Super human endurance
This race certainly deserves its title as the ‘World’s Toughest Bike Race’. Perhaps the progress, ticking off the miles and time stations, belies how tough this is. Each pedal stroke is a battle and a bit of a victory.
So far on the road we have seen a couple of cases of ‘Schermers Neck’ where the neck muscles are no longer able to support the head. To make sure the riders can see the road there are all sorts of neck braces and improvised contraptions to support the head.
We have also seen the withdrawal from the race of several riders including Team Fat Boy on Wheels. This is the rider who suffered a fit as a result of the heat and who Erica was able to help until the ambulance arrived. This team had stayed with us at the same hotel in Oceanside so we’d been comparing notes with the crew on getting ready to race. We’d also seen them several times on the road and they were parked next to us when their rider had his fit. We are so sorry his race has ended this way and wish him the best for his recovery.
There is almost a sense of becoming accustomed or desensitised to what the riders are going through. The crew, focusing on the practicalities of supporting Shu and cheering on other riders, almost forget how extraordinary it is to ride solidly through desert and the Mountains for 5 days.
Then, every now and again, the enormity of it hits you. You feel guilty turfing her out of the RV at 2am into the pitch black and cold of a Safeway car park. This morning she woke up after a sleep break feeling nauseous, tired, cold and in pain with her knees and an injury to her groin and these are just the most severe aspects on top of the general muscle fatigue, pain in her feet and sleep deprivation.
She left this morning worried her knees wouldn’t warm up and start to work. Riding at night is a challenge in itself; last night was cold and it is difficult for the riders to stay awake. Even though riding in the light of the car headlights and lights on the bike visibility is still reduced and perhaps reaction times too due to fatigue and sleep deprivation. This is also the time where the emotions can be toughest to deal with, and the brain can play tricks. On previous endurance races Shu has suffered with hallucinations which can be really unpleasant and scary for her.
The crew are looking out for anything which indicates potential problems including wobbles on the bike and talking to her regularly on the radio. If she starts to look or sound sleepy we try to get her to talk to us.
The nausea makes it difficult for Shu to eat, which is a serious concern as keeping her fuelled and hydrated is key. We think she may have had too much fructose a couple of times too which creates too much acid for her stomach and again makes keeping up the fuelling strategy difficult.
The time off the bike is really limited. Shu is getting very short breaks during a ride where we might pause with the bike to change drinks or clothing. Here she is simply putting a foot down but staying with the bike.
Then there is a break for solid food where Shu can sit down in a camping chair or in the car for between 15 to 30 mins and perhaps including a 10 min power nap. The longer two to three hour breaks, where Shu lies down for sleep, solid food and maybe a massage or medical care are much more infrequent.
We know that we are here to do a job for Shu, and that she is completely committed to the race. So we try to remember this when putting her back on the bike and pushing her onwards. The race is entirely consuming for all concerned. The crew barely think of anything other than RAAM and getting Shu to Annapolis.
It is in the 2am starts, and riding through the night or fighting against a headwind, climbing a mountain, or ignoring the pain in her feet and groin that we really see the scale of Shu’s determination.