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  • Writer's pictureFinding ENKI

Ironman 70.3 Journey to Yalla Habibi, Dubai

  • Dubai Ironman 70.3 - 18st Feb' 19

The very short story is that I successfully met my goal of a Sub 5:50 finish at my maiden attempt of an Ironman 70.3 race at Dubai. A slightly longer story is that it took 7 months of serious training to achieve this feat.

My focus in this blog is more of what took me to get to the start line and not just race day experience.

Ironman 70.3 Dubai winning medal

What is an Ironman 70.3?

It is also known as Half Ironman wherein, the number 70.3 denotes the distance covered in miles. The race comprises of 1.9 kms swim + 90 kms cycle + 21.1 kms run, to be completed one after the other within the stipulated cut off time of 8.5 hours.

So here we go… lets take a look at what took me to get my hands around this beautiful medal in a race time of 5:49:50






Dubai 70.3 is on a Friday as compared to the regular races that happen on Sundays. So we landed on Tuesday, completed all the race formalities on Wednesday, bike check-in and practice swim on Thursday.

Bike Check-in went smooth and the practice swim was good, clocked a 2:05/100m pace for the 650 odd meters. I felt good because this was my target race pace given the fact that I had planned to do a NON WET SUIT swim as I swim breaststroke.

Race Day

Ironman 70.3 Dubai- Race day meal

Early dinner (fried chicken, roti with ghee and a boiled potato) and I was off to sleep, luckily I had a good sleep and woke-up fresh at 3:30am, breakfast on race morning was bread with nestle cream, 1 banana, 3 dates and 500ml electrolyte water until 15 mins to race start.

Ironman 70.3 Dubai - with my buddies
That was one nervous smile!

Reached race venue at about 5:10 am with Adish and gang who were kind enough to pick me up from my apartment 🙈 And then...... anxiety creeped in.... I kept telling myself, you’ve got this, you’ve done the hard work, stay calm, stay calm.

A chat with Ankush on race morning did calm my nerves, he helped us strategize how to quicken  transition times as Dubai T1 & T2 zones are fairly long.


My swim glasses at Ironman 70.3 Dubai
A few found the swim choppy, but for me the water was calm on race day.

Sea swimming has been my strength (One of the reasons why I registered for this race) and I had clocked enough miles in my training so I was confident of my swim prep. My race goal was a Sub 40 (2:05 pace) finish. But I strategically placed myself in the 30-35 mins seeding. There I was amongst a sea of people in wetsuit staring at me, as I was the only one in that seeding to swim without wetsuit, that kind of got me intimidated and I started off way too fast. Eventually achieved a PB, but I was not satisfied!

Swim Nutrition :

1 banana before swim and a few gulps of electrolyte water 15 mins before start.

At the beach before bike race at Ironman 70.3 Dubai
1.9 kms @ 2:07/100m pace in 0:40:12 (Personal Best)


My bike for race at Ironman 70.3 Dubai
T1 was 5 mins and 31 secs (my target time was 5 mins)

Like swim, my bike prep was spot on, churned loads of miles in the 4 months leading to race day (~400 kms per month)

Just for the race I went for 23c Continental GP 4000 tyres (trained on 25c though!). 

On race morning, kept the tyre pressure at 120psi front and rear, stacked up my nutrition, did the last min checks and went for a quick chat with my buds. When we were about to head towards the swim start, I happened to check my tyre pressure once again and found it to be at 80psi 😓 that made me hit the panic button, re-filled it back to 120psi and prayed that it stays that way until the end of the race. 

(While swimming, I was hoping that it wasn’t a puncture or a leak of any kind).

Initial few kms on the bike, I was apprehensive but then slowly gained confidence that all is well with the air pressure.

Bike strategy was super simple and sorted – Easy for the 1st 45 kms and then give it all you got in the back 45. Reason being, the course had an elevation of 362m (as per STRAVA) with headwinds while going, and if you reach the turn around at the right time, you will benefit from the tailwinds.

  • 1st 45kms @ 30.11 kmph (1:29:44)

  • 2nd 45kms @ 34.05 kmph (1:19:18)

90 kms @ 32 kmph in 2:49:02 (Personal Best)

Bike Nutrition –

Banana at 10th, 30th and 70th km markFast & Up gel at 25th, 50th and 85th km mark750 ml Fast & Up Reload1000 ml water

Calorie Planning: 3 bananas = 315 cal, 75g carbs

3 gels = 306 cal, 75g carbs

750ml reload = 36 cal, 9g carbs, 540mg sodium

Overall ~657 cal, 159g carbs which is about 250cal and 60g carbs per hour


In action at Ironman 70.3 Dubai
T2 was 3 mins and 38 secs (my target time was 2 mins)

Run has been my weakest leg of a TRIATHLON, and my race prep received a big jolt when I got injured in training (shin splints) after the Hyderabad race. Had to reduce my mileage drastically for Nov and Dec. 

Having said that 10 days leading to race day I hit my PB at the Tata Mumbai Marathon with a timing of 1:58:50 for a Half Marathon. That was a much needed confidence booster. In fact I mirrored the exact nutrition strategy on the run here.

The race aura got better off me and started my run way too fast, clocked the 1st 4 kms at a 5:22 pace and eventually had to slow down as the temperature rose. The run was on a flat track however it was very close to the sea with NO shade throughout the run course. Met my target goal for the 1st turn around (7 kms in 0:40:12). 

The on route crowd support was tremendous with music to the ears (Remembered TMM & Satara crowd support in our backyard 😉). 

At the end of the 18th km I had cramps all over my hands and face, and I was well on course for a Sub 6 finish even with a walk/jog, but 2 things did not make me do that:

My goal of Sub 5:50 finish would be missed by a few mins and that would have hurt me more than the joy of completing my 1st ever IM70.3 raceI had promised my good friend Manesh Nambiar that I won’t walk a single step on the run even at the aid stations 😊

Run Nutrition:

2 salt tabs with 250 ml water in T2

Fast & Up gel at 5th , 11th and 17th km mark

Cut fruits, Dates, Cola and Red bull based on feel from the aid stations~

750ml water

Calorie Planning: Cola, Red bull, Dates =

210 cal, 53g carbs, 186mg sodium/potassium,

51g sugar 3 gels = 306 cal, 75g carbs

Overall ~516 cal, 128g carbs which is about 243cal and 60g carbs per hour.

So there it is, below is a snapshot of what target I had set Vs achieved -

The eureka moment after winning Ironman 70.3 Dubai


My Training block was from Jul’ 18 – Jan’ 19, off which July & August was base training.

My practice before the Ironman 70.3 Dubai triathlon

Monthly mileage was about ~14 to 15 kms broken into 3 swim sessions per week (Intervals, time trial and long endurance sets).  

I am a natural breaststroke swimmer but a part of me was inclined to switch to freestyle for this race, was just not able to convince my mind on whether I go for a Sub 40 mins swim in breaststroke or do freestyle and shave off another 5 mins. But then that meant to devote more time in swimming in my already packed training plan. That is when I had a detailed chat with Zarir Baliwala, after that discussion I focused only on swimming one stroke.

After all, Bruce Lee had said – “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times” 

This pretty much sums up my success story behind breaststroke.

Speed Time Trials –

Endurance Swims –


Monthly mileage for last 4 months was about ~400 kms broken into 3 bike sessions per week (Intervals on the spinner, tempo ride and long endurance ride).  

I was confident about the way I had peaked in my bike performance in the months leading to the race. Except for a couple of flats, the training block was super smooth and attained an average speed of about 30 kmph across all rides. I stubbornly stuck to do 90% of my training on the Solapur highway.

90 kms Time Trial

Reason - Dubai route is an out and back route without any turns in between, and you experience crazy headwinds in the 1st 45, hence the route that matched similar race conditions was the Solapur highway,  you

can experience headwinds as well as practice being in the ‘aero’ position for long hours on the saddle with a similar elevation gain. It was a huge risk to train this way only on one terrain, but I backed my instincts.

Endurance Ride


Monthly mileage for was about ~105 kms broken into 3/4 run sessions per week (Easy, Intervals, Brick, Long endurance run).  

I paid a lot of attention to running and improved my pace from a regular 6:20 min/km to 5:40 min/km for a 21k distance. I had an individual goal built in to do a Sub 2 at Mumbai HM and so kept doing 2 hour TT’s since Aug to track if I can kill it at Mumbai, and I did it!

Also what I noticed was all my brick runs were way faster than ONLY solo runs. It also meant that maybe I’m not focusing on warming up enough before solo runs??

Training received a setback when I injured myself after the Hyderabad aquathon. Since then, reduced my run mileage and focused only on BRICK and Endurance runs (Ran 2 days per week till I completely recovered) and devoted that time to biking.

That is the beauty of a TRIATHLON, if you are injured in one sport, you can capitalize the lost time in the other two 😉

Speed Time Trials :


Did a total of 23 BRICK workouts in 7 months! 

Yep, you read it right, 23 brick sessions! And that was the actual turning point! My body by race day was so used to doing a bike ride after swim, or a run after bike that it felt second nature to me that day.


Clocked about 65 hours of strength training, focusing on glutes, hammy’s and leg & arm workouts to strengthen the swim/bike muscles.

Planning of these sessions was extremely important, Sundays would usually be spent riding in aero position for long hours, hence to open up those sore muscles it was essential that I do my shoulder and back workouts on Mondays.


Pune RSSL Swim Competition - Winner 50m Breaststroke, 2nd RU 50m Freestyle & 2nd RU 50m Back stroke

Satara HM - Bettered course record by 16 mins from 2017 (2:07:51)

Hyderabad Aquathon - Winner, Age Grp: 30+ (3:03:11)

Kolhapur Half Iron Distance - Finished 4th, Age Grp: 36-45 (6:00:30)

Aurangabad Olympic Distance - Winner, Age Grp: 36-45 (2:54:20)

Mumbai Half Marathon - Bettered course record by 26 mins from 2017 (1:58:50)

6 races - 3 WINS, one 4th position and two course records 😊 😊 MIND GAMES Ever since I decided to do the IRONMAN, I gave myself 2.5 years to get my body conditioned as I do not want to complete it, but want to COMPETE. Hence I had a personal milestone of doing 10 Olympic+ Distances before my first IM70.3 and 5 Half Iron Distance+ races before my first IRONMAN.  Below were the 10 races/self-supported TRI’s –

Basically improved by an hour at an Olympic distance. Also one striking feature was that my run speed in these TRI workouts improved gradually.  This was the science behind my target T1 & T2 times as 5 and 2 respectively as I averaged more or less in that range across all 10 TRI's. 15-18 km runs on a treadmill, 5 km swims in 30/50m pool, long static bike interval sessions on the GYM spinner - All of these were super super boring (thoughts of aborting the workout) and took a lot of mental toughness to overcome them. Dubai is a 2 loop run course, 7 kms for the 1st loop, and 3.5 kms for the 2nd. In my final training block of 6 weeks, most of my runs were in multiples of 7 (7 kms - 8 runs, 14 kms – 1 run and 21 kms - 1 run), this was to make a mental calculation of where I want to be at the end of the 7th and 14th km during the race. And it worked wonders. My avg. time for a 7 km training run was 40 mins, race loop 1 – clocked 0:40:12 and 14 kms was 1:20:00 mins, race loop 2 – clocked 1:23:27 Since I work in night shifts, I have no choice but to run after 11 am, so last 2 months whenever possible, I would run in a confined treadmill space at my GYM, with no fans/AC to emulate race day temperatures in Dubai, helped me calculate my sweat rate even in winters. FUTURE GOALS The Ironman brand has finally arrived in India with the inaugural race at Goa on the 20th Oct’ 2019. So will train with a target of Sub 5 hours 40 minsFULL IRONMAN which comprises of 3.8 kms swim + 180 kms bike + 42 kms run. Either at Kalmar, Sweden or the United States of America by August 2020 Upgrades Swim: Switch to freestyle swimming and retire from breastroke after Goa Swimathon in March, as I have achieved all that I wanted to in breastroke racesBike: Switch to cleats, as compared to running shoes that I currently use for cyclingRun: Focus on hill runs and intervals, get my HM timing to sub 1:50

In summary, all I can say is if I can achieve the above, anyone can, the only thing that worked for me is being so focused on my GOAL that everything else looked blurry and of course you've got to study the race course to the T. All of this wouldn’t have been possible without the below people:

Mom & Dad – 

My pillars of strength, I still remember my DAD accompanying to my 10 km races when this TRI bug hit be real bad 😊 He was instrumental in helping me to dismantle and pack my bike. 

Over the years he has kept a close eye on my progress and is the one pushing me to switch to freestyle and asked me to hire a coach if needed for my future goals.

Lubainah – 

My darling sis who has been motivating me whenever I am down and out and always checked one thing for sure, whether I reached home/race destination safe and sound. Love you!

Bushra & Hamza – 

They accompanied me for this race. Night shifts, getting to meet only on weekends, and then understand that I have only the weekends to train for races, that is the support Bush has given me. Couldn’t even imagine doing this race had she not been so understanding. Guess I have to make it up to her real quick, if not done already 😊 😊

And of course Hamza, when I explained him who PRO athletes were and why they will finish way before me, he has been telling me Daddy, even you came on the bike with the PRO athletes, guess I’ve got to explain him again in detail, but some other day 😉

Zarir Baliwala (a.k.a Zarir Bhai) – 

My mentor, my guide, my role model and a father figure. Love you the most. Thank you for all your support over the years especially during the last 6 months.

You've helped me continue to walk on the path that suited my strengths.

My day doesn't end without chatting with him!

Hitesha – 

Business partner and a best bud since 20 years! From bunking college lectures for playing pool, to working together professionally, the journey has been nothing short of awesomeness.

You have been awesome in holding fort at work while I focused on training in the last couple of weeks. Thanks hon!

Rohit & Nancy – 

Met both of them a few years back, and since then the 3 of us have been around, thanks guys for all the motivation over this journey. 

Nancy, along with Hitesha has been instrumental to balance out work for me while Rohit is a fitness coach and a younger bro, I weighed 77.8 kg in July, 3 days before race day, I weighed 72.9 kg! His nutrition plans were spot on and helped me achieve ideal race weight. Follow him (@bringiton.rohit) for One – One fitness coaching and guidance 😉

Recreational Triathletes Group – 

Learnt so much from this group comprising of almost 700+ triathletes from all over India and abroad. Special mention to Anirban Mukherjee (a.k.a Dada) who is the brain behind the RT races as well as getting all of us together. Thanks Dada for everything.

Tri-Kaminey Gang – 

Who is also my second family, this group comprises of a select few who started as triathletes, went on to become best buds, and now a family. 

You guys are awesome! (Ankush, Anuj, Anupam, Mayura and Manesh missing in this pic).

A sweet ending to a fairy-tale wherein everything I touched turned to gold, whatever I wished for came true. Hope this purple patch continues for a LONG time.

Last but definitely not the least, how can one end the trip without exploring these impeccable 'man' made sculptures 😍

You may wish to follow me on Instagram (@shamoiln) or FB.

Until next time, keep the hustle on! 😉

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