In conversation with Nagaraj Harsha, an Indian 3-time Ironman and Ironman 70.3 Triathlete

The history of Ironman as a sport takes us back to 1978 to Hawaii where it actually originated and is considered a holy grail for the world triathletes. Since then approximately two dozen Ironman events are conducted across the world every year which sees the most excited and the most prepared participation from the amateur and professional triathletes across different age groups of both the genders from all over the world. In India, where we historically lack the fitness culture, which, in recent years has been changing rapidly, it has taken decades to produce just a handful of Ironman triathletes who have actually been making India proud with their regular participation and brilliant performances on the international grounds.

Ironman triathlon conducted by the World Triathlon Corporation is the most iconic and challenging single day endurance event in the world consisting of 3.84km open water swim, 180.25 km bike and 42.2 km run, raced in the mentioned order without a break and within a strict time limit of 17 hours.

Nagaraj MR(also popularly known in the running/cycling circles as Nagaraj Harsha), a 25 year old young Ironman triathlete from Bengaluru participated in his third Ironman event in Lake Tahoe, California, USA on 20th Sept, 2015 and successfully completed it in a respectable time of 11:58:45. A graduate in commerce and working as a finance analyst with a reputed automotive firm in Bangalore, he competed in his first such endurance event, Ironman 70.3, Colombo at the age of 21 years.

Of all the Ironman events in the world, Ironman Lake Tahoe with the highest starting altitude of 6,540 feet and plenty of climbing combined with a difficult course, brutally cold weather and with the highest DNF(Did not finish) and DNS(Did not start) rates; it has rightfully earned the title of world’s one of the most toughest Ironman events. Mark Allen, six-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion, commented in one of the social media forums about racing at Ironman Lake Tahoe as “DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPACT OF ALTITUDE ON YOUR RACE!” Because of less oxygen availability athletes cannot perform at the same intensity as at the lower altitudes.

Nagaraj’s audacity and determination to attempt this toughest event of all the events and to have it finished in such an impressive time, makes him little too hard core. Having journeyed from a difficult childhood to being the most promising young triathlete through lot of hard work, self-reliance and sheer optimism, Nagaraj has truly emerged as a very inspiring Ironman triathlete to most of the amateur athletes around.

Ironman Lake Tahoe 2015: Athletes complete a whopping 3.84 km swim

In conversation with Ironman Nagaraj, 3 time Ironman and a Ironman 70.3 finisher:

Congratulations Nagaraj! 16th rank in your age category (25yrs – 29 yrs.) with a finish time of 11:58:45, for the one of the hardest ironman courses around, you make us proud!

Sportskeeda: Tell us about your Ironman race experience in Lake Tahoe and of all the races that are easier to get better times, why Lake Tahoe?

Nagaraj: Lake Tahoe is one of the most beautiful Ironman race destinations. It was the most challenging (with the toughest conditions) and the most spectacular races, I have ever done. The air temperature was close to 2 degree Celsius. The race begins with a 3.84km swim (a rolling start) at Kings Beach in the pristine waters of Lake Tahoe. I went a little conservative in the swim leg, since I was uncertain on sustaining a hard pace for this distance because of the altitude. Swim was considerably OK and I ran out of the water with the swim splits of 1:20:49

Bike was a two-looped circuit where each loop included two big climbs amounting to approx. 1700 meters of climbing, fast descents and power sections which actually made the course interesting but really hard on legs. The course runs through the beautiful scenic vista, beach towns of Truckee and Squaw Valley and up through the hills and pine trees over the Brockway summit. It was terribly cold and freezing hands, feet and legs made it quite hard getting the body moving. Bike leg was quite tough with headwinds accompanying in the second loop. I hopped off the bike with bike splits of 6:27:28

Since the bike and swim goals slipped out of my hands, I had to really push myself in the run leg to achieve a sub 12 hour finish. The legs felt heavy starting the run and I was focused on finding a rhythm and getting the legs moving. The route was gorgeous, part of it along the Truckee River through Squaw Valley but challenging with several steep hills and an off road section kept the lungs always on fire. I was really happy to achieve an Ironman marathon PR (3:55:04). It was a perfect and a beautiful day with a total time of 11:58:45 on the course.

I trained months long for this event and was mentally prepared for any unanticipated situation during the race as the weeks before the race weren’t very much in my favour. I had a crash two weeks before the race and faced a range of mechanical issues during my bike training. Nothing can take away from the fact that it is a tough course and a tough race and well if its not challenging enough its not meant to be an Ironman race, right!

I consider myself very lucky to have competed in Ironman Lake Tahoe’s final edition as it is discontinued for the years ahead because of the various challenges the region imposes. Considering all the variables and the best support I received from my friends and family, I would say, I had the best race of all my Ironman races. Though the timing was not as per the expectations, overall ranking is satisfactory. I am thankful to everyone who supported, followed and cheered me from afar.

Sportskeeda: How soon do you see yourself competing in the World Ironman championship, Kona?

Nagaraj: It doesn’t matter how much you want to race Kona, but what matters is how hard you work to get there. It requires tremendous commitment and determination to qualify for Kona. More than 60,000 triathletes try each year, but only about 2000+ win coveted Kona slots. To compete in World Championship , either you have to finish top 3 in your respective age group or finish 12 Ironman to get a legacy spot to experience World championship only once in a life time. It takes multiple years of physical training amounting to several thousand hours of work (mileage) with the peak levels in speed and endurance to reach the very top of the age group.

Any athlete who toes the starting line of an Ironman, having made all of the necessary sacrifices, should have the hope of qualifying for Kona. But, when it comes to pacing our effort, we need to be very realistic of what we can expect of our bodies, based upon what we have been able to accomplish in training.

Top 3 in my age group(25-29 yrs.) will generally finish under 9:15 hrs and in IM, Lake Tahoe top 3 in my age group finished under 10 hours. Given my result, age, performance and experience, Kona is a long road. In a long distance sport, athlete’s endurance will start peaking after 34 years of age, conceptually, I still have 10 years ahead of me. However, with a consistent, more structured and power training and with couple of more ironman good finishes under my belt, I can hope to reach there post my 30’s. Every Ironman race is a learning curve for me and I target my races to better my previous race performance and be a better athlete every single time.

This is my dream and I will chase it till I succeed!

SportsKeeda: Apart from Ironman, what are your other achievements in the field of sports and athletics?

Nagaraj: I am very passionate about Ironman races. Although I did not have any athletic background, I started participating in the races from past 4 years i.e. 2011 onwards. Some of the events that I have participated in, are as below:

Category: Ironman

1. Ironman Colombo, 70.3 in Srilanka - Year 2012 (Time - 06:37)

2. Ironman Zurich in Switzerland - Year 2013 (Time - 13:17)

3. Ironman Louisville in USA - Year 2014 (Time - 11:55)

4. Ironman Lake Tahoe in USA – Year 2015 (Time - 11:58)

Finished multiple triathlons in India, distance ranging from Olympic distance to Half Iron distance mostly in Thonnur, Mysore and Chennai.

Category: Cycling

Completed Brevets (Self supported long distance cycling to be completed in specified time limits) of 200km, 300km, 400km, 600kms consecutively in 4 weeks. With these super series earned the title of Super Randonneur.

Participate in local BBCH races.

Category: Running

Done multiple 10K, HM, FM races and a ultra 50 km with the below personal bests:

10k (PB - 39:29 in TCS 10k, Bengaluru 2015)

Half Marathon (PB – 01:24 in Urban Cow Half Marathon Sacramento, USA 2015)

Full Marathons(PB - 03:17 in Dubai Marathon, 2015)

Ultra distance, 50 Km ( Time – 05:05 in Javadhu Hill Ultra 50k, Chennai)

Served as a pacer in some of the races viz., Dubai Marathon, 2015; Bengaluru Marathon 2014 -2015 and other races.

Sportskeeda: How did the journey of Ironman started for you? Why did you chose this sport? Where does this passion about Ironman sport comes to you from?

Nagaraj: I was pursuing my B.Com studies at Christ University and also was working as a part time trainer in a gym, as my mom quit working because of her chronic illness and that became the only source of income for my family, consisting of my mother and sister. I was also an out of shape guy, back then. While browsing blogs on fitness, I came across the race reports/blogs published by Dipankar Paul, a 5 time Indian Ironman and was truly inspired by his feats and took it as a challenge to attempt it on a whim. I connected with him on the Facebook, joined him on rides, ran thrice a week smaller distances, and learnt swimming a couple of months before I attempted my first Ironman 70.3, Colombo together with him. In fact, my first half marathon was during this race. Then onwards, there was no looking back.

Ironman race served as a distraction for me to overlook the adversities of my life then. And now it’s a part of my life style. There’s a challenge in Ironman that makes it uniquely appealing, and I get that.

I am an Ironman triathlete and that’s my identity. “You are an Ironman” ringing at the finish line will always remain as my ultimate calling in life as a triathlete. Ironman will always remain my passion.

Interestingly enough, I have never met a single person, be it a girl or a boy, who wouldn’t have said, “I would like to do an Ironman soon in my life. At least once!!” Such is the lure of this sport, you can’t watch it or hear about it without getting inspired to participate in it. They accord high value to it because of the level of challenge and the degree of suffering involved in it. This is one such sport which never factors the age (except for the min age which is 18 years). I have witnessed people at the age of 70 and above competing and finishing strongly in the race. So I guess, this life is with no limits and pushing your horizons lets you know how far you can go!!

At the age of 21, Nagaraj completed his first Ironman 70.3 Colombo

Sportskeeda: The level of maturity and dedication you have towards this sport at this age is very inspiring and encouraging. What is that one advice you would like to give to the aspiring fellow triathletes.

Nagaraj: In addition to the physical stamina/ endurance (which is very important), it also takes massive amount of mental strength to conquer the challenges of any sport for that matter. Everyone is capable of achieving great feats in life, but what matters is how much you are willing to pour in your efforts in it on a daily basis. If you really want to take up this sport, be very passionate about it and visualize yourself finishing it the way you wish to, to keep yourself motivated.

Get a coach who will set a right path for you. And be honest to yourself while training for it. It’s tough but it’s all worth it! Have right nutrition, hydration and have a plan for everything.

Nagaraj has completed three IM and 1 IM 70.3 along with local triathlon races in the country

Sportskeeda: Ironman is an expensive sport. You aren’t a professional triathlete, how do you handle things, training wise and financially?

Nagaraj: I have a demanding full time job and family obligations, limiting my ability to train. My training plan roughly calls for 14-15 hours per week for over 6 to 7 months. Training before sunrise and after sunset is the only option on the weekdays while on weekends I try to get the maximum mileage in running and cycling. Its exhausting but it keeps me sane.

On the other hand, Ironman registration fees are skyrocketing of late. The equipment, training, recovery, nutrition, logistics of the race, everything is expensive about Ironman. An Indian Ironman participant on an average spends close to 2 lacs minimum on his one race. I am an age category participant and unlike professional triathletes, there are no paycheques to our achievements. For my first 2 races, I broke my savings and maxed out my credit card to participate in the race. In the last 2 races, my close friends and few sponsors backed me up to a larger extent. I am thankful to everyone for their support and encouragement for all these years.

Sportskeeda: What‘s next for you now?

Nagaraj: I will be competing in Ironman Kalmar, Sweden in Aug’ 2016.

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Edited by Staff Editor
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