Ironman Triathlons are a landmark event. A combination of running, swimming and cycling, the brutal event takes a lot from the athletes who participate. Completing an event like that lends an immense amount of satisfaction.
Well, beyond the realms of Ironman Triathlons, there are extreme triathlons. Exaggerated versions of regular triathlons, these events are a completely different ball game. Here, athletes have to contend with extreme conditions, and that is exactly what Delhi-based Siddhant Chauhan did.
The Ironman Certified Coach and Assistant Coach with Yoska completed the CELTMAN! 2018 event, in Scotland. For the uninitiated, the CELTMAN! event has a 3.4 km swim through freezing, jellyfish-infested waters, a 202 km bike ride through cold and windy Scottish highland roads, and a 42 km run over the unforgiving Beinn Eighe mountain range.
It was the first time an Indian participated in the prestigious race, and Siddhant has set a very high benchmark for aspiring athletes.
Siddhant spoke to The Better India to get a complete picture of the event, and how it differs from regular triathlons.
“The conditions that I trained in, were opposite to those during the event,” he recalls. Running and cycling in 35 degrees Celsius and swimming in a warm pool, is diametrically opposite to what went down in Scotland.
The weather and terrain conditions are brutal. Here’s what goes down, at the CELTMAN!.
The 3.4 km swim, is through the freezing waters of Loch Shieldaig. The temperatures are so extreme that organisers shaved off some length from the swim course. Originally, it was to be of 3.8 km. Organisers advise participants to wear heatseeker vests under their suits. For Siddhant, swimming presented a challenge like no other.
On arriving in Scotland, Siddhant decided to test the waters. A day or two before the event, he entered the lake, only to resurface a few minutes later with his face frozen, thanks to the extreme cold. After all, 11 degrees Celsius is not exactly comfortable to swim in. He also spoke of the high possibility of cramps since the water was so cold. And so far, he had only mostly trained in swimming pools, in and around Delhi.
But, the worst element in the Scottish water had to be the swarms of jellyfish. “There were hundreds of them,” he recalls. And, they were everywhere. A thick cloud of jellyfish through which the contestants swam.
On the day of the event, Siddhant got invariably stung in the face, just 200 or 300 meters into his swim. He decided to keep swimming. There was no avoiding the jellyfish, who were also visibly agitated because of the presence of so many swimmers splashing around in the lake. Siddhant swam the whole course, with the cold frigid water seeping in through his wetsuit. His main worry for the event was the swim, and he had told close confidence that if he finished the swim, he would be able to complete the rest of the race.
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The second part of the race is the 200 km bike route, that takes contestants along some scenic and historic single lane roads, and wide open highland roads. The brutal route includes around 2,000 metres of climbing, a feat made tougher in the unpredictable weather.
Siddhant was used to cycling in and around Delhi. However, cycling in the cold is a different ball game. He had to wear several layers to keep himself warm, as well as an additional layer to deflect the rain.
Once again, the route on the event day was undulating, as opposed to the flat terrain in and around NCR. This took its toll. During the bike ride, Siddhant fell prey to hypothermia, which caused uncontrollable shivering. He had to sit in his support vehicle with the heater on full blast before he could get on the bike again. However, Siddhant was satisfied with his cycling performance, despite the extreme conditions.
The CELTMAN! run, is the third instalment of this torturous event, and it is unsurpassed for its challenging nature. The race takes place on the rocky Beinn Eighe race, over two mountains, each over 914.4 m high. The highest point on the main ridge stands at 993 m, and another one of the spurs, off the main ridge of Beinn Eighe, stands at the height of 1,010 m.
The run is also subject to random weather conditions. During the course, which runs the length of 42 km, the weather might be sunny in one section, and terrible in another. During the run, Siddhant even carried hiking poles. All runners had to compulsorily carry items like one thermal layer and a pair of waterproof shorts.
The run was uncomfortable felt Siddhant, nothing like he had trained for, given that the conditions in and around Delhi are very different from the conditions in Scotland.
So, how does this differ from a regular triathlon? Apart from the obvious differences in the cycling distance, the extreme triathlon throws challenges at athletes, regarding terrain and weather conditions, and nasty surprises, like jellyfish.
“Not many people are aware of triathlons and extreme triathlons,” Siddhant says, adding that after his return, he noticed a slight increase in the curiosity and participation people put forth. Being an Ironman coach himself, he sees an increase in people getting involved with the aspect of a triathlon slowly, over time.
“I would like to participate in the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon next,” he shares. The landmark event takes place annually in Norway. The distances are equal to that of an Ironman race, but the conditions are punishing.
It must be noted that participants of the CELTMAN! are chosen via a ballot. While random selection does come into play, the choice of participants also takes into account their physical prowess in past events. You cannot show up at an event and jump right in. It is little wonder that since its inception in 2012, the CELTMAN! Triathlon has seen only 1,200 participants. For Siddhant, though, despite being brutal and punishing, the CELTMAN! was “extremely satisfying”.
“I will participate in half and full marathons, as well as cycling events before participating in the next extreme triathlon. This will help me work in individual areas,” Siddhant rounds off.
Well, the road ahead sounds brutal, but this athlete seems to be ready to grab any challenge, no matter how extreme it is.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)