Pune-based athlete Nihal Ahamed Baig speaks to Lounge about how he ready his physique and thoughts to win the Ironman race in Goa
The chances had been stacked in opposition to Nihal Ahamad Baig, when he began out on the operating leg of the Ironman 70.3 Goa on 13 November. He was in seventh place at this level, trailing the chief, Pablo Erat of Switzerland, by about 19 minutes. The defending champion from the 2019 version, Bishworjit Saikhom, too, was a very good 5 minutes forward of him.
“At that time, I realised that 19 minutes could also be an excessive amount of to cowl. However I knew I may goal Bishworjit, since I’ve at all times been a robust runner. I used to be positive of ending in second spot,” Baig, 28, says. He battled on regardless of the recent, humid situations in Panjim. Between 8-9km, he had achieved sufficient to go previous Saikhom. And by the point he hit the 12.5km mark, he had placed on a resilient effort to not solely meet up with Erat, but additionally maintain on to the lead till the end line.
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“It was an enormous push between 5km and 12 km, however I nonetheless didn’t count on to meet up with them so quickly,” he says. It was the fifth time that Baig was collaborating within the Ironman 70.3 distance (1.9km swim, 90km bike journey, 21.1km run), and the primary time he had taken high spot. In 2019, he had completed second behind Saikhom, separated by slightly over 5 minutes. The swim in uneven waters off Miramar Seashore had let him down and the 15-minute hole was troublesome to bridge, regardless of recording quicker occasions than Saikhom within the biking and operating legs. “I had a horrible swim on that day. Nevertheless it was a very good race on the entire for me and I used to be actually pleased with my efficiency,” he says.
A center distance runner throughout his school days, Baig had at all times been extra snug with operating and biking. Issues had been completely different this time round and he admits he was comfortable within the water. It was a results of the work that he put in on the pool over the 2 months main as much as the race. However that too got here below probably the most uncommon circumstances.
One among Baig’s main races this yr was the Berlin Marathon in September. Via many of the yr, he focussed on operating, constantly logging a mileage of 120km every week, which peaked at about 160km nearer to the race. He would combine it up with tempo classes and pace exercises on a 400 metre monitor again house in Pune. The evenings had been devoted to power exercises that focused the core and glutes, together with biking rides as a part of cross coaching. Each session would finish with yoga and foam rolling for restoration.
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“Swimming was on and off, with virtually no construction to it. I might enter the water each every now and then after a future for nearly a kilometre or in order a part of restoration,” he says. However a couple of weeks earlier than the race, Baig skilled burnout when it got here to operating. He was unable to focus throughout coaching and determined to place his Berlin Marathon plan on maintain.
“It didn’t make sense to go there once I wasn’t feeling it. In reality, although I had signed up for the Ironman 70.3 Goa, I finished operating utterly as a result of I simply wasn’t having fun with it,” Baig says. With no routine going for him, he determined to offer swimming a shot. Over time, he realised he was having fun with his time within the pool and began swimming day-after-day, logging a weekly mileage of about 15km. There was a brand new sense of consolation that he found within the water. Regularly, he obtained again to biking, using near 200km every week. It was solely two weeks earlier than the race that he began operating once more, taking over about 50km in all on alternate days.
“The coaching particular to triathlons was just for about 15 days. However I used to be extra conscious of my physique when within the water and felt actually good,” he says.
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It was the identical when Baig did a couple of follow swims within the sea earlier than the race. The anxiousness that he often skilled in open waters was lacking. He felt so much calmer and assured of bettering on his 2019 efficiency.
By the point race day arrived, Baig had a goal of 35 minutes for the swim. As soon as he hit the water, he felt sturdy and surged forward looking for the main pack. He completed the leg in 32 minutes, an enormous enchancment on the 45 minutes he had clocked in 2019. “I used to be trailing at that time, however I knew that if I may sustain on the biking leg, I might catch up through the run,” he says.
As he set off, Baig pushed exhausting. All his consideration whereas on the bicycle was on the ability meter. With the hassle that he was placing in, he anticipated higher numbers. However he felt good within the saddle and determined to maintain the momentum, relatively than journey more durable. “I used to be capable of cross lots of people after the bike part. However the chief, Pablo, was cruising and logged a cut up that was quarter-hour quicker than me,” he says.
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As he set off on the run, Baig made one final sprint to make the race his. The climate situations had been taxing and as soon as he took the lead, he determined to decelerate to stop cramping. On the ultimate third of the run part, he put in a conservative effort to take the win and document a private finest time of 4 hours 29 minutes, round seven minutes quicker than second-placed Saikhom (4 hours 37 minutes).
“A sub 4 hour half-hour timing was a dream ever since I obtained into triathlons and it felt nice to attain it on a scorching, difficult course. And I can say that my efficiency within the water is what obtained me the win,” he says.
Shail Desai is a Mumbai-based freelance author.
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