The beginning of a journey

I have never been a couch potato to be honest. I have always been into some kind of sports or another since childhood thanks to my mother- she was always encouraging. She has been a single mum for close to 15 years now. I was playing basketball because of my height during my post-graduation. In fact, I always thought I would pursue a career in basketball though it wasn't as popular a sport as cricket is, even now for that matter. It was during this time that I was playing in a tournament and I tore a ligament. There were no sports after that, because I didn't rehabilitate myself properly. I became frustrated that I was not able to play basketball and that I was simply watching basketball.

Subsequently, I started working in call centres and that's how life moved on. But always, I had felt really bad about sitting indoors all the time- I badly wanted to go outdoors and play sports again. One of my friends introduced me to a club in Chennai- a famous club called the Chennai Trekking Club.

Chennai Trekking Club

Chennai Trekking Club had various running events such as ‘Couch to Five Days,’ 5 by 5 (5 days, 5 km), and 10 by 10 (10 days, 10 km). Personally, I wouldn't suggest running 10 days continuously when you are just starting out. When a half marathon happened, I said to myself, “Ok, let me also try this.” I was in the NCC (National Cadet Corps) in college where we use to carry rifles and run, so I thought I had the endurance required. When I started running, I found myself walking very often- I was even crawling at various points! A lot of people were crossing me and here I was thinking I was a sports person! It took me 2 hours and 45 minutes for a half marathon and I realised this was definitely not right.

Then I started formally training- this was back in 2012. In 2006 I got the injury and for six years I wasn't doing much. I am from Chennai, so I did do some trekking in 2011 exploring the Eastern and Western Ghats. Then I started training for the runs. I liked the way everybody came together during the training sessions. I started with 5 by 5, and gradually, I even started organising runs.

In the first event I organised, only one person showed up! We posted selfies on social media (which were a rage at the time) and people got encouraged by that! Soon, others followed. After running for 2 years, by 2014, I improved my timing to less than 2 hours. Soon as I was down to one hour 45 minutes, I started the half marathon.

Chennai Trekking Club also introduced me to triathlons. A triathlon is still not a very popular sport, but it is coming up and it struck a chord in my brain. I was excited about the thought of three events back to back. I registered for my first triathlon, which was Olympic distance. When I was a kid, I used to jump over walls and swim a lot, so I thought I could swim 1500m at the first triathlon easily. But it took me almost 2 hours to complete 1500m of swimming! Swimming is very tough and it's very technical. Then cycling and running immediately after cycling was more challenging so after a certain limit, endurance is all about challenging yourself. It is never a competition with another person - it is a challenge within yourself.

I soon started picking triathlons in Chennai. In fact, our club was the first one to organise the full Ironman Triathlon distance. I wanted to do an Ironman but I had to shift to Gurugram for my job. In the first six months, I was totally depressed because I was leaving my fitness community in Chennai. In fact, even before I got my offer letter I registered for Airtel Delhi half marathon!

Moving to Gurugram

Soon as I moved here, I spent the first six months training on my own. It was only a while later when I realised there are so many running groups here. One day on my usual run, I ran into one of Coach’s (Ravinder Singh) friends. He asked me to join their running group in DLF Phase II. I was staying in DLF Phase III, so it was very close and that’s how I started running with them.

Endurance sports can sometimes get very lonely, because you are on your own. Of course the training you do collectively, but at the event you are by yourself so a lot of things go through your mind. That is what keeps people going because you cannot get those kind of thoughts in a meeting room or within the corporate world. I now work for British Telecom - I am a finance manager I have 30 people in my team. But most of my ideas come when I am running - that's when my mind is fresh.

Triathlons and the Ironman in Malaysia

I subsequently registered for the Half Ironman in Malaysia – the 70.3. The Ironman is a trademark event that does not happen in India. The event was to take place on an island called Putrajaya. For that, I chose some economical practice events. You see nowadays, running has become not only a sport but also an event management business! So I chose coaches events for my training which are far more economical!

Unlike other sports, triathlons involve three disciplines- swimming, cycling and running, so nobody has ever become an Ironman by chance. It requires a lot of discipline, and a structured training and hydration plan. A friend of mine helped me with a training plan which I further customised, so that I could spend money very conservatively.

In Putrajaya, I was able to finish in 6 hours and 25 minutes, with the cut off time being 8 and a half hours. Now, I wanted to do the full distance - that was the dream for all of us practicing for triathlons.

My advice for runners and triathletes

In triathlons, besides the three disciplines, there is also a fourth discipline, which is nutrition. In any endurance sport for that matter, the first 15 minutes you don't burn any calories but your body gets heated up. After 30 minutes is when you are actually burning calories. This is my personal experience which I am sharing - till 30 minutes you can survive on water but after that, your body begins losing calories and salts- potassium, sodium and magnesium. That's why doctors also advise diabetic patients for walking more than 15 minutes. I've never learnt biomechanics or about nutrition and health in my school or college, but in the last three years I've learnt so much! I advise people on how much they’ve burn and how much they'll need for triathlons.

My most critical advice is that one needs proper nutrition. If it is a run, I can carry water but I need more than water for triathlons. You have to take in calories but while running your heart rate is too high which means that you cannot take solids. So you have to take in calories from liquids. So we take something called ‘gels.’ We also carry energy drinks which have a certain number of calories - I literally count my calories as I take them!

Going the distance

In 2017, I finally registered for the full distance Ironman in Malaysia. Around 22 of us went from India in both categories - the half and full distance. 13 of us successfully completed the full distance and the remaining completed the half distance. I had always wondered how people managed to fall during these events, but I learned the hard way in Malaysia! I was cycling and there were a lot of locals there who had come to support us. I was looking at the excited kids, when I tripped over a small pebble and fell over. I was hurt and bruised but my cycle was still working. I said to myself, “I have come all the way here, spends lacs on this so I am not going back without finishing!” So I got back onto my cycle and successfully finished. When my mum saw me bleeding, like every typical mum she started crying! She was there in Malaysia supporting me so that was my most memorable moment - crossing the finish line seeing your mum!

My mother the runner!

My mother is 65 now and becoming a celebrity in Gurugram!  She is diabetic and the doctor had told her to walk every day. She got excited last year when I had registered for a marathon in Mukteshwar as practice for Malaysia. I took her long and she asked me to register her as well! She walked and ran in Mukteshwar and actually completed the event. I was worried about her but she said she was feeling fine, and that there was no pollution and she was feeling so happy.

Then I registered her for the 5 km Pinkathon but she got dehydrated as there was a lot of heat in September. But she still completed it, and wanted to do even more but I had to ask her to take it easy- she is the only person that I have with me now!

My mum is now able to control high sugar levels. Earlier, she used to take a lot of diabetes tablets, but in the so last one-and-half-years, we’ve completely stopped all the tablets. Her sugar is under control now and we’re using homeopathic medicine which works better for her. She is generally active and does a lot of work at home. It's only in the last seven years that she has started using the refrigerator or a grinder - earlier she used to do everything by hand!

Recently at an event in Gurugram, my mother came first in her age category (62-65 years). I bought her running clothes in which she used to practice but for the event she told me, “I'll wear a saree!” Coach had once also organised a special ‘saree run!’

The importance of hydration

After Ironman I am not doing any big event because I know my body will not take it. I have been underweight for most of my life – and still am. So my body takes a longer time to recover from events. I’ve learnt my lesson after the basketball injury that you need time to rehabilitate properly. You need to start learning about good hydration. People think that just plain water would do, but it's not just water that goes out your body- it’s also essential salts. There is a lot of sodium and potassium that you will lose out your body, especially when you are sweating. Even in swimming you actually sweat, it's just that you don't feel it because you’re in water.

I tried Zico at the Tata Mumbai Marathon Expo in Mumbai. In Chennai there are a lot of nariyal walas! Growing up, we used to climb up trees and take out coconuts, but after moving here, I realised that coconuts were actually quite costly! At my home I would get it for free just climbing a tree! Coconut water is a natural electrolyte that you will get in India and it doesn't leave you with dry mouth. Gels tend to leave your mouth very dry. My mum also tried Zico and liked it. Sometimes coconut water can also be very sweet, but Zico is perfect because it has no sugar and typically gives you essential salts. Plus you can't run with a coconut in your hand!

In my hydration plan, I would take half of a 250ml Terra Pak of Zico after 30 minutes, and the other half after another 10 -15 minutes. In a triathlon, you would want more electrolytes in your body irrespective of whether it's a cold or hot weather triathlon. If you ask me personally, triathletes would prefer such a drink especially if it came in a large bottle. Since you cannot carry a Tetra Pak, they would look at filling their bottles with it. Also, we always prefer liquids without sugar because sugar leaves you wanting more water. Some people also start feeling nauseous with sugar.

My advice for people recovering from an injury is not doing too much too soon. It's never a competition with another person - it's within yourself. Your body is different from the next person’s. Now on, I am never going to do a full distance triathlon, and only focus on doing the short distance with more intensity and improve my timing. My body is taking is taking time to recover after the Ironman - it typically takes around 3 months to recover. If I do anything in between I end up with injuries or cramps and other things. Another tip for runners is before you start your run on a daily basis –say - 15 minutes ahead of it, is to take at least 300ml of water to get your body hydrated and carry a water bottle with you all the time.

The road ahead

My five year plan? Among other things - I am also looking to get married! Also, next year I am planning to do another 70.3 in Colombo, so currently I am choosing practice events which are a little bit more economical and suitable for the weather conditions India. Though I must say, I still love the humid weather of Chennai. When I start running, I want to sweat and in Delhi-NCR it doesn't happen in the winters even after 20 km! Colombo has more humid weather. I also want to improve my timings in short distance runs- I want to run 5 kms in less than 20 minutes and 10 kms in less than 40.

When I moved here, I didn't know the language much and didn't know the people and culture. After about six months I started socializing with the running community and now if I look back, I can confidently say that I never struggled in North India. Now it's tough for me to move back to Chennai - it's not just the work it's this running community which has become like a family to me. We celebrate birthdays together, they know about my family more than anyone else and I know about theirs. So I am in a dilemma at the moment! Though my girlfriend says settling in Delhi-NCR would be quite costly, but for me, at the end of the day life is all about making memories, not money.