Trials, Tribulations and Triumph: Ironman Zurich, IM Number 2!

Before I attempted my Ironman, Shreyas(The best human being I know and an even better coach) and I discussed a couple of scenarios :

A.) 1:15 (Swim + T1); 6:00 (Bike + T2) and 3:45 run - 11 hours
B.) Any of the swim/bike/run get screwed up thanks to number of things that can go wrong and you can't anticipate because, hey, it's a race day - 11:55
C.) Bike goes faster (which was not that much of a possibility because I have a lot of work to do on my bike skills) - Sub 11

Then there was my own scenario that I have an "out of body" experience like Mark Allen and I do Sub 10. On the other end of the spectrum there was my lazy goal, to finish before it goes dark. Which was quite a soft goal, because the sun went down 15 hours after the start of the race.

And finally, there was my "try to outdo Richard McDowell's time" goal. Back when Richard was not running blazing 2:35 marathons, he used to be an INSANELY good biker (like PRO level good) and a very good triathlete. He did this course in 11:06:49 and wrote an amazing review of the race, which I read atleast 30 times before I did the race.

The Buildup:
I moved to Lausanne in September 2016.

What follows now is an unabated speech, so you might as well grab a bowl of popcorn:

I am a single child brought up by 2 wonderful, highly caring, honest parents. Parents who were over protective.
In a mean world, they always have been there for me and gave me everything they could. Sacrificing their own interests.
I have lived with them for 26 years, so moving out was hard for me.

And I am BAD with money and spending it. I earned plenty and spent it.

And I did spend it on races and made some stupid investments, but I wouldn't be here without them. Could have saved more on some other things.

So to deal with the massive course fee and ever more massive living expenses, my parents made sacrifices on their end. And I might appear rude and brash, but I do have a heart. And I can't go around making merry while my parents are making sacrifices.

Yes I chose Switzerland to live, how many people you know did that?
Try living here, it really is heaven on earth.

Yes it is expensive, but I made that decision for MY future. After a lot of research. And money comes and goes and if all goes well, very soon the equilibrium will shift.

To save money, I walked 9 kms everyday to and back from college in the snow to avoid paying for public transport. Good training for me.

And I was afraid to go out to ride in the rain and snow because I came to Lausanne 10 months back. I am not a climber. I am not a biker.  I am a bloody good swimmer and runner but not a biker. And Ironman is a biker's game.
And I didn't want to go to swim in a pool with 7 people in 1 lane because if I got injured, costs of bills would far overshoot my insurance. (It is a country which charges 200 Swiss francs(14000 Rs.) for a bike service).

My base training was non existent. I take no pleasure in slacking off, but neither do I take any joy in being micromanaged to the training zones.
I am more old school. I like to go by feel and I don't care if my pace was 4:30 or 4:31.

And above all, I was in quite bad shape. My HR was everywhere. I came here weighing 62 kgs. I lacked fitness. Yes I did the Ultraman in 2016, but it was just a finish. I am aware of the potential I have and I am FAR from it.

In 10 months I didn't expect a miracle to happen. I am educated. I know what an Ironman entails. And I know, being out of shape, mentally not ready to take the risks I won't go Sub 10.

In this phase, I analysed and realised I don't particularly enjoy 180k bike rides. I love running. I love running fast. I love training for a run because my feet don't work on Shimano 105 or Ultegra. It is a simple sport. You put one foot after the other, as fast as possible and if you have the guts you follow through.

I signed up for the Ironman as a trial phase in my life. I wanted to do it. And I did it. I can be faster, yes I can. But for that I need to enjoy it. Which comes with time. Someone who I really respect told me "Do you think we enjoy 5 + hour rides? It is not supposed to be fun"

I respectfully disagree.

Even when I was 14,  I spent 3 hours in the pool in the 45 degree heat, swimming over 7-9 kms everyday.
When I was 19, I played my guitar 10 hours a day. I worked hard to shred Metallica riffs on an acoustic guitar.

Do you think I enjoyed it?


I did it because I love it. Sports is about enjoyment. If you are not enjoying your sport, you are doing it wrong. Sports make you happy. If my training plan has a 20 mile run at 4 min/km it makes me happy. Seeing a 7 hour bike ride, doesn't please me that much. But I am learning.

People whine and complain about their jobs not being happy and that's why they pick up hobbies. We are not professional athletes and the reason, atleast why I do the sport, is because:

a.) It keeps me fit and that makes me happy.
b.) I like pushing myself to the limit because it brings me face to face with who I really am and that REALLY makes me happy.
c.) I am good at sports and being "above average" at something which makes me happy and the possibility of being the best keeps me grounded and keeps me going.

I didn't like my job, so I changed it and went to work in Sports. I think if you aren't even happy with your hobby then you need to take a look at life and shake it up a bit.

Shreyas, who has always believed in my potential told me to get a decent Ironman in and then go back to doing the thing which I love the most. I wrote about it here.

He also saw what I had been doing till then and told me to shape up. And selflessly offered to help me with the training.

It was a tough few weeks. I am from New Delhi and have trained most of my life on a trainer. I have 0 bike handling skills.
On my 1st ride in Lausanne back in October, my friend and classmate Pavla sent me on a ride with her super strong climber husband Simon and his bunch of bikers. Among them was a 47 year old, CEO of Nestle Life Sciences, Greg Behar (who does close to a 2 Hour Olympic Tri at 47!). And I had my ass handed to me on the hills. After being in the leading group for 2 climbs, I formed a gruppetto and straggled in the back for the rest of ride. I cut a sorry figure, the reality hit me like a tonne of bricks.

So, I climbed as much as I could, in the presence of my friends Paula and Raphael.

I ran lots of miles with Paula who was there in every session till her coach began to wonder why she was doing so many extra miles. But she never left my side and supported me fully.

Connor, my Canadian friend, showed me the trails and hills in Lausanne.

Paula even went on a 187k bike ride with me, when I faced headwinds for 7 hours.
And I did a few more above 150k.
Even bonked on one at 70k, ran out of food and water at 80k and because I had ended up in France and my Swiss currency didn't work there, and it was windy and cold and raining, I rode 40k on empty till I got back to Switzerland. Even sat on the road and cried. But I did finish 186.5k that day.

I quit music on the run, ran listening to my body. And chose the path of aerobic base building, which has worked for me in the past.

I began to enjoy climbing. I did HUGE bricks, that NO ONE ELSE did. (120k + bike and 25k + run off the bike more than 3 times in 8 weeks).

I amassed over 1000k of running and 2000k of biking in 8 weeks. I lost a LOT of weight, improved as much as a guy possibly can, in 2 months.
I left it all out there. Gave my 100% each day. And I didn't have crazy expectations even as I went in.

And above all, don't think I'm telling you all this because I want sympathy or that I feel sorry for myself.
I don't want your sympathy.
And those who feel sorry for themselves never get anywhere in life.

I looked at my circumstances and did the best I could from them. And I told you all this because next time you complaining about weather being cold or some other bullshit post about equipment, I raced in a Triathlon suit with a hole in it because I didn't want to waste money.

If you are privileged and can buy stuff, don't shove it down others throat. Equipment is just an excuse. My financial crunch wasn't an excuse, it was a circumstance, that I overcame. My desire to stay safe was a concern for my parents.

And now onto the race:

Swim: 1:14:20 

To begin with, I felt like the ugly duckling. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE was in a wetsuit. And I was there with a Trisuit with a hole in it, shivering with cold from the Warmup swim. (IRONY!)

I was hoping to swim a 1:05 to 1:08.  And my 1st Km, came in 16 minutes, so I did think "I've got this". I also felt the water was surprisingly empty till I realised people have started to turn left. So I followed. And then felt a searing pain in my hip from a kick courtesy a lady or a gentleman who thought I was a piece of floating log.

And then it became a whole different game. 225.3 kms to go and already things started to go left. So what? I've done tougher things and seen tougher times. After pushing through, I was buoyed to see the final buoy. 3.93k as opposed to 3.8, not too much of a difference but could have saved over 2-3 minutes.

T1: 6:11

Unlike my last IM, when I spent 9 minutes in T1, I came down quickly enough, my jersey pocket already stuffed with food. Some of it did fall out, but staying calm I saved precious seconds as I started to rush towards the bike with my helmet and goggles on.
That's when a volunteer asked me to wear my shoes and run. Which slowed me down a bit. And then funnily enough, I began to wonder for a brief period where to exit but I saw people rushing out.

My awesome Wiggins Jersey which I bought from got some attention from the British fans, who cheered "Go Wiggins" as left T1 to embark on an increasingly warm day.

Bike: 6:19:13 (IM bike PB by 19 minutes)

I set off and held a steady 35 kmph for the 1st 30k of the course, not caring about the pain in my hip. I was mostly flat with slight rolls, however there were cars coming on the bikers area. Even though they were polite, at times I had to slow a bit which, when you are in race mode, is slightly annoying.

Then there was something I noticed, a LOT of people litter. And don't get penalised for it. I mean, just throwing gel packets and bottles outside the no litter zones. And the drafters. I think a LOT more people should have gotten drafting violations. But anyways.

Just a little bit before 30k the climb began but unlike Mallorca, this time I didn't slip right to below 10 kmph. My strategy was to not burn out on the hills, keep a steady HR and make times on the downhill. While I climbed, I did feel good about my training. 2 years back in Mallorca, I had developed an irrational hatred of hills but I overcame it through training and it just felt good.
And unlike my 1st ride here in Switzerland, I wasn't in a gruppetto! Europeans guys were actually behind me! That motivated me to keep pushing.

The roads wound into the beautiful Zurich countryside, with people out of their house cheering us on. There were some rolling sections which required a bit of skill too as the bike reached 50+ speeds approaching some sharp turns. The soundtrack of the day was the squealing of brakes.

I pulled a "Contador" when I jokingly attacked an uphill section at 36 kmph standing on my handlebars like Alberto Contador. But sat down 30 seconds later because I wasn't doing a bike race. 

The hills rolled on in the 1st lap, with some tough climbs and some really terrifying descents.

And then came the lovely little "Heartbreak hill". It sneaks on you so unsuspectingly and then *wham*, it just climbs right up. But the atmosphere was incredible. Just like the Tour De France, with spectators shouting and cheering you on! It made me get out of the saddle and climb! There was even a water shower on the uphill which helped cool off a bit on a day when temperatures were in the mid 30s with sun burning up.

By the time I started the 2nd lap, I was in dire need to pee and I was pedalling so hard that I missed the Washroom. So I stopped and started going back, when a very nice volunteer offered to take my bike for me. 3 minutes and I was back on my bike after filling my water bottles and washing my hands.

But with the heat, headwinds and because my nutrition was buried deep in my jersey pocket and became slightly inaccessible after eating 2/3rds of it, I began to fade a bit. I got tunnel vision and almost drifted off to sleep on the bike. My mom had prepared coffee-jaggery energy balls for me but they were at the bottom of my pocket. So after 120k, I decided to stop and take them out. I popped in 2 and suddenly my eyes were wide open.

On the 2nd lap, I joked to people if the hills had gotten longer ensuing laugher and making our suffering a little bit easy. I really don't think my sweat tastes sweet, but at 140k, a Bee decided to take a swig from me and bit me in the face. Being an Indian, I know the best solution is to rub bronze on the bite to avoid swelling but as there was no bronze object, I quickly dismounted, rubbed my face on the spoke for 30 seconds and started climbing again.

As I descended for the second time, I began to push harder and overtook a fair bit of people on the flat stretches. I even made it up the Heartbreak hill the second time in almost the same time I took for my 1st climb.

As I finished I waved to my mother who was watching me race for the 1st time in my life! She looked more nervous than me. I dismounted and ran in with my bike, to start the last part of this long day.
I just hoped the heat would go down a bit.

Oh, PS: IM Zurich had a bike elevation gain of 1499 meters, while Mallorca where I had struggled on the bike and then collapsed on the run due to the effort had 1300 meters! I'm genuinely pleased with that improvement.

More so, Richard McDowell took 5:36 on this bike course when he could, if I am not wrong, easily Time Trial 180k in under 5 hours. 6:19 was a bit much, due to the bee and pee(tee hee) but still not "horrible".

T2: 5:28

T2 last time took me 10+ minutes. I don't know what I was doing there for so long, but this time, I just took off my bike jersey and shorts which I had worn after pulling down my tri suit to make them a pair of shorts. I wore a T shirt on top of that, stuffed my pockets with salt pills and coffee balls and went out of the tent.

And then realised I am wearing my bike gloves. I was in 2 minds whether to just throw them away or keep them back in the bag, when a volunteer spotted my dilemma and offered to keep them in my bag.

Thanking him, I left to do what I enjoy the most. Run!

Run: 4:07:48 (IM Marathon PB by 47 minutes and 30 seconds)


Shreyas had warned me not to start off fast and so obeying him, I ran at a constant 5:15/km pace. Atleast to begin with. The run course wasn't as "flat" as advertised with some uphills and downhills which were accentuated by the 3.8k swim + 180k bike "warmup". I met Karthik Nagaraj, who was there as a volunteer and it was so heartening to see him, cheering and so full of energy!

At 4k, I decided to enter the Porta loo and not puke at the disgusting state of the toilet and get my stomach clean, because in the long term, it would make a lot of difference.
It did help but my coffee balls and salt pills fell in the pooper. So much for wasting 30 seconds stuffing them in my pockets in T2.

The run course had a lot of wet sponges and showers which I took full advantage off. But in the process got my shoes nice and wet, causing blisters.
I drank soup which they were serving in the stations! People who recognized me from the interview at the Welcome Dinner, cheered me on and I did the same to them.


Just before 10.55k, I found myself thinking: "I've got this. 5:15 for the next 2 loops and then a hard push and 3:45, wait why am I falling?"

In the train of thoughts, I was running close to the barricades and I tripped on one and fell. Having broken my teeth on one such falls, I had the sense to use my hands to break the fall.

People behind me were concerned, but I just got up, thanked them and started running.

What really had happened was my pelvic area cramped badly as I was falling and 5:15 suddenly became 6:15. But I wasn't going to stop. Or walk.

Like my hero, David Goggins always says, "If you want it, you will achieve it". 11:15 to 11:55 was my finishing range. If I tried to push faster my groin area and my right foot, which was blistered and cramping would have revolted. So I just said to myself "We're going to reset this damn boy. We're going to do 6 minutes/km on 2nd loop and then take it from there". And that's what I did.
I ran faster only when a bunch of Americans, who knew me from the dinner shouted at me to run faster and get some more "air time" as I ran. I loved them, so full of energy.

At the start of loop 3, I saw the Swiss legend 6 time Ironman World Champion, Natascha Badmann. If you haven't seen her documentary, you should, it is here. She had crashed on a bid to win her 7th IM World Championship, broken her arm. But she got back on the bike and started pedalling, stopping only when her husband told her that she could lose her life because of that decision.

I was so excited to see her I shouted her name. And the super humble lady, turned around, smiled and waved to me and said "You look strong out there, keep going".

Day made. Loop 3 was not really fun, the pace wasn't there 6-6:10 and constantly felt hungry. So just for the aid station, rather than running through and wasting the food, I walked for like 30 steps and ate. I then picked up the pace and it came down below 6 minutes/km. Living in Lausanne has made me so used to running uphills, I ran the uphill sections comfortably even though downhills were a minor inconvenience due to the blisters. The sun showed some signs of wavering and I picked up a nice constant rhythm. And as I started my last lap, I began to count the time.

Running at a slow pace makes me sleep.

"If I do 6 minutes/km, I get 11:55, let's keep this rolling." 

Forced smile of all Forced smiles 

There are a lot of Indians in Zurich and those who spotted the flag on my bib happily cheered me on. I did have the urge to ask for an Ice cream from the spectators but refrained. I even practised making an "S"(which didn't show up in the race pictures, it did on the finish line video which mom made, but S refuses to believe it). I began to get an inner thigh cramp at 38k but I just ignored it.

As the finish line approached, my pace was a nice 4:45/km, infact Garmin shows 2:52/km at one point. HAHAHAHA!

I did feel strong though. Despite the odds, despite the lack of structure till the end, despite the pain, the heat, the blisters, the cramps, I managed to better my Ironman PB by 1 hour and 8 minutes.

11:53:00 (2 minutes below my worst case scenario).



What I did do by not walking on the run, was make up a lot of places in the overall standings.

Pain is just a test, to allow you to pass to another level. That's what all the things that went wrong were on 30th July. They were all tests to see if I was capable. And all the tough times my family has gone through with me, all I know is this:
"We rejoice in our Sufferings, knowing that Suffering produces Endurance, Endurance produces Character, Character produces Hope and Hope does not disappoint Us."

Also, this marks my sabbatical from Long distance triathlon for a long time. I'll be back, that's for sure. I'll be back, stronger and faster.
I have a few people to thank, as usual.

My parents, it is through their support and sacrifice this project called life even exists, let alone thrives.

Sugandha, who gives me the goal for the life project.

Shreyas, I can't thank you enough and I don't even know how I can repay you, but even if it means human sacrifice (though I doubt you'd ever want that), I'll do that for you.

Zarir Sir, same goes for you. Like Eklavya, offered his thumb to Guru Dronacharya as a mark of respect, I'd do the same or even more, if needed.

Paula, Raphael and Connor: You guys stuck by me, through me torturous training sessions and didn't even complain. Which means, I'm going to take this opportunity and push you even harder for the next race!

Fast and Up India and Garmin India, who have continued to support me through all these years. (My 920XT is now almost 2 years old *hinting at something*)

And Hoke One One shoes. No they don't sponsor me, but they are EPIC training shoes.

See you all very soon :)


  1. Great effort and dedication.....keep rolling buddy! Cheers


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