Why I Tri’ed - The Background story
I hate the word “impossible”. Hate it, hate it, hate it!
Hold on, I love this word. It is actually very motivating!
It was summer of 2016. Anubhav and I were catching up in our office’s breakout area, discussing upcoming sports events. He mentioned two events in particular - Delhi -> Mumbai cycling event (1500kms over 5 days, planned in Dec 16), and a Triathlon planned in Feb 2017.
I’ve recently started Riding regularly, and Delhi->Mumbai cycling sounded fascinating. And Triathlon - it was always enthralling thing to do!
I went back to my desk, checked out event details. There was Duathon(Ride + Run), and Triathlon(Swim, Ride, Run) For Triathlon, 3 categories were available
Sprint Distance : Swim 750m (Cut off 50mins) Ride : 20Kms Run : 5 Kms Total Cutoff Time: 3hours
Olympic Distance : Swim 1500m (Cut off 1:20hrs) Ride : 40Kms Run : 10 Kms Total Cutoff Time: 5hours
HalfIron Distance : Swim 1900m (Cut off 1:30hrs) Ride : 90Kms Run : 21 Kms Total Cutoff Time: 8.5hours
I paused, wrote down my current capability list. It read like this :
- Swim : Can float, can’t breathe while swimming. Rating: 2/10
- Run : Max distance in one go: 7km. Rating: 3/10
- Ride : This was good. I had done multiple century rides. So was not a beginner. Rating: 5/10
Now, I had to decide the event to enroll. Duathlon was never in consideration for me, it had to be triathlon.
I accessed all the factors carefully - my current capability, magnitude of challenge in hand, limited time with the Job, personal time and Commitments. After weighing all these carefully, I “wisely” went ahead and signed for the biggest badass event - Half Ironman distance!! I guess it just ticked my flag of “is this crazy enough”.
I signed up on 7/May/2016 for this. Event date was 19 Feb 2017.
I had three monsters to slay - Learn Swimming, Learn Running and improve Cycling conditioning so I can run post cycling.
I started by doing what I do best : Reading! I did a ton of research. I read about individual events, also about lessons from other IM70.3 / Ironman finishers. This helped me understand better on the challenges that lied ahead.
During this research, I also consistently came across TriANewLife. TriANewLife offered IM70.3, Full Ironman coaching programs. I sent enquiry on the portal, and their founder/chief coach Deepak Raj reached out to me. I had already researched about Deepak by then, and was very impressed. His profile page captured:
- Successfully completed 13 IronMan Triathlons (3.8 km swim, 180 km cycling, 42.2 km running) with a best time of 10 hrs 19 min and 08 sec.
- Ranked #31 in world wide rankings for 2014 in IronMan Age Group Rankings (35 to 39 year age group)
- Successfully completed 12 Marathons (42.2 km running) with a best time of 2 hrs 59 min and 53 sec.
Woah!! Holy Shit!!!
Deepak and I scheduled a call. On phone, I immediately connected to his training philosophy. He took time to understand my current level, my goals, my time commitments. He was quite optimist that I can successfully reach to the level I’m aspiring for.
He decided to take me in for online coaching. I was little hesitant on how online coaching would work - I always thought I would have someone working with me in physical proximity. So, reporting progress online sounded unsure. But Deepak’s program had no long term lock-in. Fees was paid every month, with option to stop coaching whenever needed. This was precisely the flexibility I was looking for. I signed up for the program and started this from end July.
R&D was done now, time for execution started. 6 months to go. Event date: 19 Feb 2017. Bye bye sleep. Bye bye parties.
Before I embark on this training, and during this training journey too, I made some rules for myself:
- Start Small and Be Consistent: I was 38 when I started this training, and had no steady fitness history. I don’t recall if I did any sport unswervingly for more than few months. So, it was important for me to keep taking small continuous steps. Consistency, more than excellence, was my focus area. I’ve read so much on habit forming, this was the time to walk the talk.
- “Live to die another day”: From the start, my final goal is to Full Ironman, and be long term fit. It was super important to stay injury free. I decided to listen actively to body cues. There were days when office work was very high, family commitments were there. I just focused on continuing baby steps, be flexible in adjusting plans.
- Commitment: I started with telling everyone I met, about HIM, and that I was doing it. This level of public commitment ensured I stick to my plan. This strategy worked well, as, in my mind quitting was not even an option.
This was the biggest beast to slay, and naturally my first focus area. In Delhi, swim weather confines from April to Sept. This further reduced my “Swim time window”. I and Anubhav decided to learn swimming at DDA Dwarka sports complex. We reached out to the pool coach there, and agreed for 2 months of training for 5K INR per person.
Having a personal pool coach was a good, and a much needed idea. Unfortunately, we had many challenges from the start. Firstly, coach was not fixed, was changed frequently.
Each coach had its own instructing methodology, which often contradicted from other coaches. Our first coach taught “hold the breath, swim, go on as long as you can, capacity will come”. Other coach told us to breathe every stroke. Now, holding breath might work in short distances but for long distances, this will quickly exhaust. Also, all coaches were focused on short distance speed. They were pushing that we do strong and continuous leg movement. Again, good(?) for short distance. I had my Goal clear - Ironman. So, exhausting legs in swim itself was not a smart idea.
Only worthwhile thing I learnt from the coach was, how to stand in water (called treading the water).
Looking at all this, I explored alternatives in parallel. I recalled listening to a podcast by Tim Ferriss, where he mentioned “Total Immersion”.
Total Immersion is a different approach towards swim. Its primary focus is to teach swimmers to move through the water efficiently while staying relaxed in water. Now Geek in me is always obsessed with efficiency. So, when I had read this program in past, it made huge sense.
I re-read the book, and started to closely follow TI Vdeo Program (Easy Freestyle) Video program is divided in chapters, designed for self learning one chapter at a time. I went through the videos, and started to practice the drills. Something changed this time - maybe I was committed for IM70.3, maybe I had Anubhav with me to watch and give feedback, maybe I was ready to learn now. I believe it was a mixture of all 3 factors. Finally I moved quickly in swimming.
For last few years, I’ve been striving to achieve some fitness milestone on my b’day. In 2013, I cycled for 75km, in 2014 it was 100km, in 2015 I increased the distance to 200km. So, this year I pushed myself and completed 50mts swim nonstop on my b’day. It felt so awesome!!!!!!
Energized by this achievement, I renewed focus on my fundamentals - hand position, head position, getting comfortable in 7ft pool. From August to Sept, I pursued that. In Sept, I did another leap - moving from 50mts nonstop to doing 1km nonstop. September was a turning point in many a way, right motivation can do wonders. Finally, swimming was enjoyable. I could swim, relax and let my mind wander - all at the same time! Such a nice feeling it was.
Post Sept, as Dwarka pool closed, we joined Sirifort pool.
In November and December, I did few swims there. As the winters progressed it got tougher to deal with climatic conditions in the morning especially as my swim timings were 6am to 7am.
I used to leave from home at 5:15am, in pitch dark and cold, swim from 6 to 7, go back to home in time to drop Riya to school. It was crazily hectic but swimming was so worth it.
In Jan, I signed up for Talkatora. It has 7ft pool, and it was event venue. I wanted to practice in 7ft pool before the event. This was more of a mental battle - scare factor of swimming in 7ft pool, and no Anubhav to watch my back. For few initial swims, I used to curse myself that why i’m taking such hassles. Mind can be very tricky. Somehow, I knew I had to persist, and eventually it did get easier. Now, I can swim comfortably in deep water. This helped immensely in event day eventually.
By now, I was averaging 30min per km, which is not bad.
Dwarka swimming pool closed on 30/Sept. I knew, it was the time to pull up my socks and aim for becoming Forest Gump. Till this time, I had done few runs here and there, but no structured plan.
To start with, I decided to do Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM) which was on 20th Nov.
The progress was good, as I improved quickly from pace of 8-8.5min/km to 7.5min/km. My max distance quickly increased to 15km. But I started to get knee pain, especially on left knee. It got that bad that I would start getting pain in 3km of run itself. Damn!!
I was in a state of fix. I understood that i’ve increased my mileage too fast, and my posture was not correct. As time was running out for ADHM, I tried small steps to slow down my running speed, but the pain persisted throughout November. The week preceding ADHM, it was a decision point - to continue, or not to continue with ADHM. I was adamant that I would go ahead and participate. Ain’t pain the ritual through which I’ll become a better runner? But I was adviced (to the point of scolding) that it doesn’t make sense to take chance of permanent injury. So, VERY VERY reluctantly, I withdrew from ADHM. It proved to be right thing to do. “Live to die another day”.
I paused at this point, and focused on form. Saw many online videos. In particular, advice of “Running Fast and Injury Free” by Gordon Pirie resonated well with me. Like Zen like swimming of TI, Gordon Pirie’s book focus much on form and relaxed running. I focused on right posture and correct foot strike. I also changed my shoes, and got Nike Free Air. Form adjustment and right running shoes helped immensely. I went from strength to strength. Knee pain dissipiated when I allowed myself to recover for 10 days. Deepak slowly increased my running mileage.
I did my 1st Half Marathon on 1/Jan/2017 in Bali Hills. It took close to 4 hours, including all the breaks. But best part was that there was absolutely no knee pain, and I was kicked to do more. I did another 21.1k distance on 8th Jan, and I was all set for the event.
Only reason I could even think of enrolling for IM70.3 was that I had a cycling base. I had been cycling on and off since last year, and could go till 100km easily. In preparation, I did short rides. I did a 200km brevet (30/July) and 300km brevet (10/Sept)
Bought Trek Emoda Road Bike (Road Bike, Race Geometry) a month before the event.
Sometime in December, I decided not to go for Delhi Mumbai cycling event. As, I was not completely comfortable with my running, and decided to focus on that. Again, a tough, but I believe a wise decision.
As I continued to proceed on this journey, I realized two things very quickly - clean food is very important, and so is rest. So, I put focus on eating clean as much as I could - avoided fried food, sugar, high carbs. I also focused on sleeping 7-8 hours a day whenever possible. This is often neglected, but again vital part of recovery.
Eating clean not only helped me to improve my performance, but had a surprising and welcome impact of shedding weight. I went from 85kg to 77kg, and waist went from 36-37inches to 33 inches! Awesome!
Final Few Weeks
For last 3 weeks, I trained around Talkatora area, to get myself familiar with route. This proved to be a smart decision (see,consistently smart I’m ;)). Cycling route for my event had lot of inclines, for which I’ve not practiced at all. These 3 weeks gave me time to prepare for that. One week before the event, Anubhav and I did a good fast 10k on that route (1:02hr time, my best 10K so far). This also boosted my confidence level. I collected my event BIB on that day itself from The Bike shop, Green Park.
So, here I was. All ground work done, time put in, feeling all ready and anxious for the event. Fingers were crossed!