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What’s so appealing about Ironman triathlons?

What’s most compelling of sport?

Is it the fine display of technique? An aesthete might immediately agree. But there are countless ugly movements of athletes in the most-watched moments of sporting history.

So, is it tribalism, then? Painting tri-colour on your faces when India plays Pakistan. Joining social media wars when Barcelona faces Real Madrid. Throwing the TV remote when Roger Federer nets a backhand at match point against Rafael Nadal. But you can immerse into a contest without taking sides. Just ask a badminton-agnost watching PV Sindhu versus Nozomi Okuhara at their best.

Obviously, it’s neither the records nor the glittering trophies. For they are mere byproducts of good performances.

A definitive answer is tough to find. But it could be an obvious one: the athlete’s journey. Not just of his or her rise from poverty to popularity — that’s inspiring — but we are specifically talking about their journey during the contest, especially when facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Mythologist Joseph Campbell talks about “the road of trials” in his map of an archetypal hero’s journey. And, aren’t sportspersons often called heroes?

But not all athletes are equally celebrated. In fact, most aren’t. They don’t appear on TV. They have day jobs. They manage homes. Their struggles and successes, grit and greatness go largely unnoticed.

At India’s first Ironman 70.3 triathlon in Goa, you’d find a lot of them. [Read the boxes to know what the event is and how tough it is to finish it, let alone win].

What is a Half Ironman triathlon?
  • The Ironman Triathlon, organised by the World Triathlon Corporation, is among the toughest one-day sporting events. It consists of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile (42.20 km) run. In Half Ironman aka Ironman 70.3 Triathlon, as the name suggests, the distances are halved.
  • Swimming: 1.2 miles Biking: 56 miles Running: 13.1 miles

Age no bar

Sridhar Venkataraman, 63, has participated in 11 Ironman races (nine full and two half) after he turned 57. Out of the 11 occasions, he’s stood on the podium thrice. At the age of retirement, Sridhar’s athleticism rages.

Sridhar knew to run, cycle and swim. So, when a friend suggested him to participate in a sprint triathlon (which is shorter than a Half Ironman), he was game for it. But in the open water, he was struggling to swim. “I panicked. I had to be pulled out. It was a humiliating experience for me,” he says.

But that setback was significant. It sparked a fire within. “The words ‘Hey, this guy cannot swim, pull him out’ kept ringing in my ears for a while.”

Sridhar acknowledged his fear of water, relearnt swimming techniques, trained regularly for a year and a half before his first Ironman. Despite finishing it 11 times, he says it doesn’t get easier. “But that’s okay. Tough is good.”

What’s so appealing about Ironman triathlons?

Sport for the 30+

Of the 1000 participants registered for the race in Goa, over 800 are Indians, says Deepak Raj, one of the chief organisers. Deepak, a 20-time Ironman racer and a coach, was instrumental in bringing the race to India. His fitness coaching venture, Yoska, is an official sponsor for the race. Going by his words, the popularity of Ironman is increasing in India, especially among those who are aged over 30.

“I say 25-30 because that’s when we get settled in our careers and look out for something to challenge ourselves outside work.”

That’s precisely what happened to Deepak. He was 30, 95 kilos and working in Germany when he decided to participate in triathlons.

It’s easy to give up in Ironman. To pass three excruciating tests of endurance, patience is paramount. Even a momentary lapse can result in serious mishaps, says Kaustubh Radkar, a 24-time Ironman finisher.

Yet people willingly participate in this trial by fire because it’s also a test of character.

How difficult it is to finish the race?
  • I have participated in over 20 Ironman races. But it doesn’t get easier at all. You might be better prepared after the first time but it’s still difficult because it involves three different sports and you have to master all of them. And, that takes a long time. You can’t just jump into it and expect yourself to finish a race. You need the right diet, training… It’s important to be patient. -Deepak Raj, 20-time Ironman racer
  • It gets hard for everyone regardless of if you're an amateur or a top professional. You are on your feet, 7-8 hours a day. Swimming in open water will be a huge challenge as you can't see the bottom, you have to go in the right direction. You have to be mentally strong. - Kaustubh Radkar, 24-time Ironman racer

Manoj Nama, 45, who’s set to make his Ironman debut on October 20, says, “It is important to know that you can push your limits.” He got into running in 2005. Cycling, a few years later. Swimming in 2015. He went from running events to duathlons and triathlons. “My 11-year-old son’s now a triathlete, too!” he says proudly. Everytime Manoj crosses the finish line, he silently sets an example.

There are mothers, too, who pull off these astonishing feats of endurance. Krishna Kohli wanted to reduce postpartum weight in 2011, when she had her second child. It started with a five-minute treadmill runs. Now, Krishna has finished numerous long-distance races, two triathlons and is set to participate in her first Ironman.

Krishna, Manoj and Sridhar aren’t desperate about winning. A place on the podium will be great. But victory, for them, is more than that. It is when they woke up to the 5 am alarms, when they skipped dessert, when they turned up for training on weekends. It is reminiscent of the father of modern Olympics Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s famous quote, “The important thing in life is not to triumph but to compete.” In other words, it isn’t about the destination but the journey.

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Printable version | Apr 23, 2021 8:54:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/whats-so-appealing-about-ironman-triathlons/article29733429.ece

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