At 52, Anju Khosla participated in the 2018 edition of the Ironman Triathlon, one of the toughest one-day sporting events and became the oldest Indian woman to complete it. Read the interview as she shares her experience with us.
Introduce yourself. (yourself, your family and your profession)
Anju Khosla: I work with a financial services company which gives microloans in the rural space.
I am 52 years old, living in Delhi. My husband, Yogen is my partner in crime, fueling my athletic pursuits! My sons Vahin, aged 25 and Yuv, aged 22 are keen sportsmen too.
Before we begin, tell us how did you fall in love with cycling?
Anju Khosla: I took to cycling 10 years back, when running was too hectic for me and golf too slow!
What/Who inspired you to compete in the Ironman Triathlon?
Anju Khosla: My inspiration came from a lone lady cyclist, whom I crossed on the Manali-Leh highway 10 years back. While I and my family were driving up in a car, complaining of a mild headache and dizziness because of the harsh environment there she was on a cycle, pedalling along laboriously, gulping in deep breaths. We stopped, offered her water and a seat in the car … but she carried on!
Next year, I was back on the same highway, this time on a cycle. And then it was one new challenge after another …. building up to the Ironman race!
How did your family react to your decision of competing in the Iron Triathlon?
Anju Khosla: My family was most supportive of my decision. In fact, my husband was instrumental in my taking the plunge.
In 2016, I participated in a half ironman distance triathlon organised in Delhi by a local club – when I crossed the finish mat, happy to end the ordeal, my husband’s first question to me was “So when are you going to do a full ?” At that point in time, I dismissed the mad suggestion. But over the coming weeks, he would gently pop up the question, nudging me that I could do it!
We would love to know your experience right from your training period until the day you completed this journey. What was your training like? What did you consume pre, during and post as nutrition?
Anju Khosla: The first thing I did after registering was to enrol with a coach, without whom I dare say, this journey would not have been possible. Kaustubh Radkar is an Ironman certified coach, having himself completed the Ironman challenge 21 times over! I followed his scientific training plan to the T.
Every weekday entailed an hour or two of cardio in the morning and strength training sessions in the evening. Weekends would be long workout days, reaching upto 8 hours of cycling and brick workouts.
I took to Yoga, not only to increase my flexibility but also enhance my lung power. And then there was meditation, to still the mind!
I spent endless hours educating myself on nutrition, which is rightfully termed the fourth arm of a triathlon! As I never felt too good eating before a workout, I made good with pre-workout beetroot smoothies. After my workout, I was very conscious of replenishing my carbs. Sweet potatoes, vegetable juices, coconut water became staple foods. I stayed away from over-the-counter supplements and tried to stick to natural foods.
That being said, race day nutrition is a totally different ball game. For the run, I only consumed energy gels and electrolytes. For cycling, I relied on an energy drink which had a combination of slow release carbs and easy to digest proteins
What were the biggest challenges that came your way?
Anju Khosla: The biggest challenge that came my way was to put my head down and train each day of the 9 months that lead up to race day. Controlling the mind, literally telling it to “shut up”, was an issue!
Also, at 52, one’s body doesn’t recover fast enough. After completing a rigorous morning cardio session, I had to be fit enough for the next day’s training. While on the one hand, I had to build up the miles, on the other I had to ensure that I remained injury free!
How did you manage your job, family and still find time to train?
Anju Khosla: Training for an Ironman needs a lot of time commitment. Both work and family do feel the brunt. In some ways, I guess I had to re-align my relationships and become the centre of my universe! From being a businesswoman, a mother, a wife, I had to accept being a woman on a mission!
What is your next goal? Are you planning to participate or achieve something else?
Anju Khosla: Having tested the waters, I would like to take another go at it. The bug has bitten!
Swim, bike, run. Which is your favourite?
Anju Khosla: I enjoy cycling the most. But let’s not forget, triathlon is a three-sport combination – swimming, cycling, running. And one can’t have favourites!
While one has to work on one’s weakness, one must not focus disproportionately on any particular sport. Train on your strengths too, which in my case was cycling – and surprisingly, on race day, I found it to be the biggest challenge!
I am a breaststroke swimmer, which is very unconventional for this sport. But I believed I could turn that into a strength, which I did!
If you had to sum up this journey in just one sentence, what would that be?
Anju Khosla: Cliche as it sounds, where there’s a will there’s a way!
How does it feel to be the Oldest Indian Woman to participate in the Ironman Triathlon?
Anju Khosla: I feel great at having accomplished the task I had set out to achieve. I definitely don’t feel old!
Lastly, what excites you about the growth of women cycling India?
Anju Khosla: Cycling for women in India is not an easy feat. Most women set out cycling at the break of dawn, stepping outside their comfort zone, many times leaving their families asleep. Once Lycra-clad, catcalls and curious looks are aplenty. Each of these brave hearts is a role model, not just for other women but for men too!
Any special message for all the women out there who look up to you?
Anju Khosla: Each one of us is gifted with a spark of madness – don’t let it be blown away!