Thursday, June 23, 2011
We wish them tailwinds
Samim Rizvi is the first Indian and the third Asian in the Race Across America (RAAM), "the world's toughest bicycle race". I'm told the 3000-mile distance is a third longer than the Tour de France, but the cyclists need to finish it in half the time. It runs from the west coast to the east, the route offering several hills to climb towards the end of the race, and mountains in the middle.
I'm following the official team blog for Samim, and I read each day's update with disbelief and awe. The level of endurance and sheer mind-over-matter-ness required is incredible. They - rider and crew - are snatching two or four hours of sleep on roadsides, in the back of cars and only the occasional motel bed. They're cold, uncomfortable and disturbed by trucks going by. Then they wake up and carry on, appreciating sunrises, updating blogs, being energetic and discussing larger issues of water scarcity. Samim's recent average speed was 10.58 mph over the Rockies. It's been six days and he's still going.
Where does it come from, this "ultra endurance"? How does that mind work? A passing volunteer told Samim's crew that it was spiritual, not physical. I suppose that's one way to put it. It's a feat, in the full sense of the term. I first met him on the inaugural Tour of Nilgiris (TFN), where I was deeply impressed by his grit. But now that daily 100km that he used to finish long before the rest seems like a little ride in the park. He considered TFN part of his training.
The RAAM cyclists are approaching the Mississippi river as we speak, which is the two-third mark and considered the deciding point for the cyclists. Some have already passed it. The lead rider - Christoph Strasser - is doing an average of 15.6 mph. So far, he's cycled 2675 miles in seven days. This is how he's feeling about it: “Ah yes. Good, good. I feel good. Everything is good.” And: “A little bit sore, yeah... the legs, the knees of course, the feet... Everything is within the normal range for such an event.”
Yes, RAAM is a race with winners and prizes, but it's mostly a race against yourself. Just completing it within the specified nine days or less is undisputed victory. I have no doubt that Samim will get there, saddle sores, taped-up ankle and all. Meanwhile, Christoph, who seems most likely to get the prize, has 300-odd miles to the chequered flag. I guess in horse-racing terms, he's in the final straight, though his is rather hilly. Am reading a Dick Francis racing-world mystery. At home, in bed, resting and drinking soup because I'm feeling a bit under the weather.
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