Hyderabad Ironman Sunil Menon talks about his journey from running to finishing the South African Ironman with Deepthi Velkur.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Lao Tzu.
Back in 2008 when Sunil took to running, I bet it never even crossed his mind that 10 years later, running would be more than just a healthy habit.
From running for fun to completing an Ironman in South Africa and then starting his own fitness company, Sunil Menon has truly come a long way since that first step in 2008.
I got talking to Sunil to listen to his story, his plans for the future and his joy for running.
FM: What was your motivation to take up running and when did you graduate into running longer distances?
Sunil: I took up running as a social activity when I relocated to Hyderabad to work for Microsoft in 2008. I made many expat friends who were into running and triathlons. I was the top finisher in the corporate category in my first Half Marathon in 2009, that was a big surprise which helped me graduate to longer distances.
FM: Did you train with a running club? How did that shape you as a runner?
Sunil: I got introduced to Hyderabad Runners by Rajesh Vetcha, fondly called Chief. Hyderabad Runners organized weekly runs that introduced me to many runners in the city. I learnt all the nitty-gritty of running from Hyderabad Runners group.
FM: Share with us some of the best races you’ve run so far?
Sunil: Without a doubt, it is the Boston Marathon 2015. Quite memorable and tough. I had never seen such a huge turn-out for a marathon, the arrangements were a class apart. The weather played spoil-sport as it was very cold and windy. I managed to get my PB of 3hours and 5 mins there.
The other race is Bangalore Ultra Marathon 2013 where I raced 75Km. I started the race late and won it. I still hold the record for that event which is 7hrs 14mins.
FM: What was it like to be chosen as the race director for the Airtel Hyderabad marathon 2011-12?
Sunil: It’s one of those roles that has shaped me today as a leader. To lead a team of highly motivated, passionate and intelligent runners was a huge honour and responsibility. It’s a live project with a definite start and end date that cannot be compromised unlike software development 😊 You need to be prepared for surprises and have solutions to mitigate them. Quite an exciting role.
FM: Running aside, you have also done several triathlons and half-ironman distances. What piqued your interest to try out these sports?
Sunil: Transitioning into triathlons was easy. I was inspired by Matt an expat colleague in Microsoft. His Ironman race stories gave me goosebumps. I wanted to experience it myself. I challenged myself to learn swimming in a month and get into the Olympic size pool in Gachibowli Stadium, Hyderabad. I was learning and growing every day. The three disciplines enabled me to be a proficient Time Manager.
FM: You didn’t stop there and went on to do your first Ironman challenge? Take us through your experience of the event?
Sunil: My first Ironman was a disaster. I participated in Ironman Zurich in 2013 and due to over-hydration, I got cramps in the bike leg which resulted in a DNF. My dear friend Richard McDowell who was with me in Zurich then gifted me an entry to Ironman South Africa and registered himself for it too. It was not easy but when you have the support of your friends and family everything is possible. I was happy to finish Ironman South Africa in the presence of my family in April 2014.
FM: What specific training and nutrition plans did you follow after your debacle at your first Ironman challenge?
Sunil: After my Zurich debacle, I did Iron distance in Chennai in 14.5 hours. That gave me a lot of confidence. I was now training to do Ironman South Africa in 2014. I kept my training very simple, long rides and runs on weekends, eat fresh food and avoided processed foods. My race day nutrition was Bulletproof coffee, a simple hydration mix and home-made energy bars. Run was on flat coca cola that was served on the course. More than physical, I focused on mental training as I had to flush out all the negativity I had gathered after my first attempt.
FM: The only Ironman Certified coach in Hyderabad. What were your reasons for doing the certification?
Sunil: Failure!! It either grows you or cuts you. I took failure as a stepping stone to learn how to train well. I wanted to learn from the best in business, what more can you ask for when you have Dave Scott and Mark Allen as mentors in the Ironman Certification program. It was a complete eye-opener for me.
FM: You left your software job to start your own company – Menon Fitness systems. What was the main idea behind setting this up?
Sunil: I was in my comfort zone in Microsoft. I was paid well, 100% job satisfaction. I was one of the few employees to be enrolled for TLDP- Technical Leadership Development Program. That was a game changer. It taught me how to think as a leader, create a vision, mission for a company and the best “How to come out of your comfort zone and take up new challenges”.
I was happy with my performance at the Ironman coaching certification program. I decided to transition as a coach and create my own company. Failure no more scared me, I planned my exit from Microsoft in January 2016 and quit in November 2016.
FM: What are the benefits/perks one gets in joining your fitness company?
Sunil: Menon Fitness Systems is all about “MindàBodyàHabits”. It focuses on cultivating awesome Mind Body habits that help you live a healthy, happy and an injury free life in the most efficient way. It’s not about running a marathon or doing an Ironman, it’s a lifestyle change. One that you can repeat for the rest of your life.
FM: What qualities do you need to possess that makes you a great coach?
- The number one quality is the belief that you are the best coach. That belief does not mean comparing myself to others, it’s about constantly raising my own bar, standards of quality, passion and knowledge that helps bring your “A” game to work.
- Learn and implement. You need to implement what you learn.
- Remember the three C’s: Commitment, Consistency and Communication with your trainees and set the same expectations from your trainees.
- Exceed your own expectations and do a little more.
FM: You’re a strong advocate of the Maffetone method. How has that benefited you to be a better and a fitter athlete? Would you recommend your trainees to follow this method?
Sunil: Maffetone actually taught us that by being slow you only get faster. It helps your body to adapt to endurance activities without impacting your recovery or risking injury. My Bangalore Ultra marathon success was mainly due to the Maffetone method. 80% of my training plan consists of MAF training, the rest being speed workouts.
FM: Being a breathing specialist too, do you think breathing plays a vital role in any sport?
Sunil: You can live without water for days, without food for years but you will die within minutes without breathing. Breathing is an activity which we have forgotten, have you seen a child breathe? The child does nasal belly breathing. One of the big benefits of nasal breathing is it prevents EIA- Exercise Induced Asthma.
Here are a few other benefits of nasal breathing from a sporting perspective:
- Helps the body to maintain a more appropriate level of carbon dioxide in the blood
- In cold weather, warm air helps to keep the core of your body warm.
- The nasal sinuses are large producers of nitric oxide, which is a powerful vasodilator
From my personal experience, one significant thing I noticed is my sweat rate has drastically reduced, I am losing fewer salts than I would when I was mouth breathing.
FM: What goals have you set for the future for your company and yourself?
Sunil: Menon Fitness Systems (MFS) will be the leading fitness company in India in the coming years. A holistic and natural based approach towards leading a healthy lifestyle is the key to its success. Menon Fitness Systems has clearly defined Vision, Mission and Goals. You will hear more about MFS in the coming years.
- Menon Fitness Systems is first to launch a podcast on Health and Fitness in India. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/menonfitness-systems/id1392907630?mt=2
- Menon Fitness Systems is the first to start Virtual Marathon in India. https://www.facebook.com/virtualmarathonIndia/
- Menon Fitness Systems is the first coaching company to have a nutritionist that designs sports nutrition based on ayurvedic principles.
My personal goals
I have a job to complete in Zurich I am participating in Ironman Zurich on 21st July 2019. That’s my focus for now and I am going with an army of 21 Indians to conquer the race. It will be a beautiful experience that I am looking forward to.