My 10 year Journey in Endurance Sports: Ultramarathons, Ironman and Retirement

“Closing Time… Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end” – Green Day (Live Concert)

This has essentially been the theme of my entire life and I’ve now embarked on a new crossroad where my journey with extreme endurance racing has come to an end. Yes… this year before I toed the start line of Ironman #7, I’d decided it would be my curtain call. Also a former blogger, this post is simply a cameo appearance… : ) I trust you’ll enjoy the read as I attempt to capture the athletic side of my life, 10+ years of endurance racing and my last Ironman race in this post… Happy reading!

I’ve always struggled as an athlete since I was a child. It was a tough pill for my father to swallow as his siblings were gifted athletes that competed internationally. At the ripe age of 3 I was put in Ice Hockey cause that’s what Canadian kids did, according to dad… I royally sucked for the first several years, but I developed a work ethic that showed me that persistence, dedication and consistency was the key to success. When I was 10 years old I finally made the “A” team, but I rode the bench and was eventually cut. This was my first greatest lesson in sport.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston Churchill

As a kid my temper was shorter than a fire crackers fuse, I wanted to sink my fists into my coach and quit! But instead I joined the “C” team and over the course of that year logged a ton of ice time, became Captain of the team and league MVP. What a gift that “cut” was! This was the year that I knew I’d be able to accomplish anything I’d set my mind to. I’d spent the next 10 years playing “AAA”, being Captain or assistant Captain and learning a ton about leading people, inspiring greatness in my team and how to win championships. I played junior, college and even some pro hockey in my life. Being raised on the other side of the tracks in a world that most could not imagine, hockey gave me something so much more than sport. I can say the exact same thing about being an endurance athlete. And then after 28 years of being a hockey player, at the age of 31… I quit! It’s crazy to believe that after all those years, at times being on the ice 2 times/day, 6 days a week, it was closing time… To this day I have not put on a pair of skates and it’s now been over 10 years…

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one that had opened for us” – Alexander Graham Bell

I’ve become a master at closing doors with no regret, I’ve walked away from many people, places and things, in fact an entire life and lifestyle and here I am doing it again. I said good-bye to hockey and hello to running. The longest I’d ran at this point in my life was 10 km’s. Yet 3 months later I ran my first marathon in 3:47. Running was so hard for me, it was effortful and I was ungraceful. I wasn’t exactly built like an endurance athlete, I was this explosively built pitbull that could bench press 305lbs and here I was trying to become a Kenyan, not so bright… : ) This is what I loved about endurance sports, it was hard, really hard for me. Yet I persisted and became a student of the game. Living in a post-newtonian world I knew my mind and body would transform from a fast twitch explosive athlete that was accustomed to 60-second efforts on the ice to hours of endurance as a slow twitch machine. In only 1 year I shaved close to an hour off my marathon time and fell in love with running. I progressed to running ultra-marathons. I raced 30 milers, 50 milers, 100km’s and even 100 milers. I could run for over 24 hours straight, with no rest. In training I’d run 3-4 marathons every week for several months. As I’d learned my lessons from one distance I’d move to the next. I was no longer a hockey a player, I became a runner.

“At various points in our lives, or on a quest, and for reasons that often remain obscure, we are driven to make decisions which prove with hindsight to be loaded with meaning” –Sri S. Satchidananda

Two weeks after racing a 100-mile ultra-marathon, I decided to close the door on ultra running and take on a new challenge… the journey to Ironman had begun. Now I had a few obstacles to overcome, the first being that I’d never had a swim lesson in my entire life and I mean zero. I tried swimming and after 15 meters I had to grab the lane rope cause I almost drowned and had to be helped by the lifeguard. This was going to be a journey. I’d hired a swim coach, went to the pool 6 days/week and during my first Half Ironman I swam 1900 meters in 48 minutes… which for the uninitiated is slower than a turtle! But I kept at it and several years later I’ve brought that same distance down to 29 minutes and can call myself a swimmer.

There was also the issue of cycling. I hadn’t ridden a road bike in my entire life and the last time I rode a bike regularly was when I was in elementary school, on my BMX. Here I was in my mid 30’s as the perfect triathlete; can’t swim, shitty cyclist… but the kid can run.

“The moment one commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help. A whole stream of events issue from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of incidents and meetings and material assistance which no one could have dreamed would come his or her way” – JW Von Goethe

In 1989, I was in a very low place in my life. On one Saturday afternoon I woke up and began flicking through the channels on tv. I stopped on Wide World of Sports and synchronously spent the next hour watching two men, Mark Allen and Dave Scott battle it out toe to toe in this crazy athletic event called Ironman. This “Ironwar” touched me in a place within and I told myself that one day I would BE an Ironman too.

I was committed and in 2010 I fulfilled my dream in Penticton and became an Ironman in a time of 10:34. To date I have completed 7 Ironman’s and over a dozen Ironman 70.3’s. As a student of the sport I have grown and progressed immensely as a triathlete over the years. Those who know me understand that I’m all about health, healing and maximizing human potential both personally and professionally. Ironman became a journey of stepping into the impossible to see what was possible.

Ironman Canada 2015

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be” -Lao Tzu

I’ll begin by saying that when I race I put it all on the line, I go for it every single time because how I do anything is how I do everything. Life’s way too short to play safe and always wonder, “what if”???
I came into this race in the best shape of my entire endurance life. The secret to this sport is consistency and I’ve been consistent (truly one of the secrets to life). My swimming was at an all time high, I’d become a monster on the bike and I’d even run a sub 5 min/mile in training (something I’d always dreamed about).

Race morning all the athletes knew it was going to be a tough day as the weather had turned from scorching hot days and forest fires to freezing cold and torrential down pours. I spent the morning in transition preparing for what was going to be an epic day. I started out front right on the main buoy line. I went out hard for the first 200 meters and I felt strong and comfortable in the water. With 1200 meters left to go I took a fist and fingernails to my eye and nostrils from a fellow athlete (not on purpose). This has never happened to me before, my goggles came off and later on the bike I learned I was cut up and bleeding. I stopped in the water and looked for my goggles, but couldn’t see them anywhere so I had to swim the last 1200 meters without any. I’d never swam without goggles and with 3000 other athletes around me in open water it didn’t make it any easier. My guess is that I slowed down slightly here, but eventually made my way through the 3.8 km swim in 63 minutes.

Swim Exit

For some reason when I entered transition I felt rattled, usually I’m pretty calm and cool, but this wasn’t the case. I was in and out of transition in 3 minutes and onto the bike. Early on the bike I was putting on my gloves and dropped them while riding. I knew I needed them, so I parked my bike ran back about half a block to retrieve them (so lucky I did this cause it was cold) and continued on, this didn’t help my mental state and cost me a few minutes. The cold turned to freezing and the rain was coming down like crazy. Mentally I still felt frazzled from the swim and tried to focus on the task at hand and be present. By the time I made it to Callaghan I felt like myself again. Mentally I was On Purpose and grateful for the climb ahead as I hoped my body would heat up. Fortunately I was able to hold my climbing watts and I was passing people like they were parked, unfortunately I just kept getting colder and colder. The downhill descent on the Callaghan was scary due to the wet roads and my core temperature dropped even more. Still, I was present, focused and holding my power and on my nutrition and hydration. By the time I made it back to Whistler I completely lost all the feeling in my hands/fingers and feet/toes. Not Cool! I have electronic Di2 shifting on my bike and I could no longer change gears as my fingers were completely numb. (FYI… the thought of quitting never crossed my mind once during this entire race). I kept trying to change gears, but to no avail…

“Life’s challenges are not meant to paralyze you, they’re meant to help you discover who you truly are” – BJ Reagon

After a dozen attempts, I finally found a way where I could use the palm of my hand and push all my bodyweight into the shifter button to change gears… Whew! This “new” way of shifting continued for the next few hours. By the time I arrived in Pemberton I couldn’t feel more than half my body and my lats and pecs were in spasm from holding onto the time trial bars on my bike so tight from the downhill descents, I was having visions of my bike crash last year where I had multiple broken bones. When I got to Pemberton I started to dig my knuckles into my chest to reduce the spasms and it seemed to help. I was also shivering so I kept trying to rub my body with my forearm every few minutes to heat up.

“The future depends on what we do in the present moment” -Gandhi
My race plan was to begin truly racing on the Pemberton out and back, here’s where I could make my move for the podium. In life I have that choice of letting the circumstances around me dictate the state and decisions within me. I was in a shivering, potential hypothermic state. I know that I thrive in the heat, I’m from India… If you haven’t noticed, I don’t have Viking genes that can handle this cold temperature… : ) It would have been easy to come up with excuses to abandon my race plan and even the entire race. But I remained present and kept telling myself this would pass. I rode 10 min repeats on the Pemberton out and back with 1 min nutrition breaks. I also began counting the number of athletes ahead of me as they passed. I held my 245 watts well and moved from 100th to 55th place overall. I looked back and had a trail of several cyclists in my draft, so I knew I was making it happen.

My body was still freezing, but I’d found my state of flow. My pedal strokes felt effortless, my legs were pumping like pistons, my mind was empty with no thought at all, I was in the zone. It reminded of me of the only other time as an endurance athlete that I experienced pure flow. It was during a 100 mile ultra-marathon, I had completed 94 miles in 21 hours. I only had 10km’s/6 miles to go; yet I was still off the podium. I let my mind go and it became hollow, running felt effortless and I ran that last 10 km’s in 38 minutes running my way into second place. This was when I knew everything was possible as that pace simply defied my logic.

It was happening again and I’d finished the out and back in 75’ish minutes. I welcomed the climb back to Whistler and continued in this flow state. But halfway back it was gone… I’m still not sure what happened, but all of the sudden my legs felt heavy and things became effortful. I was still on my nutrition plan, but my hydration was slightly behind. I checked my electrolytes and I was good there too. This lasted for about 10 minutes and then fortunately this also lifted.

As I was entering transition 2 I knew I’d just executed the best Ironman bike leg of my entire career. I’d passed most of the professional females and some of the males and I knew I was in the top 20 overall for the amateur race. I’d cycled within myself and stayed focused on what I could control.
My hands were still frozen so I required the help of a volunteer to get my run gear on and I was in and out of transition in 2 minutes. Before I entered the Lost lake loop Kate told me I was in 7th place in my age group. All I had was 26 miles ahead of me, which I chunked down to 8 different sections. When running all I focus on is form and cadence, it’s the only way I stay present and in control of this moment. I know that my running sweet spot is at a cadence of 198 so I worked to find that rhythm. After the Loop at mile 3 I found it.

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I was running purposeful, calm and smooth. Holding my pace for a 3:15 marathon split. As the miles continued I was climbing my way through the field, I went from 7th, to 6th to 5th.

The only problem was that my stomach was not accepting my nutrition. As each mile progressed the GI distress became worse. A few minutes after the mile 8-aid station the vomiting began. I couldn’t seem to hold down what had worked so well in training and other races. I purposefully slowed down to see if that would help, yet after every aid station, 1-3 minutes down the road I’d be bent over vomiting. I kept at it and kept trying; water, coke, powerade, cliff blocks, gels, pretzels, broth, electrolytes, bananas… It didn’t matter what I put in, it came back out down the road. By the time I hit mile 16 my race had completely unraveled as I was running on fumes. It would have been easy to stop and call it a day. I knew this race was my curtain call and this race would be it. I told myself to finish this and do my best, let’s finish Ironman 7! I never gave up, I never started to walk and I kept talking to my body to take something in, anything, yet this pattern continued all the way to the finish line. I had about 13’ish bent over vomit sessions throughout the marathon.

In 10+ years as an endurance athlete I have had several dozen-start lines and I have finished every race. I have ZERO DNF’s (did not finish) and have been on the podium more than not… In life I don’t believe in not finishing what I start. When I began racing Ironman my first two races were in the 10.5 hr range, yet I dreamed of breaking the 10-hour threshold. Here’s my first Ironman finish from 2010…

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I then went 9:54 and wondered how fast I could actually go. My personal record at the Ironman distance is 9:34 and it was my intent to beat this time for Ironman #7. I did everything in my power to do this, yet on this day it was not meant to be. I’ve missed qualifying for Kona by 2 minutes, and it was my intent to do it this day. Up until the halfway point of the marathon it was happening, yet on this day it was not meant to be.

In life I have set big audacious goals and dreams and I’m here to tell you that I have failed so much more than I have succeeded. My truth is that life is a journey and it’s not about what you achieve at the end of that journey, it’s about who you’ve become as a result of it and the people you’ve touched along the way. I am so grateful for 4am wake up calls from my Buddha Bowls alarm clock over the past decade. I am so grateful for all the sweat, tears and pain. I am so grateful for training and racing days that went as long as 24 hours. I am so grateful for all the friendships, connections and relationships. I am so grateful I can finally swim. I am so grateful to test the limits of what’s possible in life. And I’m also grateful for the decision to step down from Ironman, create some space from training and racing to see what the future holds.

“The greatest danger for all of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it” -Michelangelo

When I was a teenager it was my dream to have a family and be able to walk down the street without looking over my shoulders. Today I’m grateful to live that dream. I dreamed of making a difference in the world and serving people in authentic and powerful ways. Today I’m grateful to live that dream. Although I love being an endurance athlete I’m entering a phase of my life where these bigger dreams are growing and taking precedent. Out of every race I’ve had over the past 10 years, Ironman has been the only one that I have never executed the “perfect” race. My training mates over the years have always said I was capable of running a 3:0x marathon in Ironman. I will likely never see that day as I’ve now closed the Ironman chapter of my life. Yes… I’m experiencing the full duality of emotions around my choices yet I remain filled with gratitude.

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 4.50.47 PMI truly do not know what the future holds for training and racing. Perhaps I’ll move to shorter distances, perhaps I’ll become a basket weaver… : ) Only time will tell. What I do know is that the next several years I’ll be busy with family and my vocation that’s now an international team transforming peoples lives and the health care system on a global level. For the past 22 years I have been manifesting a dream home on a dream property and today we are building that dream of dream homes in West Vancouver, here’s a pic of the view from there… I still have to pinch myself to make sure I’m still not dreaming. House warming party is scheduled for late 2017.

It felt great to wake up this past Saturday morning and spend it with my family in nature … There’ll be a lot more of things like this going on in my life too.

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This endurance phase of my life has allowed me to more fully experience the true gifts of life that are disguised as challenge and hardships. You are the catalyst that drives us to live beyond the veils of domestication and discover that special something within all of us. I am forever grateful for the journey.

Thanks for reading and thanks for being a part of my life… I hope we cross paths soon.

With Love & Respect,
Sukhi

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12 Comments on My 10 year Journey in Endurance Sports: Ultramarathons, Ironman and Retirement

  1. Nicola Gildersleeve says:

    I still remember when you ran that 38min 10k (on trail) at the end of Stormy!! That still beats my 10k PB on a track!!! Congrats on all you have achieved in your 10 year career as an endurance athlete and all the best with your next chapter. See you at the house warming 😉

    Nicola G

    • That was a magical day Nicola, can’t believe you still remember that… Awesome! Thanks for your kind words.

  2. Catherine says:

    So touching Sukhi.
    Thank you so much for sharing your journey and emotions with us. I was moved when I read this post and will probably come back to it often…

    Love and light

    • Awesome Cat… I Trust Marine Biologist life is being good to you in the Caribbean!

  3. Christine says:

    Inspiring Suhki, as always! Thank you for sharing!

  4. Randy says:

    Sukhi, you and Albert have a lot in common. He said: “Everything is energy and that is all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you can not help but get that reality. This is not philosophy. This is physics.”

    Looking forward to your next reality.

    • Thanks Randy… I’m looking forward to my next reality too!

  5. Sukhi,
    Your writing is always compelling,flavorful and dramatic in a way which leaves us breathless and living every moment of that race with you. You have the genius to bring the extraordinary down to earth where we can imagine ourselves with possibilities beyond the ordinary and then catapult us back up with new dreams, visions and inspiration to reach those dizzying heights. Thanks for giving us all a larger life and for the awesomeness that comes from knowing you.

    • Super Welcome Barbara! That means a lot coming from a national athlete like yourself, thanks for your kind words…

  6. Roxy says:

    Dear Dr. Sukhi,

    Wow…You are a very powerful and endearing man. Reading your blog and slowly but surely reading your book have uplifted my brocken spirit. I too shall get stronger. Your words of wisdom and the courage that you have manifested in your life give me that extra strenght to keep on tracking. I am following the right path and I am so touched that I have had the pleasure of meeting you.

    Thank you so much for sharing your life with us. You really do make a difference. You have impacted me in ways that I am not able to understand…I just feel it.

    All my love my brother,

    Roxy Aloysius

  7. Robyn Culter says:

    Dr. Sukhi. The timing of me reading your blog is perfect! Thank you for all your sharing. By putting it out there it helps so many others.
    For all you give to the world I am truly grateful.
    Robyn.

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