Arunaabh Shah, You are an Ironman!

A common question I'm asked nowadays is "How was the Ironman experience?"
I have this simple reply "It was the toughest day of my life"

Yes, I have run a 100 km foot race. Been on my feet for over 15 hours.
Run 1200 kms in 2 months. Done a sub 3 Marathon.

No, nothing comes close to this. Not at all.

Biggest learning experience ?
When they say there is a climb, there is a climb. And no amount of trainer high resistance training or flyover climbing can prepare you for that.
It will be a long and painful thing. So be ready for that.

It started on a cold morning on 26th September 2015. The water was warm enough though the winds and the 18 degree temperature were freezing the hell out of me.
2 days before the race day, I had panicked due to the cold water and loneliness (nobody was around) and just done a 300 meter swim and rushed out.
Next day, I decided to go again. Fear isn't an option. This time I went deep and went far. 1k. And then 500 meters more.
While I stood shivering in the water before the swim that day, a Spanish athlete joked "You feel cold in this? This is pretty warm!"
A bunch of Italians and Brits disagreed.
Personally? The Spaniard was right. The water did get warm in the middle of the sea. That swim was very useful. Made me fearless. I even stopped to say Hi to several boats along the way.

I did some riding and some running too. Just to give the legs a little feel of the new environment.

The night before the Ironman was strangely relaxed. I tucked into bed with just one thought, "Finish the thing without stopping. "

Right before the race start, I met Gaurav Makkar. The man had a serious bike crash 4 days before the race, had 32 stitches on his face, and there he was. At the start line.
I asked him " Did you try swimming? Wasn't the Salt water burning the wounds?"
He replied "Its only a matter of 2 hours"

People love easy lives. They have excuses for their convenience. Sometimes the elements don't favor you. Everything goes against you and you decide, it wasn't my day.
The man who was injured quite badly, showed up at the start line of the world's toughest endurance event with a smile on his face and will that wasn't injured.
What's your excuse now?

I made the choice (and a stupid one at that) to swim the finishing time group of 1 hour to 1:15. I stood there, with a bunch of people,who I had never seen before and might not see again, but I knew they were tough nuts.
Customary to traditions, I shook hands and wished luck to the guys on my right and left.
Shivering with cold, I waded into the water at 7:37 AM, knowing very well that the time had come to fulfill my destiny.

Swim(1:09.04) :

Knowledge is the greatest weapon a man has. Having done the open water swim in the 70.3 in Taiwan, I decided to keep my consternation in check by following the planned strategy.
A couple of strokes with the head out till I got my rhythm in and I had assessed the waves. Once I was settled in, I put my head down and was greeted by traffic.

Now I know that drafting while swimming is very useful, but the traffic up ahead was just holding me back. I struggled to break lose and was slapped on the feet by the athlete behind me.
With experience, I might be able to tackle this "rush" more effectively but I was constantly held back and was even kicked in the face and the shoulders a couple of times. All part of the "Ironman" experience.

Somewhat misguided by the loop distance, I checked my Garmin and was slightly alarmed at  the fact that we had gone beyond 1 km and not turned back. Honestly I was more scared of going in the wrong direction and swimming more that what was supposed to be done. The turn appeared at 1.2 kms and as I swam towards the shore I saw the beautiful sunrise over Alcudia bay. Upon reaching the shore I tried to satiate my curiosity by asking a fellow athlete the length of the course. My exact words "Hey, I think my Garmin is showing a little more distance than the course. How long was the swim". The guy stared at me incredulously and swam away from me! How rude!

Now that the rush was less and my mind was in panic mode, I decided to push forwards more aggressively. As it turned out, we turned 700 meters into the 2nd loop. My super accurate Garmin was telling the truth. I relaxed. As the swim was almost towards the end, I checked my Garmin.
Decent enough swim :D

Me in the background, trying to figure out how to switch modes on my Garmin
Saw my Dad and waved happily as I saw him. Time to ride.

Forgive me for not calculating my transition times. I guess it was a rookie mistake. To tell the truth, I though I was doing a pretty good and fast job in the Transition Zones.
I put on my bike clothes on top of my tri suit. Stuffed my pockets with Gels and bars. Dropped off my bag and ran to my bike. Both no. 829 and 831 were already on course.
Reminiscing Chrissie Wellington's transitions from the numerous Ironman Videos I had watched on my trainer rides, I smiled at the volunteers and ran with my shoes in my hand. A helpful athlete reminded me to put on my helmet.
As I clipped on my shoes and churned the pedals, I was ready for the 180.2 kms.


Ok, call me a whiner. But this course was like the Stage of the Vuelta A Espana.
Boy did I misread the course elevation.
And on later analysis with Subbu Sir, I figured out a number of hitches in my bike training.

But lets start off with the ride first.
The course was windy, from the start and to a body which is not as fatigued as it would get coupled with the shield from the buildings, the headwinds didn't pose much of a problem initially.

At the 1st hill, the 34 kmph average dropped to 27. Indication of things to come.
We rolled through the Spanish countryside and even though I pushed my way through the 22 kmph  head and crosswinds and the  rolling hills towards Manacor, I admired the beauty of the bike course

The rolling hills dropped my average speed slightly below 30 and I pressed the panic button and pushed through at slightly higher pace not really feeling the additional effort I was making to  mitigate the effect of headwinds.

I made my push towards the 100k mark,stopping for a short loo break shortly thereafter.
Hours of trainer rides had helped me a lot, but they had derived me of the horror of riding in headwinds. 3 hours of riding in the Aero positon, my back began to suffer.
And the trainer doesn't really initiate your leg muscles used while climbing. Which was going to be a BIG bone of contention as the course went vertical after some time.
My bloated body trying to battle the headwinds as the random cyclist photobombs me.
As per my career's story of screw ups in Debut Races, my body began to bloat. The nutrition strategy which had been constant till 100k took a toss as the body didn't want to take in anything. And it just got worse after that.

So much for gels.

And then we came across the "best" part of the course : The Climb

Coll de Femenia : The 1st real climb of the day, was also the most dreaded one. A Category 2 climb rising at 6% for 7.6 kms was enough to dispel the notion of breaking the Indian Record for the Ironman.
The ride was reduced to a crawl and the only thing that came to my mind was to make my fellow athletes laugh. So to every athlete I passed by or was passed by, I cheered loudly and made jokes on how "flat" the climb seemed.
As I trudged on, up the hill I was so bored of riding at 12 kmph at that I decided to force something down my gut (Food obviously). I opened a snack bar I ate half of it and while my body rebelled and shouted and tried to push back, I kept the rest of it in my back pocket. That was my last meal for close to 7 hours.

Finally redemption arrived as a downhill section appeared and then disappeared almost immediately.
We continued to climb up on another category 3, 5% gradient climb(Ma-10 From Lluc) till we reached the stunning 125k Checkpoint : The Monastery of Lluc (which I didn't see as my eyes were glazed with exhaustion).

Sharp drop in speed as the climb began

I prepped myself for a descent towards Caimiri, thinking " and now Peter Sagan will take his rebirth and tear down the mountain", the 1st decent scared the daylight out of me. The bike just shot down at  60 kmph, shaking vigorously as the crosswinds cut across and then the hairpin bend appeared forcing me to slow down to 15 kmph, as the riders ahead of me leaned on their brakes holding on for dear life.

And this was going to continue for a while.

Fear? Ain't nobody got time for that.

Probably this was my proudest moment in all of the Ironman. I overtook a bunch of Germans and Italians. And then kept on descend-brake,descend-brake pattern, as I overtook close to 30 athletes on the way down. The only thing I was scared of was my brakes catching fire due to the friction.

At the bottom I thought my problems were over, but hey, here come the headwinds.
And the rolling hills. And the bumpy roads.

We rode through small towns ( SO PRETTY!) and my small dream of doing a European Bike Tour Stage came true. There was a sudden sharp ascent as we approached 100 mile mark and I misjudged a gear change and off came my chain.

Frustrated, I dismounted from my bike for only the 2nd time (1st one at 100k) and yelled at the chain.
I pushed on, hard, trying to make up for the lost time, but the headwinds simply nullified the effort. No matter how hard I pedaled I couldn't go beyond 30 kmph. Struggling and suffering in the Aero position, i remembered Gaurav's statement from the morning "Its only a matter of 2 hours". Much less actually. 170k, I grabbed a Cola Bottle from the Volunteers hoping it would go down the gut. I cheered the volunteers ( always love to do that) and then rushed.

As I approached the finish point, my Garmin showed 175.2 km.
Thinking, there might be some extra loop, I stopped and was going in a different direction when all of a sudden a couple of spectators told me "That's it" and laughed.
Shaking and aching, I got off the bike laughing and moved to T2.

184 kilometers done. 42.2 to go.

T2 (10:14)

Yes. 10 minutes. Bloody idiotic of me. But it was tough, the back hurt. Stomach hurt.
I just jammed my bike clothes in the bag and decided to run with the tri suit chest open.

Also I decided to find a washroom. I was bulging and needed to be empty in order to eat.
As it turned out I didn't find one.

 Run(4:55:18, yes, 4 hours and 55 minutes)

Everyone who knows me, has asked me this.
"Why did you take this much time in the run?!"

To be honest, I expected to do WAY better than this.
I analyzed a lot, and I think I conked because of my inability to eat, inability to clear my bowels(reason explained later) and the nagging pain in the back and in the stomach.

As I started running, the pace was a decent 5/km even going 4:30-45 at times for the 1st few kilometer. A volunteer asked me to zip my tri suit and I proceeded to do so.

At around 3k I found a Porta. And as I stepped in, I puked. And stepped out.Heights of inconsideration were visible. The sight inside was disgusting and the stench overpowering.

I decided to suffer through as I completed loop 1 of 9.5 kms. No Indian in sight yet.
As I reached 14k, I saw Gaurav on the other side of the road and cheered up. Out of the 4 other Indians with me, he was the 1st one I saw and it lifted my spirits. I cheered him on and spurred on I ran through the 2nd loop to complete 19k.

2 women held 2 signs : "Smile if you peed in the swim leg" and "Don't underestimate a fart in Ironman".

I laughed so hard at the 2nd sign. A couple of college students cheered on loudly and a guy stood in the middle of the road, high-5ing. That kept the spirit up

The pace was slow, close to 6 mins/km but I tried to grind through till the Half Marathon Mark.
I crossed my Dad on the loop and simply handed him my gels. I couldn't ingest them and there was no point carrying them. The route passed right infront of my hotel and I had the urge to visit the loo there.

Serious Question : Would it have been ok if I had gone to my room, cleared my stomach and resumed running? Or is it against Ironman rules?

At the Half Marathon mark, I decided to walk for about 200 meters.
I'm not the fastest walker. Infact if there were rankings, I would rank in the last 10 of the World Rankings.

I resumed running. crossed the 3rd loop. Spurred on by the fact that 28.5 kms were now done, I carried on through the now energy-less, bloated, watery body.

At 30k, I began to cry. Out loud.

A lot goes wrong in my life. And a lot was going on at that time. And as darkness was falling and my body was simply failing me, my inner demons came for their twilight dance.

"No, this won't go wrong. I won't let it go wrong".

"Its only a matter of 2 hours"

I walked my way till 32k, wasting close to 30 minutes in the process of walking. At 34k, despite the disgusting condition of the Porta, i let atleast the water out of my body.
Feeling a little lighter, I ran till the end of loop 4.

"Half a loop left. You are almost an Ironman. Go now"whispered the demons who were now the cheerleaders. From 38k till 39k, I walked, hoping Gaurav would catch up and i would run with him.
Didn't happen. Instead I met a French guy, 1 loop behind me. I smiled at him and told him "Tough day right?". He smiled back, nodded and replied " Yes, almost over now"

I picked up my pace as I crossed the last aid station. I cheered loudly and thanked the volunteers and they cheered back and the atmosphere turned electric.

As the last kilometer approached,the sprint began. The perfect form resumed service and I finally perfected the "S" (after umpteen attempts) and I crossed the biggest finish line of my life.

I took off my cap and bowed to the crowd as Paul hollered on the loud speakers "Arunaabh Shah, You are an Ironman"
Ye"S"! :P

I stopped the clock at 13:01:15.

Its Official!

8 months of training. Over 3 years of planning.  A dream come true.

The journey was long and difficult and a lot of people supported me through this :

Contributors to my Wishberry Crowd Funding Campaign :

Zarir Balliwala
Rajeev Jain
Sayuri Dalvi (Supermom!) 
Sahil Sheoran
Vaishali KastureSrikanth Desikachar
Manish Satyanarayana
Dhananjay Singh
Mayank Pratap Singh
Ashish Sachdeva
Supriya Devnani
Yogesh V Chavan
Anubha Sah
Ramesh Thangavel
Sumit Khaneja
Sanjay Kumar Sah
Aditya Shah
Akshita Aggarwal
Abhinav Jain
Ramakrishna Puranam
Taruna Sah
Meenakshi Khemani
Anshul Sharma
Kartik Sharma
Vijay Kumar Shah
Sahil Sheoran
Konark Sharma
Vikrant Tyagi
Sajan Sachdeva
Anshul Sharma
Sugandha Ranjan
Ratnakar Bhatnagar
Vikram Singh
Ambika K S
Joy Shakadwipee
Chirag Dagar
Parag Pendharkar
Subramani Venkatesh
Prateek Anand
Abhinav Chauhan
Vijay Kumar Shah
Vikas Dhawan
Anubhav Agarwal
Sakshi Arora
Shaleen Thapa
Divya Chetty
Vishwajeet Singh
Anurag Sharma
Amandeep Singh
Ravikiran Gunale
Aditya  Ghaisas
Satya Punouriya
Pavan Patel
Ela Boylla
Kishore Rajendra
Abhinav Shakadwipwe
Vipul Kumar
Varsha Shiva Shankar
Priyanka Agarwal
Nishant Prasad
Tushar Goel
Stuti Narang
Saurabh Agarwal
SK Garg

My corporate backers :  BECIL

My Coach and mentor : Mr Deepak Raj

My Gear Partners : Garmin India(Manish Kocchar, Satinder Singh, Siddarth Soni), The Bike Shop(Gaurav Wadhwa)

My Family : Mom, Dad, Sugandha

Mom : You took me to swimming classes and used to come and watch me swim, no matter how tired you were, instilling the work ethic that took me to this milestone.

Dad : You never said no. From you, I learnt, if something needs to be done, you get it done. You never back down and this is my biggest strength now.

Sugandha : You were the 1st person not to laugh when I told the distances I run. We all need some faith in our lives, you gave me that.

A lot of lessons learnt.  Step 1 of my journey culminated at the finish line of Ironman Mallorca.
And another journey has started.

What's next?

Kona Qualification
Sub 10 Ironman
and a lot more...

Let the journey begin! :)

Jai Hind!


  1. Super nice Arunaabh!!! These experiences will shape the future success. All the best for future races!!! :)

  2. Nice . I loved it reading your fuitfull experience . Hope you become India's first Ultraman ;-)

  3. This is as scary as much as it is inspiring... Wish you good luck for future buddy.

  4. Loved it..truly amazing..very inspiring are really a LOHPURUSH.

  5. May all the dreams which bring shine in your eyes and lighten up your face may come true! Keep working hard, training harder and believing in yourself !!!!

  6. well done.. nice read..could feel a lot of the experiences similar to what I sent through, especially the "bowel" movement.. ha ha.. good one.

  7. enjoyed reading!! congratulations iron man! Was forced to look at a few of my own demons in the eye.

  8. Superb! Great Feat! Congratulations for such a stupendous achievement! Wishing you loads of luck for many more milestones! Keep adding feathers in your cap! Keep inspiring!


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