At the final few meters of Megh Thakar’s Ironman run, an announcement blared on the loudspeaker. “Here comes the birthday boy, another record holder,” recites the 18-year-old, as he recalls his final strides of the Louisville Ironman competition held 11 days back.
Finishing the gruelling course made him the youngest ever Indian to do so – given that the minimum age for competing is 18. “I turned 18 on race day, not many will be able to do that.” The journey to the lengthy triathlon – a 3.86 km swim, 180 km of cycling and a full marathon – in Kentucky began in his hometown Pune back in May when he had finished his standard 12 board examinations. “My dad owns a bicycle shop and he’s always coming across people who’ve completed the Ironman,” Thakar says. “So I checked the dates, realised I’d be eligible to compete, and decided to start training for it.”
Swimming was the event he was most natural at, given that he had been competing at the nationals since he was 10. What he needed work on though was in the cycling and running parts of the the competition. Incidentally, one of the customers at Thakar’s father’s shop happened to be a certified Ironman coach, Kaustubh Radkar, who has completed the competition 22 times himself.
“I observed all metrics and updated all the programs every week,” Radkar says. “He was very disciplined through training, but sometimes I had to rein him back because he’d push himself too much. Youthful exuberance perhaps, but there was a risk of injury.”
For five months Thakar’s schedule was dominated by a training regimen that was to prepare him for a one-day event. His social life, particularly on the weekends, no longer existed. Saturdays instead was dedicated to cycling up to Lonavala or Lavasa with his father driving close behind. “That actually turned out to be a good exercise,” he says. “Cycling uphill gave me a lot of strength in the legs.”
Barring the fact that he had to train during the monsoon, there was not much he could have done to prepare himself for the unexpected deluge that engulfed Kentucky on the day of the race. The temperature was five degree Celsius, and the rain was relentless.
Around the 80th kilometre mark in the cycling event, he started to cramp and had no choice but to stop. There he was, sitting on the side of a road in Kentucky for 47 minutes, gulping down energy drinks and salt tablets with the hope of recovering. “I had heard stories that after about 120 km it all becomes a mind game. But that had started for me much earlier,” he says. “But I had also heard stories of how some finished the race with bigger injuries. I knew that I could handle the running, so I decided to just push through the cycling.”
Chugging through and finally finishing the Ironman in 13 hours, 15 minutes and 20 seconds made him the youngest Indian to complete the Ironman. Ironically, he’s now decided not to compete in any full Ironman events for a while. “It doesn’t suit the schedule, so maybe the half Ironman,” he says.