A practicing anaesthesiologist, mother of a feisty pair of 7 year-old-twins Ishaan and Ishika and a triathlete. Here’s an interview with the only Indian woman participant at the recent Ironman 70.3 Dubai. After having spent a good part of her life chasing traditional Indian goals, read about her new non traditional and outdoor dreams.
What sparked your dream to become a Triathlete?
I’ve been a runner for a few years and actually knew both swimming and cycling well. I decided to get back to them so as to cross train and improve my running pace. That’s how it all started. After training for a while it struck me that I could do a triathlon. I learned about the Ironman only after I purchased my hybrid bike. I was instantly intrigued, but I did not ever imagine I would do this event back then.
When did the journey begin and how are you faring now since the time you started training?
I was running long distances since the end of 2011. My first Half Marathon was in Auroville in February 2012. Disappointed with my somewhat stagnant running pace, I bought a cycle in September 2015 to cross train. I was sitting on the bike after twenty four years! Also it was the end of monsoons in Mumbai and I had three falls back to back!
I also started working on my swimming around this time. By now, typically my days started at 4.30 AM, and a week had 4 runs, 2 bike rides and two swims. All of this before I left for work.
I heard of some friends attempting the Ironman and decided to do the same sometime in my life.. but had not zeroed in on a date. Then I got Matt Fitzgeralds training schedule and kept Joe Friels triathlon training Bible on Kindle. Eventually I decided to attempt an Olympic distance at the Hyderabad triathlon in October 2016 and depending on my performance decide on an Ironman event. I upgraded my bike to a Scott roadie a week before the event. I secured a podium position in Hyderabad, which was honestly because of a smaller female participation, rather than my athletic prowess!
But that made me go for it, and I finalised on doing the Dubai Ironman January 2017 and signed up to train with Dr.Kaustubh Radkar in November 2016. I got an indoor cycle trainer which helped working out at odd hours. I started swimming in the sea off Khar Danda with a group, to get used to sighting and choppy waters. I took the assistance of my childhood swim coach, Anand Pardeshi sir. I learned how to fix a flat and dissemble and reassemble my bike! My entire family went on a high protein non vegetarian diet with me.
Training can get long and hard; did you have to tweak your schedule around it?
Prior to this goal, I enjoyed the privilege of an “eat-everything-in-sight” diet, that my high calorie burning schedule provided me. I had to cut down on parties. It was tough to pack away all my party clothes and just slip in and out of work wear or workout wear, for what seemed like ages.
I was dead by 10pm everyday; and that was after a day of packing all the morning tiffins, running my dish washer, washing machine, getting the kids ready and managing work. Yet, I trained like an obsessed woman.
My friends were bored to the point of suicide and my hubby trained himself to automatically go deaf hearing about my trisuits and wetsuits and races and paces! It was chaotic but awesome. The training was really the best part.
Talk about your recent finish at the Ironman 70.3 Dubai
The event was an experience like no other. The Ironman 70.3 distance is a swim of 1.9 kms in 1 hour 10 min, 90 km bike within 5.30 of start time, and then a 21 km run within 8.30 of start time. The Dubai Ironman village , with 1800 participants, was a sea of beautiful athletic bodies and equally gorgeous bikes from all over the world!
On day 1 we had the expo and registration, all our names were printed out on a huge board. In the night we had our event briefing over a banquet. I was the only female participant residing in India. All the participants had their country flags displayed one by one.. followed by cheers.. India was among the smaller groups, but clearly the loudest!
On day 2 morning we had the trial swim. I had not yet decided whether I would wear my wetsuit for the event, because I was stronger at breaststroke, which is difficult in a tight wetsuit. I struggled and zipped it on and jumped into the cool green blue waters. The route was so well marked with bouys, it reduced my anxiety about sighting. The waters were calmer, clearer and I was so bouyant in the wetsuit I hardly had to move my legs to swim!
In the evening we had to check in our bikes. We had dismantled and carried our bikes from Mumbai, which was a part of this adventure! We assembled them there and tested them and then checked them in with our transition bags.
Having lived most of my life without an athletic bone in my body, on race day, wearing a bib with my country flag in an international event was an all time high!
I had a lot of tummy butterflies! Since the event had a time cut off, I was worrying about everything. Choppy waters, tyre punctures, bike falls, cramps, loo breaks, DNF (did not finish).
Day 4 was race day. I could barely sleep! I was up since 2am. I got out of bed at 4am and to the venue by 5.30am. I was crazy nervous! I met everyone in their wetsuits by around 7. We lined up for a self seeding start. I got into the water at 7.35 am. I had issues with sighting, but a lot of volunteers on kayaks were helping swimmers stay on track. I ended up doing a lot of breaststroke in the wetsuit for the sake of sighting. By 38 minutes I had about 400 m left but was getting really bad left leg cramps. I decided to stop looking at the time. It was making me unduly nervous. I just kept pushing. When I reached the sand I realized it was an hour; I was relieved to have finished within cut off.
I took me 10 minutes in the transition. Then on the bike, from 10 kms to 40 kms it was the worst bike ride of my life.
It was all uphill against strong winds and in my mind I kept recalculating the finish at my current pace or 17km/hr! My monkey mind kept flashing DNF in my head but fortunately the same winds assisted me the other way so eventually I made it in my planned time.
After the next transition, the run was 3 laps of the 7 km running track. By the second lap, the sun was scorching and my legs felt like jelly. I was in the 6th hour and very slow now. I was feeling sick of all the gels, electrolytes and coke by now. It was the chilled soaked sponges on my head and neck that got me by. Finally I read my name at the finish line and in a time of 7.45 I completed my first Ironman 70.3! Wearing that medal is among the proudest moments of my life.
That’s amazing; Congratulations! What’s next on your adrenaline pumping list?
I am on a bucket list ticking spree! So next is a week in Pondicherry where I get PADI certified. And I’ll also do a 3-day surfing course while I’m there. I plan to strengthen my biking and do a week long biking tour sometime around year end. Wish me luck!
You are such an inspiration Doc! LBO wishes you more power to your every stride and we hope to catch up with you on your many adventures!
Dr.Vandana’s story is so pumped with inspiration, I feel like getting on my bike and signing up for the next race! Like she shared, training is a vital part of a successful finish. So make sure to incorporate what works for you in your regime. If you are training for an endurance sport or outdoor activity, write in to me at email@example.com and we’d love to share your story with the world 🙂