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A Regular Guy To Your Friendly Neighbourhood Ironman!

Protima Tiwary learns how Abhishek Avhad started as a regular guy and became an Ironman in just two years.

Abhishek Avhad gave himself a simple challenge in July 2016, a challenge that changed his entire life. Two years and an IronMan later, Abhishek talks all about it to the Finisher Magazine.

Your journey as a runner started only in 2016. What made you start?

I only started running in July 2016 because I was a football player in Junior College, and my smoking habit was ruining my fitness and game for me. I led a normal student life, complete with studies, sports and parties. I was also studying for my CA certification, which meant that my schedule demanded a lot out of me.

I still remember that time when I smoked an entire pack of cigarettes in an hour! I think that was the turning point for me. I woke up the next morning with my insides burning and decided to fix this by throwing away any remaining smokes that I might have lying around.

But of course, this was just the first step. I only took up running when I got my first job at one of the Big 4 accounting firms. A colleague who was a regular runner spoke about his love for running and suggested I give it a try too. Just out of curiosity, I agreed. He helped me chose a 10K race, set a target, and basically guided me towards my first race. I owe the start of my running journey to him.

How has life changed for you since then?

I have made more friends in the last 2 years of running, swimming and cycling than I did in my entire college life! I love the fitness fraternity because of the people that it attracts. It’s a positive space that inspires and empowers people to lead a fit lifestyle. So much has changed in my life in the last 2 years, but I guess the main change is in my spending habits. What I spent on parties is now being spent on nutrition and race entries.

As a runner, what is the one quality that defines you?

I’d say my enthusiasm stands out. If I am in a race I will push people to go hard, I will high-five every kid who’s out there to cheer for us. I will hand over my own nutrition if someone needs it more. I guess this is also why I love pacing the most.

Can you tell us about your best and worst races?

My worst race has to be the Ladakh Marathon, my first full marathon and also the first time I travelled to that altitude. I had just quit my job and was serving my notice period, because of which I landed 3 days before the race. I didn’t get much time to acclimatize. Breath-taking now made complete and literal sense as my lungs screamed for oxygen as I ran the full marathon. There were only 140 of us, so there were times when I was running alone and mental strength was needed more than ever. After the 30km mark, I got mild AMS (mountain sickness) and had to walk the remaining distance. My timing was over 7 hours. It was my first and only DNF. I learnt so much though- I learnt patience, the importance of mental strength and never to underestimate a race. It’s better to be over prepared and over cautious than to take it lightly. This was a 7 hour punishment for me that left me with valuable lessons for life.

My best race was no doubt the Ironman triathlon in Sweden. I loved the positivity and support that everyone showed at the race.

What pushed you to do the Ironman? What was the experience like? 

Ironman was never on my mind. I couldn’t even swim, and I had barely every cycled more than 20km at a stretch. But things changed for me when I heard of Milind Soman finishing the race in July 2015. That was when I had heard of Ironman for the first time, to be honest. I read more about it, and it stayed on my mind when I started running. 2 months into running and I decided one day I wanted to own that title too, I wanted to cross that red carpet.

With this thought, I participated in triathlons (completed 8 so far) rather than opting for pure marathons. Till date, my personal best marathon timings is in an Ironman.

The actual race can be extremely intimidating, I won’t deny that. It’s a task to swim with 2000 participants, all raring to cross you in the water. But the support and cheering is really empowering, and you find yourself smiling through all of it. The crowd support made this my favorite race till date.

You might not like endurance sports in general, but you will love race day at the Ironman! It’s an experience filled with adventure that will evolve you into a disciplined person.

They say consistency is key – but how do you build this consistent pace that they talk about?
There are no shortcuts. Consistency is built by showing up. A session missed is a day gone, and in the grander scheme of things, it matters. As far as training is concerned, add free weight workouts to build strength. Work on your core post a run, do upper body workouts after a swimming session and do the lower body exercises after cycling. You need to maintain a balance between endurance and strength training to ace the race.

No race is perfect. Any moment you’d like to share with us where you thought things were going downhill? How did you overcome that?

There will always be circumstances out of your control. It’s your choice how you wish to respond.

I remember during the Ironman I got cramps within the first 25minutes of the race. I was stranded in the middle of the Baltic Sea, with the first cramp I had got in a year! I had cramps in the first half an hour of a 16hr race, of course, I was concerned. But then the mind kicked in. I knew that salt eases cramping, so I took huge gulps of the sea water and carried on! That decision saved my race, and guess what? I also got a very good swim timing.

A marathon is a combination of mental and physical strength- any tips you’d like to share with us on how to stay strong during a race?

Physical training will prepare you only to a point, beyond which you need your mind to control your body. Focus on building your mental strength too! Do focus building exercises in your free time, or even at your workstation!

I stopped training with music. It might distract you from the pain during runs, but it doesn’t work the mind. Even in the Ironman, there is a clear rule stating no use of headphones throughout the race.

I also started doing training runs of 15 km in 800 metres loops on the street instead of running from place A to B. My 200 km rides were on a 7 km patch of road going round and round. Even my training swims were done in a small 25-meter crowded pool, taking turns every 30 seconds. It’s devastating mentally, but it sharpens the mind and makes the race day seem like a piece of cake.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m racing the Deccan Cliffhanger which is a 640 km ultra-cycle race between Pune and Goa, with a 32-hour cut-off. I also aim to qualify for Boston in 2020.

Apart from running, I plan to write a book for absolute beginner triathletes from a strictly Indian perspective, where I will talk about basics like getting started, buying your first bike, choosing a race, balancing your demanding work-life with your triathlon journey, etc. A prelude has already been in circulation and has received very promising reviews.

I also have a small triathlon group who I coach and have frequent meetings to talk about the sport in general. I would love to help people get into the sport and continue to be a participant throughout!

Follow him on Instagram herehttps://www.instagram.com/calves.of.steel/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

An Army kid who wishes to travel the world one wellness vacation at a time, Protima Tiwary is a freelance content writer by day and Dumbbells and Drama, a fitness blogger by night. High on love and life, she is mildly obsessed about travelling and to-do lists and loves her long gym sessions like a fat kid loves cake.

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A General, a gentleman and an Ironman

Vikram Dogra embodies the true spirit of an officer and a gentleman and Capt Seshadri looks at this next rung of achievement in becoming an ironman.

Father, aged 96, a former Northern India boxing champion of the 1930s, who still walks for fitness every single evening. Wife, who has successfully completed several half marathons over the past two years. Two fit and sporty sons who are now keen to become Ironmen. An inspiration that spans three generations, and in the process, creating the only Major General in any army in the world to successfully complete an Ironman, that too well inside the qualifying timings.

Vikram Dogra. An officer and a gentleman of the Indian Army, who embodies the joy of physical fitness, through the sporting activities of cycling, swimming and running. In his words: “The Ironman triathlon is the most gruelling one-day event in the world. It is a test of physical endurance and mental strength. In order to accomplish this, a person needs to be committed, focused, passionate and disciplined. It is a realization of the heights of what we can achieve when we push ourselves beyond our physical limits. The training and preparation include both mental and physical conditioning, though the former precedes the latter. Training needs include aerobic performance, body and core strengthening, flexibility and nutrition. You must remain focused and committed; so, finally anything is actually possible.”

Austria, a country more famous for its contribution to art and culture, was the venue for the Ironman event. Maj Gen Vikram, a virtual greenhorn, found himself both overawed and intimidated even before the start, right from the registration desk. Says he: “It was a cauldron of people of different ages and nationalities. There were experienced athletes who had participated in numerous Ironman events before.” On the morning of race day, the entire city of Klagenfurt seemed to have come alive. All of seventeen hours, the official time limit for completion, was filled with cheering supporters, egging on every single participant, irrespective of where he came from, with a carnival-like atmosphere, music and more.

The finish line was even more electrifying, with loud music, cheerleaders and people lining the streets, giving that final impetus to the finishers. Recalls Maj Gen Vikram: “The feeling was ecstatic when my wife and some friends who were waiting for me, shouted out my name. My wife handed me the national flag and I ran the last 200 metres proudly holding it aloft. My feelings were mixed, but the outstanding emotion was the pride at showing off my country, combined with satisfaction, relief, and humility. Adding to all this was the voice of the MC proclaiming: Vikram, you are an Ironman.”

Congratulatory messages poured in from family and friends. For him, it was a dream come true; a culmination of untiring effort and ceaseless toil, inexpressible in vocal terms. Talking about the rigorous preparation, Maj Gen Vikram elucidates: “Training and preparation include both mental and physical conditioning, though mental conditioning precedes the physical preparation. Thereafter, you need to be physically trained to complete the event within 17 hours. This took me the better part of two years. Initially, I focused on core strengthening and overall conditioning, building aerobic capacity and flexibility. It was only around four months earlier that I commenced specific Ironman training. I found that the three disciplines need both individual and sequential training to strengthen the different set of muscles needed for each. Diet, forming a very important part of training, had to cater for a daily intake of over 5,000 calories, comprising the right mix of proteins, carbs, and vitamins.”

As a soldier and a General, the demands of work could not be ignored, obviously with Ironman training eating in. On being asked about time management, Maj Gen Dogra responded: “Training for the Ironman had to be undertaken by me in the evening after I returned from work. I would typically run from 7 to 10 at night 2 to 3 times a week. Weekdays were utilised for swimming while weekends were reserved for cycling since that needed almost 6 to 7 hours to complete.” Secrecy was key here too, with none except family and close friends knowing of his training and participation. Which meant that there was no official time off to train, leaving him only after office hours at night, and on weekends.

Maj Gen Vikram Dogra sums up his extraordinary achievement thus: “I am indeed lucky to have a family that supported my eccentric training routine without once questioning my sanity. It goes to the credit of my wife, Supriya, that she tolerated my waking up at 1 am and going off to cycle on the expressway and returning at 8 am, or taking off after office to run 20 kms and coming home by 10 pm. I had stopped all socializing but she never once protested.”

Much to sacrifice indeed. Far beyond one’s call for duty to the country.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Online vs live coaching – which is better?

A lot of accomplished runners have opted for online coaching. But would that work for everyone? Radhika Meganathan speaks to trainer and marathoner RAGHUL TREKKER about its pros and cons.

If you had thought that ‘live’ is always better than ‘long distance’, think again! Raghul Trekker is in a unique position to speak about the advantages of online coaching, since not only he has a long distance coach who trains him from her home in South Africa, he himself is a long distance coach for over 70 runners spread across the world.

“I met my trainer Lucie Zelenkova, a prolific athlete, in Malaysia in 2015. Since then, she has designed my workout schedule which I follow every day,” says Raghul. They have weekly skype sessions, in which they exchange discussions about his goals and progress reports. His coach sends him regularly customised workouts and diet charts and is available for a call or a skype session I whenever he needs her advice.

After winning Ironman Sri Lanka and other races, Raghul started training aspiring runners. “The website I use is Training Peaks (https://www.trainingpeaks.com) which acts as a platform between users and trainers. The process is very simple. Each runner first has to talk to me by phone so that I understand their goals and expectations, and can make a decision whether I am the right trainer for them. Once I decide to take them on, they will have to create a profile and the training begins.”

Usually runners should have a goal to train for, say, Ironman or an upcoming marathon, because otherwise Raghul cannot draft a fitness schedule to help them become better than their current level. “You can be a newbie or a seasoned athlete, and you can come to me just for a season like 3 months or 6 months training (and many do, which is great, there is no hard and fast rule that you have to train forever!), but you cannot come to me blank. Have a vision and help me help you,” he says.

What are his tips for runners who want to look for the right online coach? “Look up for one who specialises in the event that you’d like to conquer,” says Raghul. “If you are aiming for a triathlon, go for coaches who have experience in that. Make sure your coach is going to design your training schedule specifically for you every week, based on your lifestyle and stats, rather than expecting you to fit yourself in some readymade and generic template. A good coach should be able to know you as a person, not just a runner, and design your workout accordingly.”

Raghul’s customised plans for his runners always include diets, mental preparation tips and terrain tips, among the usual workouts aimed at physical mastery. Some of the things he takes into consideration while designing workouts, are: Current fitness level, past fitness level, past achievements, time they have to commit to workouts every day, every week and their willingness to strive for tougher workouts on an escalating basis. “I log these data regularly, religiously, in every runner’s profile and keep track of their progress. This way, even if the runner has a break and comes back for more training after a few months, or even years, I don’t have any hiccups.”

So, for the million dollar question, what is his opinion about Live vs Long Distance?

“Live coaching can be exciting if you have found a good trainer in your locality, but it is restricted by geographical boundaries,” says Raghul. In live coaching, your trainer cannot be with you all the time, week after week, or oversee your stats and progress every day. Not all trainers are tech savvy and may have to rely on you to feed information and progress reports to them in a tricky verbal or handwritten format, which may or may not be always accurate. And not every town in the world is going to have a great trainer. But almost every town these days does have an internet connection.

“That way, I’d say online coaching is great because one, you get to train under some truly exceptional athletes in the world even if they don’t live in your neck of the woods, and that can be a tremendous confidence booster, not mention a rare and fantastic opportunity. Two, all the stats are recorded, updated and stored online in each runner’s profile and I will have that information in my finger tips to help my students without having to rely on memory or having to start from scratch,” Raghul delivers the verdict.

If you’d like to be trained by Raghul, you can contact him through the website of his fitness studio, TRI CRASH ‘n’ BURN, at http://www.tricrashnburn.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Radhika Meganathan is a published author who is an advocate for healthy living, she practices sugar-free intermittent fasting, all-terrain rambling and weight training.

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Ironman Times Ten

Laura Knoblach, took the Ironman and multiplied it by ten to become the Iron woman in a man’s world, writes Capt Seshadri.

The Ironman is one of the toughest endurance races in the world. While many such competitions are held across the globe, the Ironman World Championship, often acknowledged as the culmination of all of these, is held in the picturesque island of Hawaii, more associated with sand and surfing than endurance events. The course comprises a Waikiki Roughwater swim of 3.86 km, the Around Oahu bicycle race of 185.07 km and the Honolulu Marathon.

Since 1997, athletes with disabilities were allowed to compete in a separate category; however, the cut off times for them were no different from the so called, able bodied competitors. John Maclean of Australia, became the first physically challenged athlete to successfully complete the event.

The Deca Ironman

The Ironman, however, is not the final test of endurance. Introducing the ‘Deca Ironman’! This unbelievably tough and taxing event is meant for a very niche few of master athletes, with extraordinary physical fitness and mental stamina to even consider competing. Here, participants complete the length of ten back to back Ironmans. Obviously, it takes weeks, with each leg being ten times longer than the normal. That constitutes 38.4 km of swimming, 1,792 km of biking and 419.2 km of running.

Here then, is the story of a woman, who rewrote the history books of the Deca. Laura Knoblach, all of 22 years, had already gained lots of experience in marathons and even double and triple Ironmans. But these distance runs and tests of endurance still left her dissatisfied at being unable to realise her potential and her dreams. Urged on by a friend, and realising a ‘beast’ within herself, Laura signed up for that ultimate test of endurance, the Deca Ironman.

Knoblach’s Challenge

Swimming was the first event. It was not just the distance but the ennui of swimming 750 laps of a 50 metre pool. While the specified time was 25 hours, Laura completed it in 19. At the end of it, she didn’t even have the energy to dress or change, almost passing out in the shower. A few hours of rest and it was time to start the biking leg. This was another set of loops, 200 of them over an 8.8km course. It was a nightmarish ordeal of 270 km a day. Often, while cycling at night, Laura would see ghosts… of trees appearing like people out of the darkness.

Now, Laura the endurance athlete, had always been better at biking, so she attempted to finish her forte as quickly as possible before the ten marathons. That was to be another hallucinating effort, having to run 330 laps over a short 1.25 km loops. Boredom and tiredness at its worst! For the first two days, Laura just walked. From Day 3, she began to run. Finally, after 320 hours, 40 minutes and 30 seconds, a thoroughly exhausted by deliriously happy Laura, crossed the finish line of the Ironman Ten, making history as the youngest to complete this ultimate test of human endurance. And in the process, breaking the US women’s record by over 13 hours.

During the entire stretch, she hardly had six hours of sleep a day. Food and drink were almost a continuous process along the journey. But this unstoppable Iron Lady just couldn’t halt herself. Laura Knoblach spent the next six days biking along the far side of the Rhine, simply to satisfy her curiosity as a tourist!

If there is one thing she proved, it is this: there are no limits to your endurance. When the body says no, let the mind take over.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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From Dawn to Dusk

Neville J Bilimoria, athlete extraordinaire and founder of Dawn2Dusk marathon, who recently received “PRIDE OF INDIA” Award from ECL Narasimham, the Governor of Telengana and Andhra Pradesh, speaks to Radhika Meganathan.

“It was an honour to receive the Pride of India award along with 21 other sports personalities including Arjuna Awardees, during the inauguration of Indian Institute of Sports Medicine,” Neville says, who has completed 57 marathons in 7 years with the Tata Mumbai Marathon 2018. His brain child Dawn2Dusk is very popular in Chennai and offers an exciting opportunity for amateur and experienced athletes to train, compete and win.

A national champion in rowing and the only Indian athlete attempting the Chennai-Vijayawada-Chennai race for the 4th time, Neville cites rowing as the foundation for his passion for endurance sports. He cycles every morning from Madhya Kailash area up to ECR toll booth. His running ground is the Adyar boat area, as it offers him the peace and quiet he needs. He mixes up his training with yoga every day as he feels that stretches are most important.  He trains himself.

“If you are disciplined and have clear goals you can be your own trainer. The beauty of training in endurance sports like cycling or running is that you don’t really need to financially invest in it continuously,” he opines. “If your focus is complete, you will automatically take the pains to keep you updated in what’s needed for you to keep your body in optimum condition. This way, you become the inspiration for everyone around you, including strangers.”

Neville does not eat any special diet but has only one rule that he follows diligently when it comes to food – not to overeat during the days he does not train. “It’s easy to overeat during endurance training, and you don’t want that because it interferes with your performance. That’s why it’s important to hydrate well before any training,” he says. “I make sure I drink up to 3-4 litres of water every day. If your body is well hydrated, it will have no space to overeat!”

While many know Neville as an avid marathoner and founder of Dawn2Dusk, few are aware that he is a senior partner and managing director at an organization that provides immigration services to Indians wanting to move or work abroad. We ask him how he manages to balance a challenging full-time career and a training routine that demands him to be consistent, and he answers: “Time management, pure and simple.”

That’s his first and foremost advice for young and mature beginners who want to take up endurance sports like running or cycling. “You must have good time management skills if you want to train in any passion, be it sports or any other discipline, otherwise life has a way of interfering in your plans and swallowing it all up!” he says. “Here’s a tip – pretend that each minute of your time is money, then you will be pushed to spending it wisely on the right stuff.”

Apart from local and national events, Neville participates in one international race every year, and has been supported by Vummidi Bangaru Jewellers, as the Endurance Ultra athlete for running and cycling. “In addition to organizing organizes the D2D Chennai Marathon, I also take part in the race, running 6 hours and cycling 6 hours. Dawn2Dusk donates its proceeds to a different charity every year and in 2018, the proceeds from the marathon will be donated to the children’s wing at the Adyar Cancer Institute,” he informs.

When asked about the injury risks an athlete faces, he said: “Truth is, any sport has its own risk, sometimes it’s external factors, sometimes your own body may betray you. But if you want to conquer a sport, you just have to do it, without worrying about the risks. Let’s not forget, you can get injured while training in the safety of your home! Just take the usual precautions while training and participating in any sport and live life to your fullest potential.”

While he encourages everyone to take up a sport as a secondary passion in their lives, Neville believes women are more focused and strong in their pursuits. “From what I have seen while mentoring and training young athletes, women certainly aim higher, work as hard and achieve more when it comes to targets,” he says. Who is your best supporter, we ask and Neville answers in a grateful manner. “My best supporter is and always has been my wife. Without her help, I wouldn’t have had the bandwidth to indulge in my passion for sports.”

Neville mentors young and aspiring athletes, and he can be contacted through his website http://nevilleendeavours.com and http://d2dchennaimarathon.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Radhika Meganathan is a published author who is an advocate for healthy living, she practices sugar-free intermittent fasting, all-terrain rambling and weight training.

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