Ordinary Girl. Extraordinary Dream.
Solonie Singh Pathania
An Army officer’s daughter with a passion for fitness and travel, I have always enjoyed the outdoors, been fairly active in sports, and loved adventure. Endurance sports, however, were never part of the plan. I’d never have imagined being obsessed with triathlons, let alone becoming the 3rdIndian woman to complete a Full IRONMAN! But I did, and this is my story.
Unusual as it sounds, I discovered my love for triathlons at 27. Until then, I’d never even heard of the concept.
A motor accident at graduation, followed by a knee surgery, had made any kind of physical activity difficult. And like most of us, post-MBA work took up most of my time. Work and the bad knee became the reason (read: excuse) I gave for not prioritizing my health.
By mid-2013, I realized that I was out of shape. I cribbed and complained about how I didn’t have the time to work out and then cribbed some more about the weight gain and the subsequent increase in clothing size. Shopping for clothes became a depressing nightmare.
I was unhappy. How I looked physically affected the way I felt mentally.
I lacked confidence, and hated the fact that I couldn’t wear what I wanted to and feel good about it. So I deprived myself off food, was constantly irritable, didn’t want to go out, and felt jealous of thin people.
Call it an epiphany, but one fine day in June 2013, I decided not to complain and actually do something about it. I started slow, accompanying my father, a veteran and a fitness enthusiast, on his early morning walks.
I did not see results immediately – something that would’ve definitely made me quit in the past. On multiple occasions, I’ve started some form of workout, lacked consistency, and then convinced myself that it’s a waste of my time. But this time I was determined not to. It wasn’t easy in the absence of results, but I hung on.
Walking soon paved the way for running. I completed my first non-stop 10-kilometre run in October 2013—a turning point for someone who used to successfully talk herself out of even walking.
Running, meet Cycling
My social circle too evolved with this new found love for running and endurance sports. I started hanging out with runners, doing group workouts, exchanging notes on recovery, injury prevention and learnt about new races.
A few months down the line, I found myself training for an endurance race – Enduro3 2014 – in Pune. Not sure when but somewhere along this journey it stopped being about weight-loss and became about self-discovery—me challenging myself to be a better version of me.
Participating in Enduro3 meant I had to start cycling. So, I borrowed a friends bicycle and discovered the joy of cycling. From a pure runner I had now transformed into a recreational cyclist.
This is when a friend told me about the first triathlon being organized in Pune. I signed up for the fun and experience of it.
By now my body had started to visibly transform. Mentally too I was transforming – I had lost weight, I was feeling good about myself and was regaining my old confidence. I was in a happy state and hence was open to new things.
By the end of my first triathlon in December 2013, I had fallen in love with the sport.
The thought of competing in 3 sporting events back to back really excited me. I kept at it; completing a few triathlons every now and then, and with each new triathlon I completed, I found the passion building.
I found that I liked to constantly keep pushing my limits and to challenge myself. And what better challenge than the Ironman?! An exciting combination that satiated my love for triathlons and endurance in one shot!
Training for the Ironman is tough; you have to put in grueling hours of practice to swim 2.4 miles (3.8 kilometres), pedal 112 miles (180 kilometres), run 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometres).
Fun fact: Less than 0.01% of the world’s population competes in Triathalons!
To earn those bragging rights, not only do you need to find a new plane of physical endurance, but you need to discover a whole new you!
I dived headlong into this process of self-discovery.
Along the way though, I also had to maintain that delicate balance between managing work and training. Isn’t it true that when you love something, you find the time for it?
I was disciplined. I prioritized. I trained very hard. Gave it my all, but not at the cost of work. I learnt to strike a fine balance between my passion and my work because both deserved the utmost respect and the dedication that I could offer.
I am convinced, now more than ever, that these endurance races are a test of mental strength rather than physical ability. The exertion required to complete a multi-sport race leaves the body screaming! You have to overcome these aches and pain at a psychological level.
Of course there are days when you don’t want to get up at 5 am to train for 3 hours and work 8.5 hours in a highly competitive environment; there are days when your body is still sore from the previous day’s workout, and then there are those menstrual days flush with bad cramps.
All these, and the self-doubt and questions on top: why am I doing this? Is this the right path for me? Why did I not choose an easier dream?
I could not stop these thoughts, but I did not dwell on them either. There were days when I couldn’t bring my physical 100%, days when I couldn’t get a good training session in. But I got up, got dressed, and trained.
I wanted this so bad. I had never been this focused about anything before and found this new side to me – a very driven and goal oriented one. I had a point to prove to myself and I invested everything I had into it.
Most importantly, I had fallen in love with myself all over again and each day would be amazed by all that the human body is capable of doing.
It’s not about the legs; it’s about the heart and mind
We, as women, are conditioned to prioritize everyone else but ourselves. Family, kids, husband—all of these come first and somewhere along the line, we ignore ourselves. It is only when we rearrange our thought processes that we begin to understand that prioritizing ourselves does not mean we are less loving and caring towards our family. We break away from the convention of being constantly ‘told’ what we can or should be doing, or what is the ‘right age’ to do something.
The payoff to such an introspective journey is that I am now comfortable defying all these societal norms and doing what I think is best for me and my journey. I have come to understand that exercising self-love was not synonymous with being selfish.
Today, I look on with pride and joy on the many races I have completed in Sweden, Australia and Hawaii; my hike up to the Mount Everest Base Camp (18,192 feet) in 2017. I did everything that scared me and gave me sleepless nights. This included venturing into the world of ultra cycling – Deccan Cliffhanger 2018.
I had never done an ultra-cycling race before, so I was not sure what to expect or how my body would react to this distance. For an Ironman I had never had to do more than 180 kms of cycling, so the maximum I had cycled at a stretch was 200 kms a few years back.
I signed up for DC 2018 to test myself yet again and to see how much further I could push my limits. The maximum distance that I did during training was 300 kms. This race is not easy at all – it’s not just the mammoth task of cycling 643kms without a break – but the terrain. After a point of time everything seemed like an uphill – literally and figuratively.
With fatigue and sleeplessness chasing you down, it takes everything you have to keep your head clear, end result in mind and thoughts of “giving up” out of your head. I have never experienced exhaustion like this before. But as they say – the tougher it is, the sweeter is the result.
Some days it still feels a little surreal that I actually cycled non-stop for 34hrs and 54 mins and managed to finish first amongst the women riders. I dint know I was capable of this and hence it makes me wonder what else is the human body capable of if we just put our mind to it.
The quest and hunger to get out of my comfort zone and to find the magic that lies beyond grows with each day. Training is now second nature, and I catch myself dreaming of the extraordinary. Every day!
Also published on Medium.
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