He swam,He cycled,He ran

It's not like he jumped onto his laptop immediately on returning from the airport.

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | Mumbai | Published: March 22, 2012 6:10:24 am

It’s not like he jumped onto his laptop immediately on returning from the airport. But having had no access to the internet for close to a week,Siddharth Varadkar was obviously keen—as most in this generation would be—to check up on his virtual scape. And what greeted him there—his Facebook profile page—almost knocked the 29-year-old software engineer from Borivali off his chair.

Missing were the complimentary courtesy messages and the random hellos. Instead,across the length and breadth of the page were congratulatory notes and even a running commentary on his super-human feats away in Colombo,Sri Lanka.

“It’s the last thing I expected,” he says,clearly yet to recover completely from the shock now a month later.

Varadkar after all didn’t even assume that many knew what sporting competition he was exactly participating in across the southern border. And for good reason. For most Indians,the sobriquet IronMan at the most would stand for the comic-book hero inspired science fiction movie from three years ago,or for the more musically-inclined—the 1970s classic by heavy metal behemoths,Black Sabbath. That it is instead an athletic event fit to stretch human will-power and physical endurance to the nth level is yet to hit home in a big way here. But like Varadkar realized to his pleasant surprise,the triathlon too has its own set of followers,especially in his very own friend’s circle. And he indeed deserves to take credit for the burgeoning fandom.

“Even the GM (general manager) in my company dropped me a mail,congratulating me on my effort,” says Varadkar. Having spent more than a decade putting his body through the most strenuous of tests in a sport so obscure,only very few are even aware of its existence,Borivali’s superman is only getting his due finally.

Varadkar’s overall final position in the IronMan Sri Lanka 70.3 of 132 among more than 200 other competitors—and 19th in his age-group—might not standout as a momentous achievement by sheer numbers. But completing a course,which includes a 1.9 km smile,90 km bike ride and 21.1 km half-marathon should in itself be a feat worth all the plaudits that have come his way. And though his dream of competing in the entire stretch of the IronMan Triathlon—which is double the distance of the event in the Emerald Isle—is still a way off; Varadkar is giving it his all to enhance his progress towards it.

“The IronMan is an event where you need to participate constantly over a number of years before you reach the aerobic level to win it. The present world champion Australian Craig Alexander is 38 now,and he’s won it on three occasions,” explains Varadkar,who finished with a timing of 6 hours 24 minutes,his best so far.

“I could have done better but my cycle suffered a flat tire,and unlike in venues like Europe,in the subcontinent we have to use the hand-pump to fix it. And I rode the last 40 km with lesser pressure which robbed me off at least 15-20 minutes,” he adds.

So how did this son of a cricket-eccentric father,who has been a manager of the Air-India cricket team,decide to turn his back on a sport so dear to his entire family? There was obviously no shying away from cricket growing up,he ascertains.

“My parents always encouraged me,however,to try out every sport possible,and after my share of cricket and football I started taking great interest in swimming and adventure sports. I would go on treks and expeditions all around the state,” recalls Varadkar.

It was while on a work assignment to the United States of America that he really discovered the perfect platform for his multiple sporting interests. And though he had been following the exploits of the likes of iron-men German Faris-Al Sultan—who was present in Colombo—since 2003,it was only there that he began participating in sprint events. He then graduated onto the Olympic distance—1.5 km swim,40km cycle and 10km run—triathlons before becoming a regular on the IronMan 70.3 circuit.

“Over in the US,there are such events held within a 100km radius of each other,and you just enrol yourself and participate. The gear available there for the events too is much more advanced that what you get in India,” he says.

But a bout of monotony set in soon after and Varadkar decided to return home after three years in the US,but his passion for being a triathlete remained intact. This despite the lack of facilities and opportunities—there is not a single triathlon held in India.

The initial scenes of a triathlon are considered among the most amazing sights in modern-day sport with close to 1500 competitors creating a traffic jam in the sea. The swimming,however,doesn’t contribute much to the final outcome of the race,believes Varadkar.

“They say you cannot win an IronMan through swimming but you sure can lose one. It just sets the initial pace as you are fresh and the distance is minimal,” he says. It is the two transition periods that make the real difference,especially T2 when the participants shift from cycling to the marathon. And it is this last phase that has proved to be Varadkar’s scourge on a number of occasions.

“Each athlete has his strengths. And mine is cycling. But while that facet of my game has improved drastically over the years—considering it is the longest part of the race—my running has taken a hit,and that’s why my focus is in getting that sorted,” admits Varadkar,who even ran the Mumbai Marathon as preparation.

The flexibility with regards to timing in his software firm helps Varadkar train at optimum levels through the week,and he takes it one aspect a week.

“This is my swimming week. I also do something called brick training,which is basically 40km swimming followed by a short 4-5 km run to strengthen the quads,” he says. Slow and steady wins the race eventually in triathlon,and being desperate to taste success prematurely can only rupture your body and your chances further. “Anything from a sore throat to a serious knee injury,” according to Varadkar.

While winning an event as energy-sapping is this is mainly a question of mind over matter,you cannot let the mind do all the dictating. And keeping up your nutrition levels is most important—considering that on an average an IronMan competitor loses up to 20,000 calories during a race. And while there are no official triathlon coaches in the country,Varadkar has got himself a nutritionist thanks to this father’s aegis.

“The internet is the best coach,and there are coaching programmes that you can actually buy from there,” he says.

Varadkar wasn’t the only Indian at the Sri Lanka IronMan. There were around seven others,from different parts of the country. But it will take a lot more to spread the interest and know-how of his sport in India.

“Interestingly,80 per cent of them were from the software industry and those who had got some exposure to triathlon events while living abroad. I even received a phone-call from someone who wants to take part in the next IronMan in Singapore,” adds Varadkar.

At the end of the day,watching a plethora of people jumping into the water and just pushing their bodies to extreme limits just inspires you to give it a shot in Varadkar’s opinion. Well for now anyway,India’s IronMan seems to have motivated a few more than before to at least sit up and take notice.

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