My Epic journey to one of the world’s most extraordinary race: IRONMAN - 140.6 Miles

Kapil Arora

3rd March,2019 , Lake Taupo, New Zealand

So after I wore my wet suit at around 6.40 am and was walking towards the starting line, I suddenly heard a loud sound, that of a cannon being fired, which made many people scared. In New Zealand, professional races start with a cannon ball fire and not a gun fire, followed by a Maori dance.

This cannon fire was meant for professional starters, and the race started exactly at 6.45am, 15 minutes prior to the amateur race.

Ten minutes later, at 6.55am, I was standing in the freezing water of Lake Taupo. For people like me who generally swim in swimming pools, this was excessively cold – felt like 5-6 degrees Celsius.

Before I could realize, 5 minutes had passed in a jiffy and “boom”. With a massive cannon ball fire and a loud cheer from the crowd, the lake race started.

Swim (3.8 Km)

The swimming event was perfectly designed. There were 16 pillars, each around 100 meters apart and the first pillar was 500 meters from the starting point. Lake Taupo is beautiful, with pristine, clear waters, but there was a big problem.

I was standing right in front, without realising there will be faster swimmers who would try to surpass me. Unlike running and biking, there is usually no space while swimming, and every one wants to be close to the marking pillars. There are two reasons for this: one you don’t want to loose your sight and drift away, wasting more time and effort to return on track and second, you want the shortest possible distance to be covered.

Three minutes into the race, I felt kicks and pushes from all sides as I tried to control my breath in the cold water and create my rhythm. But this was of no avail, and the kicks and pushes continued for the next 15-20 minutes. My biggest fear was losing my swimming goggles, which would have been a disaster of sorts. But I tried to keep my composure. My race strategy was to push towards the finish line after covering half the distance (i.e, after 1.9 km), and then take a U-turn to head back to the finish area.

After half time, I realised that there is no reason to be cautious. It was time to speed up. This swim from 1.9-2km was my best swim ever. I practised the breathing technique and moved swiftly, yet pushed myself slowly and gradually.

After 1.35 hours, finally the finish line was in sight. I got out of the water realizing that my biggest fear of swimming is about getting drowned, or my goggles coming out. But once I took the plunge I overcame all my fears and apprehensions. I did much better than my own expectations. I reminded myself the power of positive talk – today was going to be my day. There is no stopping now. I slowly ran towards the transition 1 area to quickly change, eat one more banana and hop on to my bike, which was kept the previous evening on the stand with my race number. One part was over, two to go now.

Bike (180 Km)

The bike course was designed 45 km one way towards Rotura and back. We had to go twice around this loop, which was 90km one way.

We had to start off with an elevation, and I was cruising at 30km/h for the first 45 km, enjoying the mesmerizing and breathtaking beauty of the countryside and farmlands of New Zealand. It was a heavenly ride. The weather was perfect and the arrangements were immaculate. I really didn’t expect it to be so good. I peddled more vigorously and increased my speed as I approached the 45km mark with a promise that I will be going back to finish my first loop of 90km quite quickly. This was the time I realized I was hungry and gobbled the granola bar I had taped on my bike. Believe me this was one of the best decisions I had ever taken and there is a reason I am mentioning this.

As I turned back after 45 km to go back to Town Taupo to complete my first loop of the 90-km ride, I was stuck with a massive wind blowing against me. It really was strong, and I just felt like stopping then and there. My speed had dropped from 30km/h to a meagre 18 km/h even though I was pushing as hard. I was wondering how in the world I am supposed to finish this 45-km loop with another 90-km loop pending.This is where I felt someone calling me from behind. Kapil..Kapil…I looked around and found my friend Mrigesh. There were seven people from India and eventually four finished the race. I didn’t know how I was ranked at that moment but I was definitely pushing myself hard. Both me and Mrigesh chatted for a while on how deceptive these headwinds were and then we parted ways.

It was a huge struggle to reach Town Taupo, my entire momentum and speed had been devastated by unexpected headwinds. But I learned a very important lesson. I realized that for the second loop I need to push hard in the first 45km so that I can manage my average speed.

5.5 hrs into the race Now..

Thankfully, the first round of 90km was over in about 3.30 hours and it was time for next 90km. Here I started to speed up and after half an later, I took out another granola bar and Redbull from my “Special Needs” pouch. Special Needs is another bag kept inside the goodie bag given to us. These are available in two counters during the Run and Bike leg of the race. An athlete is also provided a special need bag to keep essential items that may be needed during the event.

As planned, I started to speed up at around the 100-km mark but I suddenly realized that the route was changed and the new route is up the mountain. Oh man, this was least expected but nevertheless, I gathered my courage and a resolve to “Kill the Mountain” and started my journey once again, pushing relentlessly. More than 5.5 hours had passed but my goal was like a razor sharp line. All I could think of was to finish Bike and then to my fav sport Marathon. Also, the failure in the Mumbai Marathon made me more resilient and I wanted to prove a point to the world, but most importantly to myself. Somewhere I had read about “The Gift of Failure”: Failure was a gift, embrace it and learn from it. No one in the world can teach you more than your own failure. For you exactly know your weaknesses and somewhere get to know how to overcome them, but this happens only when you start thinking and looking for it. Yes, I knew where I had gone wrong two months back but today I was not going to stop or give up. I knew this pain won’t last long but the shame of failing again will haunt me forever.

9 hours into the race…

Today was my day. I stopped for a second, grabbed another granola bar. Even though was experiencing an acute pain in my lower back, I thought of speeding up as I entered the Run Transition area after riding non stop for 180km for 7.599 hours. Now, only a Marathon remained between me and the title of IRONMAN.

Once a “Marathon” looked like a daunting task but today it was just 42.2km. The whole perspective seemed different. It was do and not die as I wore my running shoes.

Run – 42.2km

Final Phase – The run was a loop of 7km up and then 7km back. We had to repeat this thrice

Every time you cross one lap of 14km they make you wear a different colour band in your arm to understand how many laps have been completed.

The first 7km was a struggle, as there was an uphill road, followed by the bylanes of this tiny town. While coming back this route was same but with a lot of twists and turns. The final 2.5km was alongside the beautiful Lake Taupo.

10 hours into the race…

I love the crowd on the streets here. New Zealanders are a sporty and enthusiastic lot. They were cheering the participants all along the way. They are definitely one of my favourites in terms of crowd support. Ask any runner in Mumbai about the importance of crowd support and they will go on and on how Peddar Road has a great support but Vasai Virar has the best support ever.

One of the places where crowd support really makes a difference was the finishing line of Comrades, 90km Ultra. Having done it four times in a row, I remember how this crowd support has helped me many times in overcoming difficulties, such as this one time when someone shouted “Come on, you can do it.“. As they say, it’s one cheer and one clap that can put life back in you. Today these folks have given me much more as I finished 21km. Another 21km to go.

11.30 hours into the race…

It was around 6.30pm and absolutely dark. The officials handed over some glow rods to help us see the road in the dark trail, and prevent the runners from toppling down.

This lap was the most tiring. Tired like hell, I grabbed another granola bar, drank a bit of Redbull and was ready for my last 7.5 km for glory. Something unexpected happened here. My mind and thought process changed entirely.

I could sense the finishing line was not afar and decided to sprint without stopping or walking. I told myself, “Let my friends at home who will be tracking me now know that I won’t stop and I will end each race in style. Let the world know that the same person who has fallen at 41st km with 1 km to go two months back has something more, much more left in him.”

I wanted to redefine my self with one word that I associate with the best. The word is “relentless”.

Yes I was relentless, while almost every one was walking I here I was not even running but literally sprinting. Fourteen and a half hours had passed, and I had no clue where this sudden bust of energy came from.

Here I remembered the story I heard about belief in Greek mythology. It goes like this. There is always an angel, a mythical character sitting on an artist’s shoulder and just when he thinks he is stuck, this creature comes uses its influence and force and suddenly out of no where , solution starts emerging. However, this will happen only and only if you decide that you won’t give up and give your 100%, not 99.9 %. Believe me I was giving my 100% or may be more at this point of time.

I was sure that I will hit my target in sub 15 hours, but then something freaky happened. My watch stopped functioning. The battery was out and I was totally blank, with no clue regarding how many minutes were left. All I knew was that I still had to cover 7.5 km.

But I told myself whatever happens I am not slowing down. I will give my folks back home a moment to cherish . They will be watching me, let me give them a spectacular experience. Yes, there was an excruciating amount of pain, but I was determined to move on despite everything. With more than 14.5 hours of continuous pounding, muscles were in a state of misery. They were crying to stop, but my mission was crucial. No matter what I had only my goal in mind and was visualizing all those folks watching me back home and constantly reminding my self “Today is my day”.

14.59 hours into the race…

I had never gone past 11.3 hours, but today all those limits have been unlocked as I took the turn and entered the final 100-meters-to-go mark on the red carpet, All I saw was the watch displaying 14.59 minutes. Now this was the moment I called out to the universe to give me all the energy so that I can sprint to the finish line in Sub 15 hours. I sprinted and what a sprint it was! A voice announced, “Kapil Arora from Mumbai, India, You are an IRONMAN”.

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