With the recent surge in the popularity of cycling and triathlons in Bahrain, and the International Triathlon Union (ITU) Abu Dhabi International Triathlon just around the corner, the Corporate Communications team thought it was fitting to talk to one of its competitors, our very own Business Systems Analyst, Ali Zainal.
Ali can be described as a triple threat (quadruple if you take into account his killer salsa skills), perfecting his cycling, swimming and running abilities for the the world’s pinnacle triathlon circuit, which is contested by the best Olympic competitors.
He’s more than excited to be taking part, and of course, his strict exercise regimen should make him ready for the event in March. “It is very exciting to be traveling to an international event with my friends,” he said. It is these friends he spends weekends with cycling around Bahrain. If you ever catch a group of people riding their way from Budaiya highway all the way to Durrat Al Bahrain on a Friday morning, make sure to wave out of your car window, Ali will probably wave back!
Waking up at 5.30am everyday to get a swim in before heading to work, and then ending the day with a cycle, followed by a run, Ali admits, “my life revolves around cycling! My training program is designed to fit around my work schedule. Sometimes I have to make sacrifices with my social life as we start cycling early in the mornings on the weekends. However, all the people I train with are good friends, so triathlons have become my new social life!”
At an early age Ali was on the Bahrain National Swimming Team, so sports have always been a part of his life. Last year, he participated in his first Olympic distance triathlon as a swimmer. In 4 weeks’ time, he will be racing in his first solo Olympic Distance race at the ITU Abu Dhabi triathlon festival. The race will be a 1500m swim, 40km bike and 10km run. He feels a little pressure from his friends, but they have been extremely supportive and have helped him to get into shape.
He started cycling when he was studying abroad in the Czech Republic. He used to go back and forth to class on his bike in the summer months. When he came back to Bahrain, that’s when he started taking it seriously as a sport, about five years ago. “I have a friend who always says, ‘I blame Ali, he made me buy a bike…and from there the rest is history’. Now we’ve become cycling buddies,” he said. “He’s my running coach, he’s a really really good runner. We have learnt from each other.”
However, Ali’s inspiration came very recently. “When I took part in IRONMAN back in December 2015, I met an 82-year-old man who was competing, named Lew Hollander. He did his first triathlon when he was 55. I was so impressed. I thought, if he can do it, then why not me!” he said. “Lew lives by the quote “Did you do your best today?” it’s something I always tell myself.”
One of Ali’s biggest challenges however, is running! He’s never really considered himself a runner before and something he is most proud of being able to do. “I wasn’t able to run 500 metres before and now I’m on my way to be part of the triathlon,” he said. “It’s not about running fast, its more about how far you can go! To have a target and hit it!”
Ali got into running just three months ago and had already injured his foot a month after. He got back into the game just one month ago and has been training hard.
When asked what advice he would give people hoping to be in his position, he said: “Get yourself a nice comfortable bike and see where it takes you. There are people of all fitness levels, enjoying triathlon on the island. Don't be intimidated - they are a great bunch of people. I would also suggest getting advice from a good coach. They can set you on the right path and help you make the most of your training time. Coach Greer Sansom (Instagram G_TRAINS_TRI) has been guiding me through the process and has provided programmes that are interesting, challenging and enjoyable for our group.”