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Swim, cycle, run

Looking to do something more than just running? Take your fitness a notch higher by preparing for the Ironman race

Don’t stop just yet. Gargi Pal Chaudhuri, a 36-year-old New York-based director at an investment management firm, didn’t after completing a full marathon. Shivoham Bhatt, a former national-level swimmer and Crossfit trainer from Mumbai, didn’t after his numerous competitive swims. They went on to overtake a much bigger challenge, competing in the Ironman and Half Ironman endurance races, respectively.

Ironman is a 140.6-mile (around 226km) endurance race that requires a participant to swim 3.86km, cycle 180.25km and run 42.2km back to back. The Half Ironman is a shorter triathlon, half the distance of all the three activities, covering 70.3 miles. Those who complete these races under 17 hours, and 8 hours, 30 minutes, are awarded the Ironman and Half Ironman titles, respectively.

“Once you are dipped in running races, they get kind of boring. So people look for other exciting challenges like a triathlon. Most people know how to swim…even if it’s breaststroke, and riding a bike is easy to learn," says Faris Al-Sultan, the 2005 Ironman World Champion.

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The race may sound daunting but with proper training, it can be great fun. “A training plan based on one’s fitness levels and goals is what one needs to ace this gruelling endurance race," says Bhatt. “You need to put in a good amount of time in the gym so that your muscles and core are strong enough to perform at peak levels while training on the cycle, in the pool and running. If you are in good shape, six months of preparation is enough."

The training is, in fact, tougher than the actual race itself, says Chaudhuri, who completed her debut Ironman race in New York, US, in August 2012 in under 14 hours. Chaudhuri, a runner who decided to take on a tougher challenge, believes the biggest difference in training for an Ironman is getting used to the gruelling schedule. “After the first few months of training, it was amazing how quickly the body adapted to the daily training regimen. Ironman training was harder but I would say that training for a marathon in some ways can be much more gruelling because you have to run four-five days a week. Compared to that, mixing up the activities, working on your weaker sport and honing in on the strengths is a lot more enjoyable."

Training for an Ironman has many components—learning the correct skills to be efficient and injury-free, proper nutrition, learning how to ride a bike and swim, how to run properly, cardiovascular endurance, developing physical and mental strength. “The key to training for a triathlon is discipline, consistency and specificity in training," says Ironman finisher Tony Hchaimé, who is also a coach with TriDubai, a Dubai-based support and training club for triathletes.

And to be an Ironman, you don’t really need much: shoes, a cycle, helmet and strong will. If you can invest in high-end equipment it can enhance your overall performance; carbon triathlon bikes, power meters certainly help. “Triathlon can be expensive if you choose to have expensive equipment, try to get one-on-one coaching, and you fly a lot abroad to do races and training camps. Triathlon can be cheap if you get used equipment, get advice from forums and magazines and you stay home to train and race," says Al-Sultan.

Eat right

Triathlons are complicated races. Training schedules and nutrition vary with every individual depending on body weight, target time, body constitution and metabolism. Unlike marathons, you don’t get general plans for this sport. It is advised to race using the same nutrition you have trained with. “You are asking a lot of your body while training for an Ironman, so you need food that sustains the body and enriches it," says Chaudhuri. “I was careful about nutrition right after long workouts and tried to get good quality recovery food so that the muscles can start to rebuild glycogen immediately. During the race, I took in about 100-120 calories per hour while on my bike and a gel every 40 minutes while running."

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Mind over body

The most important thing in an Ironman’s arsenal is mental strength. “Ironman does put a lot of pressure on the body, but equally so on the mind. A well-structured training programme will prepare you for most eventualities and shall train your mind to focus on controlling the ‘controllables’ and not worry about the things you cannot control, such as weather," says Hchaimé. “If you’ve been consistent in your training, your body is ready. The mental strength and discipline gained from a well-structured and consistent training programme will give you everything you need to get across the finish line. The key is the discipline to stay focused."

Bhatt, who was completely wasted by the time he had completed the first 10km of his debut Half Ironman in Thailand in 2012, agrees. “My legs were melting, the heat was getting to me. I was strong in the mind and that’s where it mattered. I couldn’t feel my lower body for quite a while but I was happy that I completed it," he says.

Where to train?

Unlike running or cycling, there isn’t a single group in India dedicated to Ironman or triathlon training popular or big enough to merit mention. Your best bet is to be active in the online Ironman forums and pick up tips from there while training separately with running groups, cycling groups and swimming.

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In your city

Here’s a city-wise guide to facilities and groups that can help you.


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Cycling: The Delhi Cycling Club and Cyclesutra are two of the more popular cycling clubs here.

Running: Running And Living Infotainment’s Rahul Verghese, a veteran runner, is passionate about running.


Swimming: The Andheri Sports Complex and Goregaon Sports Club pool as well as several clubs and hotels open their pools to the public for a fee. If you can get away from the city and are not scared of open waters, the Arabian Sea is a great place to train.

Cycling: The Bombay Bicycle Club and Lakecity Pedalers are two of the more organized clubs in the city. Check their calendars for events that suit your training plan.

Running: Striders and Runners for Life are groups active in the city. For personal training, turn to Savio D’Souza, a coach who has taken several average runners and turned them into good, even great, runners.


Swimming: Nisha Millet’s Swimming Academy. If you get personal attention from Millet, the Indian swimmer who made it to the Olympics in 2000, you will be learning from the expert.

Cycling: Bums on the Saddle is an enthusiastic cycling group. The cycling capital of the country, the city has many more groups that you will discover once you start cycling. The Bangalore Cycling Club is also an option.

Running: Runner’s High, Runners for Life, Striders, Bhukamp, The Pacemakers—there are many running groups in this city. No matter what your speed, there is someone to match strides
with you.


Swimming: There are a couple of government pools at aquatic centres that are open to the public. You can also use the pools at swanky hotels, but at a price.

Cycling: The Tamilnadu Cycling Club (TCC) has led Chennai’s cycling revolution. Thanks to the TCC there are a few good cycling teams in the city and there’s a cycling event—from a recreational heritage ride to a 200km endurance ride—every Sunday. There is also the Chennai Trekking Club, which organizes triathlons in Chennai and Bangalore.

Running: Take your pick from Chennai Runners and Dream Runners.


Swimming: The Gachibowli Stadium, which hosted the 2003 Afro-Asian Games, has an Olympic-sized competition quality pool that can be used for a small fee. It’s best to avoid the city lakes.

Cycling: The city’s roads are well suited for cycling and there are two clubs you can turn to: the Hyderabad Bicycling Club and Hyderabad Cycling Club.

Running: Hyderabad Runners, a great running group, organizes runs through the week. However, it’s the Sunday run that is the most popular and sees maximum attendance. Experienced members have some good tips should you need help.


Swimming: Perhaps one of the best places to work on your swimming. Clubs such as the Indian Life Saving Society, The Lake Club Ltd and Calcutta Rowing Club have pools and coaches that cater to the general public for a small fee. The elite clubs have some of the best pools in the country but only members and their guests can use them. The water of the lake in Southern Avenue is also safe for swimming.

Cycling: Cycling is banned in the city. Good luck finding a support group.

Running: The running community is not very organized here. The running groups are practically invisible.

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How to prepare for the Ironman race

u Running shoes are the single most important piece of equipment. Don’t buy by colour, brand or fanciness.

u The second most important thing is the bike fit. If you don’t sit properly, you will get injured, have poor control and will not be able to work efficiently.

u Go for shorter-distance races first.

uYou are going to make mistakes. Don’t take it too seriously, have fun, finish and be proud. Don’t be intimidated.

u Join a club or a group to train with.

u Create a training plan that takes into account your personal commitments. Consistency is the key.

u Be prepared to be tired. You will be up at some odd hours to go training. Remember, you will achieve something amazing.

u Train on days when it is windy and wet and hot and humid. Train in the hills. Train with others and sometimes alone. The more experience you have in training in different conditions, the better prepared you will be.

—Faris Al-Sultan, the 2005 Ironman World Champion, and TriDubai, a support and training club for triathletes in Dubai.

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