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The loneliness of the long-distance rider
June 23, 2010 8:30 AM   Subscribe

News from the world of ultramarathon cycling: 1. Peter Heal recently rode the ~15,000-km perimeter of Australia in 48 days, 23 hours, 37 minutes; 2. The 3005-mile Race Across America recently concluded, with veteran Jure Robic winning the men's solo in 9 days, 1 hour, 1 minute, and Barbara Buatois winning the women's solo in 11 days, 19 hours, 48 minutes.

Peter Heal's accomplishment is impressive just on the numbers alone, averaging about 180 miles a day, every day. The fact that he was doing it without any support crew, and had to cross some of the emptiest country on earth, over rough roads, just to reach the next town during business hours to feed his 12,000-calorie/day diet, makes it almost superhuman. Jure Robic (previously) has been a perennial RAAM winner. No reports on what forms of madness he encountered on this year's race. Barbara Buatois won the RAAM in her first attempt, and is also the first woman to finish the RAAM on a recumbent.
posted by adamrice (17 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
To win the RAAM without a support crew is inconceivable to me. "Superhuman" is indeed the word.
posted by pts at 9:07 AM on June 23, 2010


God I love ultra endurance sports!
posted by OmieWise at 9:13 AM on June 23, 2010


Heh. I drove round Oz in 9 months and reckoned I went too quickly.

And Jure Robic? This is his classic, but scary quote from a 2006 interview about the Race Across America:

"‘During race, I am going crazy, definitely,’’ he says, smiling in bemused despair. ‘‘I cannot explain why is that, but it is true.’’

The craziness is methodical, however, and Robic and his crew know its pattern by heart. Around Day 2 of a typical weeklong race, his speech goes staccato. By Day 3, he is belligerent and sometimes paranoid. His short-term memory vanishes, and he weeps uncontrollably. The last days are marked by hallucinations: bears, wolves and aliens prowl the roadside; asphalt cracks rearrange themselves into coded messages. Occasionally, Robic leaps from his bike to square off with shadowy figures that turn out to be mailboxes. In a 2004 race, he turned to see himself pursued by a howling band of black-bearded men on horseback.

‘‘Mujahedeen, shooting at me,’’ he explains. ‘‘So I ride faster.’’
posted by MuffinMan at 9:22 AM on June 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


This is fascinating. In related news, my 4.9 mile journey to work--with no crew, no sag wagon--went without a hitch this morning.
posted by everichon at 9:25 AM on June 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


I wonder how many hours or his average speed per day Peter Heal maintained. That route is approximately three times as long as RAAM (depending on the route), but the RAAM racers end with an average speed of 13.4 mph (21.6 kph) overall. Where the RAAM seems to be a race of madness (8 or 9 days to cycle that distance), riding around Australia in 49 days seems downright doable. Of course, using insanity as a starting point, anything less could seem casual.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:25 AM on June 23, 2010


bears, wolves and aliens prowl the roadside; asphalt cracks rearrange themselves into coded messages.

Holy shit, this is basically my commute! Funny old world.
posted by everichon at 9:39 AM on June 23, 2010


pts: nobody has won the RAAM without a support crew. In fact, AFAIK, only one person has attempted it: in 1985, Wayne Phillips received special permission from the organizers to race self-supported. He was struck by a car and left paralyzed.
posted by adamrice at 9:40 AM on June 23, 2010


Shameless RadioLab plug: Here is a good episode that discusses RAAM and the general limits of the human body.
posted by ensign_ricky at 9:48 AM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


> I wonder how many hours or his average speed per day Peter Heal maintained.

I have no idea, so the following doesn't answer your question, but as a thought experiment:

Let's assume he matched the RAAM average speed of 21.6kph. This means he spent around 694.5 hours riding. For simplicity's sake, let's also diminish Heal's accomplishment a little and round his time up to an even 49 days. This means he spent 14.2 hours on his bike every day, leaving a little less than ten for warming up, cooling down, using the bathroom, washing, maintaining his bike (he had no support crew!), eating, and sleeping.

His 12,000 kCal energy requirement meant chowing down the equivalent to five personal pan pizzas every day -- consuming enough calories AND getting adequate nutrition is a common challenge for endurance athletes, especially in events where time spent eating means time spent not moving forward.
posted by ardgedee at 9:52 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


adamrice: Sorry, I conflated the two stories. Still, really incredible.
posted by pts at 10:09 AM on June 23, 2010


This is fascinating. In related news, my 4.9 mile journey to work--with no crew, no sag wagon--went without a hitch this morning.

As did my .49 mile one! Split into two legs to stop and get coffee.
posted by !Jim at 11:07 AM on June 23, 2010


Sometimes I wonder if Stephen King has ever read about the RAAM and contemplated rewriting The Long Walk to include bears, wolves, aliens, and howling bands of black-bearded men on horseback.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:09 PM on June 23, 2010


Also currently in progress is the Tour Divide, an off-pavement race from Banff, AB to Antelope Wells, NM. It's been a wet and snowy year, slow going in the passes. Leaders will finish in about 18 days total, covering about 2700 miles.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 12:56 PM on June 23, 2010


Is there any data on life expectancy for these extreme endurance athletes? It's hard to believe they're not inflicting some permanent damage to their bodies as a result of this.
posted by tommasz at 1:06 PM on June 23, 2010


This means he spent 14.2 hours on his bike every day, leaving a little less than ten for warming up, cooling down, using the bathroom, washing, maintaining his bike (he had no support crew!), eating, and sleeping.

Probably not quite that much. The RAAM average speed includes non-biking time (though there isn't much of that) . I'd expect his average speed was 25km/h or more, so no more than 12 hours or so on the bike per day.
posted by ssg at 1:22 PM on June 23, 2010




I got to meet Shanna Armstrong this spring. She's a past winner of RAAM. The first time she won it (not sure if she's won it since), she was the only female to finish. That's crazy.
posted by Doohickie at 7:34 PM on June 23, 2010


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