An IE in the Middle East: Project Planning in the Desert

By Fernando LamelasImage

A few years ago I remembered reading a book titled “Gold in the Water” by P.H. Mullen, which I particularly enjoyed and decided to keep in my collection. “I am sure I will read this book in the future again”, I reminded my self back in the day. The book narrates the two-year journey of an elite team of swimmers to the 2000 Olympic Games. The significance the book played in my life back then was very similar to today that I find my self reading it for a second time – a source of inspiration to increase focus and push my self towards a personal goal: Ironman 70.3 Miami.

For those of you not familiar with an Ironman 70.3 event (aka. Half Ironman), the event is one of a series of long distance triathlon races organized by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC). The “70.3” refers to the total distance in miles (113 km) covered in the race consisting of a 1.2mi (1.9km) swim, a 56mi (90 km) bike ride and a 13.1 mi (21.1k) run. The time needed to complete the event varies from race to race and is dependent on a number of things including the athlete’s level of fitness and other external factors such as course conditions, weather, elevation, etc.

Ironman 70.3 Miami will be my first triathlon of its kind and preparing for it has been a long, exhausting and exciting experience. Throughout the journey I have been able to make great friends, learn the technical aspects of the sport, improve my eating habits and appreciate the importance of resting (sleeping) properly. But aside from these, participating in an Ironman is a daunting task that requires careful preparation and detail planning.

Here are some examples of IE / project management jargon and how it applies to an Ironman event:

Goal Setting & Objectivesbike

This is the phase where you are probably asking yourself many questions. Why am I doing this? What am I trying to achieve? While I think everyone has different motives and ambitions, goals must be well defined and measurable. Vague and open-ended goals just serve as an excuse to deviate from the plan. Is this your first event? Or are you an experienced triathlete? Be realistic about your goals and think about the time you have available for training. We all have day jobs, a family to care for and other personal commitments that demand our time and energy, so put all this in perspective when defining your goals. Other things to think about include your race selection, the timing of the race and other technical aspects related to the race such as location and climate.

Initial Assessment

As you begin training, you will undergo some tests to determine your level of fitness. These tests are needed to understand your strengths and weaknesses as an athlete and further enhance your training program. Determining where you are in a set of ‘basic’ (endurance, speed, force) and ‘advanced’ (anaerobic endurance, muscular endurance, power) abilities will help you prioritize your training, improve focus and ultimately achieve your goal.

Risk Assessment

Have you thought on the things that could go wrong that derail your from your objective? What if you get a flat tire? Are you familiar with how to quickly replace it and keep going? This and many other things need to be considered. Putting safety first and above all things, consider carrying your medical insurance card and cell phone with you on bike rides. In the undesirable event that you find your self on an accident, having these with you will certainly come handy. Another good idea is to always consider going for an open water swim or bike ride with at least one other person. This way you can both keep an eye on each other and respond in case of an emergency. In case you are riding solo, cell phone apps like ‘Road ID’ are great for identification purposes and allow others to view emergency contacts without requiring your pass code to access your phone.

Resource Requirements

How hard can it be to swim, bike and run? Sounds pretty simple, right? You only need swimming goggles, a bike/helmet and a pair of shoes. While these are the obvious ones, there are many more “essentials” required to get you started. The more you learn about the technical aspects of the sport, the more you understand, value and appreciate the importance of having a proper bike, a GPS-enabled stopwatch and the right nutrition plan. These and other things make the sport a bit pricey in the beginning, but once you have your basics you should be good to go. Off course there will always be a better (lighter) bike or a more aerodynamic helmet, but this all depends on your goals and how much you are able/willing to invest.

Action Plan

Planning for you main race requires careful preparation and detail planning. Is your race 3, 6 or 9 months out? What does the course look like? What about the weather? All these are questions that will help your develop a detail plan. Every triathlon-training plan consists on 3 basic phases: Base, Build and Peak. The number of weeks you spend on each depends primarily on the time available until your main race and the progress you make. During the ‘Base’ phase, basic abilities like endurance, speed and force are emphasize, while in the ‘Build’ phase anaerobic endurance, muscular endurance, and power are the main focus. Planning narrows down to a workout level with very specific objectives and milestones to achieve. At the end of each phase, a Rest & Test week is scheduled to measure progress made so far and recover before the next phase starts. Main attributes an athlete should posses are discipline to stick to the plan and patience to see the results of all the hard work.

Key Performance Indicators

As IEs, we all know that we can only improve what we measure. Same applies for triathlon training. As your training progresses it is normal to look back at previous sessions and compare your average speed (mph, min/mi), power exerted (watts) or heart rate (bpm). These are just some example of measures that will help you assess where you are and will help fine-tune your training plan to develop on your opportunities. Today’s stopwatches are equipped with a variety of different functions and capabilities to provide these and other metrics on the go. The data can later be downloaded to a PC for further analysis and graphing.


I am just a week away from my first Ironman and I am mentally prepared for the six hours or so ahead on race day. By now, training has slowed down significantly and I am resting and recovering to make sure I am good to go on October 27. Triathlon is an effort management sport and I am confident that the preparation and time I have invested over the last 15 weeks have set me well to reach my goal. Now it is just a matter of going out there and execute my race plan. Insha’Allah.

In case you miss last month’s blog, see below a link to September’s post: An IE in the Middle East: Beat the Queue!

Fernando Lamelas is a Resource Planning Manager for dnata, the air services company of the Emirates Group and currently lives in Dubai, UAE. Prior to his current role, Fernando worked for other Fortune 500 companies including Disney, General Electric and CEMEX. He holds a BS from Tecnológico de Monterrey and a MS from the University of Florida, both in Industrial Engineering. He is passionate about travelling, sports, diversity in the workplace, personal development and volunteerism.


  1. mariela

    how was your competition at October 27?
    good article and congratulations!

  2. Julian Alfaro

    Estimado Fernando lei tu articulo y me gustó mucho, te escribo en español porque vi que eres Regio también, Soy Julian Alfaro y me parece muy interesante y retador la prueba extrema en el desierto, me gusta mucho la bicicleta pero la de montaña, la verdad en el desierto no me imagino la friega que ha de ser.
    Soy Ingeniero Industrial, bilingüe, tengo mucha experiencia, trabaje en Grupo IMSA del 1999 al 2009, los últimos 10 años en el area de Proyectos, como especialista de manejo de material e ingeniería industrial, también tengo bastante experiencia en administración de proyectos.
    Me da gusto escribirte estas lineas, y si sabes de alguna vacante por allá mucho te lo voy a agradecer, mi familia y yo estamos dispuestos a mudarnos.
    Recibe un cordial saludo desde Monterrey y mucha suerte en tu competencia.


    Ing. Julian Alfaro

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