Pune: Twenty-nine-year-old Chaitanya Velhal is an exemplary achiever in the field of endurance sports. His strategy? “plan like a scientist, train like a beast, race like a champion.” Presently, his sight is fixed on the Ironman Triathlon, which would be held in South Africa on April 2.“Endurance is my strength,” he tells The Hindu, as he prepares to leave for South Africa. “It is a case of planning your work and working your plan.”Raised in a middle-class Indian milieu, where the stress on excelling in academics is overwhelming, Chaitanya managed to navigate the stormy waters of convention to pursue his passions.His achievements include winning national endurance events like ‘Enduro’ in 2013 and the ‘Enduro Mountain Triathlon’ in 2014.He clocked the Zurich Ironman in July last year in 13 hours and three minutes. This is impressive because the Ironman Triathlon typically consists of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a 26.22-mile (42.20 km) marathon run, all of which is to be completed in a single day.Different ball gameTraining for the triathlon is different than that for ordinary marathons or trekking. Chaitanya says the unique topography of Pune, with its Sahyadri Hills and aquatic bodies, provides the perfect environment for triathlon training.“Around 80% of my training is done outdoors,” he says. “Generally, I swim in the pool on weekdays. On other occasions, I visit the major dams near Pune, like Khadakwasla, Panshet or Mulshi, for a swim. I cycle on the hills and also in the gym. But running is almost always outdoors. The watchwords for the triathlon are strength and flexibility, so I balance my routine outdoors and indoors with a view to achieve both.”The cycling segment of the triathlon has it’s own set of challenges. “No matter how much you train, the vastness of the distance tends to play havoc with your mind. One has to struggle to keep one’s cool; to prevent the scenery and the terrain to de-motivate you.”Chaitanya says he followed a rigorous schedule, with a month’s training planned in advance. “I was training twice a day for three days, and thrice a day for remaining days of the week. An early morning cycling session followed immediately by running. Then some rest time, and swimming in the afternoon followed by strength training and conditioning at my gym.”Early promiseChaitanya excelled in swimming at the age of 10, while he was still a student at the city’s P. Jog high school. Later, at university, he mastered kabaddi and also became a deft football player.When he was 14, he finished first in a five-km mini-marathon. “That was the moment I really tasted the sweet smell of success. I later discovered that if I pushed myself hard enough, I could master [any] sport,” Chaitanya says. He considers cycling as his strongest suit. “I picked up cycling while pursuing a master’s [degree] in microbiology from Australia, and it stuck with me on my return. Back there, it was the cheapest mode of transportation [that could be used] to explore a fascinating country,” He reminisces. He also says that the course he studied aided him immensely in training the body for optimal performance in sports, which provided him an edge over his fellow competitors.Turning pointWithin a year of his return from Australia, he won his first major local race, the ‘Enduro’. This proved as a turning point for Chaitanya, who, after gaining confidence from his win, resigned as an assistant professor and research scientist at the Agriculture College of Pune in 2012 (a decision which startled his family and friends).“I had to brush aside the conventional responses of disappointment and objections from my dear ones. I participated in the ‘Deccan Cliffhanger’ [a 643-km annual ultra-cycling race from Pune to Goa] next and won it,” Chaitanya says. He is presently the co-founder and head coach at the MultiFit Academy of Triathlon and Endurance Sports (MATES).He credits Samir Kapoor, the managing director of Multifit (health chain), for not only encouraging him to take a shot at the ‘Ironman’ contest, but also providing him financial help.Not easy“It is extremely difficult, especially if one is from a middle-class family, to secure the financial backup to step into the arena for the triathlon. There are not many sponsors for athletes and I had to set a national record before sponsors started noticing me.” Chaitanya hasn’t looked back since then. He won Pune and Bangalore bicycle championships in the consecutive years. An even more impressive achievement followed when he became the fastest Indian to qualify for the Race Across America (RAAM) — a 5,000-km transcontinental race, which spans from the west coast to the east coast of the U.S. But one particular incident which gives him immense personal satisfaction is when he trained a group of girls in football at Pune’s Garware College. Chaitanya, just like in underdog sports films The Longest Yard and Chak de! India, coached the ragtag group who went on to the semi-finals of a local league in their second year.So, what keeps his enthusiasm to trump the daunting Ironman Triathlon going?“One has to fall in love with the process of the triathlon, only then can one visualise scaling its challenges,” says Chaitanya.