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Nerdy Vet becomes Iron Vet in aid of WVS

Wed 6th Aug 2014

Christopher Queen, The Nerdy Vet, a practicing vet based in Dubai, UAE is competing in an Ironman Triathlon in Lake Tahoe, California, in aid of WVS. Below is information on Chris' experiences in his own words and why he choose to take on this mammoth fundraising challenge in aid of WVS:

How will you be spending Sunday 21st September? If you're sensible, and assuming you're not working, then perhaps you might engage in some leisurely activity. I shan't. Quite the opposite in fact and all for a very good cause.

Ironman triathlons involve swimming 3.8km in open water, the equivalent of a swim from Buckingham Palace to the Tate Modern, followed by a cycle of 180km, or central London to Bristol, and topped off by a full marathon. That's what I shall be doing on the 21st September, with the added challenge of racing at altitude in Lake Tahoe, California, USA.

The decision to sign up to this, the first iron distance race I have ever done and the longest triathlon I have ever raced by a factor of four, was borne originally out of the almost inevitable path that triathletes here in the UAE, where I now live and work as a small animal vet.

It is virtually impossible not to become inspired to take up the challenge when so many of those you train with are already serial iron distance conquerers. When I moved out here to Dubai in 2013, someone advised me that one either becomes "fit or fat." Given that I am a self-confessed massive lightweight, it was clear that the latter path was going to work out better for me. With a wealth of triathlon knowledge, excellent facilities, an expansive and steadily growing race calendar, the perfect climate (summer being the exception) and a population of highly enthusiastic and motivated triathletes, from total beginners to seasoned veterans, Dubai challenges you to not get hooked on this sport.

As such, I had been contemplating taking the plunge with an Ironman for a while, although had not intended for it to be this year. Deciding that it would be a suitable challenge by which to raise support and funds for WVS (Worldwide Veterinary Service) made the decision a simple one. The entry fee was paid and the Iron Vet challenge was on.

In hindsight, it may have been sensible to read a few of the race reports and race profiles for the Lake Tahoe event prior to committing myself, as I soon discovered that not only is this race considered one of the "tougher" Ironman races, on account of being staged at an elevation 6200 feet above sea level, with some gnarly climbs up to over 7000 feet, but it was very cold last year, with athletes actually having to scrape ice off their bikes. This knowledge, coupled with the fact that the most intense period of training has been over the summer, which in Dubai is scorching hot and sauna-esque humid, has elevated what was always going to be a feat into a real challenge.

Having no idea how to train for such an endurance event and appreciating that life as a busy vet involves long, active and unpredictable hours, often leaving you feeling pretty drained by the end of the day, I knew that to stand the best chance of making it to the start - let alone finish - in decent shape was to sign up an experienced coach. I found one in the form of SuperTri’s Trace Rogers, and we have been working together since the start of the year to ensure that my preparation is optimal. Rather than the usual prescriptive method of coaching, whereby I am told exactly what sessions to do and when my variable rota means that Trace provides the flesh of the programme with me then having to slot them into my week where I can. There is, however an element of routine that has developed, with the long cycle of the week invariably taking place on Friday mornings, when all of the other Dubai based Lycra-clads get out on their own bikes. My training is fairly evenly split between solo sessions and group-based efforts, with the breadth and range of such sessions on offer being one of the defining qualities of training in Dubai. With groups ranging from Tri Dubai, to the Tri Pirates, Wacky Racers, and SuperSport, to name but a few, there is always someone with whom to train. The other major advantage to having a coach is that I have someone answerable to: if it's on the programme then it gets done. Simple. It is also vital to have a person with the experience and knowledge of the sport to also know when to tell you not to train and rest; key to effective Ironman preparation but oft overlooked.

The main challenge of training for such a big event and working as a vet is simply time, or rather the apparent lack of enough of it. To get up ridiculously early and train before an early start, or leave it until late at night, by which point one tends to want nothing more than to eat some dinner, relax for a bit and then sleep, scheduling training is an ongoing challenge, and one that gets tougher the closer to race day I get, as the volume and intensity of training increases. Already this week I have had to cancel a planned evening session on account of leaving work two and a half hours late, a feature of veterinary work that I am sure is all too familiar with anyone else reading this article and one that crosses borders and continents. Still, the training is getting done and the preparation is moving forward.

Training specifically for the high altitude of Lake Tahoe is something that I am, unfortunately, unable to do, although we do have a couple of mountains here in the UAE up which I can pedal. Neither of them, however, really offer good acclimatisation as the highest point on the highest peak sits at roughly the same elevation as my race will be starting. Whether the heat and humidity of the UAE, especially during these tough summer months, will translate into some degree of mountain-ready fitness remains to be seen and I guess the proof will simply have to be in the pudding on the day. Another key component of race preparation is nutrition, with effective fuelling and hydration during the day often marking the fine line between a race completion and a full blown "bonk," where an athlete just hits that unseen wall. I am still tinkering with the optimal nutrition plan for myself, having "bonked" on more than one occasion, and am aware that my needs in Tahoe are likely to differ markedly to those during training here in the desert. The adoption of a high fat, low carbohydrate approach to eating has also been helping, as I am lighter, fitter and generally feeling more energetic.

Knowing that I am racing in support of such an inspirational organisation as WVS has really helped during training, especially during those dark, hot, sticky, uncomfortable and painful sessions, when all you really feel like doing is stopping and calling it a day. The great work carried out by Luke Gamble and his heroic team, including the scores of courageous and selfless volunteers, around the globe really does serve as an example to us all and knowing that your support and donations are going towards enabling them to continue to change lives really drives me on ever closer to Tahoe and that distant finish line.

To follow Chris as he trains and prepares for his Iron Vet challenge, head over to his website where you can find more information. You can also make a donation on his Just Giving page too.