Ironman’s embrace by the Middle East is a sign of the times. Women have equal billing and wear very little while they race; the sport is highly international, welcoming, diverse.
Oman is a natural candidate for this kind of glasnost, having emerged under the leadership of the late Sultan Qaboos bin Said from an insular backwater to an engaging, outward-looking, progressive semi-democracy.
Ironman 70.3 Oman had its first edition in 2019 and here we were, lining up on the beachfront for number two, just as Covid began its devastating global rampage. We chatted nervously with a friend from Singapore about the situation over there – before any cases had been reported in Europe.
I had a fantastic swim, best-ever time, in the calm gulf waters, then raced through the streets of Muscat on my new Cervelo P3X, reaching 36kmph on the flat, which was a thrill. After some challenging hills and sweeping descents through the desert, we took to the baking streets of the city for the 21km run. Despite modelling myself on pro triathlete Lionel Sanders, complete with handlebar moustache, I faded towards the end of the run. Still ended up with an OK finish time of 5 hours 40 minutes.
Loved the race, loved the place, loved meeting people like Kimberley and Ken Dittrich from Abu Dhabi – she’s a triathlete and he’s a senior hospital consultant – and Clare Louise and Sean Farrell – she’s one of the strongest women triathletes and he’s an ex-soldier and rugby player who is the personification of endurance.
We all sat on cushions for the celebration dinner, eating spectacularly good food, grateful that the sport we love so much had come to this enchanting spot.