected, efficient and well organised. Bar the transition bags not being available until Thursday (race day is Friday), the whole process of registration and preparation is fairly smooth. That said, there are some pre-race considerations if you are planning to do this race:

  • Register as soon as you can. The race date and registration is always released very late and this year it sold out in one weekend. If you want to do this race you will need to have decided before they open registration so you can just click and pay when they do.
  • Get there early. The small time difference and change in weather from the UK winter do require a little adjustment.
  • You cannot ride anywhere apart from dedicated cycle paths, it is simply too dangerous. The cycle paths are awesome though. To use these paths you will need to get a taxi (one is a good 30-40mins away). Ubers seem to work best for this but if you get a really large vehicle from the airport, take the driver’s number and potentially use them for this as large enough taxis for more than one bike can be hard to arrange.
  • Even the relatively lower cost hotels are great. Try to get a hotel close enough to walk to transition from, otherwise you will have complications when going to rack.
  • The Hamdan Sports Complex is an incredible swim venue, but again, you’ll need to get a 30 minute taxi to get to it.
  • Oddly, the taxi drivers have no idea when almost anything is so be prepared to give directions.
  • Wolfi’s bike shop is one of the best in the world. There is very little that they do not have in stock or that they cannot do. They do get busy as race day approaches though.
  • Be mindful about what you wear. Dubai is cosmopolitan and relaxed but it is still a traditional country so you’ll need to respect that and avoid unnecessarily revealing clothing. The Lanzarote nightclub strip it is not.
  • Go to the race briefing/welcome banquet and award banquet. They are epic and the location is an experience in itself. Paul Kaye was our MC this year and made both of these thoroughly enjoyable. The food was surprisingly brilliant too. Not anything like the pitiful pasta parties in hot smelly tents we tend to see at home.
  • Get a sea swim in, ideally at the time you expect to be racing. The sea can be choppy and spotting coming back to the beach is not always straightforward in the sun.

Love It or Hate It

What you do in the rest of your spare time depends a lot on you. There is a lot to do in Dubai but it is not for everyone. Think of it like this, if you like Vegas you’ll like Dubai. If you like the Alps or Majorca, you may not. I probably fall into the latter category.

As a race experience Dubai is pretty epic. They certainly know how to put on a show and no expense is spared. The field is strong and the organisation on point. Of course things do go wrong. There are great marshals and there are clueless ones. The volunteers are enthusiastic and helpful but the general public do get in the way a bit on the run. Things run on time and as described, although, sadly this year they had a major issue with the timing system leading to no awards or 70.3 Worlds slots being presented. This is not the norm though and I am sure that Ironman were as devastated as the athletes affected.

Warm & Dry

It is warm but, in my opinion, not hot (bear in mind that I am the coldest person on earth!). It can be hot but it is unlikely in Feb to be much above mid 20s. It is almost always dry and fairly still. But 2019 saw a fairly breezy day.

The course is fast! The swim is normally relatively calm and almost certainly wetsuit legal. The 90k bike isn't pan flat, but it's certainly fast, with near perfect road surfaces. In general you get a slight tail wind after the turn at 45k. The run is completely flat, with more than enough aid stations that are well stocked and manned by brilliant volunteers.

In 2019 there were issues with drafting on the bike and the draft busters seemed to have taken a day off. However, this year much of the drafting at the sharp end had disappeared, although it was still prevalent further down the field. The good news is that this year the draft busters had been supplied by Tri Dubai and they were on a mission!

My Verdict

Would I recommend this race? In short, yes I would. The whole of Passion Fit had a wonderful time. This was supported by the fact we also all had good races too. (2 podiums and 3 worlds slots secured). If you want to break up the long UK off season and cold wet winter, this takes some beating. Dubai is easy to get to (7 hours from Heathrow) and being a 70.3 it is not too difficult to prepare for around the tricky UK training conditions at this time of year. I doubt you will be disappointed regardless of your race day goals!

If you are a competitive age grouper I would recommend it even more. To give you some perspective, my numbers for this year were as follows:

Overall – 3rd Age Grouper, 1st 40-44

Overall Time – 3:56:27

Swim – 26:15

Bike – 2:05:28

Run – 1:18:51

The field is always strong and the racing full on! I was head to head all day with another brilliant athlete in my age group right up until the finish. In fact I did not move into first until 19k on the run, after he had led from 20k on the bike. My team mates had equally competitive day, both having to race right to the red carpet. This is how it should be. So if that is your cup of tea then it is one for the calendar.

We are not necessarily ones for PB chasing at Passion Fit, but if this is your bag then Dubai certainly offers that opportunity. It is extremely fast without being short (as some races are). If the marshals do their job it can be fair too. 

Will we be back? Perhaps. Passion Fit has a busy schedule for the next 12 months and we have raced this one twice now. But who knows, the draw maybe too much once we hit the short, cold December days!'

If you want to know a bit more about Tom's triathlon journey, and Dubai 70.3 from a Passion Fit point of view, follow this link:(