Tell us about your first tryst with fitness
It began with a health scare while I was in the United States of America. At 30, after a routine medical check-up, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It was an alarm bell to watch my lifestyle and mend my ways, so I began to run/jog regularly. It started with 2 -3 km per day.
When did fitness become a passion?
It began at Palava! I returned to India and moved to Palava in 2014. In the early days, I continued to run my usual 5 km loop in and around Casa Bella and Casa Bella Gold as it was traffic-free. Cut to 2016, I met Hari Prasad and Mathi, and they made me join the Palava Runners Group. In 2017, I ran my first 10 km run in Dombivali and completed it in 70 minutes. Under Hari's meticulous guidance, I could train better, improve my form and speed, and complete my first Vasai Virar Full Marathon (42 km) in 4 hours and 7 minutes.
Hari became my running mentor and introduced me to cyclist Manoj Bishnoi, and I joined the Palava Cycling Club. Manoj, who cycled 54 km every day to work and back, inspired me to cycle to work, and that is how I ventured into endurance biking. Under the watchful guidance of Manoj, I completed 200 km, 300 km, 400 km and 600 km within a year and was honoured with the title 'Super Randonneur.'
In 2019, 10 - 12 members from the Palava Runners Club and Palava Cycling Club decided to learn swimming and joined the in-house Rupali Repale Swimming Academy. Most of us, like me, had never swum before, though under the patient coaching of Ravi Sopare we learnt to cut across the pool fairly quickly.
It was Palava where I truly realised my love for fitness and got the opportunity to hone that passion into a skill and a professional competency.
Iron Man often remains a dream for many. How did you prepare for it and realise it? But before, what made you consider it?
Being a part of Palava's running and cycling clubs, I had the mentorship of expert runners and cyclists. Under their guidance, I began venturing into ultra runs and endurance training. As a result, I completed the 100 miles Pune Ultra with Manoj Bishnoi in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
My fitness club friends, Shivanand Kugatoli and Kunal Choksi had completed the Half Ironman distance, which was a massive inspiration for us to complete a Full Ironman. Likewise, they inspired me to register for a full Ironman, and I chose the 2020 race in Kazakhstan.
So there was never any hesitation or doubt about undertaking this mammoth task?
I never doubted my running and cycling abilities, as I could undertake any strenuous exercise and sustain it for 16 -17 hours. I was only shy about swimming. That was my weakest link. But with Rupali Repale there to help you, it did not seem impossible at any time!
Tell us, how did you hone your swimming skills?
So, to begin with, I was fortunate, and I must thank COVID as it led to the race getting postponed twice. As a result, I got two additional years to prepare for my first Full Ironman.
At the Rupali Repale Swimming Academy, we first trained at the Olympic Swimming Pool at Lake Shore Greens and, and after that, at Uran to experience swimming in open waters as a critical part of the Ironman is a 3.8 km swim in open water.
Before you tell us more, how is open water swimming different from swimming in a pool?
It is a world of difference! The pool is a confined water body, and you have marked lanes. In open water, there are no lanes, so one has to have a regular sight of swimming in the correct direction. One also needs to learn how to scull (move your hands and feet in a particular standing position) to stay afloat in water to see the direction one is swimming in. One also needs to prepare for temperature variance and winds. Under the guidance of swim coach Aniruddha, we would jump into the Olympic Pool at 5 a.m. in the winters and simply start swimming, which genuinely helped me battle the low water temperatures in Kazakhstan.
While COVID bought you time, was it a hindrance too?
Where there is a will, there is a way, and Palava paved that way! While it gave me time to hone my swimming skills, it taught me to use my trainer as my cycle and my balcony as the route!
The advantage of being in lockdown at Palava was that I could continue my training and pursue ‘brick training’ for the triathlon, as advised by Rupali. Brick Training means performing any two activities, ie. Run/Bike/Swim, with no rest in between, so I would finish my swim and then run around Lakeshore Greens or In Casa Bella or Rio Gold. In addition, it was convenient to train because of the minimal traffic.
You had a Full Ironman dry run in Palava! Tell us about that!
In March 2021, Rupali Repale Swimming Academy conducted a Half Ironman Triathlon followed by a Full Ironman in June 2022. Rupali ensured that both these events replicated the actual event and planned all arrangements accordingly; this helped gauge the time taken for transitions between swim to bike and bike to run.
Palava's June 2022 mock Full Ironman began at 4:00 p.m. and had all three legs planned within Lakeshore Greens. The support crew included Ravindra Koli, who had helped me in the strength training, and my wife, Shilpi Biswas. Apart from some traffic encountered while cycling during the day, there was no hiccup in the practice run. And thanks to my supportive crew of Palava Runners and Palava Cycling Club, I was always given company while I completed my swim, run and ride distances.
Now over to Kazakhstan. Tell us from arrival to departure!
(Has a hearty laugh) I arrived in Astana, Kazakhstan, on 11th August and was greeted by the rain! My first thought was that I was covered as I had trained in heavy rains at Palava. I did a few practice swims and a 5 km run on the 12th and 13th of August on the same route as planned for the event, which boosted my confidence.
On D-day, I was confident and completed my swim of 3.8 km in 2 hours 1 minute, finished my cycling leg of 180 km in 7 hours 43 minutes and ran 42.2 km in 5 hours 52 minutes. The total time taken to complete my first Full Ironman, including transition time, was 16 hours and 1 minute.
And believe it or not, it was cycling and not swimming that had me struggle a bit due to strong headwinds.
I could not have accomplished this without the support, encouragement, and inspiration from Manoj Bishnoi, Hari Prasad, Rupali Repale, Aniruddha Sir, Ravindra Koli, and all my mates from the Palava Runners Club and Palava Cycling Club.
What is your fondest memory of the race?
It will forever be crossing that finish line, with the Indian tri-colour, to the resounding chants of "India, India." That moment still gives me gooseflesh and can never be expressed in words.