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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

518 Miles in one Day!!!

Life Ain't Easy For A Boy Named Drew!

Jure Robic

Last night I was just thinking about the possibility of a Taichung to Kenting ride and how great that would be. Then I was sent this old New York Times profile on Jure Robic, from 2006. I totally suck!

‘‘ '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.’’

His wife, a nurse, interjects: ‘‘The first time I went to a race, I was not prepared to see what happens to his mind. We nearly split up.’’

I find the mental aspect real interesting. Although I have never done anything near 518 miles, I have had periods where I test my physical endurance. Five centuries in 14 days is a good example of this. People ask me all the time how I can possibly ride for so long and I never have a solid answer. Most, but not all of my very difficult "projects" I do solo and sometimes I just enjoy it that way.

When I am on a long solo ride my mind drifts off into some wild places and my mind fills with an inner dialogue between myself and whomever I wish to talk to. I have had some brilliant papers written and lost on a bike ride. At the same time I am constantly "checking my instruments". I am monitoring my speed, gearing, energy levels, equipment, comfort, hydration and environment.

Beyond that there is a mental threshold for pain, punishment and fatigue. I have been on some rides where I have mentally pushed myself through cramps and aches to make it back home. The mind can manage discomfort and push it to the background, almost like when the mind wanders off during a boring lecture or staff meeting, the pain stands in the distance and the mind fails to acknowledge it like an accidental encounter after a bad, drunken one night stand.

By my third century in January I had developed a pain in my leg from over use. The pain would disappear after a couple days, but then come back in the middle of my next ride when I was already committed to a day on the bike. At that point my body would continue to operate normally, but my mind would manage the aching and place it elsewhere. I was never totally comfortable, but I could still finish another imperial century.

The best training I had in mind/body management did not come from the saddle of a bike at all, but from the wrestling mat.

Long before I started seriously (and not so seriously) cycling, I was a pretty good wrestler. I started when I was 5 years old and continued training up into college. I won a few medals and made the newspaper a few times as well. Wrestling is one of the most demanding sports a person can train for. A wrestler must keep strength and endurance up while keeping the weight down. I would typically shed 7-lbs for the season (and sometimes in a night). A wrestling match is 6 minutes of full exertion in which one participant tries to force the other to hold his back to the mat... and the other wrestler absolutely does not want to stay there. The training is demanding and forces the wrestler to draw strength from where there is none. Furthermore, with the rigid weight categories it takes a tremendous amount of discipline to resist the urge to eat. I would ask for oranges on my birthday and limit my portions on Thanksgiving and Christmas to "polite" servings. I would sit next to people stuffing themselves with pizza and fries and instead spit into a cup while wearing 10 layers of plastic and wool. A few times I'd falter and beg to chew on fries just to spit them out. I wanted the taste. It sounds kind of sick, but I can not emphasize how greatly it helped me in life, both in the arena of athletics and in living life. Although my coach never told us to drop weight or anything like that, he would call our discipline "mental toughness" and I had always assumed most people had that. Only later in life have I realized how few actually have the ability to mentally "fight" through both physical and emotional obstacles. When I was living in Seattle this training to "fight through" is the only only thing that got me past the worst working environment EVER! I imagined every day as a physical test of endurance and on my way to work I mentally prepared like I would for a competition. I remember walking through the door every day and imagining I was stepping on the mat or walking into the gym. (I think in retrospect it also helped that I had been mercilessly teased as a child and had to learn how to handle bullying. My mom said not to fight, so I didn't... until the day she turned me loose and I gave QB a few bloody noses and later stacked up a couple suspensions from school.)

A clipping my mom sent me from the 1992 KingCo Tournament.

So today I am at mid-week before a long, hard ride and I am making the same mental preparations. I am imagining how to manage the physical strain... and again I have been nursing an overuse injury from riding when I should have been resting. I am fighting hypothermia. I am getting ready for a battle against myself. On Saturday I am going to step out my front door and fight my way to Kaohsiung against wind, weather, weakness and pain, and I will reach back to my days as a wrestler and push myself to become better and do something I once would have thought was impossible.


  1. Your thoughts on finding and having mental toughness ring very true to me.

    Onward ride Drew!

    Us riding Nantou will pull a beer in your name.

  2. What a machine. I read that whole article through. Really fascinating... but a tad scary too.