Triathlete Akshay Samel speaks to Protima Tiwary about his love for triathlons and his passion for flying and finding time for both.
From learning the most from bad races to running marathons as a hobby while learning to balance a hectic professional life as a pilot, Akshay Samel’s life is full of moments that inspire all those who know him. We caught up with him in between his flying schedule for a quick chat. Excerpts from the interview:
What made you take up running?
I had always been an active child and enjoyed my childhood playing games in the neighbourhood. I was not the boy you’d find busy with videogames; weekends and summer vacations were spent in fields playing a sport. I am not a professional sportsman, in fact professionally I am a pilot. I only run as a hobby and took it up as a means of getting fit.
It was 2005 when I went to watch the Mumbai Marathon, and it is the spirit of this beautiful event that inspired me to take part in the 7km Dream Run in 2006 in the same marathon. It was during this run that I decided to try for a half marathon someday, once I got the time to train for it.
It took me 3 years to make the dream of a half marathon come true (there was a delay as I waited for my Indian Pilots Licence to arrive first) In 2010 I ran my first half marathon. It’s easy to get addicted to the high you feel after running with a community so supportive and enthusiastic about fitness. There was no looking back for me, I signed up for a full marathon soon after and that’s how it all started.
How do you manage to balance your flying schedule with your running schedule?
That truly is a difficult part. When you have a job with an erratic schedule, it does become difficult to plan ahead. Your sleep patterns are also affected by the flying times, and it requires a truckload of willpower to keep going. Thankfully, over the years I have aced self-motivation to stay on track. My biggest motivation to keep going is to challenge myself to see an improvement in each race.
I face a huge challenge when it comes to recovery. Flying means I am working at 7000ft, with dry air and less oxygen, and different pressure cycles. I use compression calves sleeves when flying, and most importantly I have learnt not to be too hard on myself. I don’t chase missed workouts. I listen to my body and give it enough rest till I feel I am ready to bounce back.
What is your training schedule like?
I don’t really have a schedule unless there is a race that I need to train for. When I train, I believe in quality over quantity. I try to fit in 3 high-intensity workouts of each discipline, but it all depends on the availability of the bike/pool, another reason it gets difficult to follow a training schedule. I swim, I run and I do some high-intensity indoor bike rides to stay on track.
I have trained with a coach once, and I went from a 4hr marathon to 3:31 in 2 years and from a 1:45 half marathon to 1:33.
Was Ironman always the plan?
Ironman 70.3 in 2013 (Taiwan) happened purely because of “peer pressure” for lack of a better term, as a couple of us signed up for this race together. The next couple of years were the same as we signed up to enjoy the thrill of the race. There was no structured training plan. In 2016 5 of us decided to register for the Ironman Kalmar (2016) I was a little nervous about this one, especially about cycling for 180km, and thus concentrated on training on the bike.
Ironman happened because of the thrill and joy that our group shared; we enjoyed training together, sharing and executing workouts and encouraging each other to give it our best. We even shared our fears and low points. We all ended up inspiring each other, and that is the best part about the fitness family. It is such an inspirational squad!
What’s been your best race till date?
It has got to be the Ironman Copenhagen. I hadn’t trained for it the way I would have loved to, but I felt strong throughout and enjoyed it even through the pain. The time I took to complete it was 11:03!
What do you feel about bad races?
I think you learn more from your bad races than you do from the good ones. Good races show you that your training was good, but it is the bad races that show you how much more is needed in terms of training as well as your diet. 2 of my biggest learnings from bad races would be –
- Rest is important! Your body will tell you when it needs a pause, do not overdo it.
- Quality of training is always better than the quantity of training.
How do you keep yourself going during the long races?
I have learnt to motivate myself, and I realised I am quite strong headed that way. Over the years I have learnt to break my marathon into parts, like smaller goals that all help you reach the bigger goal (in this case, the finish line)
How do you maintain a pace?
For me, training a couple of times a week at a faster pace than my set goal pace helps build endurance. Consistent training will help in setting your goal pace and then maintaining it.
Also, you can’t randomly choose a pace, you need a coach to show you how to do it. Because running on an arbitrary pace that you thought was right will only have you undershoot or overshoot your capability.
What do you like most about triathlons?
Triathlon is all about moving ahead, doing better. Triathlon is a lifestyle, and there is no going back when you start planning and managing your time. There’s one thing that I follow, no matter what, something that Jack Reacher once said: Eat when you can and sleep when you can. Wise words to live by.