Ironman 70.3: Age is just a number for 66-year-old Sridhar Venkatraman as he gears up for his 14th Ironman attempt in Goa, 7 years after quitting his job in Singapore

Sridhar Venkatraman in action during an event
Sridhar Venkatraman in action during an event

The streets of Goa will be decked in vibrant colours on the morning of November 13th, 2022 as the city welcomes the second edition of Ironman (Ironman 70.3), the world's most prestigious triathlon event that will feature 1,450 athletes from across 33 countries.

Sunday marks the return of Ironman to Goa after a gap of three years, with the first iteration of the competition held back in 2019. Having undergone rigorous training for months ahead of Ironman 70.3, athletes will line up at the starting line on the shores of Miramar beach to commence the first leg - a swim of 1.9km, followed by the 90km cycle course and finally, a gruelling 21km run to the finish line.

It's natural to see people of many cultures and backgrounds throwing their hats in the ring for Ironman glory, and one man who's famous among the triathletes in India is 66-year-old Sridhar Venkatraman - set to take part in his 14th edition of the event.

First introduced to Ironman in 2012 by a friend, Venkatraman, who is fondly called 'Coach Sridhar', pulled the curtains down on a career in the import-export domain back in Singapore to devote his time entirely to training himself and others for the triathlon.

Since his first attempt at Ironman in 2015, Bengaluru-based Venkatraman has participated in a total of 2 full and 11 half Ironman events, holding the record for the most podium finishes (5) by an Indian in the competition.

A certified Ironman coach after receiving the badge in 2018, Sridhar Venkatraman spoke to Sportskeeda in an exclusive interview, where he shed light on his introduction to the triathlon, the training that goes behind achieving goals, everlasting support from his wife and more. Full interview below -

Q. How were you introduced to Ironman, and what motivated you to leave a full time job to pursue triathlon?

You see, I used to run, cycle and swim separately for a long time. This sport is relatively new in India. Many of us do all three of these independently, and getting them together is what comprises a triathlon. It's very good to cross-train, it gives you a balanced kind of workout. While I was also doing these regularly, I wasn't doing it at this volume and intensity for a long time. When I was around 52 or 53 years old, I was taking part in marathons out of the country. When you are in a foreign country, the exposure and facilities are a lot more and specifically in Singapore, I can just get out of my house and I can run 20km without any fuss.

Because I had the facilities, I started doing it a lot more but more for fitness. The first time Ironman happened in Singapore in 2012, it's a small city and so for them to close roads was a challenge. They do it for F1, but that brings in loads of money so it made sense.

But when Ironman happened, a friend of mine came and suggested that I give it a shot since I was already doing all three sports individually. I come from an outdoor background, I did mountaineering, trekking, rock climbing, the Himalayan summit and all that, so I was very interested in fitness and outdoor activities.

For me, Ironman was an interesting challenge to put all three sports together. In my first Ironman attempt, I got the podium in my age group and it further fuelled my interest because I thought I could stand out. I also wanted to check the limits of endurance, how the human body copes and the sciences of it, which has become a hobby.

So what started as a pursuit became a hobby and it became interesting. Anyway, the industry I was working in was a sunset industry. It was declining because it was an import-export and commodities sort of role and I wanted to start something new at the age of 60.

There are very few competitors in my age group in Asia, so it's easier to finish on the podium, but the competition in America and Europe is a lot tougher. This is a good target to have, I started helping out people who wanted to learn. I did my Ironman coaching certification in 2018, so that clubbed with my experience works well. I am also a consultant with the Karnataka Triathlon Federation and they are trying to revive the spirit of triathlon in Karnataka.

We founded a company, Triathlon Solutions, to help Deepak Raj, who runs Yoska, start Ironman Goa. So basically, I transitioned from my trading professional job into full-time promotional triathlon through training and coaching. So this is a post-retirement activity, but a serious one!

Q2. What sort of support have you received from family to take up such a gruelling challenge that is Ironman?

My wife is very supportive, she travels wherever we go, she knows almost as much as I do about Ironman, and she's a very good support system. We also use this Ironman event as an opportunity to travel across the world because it happens in different countries. We have two children who have their own jobs in the US, and while they're not really invested in Ironman, they don't stop me from pursuing it either.

Q3. Can you give us an idea of how you maintain a diet and work on your nutrition to train for Ironman?

You have to be careful in two ways. People my age want to have 2-3 pegs every day, it's a sedentary activity. You cannot afford to smoke, drink or overeat. If you don't do any of that, that is part of the nutrition. Don't do the wrong things, it's a huge step forward.

Maintaining a high-protein diet and eating sensibly is the main thing. As a vegetarian, you can eat a lot of nuts. My wife prepares protein powder using nuts, that's my breakfast. I have non-veg only once in a way, but eggs I eat a lot, that's my main protein source.

I believe that in the South Indian diet, dosa is made of pulses and is good enough. Along with dosa, if you have some vegetables, it's good enough. Most importantly, don't add too much oil to food, as polyunsaturated fats are very bad. As long as you eat your home-cooked food, that is the perfect diet, you don't need to do anything extra.

The problem arises is if you indulge in food from McDonald's, KFC or eat any packaged food. If you don't need to refrigerate the food you need to eat, you are sorted. If you have any issues, then consult a nutrionist but otherwise local food is best.

Q. Given the multi-fold demands of Ironman, what are some of the training aspects that go into preparing for the event?

So training is the toughest part, it is very gruelling. I train for 13-14 hours a week. Over the weekend, cycling takes the longest. We can't cycle inside the city, so a group of friends and I go outside the city limits after the airport toll gate. We start off with a 3-hour bike ride which covers almost 90km and then we do another 5km run right after the cycling session. By the time we finish, it is around 11 AM. We have breakfast on the way, and post that we get stuck in Bengaluru traffic (laughs)!

As for swimming, we have a lake in Gudibande outside Bengaluru, we swim there on alternate Saturdays. We have a big group that swims in the open waters. We leave in the morning around 5 AM, reach there by 7 AM, swim and come back by afternoon. If you have social, family and work commitments, it will eat into your time.

On weekdays, I personally work out for half an hour or an hour by running or cycling. There are also indoor training bikes we have which we use for about a couple of hours and that's the training that we do. The intensity isn't as much at the beginning of the season, but as we gcloserose to the dates, the effort peaks since it is essential.

Q. What are some of the biggest challenges that you face while training on a daily basis? And in general, what are some obstacles faced by athletes wishing to train for Ironman?

The basic challenge is infrastructure. Fortunately, Bengaluru has a lot of pools in the apartments, which have come now. The problem is that triathlon is not even a middle-class sport, it is upper-class. Finance is the main constraint. An average person cannot afford to take up basic training, since even a sport like swimming costs around 10,000 roughly. Add to that the issue that not all pools have coaches, only 5-6 places in Bengaluru have good ones, and swimming is one sport which you have to learn early in life, you'll never be as good if you can't pick up.

As for cycling, where can you cycle inside the city? On the highway, people come from the opposite side. Females have a bigger problem, people might come and do some mischief.

Running is the easiest of the three. Even in the case of running though, I have to start running at 6 AM when there is little sunlight because of the stray dogs and badly lit roads. You never know where you might end up putting your leg and twisting it. You can't run in parks, there are walkers and runners there as well. In other countries, you have one small Kanteerva stadium-like track where people can run.

Ultimately, in India, infrastructure is an issue, but triathlon still requires a lot of awareness. If corporates step in, we can do it. The talent is immense, and we are not lacking too far behind foreign athletes, but one more issue is that of coaches who don't realise that triathlon coaching is very different.

Most athletes have separate swimming, running and cycling coaches, but they keep getting injured because they are not under a triathlon coach. It is not separate, there is a specific training, it is not swimming+cycling+running that makes the sport. In a nutshell, India suffers from no infrastructure, a lack of coaches and depleted funding for triathlon training.

Q. Are there any efforts being put into developing triathlon in India, and which are the hotbeds of triathletes in the country?

Honestly, it is not being developed. A disproportionate number of people come from Kohlapur and Pune because there is coaching and infrastructure available there.

Triathletes from the Northeast are also very strong, some of them are in the services so you can expect a lot of the youngsters from there to finish in the top positions. Their body structure is strong, so they tend to do well.

Also, I would say that India has a good opportunity to train the tribals. We people from the cities are mostly spoilt, travelling in cars and eating all sorts of food, but if you take up the challenge of training a tribal for a triathlon, in two years' time, he/she will challenge the best of athletes across the world. We need to identify these people and give them proper training.

Q. Now that the time has come to convert training into effort, what are the timings you are targetting to achieve in Ironman 70.3?

Right now I am nursing an injury, and I wasn't even sure about participating a few days back. I have a calf muscle pull, so I hope to finish this edition of Ironman. If fully fit, I was targetting 6 hours and 30 min. 6 hours and 11 minutes is my best timing.

As for split timings, I am targetting 50 minutes to swim, 3 hours and 15 minutes on the bike and 2 hours and 10 minutes on the 21km run. Add another 10 minutes for the transition between events, so that totals around 6 hours and 30 minutes.

Q. What is the reception from locals in Goa for the Ironman 70.3? What does it compare to in terms of audience and support from international Ironman events?

The locals are happy to have athletes here, and in general, Goans are quite sporty, so we get a fair amount of support. I'd say the next best fanfare is probably in Mumbai. Yet, the atmosphere and hype are nothing compared to foreign Ironman competitions. Even in Sri Lanka, there is so much support from the tourism industry and local people. The joy of doing a proper Ironman is America or Europe.

What happens here in India is around 10% of it abroad. There isn't too much enthusiasm, they just recognise us running and cycling, some people even consider you a nuisance, mainly because they are not educated about the event. It's not entirely bad though, there are some really happy and supportive fans all around.

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Edited by Prasen Moudgal
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