We Raced It: Abu Dhabi’s TriYas By Active Life

We went to Abu Dhabi to check out TriYAS by Activelife, a sprint and Olympic-distance race.

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On February 28, a group from Triathlete’s parent company, the Competitor Group Inc., went to Abu Dhabi to check out TriYAS by Activelife, a sprint and Olympic-distance race that serves as a “sister race” to our own Events DC Nation’s Triathlon in Washington D.C. We were joined by Nation’s Tri Club Challenge winner Mike Stanek, who raced the Olympic distance [learn more about his story here], and Events D.C.’s Eric Moses, who ran for the men’s sprint relay team.

If you’ve ever considered racing in the culturally diverse Middle East, here’s our feedback on what we thought of the event, which will be in its fifth year in 2015.

What differentiates this race
• It’s entirely around Yas Marina Circuit, with transition in the race pit, a harbor swim and a bike course around a Formula 1 racetrack
• Spectator-friendly bike course (Olympic athletes do 8 loops past family and friends in the grandstands)
• Afternoon start (2:00 p.m.), so later waves bike around the track with floodlights overhead
• Relay options for both sprint and Olympic
• Intentionally sells out at 1,300 athletes for safety/to avoid overcrowding
• Self-contained athlete village and expo all in the middle of the racetrack

Getting there
Etihad Airways, which sponsors both Nation’s Triathlon and TriYAS events, has a direct flight from Washington D.C.’s Dulles International Airport to Abu Dhabi, and they offer special packages—along with accommodations in the luxurious race hotel (Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi) and entry into the race—for those competing, making travel simple considering the distance. Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island, where the entire race is held, is a short 10–15 minute cab ride from the airport, where both the host hotel and other accommodations are located. Travel tip for the way home: Arrive three hours early for your flight as the customs and immigration procedures take ample time.

General pre- and post-race
Packet pickup was simple at the outdoor pre-race pasta party the night before. The expo only takes place the morning of the race, and it’s all contained within the Yas Marina Circuit. Everything was very organized, with good signage for transition, finish, etc., and the environment felt relaxed and safe. An Abu Dhabi radio station playing the same top-40 you’d hear in America made us feel right at home, and there were various artists playing upbeat covers throughout the race to liven the atmosphere. Two of our favorite vendors: a fresh juice stand and a frozen yogurt truck.

During the day, it got into the mid-80s, but with the race continuing into the early evening, it cooled down to a perfect T-shirt temperature. We loved the fun nighttime vibe of the awards ceremony.

Swim course
One loop for the sprint, two for the Olympic in a protected marina.

• “There weren’t a lot of buoys out on the course, but you really didn’t need any,” says Nation’s Tri Club Challenge winner Mike Stanek. “It was super easy to site following the marina walls and cutting a few angles.”
• Water was cool (perfect wetsuit temp) with high salt levels (extra buoyancy); not completely clear but the water quality was good.
• Small waves of people kept swimming traffic to a minimum. “I think they were spacing the waves pretty well compared to other races I’ve been in,” Stanek says.

Bike course
Four (sprint) and eight (Olympic) laps entirely on the super-fast F1 racetrack.
• The good: It was flat and wide with zero potholes or cars to worry about, and doing multiple laps occupies your mind and breaks up the ride. Plus it’s uniquely spectator-friendly—family and friends can catch you from the grandstands every few miles.
• The bad: You have to pass on the right because of how the track naturally curves, which takes a little getting used to, and it can get a little crowded the later your wave starts.

Run course
A flat two loops (not identical) out from the transition area, with some zigzagging around the Marina complex.
• “I liked it, as there were a few cool tunnels underneath the racetrack and just enough shade to keep the heat from being unbearable,” Stanek says. “They were handing out bottles of water, which helped given the conditions—I held onto them a few times to help with hydration and cooling off.”
• The run course isn’t as spectator friendly as the bike, so expect to see just your competitors for most of the route.

More on triathlon in Abu Dhabi
“I have been traveling to triathlons around the world since the earth was still cooling. As someone who loves to watch our sport have an impact beyond race day, I am ecstatic at what the TriYAS folks have created in Abu Dhabi,” says CGI’s Bob Babbitt.

“Yes, the swim in the harbor, cycling multiple laps on the Formula 1 Track and the run around the compound is incredibly safe and well organized and, with it being a late afternoon start, a ton of fun. But what I love is that the TriYAS folks feel a commitment to grow endurance sports in that region of the world and address serious issues that impact way too many people there like childhood obesity and diabetes.”

Every Tuesday, the TriYAS group opens up the track to anyone who wants to come out to exercise, offering 300 bikes available at no cost. They’ve seen over 2,500 locals on a regular basis who come to run, walk or ride on the track. And every Wednesday they open the track up to just women, and have seen over 1,000 attend.

“TriYAS uses triathlon as a vehicle to change lives for the better. What could be better than that?” Babbitt says.

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