Fitness enthusiast Gaurav Makkar, who is not a born athlete, has moulded himself into one by testing his endurance and recently winning one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world to bag the title of Ironman in Spain. In an interview, Makkar discusses secrets of his success with Mishika Bangia. Excerpts from an interview.
Tell us about your journey to becoming an ‘Ironman’.
The entire journey had been simply amazing. I got goosebumps when I first signed for the race and then the entire training for seven months. I had put my heart and soul into it. There are always ups and downs but if you are focused on your goal, nothing can put you away from what you want to achieve.
I had heard about Ironman couple of years ago during a casual conversation with a friend. It meant testing one’s endurance limits and meeting the extreme level of fitness. It got me inquisitive. I curiously looked for more information about the race on the Internet. At that time, I barely had started running long distances and had never even entered the swimming pool. It all seemed like a distant dream but I guess the destiny had already defined its course by then. In 2013, I had done ultra-cycling event “Dessert 500” in Bikaner, in which I had to cover 500 km in 24 hours and I completed with podium finish.
2014-15 was an eventful year. I completed my Delhi Half Marathon in sub 95 minutes. The year 2015 had begun on a high note with my debut in full marathon in Mumbai, which I had finished in sub 3.30 minutes with an all-India category rank of 12. This gave me the much-needed encouragement and the nerve to go beyond the full distance marathon and test my limits. I immediately signed up for Ironman Mallorca in Spain to be held in September. With 7 months to go, I had sufficient time to learn swimming and train myself well.
In April 2015, I took part in the London marathon as my training run and was overwhelmed to complete it in 3:30 minutes. It was time to begin my journey to Ironman. I realised that with my high-pressure job profile, it is not going to be easy especially when it comes to spending long hours of training.
There are not many who have completed the grueling Ironman race in India and hence not many role models. The journey was full of challenges starting from weather conditions, unsafe roads for practicing cycling, non-availability of an open water body to practice swimming and no Olympic size pool. I went through bike crash just three days before the race and it looked like the dream getting shattered. I was bleeding profusely from my wounds and waiting helplessly for the ambulance in Spain. I was moved to two different hospitals for stitching of my wounds and it took almost 6 hours for the
My bike broke down. My shoulder was hurt. My face was badly wounded. But there was still hope inside to race after three days for which I had put my heart and soul.
I called my brother and luckily he was in Barcelona, an hour flight away. He was disheartened to see my condition as we had different plans for the race.
But I did not lose hope to participate in the race and had only 3 days to dry up my wounds so that I can go in the salty water of Mediterranean Sea. Now instead of chilling out before the race like everyone does, I had a different situation to deal with.
Since my bike broke in a crash, so I knew if am racing I should I start looking for a bike first. Luckily I found one bike, though, it was not a perfect fit as mine but I was happy and took it as a signal to go ahead in the race. Doctors were also very supportive. They never discouraged me from participating even when I had 40 stitches on my face. I was determined to reach to the start line on the race day and was confident of my training to finish it strongly.
There was a sense of achievement and pride when they announced at the finish line “Gaurav Makkar from India “You are an Ironman.”
It isn’t easy to restart in mid-thirties. Please share the secret behind your fitness?
I always had an inclination towards sports and fitness since childhood. I was an active sports kid during my schools and used to play roller hockey but that stopped after my school. I had been off and on in the gyms like most of us do during our twenties. However, there has always been a passion for the fitness so I chose fitness industry as my career. I worked with one of the most prestigious chain of health clubs as CEO.
So for me, it had never been restarting during mid-thirties. But yes there had been a shift in focus beyond fitness to achieve something really challenging like the Ironman race.
Please give a sequence to your three key sports passion — swimming, biking and running.
I would rank running on top; then swimming and then cycling. Running is natural to us. It really gives much-needed adrenaline rush for being happy. I feel that’s the easiest and simplest way to stay happy.
Through my achievements also, I feel I will still keep the same sequence. Swimming in the sea and open water is a different experience in itself. It literally takes you to a different state of your being like fearless you with no boundaries in the deep vast sea. I love cycling equally but there are many logistical issues with cycling like you need safe roads, you have a mechanical dependence on the bikes. For long rides, you have to carry your hydration and nutrition, etc so that makes it to the third favorite.
Apart from triathlons, marathons, and swimming, you as an athlete are inclined towards anything else and would love to participate for?
I have a deep and huge inclination towards yoga and asanas. It is one of the most important aspects of complete wellness and it cannot be achieved without practicing yoga. Climbing Mt Everest is the next big goal. I want to experience how beautiful the world looks from the top. I want to live that feeling. I have started curiously looking for information on the same.
Did you find it challenging to be with other participants while you were in Spain and South Africa?
I would not say challenging but yes a different experience. Some are really strong and fast swimmers and they really run over you during swimming. So that’s kind of a challenge when you are swimming in sea or oceans when someone can come and you can get hit. But when you go for such races, you ought to learn techniques and drills to deal with these situations. Mostly athletes you meet are humble and supportive.
Whom do you look up to? Who was your admiration for getting motivated from?
I get motivated when I see ordinary people doing extraordinary things. You meet many such people in your daily life. Hence, I keep getting motivated and channelise my energies in overall wellness. Anyone who lives the life with some purpose is motivation to me.
Do you think these days parents are giving less importance to outdoor sports for kids in this techno-savvy world?
Not just outdoor games, I feel any sport is a must for kids, not just for physical fitness but also for their overall development like improving confidence as a team player, dealing with stress and competition and channelising their energies in a positive and productive way. A lot comes as a byproduct of sports than just the fitness.
Does your family support you in your goals?
I get complete support from my family be it my training, nutrition or travelling for my races. My wife, she loves to travel with me to support when I am racing. My family feels very proud of my achievements.
What message you would like to give to the Indian youth?
Everyone wants to lead an active and healthy lifestyle but very few are able to actually do it. It is always difficult to take the first step into something new. But it is only a matter of making the first move. It’s totally worth it for yourself, for your family and for the nation.
Whether they should prioritize sports being their passion or focus upon jobs to live in the competitive world?
Being in Sports also helps you achieve better in this competitive world. Be it a simple running or any sport, it helps you to deal with situations differently. Be it your decision-making ability or dealing with any kind of stress, all are byproducts of being active in sports. You are far way above when you are actively fit. So, it’s a win-win situation.
Please give some personal tips to youngsters.
It is fairly easy when you don’t make excuses. The problem begins when you start making excuses like we have no time, work pressure, my family needs time, etc.
We all have 24 hours in a day. We all need to deal with our own personal and work life. Now, it is up to us, as to how to make the best of it or else, keep complaining. Taking out 30-40 minutes in a day for yourself is more than enough to start leading an active healthy lifestyle and we only have to make right choices when we eat.
Do you think recent sports biopics in Bollywood inspire and motivate the sports fans and youngsters?
Yes, it absolutely motivates because we try and look for our role models when watching movies and sub consciously start idolizing them.
Which is your favourite biopic?
My favourite has been Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.