Nihal Baig talks to Protima Tiwary about his race experiences at the Ironman event in Bahrain guarantee to give you goosebumps.
“I can’t recall a single day in past 15-18 months, where I was pain-free. But still, I would wake up every morning and give my 100% during the workout. And this is what has transformed me into a better athlete.” Says Nihal Baig who has just returned from Ironman 70.3 that was held in Bahrain. This interview with him was all about mental strength, grit, determination and a lot of goosebumps as he took us through his race experiences.
How did this wonderful journey as a runner begin?
I have a 9-hour desk job, but my real passion lies in running marathons and triathlons. I started running when I was in IIT-B during college where I ran short distances (usually 5K) for 5 years. In IIT-B I enrolled myself under National Sports Organization- Athletics. While I maintained a good record in sports, it was in the final year that I won 5 medals (3 golds, 1 silver, 1 bronze) and I was awarded as the Best Athlete across all IITs.
It is in the last 2 years that I realised I wanted to aim at an Ironman title, so I learnt how to swim, I started cycling, and did my first Triathlon in Sept 2018 with a timing of 4:45:22
You’re not just a marathoner, you’re an IronMan! Could you share some special moments of your running/Triathlon career?
I have a bunch of them, and they go way back to college too!
December, Inter IIT Sports Meet-2013, Guwahati : 5000m race
I was used to running in Mumbai, so the rough terrain in Guwahati had me wrapping up my toes in bandages. I maintained a steady pace and ran all my laps within 85 seconds, but it was the last one where I overtook the one in front of me and beat him by a second to win the race. I completed this lap in 62 seconds, and with a toe that was bleeding profusely. The cold weather had numbed the pain.
Vasai Virar Half Marathon-2017
I was eyeing the HM PM. My previous best was 1:23:55 and I was aiming for a sub 1:22 I started my race as per my plan, but I hit a wall. With 12km to go, I had to let my mind take over as I kept telling myself that I had to reach my goal, I kept pushing myself, and honestly, it was all in the head. I finished at 1:27:47 but I realised an important thing at this race- that I was capable of overcoming a bad phase as much as I was capable of running through a good one. It improved my self-confidence.
I set myself a goal timing of 3:05 (Boston Marathon Qualifying Time) I was recovering from a fibula stress fracture so wasn’t sure if I could do this since the pain kept coming back after every run that I did. The pain was terrible the night before the race, and I had to mentally prepare myself to run the next morning. I ran with muscle sprays and compression socks and 28km into the race my pain vanished. When I reached the 30K mark, I felt this surge of power that had me complete the marathon in 3:03:37.
Ironman 70.3 (8th December 2018) Bahrain
I completed my swimming in 37 minutes and was cycling strongly for 30km when a strong pain in my lower back threatened to take over my performance. I kept pushing, but the strong headwinds after the 60K mark made things even more difficult, and this is when my mental strength really helped me push forward. I managed to reach the finish line and then started to run. I was confident of this part of the race since I am familiar with running. But 4km into the run and my right quads got stiff. I continued slowly. 3.5km before the race ended my calves started cramping. I ran on my toes, ignoring the pain and motivating myself to keep pushing forward. This last 3.5k was the toughest run of my life! I finished with a total time of 4:44:48. I came 5th in my Age Group and was also the best runner in this group.
Wow! That gave us goosebumps. You have learnt so much in these tough races, haven’t you?
Absolutely! Every race has something to teach, there is no good/bad race to be honest. Yes, bad phases do come in at every race, and that’s when your mind needs to take over. Races have taught me to go after my dream. I have learnt the power of the mind, and how mind over matter is how you need to navigate through a race and life.
Consistency is key – how have you build this pace and strength over the years?
My year is divided into 2 phases –
Base and Strength Building: I work on my weaknesses and focus on muscle strengthening workouts. In a week I do 6-8 workouts (2-3 in each discipline), 2 core conditioning workouts and 2 strength training workouts. I focus on bodyweight exercises rather than weights.
Peaking and Racing season: I do 9-10 workouts (3-4 in each discipline and 2 core conditioning workouts. Instead of strength training, I do either stair or hill workouts. This phase also includes a lot of intervals and tempos in each discipline without compromising the endurance. I almost end up doing about 30-35k swimming, 180-200k running and 900-1100k of cycling.
Any tips you’d like to share with us on how to stay strong during the race?
Break the race into parts, and complete the race in smaller goals instead of looking at the finish line. If you are running a triathlon, break in down into swimming-cycling-running and set goals accordingly.
We told you, this one guarantees goosebumps!