It was a dream come true for me on 1-Mar-2014 when I (barely) completed an IRONMAN triathlon in 16 hrs and 40 minutes.
The journey started with an effort to loose weight in May 2012 from my then weight of 100+ Kgs. Having never engaged in any sport in my entire 30+ years of life, I took up the Couch to 5K program and was amazed at myself that I could run non stop for 30 minutes within a couple of months. Bought a cycle (RockRider 5.0) to add some variety and started commuting to office (around 6 Km one way) twice a week. Completed a few running races and started training for my first full marathon (Auroville Marathon) in Feb 2013. Enrolled in beginner swimming classes in Dec 2012 with a far fetched dream of participating in triathlons.
Auroville marathon was a pleasant experience and I managed to complete in around 5 hours. Fresh off the marathon success, in a fit of enthusiasm I signed up for IRONMAN New Zealand 2014 in March 2013. This gave me around a year to train for the event, and more importantly learn swimming well. At that stage I could just about swim one lap in a 20m pool.
Decided that I will follow Don Fink’s 30 week training program. For the Mar 2014 event, I would need to start following the plan in Jul 2013. Decided to use the time from Mar-Jul 2013 to improve my swimming and enrolled in more swimming lessons.
August 2013 was my first ever triathlon (Thonnur triathlon, sprint distance) and also my first open water swim. By them I could swim about continuously for 10-15 laps freestyle (in a 20m pool), recover using breast stroke for a while and then resume freestyle. Open water swimming was a different beast altogether and the Thonnur lake was far too choppy for my comfort. I struggled to find any rhythm, switched to breast stroke for almost the entire 750m and was last out of the water. Enrolled for more swimming lessons
Meanwhile, running and cycling training were going along nicely and in Oct 2013 I participated in my first half iron triathlon (swim leg in a pool) in Hyderabad. I was reasonably satisfied with the race, having completed it in 8h 50m, which even though was not within the official IRONMAN cut off for the half-iron distance, made me confident that with some more training I could do it. Especially satisfying was the swim leg which I completed in 1h11m (for 1.9 Km – the IRONMAN cut-off is 1h10m normally).
In Dec 2013 I enrolled in the Chennai Trekking Club‘s full iron-distance triathlon. By then I could swim non-stop, and do around 1.6 Km in an hour comfortably (in a pool). Unfortunately, this race shattered my confidence. In the open water swim, I could not swim in a straight line and I continuously veered off the course, leading to a very frustrating experience. I was again the last out of water, having finished the swim more than 3 hours after start. The race ended in a disappointing DNF after about 40 Kms cycling.
Concentrated on swimming in Jan/Feb at the expense of cycling and running. By Feb, I could do about 1.9-2.0 Kms in an hour in the pool. While theoretically, this is enough to beat the 2h20m cut off for the 3.8 Km swim, my previous experiences with open water and my inability to swim in a straight line made me worried to no end.
So, with doubts looming large, I reached New Zealand. The other professional-looking athletes further increased my doubts and the stress was just too much to handle. I just wanted the race to get over so that I could relax Before race start, my sole goal was the beat the swim cut-off and get “as far as possible” with the cycle. Just beating the swim cut off would be a victory for me – it would be a real short race to travel 10000+ Kms if I do not manage to finish the swim in 2h20m.
PRE RACE NUTRITION
- One bowl curd rice at around 4 AM
- 3 GU gels, one each at 5:30 AM, 6:15 AM, 6: 45 AM
Race start: 7 AM
Equipment: Fit2Race Sockeye Wetsuit
So, with this singular aim of finishing the swim course within the cut-off time, I entered the clear waters of Lake Taupo. The swim is a one lap out and back course with a mass start. I stayed at the very back and started swimming once the canon went off. Almost everyone was ahead of me and I kept a few in my sight with the hope of following them (and if possible draft behind them) and not going off course. However, this didn’t work well, I soon lost track of others and was alone in the waters (though to my much joy, I could see a few people behind me). As expected, I went off course, the race officials would come next to me quite often to direct me back on track. This went on for some time and after a while, my sighting improved and I managed to stick to a more or less straight line. I had decided not to look into my watch till the turn around point and after what felt like eternity, I reached the halfway mark. My heart started beating faster when I knew that now is the time to look at my watch. Imagine my joy when the clock read 55 mins or so! At that point I knew that I would finish the swim (unless something drastically went wrong). With renewed enthusiasm, I turned back. My sighting improved on the way back, though I still swam in a zig-zag line. However, the waters were more choppy and this caused some trouble. I managed to get out of the water in 1h58m which was a great victory for me! I was overjoyed! I guess the wetsuit greatly improved my speed – I am sure I had swam at least 10% more than the course length of 3.8 Km.
Equipment: BTWin Triban 5 stock condition, Leopardskyn full sleeve jersey, BTWin bib shorts 9
It was a bit chilly and I decided to wear the full sleeve jersey (I had kept both the full and half sleeve jerseys in my transition bag). The bike course is a two lap out and back course (45 Kms one way). It is mostly flat with some climbing to do at the beginning and at the halfway mark. The outbound course is a gentle downhill and the return leg is a gentle uphill.
I started cycling with great enthusiasm and averaged around 26-27 Kmph for the first 45 Kms. If I could manage to keep this up, I was on track for a 7 hour finish. However things turned worse after I took the U-turn back to the town. There was a very strong headwind (It was only now that I realised that my 26 Kmph average for the first 45 Kms was due to the tail wind) and the course was a gradual uphill. I must admit that I tried to push hard so that I could remain on track for a 7 hour cycle course finish. This drained me somewhat but I struck to my nutrition plan of 1 gel every 30 mins or so with a few gulps of water and electrolyte drink. Crowd support was awesome and I reached the town after struggling hard on the way back. By now, I had given up on targeting 7 hours and was hoping to complete between 7h30m and 7h45m. Started the 2nd lap with the hope of making the most off the downhill and the tailwind. Energy wise I was feeling fine, but I was getting a bit frustrated on seeing other athletes with more aerodynamic cycles overtaking me with ease. Finally reached the U-turn point and started the last leg of cycling back to town. By now, I was getting tired of the electrolyte drink and the gel so switched to coke. But I continued ingesting gels every half an hour. My average speed for the last 45 Kms was only 18 Kmph but it was a steady effort. I finally managed to reach home around 5:22 PM (8 minutes before the cycle cut off of 5:30 PM).
Equipment: Full sleeve dri-fit T-shirt and shorts, Vivobarefoot Ultra shoes
I had approximately 6h30m to finish the marathon. I set a goal of 7 Kmph so that I finish the marathon in approximately 6 hours, giving me half an hour to spare in case things don’t go according to plan. The run is along a 3 lap 14 Km loop along the lake. I started well, maintaining more than 7.5 Kmph for the first 5 Kms or so. However, I could not continue running for long and started taking walking breaks. With a run-walk strategy, I finished 7 Km within the first hour (with a few minutes to spare). However, at this stage my walking time was increasing and running time decreasing. I realised that this cannot continue for long and that I needed to rework my strategy. I decided to take it one kilometre at a time. In order to maintain a 7 Kmph average speed, I need to run every Km in approximately 8m30s. At the beginning of the Km, I would sprint as fast I could so that my “lap time” for the Km would come down to 6m30s – 7m. Then I would start walking. Once the lap time went above 8m, I would start running to bring it down below 8m. With this strategy, I could finish each Km between 8m-8m30s. Occasionally, during uphills I would cross 9+ mins overall this was working well, and I maintained 7 Kmph without draining myself out (At times I would doubt whether I am doing the maths correct, but thankfully I didn’t make a mistake). Nutrition on the run course consisted of a gel every 25-30 mins and coke. Things were fine till 30 Kms after which I developed stomach pain. I slowed down drastically for a few Kms and stopped taking gels thinking that the stomach pain could be due to a overdose of gels. After a few Kms the pain eased up but at around 35 Kms I became very tired, possibly because I stopped the gels. However, I had around 1h25m to finish the final 7 Kms, and I knew that I would finish the race with 15-20 mins to spare. I tried my best to follow the run/walk strategy for the last 7 Kms, though I could not finish each Km within 8m30s, each Km took 9m – 9m30s.
Finally, 16h and 40m after the race started, and with 20 minutes to spare before the midnight cut-off, I jogged down the finish chute and it was a great moment when Mike Reilly called out my name and announced that I was an IRONMAN!
I am deeply indebted to many people without whom I wouldn’t have achieved my dream:
To my family, my wife, son and mother-in-law for taking care of me and putting up with me
To my office colleagues, some of whom started the weight loss journey together and continue to inspire me.
To all my friends for being with me, all these years
To Bharath Basappa, who introduced me to IRONMAN, who trained and raced with me, but unfortunately missed the cycle cut off by 4 minutes.
To Nisha Millet Swimming Academy for teaching me swimming
To Decathlon, BOTS, Leopardskyn, for all the wonderful gear
To Chennai Trekking Club for bringing triathlon mainstream in India
To the volunteers and the wonderful crowd in Taupo, without your support and encouragement on race day, I wouldn’t have finished
Thanks a lot!