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Sweating in Switzerland! | Ironman

So when I became the IRONMAN on 24th July 2016, I achieved two of my long standing dreams. One obviously becoming an Ironman which as a triathlete is the ultimate goal but also more importantly I had become a sponsored professional athlete. Multifit had given me a full 6 months off from work, with pay just to train for Ironman. They also paid for the IRONMAN registration and flights.

How it happened?
I was sitting in the balcony of Multifit discussing about my training with Samir Kapoor the MD of Multifit. So I mentioned to him about my dream of doing the ironman. And then just like that he told me to do it. Upon telling him that I couldn’t afford all the cost and the leaves I would need to train, he said he will bear it all. Just like that in 2 minutes he said “Chai you’re not coming to work from tomorrow, you will get your salary in your account, all you have to do is train”. So without any distractions I set myself onto training for Ironman, Zurich Switzerland.

Pre Race Prep
This was going to be my first international race. I started to plan, pack and prep two weeks in advance as soon as my tapering started.
The flight to Switzerland was uneventful, thankfully. My bike arrived in one piece. I assembled it and rode it the same day that I checked into Zurich.
3 days before the race I went on an easy training ride to recce the bike course. The recce ended up being faster than it was supposed to be. I ended up burning too much than I should have and that was my mistake number 1.

Race Day
There was a thunderstorm the day before the race, the water temperature had dipped and the race organizers had made the race Swim Suit legal. Meaning everyone could now be allowed to wear latex swimsuits over their Tri suits. These suits makes one swim faster and can save upto 10-15 mins over a course of 4 kms. I did not get one of these suits for myself. This was mistake no 2. Everyone was with a suit except me.

Swim (3.8 kms) – 1 hr 20 mins.
I jump into the water and get into a steady rhythm of my freestyle but I kept getting interrupted by people who seemed to be all around me. There were swimmers to my right , my left, behind me, ahead of me, below and sometime above me as well. I even got somebody between my legs too. There were a lot of awkward moments as I got kicked on the face more times than I care to remember and even I ended up slapping and kicking swimmers around me. This made me more cautious than I realized. It was too late till I managed to find my bearing and rhythm in this chaos. I realized I should have been more aggressive and not let myself be pushed around. This was mistake number 3.
I even strayed away from the course a couple of times. All I could think of was getting out of the water and getting on that damn bike. After what seemed like an eternity I finally got myself out of the water. I had already taken 20 minutes more than my target of 1 hour for swimming 3.8 kms.

Bike (180 kms) – 6 hr 18 Mins
I was feeling good and not exhausted at all. I felt good on the bike and started pelting an avg of 37 kmph on the flats. That’s when I did mistake no. 4. In my hurry to get on the bike I forgot to take my energy gel. And I was only going to get a gel after cycling 30 kms to the first aid station. This affected my nutrition plan and I started to bonk after 20 kms, which made me slow. In order to make up for this I had to dig deeper much earlier on in the race which would definitely cause me problems later. Getting a big shot of gel at the first aid station I felt good and ready for the climbs.

I kept checking myself so as not to go too hard and reserve myself for the running leg. The bike course involved 2 loops, starting from the town and heading along the lake into the swiss countryside. Then into the mountains and back into the city. At the end of the loop is the famous “Heart Break Hill”. It’s a short but rather steep (9-10% gradient) climb. The climb is packed with spectators cheering all the cyclists with speakers, music and cow bells.

The first loop took me just over 2 hours 40 minutes and another loop with the same time could have kept me happy. But the efforts of the first loop and rise in the temperatures meant I had to slow down so as to keep my running legs. But I did ignore myself and pushed a little too much. I knew I had pushed them too much; maybe half an hour more here on the bike could have saved an hour in the run. This was mistake no 5.

In my hurry to get into the run, I forgot to take off my cycling gloves and bike pump from my back pocket. This was mistake number 6.

Running (42 kms) – 5 hours 13 mins
This is the most unpleasant part of the race. The legs feel like jelly after the bike. I started off with a slow pace for the first 2 kms and then I finally got into my stride and managed to latch onto a guy just a little faster than me. This helped me get into a good pace and I finished my first 10 kms in just under an hour. The whole route was lined with spectators cheering. The course was made of 10 kms and we had to do it four times.

Right after my first loop things started to get rough for me. My legs were threatening to cramp as soon as I tried to achieve any pace higher than 6 min/km. Barely tried to hang on to that pace. In the second loop my exhaustion point finally got me and for the first time after about 15 kms I slowed and got into a walk. This walk – run continued till my third round. As I finished my second round I had become extremely tired and was concerned even about a finish. So I slowed down on purpose thinking that if I kept the faster pace I would have to quit. But this point of imagined extreme exhaustion never came. It was just a trick of my mind and I realized it only as I finished my third round i.e about 31 kms. As soon as I realized it, I picked myself up again and dived straight into the pain. Each stride was a world of hurt.

As soon as I reached the athlete village in my last loop my legs automatically started sprinting as I turned into the chute. The “Chute” is the 30 meter of red carpet to the finish lined with cheerleaders and packed with spectators.

I was handed the Indian flag and I ran down towards the finish. The words “Chaitanya, you are an Ironman” echoing through my head. I crossed the dream line with a smile and hugged the lady who gave me the most beautiful medal I have even seen.

Race Total – 13 hours 3 minutes 27 seconds

Acknowledgements
I could not have done this without the backing of Samir Kapoor and Sally Jones of Multifit. With bosses like these, I know I can achieve anything. And lastly to the best people who always got my back, my parents, brother, my multifit family and all you supporters thank you for reading this, liking commenting and sharing my posts. Let’s all stay active and perpetuate a healthy lifestyle to everyone around us.

Chaitanya Velhal
Co-Founder & Head Coach - MultiFit Academy of Triathlon & Endurance Sports (MATES)