My Ironman Journey

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akhilvizby akhilvizAug 1st 2013

Who am I?

Hello everyone!

I thought I'd start my blog with a brief introduction of who I am, where I'm from and all the boring details.

So, my name is Akhil Viz and I am originally from Gibraltar. For those of you who do not know where that is, Gibraltar is located on the southern Iberian peninsula.
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I was indeed born and brought up on that beautiful Rock where I pursued many sporting activities and is where my journey to triathlon began.

During my childhood I was a keen footballer during the winter months and then enjoyed playing cricket under the Mediterranean sun. At the age of 13 in 2002 I was appointed as the captain of the Gibraltar Under 13s Cricket team. I represented Gibraltar in the European B Division. The following year I was appointed as vice-captain of the Gibraltar Under 15s Cricket team.

It was in 2001 where I also took up rowing thanks to a childhood friend, Alfred Morro. It was this sport that changed my outlook into competitive training and racing which led to where I am today. Rowing taught me how to manage my time between my studies and training. I learnt the essential skills of teamwork, communication, self-discipline, motivation and dedication to achieve targeted goals over the course of a training season.
As a result, I competed at the National Rowing Rowing Championships of Great Britain and obtained straight A's in my GCSEs an A-Levels.

In 2007 I moved to Sheffield, UK to pursue a degree in Aerospace Engineering and Pilot Studies. I studied two courses in parallel for 4 years which was exhausting but simultaneously rewarding. During my time at Sheffield I got introduced to cycling by Paul Armstrong who I met at the rowing clubhouse in Sheffield. I was in the Sheffield University Rowing team between 2007 and 2009 after which I decided to take on a new challenge.

I began long distance running and cycling due to the time constraints from academic commitments. I could start running or cycling from home and finish at home. With rowing, I had to cycle to the dam, perform the rowing session and then cycle back. Therefore to obtain a 1 hour outing in a boat, I had to sacrifice my entire morning or afternoon. I managed to save time with running and cycling. I also particpated in my first Half Marathon in 2009.

In 2011 I graduated from the University of Sheffield and also obtained my Commercial Pilot's License. The summer of 2011 which I spent in Gibraltar, was my last summer as a student and it was during these months where I got addicted to triathlon. I found a group of local cyclists who's idea of cycling was to sprint out of Gibraltar and into Spain to a cafe located in Jimena De La Frontera (approx 50km away). Enjoying a slice of Andalusia (toast smothered with olive oil and tomato paste) and sipping a coffee before sprinting our way back to Gibraltar. The motivation behind each cycle ride was the toast/coffee stop and likewise I became a victim of this routine. I began clocking the kilometres (approx 1000km a month) and did a bit of running and swimming in between. Towards the end of the summer there was a sprint triathlon being held in Estepona which I thought of entering. I knew that I was poor swimmer but could make up for the lack of swim ability during the bike and run. I thought long and hard whether or not to enter the event as I was embarrased of exiting the water last. With that thought, I still entered my first triathlon and to my surprise, performed very well. My performance would have been better if I knew how to swim! It was after that race where I decided I would do an Ironman the following summer.
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Road to Ironman

That was the end of my summer which led me to begin my career as an Aerospace Engineer with the world's leading design, engineering and project management consultancies; Atkins Global. I have been based in Bristol, UK since October 2011 and it is where I got more deeply involved with triathlon.

I decided that in 2012 I would complete a Half Ironman and finish the season with an Ironman but made no commitments to which events I would do. Instead I settled into the 'working professional' lifestyle and tried and tested various routines and schedules regarding when to train. I initially tried training every evening after work but found it extremely difficult to motivate myself after a long day sat in front of a monitor. I tried using my lunch break as a potential 'getaway from the monitor' solution but that failed as at times I would be dragged into meetings that would drag into the lunch break and would therefore never get any training done. I therefore tried the only remaining option which was training in the early hours before work.

During my rowing days in Gibraltar and at University, I was always struggled to get out of bed before 7am so I wasn't expecting this test to work either. However to my surprise, I found the early morning training sessions actually woke me up and left me energised for the rest of my day! I was a lot more focused with my job and more importantly, I was consistently training every morning. Problem solved!

Now that I had solved one part of the equation, I then needed to think about a training plan to pursue as from January 2012 for my undecided Ironman race. Luckily enough there was a colleague at my workplace; Lee Howarth who had completed three Ironmans with his fastest being Challenge Roth in sub 10hrs! I knew Lee could point me in the right direction and guide me with my training plan.

After several discussions with Lee during tea breaks at work, I formulated a training plan which was realistic and accounted for mid-season racing. I had pencilled in a Half Ironman event for April 2012 in Marbella, Spain as a midway benchmark for the UK Ironman in July 2012.

My first three months of training through the harsh British winter took me to complete my first Half Ironman. Training in extremely cold conditions paid off as I completed the Half ICAN Marbella in 5hrs and 26mins. I was extremely pleased with my efforts and still managed to smile for the camera at the finish line ;-)
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With that achievement under my belt I knew the game wasn't over. The training hours and intensity were only going to increase during the coming months. All I ever did leading up to Ironman was eat, sleep, swim, bike and run. In between that I managed to fit in a full time job and a bit of a social life too! Before I knew it, 22nd of July had arrived and I was at the start line of my first ever Ironman. My family and close friends (Tejas Itraj and Ragha Ramani) had come to support me and they were in for a tough day alongside me.

Awake on race day at 3am to fuel my body for the day ahead. To my surprise Tejas, Ragha and my parents woke up at that crazy hour too! I was expecting to drag them out of bed to get to the start line on time!
Having loaded my stomach with plenty of jam, peanut butter, toast, coffee and fruit, I got into the competitive mood and upon arriving at race headquarters, the atmosphere got me pumped up! All the athletes and spectators set a buzzing and electrifying atmosphere! After soaking in the ambiance it was time to snug into my wetsuit and mentally prepare myself for the race.

Time flew by and before I knew it, I was in the lake swinging my arms along the 3.8km swim course! The swim was exhausting but I knew that the remainder of the race was dependent on my legs and not my arms.

Completed the swim course in 1hr 8mins and was then on my bike for the longest part of the race. The bike course was tough as described by previous participants and magazines I had read prior to the event. I was on the saddle for 6hrs and 26mins which made my legs feel like jelly when I began the marathon. Those hills on the bike course really took their toll but I started the marathon at my intended pace. As the kilometres went by, I started noticing the fatigue kick in.

I kept my legs moving somehow and gulped a few cups of coke at each aid station. Words of motivation from my family, friends and spectators made it easier but I will never forget how hard the marathon was (which was also my first)! As I saw the kilomteres counting down on my watch, I got more exctied about crossing the finish line. That was the moment I had been dreaming about for the previous 6 months! Eventually after 4 hours and 29 minutes I got my moment of glory. I crossed the finish line of my first ever Ironman in a time of 12 hours and 13 minutes making me the Youngest GIbraltarian to complete an Ironman triathlon!
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That night I went to Pizza Hut to celebrate my achievement with my parents, Tejas and Ragha and unsurprisingly saw the restaurant full of other Ironmen! We all needed to refuel and deserved our share of ice-cream ;-)

2012 is definitely a year for me to treasure and spent the remainder of the year away pursuing other hobbies and activities.

What Next?

One Ironman was not enough for me so I decided to sign up for the world's toughest Half Ironman course. This is the UK 70.3 in Wimbleball which isn't too far from Bristol. I thought that would be a good challenge for 2013. So I began 2013 preparing for this event which I completed in under 6 and a half hours. I was dissapointed with my run and will definitely go back to settle my score with that score some time in the future.

Wimbleball was my mid-season preparation race for my main race this year. This is the ETU Long Distance Triathlon Championships which are to be held in Vichy, France on the 1st of September. I managed to qualify to represent the Great Britain Age-Group and my focus is not geared towards this race.

I will be spending the next 2 weeks back home in Gibraltar training hard under the Mediterranean sun in order to prepare myself for Vichy. Plenty of swim/bike/run to be performed and I will be updating my blog every week detailing my training and pro-like lifestyle! Plenty of photos will also be included!

Alongside the training I'll also be indulging into my mum's lovely cooking! I may even end up putting on a few kilos but I can live with that!
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