In conversation with Dr Leena Baldwa who shares her story about how she went from playing different sports to running and eventually completing the IRONMAN.
Sports came naturally to Dr Leena Baldwa – from dribbling a basketball at 3rd grade to representing the state in 6 different sports at 7th grade to national-level basketball and handball by 9th grade, she has done it all.
But, as it happens with most of us, Dr Leena had to take a break when she got to high school. She topped the Maharashtra 12th boards and got herself an MBBS seat at Seth GS Medical College and KEM Hospital, Mumbai. She moved to Jaipur to do her masters in Gynaecology & Obstetrics and continues to live there with nearly 20 years of clinical experience.
A life-changing moment
Amidst the din of daily life, Dr Leena yearned to go back to basketball or handball but finding the right team eluded her. To make up for it, Dr Leena decided to start running on a treadmill for general fitness but all that changed when she met an old friend in 2014.
Dr. Leena couldn’t fathom how her friend who was never into sports ran 21.1KM without a problem. She had a eureka moment and wondered, “if she can do it, so can I”. She then joined a group of runners and started training with them. Looking back at her training plan then, Leena says, “During my initial days of running I had few friends who guided me and did a lot of training runs with me. Frankly speaking, I didn’t even know that professional coaching existed for this”.
Later that year, she signed up for her 1st HM (ADHM 2014) and describing her experience, she recalls, “I went well trained for the run. Like always, as this was my first event, the only motto was to go out and enjoy and finish the race with a smile and within the cut off time. I did exactly that and also remember running that race with a smile and being grateful that I was able to do what I had dreamt of”. Since that 1st race, she has done countless HMs, FMs, 50K Ultra and a couple of 100KM, 200KM cycling events too.
Catching the Tri-bug
Dr Leena wanted to diversify from running marathons to attempting triathlons and her interest was piqued when a few of her friends registered for the Goa Olympic distance triathlon (1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10k run). At this point, Dr Leena found the idea insane but listening to her friends’ stories got her excited. With the New Delhi triathlon in sight, she trained and registered for the Olympic distance triathlon in 2016. It was an exhilarating experience for her when she got a podium finish. Needless to say, she was hooked. Recalling her thoughts at the starting line, she says, “I was standing like a noob at the start line with a borrowed cycle. I was so delighted to finish with a podium in my first ever attempt as a triathlete. I was ecstatic to be called a Triathlete. The tri bug had bitten”.
With the bug taking hold, Leena wanted more and she wanted to complete the Ironman 70.3. Along with the help of a friend, she soon learned to swim in open waters, ride a roadie with cleats amongst other things. In 2017, she registered for her 1st Ironman 70.3 in Australia. Speaking of how she performed at the event, she says “The race was very enjoyable and exciting. After collecting the finishers medal I decided to come back to the same course in 2018 to do the Ironman 140.6”.
Chasing the Ironman dream
The Ironman 140.6 is a mammoth challenge and Dr.Leena soon realized that she needed a professional triathlon coach. A friend introduced her to Deepak Raj (20-time Ironman finisher and an online triathlon coach at Yoska). Recalling her 1st meeting with Deepak, she says, “I gave him a brief background about myself and he was so convincingly sure that I could complete an Ironman 140.6. That communication was enough of a boost for me to register for my first full Ironman at Western Australia.”.
She signed up for the online coaching at Yoska and talking of her training plan, she says, “I trained for 6 days and kept Monday’s off for recovery. It was 10 -16 hours per week with 2-3 hours on weekdays and 4-6 hours on weekends. Being a medical practitioner and a mother of 2 boys limited my time for training. I had to at times start training as early as 1 am to get the workouts done. There were days when I didn’t feel like waking up early, days when my body was sore from previous workouts, days when I didn’t have enough motivation, days when I doubted my capabilities but in spite of all that I would show up, no matter what. This is the mental training that one needs to sustain such long endurance races. And most importantly you need the complete support of your family to achieve this”.
Talking about joining Yoska and training with Deepak, she says, “His workouts were amazingly structured and tailored according to my strengths and weaknesses. Every workout had a detailed plan about how to do the workout. Apart from this, the plan also included strength training, nutrition, rest and recovery, learning to fix punctures, change tubes, assembling and dissembling a cycle and efficient transitions between disciplines. There would be a weekly summary of my workouts basis which my next week’s workout would be decided. The entire process was so hassle-free and it was absolutely enjoyable. I liked his weekly trainer cycling workouts as well. There were days when I would feel like a superhero and days when I would feel so low thinking why did I get into a mess like this. But my coaches at Yoska never ever doubted my capabilities”.
Siddhant Chauhan (coach she trained under at Yoska) did a pre-race day dry run before the event and that gave her a fair bit of confidence. Describing race day, she says, “My only motto was to go and enjoy the race and finish it within the cut off time of 17 hours. I always feel if you enjoy your first race, you look forward to doing many more. My race day turned out to be great. Although I had a challenging time during the swim, I enjoyed my cycling and running, feeling grateful every minute to be able to actually do an IRONMAN. The nutritional plan given by my coach was spot-on and I crossed the finish line without a limp and holding the tricolour flying high in your hands is a feeling I can’t put in words. Leena Baldwa from India “you are an Ironman “are those magical words that fill my heart with pride. I was in awe of what my mind and body had achieved. I was extremely happy to be the first woman from Rajasthan to be an Ironman and set the trend for other women to follow suit. I’m also the first woman Medical Practitioner from India to technically complete all the 140.6 miles in an Ironman event”.