Did I really finish Ironman 70.3? Wow. It still hasn’t sunk in yet. I keep pinching myself time and again to ensure that all this isn’t a dream.
A few years back I wouldn’t have imagined myself doing a triathlon. I was skeptical about open water swimming and had never sat on a road bike before. Running was my only claim to fame since I have been into this sport since 2012. However, whenever I would see those athletes in wetsuits jumping into the waves effortlessly during a triathlon race, I would often visualize and hope that I too would end up doing this someday.
When I landed in the Bay area in 2017, I decided to get out of my comfort zone and embrace some opportunities here. It was in August 2017 when I tried open water swimming at Cowell beach at Santa Cruz, California. I remember gasping and spluttering as the waters were freezing here. Despite wearing a wetsuit, I took a while to acclimatize and ended up doing my first sprint distance with my head above the water. After which I migrated to Olympic distances. It was during this time, I decided to go for the kill and attempt the half ironman distance.
1.9 km swim, 90 km cycling and 21 km running. The distances were daunting but somewhere I visualized myself doing this. My heart wanted that ironman title really bad yet my head warned me about the long and tumultuous journey ahead. It certainly wasn’t an easy one. With bouts of self-doubt, dip in self confidence levels, a phase of burn out in July 2018, I almost gave up my dream. Yet like O Henry’s story, ‘The last leaf’, I still clung on to that faint ray of hope that maybe I wasn’t that far from my dream. Before I knew it, I was attending triathlon training camps with Pacwest athletics team and open water swims with Team Asha. Both were a group of energetic bunch of people who pepped up my confidence levels and before I knew it, the D day was here.
Santa Cruz was just 45 minutes’ drive from where we resided. Reaching there on Friday afternoon, we checked into the ironman village which was right opposite our hotel. Collecting my bib, timing chip, t shirt, swim cap, I attended the athlete briefing where we were notified about the stringent cut off timings for each division. Nervousness began to seep in making me wonder whether I was jumping into a 70.3 too soon. This continued till race day morning even when I slipped my tri-suit on. “You will do great”, my hubby reassured me and so did a number of people who I met in the transition area. The journey was about to begin.
September 9th 2018
Swim: The swim cut off was 70 minutes. The 1.9 km swim was a rolling wave start which began at Cowell beach. It was a swim around the scenic wharf that was habituated by sea lions. Last year the organizers had to shorten the swim due to visibility issues. I hoped and prayed that the weather Gods were kind to us today. Clear skies and sunshine greeted us in the morning. As I stood in the 50-minute wave, I laughed and joked with people around me-a gregarious bunch who did not let the brand ironman bog them down. I was at complete ease when I entered the waters which were quite warm that morning. The challenging part of an open water swim was putting your head down and swimming. Unlike a pool, the inability to sight anything is quite daunting. So, I imagined watching some corals, fish and manta rays while I swam around the wharf. I faintly heard the sea lions barking, probably cheering for us. The volunteers on the rafts steered us in the right direction and before I knew it I had finished a strong swim in 59 minutes. I exited out of the water and ran on the sands blowing a quick kiss to my hubby and daughter, right into the transition area.
T1.: The hardest part from swim to bike transition is getting out of my wetsuit. Thankfully there were volunteers to help me with this and they yanked my wetsuit off. I ran to my bike, took off my swim cap and goggles, put on my helmet, gloves and shoes. Popping a Gu gel, I wheeled my bike to the mount area.
Bike: I mounted my bike and I set off to have the ride of my life. It was a beautiful course along the coast that overlooked the pristine blue pacific. I had a hard time tearing my eyes of the scenery and focused on the hilly route in front of me. 2000 feet elevation along with headwinds was no joke. I was losing steam and just had 4 hours and 20 minutes to meet the cut off time. Gulping down Gatorade, I pedaled hard and reached the halfway point at 45 km. “You need to go faster than you got here. Catch the tailwind and zoom ahead.” A volunteer told me. I grabbed a banana, gel and Gatorade at the aid station and put my best foot forward. I took advantage of the down hills and used that momentum uphill chanting Ganpati bappa Morya. A mantra that I use whenever I am on the bike during my triathlon events. I always end up praying to the elephant faced God to get me through the ride without any obstacle, say a flat tyre. When I reached the 80 km point, I knew I would be home in time as the last 10 km was a flat course. Like a person possessed I zoomed past some cyclists all the way to the transition. 4:03 wasn’t a bad time for a hilly course and I was comfortably within the cut off time. Tears of relief poured down my cheeks as I knew the rest of the race was within my control.
T2: I usually do not take more than a couple of minutes to transition from the bike to a run. Unfortunately, I had trouble locating my spot which cost me a good six minutes. I rushed out as soon as I could and had 3 hours 10 minutes to complete my half marathon.
Run: I had run this course earlier in March 2018 at the Santa Cruz half marathon and knew what to expect. One third of the course was on trails and the rest were inclines. Besides that, I had to battle the brutal heat. Fortunately, my years of running experience came in handy and I used the walk run method to ease my heart rate during the first few miles. I estimated a 2:45 finish and kept my pace accordingly. After 90 km cycling, your legs feel wobbly and every muscle in your body is screaming with pain. I kept going, taking the necessary gulps and gels at the aid stations which were located every 2 miles. Before I knew it, I just had one km to go before I crossed the finish line. It was a downhill and I crossed a lot of runners, paused a few metres from the finish line, grabbed the Indian flag and sprinted across the finish line.
I did it! I was officially Ironman 70.3!! A smiling volunteer garlanded the medal around me and I looked up and thanked God. A dream finally coming true! What a moment! I felt like doing a victory dance around the beach but all I could do was plonk myself on the volunteers’ chair and gulp down an entire bottle of water.
I was famished, tired yet exhilarated after being on my feet for 8 hours! A journey that had been a tumultuous one but worth every minute. I have miles to go before I sleep and milestones to cross before I depart from this world. As my hashtag says I am a triathlete for life and this is just the beginning…
A big thanks to my coach and mentor Viv without whom this would have been impossible, Pacwest athletics team for their training camps, Team Asha who helped me with my open water swim, Amit and Samara for being a huge support. All my friends back home who were more confident than I was about achieving this glorious title!