The Iron Man is a triathlon competition which has three disciplines, i.e, swimming, cycling and running, done one after the other . An Iron Man event would have a Swim of 3.8km, Biking of 180 km and Running of 42.2 km and the Half Iron Man event is just the half of it : a 1.9 km swim, 90 km of biking and a 21.1 km run.
After a not so good or you could call it a dismal show at Singapore last year 2011, I had signed up for another Half Iron Man at Sri Lanka this year - 2012.
My training for the same had started last year in the month of April after I had signed up - all the training was only virtual, I hadn’t started moving my limbs yet. I started training seriously from Dec 2011 when I first tried swimming in the open waters in coastal Kerala at a resort called Oyster Opera. Most of my swim sessions were in a Club Pool and I was clocking about 50 mints for 2000mts ; I was doing the same distance last year in just about an hour and there was 15% improvement from that record. I kept my fingers crossed as at Singapore in 2011, I took 1hour 20 mints to complete 1900mts and came into the category of DNF (did not finish) which ruined my whole race and I became story material for Emma Bishop of Beyond Transition; last time as the last man to come out of the water and finish.
I had bought a bike-trainer too, to train indoors. It is a huge challenge being in Bangalore, it is extremely difficult to find a place to train for long distance biking and an open water swim. I had one session of an open water swim in the back waters in month of December and one in Jan. Training with the trainer indoors was not a great success because one does not feel the wind resistance and one would not know how much one is pushing. I had about 12 sessions of bike training in which I had to leave home at 4.30 in the morning towards the airport and start cycling from there at 5.30 till 8.30 and drive one hour back home and get to work at my desk by 10.30. This was the hardest because my speed was about 23 km/hour when I started , by 12 sessions I had completed about 1100 km and was able to clock about 25 km/hour.
Running practice was in good shape; I had done my personal best in both the full marathon at Mumbai in 4 hour 25 mints and the half marathon in Mangalore in just under 2 hours in Jan 2012. So I was confident about the run part of the race.
On 16th Feb 2012 I got my bike packed with my friend Sachin’s help of Pedals and Wheels and left for Colombo at 6 in the evening and got there by 10.30 pm. My checking into the hotel was a bit of an adventure. I had not made a note of the hotel phone no. and only had the address, the hotel did not have a board either outside and we were going round in circles in front of the hotel! Finally, at midnight I had to hunt for a cyber cafe to check the website of the hotel, got the no, and checked in by around 12.30 am with my bike and baggage!
On 17th Feb 2012 I had planned a biking test ride to gauge the geography of the racetrack, but the traffic was so much that I had to shelve my plans and stay put at the hotel till afternoon. In the afternoon I met Ronald, a Filipino who too had come for the event and was staying at the same hotel. Post lunch we both went to the Taj Samudara(TS) where all the pre-race and post race events were scheduled to happen. To my surprise, the event organization was not half as good at Singapore. I wanted to buy a Trisuite (a kind of clothing which one wears for all the 3 disciplines) ; to my surprise there were no Trisuites at the Iron Man Expo. The other thing I wanted to buy was some energy gels ( these are meant to keep one hydrated/energized throughout the race) but no gels were available! I then met my good friend Emma Bishop who did a story on me last year at Singapore for coming out of the swim round as the last man! I expressed my fear of doing the race without power gels and she assured me that she would get me some by the next day. We headed back to hotel by 8 pm, had dinner and hit the sack thinking of the swim in the morning.
On 18th Feb 2012, woke up at 6 in the morning , had tea and left for Galle Face Green(GFG) where the event was hosted and this was also the Starting Point for the Swim, Biking & Running, this was also the Transition Area (TA) where one kept one’s bike and the rest of the race gear. The ocean today was calm and some participants had already done a trial run of swimming and the only issue they had was of not sighting the end point due to sun in their eyes. I had just a couple of days back bought a nice swim goggle which is a mirror goggle and UV protected and hoped it would work. Without giving much thought I got into the water and it was warm, the temperature was nice and warm and the whole 1.9km was a smooth one without any hiccups and even the sun in the eye did not bother me, my goggles worked perfectly and I had timed 54 mints . I was pretty happy about it.
By 9.30 I had breakfast at the World Trade Center which was close to the GFG. Got to the hotel, rested for a while and left for GFG - TS, got my bike tuned a bit from the local mechanic and then deposited my Bike at the TA. At 5 pm there was a good brief about the Event and we were given our Swim caps and Bibs(chest no). In Singapore they gave us 2 bibs, one for the biking jersey and one for the running jersey(t-shirt) , here I got only one Bib for both the disciplines and I needed two. I tried to buy a bib belt ( Bib Belt :you can stick your bib to it and move the belt in any direction, you can make your bib visible from behind when you are on the bike and move it to front when you run). Didn’t find one at the expo and it sure was a dampener!
There was a nice dinner laid out at the pre-race function, had my dinner and met Emma who quickly gave me some 4 to 5 power gels. I was feeling a little reassured only to find that Ronald was waiting to hand me a couple of more gels and I was now all set to go! I had still not found a substitute for my bib belt; got a little creative and decided it to strap it on to my waist-pouch which I could have on me all thru the race and save time trying to put it on during the race.
The dawn of 19th Feb 2012 had broken and I was up at 4 am, left for GFG after a quick bowl of oat meal and a small prayer. I arrived at GFG at 5 am and found the atmosphere at the TA little intimidating - mine was the one of the cheapest bikes there with basic gears. Most of them looked like pros and were doing their warm ups. I checked my bike and found that my Cadence Meter (rpm of peddling) not working. The bike mechanic at the race site checked and confirmed that it couldn’t be fixed so fast. I took a quick call and decided to go ahead without the Cadence Meter. Time flew and it was already 6.10 and most of the participants were at the beach doing there warm-up swims. I too was there by 6.15, the race was scheduled to start at 6.20. It eventually started at 6.30 and each minute seemed like an age, I was really nervous and trying hard to mentally planning my swim , focusing on staying the course.
At 6.30 am, the Swim(1.9km) started and I was confident of doing it without a glitch. After about 10mints I heard a voice, bobbed up my head up to see a life guard shouting out to me to go to the other buoy (buoy - floats as a marker in water), I was swimming to the last buoy instead of the first , I had to again swim for about 300 meters to get to the right buoy. Here I was not alone and there were 30 odd participants who also got drifted by the under- current of the ocean. Man, didn’t feel like it was same water that I had swum in yesterday! The ocean was very choppy and there were huge waves and a lot of under currents and it was difficult to sight the buoys. Slowly and steadily I swam on till I could see the flag post at the GFG end point. Once I hit the ground and saw my stop-watch it showed 56 mints and I was greatly relieved and put down the monkey of my of the last year Swim fiasco to rest.
Now came the most feared part - Biking (30km x 3loops), I quickly moved out of the TA and was on the saddle in just 3 mints and I was impressed by it. I had the order of things to do coded in mind when I came from the swim just before I had to start biking - SSJGHG(Socks - Shoes - Jersey - Gloves - Helmet - Goggles) I did that perfectly and was on the go. I did not hammer it out at first loop and did it at a slow pace of 23km and I knew I could pick it up and did so and picked up my speed in Loops 2 & 3 and was averaging 25km +. I also had a pleasant surprise packed in ! I saw someone waving me at me as I was biking and lo behold! , it was my cousin Girish who was on an official visit to Sri Lanka, seeing him made me feel very pepped up and there was a spring in my step now – a good feeling that warmed the cockles of my heart! By 3hours , 26 mints I reached the TA successfully completing the second leg of the 3 leg race and was feeling good.
Then came my last discipline – a run of 21.1 km(5.25km x 4 loops) I was confident of doing well in this. Since I had already burnt my energy for about 4hours 30mints, I planned to start gingerly and then pick my pace to avoid cramps or fatigue but it so turned out that I ran the entire distance gingerly ! Repeatedly running the same loop got a little cumbersome for me. The entire racing landscape was beautiful with the vast ocean on one side and the cheering crowds on the other , a perfect setting for a good picture. This again was true only for a picture, the weather was hot as hell! I was 5 hours on the track with so many fluids in and out of the body – it was time for a bio break, I stopped and took one . The next 19 kms were a complete drag with the weather blistering and my failing energy reserves.
I was at a point in the race when pain was inevitable and suffering optional. It was so much simpler to pull off and trot to the closest Aid Station. Both I and the Aid Stations had run out of energy gels, we had to make do Cola which was like manna from heaven! The last loop had to be managed only with water!.
As I was trudging along drawing every ounce of my energy to get to the Finishing Line, all kinds of thoughts were flashing across my mind. I am so near, yet so far, will I be able to make it all, images of last years’s struggle at the racetrack came to mind. The mind sometimes chooses odd moments to play strange games. I had to snap out of this; I did so in a flash and gathered every iota of energy and pushed myself with every step seeming like a mile!
At last, at last, I made it to the Finishing Line. The feeling is inexplicable. Choking with emotion I stood for a moment and savoured it. I did it! Yes, I did it. Wow! I was ecstatic and on top of the world! Finally I had achieved my goal of making it to the Half Iron Man in the second try, the sense of accomplishment is tremendous!
It is well said by Thomas Carlyle 'Nothing builds self-esteem and self-confidence like accomplishment.'
I am very happy with myself and hope to do many more triathlon events in the coming years. Being able to complete the Full Iron Man is a desire I cherish, I really hope and wish I am able accomplish that too.
There was a grand party in the evening , everyone had a lot of fun and this has indeed been a memorable experience for me.
I would like to thank my family and friends for encouraging and supporting me in this endeavor of mine.
Lessons Learnt in this Race:
- Buy a race belt
- Keep a stock of energy gels before the race
- Buy a tri-suite
- Do a lot of biking miles and brick training
- Be Disciplined in my Training.
Goal for the next race to Half Iron Man under 6hour .30 Mints.
But as someone has said " Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment."