Anywhere but Home


This book is a memoir about an Indian woman’s attempt at completing the Ultraman.

If you’re not sure what is an Ultraman, here are the deets.

It is a triathlon involving swimming, running, and biking. For this Ultraman competition, participants were expected to swim 10 km in open water (such as a lake), cycle 420 km, and then run for 85 km.

I consider myself a fairly athletic person, but my mind just couldn’t even begin to process those numbers.

On top of that, this woman is a PhD, runs her own company, and competes for marathons.

I was even more astounded when I realized she was a Tam Bram from Malleswaram – not a thing that encourages a sporting attitude. I could understand the PhD, but Tam Brams don’t often go into business, and even rarely sport. They are too busy achieving their long list of degrees.

What made her even entertain a dream of completing an Ultraman? And what does it take to complete one?

Turns out quite a lot.

A regular day for Anu means getting up at the crack of dawn and cycling to Mysore. Then taking a ride back on a bus, getting ready for work, and then working on her business. If she wasn’t cycling to Mysore, then she was running laps in Kanteerava, or swimming at the local swimming pool.

A regular person like you and me would run for an hour, swim for about 30 mins, and consider it a good workout day. And if it is raining, well then, filter coffee and idly and sambar at home is what we would opt for.

Anu is made of some other entirely different material. She spends hours at her workouts even when it’s raining. I think the smallest workout duration she mentions is 4 hours, and couple that with a punishing research schedule, and coordinating her business, how does she manage it all?

Turns out she sacrifices that most precious commodity of all – sleep. As she gets into an almost-obsessive dive into sport, she even sacrifices companionship, and maybe love. Throughout this book, there are mentions of friends and boyfriends that come and go, but it seems that for the most part Anu was a loner during this period, preferring to maintain strong emotional bonds mostly with her extremely supportive parents.

I read this book looking for reasons why she punished herself so much. And also for some details on her training and nutrition.

I was left feeling a bit unsatisfied by both. I think the closest I got to a reason is when Anu talks about a book by Holocaust survivor – Victor Frankl where he hypothesizes that because most people of today don’t live a challenging life, they turn to sport to challenge themselves through achieving impossible goals.

The grand challenges of survival were absent because we were children of luxury.

The details about how she trained are a little hazy too. Yes, there are details about how many kms she ran/swam/cycled in how much time. But if you are reading this book hoping to emulate her, you will get lots of inspiration, but very little know-how.

I for one really wanted to know her strength training routine, and how she managed her calorie requirements. What little nutrition details there were sounded a little alarming – 5 milkshakes before a race, eating Mars and Snickers bars. I am pretty sure there is a lot more to it, but the details just aren’t there.

What I did get though is a lovely insight to what the inner life of a high-achiever looks like. Anu is amazing, simply amazing. She gives new meaning to the words – hard work, determination, and drive. And reading this book is simply inspiring, not to do an Ultraman, but really just to follow your dreams, and work really hard at it. And who knows, luck could then favor you. As Anu herself says,

The harder I work, the luckier I get.

Highly recommend this book. Even if you are not into sport, the other details of her life are fascinating and fun to read about as she knocks around from place to place completing various degrees or participating in different marathons.

Huge thanks to the author for sending me a copy of this book for review consideration.

  • Ahahahaha Nishita when I first glanced at this post in my reader, I misread it and thought that YOU were training up to do this sporting event. I was shuddering horribly on your behalf — but I am glad to see it’s just happened in a book you read. SOUNDS AWFUL either way (but good for her!).

    • Nishita

      @readingtheend:disqus Oh no, not me. I am the sort of person who gets very enthused by doing sport. But really all that energy finally dwindles down to just watching athletes on TV, or in this case reading about one.

  • Karen

    There is only one word for people who do this kind of thing – driven. There is something in their genes that make them take on extraordinary levels of effort and apparently enjoy it.

    • Nishita

      @disqus_gmoXW9BOB2:disqus I think that’s the only explanation for it.

  • Savvy WorkingGal

    I want to read this book. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of books out there about women who are high achievers. Great review.

    • Nishita

      @savvyworkinggal:disqus And she’s totally unapologetic about it all. No false modesty or aww shucks, just luck type of thing. It’s pretty clear her success is all down to sheer hard work and unwillingness to toe the line in any way.

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