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Proving his mettle

Author: admin

The first Indian Army officer to complete the Ironman Triathlon, Major General Vikram Dev Dogra believes life has endless potential

 
On 1 July 2018, as the announcement on the mike went, “Vikram, you are an Ironman,” the 59 year-old Army officer’s joy knew no bounds—following a two-year gruelling schedule, it was mission accomplished. “I was overwhelmed; my dream had come true. It was such a mixed bag of emotions,” recalls Major General Vikram Dev Dogra of 17 Poona Horse, an armoured regiment. With the successful completion of Ironman Triathlon Austria, Dogra became the only serving personnel of the Indian Army and the only general across the world to win the title.

Ironman Triathlon is the most challenging day-long event and a test of physical and mental strength; participants are required to swim for 3.8 km, cycle for 180 km and run for 42 km sequentially in 17 hours. “I completed the full Ironman in 14 hours and 21 minutes,” he says with pride. Competing with 2,850 athletes from 50 countries was no mean task but Dogra’s commitment and perseverance kept him going.

The environment on race day was electric. “Just before I reached the finish line, my wife Supriya handed me the national flag and I ran the last 200 m, holding the Indian flag above my head, feeling proud, humbled and relieved, and thanking God for making it possible,” he recalls. Over 2,400 people reached the finishing line, as the locals of Klagenfurt gathered on the streets to cheer the participants. “The oldest participant was an 82 year-old man but, unfortunately, he couldn’t complete the event.”

Born in Udhampur in Jammu & Kashmir, Dogra comes from a family of fitness enthusiasts and has been involved in sport such as polo, squash, swimming and cycling. “Way back in the 1930s, my father was the boxing champion of entire Northern India and later on, served the Indian Army. Even now, at 96, he’s active and goes for a daily walk.”

Dogra’s tryst with triathlons began in 2013 in Delhi. “As a beginner, I participated in the sprint category. Since then, I have participated in various formats of the triathlon—from sprint to the Olympic distance and, thereafter, the half Ironman.” Settled in a comfortable routine, he yearned for more challenges in life. Once he made up his goal to do the Ironman, his family supported him whole-heartedly.

Participating in the Ironman was a personal challenge for Dogra; the training and preparation were done after office hours. He knew it required intensive physical training and tremendous self-discipline. With no support groups and guides in India for the Ironman challenge, he did his own research on nutrition and fitness. “Different sets of muscles are used in different activities. My fitness regime consisted of core-strengthening exercises and overall conditioning to help me build up my aerobic capacity and endurance.”

The two-year preparation demanded sustained hours of training and a challenging workout schedule. “I would go running from 7-10 pm, two to three times a week; the other weekdays were reserved for swimming; the weekends were for cycling, involving six to seven hours of training starting as early as 1 am.” He practised cycling on the Noida-Greater Noida Expressway, doing 150 km before the morning traffic hit the expressway. “As part of my diet, I consumed 3,000-5,000 calories a day. Initially, I ate 12 eggs daily. The body requires adequate amount of proteins, carbohydrates and vitamins and in two years, I made constant changes as and when needed.”

Dogra says it isn’t just physical but mental conditioning that prepares one for the race. “Going to Austria, being there with the athletes from other countries and facing last-minute challenges can be very intimidating,” he says. Despite his preparation, there were challenges that came up a surprise. “I had read that the water temperature on the race day would be 24° Celsius and such temperature does not warrant a wetsuit. Once there, it turned out that the temperature would be 19°. I had to buy a wet suit and also practise in it as the dynamics of swimming in a wet suit were different.”

He adds, “When I went for cycling practice, I realised the slopes were steeper than expected and my road bike was ill-equipped for such slopes.” Two days before the final event, Dogra had to hit a bike shop in Austria to get the rear gear-set of his bike changed. “Despite that, my bike wasn’t equipped for the elevations and I lost an hour in my cycling leg on race day.”

Even the nutritional requirements on the pre-race day and race day are different, he explains. “Pre-race day, you need to eat foods that provide the required calories and nutrients to fuel your body during practice. These can be taken in the form of normal food consumed in our daily meals. However, on race day, you rely on protein gels and hydration tablets to fuel you through the 17 hours. This was done systematically at the 90-km point during the cycling leg and at the 21-km mark during the running leg where we received our replenishment bags.”

Back home, Dogra has been the recipient of the ‘Sword of Honour’ in the Indian Army for being the best all-round cadet and a gold medal for being the first in the Order of Merit. He was also awarded the Parachute Regiment Medal (instituted by the Parachute Regiment for the cadet who is adjudged best in physical fitness) in the passing-out course at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, and has received similar awards at the National Defence Academy. He believes endurance events such as these help you focus and teach you discipline, commitment and time management.

Little wonder then, that the end of this journey is the beginning of another for Dogra. “Life has endless potential and age is just a number,” says Dogra, who is due for retirement in January 2019. On his agenda is cycling around the world in a year, covering 22,000 km. Here’s wishing him all the best!

—Ambica Gulati

November 2018