JAPAN’S YOSHIHIKO ISHIKAWA WINS 2019 BADWATER 135, SETS NEW COURSE RECORD

Yoshihiko Ishikawa (This photo, downloaded from the Facebook page of Northern Ireland Running, is from the 2017 Belfast 24 Hour World Championships. No copyright infringement intended)

This report will be updated as further race results come in.

Japan’s Yoshihiko Ishikawa has won the men’s 2019 Badwater 135 in record time .

“ Our men’s 2019 Badwater Champion is Yoshihiko Ishikawa, setting a new course record in 21 hours 33 minutes and 01 second!,’’ the race organizers said in an official tweet.

The previous course record was held by Pete Kostelnick. In 2016, he completed the race in 21 hours, 56 minutes and 31 seconds.

Badwater 135, promoted as the world’s toughest foot race covers a distance of 135 miles or 217 kilometers non-stop from Death Valley to Mount Whitney in California, USA.

The race starts at Badwater Basin, Death Valley, which is 85 meters below sea level. It ends at Whitney Portal at a height 2530 meters. The course covers three mountain ranges for a total of 4450 meters of cumulative vertical ascent.

Ishikawa had earlier won the 2018 edition of Sparthathlon, a historical ultra-marathon held in Greece. He finished the 246 kilometer distance from Athens to Sparta in 22 hours, 55 minutes and 13 seconds.

In this year’s edition of Badwater 135, Mumbai’s Rajesh (Raj) Vadgama is the sole Indian participant.

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)

ANJALI SARAOGI, ULLAS NARAYANA GET AFI ULTRA AND TRAIL RUNNING AWARDS; INDIA BIDS TO HOST INTERNATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

Anjali Saraogi receiving her award (Photo: courtesy Anjali)

Ultra-runners, Anjali Saraogi and Ullas Narayana, have won the ultra and trail running awards for 2018-19, Athletics Federation of India (AFI) said in a statement today (July 15, 2019).

Kolkata-based Anjali was conferred the female ultra and trail runner award for 2018-19. Ullas, who lives and works in Vancouver, was chosen for the award in the male category.

The Ultra & Trail Running Committee of AFI selected the winners, the statement said.

Anjali’s performance at the IAU 100 kilometre World Championships in Croatia in September 2018 was mentioned as women’s best performance in 100 k event. She had completed the run in nine hours, 40 minutes and 35 seconds.

Ullas’s bronze medal win at the men’s 24-hour run at IAU Asia & Oceanic Championships at Taipei in December 2018 was adjudged the best performance among men in that discipline. He had covered a distance of 250.37 kilometres to win the bronze medal.

Apoorva Chaudhary’s performance at the women’s 24-hour run at the NEB Sports New Delhi Stadium Run in December 2018 was commended as a significant achievement in ultra-running for women. She had covered a distance of 176.8 kilometers, setting a new national best in the discipline.

Surat-based Sandeep Kumar’s performance at the downhill version of the Comrades Marathon in 2018 and Deepak Bandbe’s run in the uphill version of the same event in 2019 were also mentioned as significant achievements. Sandeep Kumar had completed the ultra-marathon in South Africa in seven hours, 29 minutes and 53 seconds. Deepak Bandbe finished the uphill run in seven hours, 43 minutes and 34 seconds.

The highest ITRA rating among Indian ultra-runners was “ 730 general cotation” for Kieren D’Souza.

It was on 15 February 2017 that AFI became a member of the IAU. This paved the way for ultra-runners from India to participate on the international platform of the IAU and ITRA (International Trail Running Association); at the World and Asia & Oceania Championships. Since 2017, the AFI has sent Indian ultra and trail runners to represent the country at the Trail World Championships, the 24 Hour World Championships, the 100 Km World Championships and the 24 Hour Asia & Oceania Championships.

Ullas Narayana at the 2018 IAU Trail World Championship (Photo: courtesy Kieren D’Souza)

It was at the 2018 IAU 24 Hour Asia and Oceania Championships held at Taipei, that India won its first individual and team medal at an international ultra-running event. Ullas Narayana won the bronze medal in 24 Hours and the Indian Team comprising Ullas Narayana, Sunil Sharma and Lallu Meena finished in third spot.

The sport of Ultra Running and Trail Running has been growing rapidly with at least 50 such ultra-running events being organized in the country. A large number of runners are also competitively taking part in international events such as the Spartathlon, Badwater, La Ultra The High, UTMB and Comrades. A couple of domestic ultra-events are drawing up to 750 participants under different categories, a related statement said.

India bids to host international championships

According to the statement, AFI and NEB Sports have invited IAU President Nadeem Khan and Vice President Robert Boyce to consider India as the next destination for holding an International Ultra Running Championship. “ India has bid for hosting the IAU 24 Hour Asia & Oceania Championships in 2020 and the IAU 100 Km Asia and Oceania Championships in 2021,’’ it said.

“ We have received India’s bid to organize continental-level events and I think the facilities we visited in Bangalore are really good. The final decision on hosting IAU 24 Hour Asia & Oceania Championships in 2020 and the IAU 100 Km Asia and Oceania Championships in 2021 in India will be taken by IAU council,’’ the statement quoted the IAU President as saying.

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)

“ I JUST SAY TO MYSELF IT’S OKAY. YOU’RE OKAY’’ / ABDULLAH ZEINAB, WINNER, TRANS AM 2019

Abdullah Zeinab (Photo: courtesy Abdullah / this photo was sourced from the website of Trans Am Bike Race)

The Trans Am Bike Race is an unsupported cycle race from one side of the United States to the other. The 2019 edition of the event was won by Abdullah Zeinab from Australia; he reached the finish line in record time. This is his story.

Melbourne is where Abdullah Zeinab’s story in cycling begins.

He grew up in Adelaide with his mother and grandmother but moved to Melbourne after finishing school, to attend university. In Melbourne, he started cycling to work; he rode a single speed and his commute was around five to six kilometers. “ I really began to enjoy it and started riding the bike on the weekends,’’ Abdullah said. Before this phase of cycling he had tried out several different sports, growing up. He didn’t really pursue any of them longer than a few months. One choice however, was to leave a lasting impact. When he was sixteen he started going to the gym with his friends. That was the first thing he became consistent with. Strength training provided him a foundation to attempt other pursuits from.

“ Eventually I bought a road bike and the same weekend I decided to ride to Adelaide where my mother lived. It was about 1000 kilometers away. I didn’t know what I was in for and the reality of the situation was a big shock. I had no long distance gear, no lights and nothing to charge my electronics, with. The ride really broke me and I remember crying every day for no particular reason. After six days I made it to Adelaide and strangely as I pulled into my house I thought to myself: I want to try it again and see if I can do it better. This was probably in the middle of 2015. Since than I have followed a pattern of cycling consistently for a few months, then taking a few months off; continuing like that,’’ Abdullah said. Back in those early stages of his interest in cycling, he figured things out on his own. He has never been part of a cycling club or group. He wasn’t into brevets. “ I just started riding by myself and slowly began to meet other cyclists,’’ he said.

Roughly three years before Abdullah got into cycling regularly, in February 2012, a race to circumnavigate the globe on bicycle, was kicked off from near the Greenwich royal observatory in south east London. There were nine participants. The event was called Quick Energy World Cycle Racing Grand Tour. The riders were free to choose their own route. But according to media reports, they had to satisfy one condition – they had to cover a minimum of 18,000 miles in the same direction with GPS tracking throughout. Ninety two days after they set out, the race produced a winner – Mike Hall, an engineer from Harrogate, North Yorkshire. It was a new world record. Reporting the win, The Guardian wrote: a cyclist has triple cause for celebration after he won a round-the-world race on his birthday and broke the world record in the process. Hall would go on to become an iconic figure in unsupported (or self-supported) ultra-cycling. In 2013, the year after that round-the-world race, he won Tour Divide, a 2745 mile (4418 kilometers) annual race traversing the length of the Rocky Mountains from Canada to the Mexico border. That year on, he was principal organizer of the Transcontinental Race, an ultra-cycling event in Europe. In 2014, he won the inaugural Trans Am Bike Race, a 4200 mile (6800 kilometers) race spanning the breadth of the United States.

Abdullah Zeinab (Photo: courtesy Abdullah / this photo was sourced from the website of Trans Am Bike Race)

As you look at the world map, some countries give you a distinct sense of space as matrix of land area and population (overall numbers and dispersion). Australia with its great outback is one of them. The above said matrix, is often sought by adventurers and endurance athletes; it is aesthetic they dig. Fremantle is a port city at the mouth of the Swan River in south west Australia. It is a place familiar to those into sailing or tracking the sport. It is a halt on the world’s regular circumnavigation route. The closest major city is Perth. The annual Indian Pacific Wheel Race (IndiPac) starts from Fremantle. Its course extends 5500 kilometers – a line across the belly of the continent – to finish at the famous Sydney Opera House on Australia’s south east. Among participants in the 2017 inaugural edition of IndiPac, was Mike Hall. Unfortunately, it was his last bike race. Hall was in the final phase of the race and placed second overall, when he was hit by a car on the Monaro Highway, south of Canberra in the early hours of March 31. He died at the scene. It was a big blow for the race and for the world of ultra-cycling. Following the accident, all racers were pulled off the course. Its impact was felt the next year for although riders registered to participate, the race couldn’t be officially held due to concerns ranging from ongoing inquiry into the accident to road safety. However participants decided to cycle all the same. The 2018 edition of IndiPac was therefore unofficial and it produced an unexpected winner (in this case, given unofficial race; person finishing first).

A year earlier, in 2017, Abdullah had been among those involved with filming IndiPac. It gave him a ringside view of elite ultra-cyclists. The experience was a game changer. “ Filming 2017 IndiPac and being able to witness the extraordinary capabilities of the riders doing the event from such close quarters – that really captivated me. I was following Mike Hall and Kristof Allegaert very closely during that race. Just the way both those guys carried themselves under extreme fatigue was fascinating. It looked like they were on a casual Sunday ride. I told my girlfriend halfway through that I had to try this race one day. After that I couldn’t back out on my word,’’ Abdullah said. He got back from a holiday at the end of November and began training for the event’s 2018 edition. “ I gave myself approximately 12 weeks to really train for it,’’ he said. As mentioned, IndiPac 2018 – happening as it did in the shadow of Mike Hall’s demise the previous year – was unofficial. It was a case of cyclists registered to participate, deciding to proceed despite event being cancelled. Several days and 5500 kilometers later, the first finisher of that year’s unofficial IndiPac reached Sydney’s Opera House. It was Abdullah on his Trek Emonda.

Abdullah Zeinab (Photo: courtesy Abdullah)

“ IndiPac 2018 went really well for me. I ended up reaching the finish first out of all the riders who started. Filming and driving the whole route the year before gave me a massive advantage. Also being able to witness two of the best unsupported ultra-endurance cyclists in the world in 2017 was the ultimate classroom. I guess what worked well for me was creating an ambitious plan. I didn’t really know what my potential was and I didn’t really want to limit it by creating a safe schedule to follow. Instead I just roughly set out to do what the leaders from the year before did and stuck to that. To my surprise I was able to stick to it. That race really showed me just a small taste of what the human body is capable of. I was under-trained and didn’t have the conditioning on paper to back it up day in, day out. But I just rode every kilometer as if it was my first and last,’’ he said. Winning the unofficial IndiPac of 2018 called for an altered approach to what he was doing. “ Given the race ended up well for me, I thought I should try and pursue this type of riding a bit further by being more consistent with training and set a target for a new race,’’ he said.

According to Abdullah, at the finish of IndiPac, somebody came up to him and asked if he could imagine a race with double the elevation and another 1300 kilometers thrown in. “ He said that’s what Trans Am is. I guess at that moment the seed was planted in my head,’’ Abdullah said. He went home and rested well for about three months. Then he commenced training with some structure. Although the distance of Trans Am was intimidating, especially once he began to reflect on how hard some moments were during IndiPac, he decided to give it a go.“ So basically, three months after I finished IndiPac, I decided that I would do Trans Am,’’ Abdullah said.

Over the next eleven months, he did triple the training he had done for IndiPac. “ I had never really been consistent with training before. I wanted to give myself the opportunity to see what would happen if I was consistent. I focused on getting out at least five times per week on the bike which was a lot different to my IndiPac preparation wherein at times, I rode only thrice a week. I knew I could ride long hours so I focused on quality rather than quantity and gave myself more time to rest throughout the training. This was possible because I gave myself more time to prepare. All in all it was approximately 750 hours on the bike from start to finish,’’ Abdullah said.  As with IndiPac, he researched Trans Am, essentially figuring out how much he wished to travel per day and checking what services were available along the way – till he was comfortable enough to ride it. “ In terms of details of the research, it’s just knowing the opening hours of gas stations, supermarkets and if there is a hotel nearby,’’ Abdullah said.

Unsupported racing (or self-supported as some call it) requires cyclist to carry all that he / she may need. There is no support crew trailing cyclist in a car. You can eat and avail shelter and repair from outside sources but on courses like the long ones ultra-cycling courts, there are intervening spaces with no human habitation and those with facilities too frugal for the sort of support you seek. An element of self-reliance is therefore important. At the same time, if all that you elect to carry becomes too much, then the weight is bound to slow down progress. What to take becomes a product of research, self-awareness, experience and appetite for the unknown. Given he had done IndiPac, Abdullah had a gear list for such racing. What he needed to do was – research and work out how far he could carry the same stuff for Trans Am too. “ The only difference was I took a few extra pieces of clothing to keep me warm; like an extra set of gloves. Everything I had was distributed between the frame bag and the top tube bag with some spare tubes in a small saddle bag on the seat post. I had spoken with a few friends online who had done the race previously and they helped me understand the type of conditions we would be going through and the necessary clothing required,’’ Abdullah said. Here’s what he finally carried: rain jacket, wind jacket, base layer, gloves (two pairs), beanie and glasses; multi tool, tubes (five), patch kit, spare tyre, zip ties, electrical tape, 10,000 Ma battery pack, wall charger to plug USB ports into, charging cables, Etrex 30x and Wahoo Bolt for navigation. As for bicycle, he used a 2019 Specialized S Works Tarmac.

Abdullah Zeinab (Photo: courtesy Abdullah / this photo was sourced from the website of Trans Am Bike Race)

What did he have on his mind, going into Trans Am 2019?

“ First and foremost I wanted to improve on my previous performance at IndiPac. The Trans Am course has a lot more elevation gain. So I thought that if I could get close to the same average distance per day, I would have improved. Goals before the race and during it are different. I wanted to set a new record at Trans Am and do it the fastest anyone had done before. But once I was a few days deep, I really just wanted to make sure I got to the end in one piece,’’ Abdullah said. According to him, the Trans Am experience was great. “ For crossing a whole country I would say it worked out very well. I had some bad patches of weather but it was mostly just rain and some severe head winds. I was fortunate because some of the racers behind me had to go through snow. There is really no other option than to keep going. I wish I had rain pants and some other things to keep me warm but in the moment the only way out is to continue. From what I experienced so far with this type of riding it rarely goes 100 percent as you expect but you become better at accepting the situation for how it is. The moment you don’t is the moment it becomes harder than it needs to be,’’ Abdullah said.

At both Trans Am and IndiPac, which preceded it, there were several moments when Abdullah was unsure if he would make it; mainly due to physical pain. “ Especially with Trans Am I had some moments of excruciating physical pain and I was unsure if I would make the next town without injury,’’ he said. In such circumstances and generally in ultra-long endurance races, how you think matters. What does Abdullah tell himself through such races?

“ For me, I got nothing to lose. Winning or losing the race isn’t going to define who I am. Cycling is something I do but it’s not who I am. Success for me is giving 100 percent effort. I have achieved enough of the goals I have set out to accomplish to realize that the moment you achieve them is never what you think it will be. It is really the process that is special. Being able to enjoy the process to the highest degree possible is something I continually strive for. In a race like this I tell myself all sorts of things. It depends on the situation and what I am dealing with. To me there is no suffering in a race. It’s not a word I say to myself. If am finding it overwhelmingly difficult and I am struggling to deal with it; well cool… that’s just how it is. Specifically for races like Trans Am or IndiPac, the moment I identify with suffering or something being extremely difficult as a bad or good thing it becomes my slow downfall. You submit yourself emotionally to the ups and downs of good and bad, hard and easy or sad and happy. In my mind moments are just moments. Weather they are good or bad is dependent on your perception of them. I just say to myself it’s okay. You’re okay. Such a simple statement; but it offers me a path that kind of transcends the ups and downs and offers a more stable experience, which allows me to enjoy the whole ride versus being a mess for 50 percent of it and being ‘happy’ for the other 50 percent,’’ Abdullah said.

Abdullah Zeinab in Yorktown, after completing Trans Am 2019 (Photo: Chip Coutts / this photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Trans Am Bike Race public group)

At Trans Am 2019, the cyclist from Melbourne, Australia, completed the course in 16 days, nine hours, 56 minutes. He not only won the race; he set a new course record. For Abdullah, who has so far banked on his resources and support from his family, to fund his participation at major races this was the second big win of his fledgling career in cycling. “ I hope now that I may be able to get help from sponsors. We will see,’’ he said. In photos and videos showing his finish at IndiPac 2018 and Trans Am 2019 – they are available on the Internet – one person you notice is his mother. She is there at the finish line. “ My mother has always supported me in anything I do, whether it be playing table tennis or riding a bike. She really is my biggest supporter and I wouldn’t be the person I am without her,’’ Abdullah said.

After Trans Am 2019, what’s next for Abdullah Zeinab? “ Honestly right now I am just enjoying the time off and relaxing as much as possible. I am trying not to think about what’s next too much because I know it will ruin my relaxation and reflection time. In a month or so I will begin to see what excites me,’’ he said.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai. The interview with Abdullah Zeinab was done via email. Trans Am Bike Race website: https://transambikerace.com/)

“ IT’S THE CAPTAIN AFTER ALL’’

El Capitan, Yosemite Valley (Photo: courtesy Mohit Oberoi)

This is an article by invitation. Delhi based-climbers Mohit Oberoi and Kumar Gaurav were in California’s Yosemite Valley over April 24-May 19, 2019, to attempt The Nose route on El Capitan. In all, The Nose is 3000 feet (5.9 C1) and 32 pitches of climbing. Due to a combination of factors, after about 800 feet climbed, the Indian duo had to bail out. For Mohit, a pioneer in the field of rock climbing in India and now into his fifth decade of life on planet, El Capitan has been a longstanding dream. This is his account:   

“ So, how many more pitches to the Dolt Tower?’’

I posed the question to the figure laden with gear, extra rope and pack, coming down towards my right.

What started as a small dot had become a figure.

“ I think you have a few more to go,’’ came the reply, most words getting lost in the high wind.

My mind woke up to a shout from above: Taakkeeeee…..

I pulled in the rope hard and held on; Kumar on the sharp end.

Things were looking bleak.

The wind was blowing hard…the windbreaker fluttered hard. It felt like I was sitting on a motorcycle. It was 6.30 PM. It will be pitch dark in another 90 minutes. A 35 kilo-haul bag aka ` pig’ was hanging heavy on the rope. What the hell should we do?  The only way now seemed to be down. The wind had picked up, left us cold; climbing further appeared hard. We would need headlamps to climb in the dark. Not to mention, blood sugar was hitting super low levels. The valley floor was 800 feet below.

Okay Kumar let’s head down: I shout up to him. A reluctant Kumar started lowering himself down on the slope. The look said it all. But we have to `bail out’ in our best interest.

On El Capitan (Photo: courtesy Mohit Oberoi)

It had been a dream since teenage years. Persistent dreams become itches. The itch started 35 years ago with articles from Mountain magazine, UK showing stunning  photos of El Capitan (El Cap) and the Mecca of rock climbing – Yosemite valley. Names like Jim Bridwell, Randy Leavitt, John Bachar, Ron Kauk, Mark Hudon and Max Jones – they were my childhood super heroes possessing the power to ascend blank cliffs 3000 feet high. The seed was born and I knew which side to face for my Mecca. Much Time passed. Fiftieth birthdays are magical; the number can turn a few screws around for a lot of people. I was looking at a postcard from Kiran (nine years) and Sachin (six years) – they were the children of my friends, Luca and Priya. The postcard with a photo of El Cap sent from Yosemite a few years ago and stuck on the fridge was daily reminder that El Cap was waiting. I needed to make my pilgrimage before I died. A date was set and a partnership deal sealed with Kumar Gaurav.

“ Hey do you want to go America?’’

I am not sure what Kumar, a 24 year-old Delhi based-climber thought about the offer from the blue. A shrug of the shoulder and a smile said it all. Few weeks later, we were in the queue in front of the American Embassy for our visa interview. We are climbers and we want to climb in the Yosemite Valley – that was what we told the young visa officer, who thought this was certainly a very valid reason to go to USA. A 10 year multiple entry-visa approved, we walked out.

I had to lose the many rolls of fat accumulated around the waist. The training to climb again the last few decades was spent running, swimming, doing triathlons and hiking. There hadn’t been much climbing. It was going to take some effort getting back into shape for climbing. I would have to do regular laps on the climbing wall / running, to build general strength plus trips to the rocks. Amid this, one thing was clear – it had to be a month-long visit. We had to give proper time for this climb; taking four weeks off felt very intimidating, both from the perspective of work and family.

Delhi-Singapore-San Francisco flight followed by a pick-up from dear friend Ishu and we landed in `Camp 4’ in Yosemite Valley. The idea was to spend maximum time in the valley. We had no other agenda. I was very clear about the objective of this trip: spend time in the valley…climb; run, hike, bike, dream, drink beer all, of it in the valley only.

At the campsite in Yosemite (Photo: courtesy Mohit Oberoi)

The valley granite was very unique and for sure it was unforgiving. As mentioned in every guide book, article and blog, if you think you can come and crush at the same grades as your home crag you would be surprised, true to every word written. The first week was spent on climbing classics around Camp 4, reaching crags wherever we could on cycle; climbing routes ranging from single pitch to 5 pitches. I struggled on the 5.6-5.8s and Kumar on 5.9 /10 (he being a 5.14 sport climber I am sure this must have come as a surprise..!) Valley granite is mainly crack climbs of varying sizes, fingers to wide chimneys  – a lot of it is very slick due to ancient glacier polish or just because some routes were climbed so many times that they became really slick. Trusting the feet on such rock was a whole new dimension. I took a fall of 15 feet and realized that for this type of climbing we needed more time to get used to.

As with most climbers, we spent beautiful sunny days climbing the classics. The normal routine was to start at 9 AM and end at 7 PM every day. But The Nose route of El Cap, sometimes referred to as the “ greatest rock climb on Earth’’ was always at the back of our mind. We had to get on the Captain. If Yosemite Valley was the Mecca of rock climbing, then Camp 4 was the center of it all; it has been there as climbers’ campground since the 1950’s. Camp 4 has hosted the who’s who of the climbing world. At six dollars a night per person this was the cheapest place to be in the valley. However one could spend only 30 days in a year there and out of it only seven days could be had in the period from 1st May to 30th September, that being peak season. We got a permit for 14 days since we arrived on the 24th of April.

It was great to meet climbers from all over the world. A big Spanish team was in camp. We started to get information about The Nose route on El Cap from two young Americans, Kip and Joe who had bailed out from the “sickle ledge’’ just two days ago. They said they were too slow and carried too much weight, a phrase we heard a lot in the next couple of weeks. After a week of climbing, our thoughts moved to giving The Nose (it is 3000 feet high, 32 pitches) a go. Ideally everyone first climbs the first four pitches to Sickle Ledge, fixes a few ropes down to the ground for hauling the `pig’ up to the ledge and then carry on in a single push with an average time of three days to the top.

On El Capitan (Photo: courtesy Mohit Oberoi)

We followed the same strategy. We decided to climb the first four pitches to the Sickle and then fix three 60 meter-ropes down to the ground. The German duo, Peter and Mark, start before us. There were also other parties at various stages on the route. Kumar led the first pitch and I was surprised to find him struggling. They say that the climbing on the Nose can be unique, weird and hard to describe. One has to experience it to understand what it is like. The plan was to “ French free’’ – it means to climb whatever can be freed and otherwise pull on fixed gear or fix own gear and pull on it. The idea being to maintain a quick pace, get to the belay stance and fix the rope for the second to “ jug up’’ (jumar) the rope. The leader can then haul the bag up or in our case the bag was very heavy for a very light Kumar to haul alone; either we would haul it together or I would use my body weight to haul. Hauling involved fixing a system on the anchors with a pulley / grab device, through which the rope passed and then, hand over hand, the climbers pulled the bag. The traversing nature of the first four pitches needed short pendulums on fixed gear, tension traverses and very interesting climbing on pin scars. While Kumar led I carried the pack with the spare rope and a haul line trailing from the harness. It was a beautiful sunny day with great views across the valley.

The wind generally picks up around 11 AM. It can be very unnerving as the gusts can take you unawares. The rope starts to go all over the place. We reached Sickle Ledge to find that the Germans had fixed ropes to descend to the ground, haul their bag up and sleep the night on the ledge. Kumar and I planned to fix ropes and descend to the ground. We didn’t have a haul bag, we needed to acquire / buy one. Satisfied with the day’s target achieved, we headed back to Camp 4. Our bicycles were locked near the base of El Cap. While most drive up to near the base we didn’t have a car. So we biked everywhere.

On El Capitan (Photo: courtesy Mohit Oberoi)

We bought the haul bag from the mountain shop in the valley. It looked huge. It will contain eventually 22 liters of water in duct taped bottles and jerry cans, food for four days, sleeping bags, mats, stove and cookware, poop bags (it is mandatory to collect poop in poop bags and then carry them out in a poop tube back to the camp); this was apart from the climbing gear and ropes which would be easily another 20 kilos. The `pig’ once packed, weighed around 35 kilos, the majority of the weight being water as there was no water on the wall.  We planned to jug our fixed ropes to the Sickle and also haul the bag to it and leave it there. All this movement was to get our systems in place. I hadn’t really jugged ropes before. A quick reference to a how-to guide got me going. It actually felt easy and fun after a while.

The exposure on the wall can be debilitating. The more we moved up and down, the more we got used to it. We met Alex and Nani the two strong, ever smiling Spaniards who had climbed the rest of the Nose except the first four pitches. They had jugged up someone else’s rope to the Sickle and done the rest of the climb. They were now down to climb the first four pitches; not the most conventional way to climb the route. Our haul bag was eventually anchored to the fixed bolts on Sickle Ledge. Three bolt anchors generally marked the end of every pitch on the Nose. It saved climbers the trouble of making anchors and rigging a complicated haul system.

It was now a rest day. Moving camp from Camp 4 as our 14 day-permit got over, we shifted to another place in the valley. Thanks to the generosity of a valley local, we managed to camp in his backyard for the rest of the trip. This was divine intervention saving us the hassle of getting a car and driving out of the park every day or getting an expensive campground which was no less than 100 dollars a night.

At 7 AM we pedaled fast to get to the base to start our climb. We were already late as organizing the gear and breakfast took more time than usual. We reached the base to where our ropes were hanging to find two Spanish teams ready to climb and haul on our ropes! We were disappointed to see this. We told them that we planned to climb our ropes and then drop one of the ropes to the ground (a normal practice; the rope stays at the base till the team comes back to retrieve it).  Seeing the disappointment on their faces, Kumar asked one of them to climb our ropes fast and fix theirs. As we got ready, they finally fixed their ropes and we ascended ours to Sickle Ledge. It was already 9 AM and we are at least two hours behind schedule (this delay proved to be very expensive). The pitch above Sickle looked very broken up and hard to haul. Kumar climbed the initial easy section and then a hard move round the corner took him to a fixed bolt station. Advice from a fast and experienced party which overtook us suggested that we push the haul bag off the side and haul from the start of the next pitch. That turned out to be good advice. The Nose was certainly a very complex route. The first four to five pitches were not straightforward and knowledge of what to do and where played a critical role in efficiency and speed. This is a major factor to make quick progress on the route.

Kumar Gaurav (left) with two of the Spanish climbers – Alex and Nani – on Sickle Ledge (Photo: courtesy Mohit Oberoi)

A short pendulum and tension traverse took us to a three bolt-belay station. Now the exposure seemed significant. The initial forays on the rock had made us immune to the exposure at least up to this height. Kumar led a pitch and we had now got into the start of the “ stove legs’’ which is a significant land mark on the climb. The stove legs are hand / fist / off width size-cracks which go up four pitches to the ` Dolt Tower.’ Our aim was to get to Dolt Tower as, after Sickle Ledge, this was the only ledge we could sleep on. Since we did not have a portaledge (portable foldable ledge made of aluminum tubes and nylon fabric to sleep on, which can be set up almost anywhere as long as anchors are available), we had to try and hit the Dolt or we had to hang all night on the bolt anchors as last option.

The stove legs can slow down parties like us who don’t have very good crack climbing experience. The cracks were the same size all through and needed a lot of cams and wires of the same size. Thus double and triple of each size required to be carried or have to be “ back cleaned” by the leader. Even the 5.8 pitches seemed hard with the added weight of gear (5-7 kilos); two ropes (lead rope and haul line), wind gusting away, fatigue from hauling, slick rock and exposure. The 5.8 started feeling like 5.10/11. We met many climbers blasting away to Dolt Tower 10 pitches up, without any haul bags and then coming down the same day; a good way to get used to climbing on the route and get familiar with climbing / route complication.  NIAD (Nose in a Day) climbers find themselves climbing with first timers like us who take 3-5 days and then slowly work on the route to eventually do it in 24 hours. Or like Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell, climbing it in two hours (!!) which is crazy (!!!) and totally insane.

It was now 6.30 PM and Kumar was leading on pitch eight. We were still two pitches away from the Dolt. Maybe an early start and not losing time to the Spanish team (who climbed behind us and slept on Sickle Ledge) would have helped. It seemed best to bail out as most parties do at the stove legs; a series of 60 meter-rappel anchors straight down lead to the ground. We started to head down, first lowering the haul bag to the anchor and then I lowering off. This took a lot of time. Then I took the haul bag on my tie-in loop of the harness, crushing my hips. But then it was better than the haul bag being lowered off. Tempers ran high as the low sugar level and dehydration hit us. We had not eaten anything and had less than two liters of water between the two of us the whole day. In such conditions, it’s easy to make a mistake. We started descending on head lamp lights with no ledges and finding the bolt anchors on a blank granite wall at night. One error could be fatal. We managed three rappels and then one error – the 70 meter-rope got jammed in the anchor above us. We couldn’t retrieve it. We continued with one 60 meter-rope, unsure if the rappel anchors were also at 30 meter-intervals. A guessing game began and we started to head down on a single 60 meter-rope. Luckily or perhaps I must say, sensibly, the climbers had equipped this route also for a 60 meter-rope (for idiots like us who managed to snag our rope!). We reached the ground at 11.30 PM, safe at last.

Mohit Oberoi (Photo: courtesy Mohit)

We opened the haul bag. While Kumar gorged on bars and trail mix and basically anything he could lay his hands on, I pulled out the sleeping bags and put some food in the stomach after nearly 16 hours. Then we both lay down under the tree at the base for a good night’s sleep. We woke up next morning and couldn’t see the rope which had got stuck; it must have been 400 feet up. We have to see if someone coming down is able to retrieve it.

Back at Camp 4 we met Peter and Mark (the German team which was ahead of us by a few days). They had exhausted themselves and bailed just above Sickle Ledge. Mark said he got really exhausted and did not find himself comfortable, climbing on such ground. His words resounded in my years:  it’s the Captain after all; it doesn’t go down easily. He laughed. The bail out rate is 50 per cent on The Nose; 500-600 parties attempt it every year, out of which 50 per cent bail out.

I was happy that we had got on to The Nose / EL Cap. Maybe I was under-prepared, not skilled enough or fit. But I think it was important for me personally to attempt to climb, instead of dreaming of it, endlessly and forever.

A VERY BIG THANKS TO: Annie; the ‘ROCK’ in my life. Abhi and Ikki, guys we have to climb this together one day. Thanks to Kush / Ishu Khandelwal; brother in San Francisco, who hosted us, climbed with us and inspires me to push myself out of the comfort zone. Sanjay Suri (brother from another mother!!) man you make it look so easy; you drove in this huge SUV from San Francisco and just drove us out of the valley…a VERY BIG THANK YOU. Curtis thanks for seeing us in Camp 4 and the hot shower and BBQ after two weeks was very welcome. Alisha, thanks for the logistics. Singapore Airlines was the way to go. Alex Cox dude thanks for hosting us and I hope you are using those bikes.

(The author, Mohit Oberoi, is a longstanding climber and businessman based in Delhi. He owns gear retailer, Adventure 18. For more on Kumar Gaurav please try these two links: https://shyamgopan.com/2015/01/31/the-kumar-gaurav-story/ and https://shyamgopan.com/2017/11/24/samsara-is-nirvana-the-many-sides-of-a-climb/ For further insight into some of the workings of Yosemite National Park, please try this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2019/04/04/regulation-should-make-adventure-safe-not-restrict-it-talking-to-steve-swenson/)

A RELAY SWIM ACROSS THE ENGLISH CHANNEL

Zarir Baliwalla (Photo: Latha Venkatraman)

Please scroll down to the end of this article for update.

Three men from Mumbai gear up to attempt a relay swim across the English Channel in July 2019. Completing the quartet will be a South African lady, an experienced swimmer who has crossed the channel before.

For 35 years Zarir Baliwalla was a smoker. He led a quiet life, managing his business, Baliwalla & Homi Private Ltd.

“ When I hit 50 years of age, I wanted a healthy lifestyle and started running,’’ Zarir, now 58, said. Years ago while at school – Cathedral School in South Mumbai – young Zarir was involved in a number of sports; running, swimming and hockey. None of that was at serious competitive level.

The years of running helped him pick up the recreational activity well. “ I used to run on my own on Marine Drive. I would see a lot of runners; they would wish me during the run. One of them, Pervin Batliwala, asked me to join her group, Savio’s Stars built around Coach Savio D’Souza,’’ he said.

Zarir ran with the group whenever possible. He got into the emergent trend of running half marathons and 10 kilometre-races at events. He participated in the Mumbai Marathon, Goa River Marathon and Delhi Half Marathon, besides others.

In due course, running became mundane. Some of the group members moved to triathlons to escape boredom.

“ I heard about triathlon from some of the members of the group. I resumed swimming to balance my physical activity across disciplines,’’ he said. He also bought his first bicycle, a Trek mountain bike. “ Those days, everybody used a MTB but I realised soon that I needed a road bike for triathlons. I bought a road bike later,’’ he said.

Zarir and a few of his friends used to organize triathlons in Mumbai periodically as practice sessions. In 2017, he enrolled for the Goa Triathlon, an Olympic distance-event. “ One week before the event I crashed my bike,’’ he said.

The diversification in sport, he commenced, continued. From running, he had shifted focus to triathlons; pretty soon he was enrolling for swimming events.

During his school years and later as an adult, Zarir’s experience in swimming was confined to pools. “ It was when I got into open water swimming that I realized, I enjoyed swimming in the sea,’’ he said.

In December 2017, triathlete and national level swimmer, Samiir Wheaton, proposed the idea of swimming the English channel as a four-member relay team to Zarir Baliwalla and a couple of other friends.

The idea seemed preposterous to Zarir. “ After all, I am not such a strong swimmer as Samiir,’’ Zarir said from his desk at the office of Baliwalla & Homi Private Ltd in Marine Lines, South Mumbai.

Samiir was keen to swim the English Channel solo. But instead of plunging into it directly he had chosen the more prudent option of doing a relay swim ahead of attempting a solo swim, Zarir said.

“ The English Channel is a coveted objective for open water swimmers. The shortest distance across the Channel as the bird flies is 32 kilometers but when you swim, the distance can stretch to 38-40 kilometers depending on currents, wind and the tide,’’ he said.

Moiz Rajkotwala, Zarir Baliwalla and Sudarshan Chari (Photo: courtesy Zarir)

Apart from Samiir and Zarir, two others were roped in to complete a relay quartet – Moiz Rajkotwala and Anirban Mukherji. Moiz is a marathon, ultra-marathon runner and triathlete. Anirban is also runner and a triathlete.

They set out to study the process involved in attempting the English Channel. Swimmers have to register with either of the two international bodies associated with the English Channel – Channel Swimming Association and Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation.

For the relay swim, the participants are required to have a qualifying swim of two hours non-stop in the sea with water temperature below 16 degrees. Swimmers are not allowed a wet suit. They have to enter the water in swimming trunks, goggles and cap.

In January this year, Anirban had to drop out due to medical issues. Sudarshan Chari, a swimmer and triathlete, replaced him in the team to maintain the quartet.

Sudarshan has been swimming from his school days; he has participated in school level competitions. “ Swimming was always part of my life. But it was mostly confined to swimming in the pool. About three years ago, I got into open water swimming,’’ Sudarshan said. He became part of the Goa Open Water Swimming Club.

The club started organising swimming competitions, known as Swimathon. Triathletes and swimmers have been enrolling for the event since it commenced. Over the last three years, Sudarshan has enrolled for various distances – three, five and ten kilometers. At this year’s Swimathon in February 2019, Sudarshan completed the 10 kilometer swim in four hours, 24 minutes, 47 seconds.

In March 2019, Sudarshan enrolled for the Ocean Walker Swimming Camp held at Malta. The coach at the camp was Adam Walker, endurance swimmer and first Englishman to complete the Seven Oceans swim.

“ Adam Walker trained us how to reduce hand movements and use our body instead during long endurance swims,’’ Sudarshan said. Also, the camp ended with a qualifying swim for solo as well as relay swim for the English Channel. Given his aspiration to do the English Channel swim, the qualifying swim was useful.

While Samiir, Moiz and Sudarshan were already qualified for the swim, Zarir had to travel to England for a qualifying swim in May. His guide for the qualifying swim was Loretta Cox, a long-distance swimmer and coach, who has completed the English Channel swim multiple times.

“ She did not allow me to do my qualifying swim on the first day. She said I needed to get used to the cold waters before attempting the swim. On the first day I swam for 15 minutes, on the second day I did two swims – one for 20 minutes and another for 30 minutes and on the third day I did two sessions of one hour each,’’ he said. On the fourth day, he did his qualifying swim.

With his qualifying swim in place, the team was all set for the relay swim across English Channel.

The team secured a third position for the July 7-19 (2019) window for the relay swim across the Channel.

Then another setback occurred.

“ Unfortunately, Samiir had to opt out of the proposed swim for personal reasons. We then had to look out for another swimmer to take his place. And that swimmer had to have completed a qualifying swim as there is not enough time to go through preparation and qualifying,’’ Zarir said. He approached various open water swimming forums seeking a swimmer to join the trio for the relay.

“ Catherine Stefanutti, a South African swimmer based in the UK, agreed to join us. She has already done the English Channel solo and as part of relay teams couple of times. Her experience should augur well for our team,’’ he said.

Channel Swimming Association (CSA) rules are stringent about how the relay swim has to be carried out. Of the four members of the team, one person starts swimming and has to swim exactly for one hour before the next swimmer takes over. A boat with the pilot, remaining three participants and one observer aboard, accompanies the swimmer.

Swimmers are not allowed to touch the boat during the swim. Stroke rates are also measured. A substantial drop in stroke rates of the swimmer can lead to disqualification, Sudarshan said.

Sudarshan Chari (Photo: courtesy Sudarshan)

According to Zarir, adapting to swimming in cold waters is a challenge for those from India, especially people from Mumbai. “ I have switched from shower to bucket bath. I fill my bucket with ice and ensure that the temperature is below 16 degrees for my bath. I am now used to that cold temperature,’’ he said.

The ice water baths do help swimmers to adapt to the cold waters of the English Channel. Nevertheless, challenges of cold water remain. “ Every time you enter the cold water, the body takes time to adjust. In a solo swim the challenge is at the start but in a relay swim you have to adjust to the cold water as many times as you may require to enter the waters to complete the distance,’’ Sudarshan said. Apart from ice baths, the trio also ramped up their swimming mileage to prepare for the long haul.

Through the relay swim, the team is raising funds for Impact Foundation of Tata Memorial Hospital.

“ The idea of raising funds for paediatric oncology came about during my visits to the hospital. As part of the medical equipment business, I had to visit the hospital, where I saw several children in very critical condition. The hospital is doing a lot voluntarily work but funds are never enough. We would like to contribute some funds to the hospital,’’ Zarir said.

Update / July 14: The quartet comprising Sudarshan Chari, Zarir Baliwala, Moiz Rajkotwala and Catherine Stefanuti completed the relay swim across the English Channel on July 12, 2019 in 14 hours and 59 minutes. In a message after completing the swim, Zarir informed that since 1875, an estimated 817 teams have successfully done this swim ratified by CSA (Channel Swimming Association).

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)

RAAM 2019 / KABIR RACHURE CROSSES FINISH LINE

Kabir Rachure (Photo: courtesy Sapana Rachure)

Kabir Rachure has successfully completed the 2019 edition of Race Across America (RAAM).

The cyclist from Navi Mumbai, India, covered the roughly 3000 mile (4800 kilometers) distance in 11 days, 22 hours, 43 minutes, as per results available on the leader board section of the event’s website. RAAM’s course stretches right across the United States, from Oceanside in California on the US west coast, to Annapolis in Maryland on the east.

Kabir’s support crew for RAAM was anchored by his sister Sapana. Earlier, she had been his crew chief for several races in India too. At roughly 260 miles left to finish, she recalled the main challenges the team had faced at RAAM that far. “ Till now Kabir’s longest ride was 1750km Ultra Spice race, which he finished twice. So after that, the entire thing is new territory for us. The biggest problem is sleep management after the sixth day,’’ she said. According to her, Kabir was sleeping around two and quarter hours daily with short naps during daytime as required. They had three support vehicles and a crew of ten. All crew members were from India. The team had four bicycles for use during RAAM – a Lapierre Pulsium, a Lapierre Aircode, a Colnago C-RS and a Specialized.

Kabir, 29, is the third Indian cyclist to complete RAAM in the solo category.

The previous such finishes were in 2017, when Lt Col Srinivas Gokulnath earned the distinction of being the first Indian solo cyclist to complete RAAM. He finished in 11 days, 18 hours, 45 minutes. Srinivas was followed by Dr Amit Samarth, who became the first Indian to complete RAAM in the solo category in the very first attempt in 11 days, 21 hours, 11 minutes. That year, Kabir too was there at RAAM; he was part of support crew for Samim Rizvi, cyclist from Bengaluru. Among Indian cyclists, Samim had been a pioneer at attempting RAAM solo. Unfortunately Samim’s 2017 attempt ended up DNF (Did Not Finish), somewhere past 900 kilometers into the race. Not wanting to give up on his chance to see the RAAM route, Kabir had then taken a car and gone up till Durango in Colorado before returning to California and later, back to India.

Kabir Rachure (This photo was downloaded from the cyclist’s Facebook page)

These solo rides aside, the first Indian finish at RAAM was in 2015 when the Mahajan brothers – Dr Hitendra Mahajan and Dr Mahendra Mahajan – completed the race in eight days, 11 hours as a two person-team.

In other finishes at RAAM 2019, Brazil’s Daniela Genovesi crossed the finish line first among women solo riders. She covered the distance in 10 days, 17 hours, 59 minutes. Coming in second was Leah Goldstein of Canada, who reached the finish line in 10 days, 19 hours, 28 minutes. Both riders belong to the 50-59 years age category. Daniela’s average speed of 11.9 miles per hour is a new record at RAAM for women in this age group.

For more on Kabir Rachure please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2018/12/19/three-years-and-raam/

The 2019 edition of RAAM also saw Krishna Prakash, senior police officer from Mumbai complete the shorter Race Across West (RAW), a race carved out from the initial stages of RAAM. His crew chief was Amit Samarth.

Seana Hogan (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of RAAM)

Update: Seana Hogan completed the 2019 edition of Race Across America (RAAM) in 13 days, four hours, 23 minutes.

In a report dated June 24, available on the event’s Facebook page, the race organizers said: Seana Hogan (USA) arrived on City Dock here in Annapolis at 8:31 last night, to make a success out of her being our first-ever age 60-69 entrant. This 13th RAAM for Hogan was a dramatic one indeed. After being up among the younger women in this year’s field of 8 women for the first 1/3 of the race, she was stopped in Colorado for nearly 24 hours to attend to saddle sores.

As our first 60-69 entrant, Hogan was granted additional time to finish in an effort to establish a benchmark for that category.

Seana Hogan is among best known names at RAAM. A six time-winner of RAAM, she holds the record for the highest number of wins among women at the event. She won in 1992, 1993, 1993, 1995, 1997 and 1998.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

WILL LONGER RACES IN INDIA HELP INDIAN CYCLISTS FARE BETTER AT RAAM?

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

If you compare length for length, then over 60 per cent of Race Across America (RAAM) is uncharted experience for riders from India.

RAAM is a little over 3000 miles (approximately 4800 kilometers) long.

The longest Indian ultra-cycling event serving as qualifier for RAAM is Ultra Spice, which spans 1750 kilometers (1087 miles); the race proceeds from Goa to Coorg, Wayanad and Ooty and then returns to finish in Goa. The 1750 kilometers length of this race means that somewhere past the first one third of RAAM’s 3000 miles in the US; Indian riders begin to tackle unfamiliar waters. Will having a race longer than Ultra Spice on the domestic circuit help shrink that element of unknown at RAAM and similar races elsewhere?

“ Yes obviously,’’ Divya Tate of Inspire India, organizers of Ultra Spice said, adding, “ just as doing RAAM once or even failing at it, makes it easier to do it next time! But seriously, training approaches worldwide don’t demand for you to do the distance while you train, especially not for ultra-cycling.’’ Having qualified for RAAM and trained for it diligently, Lt Col Bharat Pannu was supposed to participate in the 2019 edition of the race. But an unfortunate injury sustained in rides ahead of race in the US, forced him to withdraw. Asked whether he thought having a race longer than Ultra Spice in the domestic circuit would help reduce the unknown in RAAM, Bharat said, “ as per my experience, the distance of 1750 kilometers provides you with all necessary experience required for RAAM, except the distance. And for distance such as RAAM, it becomes a test of your mental strength and your ability to endure pain. Definitely, a longer race will prove to be beneficial,’’ he said.

According to Divya, Ultra Spice is the bridge between the minimum RAAM qualifiers of 640 kilometers and RAAM itself. “ One doesn’t need to participate in longer ultra-races to train for RAAM. Crewing or doing team at RAAM would however be highly recommended before attempting solo. Also with four RAAM qualifiers being offered in India, a lead-up to RAAM solo or team should include as many of these, offering a variety of terrain and challenges, which is why these were created.,’’ she said.

If a longer race is to be created in India, what will be the challenges?

“ The biggest challenges are monitoring, funding and the participation numbers. Inspire India does have two ultra-races that have been in the pipeline for 3-4 years that we can only now consider putting up since we have affordable tracking devices in India. Funding these big races is not yet happening and they are really hard to run. The longer the race, the lower the number of people able to or interested in participating, and these races are expensive to participate with support vehicles etc. Which is why the two races – The Great Coast Race and The K2K Ultra will have a different format, closer to bike-pack racing. The expense of participation is also why we have now created a separate category in Ultra Spice 1750, which is unsupported or without personal support vehicles. But the unsupported category is not a RAAM qualifier,’’ Divya said.

In 2017, Amit Samarth had become the second Indian to complete RAAM solo and the first to finish it in his first attempt. In 2018, he had successfully completed the Red Bull Trans-Siberian Extreme; a 15-stage, 9100 kilometer-long race in Russia. He had a very simple matrix as reply for the question this blog posed on whether a race longer than Ultra Spice in India, would help Indians tackle RAAM better. According to him: longer the race, longer the recovery. “ You can do a race that is longer than Ultra Spice to reduce that element you call the unknown in RAAM. But it should be done at least 5-6 months before RAAM,’’ Amit said. He suspects Indian cyclists may be over-training for RAAM. That is what happened to him in 2017. Not knowing what to expect, he trained rigorously and ended up feeling tired during the actual race in the US. “ What we don’t realize is that in India, we do too many races. It makes us mentally surer of the distance but eventually it also makes us physically slower,’’ he said of the folly in overlooking rest and recovery. Amit thinks cyclists like Christoph Strasser (2019 marked his sixth victory at RAAM solo) don’t exhaust themselves doing very long rides in training.

Photo imaging: Shyam G Menon

Strasser at RAAM is a treat to watch on the race’s live tracker. RAAM solo and RAW solo (Race Across West; a smaller race within RAAM) start on the same day. Those riding as multi member-teams start later. In 2019, Strasser steadily pulled ahead of the field, hung in there and finished first. The gap between him and second placed soloist was palpable. In that gap, a few teams raced in (because they cycle in relay format, they cover ground faster) to cross the finish line. It was after this early flurry of team finishes that the rest of the solo racers started completing the race. Simply put – keeping aside other issues like sleep management and experienced crew, Strasser rides faster than others. His average speed at 2019 RAAM over the eight days, six hours, 16 minutes he took to reach the finish line, was 15.48 miles per hour. The fastest team this year at RAAM was the 4-person Team Alpha from Austria; riding in relay format they covered the course in five days, 15 hours, 33 minutes at an average speed of 22.65 miles per hour.

After RAAM 2017, when Amit decided to head for Trans-Siberian Extreme, he knew two things – the race in Russia at 9100 kilometers is significantly longer than RAAM; he didn’t want to repeat what happened to him at RAAM 2017. He connected with Pierre Bischoff of Germany – Bischoff is a much experienced ultra-cyclist; 2016 winner of RAAM – to learn how best to prepare. Bischoff’s suggestion was to focus on two aspects – speed and recovery. “ I made sure I did not over-train for Trans-Siberian Express,’’ Amit said. He became the first Indian to complete Trans-Siberian Extreme; Bischoff won it.

So if needlessly piling on miles in training is unwise, how then do you tackle the unknown in RAAM?

“ There is no other way but to deal with it mentally. One thing you must understand about ultra-cycling is that because the distances involved are huge, you cannot cover all aspects in training as you would for a marathon. There will always be the unknown,’’ Amit said.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)