Auckland, March 21, 2020
Kaustubh Radkar (37) is India’s foremost Ironman triathlete and leading endurance sports coach. He was the first Indian to complete an Ironman Triathlon race in 2008.
He became the first Indian triathlete to complete 25 successful Ironman race finishes in Taupo this month.
About the Ironman Triathlon
The Ironman Triathlon race comprises a 3.8 km open water swim (usually sea or lake) followed by a 180 km bike ride and a 42 km marathon run to be completed in a time of 17 hours.
There are individual cut-offs for each leg (swim is 2:20 hrs, bike is 8:10 hrs and the run is 6:30 hrs). It is considered the toughest, one-day endurance sport in the world.
Radkar can be credited for pioneering the Ironman movement in India. The country today has several hundred Ironman triathletes, all inspired by people like Radkar and other Gurus.
The Taupo event
The participation of 28 Indian triathletes at this year’s Ironman New Zealand event at Taupo was proof of the increasing popularity of the movement in India.
Our Team Radstrong, trainees of Radkar, had ten members.
We arrived in Taupo, two days before Race Day. Standing in front of the magnificent, Great Lake in Taupo on the morning of March 5, 2020 for a recce swim, I felt a distinct nervousness.
I was swimming in a wetsuit in cold, 13 degree lake waters for the first time.
However, the experience was divine. The lake waters were crystal clear and you could literally count the weeds at the bottom of the lake.
The great Race Day
Race day on Saturday, March 7 saw 1500 Ironman triathletes from across the world assemble on the banks of the Great Lake Taupo just before the 0800 hrs gun-start.
You could have almost touched the nervous excitement in the air.
The exuberant Maori dancers performing the fascinating, Haka dance on the lakeside, minutes before the start, broke the calm and the tension.
The gun-start saw the professional Ironman triathletes take off, as if there was no tomorrow, while lesser mortals like us (a majority were amateurs) took their time to start the long and arduous, 3.8 km swim around a designated loop.
I experienced some painful cramping in my right leg midway through the swim.
The pain subsided in five minutes and I made the swim cut-off by 18 minutes.
I was knackered, cold and numb after the swim.
I had also wrongly presumed that the bike leg would see sunny skies and had not packed a protective jacket in my transit bag for the challenging 180 kms bike leg. I rode in my tropical, sleeveless tri-suit top and shorts and immediately felt frozen and cold on the bike.
Coach Radkar had instructed me to ride at an average speed of 25 kmph for the bike leg. But the cold head winds and cross winds on the long highway road to Reporoa put paid to my speed. I could never cycle faster than 22 kmph on an average. I had lost the plot and the race.
This is when the wonderful volunteers from Team Mercury came to the rescue.
A helpful volunteer at the 50 kms mark, responded to my cry for help and lent me her teenaged daughter’s full sleeve cotton tee shirt.
This helped me ride 165 kms in 7:35 hrs, before the course referee stopped me on the last hill at the descent into Taupo, stating that I was five-seven minutes beyond the 8:10 hrs cut-off time.
I pleaded with him to allow me to take a shot at the cut-off, but he was unrelenting.
I was bundled off into a van with eight other triathletes who had failed to cycle fast enough and a ‘did not finish’ (DNF) tag was attached against our names.
Coach Radkar and the rest of my eight triathlete buddies all successfully completed the race.
I was thoroughly disappointed but the hundreds of consolation messages on my mobile handset from India reminded me that I could live to fight another day.
This was my second visit to picture-postcard, New Zealand (the first was in 2010) and one which was equally memorable.
I was interviewed on the Konkani channel of Planet FM in Auckland, had dinner with old Indian friends, spoke about my Ironman race at the Rotary Club of Somerville and caught up with my college friend, Naaz Shah, former India Hockey Olympian in Hamilton.
Fifty-seven year old Rahul Chandawarkar is a former newspaper Editor and a triathlete in India.