“I hate running”. This isn’t an answer people expect when they ask me ‘Why Triathlons?’ But this is precisely the reason why I got into the sport.
The Start Line
I knew I wasn’t good at it and my running gait was subject to a lot of ridicule back in school. I preferred playing hockey and football. Also as someone who didn’t really like to socialize, I spent most of my evenings on a cycle. Most of my cycling was done around the neighborhood and for exploration purposes. Solitary rides to Marve Beach, Borivali National Park and Bandra was normal and fun.
Later as it is with every other middle-aged person, I got sucked into the corporate world, spent long hours working and started gaining weight. I needed to do something to get my weight under control and get my health back on track. Running seemed to be the easiest thing to do.
It did not require me to commit to a local gym, sign up for any classes or take time out to get somewhere. All I had to do was put on my shoes, get out and run.
I didn’t really enjoy it, but a ‘balanced’ diet and regular walks/runs helped me drop around 20kgs. I needed motivation to be consistent in my runs and I got that through participating in Half Marathons.
After doing a handful of them, the only natural progression to keep running seemed to be attempting a Marathon. One day, I ended up doing a long run of 32kms with the Mumbai Road Runners at Aamby Valley, Lonavala and I really didn’t like it.
I’m a slow runner and plodding along for a Marathon felt boring. I decided that I would do that distance only if I could ‘really’ run in a ‘decent’ time.
So what next? What was it that I could do to maintain this new found fitness? That’s when I discovered the world of Triathlons. It seemed perfect! Running was just one dimension.
A Triathlon would help me build overall fitness is what I thought. Swimming would work the upper body. I could get back to riding and yes, I could still continue running.
The Training Log
So with all the enthusiasm of an amateur who had no idea what a triathlon is all about; I went ahead and signed up for my first triathlon – a half iron distance in Hyderabad.
As a rule I do not have a coach. For me, making my plan, adjusting it to how I feel and hitting targets is more fun than the actual race. It also helps keep me more focused on the road ahead. I do speak with experienced people in the field when I go about making my plan. But the exact workout is something that I do on my own. I’m prone to injuries. So I feel that if I just blindly follow a plan given by someone else, I am more likely to get injured than if I make one on my own. I also end up tweaking my workouts almost every week on the basis of how I feel and how my previous week’s workouts felt.
However I made a lot of obvious mistakes when preparing for this triathlon. The first – signing up for this race without even getting used to a shorter Tri distance. Second – underestimating the distance itself. I saw that a renowned Ultra Marathoner took 8:22hrs to do this distance. So I thought, ‘how hard could it be? I could definitely do this much faster.’
I then took my Half Marathon plan and improvised on it. I dropped my runs to two per week, with a two-day swim and a two-day bike schedule. Looking back, my plan was pretty immature and stupid. I didn’t know how to swim freestyle and so pretty much focused on the breast-stroke with a few laps of freestyle thrown in. Bike rides were pretty much steady state on the roads and runs were again steady state.
The Hits and Misses
I invested in a Fuji Sportif 1.5c and around two weeks prior to the race, slapped on an Aerobar with the hope that I would probably get 4-5km/hr faster.
And yes, I didn’t know what a brick workout meant. As for nutrition, who really needed a plan? It was just a Half Iron distance, how hard could that be? Or so I thought.
Come race day, I made my final mistake. I decided to race based on how I felt. After all, that’s how I normally raced. But I really did not know what effort I should have maintained in an endurance race like this. After a faster than expected swim, I decided to go all out on the bike. By the 25th km I started suffering. Hyderabad was hot, the route had little or no shade at all. The out leg was a rolling terrain and when returning there were a couple of climbs that finally took away any hopes of finishing strong.
I was naive enough to assume I could run the half in a sub 2 time after a 3:25hr bike leg. I felt I could still finish in under 6:30hrs.
And then everything came to a standstill. I suffered my first cramp after running just over a km.
The next 2okms came through with a lot of suffering. A 3:10hr run was really the last straw. While there was the joy of completing a Half Iron, there was also despair for everything that went wrong. I finished in 7:33 hrs and went back home with an injury that would stick with me for a longtime. My first reaction was ‘never again.’ I had decided that I was not cut-out for this distance and that I would not want to do a Half Iron again.
The only saving grace was that I had still completed it faster than that Ultra-Marathoner.