I decided to give you an insight into the life of our local heroes!
What I find inspiring about Pradeep’s story is that he is like you and me. He’s not a professional athlete (he’s not paid to play and be in commercials like our local ‘legends’). He’s married and has a day job, and while balancing all of that – he has made time to engage in a sport. A sport that is not an easy task but requires enormous amounts of dedication and willpower. Pradeep completed IRONMAN 70.3 which was held in Colombo on the 25th of February 2018. So let’s move onto his story shall we?
Pradeep, tell us about yourself and where you’re from…
I was born in Nawalapitiya and I attended Ginigathhena Central College. My father was an electrician and my mother was a housewife. I didn’t have much exposure to sports those days. The closest I had come to doing sports would be the school sportsmeet and taking part in the long distance races during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. In 2003, I finished school, entered the industry and after that I rarely did anything to keep myself fit. I worked at Ceylon distilleries from 2004 to 2009 and still I couldn’t engage in anything athletic. Even then, I didn’t show any signs of obesity, I looked normal and healthy.
I joined the IT sector in the Sri Lankan Army in 2009 and during the first year, we were encouraged to stay fit, so that kept me healthy for some time. As the years went by, I was gaining weight because I was sitting the whole time in front of a computer. I got married in 2015 and then I realised I wasn’t in good shape anymore. My weight had shot up from 55 kg to 65 kg. In 2016, I took a medical test and the doctor’s report said that I had a cholesterol level of 290!
The doctor gave me an ultimatum, “Are you going to take medication or change your lifestyle?”
“Are you going to take medication or change your lifestyle?”
Then I asked him what I can do to change my lifestyle? He said cycling, running, swimming or even walking. I was 31 years old at that time. Instead of paying for the medication, I bought a bicycle. I started off with a Lumala Mountain bike – even at that time, when I cycled 5 km it was a big deal for me. Those days, Strava wasn’t so popular so I had an Adidas app to track my performance. I went on to do 7 km, 10 km, 12 km and little by little, I pushed my limits. I was in search of a community where I can monitor my progress and look at others, then I came across Strava. This enabled me to meet up with other cyclists and it motivated me to be like them. I got to know the cycling community, WROOM. The first two people that I met from WROOM were Anuja Ratwatte and Jehan Bastianz. When I noticed the bikes they were using, I realized it was time for me to switch to a road bike. They told me to join them in their weekend rides.
So there I went, with no helmet, no cycling kit, just a track bottom, t-shirt and cap. My route was from Dehiowita to Kiriella to Ingiriya. I encountered my first accident here – I fell off my bike and the speedometer came off. I was injured and I saw a motorcyclist stopping in front of me. I thought he would have come to help me up, instead, he picked up my speedometer and ran! My front tyre was flat and I pushed my bike for 6 km to get it repaired! I didn’t carry enough money with me so I had to pay the winkle by sending credit to his phone. At the end of the tour, I had completed 146 km on that day.
I went to the Spinner Café on a Saturday morning and I met Thisara with whom I went to Kalutara. They keep an average speed of 25 kmph. I was introduced to the world of group rides by Yasas. He taught me about hand signals, distance to keep between bikes, and how to inform others if there is danger ahead. I got a thorough foundation on road cycling that day.
In the year 2016, I met a Maldivian called Hussain Shameem from WROOM. He introduced me to the club, Colombo City Running (CCR). He had already taken part in IRONMAN several times and got me into running. He invited me to come on a Sunday morning where they do their 5 km race at Independence Square.
So far you got motivated to cycle and to run, how did you come about swimming?
Usually in my hometown, I used to swim in the river but I haven’t learnt any proper technique yet. When I started work, I joined the pool near my house and I was able to use their pool after 6.00 pm for two hours. I did this twice a week.
I got to know about IRONMAN from a French gentleman named Denis Crassier (whom I met from WROOM) and he asked me if I was interested in it. I didn’t have much money at that time but Dennis assured that he will find some sponsors for me and cover my costs. That was when I met Ashwin Doranegama, who perfected my running and swimming techniques. He would always tell me to use only the toe when running without placing the foot flat on the ground.
How did you build your confidence to swim in open waters?
When I joined the Triathlon Club of Colombo (TCC), we were able to use the CR and FC pool (which was also available for all IRONMAN athletes). Now I’m part of three clubs – WROOM, TCC and CCR. I get off from work at 5 pm and by the time I get into the pool it’s 7.30 pm. I swim till 8.45 pm and take the bus to Pannipitiya. By the time I reach home it’s 10 pm! I would do this two days a week. Ashwin would record me swimming and look at all the details that I needed to correct.
The day finally came where we had to swim in the sea. I have never swum in the sea before – and the first sea swim was in Galle Face. On that day, they sent the pros first, then the average swimmers and finally the newbies. After the first 400m into the sea, I had taken too much of salt water and was asking myself, why did I bother signing up for this? I was at the verge of giving up. Then I noticed the buoys marking the distance were way beyond my reach – I had swum off course. I was scared whether I will be taken by the waves but after 800 m, you get this confidence that you’re somehow going to finish it.
What was your training schedule like?
Tuesdays, I had to stay late in the night at office, so I do a 5 km run around the premises. Wednesdays and Fridays, I swim after work. Thursday mornings, I cycle for an hour at 4.00 am and head to work after that. I manage to do around 25 km. Saturdays, I have my long cycling ride (90 km) or sometimes I do a brick session (cycle for 90 km and run 5 km). Sundays, I do a long run and Monday is my day of rest.
I usually eat early (7.00 pm) and sleep by 9.00 pm. I wake up at 4.00 am without an alarm.
What are the most memorable incidents at IRONMAN Colombo 70.3?
Before the contest you’re supposed to keep the bikes on the racks and I let the air out of the tyres to prevent the tubes bursting from the heat (during the daytime). When I came on race day to fix my bike, the mechanics hadn’t arrived yet! To my luck, I came across a lady who had a pump but didn’t know how to pump air to her tyres. I helped her out first then I pumped air to my tyres – that was a close call.
The swim went really well and my timings were better than the training sessions. When it came to the bike ride, I had difficulty getting rid of the salt from my eyes but it eventually came off. After doing my first loop, the wind had blown off a traffic cone onto my path and I couldn’t avoid it while pedalling my bike. With the collision of the traffic cone I fell off the bike and bruised my shoulder. This was a Carbon fibre bike that I borrowed from Sajith in Spinner and luckily the bike wasn’t damaged. It was painful but I got up and continued my race.
The final part was running and I knew I was good at it. I managed to cover up the time that was lost and completed the race. The feeling was unimaginably sweet! It was like a reward for all the hard training that happened over three months. I was also happy that my body was in its fittest forms. Looking back, it was all worthwhile.
How was the support from the family?
I would like to thank my wife for handling all my meal plans. She made sure that I would get the right amount of protein and she always came to support me on many races that I took part in. I used to take six eggs a day during my training period. She handled all of that while doing a full time job – so it’s not an easy task. For that I am very grateful.
What are your plans for the future?
Taking part in IRONMAN 70.3 Colombo in 2019. This year’s organizing, which was mainly handled by Yasas, Rajan and Julian received an approval rating of 91% from the foreigners who took part and it was a massive success for an event that was done for the first time. Therefore, they’re going to organize it again and registrations will start in May 2018.
Is there anyone you would like to mention in particular?
Spinner Sajith for lending me his bike, Denis for convincing me to take part, Shafraz Junaid, Sanjaya Kodagoda and my wife for all the support given.
Any advice for us who still haven’t got off the couch?
It seems like an expensive sport at the beginning – you need to get a bike, buy clothes, equipment etc. You just have to get them one step at a time. Overall, it will be less than the medical bills you have to pay if you don’t stay fit. Till this very day I haven’t taken a Panadol tablet for any sickness I get. It is very rewarding to have a healthy body. Don’t worry about timings. Tell yourself that you will somehow finish it, that’s what matters. And always engage yourself in some physical activity.