The men who are shaking up the Indian Triathlon scene

As much as I love doing triathlons and racing, I equally enjoy watching them. At Ironman 70.3 Colombo, what really warmed my heart was the participation of 134 Indians. When I started 4 years back, we were just a bunch of rag tag endurance junkies, for whom 1 sport wasn't hard enough, so we chose to do 3.

Among those 134, 1 guy stood out and brought the Indian flag to the world's attention. He raced finished the race in 4:38:20( 32:57 swim, 2:30:55 bike, 1:31:12 run; which I think is the benchmark time for an Indian in 70.3 racing), getting 2nd in his AG & 10th overall in the race. The guy is Sujay Shalawadi, who I interviewed last year. I have kept in touch with him since and as it happens I am quite close with his coach. His coach, Subramani Venkatesh (Subbu), infact, was the pioneer of triathlon racing in India.

And I know this is going to pinch a lot of people, but bear with me. While most of us merely finish races with a big grin on our face, Subbu wears a terminator-esque look on his face while slowly demolishing his opponents. He's not the one who is satisfied with just crossing the line. He likes to do it fast. Just like Dave Scott and Mark Allen proved in 1989, that Ironman doesn't need to be merely finished, you can race over the distance, red-lining for over 8 hours, Subbu (with absolutely no disrespect to anyone else) has showed us that it is possible for an Indian to fight for the podium and be competitive.
Just look at him!! 

Apparently, that racing mentality has rubbed off on his student, Sujay as he hunted down people on the course at Colombo.

I for one, have stopped doing Ironmans because of the same reason. I don't want to be someone who is doing an Ironman after Ironman, just for the sake of finishing it (which is a great achievement in itself, but I like to be competitive). With the Indian triathlon scene growing so fast, I believe that Subbu & Sujay set the bar high. They show all the finishers, that with proper planning, training and strategy they too can be competitive!

So I bugged these 2 to answer a few questions I had, hope you guys enjoy them:

Q : 
It is hard to find something wrong in a race where you were 4th in the swim, 2nd off the bike and 1st in the run. But was there something you guys thought that could be changed, in hindsight?

And apart from the obvious more heat training. Living in -10, it is quite hard to simulate those run conditions until you have the Lionel Sanders heat room. 

Subbu: As a coach and an athlete myself, I do my homework about courses, I plan the training accordingly during peak weeks. Regarding positions I don’t think we have to do lot of changes in future here, given he has strong run, I would like to position him in closer to leaders, in cycling. This gives him enough time to catch the leaders during the run.

Yes, it’s certainly difficult to simulate heat conditions for the location he was racing, given he was staying in the Northern Hemisphere and the winter is really cold.  I’m not sure even Sanders’ heat room would help at times, because there were many variables to consider; to get the right salt balance. So Sujay did his best to keep warm while riding and I tried my best to get his sweat rate as close to being perfect for last three weeks before racing.

Sujay : Yes, coming off German winters to race in the sub-continent is not a great idea but a race in Colombo and Goa around the same time coupled with a visit home is irresistible to decline. 

Having said that I was concerned about the tropical weather conditions that I will be up against in both races. Subbu and I decided to mix the run between treadmills and outdoors evenly. The treadmill runs simulated around 25-28 degrees and the outdoor runs simulated high humidity. In Weimar, the humidity is mostly more than 80%. I layered up well to simulate hot conditions in the sub-zero conditions. 

Both races were aligned perfectly for the build-up. Goa being an Olympic distance was the test to see my fitness gains over the winter. Then with the next 10 days giving me a training block to build further for a longer race at Colombo, was good for me. My training volume during the 10 days was lower than in Europe. The focus was to prevent falling ill during this time. Got to run 3 times in the heat while in Bangalore so that helped me assess what intensity I can hold at Colombo. 

Q : 
I know that approaches these races from a racing mentality, instead of merely finishing them. So, did you guys plan tactics, research on the participating field and do a SWOT analysis? 

And in general, what were the individual tactics on the swim, bike and the run?

Subbu: You are right, Sujay was definitely racing than just finishing. We did our homework on the course, but not on who is racing, I personally do not believe in checking who is racing, instead set my focus on Sujay’s fitness development, I was trying to reinforce in Sujay too. Tactics were simple.

Swim: Since Sujay has strong run, I wanted him to pace the swim, rather than burning too much gas for a very short gain. FYI, Sujay has a strong enough swim to stay with second pack or tail end of swim leaders and draft comfortably saving energy. Trying to move into front pack leaders, risking the drafting position, could be a problem. So, I recommend him to stay close to leaders and pace it.

Bike: We had our plans based on Power, basically going hard in some sections and pacing others, but keeping an eye out on over all leaders not just his Age Group. I guess Sujay did very good even without Power Meter working.

Run: This was his strength, the goal was pushing hard, which he did, but sometimes it doesn’t go as per the plan. The course had some other plans to make him drop pace in last 5K.

Sujay: The goal was to go full throttle from the start to the finish. In the swim, I wanted to be in the draft of a faster swimmer but that didn’t happen, and I ended up swimming most of the course on my own. I focused on reducing drifting away from the shortest swim course. 

On the bike, I wanted to maintain my power numbers that I had trained for. I also wanted to stay hydrated and eat sufficiently before T2. My power meter calibration was totally off, and I had to ride by feel since I decided to ditch using a Heart rate monitor. This was a good experience. I managed to get the target Subbu had anticipated for me. The bike nutrition also went as planned.

From the dismount to the exit of T2 towards the start of the run. I enjoyed the feeling. I always like the feeling of the run after bike. There were 6 athletes starting the run including me and all set a high pace from the start and I started chasing them down and managed to pass all of them within 4 kms except for one. The rest of the run, I focused on keeping the gap between me and that athlete constant though the gap stretched a little. 

Ironman 70.3 Colombo being the first edition did not have a benchmark for podium, so it was all individual anticipation and Subbu nailed it. Except for his run anticipation, the other two disciplines were on point. I had a mild heatstroke while running and that reduced my pace towards the end of the run. But yeah! I still stood strong after crossing the finish arch.

The coolest thing was you accepted the entry to the 70.3 World Championships, because you earned it, rather than it being trickled down to you. Made my chest swell with pride when you said that. 

Had you already mapped out the season before Colombo? Or have you started to restructure around World Champs? What does your season look like? 

Subbu: Sujay’s ATP (Annual Training Plan) was pretty simple so far (the main goal was the World Championship(WC)). I personally laid out plan like Transition Phase, Muscular Endurance and Power Phase, and Race Phase.  Until now every race was considered as ‘A’ race. Now that the championship qualification is in the basket, it takes highest Priority. We will focus on building fitness towards WC and use other races as fitness tests.

SujayI had already made up my mind last year to do the 70.3 World Championships in 2018. Initial plan was to try qualifying from IM 70.3 Kraichgau but when Colombo opened, I jumped at the idea to qualify at the start of the season. After signing up, my gut feeling was that I will surely make it to the 70.3 WC from Colombo. I started my training with that mindset. The season started well for me and now I am keen for Subbu’s guidance leading to the 70.3 world championships.  

Q : 
Whats your take on the current Indian triathlon scene ? Now that more and more people are entering the world of triathlon, where do you think they can make improvements? 
Subbu: I remember discussing this in other another post(with Shreyas). I truly can’t speak for others, I know less in person about people in India (only through Facebook).
In general, I train athletes who are chasing their personal best dreams; some are chasing World Champion dreams, everyone is different, so I work based on their goal.
As a coach, I discuss things with talented athletes (within or outside my team), I don’t mind discussing things if it helps. I discuss with them and advise them about training and racing Attitude. A major problem I have seen with talented Young Athletes is how they are defining goals: Their goals and their talent are not aligned, some are not informed, some have a bad influence. As a coach, I sit with athletes help align goals matching their current skills and how they can approach it.

As for the Indian Triathlon scene, day by day this sport is gaining awareness, which is good. I am sure with right resources and right influences it will grow significantly in the right direction. Very soon many will be racing as elites.

Sujay : I am happy to see the participation of Indian triathletes in both the races. I had a chance to meet many of them during the races. Most of them are motivated to do better, now that’s a really good start to see Indians on podiums. While racing, I was happy to see all the Indians pushing their limits, again a good sight. The other good thing is that both races - Goa and Colombo are easy access for us so this could become a yearly race for many living in India.

Q : 
1 thing that you admire about the other person ?

Subbu: I am very much impressed with Sujay’s motivation, and his consistency in training. He doesn’t believe in shortcuts nor does he complain about workouts.    

Sujay:  Subbu is a very knowledgeable on the physical and mental aspects of triathlon. He is very practical in his approach and thinks about short-term and long-term goals for me. I have gained so much information from him since I have been training under him. I am confident of progressing towards the pinnacle of the sport in time with Subbu’s guidance.

Q : 
 Do you guys plan to race against each other at some time? It would be fun to watch for sure. Please make it happen!

Subbu: We can make this happen to you Arunaabh 
In time, if my schedule and travel permits or Sujay’s, I don’t mind racing together and standing up together on Podium (in AG or overall.)

Sujay: Not sure if we could race together this year. However, Subbu is interested in racing Goa and Colombo. Maybe we could be starting together at these races next year. 


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