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How athletes train for triathlons like the Ironman

Before Ironman 70.3 Goa on Sunday, Lounge speaks to two athletes on how they tailor their fitness training for the race

Training for a triathlon requires dedication and planning.
Training for a triathlon requires dedication and planning. (Unsplash/Beau Runsten)

In 2019, Sanjay Sharma lined up at the start of the first edition of Ironman 70.3 Goa. His aim was to simply finish the race, which he did in 7 hours and 23 minutes. Three years later at the second edition, he looked to make gains and improved on his timing by around eleven minutes.

“During the first attempt, I had experienced severe cramping and my nutrition went haywire. The mind was all over the place as I tried to account for too many things that could happen during the race. With the experience that I had gained and harder training, things were much better when I returned to the race in 2022,” Sharma, 53, says.

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On Sunday, 8 October, Sharma will be looking to register his third finish at Ironman 70.3 Goa, while aiming for the 6 hour, 30 minutes mark. He has been training specifically for the triathlon since the beginning of June under coach Siddhant Singh Chauhan, though he started preparing for it even earlier.

Sanjay Sharma participates in a previous edition of the Ironman 70.3 Goa.
Sanjay Sharma participates in a previous edition of the Ironman 70.3 Goa.

“After the race in 2019, during the pandemic, there was no training or racing for a long duration. The difference this time is that the continuity has remained after last year’s Ironman. I’ve been able to finish two full marathons and a 200km brevet ride. So when I started training in June, I had worked on my endurance and had to simply bring about tweaks to the speed, effort, volume and intensity of the sessions,” he says.

During the first month, Sharma logged 6-7 hours of training each week. A majority of the time was dedicated to the swim, logging a weekly mileage of around 6km. At his peak, he clocked 12 hours of training each week, taking on a bigger running load of about 35-40km closer to the event.

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“I started out with two days of swimming, two days of running, one day of bike and run, and one day of a long bike ride or a long run. Alongside riding in the outdoors, I also focussed on threshold rides on an indoor trainer, especially once the monsoon set in,” he says.

Besides strength work in the gym and specific focus on his mobility, core and lower body, Sharma also put in training specific to the course in Goa, which is known for its inclines. A few sessions featured 30 minute runs, followed by stair climbing for three minutes, before getting on with the run again.

“That exercise was to give the quads and hamstrings a feel of the intense uphill and downhill. The course has a short uphill of about 200 metres from the Dona Paula circle to Raj Bhavan, after which it slopes downwards again. And we encounter this thrice during the race,” he says.

The challenges were different for Tanvi Kale, 30, who is gearing up for her first half Ironman distance (1.9km swim, 90km bike ride and 21.1km run). It started with simply building her base fitness and under coach Arjun Kandikuppa, and she has been making rapid gains since February.

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“I’ve always been into sports and was a weightlifter before I took on my journey as a triathlete. The thought of an Ironman always scared me and I was in awe of people who could finish one. And since I like to do things that scare me, I decided to give it a go as well,” Kale says.

Running was her weakest link and Kale recalls the start to be really slow. From putting in 20 minutes on the treadmill, she worked her way up to logging a weekly mileage of 30km at her peak. She was soon taking on brick workouts—back-to-back efforts of running and cycling or swimming and running—and adding strength workouts to the day as well.

Tanvi Kale participating in a Triathlon event.
Tanvi Kale participating in a Triathlon event.

Kale also incorporated Yin yoga sessions as part of her training, where the idea is to typically hold an asana for longer periods of time. Alongside dietician Maitreyi Bokil, she chalked out a nutrition plan, where her meals comprise 50% proteins, 20% carbs and the remaining fats.

“There’s a good chance you won’t finish a race because of bad nutrition, so awareness about what you are consuming during training and racing is critical. I don’t believe in restrictive dieting or cutting out food groups. If I really crave certain food, I ensure that I eat it right before a workout so that it doubles up as fuelling for the session,” she says.

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A lot of Kale’s time has been dedicated to things outside of training as well—from learning bike maintenance to race nutritionand how to ensure a smooth transition between the three disciplines. She’s also consciously worked towards assessing how things may unfold on the day of the event.

“It’s important to understand that just like you have good days, you can also have bad days. Women deal with a lot of hormonal cycles throughout training, which may extend to race day as well. So to understand when the body is saying no versus when the mind is saying no is important. Mental training is a bit of both—not giving up when things get tough, as well as realising that it’s just a race and not the end of the world, in case things go wrong,” Kale says.

Shail Desai is a Mumbai-based freelance writer.

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