Shubham Vanmali (Photo: courtesy Dhananjay Vanmali)

A young man, who battled Learning Disability as a child and discovered purpose in swimming, is trying to complete one of the toughest challenges in open water swimming. This is his story; based on a conversation with his father. 

On May 29, 2018 the Navi Mumbai suburb of Nerul woke up to news of one from their midst completing a long distance swim in the US.

Twenty two year-old Shubham Vanmali had become the youngest person to complete the San Francisco Round Trip-Angel Island swim entailing a distance of 16.1 kilometers in the waters of the San Francisco Bay.

According to a statement from the North California Open Water Swimming Association (NCOWSA), the swim is reputed to be the most technically challenging in the Bay waters and has been attempted by more than 25 people over the past 40 years with only 12 completions. Besides being the youngest person yet to do it, Shubham is also the first Indian and the first to complete the swim under the newly formed NCOWSA. The swim starts and ends on the shared beach of San Francisco’s open water swim clubs, the South End Rowing Club and Dolphin Club. The course requires the swimmer to leave through the opening of Aquatic Park, swim past Alcatraz Island, swim around Angel Island through a body known as Raccoon Strait before returning past Alcatraz and back through the narrow opening of Aquatic Park. All this, while crossing three international shipping lanes twice, 12 ferry routes and swimming cross-current for the major part in 10-14.5C waters, the statement said.

May 29 evening, this blog caught up with Shubham’s father, Dhananjay Vanmali for a chat.

Shubham doing the San Francisco Round Trip-Angel Island swim (Photo: Pacific Open Water Swim Co)

He was due to leave for the US, the next day. Coming up was another swim, part of the main project Shubham has been working on. Over June 3-9, he will attempt swimming the Molokai Channel in Hawaii. According to Wikipedia the Molokai Channel aka Kaiwi Channel separates the islands of O’ahu and Molokai. The crossing of this channel is part of the Oceans Seven Challenge, which is the project Shubham has been working on for the past few years. The other crossings required for the Challenge are the North Channel (formerly called Irish Channel) linking the Irish Sea with the Atlantic Ocean, the Cook Strait between the North and South Island of New Zealand, the English Channel between Britain and France, the Catalina Channel in California, Tsugaru Strait between Honshu and Hokkaido in northern Japan and the Strait of Gibraltar connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. The only Indian to have done the Oceans Seven yet is Pune’s Rohan Dattatrey More who is also so far the youngest and the first Asian on the finishers’ list. The first person to complete the Challenge was Stephen Redmond of Ireland. A former rugby player and triathlete, he completed the Challenge over 2009-2012, at times requiring multiple attempts at some of the channel crossings. The Oceans Seven Challenge is positioned as swimming’s equivalent to the Seven Summits of mountaineering, which entails climbing the highest peak on each continent. The Challenge was conceived in 2008 by former professional marathon swimmer Steven Munatones who was world champion in the discipline in 1982 and coached the US national team for several years. Articles on the Challenge published in the media say that participants need to be hardcore endurance athletes with ability to swim in very cold and warm seas and be physically and mentally prepared to tackle adversity ranging from sea creatures to currents and strong winds.

Shubham; from the Dharamtar to Gateway of India swim (Photo: courtesy Dhananjay Vanmali)

Shubham comes from a family of sportspersons. His father is a former state player in volleyball, his mother used to play kabaddi and his sister used to be a competitive swimmer. According to Dhananjay, Shubham’s career in swimming commenced after an initial foray into football. Around 2001, Nerul Gymkhana started Mission 2010 seeking to train talented youngsters in football, swimming, hockey, cycling, tennis and athletics. Shubham was selected for football under Mission 2010. Born 1995, he was quite small and very likely would have not been well developed and competitive in the sport by 2010. “ So he was shifted to swimming,’’ Dhananjay said, adding that by around 2009, Mission 2010 ended for want of funds. Following this, Shubham moved to practising at the pool in the complex housing Nerul’s D.Y. Patil Stadium. However, from the point of view of becoming a competitive swimmer, he seemed to have a problem. Although he trained well, at the time of competition, all that hard work couldn’t be made to focus and deliver performance. By around eighth standard, Shubham was formally diagnosed with Learning Disability. It took a while to locate the correct doctors but eventually intervention by good psychologists and sports psychologists helped.

Shubham crossing the English Channel (Photo: courtesy Dhananjay Vanmali)

Around tenth standard, Shubham’s approach started to change. “ In the tenth standard he was selected for the state championship. By the twelfth, he had secured podium finish in the state championship in 1500 meters freestyle,’’ Dhananjay said. During his time in eleventh and twelfth standard, Shubham trained at the pool belonging to Father Agnel Sports Academy. Gokul Kamath became his coach in swimming. By the time Shubham reached college, he secured bronze in 100 meters, silver in 200 meters and gold in 400 meters and 1500 meters at the inter-college meet, Dhananjay said. Besides clear evidence of his emergent ability to focus his energies, it also indicated that his strength lay in the longer distances demanding endurance. In Shubham’s first year at college, there was a competition in Thane he participated in. Dhananjay recalled that a couple of senior Channel swimmers had come to attend it as guests; they were watching from the gallery. A month and a half after this event, Shubham approached his father and said that he wished to attempt crossing the English Channel. After discussing it with his coaches, the family decided to take up the project. Shubham started training for it. Besides his regular swimming, every Saturday and Sunday he used to go to Uran and be taken out to sea in a boat to do open water swimming for three to four hours.  “ We also did swimming at night,’’ Dhananjay said. For stepping stone to English Channel, Shubham first swam from Dharamtar to Gateway of India in Mumbai, a distance of roughly 35 kilometers. Then, on August 4, 2014, he swam across the English Channel becoming the youngest to do so at that point in time.

Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar (Photo: courtesy Dhananjay Vanmali)

Given he was going all the way to Europe and UK for doing this it made sense to attempt the Strait of Gibraltar soon thereafter. Approaching bad weather restricted his window for the Gibraltar swim. It was complicated further by the fact that the swim had to done the same day he was reaching the start point from UK. However Shubham went ahead. For a prospective record, the family first thought of trying a to and fro swim. Shubham gave it some thought and told Dhananjay that there was another option – he could try and reach the other side faster than any Asian had done so far. That’s what happened on August 14, 2014 – he became the fastest Asian to cross the Strait of Gibraltar, doing so in three hours, sixteen minutes. Dhananjay believes that it was from this trip to Europe and interaction with swimmers and other people he met that Shubham picked up the idea of Oceans Seven. With two of the required crossings done, it seemed worth pursuing.

Shubham (in the water, next to the kayak); from the Catalina Channel swim (Photo: courtesy Dhananjay Vanmali)

In 2015, Shubham successfully accomplished the swim in the Catalina Channel. “ He began the swim one night and finished early next morning. It took him 10 hours and 42 minutes,’’ Dhananjay said. Shubham followed up Catalina with the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim on the US east coast, thus completing a smaller challenge in marathon swimming called Triple Crown – it is composed of swimming the English Channel, Catalina Channel and the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. Then a reversal of fortunes happened. In 2016, Shubham travelled alone to Ireland to attempt the North Channel aka Irish Channel. His family searched on the Internet and rented suitable accommodation for him to stay in Ireland and prepare for the swim. The Irish Channel is rated one of the toughest swims in Oceans Seven. On the day of the attempt, after 13 hours of swimming and a mere two kilometers from successful completion, Shubham developed hypothermia. He had to abort the swim at that stage.  It left him feeling low for quite some time. “ He didn’t swim much. He was into cross-fit. Then last year, he began returning to swimming,’’ Dhananjay said. On the Internet, the Molokai Channel is described as the longest swim in Oceans Seven. The sea is deep here, nearly 700 meters. Early June, should the young man from Nerul accomplish the swim in the Molokai Channel; that would be four down, three to go in his pursuit of the Oceans Seven Challenge. He plans to go back to Ireland to attempt the North Channel again.

Dhananjay (left) and Shubham after the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (Photo: courtesy Dhananjay Vanmali)

Swimming at all these locations and the training required for it, requires financial resources. His family has funded Shubham so far. That was also among reasons, he felt bad after the North Channel attempt didn’t succeed; he apparently felt he had wasted his parents’ hard earned money. Dhananjay works with Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL); his wife works with Vijaya Bank. He tried getting sponsors. According to him, he would have repeated meetings with prospective sponsors but on the day of providing sponsorship they would offer an amount much smaller than what was originally promised. There were also other problems. Projects of this sort are PR intensive and securing such traction is not the forte of every athlete or his / her family. On the other hand, mileage in the media is what sponsors seek in return for their support. Further sponsors easily warm up to supporting games because that is a picture of team effort which is a popularly liked theme. It is also one that is in line with corporate imagination. Adventure sports and endurance sports are on the other hand, typically solitary pursuits. “ These things affect my motivation level,’’ Dhananjay said. He still looks for sponsors but in the meantime dug into his own resources to fund Shubham’s project. Among means of raising resources, he sold an apartment he owned. “ This is a unique feat and it is my son who is doing it,’’ he said at his house in Nerul, less than a day left for his flight to the US and opportunity for family to watch Shubham attempt the Molokai Channel.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. This article is based on a conversation with Dhananjay Vanmali.)


Grant Maughan; from the Everest expedition (Photo: courtesy Grant)

Grant Maughan is an experienced ultramarathon runner and adventure racer. Hailing from Australia, he is a freelance super yacht captain who also keeps a busy schedule as endurance athlete. He has participated in many ultramarathons including some of the world’s toughest. In India, he is remembered for his 2016 joint win – with Jovica Spajic – in the 333 kilometer category of La Ultra The High. In May 2018, Grant climbed Mt Everest successfully. In this interview done by email, he shares his thoughts about Everest, altitude, ultramarathon and plans he has around the theme of endurance and adventure.

Everest ascents happen from the Nepal (south) side and the Tibet (north) side. Was there any reason why you chose to climb from the north side? Did you want to be on that face or was that natural fall out of the group you chose to go with and their choice of route?

I chose the north side because inherently there are less people doing that route. I also find the history of Mallory and Irvine disappearing there in 1924 very interesting.

Can you briefly describe the climb? What were your testing moments therein?

Everything about the climb is difficult: the time it takes to acclimate, establishing camps and equipment at different levels, technical impediments, oxygen deprivation and fatigue. Your body and mind get worn down after weeks and weeks of ascending and descending. It becomes a real chore just to be there and accomplish some for the daily tasks. As you get higher on the mountain some of the technical sections become more difficult and your energy and focus at overcoming the tasks become harder to manage.

One measure often used to describe the challenge involved in an ultramarathon is cumulative elevation gain. Many ultramarathons have cumulative elevation gain exceeding the altitude of Everest. That is further complemented by the act of running and moving, often with little rest, to meet cut off times. Obviously you had a fascination for Everest despite the challenges in ultramarathons and adventure races. Can you describe the specific attraction / motivation you had for climbing Everest? Had you been thinking of it for long?

After some years of mountain running it became a natural segue to start climbing bigger mountains. It was a real fascination for me to get up some of the mountains. I spent years reading climbing books but never thought I would be able to achieve such things because I have a natural fear of heights. Even though I had flown hang gliders, tried free-fall parachuting and bungee jumping when I was younger I just figured high altitude mountaineering was for elite athletes and people much braver than I. My first big climb was Mount Rainier in the US and after that trip where I learnt some new skills and equipment selection, I was keen to try other mountains. I climbed Aconcagua in Argentina; then headed to Denali in Alaska where unfortunately we couldn’t make the summit because of a nine day storm that trapped us at almost 15,000 feet before we retreated due to lack of food and our permit, close to expiring. I have climbed Mt Shasta in California a number of times solo; Stok Kangri in the Indian Himalaya solo plus Mera peak and Imja Sja in the Nepal Himalaya. I really wanted to try an 8000 meter peak like Cho Oyu or Manaslu before considering Everest but this year after talking with a team leader I decided to just go for Everest and see how it turned out. I wasn’t sure if I would ever get the chance due to expense and the time required but everything fell in place and I only decided three weeks in advance to go on the expedition. Sometimes it is better that way so you don’t have much time to think about it and talk yourself out of it.

From the Everest climb (Photo: courtesy Grant Maughan)

How would you describe your relation with altitude? How well do you cope with it? Does the reservoir of endurance, distance runners have, make them better at tackling it or is altitude, the great unknown that even the best of runners must approach respectfully? What was your experience on Everest?

I definitely think that endurance athletes have a bit of an advantage when climbing big mountains. Endurance and fitness are part and parcel of some of the most important aspects of getting to the top. I seem to be able to acclimate fairly well and without too much trouble. I have developed breathing techniques for distance running that I cobbled together from the sport of free-diving and by just thinking about the mechanics of gas exchange that have worked for me really well. I did notice that at about 7000 meters the breathing techniques still helped but were not as efficient as at lower altitudes. Above that height everything just becomes harder. We started to breathe bottled oxygen above 7000 meters using different volumes of gas per minute compared to height and difficulty of climbing at the time. It definitely made things easier but never the same as lower down. It was always an extra worry about running out of gas or having a regulator or mask fail. So it actually added to the stress.

Distance runners and adventure racers are used to getting pushed to their limits. How extreme is this in the combination of strain and altitude that is mountaineering? In your Facebook post, you have described what you experienced on Everest as quite challenging. What made it so?

The limits are a little different. Sometimes you are struggling carrying a large, heavy backpack on steep terrain or trying to focus on getting over a technical section using hardware, both of which are not common in distance running or mountain ultras. The physical aspects can be very similar though: being on your feet for days on end, sleep deprivation, fatigue. I also found the danger aspect to be way higher than anything I have done before in the sport. A combination of the terrain, altitude, weather and support; there was always stress in the back of my mind of what could go wrong and how I would deal with it.

Aside from the busy calendar of ultramarathons and adventure racing you maintain, did you indulge in any training that was specific to your attempt of Everest?

No. I didn’t have time beforehand. I spent four months working on a ship in Antarctica with no training over Christmas; then went straight to Alaska to do the Iditarod 350 mile and then straight to Tennessee for the Barkley. One week later I was in Tibet at Everest Base Camp.   Some would say this is crazy but I seem to have the capacity to do things like this with no training and hardly any preparation of any sorts. Next month I have the 315 mile Vol State race across Tennessee and then straight to Death Valley for my sixth Badwater 135 race.

From the Everest climb (Photo: courtesy Grant Maughan)

Personally, what was it like for you to be on the summit of Everest? What did you feel right then or at the first instance you had to reflect on it?

I spent 14 minutes on the summit. It was blowing around 40 knots of wind and bitterly cold though the sky was a beautiful deep azure color. I was scared. It had taken 10 hard hours of climbing through the night to get there (we arrived at 8:50 AM on May 19th). I remember looking back down at the ridge line we had traversed in the dark and knowing how long it would take me to get back to any sort of safety at high camp number three and feeling the dread. I really just wanted to get started down to find out if I could make it back safely and get far enough down the mountain to get out of the death zone. My three cameras were all frozen as well as all my water. I didn’t know if my oxygen bottle would last and how hard it would be to descend the technical sections while being extremely tired. It was very stressful. Just after leaving the summit one of our team members got snow blindness and had to be helped all the way down. It was very difficult to manage to overtake this group on the narrow section we were on. So I lost a lot of time waiting and getting cold.

Do you have any other dreams similar to Everest and away from the world of ultramarathons and adventure races you are regularly associated with? By profession you are a seafarer. The sea is a magnificent medium; it too is wilderness. Do you have any projects on that front?

I plan to row solo across the Atlantic as well as climb some other 8000 meter mountains in the future. Lots of things to think about and plan…

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai For more on Grant Maughan please try the following links:


Krishna Prakash (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

An Inspector General who is also Ultraman – that is a rarity. This is the story of Krishna Prakash, IPS. It is also window to the change a city marathon can spark.

The Mumbai Marathon, long sponsored by Standard Chartered bank and now Tata, has been a life-changer for many people. In 2013 it changed the life of Krishna Prakash, at that time heading the police force in South Mumbai and thereby tasked with overseeing security arrangements for a host of sporting events ranging from cricket matches of the Indian Premier League (IPL) to the city’s annual marathon.

A second generation police officer, he hails from Hazaribagh in Jharkhand. Located roughly 2000 feet above sea level, Hazaribagh – the name means land of a thousand gardens – features a landscape of hills and forests. On a more somber note, it is also home to the second highest coal reserves in Jharkhand. Krishna Prakash’s father served in the police, retiring as a Deputy Superintendent. One of five siblings, Krishna Prakash – born 1971 – attended St Robert’s school and later St Columba’s College, from where he majored in history.  During all this time, his interest in sports was never exceptional. In his free time as a child, he ran around in the local hills, swam in the local river and the reservoir of a nearby dam – like many children do. At school, an institution blessed with adequate playgrounds and providing room for sports in the curriculum itself (there was time specifically allotted for sports), he stayed as active as anyone growing up in such circumstances would. “ I played but I was not a sports person per se,’’ he said, outlining his nature from those days.

Following college, he spent two years with the Nehru Yuva Kendra (NYK) doing social work. In 1995, he decided to appear for his civil services exam. The exam has a three tier selection process. His first two attempts took him past the first two stages of selection. On both occasions he lost out in the third, the interview stage. On his third attempt, he cleared all three stages and placed second among candidates qualifying from Jharkhand. Selected for the Indian Police Service (IPS) and awarded the Maharashtra cadre, he trained over 1998-99 at the Sardar Vallabhbhai National Police Academy in Hyderabad. In 1999, he moved to Maharashtra with his first posting at Gadchiroli. The second least populous district of Maharashtra, Gadchiroli is partly hilly terrain and has a strong tribal component to its population. It is also among districts affected by the extreme left movement. In the following years, he worked at Nanded, Malegaon, Buldhana, Amaravati, Sangli and Ahmednagar before shifting to Mumbai as officer in charge of South Mumbai’s police. Through these postings and transfers on work, he maintained interest in sports but as at school and college long ago, it stayed in the background. “ I used to play football and badminton regularly. I also participated in work-outs with my team from the police, to stay fit. But that was it,’’ Krishna Prakash said. Posted to South Mumbai, sports drew closer. The bulk of the Mumbai Marathon route, including its start and finish lines, are in South Mumbai. Given charge of security arrangements for the Mumbai Marathon, the IPS officer found it hard to keep his curiosity for the event and the experience it offered, under check. It was tough to merely watch from the sidelines and not run. Especially given an instance from the past that hinted he had what it takes to be in endurance sports – during his training days, at a competition at the police academy in Hyderabad, he had been runner up in cross country running, swimming and yoga. Knowing that, how do you keep the attraction of the Mumbai Marathon at bay? He succumbed.

Cycling at Ultraman Australia (Photo: courtesy Krishna Prakash)

In 2013, Krishna Prakash’s superiors approved his request to participate in the event on one condition – his running should not affect the duties expected of him at the Mumbai Marathon. That year Krishna Prakash ran the half marathon segment of the event without any prior training. “ I ran it because I wanted to. There was the wish to run the half marathon. There was no preparation,’’ he said. He covered the 21 kilometer-distance in two hours, seven minutes. Immediately on completion, he changed his attire and resumed his work monitoring security arrangements; it is typically around the time the half marathoners finish that the Mumbai Marathon’s seven kilometer-Dream Run segment featuring the largest chunk of participants, commences. The switch over from half marathon to official duties, worked neatly. Krishna Prakash has participated in the Mumbai Marathon every year since that debut in 2013.Not just that, like many in the city bitten by the bug, he began running at half marathons elsewhere – in Delhi, Pune, Kolkata and Satara. “ This was how things were; till 2016, then everything changed,’’ Krishna Prakash said.

Thanks to Mumbai attracting people from all over India and thanks in part to the Hindi film industry locating many of its stories in the city, some of Mumbai’s suburbs are as well-known in India as the city itself. Dadar is one of them. More than a century ago it had gained distinction as the city’s first planned suburb. In the years that followed, it has been a popular backdrop for Mumbai life in media and conversation. Today Dadar is a busy and noisy convergence of people, shopping, rail and road transport. Its bylanes are comparatively quiet. It was late May 2018. We were at Krishna Prakash’s office in one of the bylanes of Dadar. He was now Inspector General of Police, overseeing VIP security. The change of 2016 he referred to, had happened some 260 kilometers away in an altogether different city and district – Satara. Surrounded by hills, Satara is home to the annual Satara Hill Marathon. The route features gradients. By then, a regular runner of the half marathon, Krishna Prakash ran the half marathon at the event. He ended up with severe pain in the knees. The doctor he consulted painted a gloomy picture – surgery appeared solution and running seemed finished. “ It was October-November 2016,’’ Krishna Prakash said of the incident.

Like many searching for more views than one on life’s troubles, he looked up the Internet to see what it had to say on knees made painful through running. He came across information indicating that problems with knees could be overcome by strengthening muscles directly and indirectly related to their functioning. He also came across information that highlighted the importance of food and food habits for runners.  There was a third angle he required to address. His uric acid level was up; that had to be brought down. According to Krishna Prakash he is largely self-taught in matters of training for sport. He proceeded to address the new options discovered. A longstanding practitioner of yoga, he also worked out regularly at a gym near Churchgate. Should he go with the medical assessment of his knees or should he go with what he felt about himself? – That was the question. Notwithstanding the doctor’s verdict, Krishna Prakash continued his running. “ I kept running despite the knee pain. Slowly I recovered,’’ he said. At the Mumbai Marathon of January 2017, he ran and completed the full marathon.

From the Vichy Ironman (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Krishna Prakash)

As the crow flies, the forests and hills at the tri-junction of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are some 1600 kilometers away from Hazaribagh. For two decades this region was backdrop for the activities of Koose Munisamy Veerappa Gounder aka Veerappan, notorious forest brigand. By the time Krishna Prakash was training at the national police academy, the infamous Palar blast in which Veerappan used landmines to kill 22 members of a team of police and forest officials – his single biggest mass killing – had already occurred. Through the 1990s and into the early 2000s, Veerappan stayed elusive, even hogging media attention with the kidnaping of Kannada film star Rajkumar. The bandit was eventually shot dead in October 2004, by the Tamil Nadu Special Task Force headed by IPS officer, K Vijay Kumar. In 2017, Vijay Kumar’s book on the rise and fall of Veerappan – Veerappan: Chasing the Brigand – was published. There was a book release function in Mumbai and among those who attended was, Krishna Prakash. The last chapter of the book is titled ` Shootout at Padi.’ In it Vijay Kumar wrote of the bandit, “ Even at fifty two, he was sinewy and extremely fit. Forensic specialist Dr Vallinayagam, who later examined his body, told me he was in the shape of a twenty five year-old, apart from the problem with his eyes.’’ The observation set Krishna Prakash thinking – if that is the fitness level of a bandit evading the law, then police officers tasked with the job of bringing such people to justice have to be as fit, if not better.

Among the places Krishna Prakash had served at, was Malegaon. It is a city that has had phases of communal unrest. Three to four days after the book release function, Krishna Prakash attended a ` Peace Run’ in Malegaon. At this run, he met a young doctor who spoke to him of the half Ironman. Spurred by his recent thoughts on the subject of fitness and its relevance for the police, Krishna Prakash resolved to do a full Ironman. That’s a big leap; four years into distance running, the full marathon just done for the first time, no dedicated training had in swimming and cycling and here he was, planning full Ironman! Asked if he was taking a chance, he replied with an emphatic “ no.’’ According to him, once he takes up something, he gives it his all. In Mumbai, those who heard of his plan advised him that the route to full Ironman lay through patient training – first triathlons at home, then the half Ironman and eventually the full. Krishna Prakash chose to overlook the suggestions. “ I believe that if a person is confident then he can do what he applies his mind to,’’ he said. A triathlon involving distances greater than what is used for the discipline at the Olympics, Ironman events are held overseas. As yet, India has no Ironman event.

Soon after that introduction to Ironman at Malegaon, Krishna Prakash registered for the full Ironman scheduled for August 2017 at Vichy in central France. Vichy is located on the banks of the Allier River. He chose this event partly because the dates were convenient for his family – wife and daughter – to go along. From registration to event, he had roughly two and a half months to prepare. While he had graduated to running the full marathon in January 2017, his swimming was strictly functional in style and in cycling, he hadn’t ever endured long hours in the saddle. To guide him, Krishna Prakash contacted Pune’s well known triathlete and coach, Kaustubh Radkar. The triathlon – which is what Ironman is – has three disciplines: swimming, cycling and running. Radkar provided the police officer his training schedules and also told him that cycling is 50 per cent of Ironman; swimming and running together constitute the balance 50 per cent. That latter remark, encapsulating the effort and energy cycling takes up in the mix of disciplines that is Ironman, was a gentle reminder of how much work needed to be done.

With wife Sanjana and daughter Shaurya at Ultraman Australia (Photo: courtesy Krishna Prakash)

A full Ironman entails 3.86 kilometers of swimming, 180.25 kilometers of cycling and 42.20 kilometers of running – raced in that order. The rules of service for IPS officers provide you leave to participate in sports. What is difficult for a top cop is finding time to train for a city like Mumbai and a state like Maharashtra are never short of issues to keep the police engaged. Post his Ironman resolution, Krishna Prakash’s day commenced at 3-3.30 AM. By 4 AM he would start training. Being a senior police officer must have helped. To swim, he had access to the swimming pool at Garware Club House at Wankhede Stadium, the Mafatlal Swimming Pool on Marine Drive and the pool at the Police Gymkhana, also on Marine Drive. At all these places, the management was kind enough to open the premises very early for Krishna Prakash to train. In the pool though, he was soon battling his own swimming style. His old survival swimming was a composite of several styles, none of it capable of efficient, sustained passage through water. He gradually nudged himself towards freestyle and focused on acquiring strength in it. His running was usually done on Marine Drive with interval training either at the city’s University Stadium or Mahalakshmi Race Course. Much of his cycling happened on the Eastern Express Highway, which still retains a fairly long stretch of service road used by walkers, runners and cyclists. He also acquired a Fuji road bike. While the triathlon’s three disciplines could be worked on separately, the triathlon itself challenges because they are done one after the other, almost seamlessly. Krishna Prakash earmarked his Sundays to get a feel of that. Some of his training sessions for open water swimming were at Pune’s Manas Lake. Early Sunday morning, he would drive to Pune; in the vehicle would also be his cycle. Reaching Pune by around 7 AM, he would spend the next two hours swimming. Swimming done, he would get on his bike and cycle from Pune to Navi Mumbai, reaching there by evening. Then he would run for about one and a half hours in Navi Mumbai; among the places he frequented so was the jogging track at Jewel of Navi Mumbai in the Seawoods-Nerul area. With most amateur athletes, time spent training is usually time borrowed from family. Krishna Prakash’s daughter Shaurya had to accommodate the reduced time she got to spend with her father. The reality of official life is such that a senior police officer like Krishna Prasad can’t always be left alone. His bodyguards had the option to tag along while he trained. On many occasions, they did.

For Krishna Prakash, the full Ironman at Vichy went off well except for one mishap. To cycle, he had brought along his trusted Fuji. Ironman rules, Krishna Prakash said, don’t allow a cyclist to ride close to another for long. The reason is simple and in a different context – that of the peloton; used exactly for the advantages it offers. When you ride close to another (typically behind), it is called `drafting’ or `slipstreaming.’ The practice reduces drag considerably. Krishna Prakash found himself riding close to another and to escape staying so for long (thus inviting disqualification at Ironman), he tried to overtake. Doing so, he courted a smooth patch of green by the road side. What he didn’t know was that lurking below that green was a small ditch. The cycle’s wheel hit the ditch and he fell. This episode aside, Vichy was an encouraging experience. He completed the full Ironman in 14 hours, eight minutes.

The Ultraman memento (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Krishna Prakash)

According to Krishna Prakash, in the days following the Vichy Ironman, his sole wish was to try and improve the time he took to complete the event. At a minor level, beside the fall while cycling there had also been another mistake, this one likely fallout of his newness to the whole Ironman format. In the marathon segment which was run in loops with each loop marked by a wrist band given to the runner, he had ended up running four kilometers extra because he thought the run concluded at the place where the band was being distributed. All this required to be smoothed out and a clearer picture of performance had. So he registered for the half Ironman in Bahrain. But in the background there were other pulls and comments seeking to influence. One of it was the observation that his timing at Vichy was actually better than what some famous folks who did the Ultraman, got in their Ironman. Why not then, Ultraman next? – So went that line of reasoning. “ Somehow it came to my mind that I should attempt Ultraman,’’ Krishna Prakash said of his eventual drift towards Ultraman. As before, he wasn’t graduating gently in his goals. He was leaping. According to Wikipedia, the first Ultraman was held in Hawaii in 1983. This was followed by similar events in Canada, UK and Florida in the US. In May 2015, Australia commenced its edition of Ultraman; the first edition was staged at Noosa on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and saw 37 participants. Krishna Prasad signed up for the May 2018 edition of Ultraman Australia. Unlike Ironman, which is over in a day, Ultraman spans three days. Each day’s activity has a cut-off time of 12 hours. On the first day, triathlete does 10 kilometers of swimming and 146 kilometers of cycling. On the second day, it is 275 kilometers of cycling. The event concludes with a double marathon; 84 kilometers of running. As with Vichy, the IPS officer’s choice of Ultraman Australia was partly driven by the fact that it coincided with school vacation in India; it meant his wife and daughter could go along.

At the cycling event in Ahmednagar where Krishna Prakash marked his return to cycling after the accident he suffered during the 2017 Deccan Cliffhanger (Photo: courtesy Krishna Prakash)

Given he had registered for the Bahrain Half Ironman Krishna Prakash initially visualized his progression to Noosa via Bahrain. Then disaster struck. To get stronger at cycling, he had enrolled for the Deccan Cliffhanger scheduled for November 2017. It is an annual 643 kilometer cycle race from Pune to Goa. During the race, Krishna Prakash collided with his support car and crashed. Apart from cuts and bruises, he fractured three bones in his left shoulder. It was bad enough for him to be briefly hospitalized. “ I was left quite frustrated. It upset my plans. I had planned to do sea swimming near Palghar to get ready for the open water swimming due at Noosa,’’ he said. Yet again, surgery was recommended as an option. Krishna Prakash chose the normal, natural course of healing instead. December 2017 and a part of January 2018 went by without any training. Meanwhile the main sponsorship of the Mumbai Marathon had changed from Standard Chartered bank to Tata; the 2018 edition of the event was called Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM). On January 20, 2018, his injured shoulder and arm wrapped in bandage to restrict movement, Krishna Prakash ran the TMM full marathon. He completed it in four hours, twenty six minutes. “ That gave me some confidence,’’ he said. With that, one third of prospective triathlon had stirred alive again. In March, there was a 100 kilometer cycling event in Ahmednagar. Krishna Prakash was supposed to inaugurate it. He decided to cycle the distance. Once that was done, he knew he could commence distance cycling as training for Ultraman. Regular bicycle trips from Mumbai to Pune and Nashik started. Not surprisingly, sea swimming followed. That latter bit couldn’t be ignored for the swimming at Vichy had been in a river while at Noosa, it would be the Pacific Ocean. For guide to Ultraman, he had Deepak Raj, Australia-based triathlete and coach. Sunil Menon, Hyderabad based-triathlete and coach, also offered helpful advice. Amid accident, the Bahrain Half Ironman had to be however given a miss. It was now straight from accident to Ultraman.

At the finish line of Ultraman Australia (Photo: courtesy Krishna Prakash)

For Krishna Prakash, the three days of May chasing Ultraman in Noosa, were challenging. The quantum of activity each day was sizable and draining and it had to be repeated back to back. But he persevered. He finished the 10 kilometer-swim in four hours, fifty four minutes. The full component of 421 kilometers cycling – first day’s 146 kilometers and second day’s 275 kilometers, combined – was done in 18 hours, seven minutes. He wrapped up the double marathon in 11 hours, 20 minutes; Shaurya ran the last two kilometers with him encouraging him on. In total, he took 34 hours, 21 minutes to complete Ultraman Australia. According to the event’s website, he placed 43 on the finishers’ list. Vichy’s shadow made its presence felt down under too. Krishna Prakash chose to leave his trusted Fuji behind in Mumbai and use a borrowed time trial bike in Noosa. In retrospect, that was a bad decision. The bike fit was far from perfect; the aerobars were short for his arms and although he adjusted the seat as best as he could, he found himself bunched up. Further, the cycle’s brakes decided to play spoil sport; they ran tad lose. Result – on a portion of road close to the city, he swerved to avoid a vehicle and crashed into a wooden fence. His left shin was cut and it swelled up. The area around his right toe also swelled up. The remaining part of the bike ride was therefore cautiously executed. Worse, the injured legs affected his performance in the double marathon. We asked him if he had fully recovered from the fracture to his shoulder before he left for Australia. “ Yes. After all I was swimming,’’ Krishna Prakash said. Then he moved his left shoulder as though to be surer. “ There is some stiffness still, you know,’’ he said smiling. On plans ahead, he preferred to stay quiet, except for a general resolve mentioned to attempt more triathlons.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)