Meera Cheema On What It Took Physically And Mentally To Rank Second In Ironman Triathlon’19
- IWB Post
- September 12, 2019
What happens when a banker decides to run a marathon? Before Meera Cheema took this life-changing plunge, she properly analyzed her workload and calculated the number of hours required to make herself fit for the sport before finally investing her mind and body into an extreme physical workout about two years ago. Finally, earlier this year, she took her treasure-like talent to an international platform – Ironman Triathlon 70.3 Staffordshire, England – where she was ranked 2nd in India in her category (40-44 age group).
Meera, who’s in her 40s, is a brilliant example of what sheer determination can do to you. Right from making you win a world championship, it can also teach you how to master your mind and achieve incredible goals in life!
“I have been into sports almost all my life. I am a national-level swimmer, who started my fitness journey as a toddler. Therefore, participating in Delhi half-marathon, that in a way re-started my sports career, purely happened out of passion. Once I tasted victory in this run, nothing could stop me to prepare for Triathlon,” shares Meera during a phone conversation with IWB.
Read the excerpts from our interview with Meera Cheema, the Indian Iron-Woman, who takes us through her daily mental and physical practice.
What was your childhood in the Army cantonment like?
My father was a Lt General in the Indian Army, which meant only one thing for the entire family – a disciplined and fit life. He himself is a famous squash player and my mother is a cross-country runner. Thinking that it ran in the blood, he once threw me into the colony’s swimming pool when I was just three. While my mother started howling in horror, my baby-mind couldn’t fathom the information. I was somehow pulled out of the pool safely only to be thrown again by my dad. Even though I developed water-fear after that, my father surprisingly never gave up on teaching the basics of life to me. I think his prediction about his daughter was right as at the age of six, I won a gold medal in the school’s swimming competition. That embarked the beginning of all things great that I was about to witness on this fitness journey. Later, I was fortunate to win a Bronze medal at the Junior National-level Swimming competition.
Fast forward to 2016, tell us about your new journey as a runner.
To be a good swimmer, you’re required to practice other forms of physical drills, too. Running is something I’m extremely fond of in order to cleanse my mind of negative thoughts. When I got to know about the Airtel Delhi half-marathon, I couldn’t resist but try my caliber in it. I think it was only because of my consistency in the past years that I could finish 31 km in 1.48 hours, and subsequently, was ranked 2nd in my category. Marathon or not, one should always run as it is one of the best cardiovascular exercises.
How did you prepare yourself for the next battle – Triathlon’19?
I gave myself three months to prepare for this international competition. My biggest challenge was to take time out for my daily practice while managing a full-time job. To balance, I started my day at three in the morning and practiced till eight before leaving for the bank. I cycled for three hours and ran 15 km every day. After work, I didn’t sit at home to relax. I, in fact, spent the remaining hours swimming and hitting the gym before finally retiring to bed by 9:30 pm.
Does cycling come naturally to you, just like running and swimming?
Ha-ha, it was actually another major challenge for me. Now that I had proved myself in swimming and running, it was time to overcome my fear of riding a bike. A long-distance Triathlon race consists of 3.86 km swim, a 180.25 km bicycle ride, and a 42.20 km marathon run. Before this, I had never cycled my entire life, thus preparing for a 180 km-long bicycle ride in my forties proved to be challenging.
I think as you work on your endurance, your resolution gets stronger simultaneously. A similar thing happened with me when my coach and I decided to do it no matter what. Other than owning up to it, I had no other option. After all, I had signed up for this lifestyle.
Being a full-time banker and a married woman, did life give you a hard time?
It could have given me a hard time had my husband refused to support my crazy plans. My family understand my tough lifestyle as a full-time working woman and a full-time sports fanatic. Of course, there are thousands of sacrifices one has to make like blacking out the social life, skipping the family get-togethers, and most importantly, missing out on self-time. But you do what you got to do, right? As I’m preparing for future competitions, I make full use of my weekends but make sure to take Mondays off to sit and chill a bit.
Can you share your diet plan with us?
They say – the lighter you’re, the better. I, for that matter, require only 8 to 10% of fat in my body. Hence, my everyday diet includes a lot of carbs, protein, and water and there are no cheat-days included in my schedule. Most importantly, I have totally cut down on sugar.
Which physical and mental blocks did you break while preparing for Triathlon?
Back when I was a kid, I thought I couldn’t swim but eventually swam at the national level. Similarly, for Triathlon, I repeatedly told myself that riding a bike wouldn’t hurt me. This episode made me win accolades, as well. I strongly feel that all of this is our mind’s game. It tells us what to do and what not to do. But when we start listening to our will-power, we can truly master our mind at a time when it’s ready to give up. Whatever I’ve achieved so far is because of a strong will-power. Without it, no one can ride, run or swim this far.
Practicing daily and exceeding my physical limits have, in turn, made me happier and confident as a person. When I am working out, I feel uplifted as if I’m in a meditative state.
[An Ironman Triathlon is one of the series of long-distance triathlon races organized by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), consisting of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile (42.20 km) run, raced in that order. It is widely considered one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world.
Most Ironman events have a limited time of 16 or 17 hours to complete the race, course dependent. The race typically starts at 7:00 am; the mandatory swim cut off for the 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim is 9:20 am (2 hours 20 minutes), the mandatory bike cut off time is 5:30 pm (8 hours 10 minutes), and the mandatory marathon cut off is midnight (6 hours 30 minutes). Any participant who manages to complete the triathlon within these time constraints is designated an Ironman.
(pictures are Meera’s own)