With the UAE triathlon season in full-swing, we meet the participants in a training group for beginners in the sport
Triathlon training offers something new to UAE residents
Many exponents of a particular sport boast that their activity is the fastest growing in the world.
One sport often cited as such is the triathlon, the multidisciplinary event that requires competitors to swim, cycle and run their way around a course.
Whether these hyperbolic claims are true or not, there is little doubt that the number of competitions and the number of people taking up the activity are on the rise.
The UAE is no exception, with people of all ages and fitness abilities giving the sport a shot.
Catering for this disparate band of athletes, triathlon events have become reasonably regular occurrences throughout the year. And on Friday, the third annual Tri Yas on Yas Island will take place.
Many of the competitors will be undertaking the race for the first time. It's a highly daunting prospect considering the challenging physical nature of the sport. So, to prep people for the endeavour, Haddins gym in Zayed Sports City offered an intensive training programme.
The five-week, six-times-a-week course involved swimming workshops at the Westin hotel, cycling at the Train Yas sessions at Yas Marina Circuit F1 track and running around Zayed Sports City, with the odd spinning class thrown in.
All of this aimed to get its participants physically and mentally ready for the 750 metre swim, 20 kilometre bike and 5km running sections of Tri Yas.
While one may be able to complete all of these disciplines individually, finishing them in tandem means learning new techniques. For example, the changeover from cycling to running is particularly tough on the lower limbs since each sport utilises different leg muscles.
The course also involves advice on how to transition smoothly between each event on race day because swiftly swapping clothing and equipment can slash minutes off your final time.
Among the course participants was Jane McKay, 50, a housewife from Scotland, who will be competing in her third triathlon.
"Back home, I would never have dreamt of doing a triathlon," she says. "I guess so many people do it over here because the weather is perfect for triathlon, especially at this time of year, and the terrain is relatively flat.
"Also, we're really blessed in this country with the facilities. There's all these great swimming pools in hotels, and you can use Yas Marina [Circuit] for cycling."
The course has also given her a chance to meet like-minded sportspeople.
"I don't work over here, so doing these triathlons has really given me something to focus on," she says. "I've discovered that there's a big triathlon community in Abu Dhabi and they're really welcoming. People don't really care about your level of ability. They're just happy to see new faces come along to try."
Heather Rees was also another keen member of the Haddins training group. She is competing in her second triathlon on Friday, even though she promised herself that last year's would be her last.
"It was so tough last year that I swore to myself I would never want to experience that again in my life," recalls the 42-year-old Briton, who works as a personal assistant.
"Last time, I just trained by myself but when I heard about the Haddins course, I thought it would be a chance to do more preparation than last year. So I'm pretty confident I can beat my time from last year."
She says there are other reasons why triathlon is such a popular sport in the Emirates: "I think the triathlons seem more relaxed in the UAE and people of all fitness levels take part, whereas in the UK it seems to be exclusively for super-fit athletes."
The course was designed by Michael Haddin, the owner of Haddins Fitness. He says he aimed to dispel preconceptions that the sport was exclusively for elite athletes.
"I think there are a lot of people who would like to do a triathlon but are freaked out by thinking they need all this expensive gear or maybe they're not good enough at one of the disciplines.
"But we're not competing at an Olympic standard and, with the training, I'm confident we can get everyone around the course and to the finish line."