David McNamee: ‘I got my a*** kicked but I’m not disheartened’


They breed them hardy on Scotland’s west coast, which is just as well because Irvine local David McNamee could not have picked a much tougher assignment for his first tilt at non-drafting racing.


The 26-year-old triathlete, who made the surprising decision to turn his back on a stab at the Rio Olympics in favour of going long, must have thought he was back in the ITU ranks after lining up alongside 61 other professional men for the start of Challenge Dubai. 

In a race characterised by testing conditions and beset with controversy, the flying Scotsman clocked 3:55:03 to finish 21st. Once the desert dust had settled, 220 columnist Tim Heming caught up with McNamee to discover if he was content with his debut, what he learnt and whether it has whetted the appetite for Ironman South Africa on March 29. 

Let’s clear up the controversy first. Your training partner and long course mentor Fraser Cartmell emerged from the swim sporting a black eye. Why did you lay one on him?

Sometimes he just gets a little bit cheeky. No, he’s got a bit of a bruise but I can honestly say it wasn’t me and he has no idea who it was either.

Did you manage to settle and train satisfactorily in Dubai pre-race?

I had a bit of a travel nightmare. My flight from Glasgow to London was delayed so I missed the connection and stayed in a hotel overnight. I arrived on Tuesday, a day later than planned, but my bike didn’t. It was a bit of a farce and a nervous wait. 

The homestay I had with Fraser was good though. The family were part of the local Tri Dubai Triathlon Team and doing the race too so their local knowledge helped massively. We’re so used to cycling from the front door, but in Dubai we had to drive to a safe cycling area. 

We took a 25min trip out to the desert and rode 50km on closed roads which were perfectly tarmacked. There is a bike and coffee shop and it’s purely for cycling. It was quite surreal.

And I understand you had to borrow a bike?

I don’t have a sponsor right now so I’ve borrowed a BH bike [Beistegui Hermanos] which is a big European brand. It’ll take two to three more months to feel confident riding a time-trial bike as it’s completely different from what I know. Every day I pick up something new and the whole race was a massive learning experience.

With the bumper prize purse it was always going to be a big draw, but did you expect so many professional men to turn up in Dubai?

I knew that when that amount of prize money is put up [$300,000, with the carrot of $1,000,000 for any triathlete winning all three Triple Crown races], it’s to be like a who’s who of 70.3 racing. It’s the start of the season also so it doesn’t clash with any other events, but lining up with 65 guys did feel like being back in the ITU ranks.

The rough conditions meant the swim course was changed and made for a challenging start. What was your experience?

I enjoyed it. The choppy swim quickly breaks the field up and I found the first 300-400 metres comfortable. I wasn’t leading but sat safely inside the front group which is a million miles from ITU where I’m fighting for the whole 1500m to get out in the top 30. 

Sighting looked difficult, but you emerged with Jersey’s Dan Halksworth at the rear of a front pack of 16. Did you realise your position?

Yes, I knew from racing so much that there were very few people behind me and there also wasn’t a breakaway after the first lap. I didn’t find sighting hard but that comes from years of experience.