Iron maiden

HARD WORK WORKS Triathelete Anu Vaidyanathan  

ACHIEVEMENT Grit and determination is the key to endurance sport, as triathelete Anu Vaidhyanathan shows

Is swimming 1.9 km, following it up with a 90-km bike ride; and rounding it off with a 21.2-km run, all in 12 hours, impossible? Apparently, not for triathlete Anu Vaidhyanathan. She has finished at the top in the aforementioned day-long half Ironman; the 18-hour Ironman (3.8 km swimming, 180-km bike ride and 42.2-km running); and the three-day Ultraman (10-km swimming, 430-km bike ride and 84.4-km running — the endurance challenge), at various triathlons around the world.

But, the road to achievement was not easy. “I didn't wake up one day, and think I was going to do an Ironman.” The 29-year-old Anu says: “I've been running, biking and swimming systematically since I was 18, though not at the State or national level.”

She began to train for the Ironman after she returned home to Bangalore in 2005 (she did her undergraduation in Computer Engineering from Purdue and her masters in North Carolina, and worked for IBM, Austin, for a while). She also runs PatNMarks — an Intellectual Property Rights Consultancy.

Early to rise

“When in Chennai, I would get up at 3 a.m. and ride my bike from Chennai to Puducherry and back, or Chennai to Mysore, week after week. Running was fine. You can run if you are reasonably smart.” In Bangalore, she would do a five-km loop around the Ulsoor Lake. “The swimming was probably the real wall I hit. None of the pools is heated; and most of them are not clean. I wasn't thinking about what I was doing then. But then, once you think too much about something, you don't do it.”

So, is the sport about speed or endurance? “Both. The first test is obviously endurance. They say you do your first Ironman to finish, not to race.” Is it also about adrenaline?

“I don't know. I've always been competitive. For instance, I graduated a year early.” And, the secret behind her stamina? “Hard work — many people lose that fizzle beyond a point. And, of course, diet. Right after a run, your stomach is too upset to eat and chew, so fluids such as smoothies and juices are the best bet.”

On her own

Surprisingly, she doesn't have a trainer. “I took a lot of advice from people, endurance athletes in particular. No foreign coach can tell me how to train here. For me exercise is about being outside, enjoying the sights; not working out in an air-conditioned gym. Your long life in this sport depends on an element of fun,” she says.

“The concept of women in endurance sport is just catching on. This is not recreational running. For instance, for training for the Ultraman, I did a solo bike ride in the Southern Alps in New Zealand that goes through the great divide from the top end of the South Island to the very top in Wellington. A backpack with some spare clothes, a phone and spare tyres were all I had for staying overnight. Obviously, you have to see whether it is your body or mind that breaks first. In India, this would be impossible. I would have to have an escort and be sure of where I am staying. And, there is no systematic support from sports bodies here either. Sadly, we Indians are one of the hardest working people in the world, yet we don't have access to facilities such as those in the West.”