Pune-based Salonie Pathania knew that no matter how hard she trained, she had to be prepared for anything on the day of the event. Fortunately for her, she had made mental notes of all the hurdles she might face, so when the time came for the Ironman race in Kalmar, Sweden, she managed to finish the distance in 13 hours, 56 minutes.

Race conditions can be very different from those a participant may have trained in. As Pathania puts it, “One of the most difficult areas while training is access to an ocean or lake. We are usually always training in a swimming pool, in conditions well under our control. But in the ocean it can be a completely different situation."

Described as one of the more difficult feats of human endurance, the Ironman involves a 3.86km swim, a 180.25km bike ride and a 42.2km run—it’s done without a break, and within a time cap of 17 hours.

If you have been thinking of taking part, take six-eight months to prepare for it. 

Are you ready for training?

You will need to have a certain level of fitness to train for an Ironman. “Start somewhere—do a small triathlon to see how you fit in. And do a half Ironman at least six months before the planned Ironman race," says Kaustubh Radkar, a 17-times Ironman finisher who coaches aspiring participants through his Pune-based company RadStrong Coaching. 

Radkar suggests that if you’re training for the Ironman, you should get family and friends involved right from the start. “Ironman training doesn’t just require discipline and training, but also managing your nutrition and staying free of injuries. It is going to take a toll on you sooner or later, so get your near ones to buy into your goal," he says.

Pune’s Kaustubh Radkar completed the Ironman triathlon in South Africa earlier this year.
Pune’s Kaustubh Radkar completed the Ironman triathlon in South Africa earlier this year.

Combine the workouts

Ironman will require you to be strong in all three disciplines—swimming, cycling and running. A good way to train would be to combine at least two of these workouts, so your muscles can get used to it. 

“Your training period vastly increases if you have to start from ground zero, and with a day job you might not be able to allot so much time. So make sure you are a reasonably good swimmer. Because that requires more technique than running or cycling," believes Navin Wadhwani, who completed his first Ironman in April at South Africa’s Nelson Mandela Bay.

Wadhwani, head of mergers and acquisitions at Reliance Industries Ltd, completed his Ironman in 14.05 hours. His training schedule was spread over 12-14 hours per week (1-2 hours on each weekday and 7-9 hours on weekends), with one mandatory rest day. Adequate sleep and nutrition are as important as training, says Wadhwani. “Ironman is tough, but once you set a target and put your mind to it, then you can do it: I had a very busy work schedule during this period and still I was able to find time for work, family and training of 12-14 hours a week," says Wadhwani.

Mind game

Like Pathania, Wadhwani too had to be mentally prepared for a difficult race. During his practice swim, the ocean was calm; just two days later, during the event, the water had become rough and choppy. He ended up swimming a little over 4km since the floating buoys were difficult to sight in the water.

Biking, too, requires preparation—crosswinds, headwinds and uphill climbs can slow you down significantly. Wadhwani, for example, was prepared for the fact that his riding time in Mumbai (6 hours, 20 minutes for 180km) could increase during the event in South Africa. It did—he took 7 hours, 18 minutes.

While most continents have an Ironman event, Radkar suggests choosing the race on the basis of travel possibility, budget, etc. He adds: “Go at least a few days in advance so that you can get a few swims in the ocean and understand how the elevation for biking might be. For example, the Copenhagen and Kalmar Ironman competitions have relatively less winds, making it a little easier for first-time participants."

Mumbai’s Navin Wadhwani completed the Ironman triathlon in South Africa earlier this year.
Mumbai’s Navin Wadhwani completed the Ironman triathlon in South Africa earlier this year.

What about nutrition?

“A lot of people make the mistake of avoiding fats and proteins while training for a regular 42.2km marathon. For the Ironman, the need for each of these only increases," says Uma Kale, sports nutritionist at Kalometer, a nutrition clinic in Mumbai.

According to Kale, an average athlete will burn around 8,000-10,000 kcal during an Ironman. And while you can load up on the calories, your body needs to be prepared to spend that much energy in a single day. “Therefore, it needs to be a sustained plan. You cannot just start having carbs two weeks before the race, or try a new brand of energy gel on race day. You have to get used to it," adds Kale. Carbs are the best source of energy, but one must know which good carbs to have. Again, if there isn’t enough protein, your body will break down muscles to get the energy required for the physical activity. Once you have used your energy reserves, you will go through muscle loss, face fatigue, and may suffer injury. Incidentally, a gram of fat can give you 9 kcal energy (while a gram of protein gives you 4 kcal).

Hydration is important. “But remember to never over-hydrate. Too much water can confuse your body and bloat up the stomach, affecting race performance," says Kale. 

Remember, however, that it won’t be possible in just a few weeks—you will need to train for at least six-eight months.

Nutrition is key

Sports nutritionist Uma Kale’s tips on eating right

Get your body used to the kind of food and liquids you will have during the race. So, if you plan to use an energy gel, try running a few weeks with that. Or, make your own bottle of a lemon-’kokum’ mixture with salt and sugar. 

For breakfast, eggs and oats with almond milk can be a good idea. Add some flaxseeds to your meal. 

For lunch and dinner, have a mix of simple and complex carbs, like brown rice, ‘jowar’ or ‘bajra’ ‘roti’, a vegetable, sweet potatoes once in a while. For proteins, have cottage cheese, tofu, chicken or fish.

Take non-processed milk and perhaps a few nuts during workouts. This will help you sustain energy levels. Post-workout, have a milk or chocolate shake. This is already processed, so it will give you an instant boost of energy.

The daily nutrition requirement

It will depend on training intensity, body composition and sweat rate.

Proteins: 80-90g

Carbohydrates: 200g. Start loading up on carbohydrates a week before the race.

Fat: 40g of good fats, like nuts or nut-based oil. 

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