Deepak Raj talks to Deepthi Velkur about his journey toiling through to become an ironman and discovering the limitless possibilities of human endurance in this two-part story.
The start of something new.
How often have we heard this narrative – “Busy corporate life. Unhealthy lifestyle”. Well, it’s exactly what happened with Deepak Raj. An IT professional from Bangalore, Deepak’s work life got in the way of him trying to stay healthy and his weight ballooned to 95+ kilos.
The stirring of a change took flight when Deepak who was based out of Germany at the time noticed how the locals led an active, healthy life and he decided he needed to do something too. Over the 4 years, he spent there, he slowly made a change starting with signing up to learn skating. After a while of skating, Deepak thought about the possibilities of running and very quickly signed up for the 2002 Berlin marathon (his first running event), “I remember completing the race in 4 hrs 58 min”, recalls Deepak.
Making a mark.
After Berlin, Deepak caught the running bug and he just kept on running. He participated in several marathons before he attempted the mini-sprint triathlons (Swim – 400M, Bike – 20K and Run – 5K). When asked if the transition to triathlons came naturally to him, he says” Transitioning to triathlons in terms of stepping up training, principles and mental challenges was relatively easier but the physical demands of training, additional training time needed and focus on nutrition and rest was something I had to consider. Given I had only some running background, it was a hard transition to take up the other 2 elements of Triathlon – Swimming, and Cycling”.
One area that Deepak had to work on significantly was swimming. It was not an easy skill to acquire and gain conditioning in. It was so hard that Deepak decided to go back to running until one day he saw the IRONMAN race on ESPN and he thought to himself “It seemed like a good challenge to take up in terms of stepping up from the marathon events and also a reason to get better at swimming. I felt that if I trained and raced the IRONMAN, I thought it would make me a good swimmer which I later realised was not that simple”.
Ever since he saw that race on the TV, Deepak’s interest in triathlons was up again and he set himself a goal – to finish the IRONMAN someday. In pursuit of this, the first steps he took were to get better at the swim and cycling leg since he already had some experience with running. The next step for Deepak was to complete a Half IRONMAN within a certain time frame that gives him the chance to register for the full IRONMAN event. It was in 2008 that he qualified for his first IRONMAN and successfully completed the race in 15 hours 52 minutes and 38 seconds. Speaking about the race he says, “I came within a minute and a half to missing the swim cut off times with me being the last person out of the water. It was indeed a long day but got it done and it provided me with more motivation and determination to work harder in future races”.
Living the IRONMAN life.
Participating in an IRONMAN can be tough and challenging both mentally and physically. Deepak having trained on his own for the first few races, quickly realised that he needed to improve his training methods and needed the assistance of a trained coach. Under the guidance of his coach, he participated in a few more triathlons and running events and with every race learnt a lot and continues to do so even now. According to him the key things that he worked on to better himself with every event apart from finding a coach was “Work harder on nutrition so that I could train well, increased focus on form and technique in addition to the volume of workouts, taking more care of my rest and recovery so that I could be ready for the training demands and balancing work and family time with training time”.
After having participated in triathlons for 5 to 6 years, he began to enjoy the lifestyle and the challenges that came with IRONMAN Triathlon but at the same time, was unable to strike a work-life balance and dedicate sufficient time for triathlon training. “I had stagnated with my athletic performance and not progressing towards my triathlon goals given the demands of time for work and family”, says Deepak.
Triathlon had become such an integral part of his life that it only got tougher to make time for the sport he truly loved. The time had come to take a leap and take some tough decisions to change careers and go after something that he was so passionate about. To this he says, “I did not have enough time in the day to support all 3 and had to choose 2 between work, family, and triathlon. I chose to quit my professional IT career and make triathlon my work”.
Starting a new life.
Deepak was being trained by a coach in Australia and during his stay there he decided to get himself certified as an IRONMAN coach. His aim was to start coaching and develop the sport back in India and to be able to achieve this dream, he started his venture called “Tri A New Life” in 2013. “I wanted to develop the sport of Triathlon in India and earn a living along the way as a triathlon coach. IRONMAN was not yet popular in 2013 in India but was slowly gaining interest. Over the period, the interest in the sport and number of people gradually increased and started training people through the online model”.
On asking why he chose to go with online coaching he says, “I chose to use the online medium as that was the only way to reach the small group of people who were active in triathlon but spread out in various cities in India. Though I was the first coach in India to start and launch a structured training program, the response was mixed with a few people signing up and some people not convinced with the online model.”
Subsequently in 2016, Deepak and his close friend, RudraPrasad Nanjundappa came together to start Yoska(www.yoska.in), a fitness technology company.
Since its inception, team Yoska has worked hard to build the sport and also support the community of triathletes in India. Yoska has coached over 500 + people from India and across the globe in taking their first step towards triathlons, turning couch potatoes into runners, cyclists, half and full marathon podium finishers, Half IRONMAN and IRONMAN finishers. Over time, they had also refined their online training model and eventually built their own platform and mobile app that now has been widely accepted across the country and used by several other coaches in India as well.
To read the concluding part of this amazing journey, click here.