by Abhishek Visal
I saw the Ironman 70.3 Goa poster in our Team Motiv8 group posted by our coach Atul Godbole, somewhere around the last week of November 2018. From that day a thought stuck in my mind that I know all three sports (at average level) then why not enroll for this race. I had been hearing about this race from many years but never ever imagined that one day I may get a chance to be a part of it.
I was a bit skeptical about this as till that time I had done hardly couple of half marathons. But after a week of intense thinking I shared my desire with coach Atul that I would like to register for this. He inquired about my experience / training in swimming and gave me a swim fitness gauge test. I practiced for 2-3 days to get my old swimming groove back and cleared it in first attempt. He advised me to go for another one after a gap of 1 week and I could again finish it in the stipulated time. Finally, he gave me a green signal to register for the race and the journey began.
I almost had 9-10 months for preparation. We started our swim sessions from last few days of December, or I may say last few chilly days of December 2018. Swimming was never a concern for me as I have been doing it since childhood. Also, running was also less of a concern area as training was going well under our coach since the last one year. But most crucial part for me was cycling as I had never ever spent so much of time on a cycle since many years now. I also had to manage my office timings to complete all assigned training sessions.
Gradually, after following systematic structured plans provided by coach, I felt like yes I think I can do this. But still “Delhi abhi bahot dur thi”. I got a small idea of OWS (Open water swimming) in our TRI-CAMP held near Kolhapur. That camp was one of the memorable events during this journey. I gained more confidence after the first time-trial we did in March (1500 meters swim, 40 km bike and 1 hour run). Overall, we did almost 5 time-trials during the entire training period (each with either increasing distance or time). Last one was notable for me as I covered my longest ride till date of 86 kms, which was a sign of relief for cycling part. I kept learning and gaining confidence with each successful trial. At the end of the training, I felt quite ready for the race.
We landed in Goa on Wednesday 16th Morning, a few days before the actual race day, to get acclimatized to the weather. We had also planned to explore bike route and do a few sea swimming sessions before the actual race. But from Wednesday to Saturday it was raining quite heavily from noon till late night, almost every day. We all were hoping and praying that this should not happen on race day. We still managed to do a few good sea swimming sessions on Thursday and Friday (mornings) along with brick sessions on actual course.
On Saturday morning, we had an official swim session arranged by the Ironman race organizers, that was really an eye opener because around 500 to 600 people were in water at the same time. That gave us a clear idea what was going to happen during race.
On Friday and Saturday there were few formalities to be completed like athlete check-in, bib collection, athlete briefing etc. The arrangement at the race venue and at expo venue was very good. On Saturday, we did bike inspection and mandatory bike check-in. We stacked our bikes at the venue (Miramar beach) and came back all excited about the D-day.
We reached the race venue at around 6.00 AM and did final bike checking in the transition area. As there was light shower around 4-5 AM which had affected the visibility in the sea and so flag off time was postponed to 7.30 AM from 7.00 AM. We got a chance to discuss few last minute strategies with coach.
We were standing in the waiting area and the sea look a bit rough & choppy as compared to what it was yesterday. But I decided to ignore all these thoughts and focus on my swim strategy. At 7.30 AM, the swim flagged off with a rolling start with 5 athletes let in the water every 5 seconds. I started it a 7:34 AM and my 8.30 hours countdown began.
When I entered the water all other thoughts vanished and I could only see the turning buoys and finish line of swim area. After just few meters of swimming a jelly fish stung me on shoulder but I anyway continued and done with my 1st loop of 950 meters in 23-24 mins which boosted my confidence and I completed my swimming in 47 mins.
Transition area was quite far from swim area so did comfortable jog till transition area. While entering the transition area I heard my name from our Motiv8 relay team members including coach and I got all geared up to start cycling.
My bike start was pretty good; I was on target till the 1st loop with speed of 25 kms per hour. I saw several cyclists fixing punctures on route and I was hoping that I don’t have to face that situation. In second loop I was able to maintain the same speed but somehow; I missed/neglected my hydration strategy. I did not predict that in the humid weather of Goa my usual hydration strategy (in Pune weather) might not work. After 65 kms on 3rd loop, I got a severe cramp in my left thigh and hamstring. I had to stop cycling and was literally sleeping on the road to release my cramps. Another Team Motiv8 athlete Radha saw me in that state and came to me asking what happened. She advised me few stretches and told me to take 2 salt tabs per 15-20 mins till the finish of 90 kms. I lost almost 10-15 mins in all this. I did the stretches and took 2 salt tabs but again after cycling for 4-5 kms I got another severe cramp in my left thigh.I followed the same thing (stretches, salt tabs) and I started my remaining distance and reached the bike dismount point from where we were supposed to walk with our bikes to the transition area. I took around 30 mins extra than my expected or I would say planned time for bike.
I parked my bike and was just lost for couple of minutes doing nothing but just struggling with the thought that I still have to run and I have already started to get cramps in my legs. This was a small setback for me even before the run started. I had never experienced such severe cramping in any of the time trials during training period. While starting the run I saw the clock showing 5.05 hrs.
I started with run-walk strategy keeping in mind that I have only 3 hrs to finish the run. I was keeping 15-20 mins as buffer time for any disastrous situation. At the start of the run I decided to think about one loop at a time. I convinced myself that let’s try to finish it one by one instead of thinking about whole distance. And that somehow worked I finished first loop successfully, without any cramping.
From 2nd loop I irritated almost 3 to 5 volunteers by asking “Kitna time hey…Kitna time hey” and all were like don’t worry you have enough time. In all that hustle I didn’t even spare our race director Deepak Raj. I saw him near Donna Paula circle on 2ndloop. I went to him and asked “Sir, kitna time bacha hey??” He smiled at me and asked me which loop. I said second loop. He looked at his watch and said you have 1 hour 30 mins more, so plan your run accordingly. Keeping that in mind I continued.
Finally at the mid of 3rd loop one volunteer friend hugged me and said you have 30-40 mins more and just 2 kms to go. From that point I started feeling confident and then ran continuously for next 2 kms. Before 300-400 meters of finish line all spectators were chanting my name or rather every participants name and giving best wishes for finishing in time. That feeling was awesome and unforgettable. And finally, I arrived on that red carpet,with finish line just 100 meters away. And guess what.. I again got a bad cramp in left calf and I had to stop on the side of red carpet. I saw the clock was showing 8.12 hours… I decided to take a minute release my cramp and then started running in full style on that IM logo red carpet towards finish line. I completed the whole race in 8.14 hours.
I was very happy finishing my first ever TRI tournament and that too the inaugural Ironman 70.3 edition of India.
The whole journey from registration to those final few meters of run has been an amazing experience for me. I learnt a lot. It also helped me to realize my capabilities. I know could have done this better but I am going to use this experience in all my future races. The most important learning for me was that anything can happen on race day. And you need to be strong (not just physically but also mentally) to tackle any situation.
I would like to thank these wonderful people from bottom of my heart, without them it was not possible. Our coach Atul Godbole, who believed in me and gave me thoughtful structured training and continuous support till the race ended. Our Motiv8 Tri team, – who have always been there during entire training period, all the discussions, all the fun during workouts, TRI camps etc., building strategies and knowledge sharing.
Considering this successful beginning, I hope to complete many more in the future.