Emirati participants have juggled countless hours of training with work and raising families. Tomorrow, they will reap their reward
Ready to tri hard with a vengeance
ABU DHABI // Haifaa Kattan and Eissa al Raisi have spent countless hours preparing to pit themselves against some of the world's finest athletes.
The two Emiratis are making their final preparations for tomorrow's Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, which will feature a field that includes past Ironman champions and other leading triathletes.
When Mrs Kattan crosses the finish line, she said, she will owe her achievement to her training. It is her first full triathlon.
But even with the arduous race ahead of her, the mother of three said one of the biggest challenges had been simply finding an Emirati friend to train with.
"It's the culture here," said the 33-year-old. "They just sit at home and watch TV and eat. I wish I had one friend who could do all these activities with me."
Having training partners was crucial, she said, especially as she has to juggle her workouts with raising a family and work commitments.
"It makes me lonely," she said of running for up to an hour on her own. "For swimming I have a friend and also for biking. Even if I am really tired, when I have someone to go swimming with, I get my gear. It is very motivational."
Her compatriot Eissa al Raisi already has a triathlon under his belt, having competed in the Tri Yas triathlon in January. He has also run six marathons, wearing UAE colours each time.
He said his main goal was to spread a message of healthy eating and exercise.
"We suffer from many diseases, including diabetes and high blood pressure. I think [young people] should be educated on how to prevent it and avoid it by playing sports three times a week," said the 42-year-old father of five daughters.
It is an issue close to his heart.
"My mother and brother both suffer from diabetes," he said.
Like Mrs Kattan, he has to work hard to juggle training, work and family.
"I try to balance between them. I don't hang around in malls or watch movies or sit around in coffee shops. Most of the time, I spend at home studying with the children and helping them with their homework," said Mr al Raisi, who works at the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research.
He said his wife's contributions extended beyond moral support.
"She prepares very healthy food for me and the children, which is very important," he said.
When he travels outside the UAE to race, athletes from the UAE or the Gulf are few and far between.
"Even when we have the event in our country there is less than 10 or 15 participating who are from here," he said.
566 competitors in tomorrow's race are listed as living in the UAE, but it is unknown how many of these are Emirati.
There are three different distances. The Long Course, which has a first-place cash prize of US$50,000 (Dh184,000), features a 3km swim, 200km bike ride and a 20km run. The Short Course features a 1.5km swim, 100km bike ride and a 10km run, while the Sprint Course features a 750m swim, 50km bike ride and 5km run. Starting times are staggered, with the professionals beginning their swim at a little after 6am while the final wave of sprint competitors will start at about 8.30am.
Mrs Kattan has already run several different distances, including the 10km event at the Dubai Marathon.
"I wanted to do something totally different," she said.
Mr al Raisi said he felt confident yesterday, despite having to travel 16 hours from Spain after taking part in the Barcelona marathon last weekend.
"I will try to do my best in this race, and I am a little bit tired, but it is in my country and I have to join the race," he said.
He has put the hours of training in and said he did not expect to finish feeling as drained as he did at the end of a marathon.
"You feel pain and get cramps and say you'll never do another one. But two or three days later and I sign up for the next marathon," he said.