Half Ironman Challenge Life & Style

The Iron Men of Vadodara

How the triathlon became a point of bonding for this father and his teenaged son

On March 1, the day he turned 18, Vadodara-based Commerce student Ajayraj Jhala also sported a new feather in his cap: he completed the Half Ironman Challenge in Oman. So did his father, Raghvendra Jhala, but the chuffed father appears more interested in telling the world about his son’s feat than his own.

The Iron Men of Vadodara

“The youngest athlete to complete the Half Ironman Challenge in Oman,” says a WhatsApp message that Raghvendra has been sending around with gusto.

The triathlon is more than just a sporting feat for Raghvendra — it is a way to connect with his son. “From what I have observed, most teenagers want to do the exact opposite of what their fathers are doing,” he says on a phone call from Vadodara, still sounding surprised that his own son doesn’t.

“We discuss our training regimens at the dinner table, and exchange notes about cycle maintenance every day. We are both half mechanics now, and can help anyone in the city out with their cycling problems,” he says in jest. He is talking, of course, of the specialised, competitive carbon fibre cycles, one of which he owns.

He hopes to buy one for Ajayraj soon, but not at this age when the boy is growing by leaps and bounds. “I own a Trek cycle, and Ajayraj is currently riding a Merida that he has borrowed from a friend. Each of these cycles is an investment of ₹1.5 lakhs to ₹2 lakhs, and I’m afraid he might outgrow it too fast,” laughs the father.

Challenges galore

It’s not only the mechanics of the sport that brings the duo close, but also the travel. “In Vadodara, there are no open waters to swim in. Only swimming pools,” says Raghvendra. He goes on to explain why pools are not good enough for triathlon training: they don’t throw up challenges, like tides, currents and waves, that an athlete needs to prepare for. As a result, Raghvendra and Ajayraj had to travel to open water events in other cities, flying out just for the event and returning the same weekend, so as to not miss school.

Know the race
  • Half Ironman is also called Ironman 70.3, because that is the total number of miles covered.
  • This includes a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile cycle ride and 13.1-mile run
  • Regular Ironman triathlons are for 140.6 miles, including 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling and 26.2 miles of running

“We used to participate in an open water event in Maharashtra. Then we tried out an SFI (Swimming Federation of India)-approved 10K event in Porbandar.”

The Iron Men of Vadodara

The latter was their big challenge before the Half Ironman, with high tides, waves up to five feet tall, and low visibility. “In a swimming pool, there are set lanes and you can see clearly through your goggles. Here, we had unclear salt water running up our noses, and had to keep turning left or right to avoid debris, instead of going straight. You end up doing that a lot when swimming in the sea: you can’t go straight and so end up swimming a longer distance than you’re supposed to,” explains Raghvendra.

And then there was the usual challenge of balancing a rigorous training with work hours and school hours — the biggest reason why father and son do most of their preparations separately. “I get up at 5 am to put in a small stint of training before he leaves for school, but beyond that, our timings do not match,” says Raghvendra, who trains with a personal coach after work, but decides Ajayraj’s after-school training regimen himself. “His workout has to be constantly tweaked according to his school work,” he says about his son, “It helps that he was already a good swimmer to begin with, and has done quite a bit of competitive cycling.”

The Iron Men of Vadodara

On his part, Raghvendra got into long-distance cycling in 2011, through friends. With them, he would participate in Audax Randonneurs’ Clubs’ long-distance cycling events, “From Pune to Bengaluru, from Vadodara to Jaipur, from London to Edinburgh... after that, triathlon was a natural progression.”

His son is not the only person that Raghvendra has gotten into triathlons: he has been organising smaller, ‘supersprint distance’ triathlons in the city since 2013. “Now there is a small, growing community here, training for events in Budapest and Malawi, among other places. And we are all set for India’s first Half Ironman in Goa,” he signs off with pride.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 7:45:46 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/father-son-duo-ajayraj-and-raghvendra-jhala-on-how-they-completed-the-half-ironman-challenge-in-oman/article26496059.ece

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