First Ironman Experience of a Triathlete.
A 3.8 km swim, 180 km cycle ride and 42.2 km run. Time: 16 hours.
The night before the race day I was very afraid, I put up three online alarms in my laptop and connected my mobile with a speaker system so that I won’t miss it. That night, I was extremely excited because in a matter of hours I won’t be the same Saurabh, I will be Ironman Saurabh. I was very absolute in my mind that I will do it and it will happen.
So with all the alarms in place I woke up at 3.30 am next morning. I had a light breakfast and made a few important calls to my friends and family members, as this was not that early in India (around 7-8 am). I readied all the things that I had to take to the starting line of the race and reached there on time. I checked my bike, adjusted the air pressure in the tires and double checked the bike tools that will be required in case of an emergency.
My mind was all set to do a great job. I was advised to “keep eating and go slow” by Kapil Dev Singh, IIT Delhi Alumni and fellow marathoner, and planned to follow it to a T. My background: I had only completed a half marathon till date and it was going to be my first full marathon. With a little twist. It has to be done after a ‘warm up’ of a 4 km swim and a 180 km bike ride.
So, I got ready in my wet suit and applied lubes at the extremities to avoid friction. I was excited in my heart but mentally, I was calm and I was ready to go. The good thing about the swimming leg this time was that they made it a rolling start where every participant can seed him/her self according to their respective probable swim timing. So it’s a really good move and helps to remove all the mess that happens in a mass start in an open water swim. There was one advice from the host who said that the anxiety remains only till the start and once you enter into the water, all of that vanishes away in seconds and that was what happened. In a matter of seconds, there were arms rolling all around and legs splashing water. In some time, I was comfortable in the water and making my way overtaking a few from the sides. My goggles were quite foggy and I was following the flow of the masses from the sideways and that’s why I ended up doing a 4.5 km swim instead of 3.86 km stipulated distance. Difficult times were when you have to take turns around buoys which happens to be a converging point and there was maximum chance to get hit by someone. There I got hit by a swimmer when his entire foot got pressed against my right eye and I got blinded for a few minutes before I tilted my head a bit to clear the water from my goggles. But anyhow I finished the swim leg in 1:34 hrs and came out quite confidently.
I did a quick transition and was up on the bike, for the longest and most treacherous leg of the race. I started with a good pace of 30 Kmph but I kept reminding myself to keep it slow. My plan was to finish with an average of 26-28 Kmph and I was going strong. Then, I started the windy section and I guess I wasn’t much prepared for it as there are no strong winds in Delhi, where I trained. I did not know how it feels to ride in strong winds and how much I should push myself. I decided to play safe. I kept reducing my pace and it was heart breaking to see people going past me in a leg which was supposed to be my strongest area. But I stuck to the thumb rule for my first race ‘keep eating and go slow’. The course was wonderful with beautiful scenery on both sides. Running parallel to the road was the coast line of the Baltic Sea for the first 112 km loop. For the people of Kalmar, this happens to be the biggest festival of the year for them and I guess around 50000 people were out on the road sides beside their farms with drums, and other musical instruments and were enthusiastically cheering all the participants passing by. You can’t miss the energy of the local people even if you are riding at the end of the pack. I always felt elated to see the aid stations which were set up at every 20 km distance and I used to pick half a banana or a power bar and an isotonic drink from the energetic volunteers. Winds were getting stronger with time. There were certain stretches where both sides of the road consisted of open fields and in this stretch, cross winds as well as head winds were taking their toll on riders. Then came the rain. It was good to get rain I guess, it was a pleasant feeling but it makes your body cooler and you need to conserve your body heat in such a cold weather. But the key thing is to stay determined and keep riding anyhow. I kept a calculation in my mind and I was good to go in that pace and was really keeping myself on back foot as I did not know how my body was going to react in the later stages of the race. So I kept going and soon I finished the bike leg in 7 hours and 20 minutes, surviving all the strong winds and rains, and a small trouble with my bike as my front driller was making some annoying noise the whole time.
There was some uneasiness in my stomach for the last 30 kms during the biking section and I started to think that my stomach was blocked but I wondered why it was so as I had taken proper care of my nutrition and hydration. But when I reached the transition area after finishing the bike leg, it was then that I got to know that it was not a stomach blockage, rather my bladder was full and it was shrieking to go and pee. When I did, I spent more than a minute standing there emptying it out. So yes I was happy that I didn’t mess up with my nutrition part.
Now was the running leg of the triathlon, and I was feeling all good in the transition area and happy to enter my final leg. I did a quick transition and started running. The best part of the running leg was that it has been organized with an excellent thought of making the route pass through the centre of the town 4 times, which was packed full of the enthusiastic crowd cheering for you in the whole run. So every time you passed the crowd you felt like a celebrity giving high fives to the kids standing on both sides of aisles. Rule to be followed in the run is to walk by every aid station which were positioned at every 2 kms and have an energy drink, potato chips, energy gels or bars. I was running at an average pace of 7 min/km. The biggest motivation for me came from the people of Kalmar who were surprised to see an Indian participating in that race and every time I passed them, they were shouting aloud “Go India Go” as my running jersey had ‘INDIA’ printed in the front in big bold letters. I was happy to finish 30 km and was waiting to hit the wall at 32 kms which is very common with every marathoner but I was surprised to not find it in my case. At the 36 km mark I started to feel a pain in my left knee. I was having a good enough time to complete it in 16 hrs so I took it easy and started a mix of brisk walk and easy run and my average pace fell to 8.5 min/km. Very soon it was the time to cherish the moment that I was training hard for, it was the time to run on the blue carpet. I stopped for few seconds, took out the Indian flag and a banner with my supporters names printed on it and started running. I was filled with joy and emotions. I was enjoying every bit of that moment which was exclusively for me. I finished the entire race in 14:37 hrs and crossing the finish line I felt so much of self-respect that cannot be explained. Then it was time to go for a cold or hot water bath, massage and stuffing yourself with pizza and food rich in calories. In the end I would just like to say- “stay motivated and keep motivating” is what I believe in.