Rahil Parag Bhansali successfully completed the gruelling Ironman 70.3 Triathlon event held at Goa on October 20, 2019, winning a medal for clocking a time of 7 hours 12 minutes over the course which comprises three stages – 1.9 km swimming, 90 km cycling and a 21.1 km run. Rahil is the son of Nina and Parag Navinchandra Bhansali.
The Ironman 70.3 is an internationally popular event (the younger sibling of the Ironman 140.6) that was being held in India for the first time. To be successful, a participant has to complete the course in a maximum of 8.5 hours with further individual cut-offs for each section.
Rahil, who has earlier completed 10k run in the Mumbai Marathon in 2018 and the 21k in 2019, shared how and why he participated in this event as well as his approach to fitness, life and some of the steps involved in preparing for this event, hoping they would be useful as guidelines to others who wish to take up similar challenges.
Palanpur Online: What motivated you to give the Ironman 70.3 event a shot?
Rahil Bhansali: A lot of what I do, I do only because I enjoy testing my own limits. Over the last decade I have been exploring various ways of being fit since my body weight has swung many times. Most recently, in May 2017, I touched 97.5 kgs. At the time, my wife Pooja - a big supporter of mine, and my parents pushed me to lose weight. My lifestyle then was around 16 odd hours at work, traveling every week between Mumbai and Pune, with no regular exercise. That was the starting point of my journey to being fit again, and in a sense that eventually led me to Ironman, though the actual decision to participate came only later, in December 2018.
PO: It must have been a huge lifestyle change. What helped you accomplish it?
RB: About the same time (around May 2017), I was also really lucky to be a part of Hiteshbhai’s workshops as a part of the Inspiration Series (‘Behind the Scenes with A Serial Entrepreneur’ – a mentoring workshop conducted by Hiteshbhai Mehta - Editor). Many of the things I picked up there were my companions as I started working out. For example, I learned was that we could feel successful everyday by focusing and asking oneself if one had gained in knowledge, experience and positioning daily.
It also helped me in setting goals – I signed up for the Mumbai Marathon at that time – and by perseverance and pushing the daily boundaries a little at a time, I not only reached a level of fitness but it became my passion. I went from 500 skipping to doing 10,000 in 50 mins and started pushing myself to do leg workouts too (got to pushing 400 kgs on the leg press machine).
PO: So what made you think of Ironman?
RB: In December 2018 (just before doing the 21K Mumbai Marathon), I asked myself what I'd like to do once this was over. The answer clearly was signing up for the Ironman 70.3 in Goa, especially since it was its first edition in India. Moreover, since it was scheduled for October 2019, it ensured I had enough time to prepare and a reason to continue maintaining my fitness post completion of my 21K goal.
Setting a target before finishing the previous one worked wonders for me - its allowed me to focus on my short-term target and quickly reset myself and focus on the next post completion of the race. A part of being fit (and where I struggled historically) was setting a big goal, meeting it, and then wondering what I wanted to do next. In a way it is like the elusive six-pack abs - which I've always wanted but could never manage to achieve since its easy to lose focus along the way when your goal is unrealistic.
But this time was different for me. Even before I registered, I was already able to run a 21K and swim a 1.9K both with relative ease individually. I didn't own a cycle or hadn't really done both together. So, a lot of my training was focused on just ensuring I could practice cycling the distance (90K) and doing stuff sequentially together.
PO: Any advice for other young would-be participants in Ironman?
RB: Let me actually begin with a word of caution – not all of what I did is necessary if you plan to do an event like an Ironman. Each participant there had their own stories regarding their fitness levels and how they got there.
If you are considering doing the event or something similar - here's a few things you could consider:
1. Goal - No matter the fitness - SET A GOAL. Goal-Setting is the first thing that helped me align my mind and body so that they supported each other. Without a vision or target, it’s easy to mis-read whether you should listen to your mind or body on days you are feeling tired. With one, your mind pushes your body to finish the daily milestone.
In practical terms, if you are extremely fit, an event that's six months away is good enough to get in shape. If you are looking to get fit, sign up for something 10-12 months away and be ready to put in effort.
2. Plan - No matter what the goal is – Develop a Plan and break it down into Smaller Milestones. Like Hiteshbhai told us, success should be felt daily. So, my training plan was broken into parts. From March to May, I had to be able to build up from 30 km cycling to 90 km cycling. From May to July I could not workout due to a shoulder fracture. In August when I resumed my workouts, I had to rebuild and reset my plan.
Planning also ensures you buy what's required - I had to buy a cycle, some nutrition items for longer workouts, learn how to fix a puncture in my cycle, and own a watch to measure my heart-rates during my workouts.
3. Train - Registering is the easy part - but effort during training is what matters. I had to Wake up Early to ensure I could spend 6-8 hours a week in the first few months, and later 10-12 hours a week. Since I had family and work commitments, I needed to adjust my lifestyle to waking up early and get the time I needed. I missed some workouts – and now I realise that had I trained better, my chances of finishing with a good time would have been better.
During the peak months my training week looked like this:
Monday - Rest
Tuesday - 1.6K swim & a 8K run
Wednesday - 75 mins cycling - easy
Thursday - 60 mins cycling - speed
Friday - 2K swim
Saturday - 90K bike + 13K run
Sunday - 10K easy run
Most often, due to other commitments, I only achieved about 75% of the workouts I had planned. But, that ensured I was mentally ready and my breathing technique and heart rate was good throughout. For me mind and breathing was more important than many of the other physical fitness attributes.
3. Support – This is the Biggest Motivator. It's important to have family & friends who are 100% aligned. Waking up early and spending a good amount of time working out affects other parts of your routine. While there were many positives due to this routine, I often had to go to bed early when others were still chatting, and was also not able to help my wife in parenting at times. Having people who stick to you even when you are anti-social or sleepy - is important.
Additionally, finding new friends and a coach is also important. This was the everyday inspiration I needed. Signing up on an app like Strava, signing up with a coach you feel accountable to and signing up for the race with friends or family so you have someone to share your pain - all help in motivating you to put in the hours and answer the question - is it really worth it.
4. Race & Enjoy - If Your Mind Is Ready - Your Body Will Be Too. On Race Day - my family helped distract me from pre-race jitters. Plus - I knew I couldn't change anything so just had to enjoy the moment. When I finished my swim and started the bike, I asked myself whether it was worth it - and when I looked around and thought about how I got here, I could only smile and enjoy the feeling.
On my 3rd loop, I got severe cramps in my leg despite having consumed over 3 litres of electrolytes and food. I had never experienced this during training or the practice race in Pune. I had to pause for 10 mins and as I sat on the side of the road - in pain - my mind kept telling me - its okay - I would bounce back and finish the race. Being mentally prepared ensured that not once did I think of giving up during this time - instead my mind kept encouraging my body. This ensured I finished the 25K of cycling I had left and the 21K run after.
I also drew inspiration from a number of extraordinary individuals -- 50+ year olds and people with disabilities doing the race faster than me.
That day I thoroughly enjoyed myself and put my best foot forward to finish. When I crossed the finish line - I felt a feeling of success, and grateful for how I got there.
5. Forget & Reset - No Matter What You Achieve, Reset and Move On. Just four hours after the race ended - believe me when I say this - I didn't even feel anything. I had forgotten what I did. The high of racing, put in efforts and achieving what I set out to achieve evaporated and I went on to focusing back on my family and going dolphin hunting with my son the next day. I didn't feel anything or a sense of what I achieved. While messages poured in wishing me good luck - for me I was grateful but had already moved past it. I already forgot what I achieved and it became a lingering thought. My mind was now re-calibrating ahead.
That's one of the things I learned from the workshops about such "highs" - they last only momentarily and so it’s important to be detached from the outcome.
At that moment I realised that it would not have really mattered had I not managed to finish the race. After all, for me was just a small milestone in the journey I've decided to undertake for myself and my mind now re-calibrates and asks what I will do next. I wanted to feel personally successful and experience not only the few seconds of "high" on completion but an amazing few months of building up to getting there - I realised - the fun for me was in the build up to the race.
PO: What next?
RB: I am already refocusing on the the 21K I had signed up for on November 17, 2019 in Mumbai and the 42K I signed up for in Jan, 2020 also in Mumbai. And I am already thinking of the Ironman 140.6 (6 which is double the distances for each of the three sections) I wanted to sign up for and asking when would be a good time to do so. In the not too distant future, I hope.
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