Time to sheikh up the winter training?
On 2 March some of the world's best triathletes will take on the fourth annual Abu Dhabi Triathlon. But as well as an ideal early-season race destination, the emirate is fast becoming popular as a winter training resort. Tim Heming explains…
Then pardon the pun and consider the Arabian charms of Abu Dhabi, with its enticing warm weather climate, five-star facilities and increasing number of opportunities to improve those swim, bike and run skills.
With its flagship triathlon* now established and into a fourth year, age-groupers as well as pros are starting to see the emirate as a winter training resort as well as an early-season race destination.
Last year, a record 1,855 athletes competed over its three distances, and on 2 March a stellar field will once again assemble for the long-course event – Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee will kick off his competitive year by tackling the half distance.
As a training venue, there are over 400km of Arabian coastline to run or bike, the chance to ride the Yas Marina Formula One Grand Prix circuit, or swim in the clear waters of the Persian Gulf. World 2011 ITU long course champion Rachel Joyce is a former member of Team Abu Dhabi and extols its charm as a training location.
“It gave me some unique memories,” she says. “Riding through miles of sand dunes, past camel race tracks and experiencing a totally different culture. It provides quality early-season training, which built the foundation for the rest of the year and the Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan provides excellent facilities in the lead up to the race.
"The gym is well equipped, it’s easy to swim open water from the hotel's beach access and it’s also well situated for visiting some of Abu Dhabi's sights. One of the highlights of my trips to Abu Dhabi was the unique experience of cycling around the Grand Prix circuit – it gives you a true appreciation of the skill of Formula One drivers!
“The Al Ain Rotana was my home for a month of the year during my time on the team. The climate was a welcome relief from the cold of northern Europe, and the hotel has its own 33m pool and well equipped gym. It also backs onto a dry river, which was great for running. Training was easy. We rode from the door and although most riding was pretty flat, there is also Jebel Hafeet, a 30min ride away, which is a solid 45min mountain climb.”
Triathlon training opportunities in Abu Dhabi include:
Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana
The host hotel for the annual triathlon, it includes heated swimming pools, direct beach access, a fully equipped gym, bike storage and an athlete-focussed menu.
Armed Forces Officers’ Club
Complete with indoor heated 50m Olympic-sized swimming pool and ladies-only training on Mondays and Fridays.
Abu Dhabi Corniche
The 8km waterfront stretch provides open water training and separate cycle and jogging pathways.
Al Mushrif Track
The specially-designed 2.4km rubber running surface at Al Mushrif is the longest jogging track in the UAE capital.
Al Jazira Sports Club
Includes an Olympic-sized pool open to the public seven days a week.
Yas Marina Circuit
Home to the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Open to runners and cyclists on Tuesday evenings.
Just 160km from Abu Dhabi lies Al Ain, the emirate’s heritage heartland which offers a 1,249m climb up Jebel Hafeet mountain to the 3,000 acres of the city centre oasis with its 3,000-year-old irrigation system.
Danat Al Ain Resort and Al Ain Rotana have heated swimming pools open to all.
The grassroots tri scene also has a number of top clubs offering opportunities for first-timers and experienced athletes year-round.
Abu Dhabi Triathlon Club
The club runs weekly cycling, running and swimming sessions for athletes at all levels.
www.abudhabitriclub.org or email Steve Watson on firstname.lastname@example.org
Abu Dhabi Striders
Established in 1984, the club provides weekly sessions to triathletes.
www.abudhabistriders.com or email Chris O’Hearn on email@example.com
Provides organised rides every Friday and Saturday.
www.raharevolution.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
In downtime from training, the UAE capital offers a range of options to relax including Arabian culture, family theme parks, modern architecture, high fashion shopping and first-class dining.
*There are a limited number of slots still available and those looking to race should visit www.abudhabitriathlon.com (Long course: 3km swim, 200km cycle, 20km run. Short course: 1.5km swim, 100km cycle, 10km run. Sprint course: 750m swim, 50km bike, 5km run.)
For more information or to sign-up to compete, visit: www.abudhabitriathlon.com and www.visitabudhabi.ae
Abu Dhabi facts
The largest and most populated of the seven United Arab Emirates making up over 80% of its landmass.
Its population is now over 1.6 million and is expected to reach three million by 2030.
Emirati citizens make up nearly 20% of the population of the UAE, the remainder are expats from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe and North America.
UAE is four hours ahead of GMT and there is no daylight saving.
The Islamic holy day is Friday so most organisations operate a Friday to Saturday weekend, with shops and visitor attractions open on both days.