Unless you have been living under a rock, you probably have heard of the Ironman Triathlon. Touted as one of the toughest one-day sporting events of the world, the race consists of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile (42.20 km) run, and is certainly not for the weak of heart or out of shape. Solonie Pathania is definitely not one of them. She participated in the Ironman Kalmar 2016 which was held in Kalmar, Sweden on 20th August 2016 and became the third Indian female to complete it.
This was not her first time competing in a tough triathlon; she participated in Ironman 70.3 in Hawaii last year, which covers half of the distance of each segment of the full Ironman. But the road to success wasn’t easy.
“Being fairly active in sports through school, a vehicular accident during graduation followed by a knee surgery made any physical activity difficult. By mid-2013 I realised I was out of shape and started accompanying my father, a veteran and a fitness enthusiast, on his early morning walks. Walking soon transitioned into running and I did my first non-stop 10km run in October 2013,” says Solonie.
She adds, “A few months down the line, I found myself training for Enduro3 2014 in Pune. And since then, each day is about challenging myself to be a better version of me. Fitness is now a big part of my life and who I am. This race is not just a one-time thing for me, it’s a continuous journey. A path where I keep pushing myself each day.”
Training for the Herculean Ironman competition was a task in itself. With a full time job, the schedule tends to get a bit tight which makes it hard to balance between work and training. Getting in shape for the race demands regular training for six days a week and more mental endurance than physical strength.
“There are days when you don’t want to get up at 5am and train for three hours and then work for nine hours in office; days when your body is still sore from the previous day’s workout; and as a woman when you are on your menstrual cycle and have bad cramps – you still get out there and train. I faced all of the above. And that is what makes you mentally strong and not make you give up, she says.
Solonie admits, “There is a lot of that goes into this – a non-existent social life, your life is structured around your training schedule and in the midst of juggling all this, sleep deprivation and fatigue is a constant state of being. All this coupled with self-doubt and questions – why am I doing this? Is this the right path for me? Why did I not choose an easier dream? You can’t stop these thoughts but you can’t dwell on them either and let them get the better of you. So you condition your mind to let these thoughts pass.”
The challenges just before and during the race however, are different. The fear and anticipation along with a new and alien location can be crippling alone. Also, as the race is never practiced before in its entirety, there are a lot of variables at play.
“As D-day approaches the nervousness increases and on race morning as we drive to the start point there is an eerie silence in the car. As we are doing the final set up in the transition area the nervous energy can be felt. I was a bag of nervous, it was taking everything I had to keep calm and not let me nervousness show,” recounts Solonie.
Coupled with the cold water temperature of 13 degrees and windy conditions native to Kalmar, the race was made increasingly tough. To add to that, Solonie had to face menstrual cramps midway through the race, during her bicycling segment, which is also her weakest.
“The cramps weren’t going anywhere so I just had to deal with it –I got back up onto the saddle and gave it all I had.” They still continued into the marathon segment of the race. But envisioning the finish line, the cheering crowd and the privilege of being called Ironman helped Solonie pull through, well before the official time cap and the time cap she had assigned to herself, at 13hr, 49 mins.
And this is just the first race. Solonie plans to compete in the 2017 edition of Ironman too. She truly lives up to the name with her hard work and dedication and deserves the title of Ironman.
Read more on Red Bull