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Meet the Indian mountaineer, 24, who completed solo Ironman triathlon in pandemic

Harshvardhan Joshi from Maharashtra was all set to participate in the second edition of Ironman triathlon in Goa, but it was soon called off. This, however, did not deter his spirits

Written by Disha Roy Choudhury | New Delhi | Updated: November 28, 2020 9:15:57 am
ironman triathlonHarshvardhan Joshi, a young Indian mountaineer (Source: Harshavardhan Joshi)

Earlier this year, Harshvardhan Joshi, a 24-year-old mountaineer from Vasai in Maharashtra, was all geared up to fulfil his dream — climbing Mount Everest. But with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, the expedition was stalled even before it could begin.

“I picked up mountaineering in my second year of engineering, in 2015. For the past four years now, I have been preparing to climb Mt Everest. Now the expedition has been postponed for a year because the climbing season for Everest is between April and May,” Joshi told indianexpress.com.

With one dream derailed for the time being, Joshi diverted his energy towards his other big dream — the prestigious Ironman triathlon. He went on to register for the event, scheduled for its second edition in India, in Goa. He had been aiming for the triathlon for about three years but had to postpone it every time owing to financial constraints. “Athletes usually have to fly all the way to America or Europe to participate in the event. But this time, I could afford to take part since it was being held in India,” Joshi said.

ironman triathlon Joshi organised a solo triathlon on World Mental Health Day 2020. (Source: Harshvardhan Joshi)

Organised by the World Tritahlon Corporation (WTC), Ironman Triathlon is a series of long-distance races, comprising swim (3.86 km), bicycle ride (180.25 km) and a marathon (42.20 km). Most Ironman events have a limited time of 16-17 hours to complete the race. The triathlon in Goa, originally scheduled for November 8, 2020, would have offered qualifying slots to the 2021 Ironman World Championship.

However, around August-September, the triathlon got called off, quashing Joshi’s hopes of participating in the event once again. But instead of giving up, he decided to not let his training go waste and organise a triathlon all by himself.

What followed was meticulous planning. “I live on the outskirts of Mumbai that has many lakes. I asked the villagers if I could swim in their dam along with a fisherman. I also looked up some routes on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway for racing. When I pitched the idea to my California-based Ironman coach, he welcomed the idea after some initial hesitation,” he said.

With some friends, Joshi managed to organise a triathlon independently in Palghar. “On World Mental Health Day, October 10, I set out to complete the same distance in the same cut-off timing as was required in triathlon,” he said.

Training indoors during the lockdown

Such gruelling fitness challenges, however, require months of training and practice. And with the government imposing a lockdown amid the pandemic, Joshi, who had been undergoing rigorous training outdoors, found himself confined to home for almost 70 days that affected not just his workout routine but also his overall wellbeing. “I started training at home but to be honest, I gradually got lazy and felt depressed.”

ironman triathlon Joshi opened up on how organising the event turned out to be more difficult than doing it. (Source: Harshavardhan Joshi)

But it did not take the athlete long to realise the need to resume his workout routine, especially now that he had decided to organise the triathlon. With the announcement of Unlock 1.0 in June, Joshi managed to procure a treadmill, and got a secondhand bike shipped from Kolkata. That took care of his running and bike training. As for swimming, a doctor he knew offered his private pool for practice.

Read| World’s oldest Ironman, 87, is gearing up for the championship’s next edition

“When I look back, I realise that organising the race was far more difficult than doing it,” the 24-year-old said. One of the obvious challenges was raising funds. “I did not hope to raise a lot of funds for the event because the pandemic had already hit people financially. I even sold some of the Everest gear to fund my training for the triathlon. But I wanted to motivate others and make them realise the value of their health,” Joshi said. “There was no gear for the race; I borrowed stuff, walked barefoot, wore a normal t-shirt and swimming shorts. What I wanted to show was that you do not always require a lot of equipment but the passion and time to invest.

“With some help from his friends, who provided the camera and photographer, Joshi filmed a 12-minute documentary on his solo triathlon.

How to train for Ironman

“Most people do multi-sports activities at least once or twice a week, and then three runs and three bike rides. Most of the Ironman endurance training involves low-intensity, high volume and long duration workout. It has to be a sustainable workout,” Joshi said. As for nutrition, athletes consume a lot of carbohydrates for recovery, along with healthy fats and protein.

Joshi also took us through his workout routine. “I work out six days a week. Every Monday is a recovery day and every fourth week is a recovery week during which I do slower runs. I am following a specific training plan for Everest which involves three runs every week, two hikes, and general core and strength training exercise. My Saturday and Sunday workouts are long.”

While regular workouts can be easily done at home, running indoors may not be as feasible. “Exercising outdoors helps a lot with your mental wellbeing. Indoor workouts are not as motivating. It is very humid and sweaty because you are confined in a room. Outdoors, all your senses are activated and your body feels much better. Again, running on a treadmill can get monotonous but outdoors, you have a rolling terrain — it is more time-consuming but is much better.”

Having added a feather in his cap, Joshi is now back to preparing for scaling Mt Everest. Before signing off, he recalled how his parents, like many others in India, did not even want him to play sports. “Ten years ago, my parents wouldn’t let me play outdoors, saying I should focus on my academics. But I started working at the age of 15 — I used to assemble and sell computers. It was when I started becoming independent, I did my best to gain their trust. In fact, they advised me against taking up a corporate job and encouraged me to follow my passion. Most of my friends have also been supportive in my journey,” he said.

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