Every couple of months, Kaustubh Radkar likes to get on a plane and fly all the way to another continent to catch up with old friends. The party kicks off at the crack of dawn, and there’s no telling when and where it will wind up. Although adventurous, this reunion is not your average boy’s night out. It involves a 3.86 km swim, a 180.25 km bike race and a 42.2 km run – in short, the Ironman Triathlon, one of the most challenging races in the world. To Radkar, a regular Ironman participant, this is what “hanging out with friends” is all about. “Certain crazy people that I have met over the years want a race vacation. It’s a good way to catch up with them. Now, it has become a habit to do one or two a year,” says Radkar, a former national champion swimmer. Last year, he did 3 Ironmans (in Germany, Brazil and Malaysia) within 16 weeks.
On March 29, Radkar completed his 11th Ironman race at Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in 13 hours 32 minutes and 14 seconds. When we meet two weeks later at a gymkhana in Pune, he is nursing a sore throat. “I’ve had an ice-cream every day since I’ve returned, and I’ve been eating out a lot,” he grins, sheepishly. Radkar rarely has room for such allowances. With another race in Zurich coming up in a couple of months, he can’t afford such luxuries for long. Normally, he begins his days at 5am and packs up early, by 10pm; in between, he fits in sessions of running, cycling, swimming and gym sessions. A PhD in healthcare management, Radkar also runs his own rehabilitation clinic in Pune, where he provides professional rehabilitation care to patients of lung and heart diseases.
While his gruelling regimen keeps him physically fit, nothing can ever completely prepare him for the vagaries of the Ironman challenge. He learnt this the hard way in 2008, during his first-ever triathlon. “It was the end of June in Texas, which is usually the peak of summer, but it rained all through the race. Cycling in that weather is risky. You can’t see too well, because there’s water splashing from the other bikes,” he recalls. In fact, all his races are marked with anecdotes of erratic weather, sudden illness and technical glitches. There was a fair amount of drama in his last race, too. Radkar’s bike was damaged after hitting a speed breaker, leaving him with no choice but to take it to a mechanic mid-race. Naturally, this impacted his speed considerably. “Well, that’s the beauty of Ironman. You can be 100 per cent ready, but on race day there is no guarantee of how things will go. Ironman has made me look at challenges differently. Because of the nature of this race, I’m always problem solving. Sometimes it could be a cramp, or a mechanical failure. You have to find ways to motivate yourself,” he says.
Every year, there are 37 Ironman races held across the globe, and each of them has a unique course. The ones in Europe require swimming in lakes with freezing waters that flow in from snow-fed mountains. In Brazil and South Africa, there are oceans with strong currents. Some locations like Zurich are feared for its hilly terrain. Unfortunately, while training in Pune, Radkar has to make do with a regular swimming pool at his gymkhana. The closest he can get to the real thing is practicing at the backwaters of a dam in Bhor, which is located on the Kolhapur highway. He wistfully points out that if he swam in lakes here, he would run the risk of being devoured by crocodiles. “There are a couple of water bodies, but I would not trust the waters. If you go in the afternoon, you’ll find cattle and cars being washed there. Finding a place to practice is a big challenge,” he says.
None of these setbacks have ever deterred him from hitting the tracks. The Ironman bug bit him while he was a part of a masters swim team in Colorado, which is considered the mecca of triathlon locations. Encouraged by fellow athletes, he gave it a go and hasn’t looked back since. His last race was a personal milestone – with South Africa, Radkar has participated in a race on every continent. “My goals are always fluctuating. I thought my first race would be my last. Then it became 5 races, then 10 and then one race in every continent. Now that’s happened, I’m aiming to hit 25 races,” he says.