“I was very confident that with my training, I will be able to finish the race at my first attempt,” says Amit Samarth, who recently finished the gruelling Race across America (RAAM) in 11 days, 21 hours and 11 minutes. That’s saying something, since the race is arguably the toughest cycle race in the world, far more so than the Tour de France, because it’s 30 per cent longer and you need to complete it in nearly half the time.
If you look at the sheer numbers, completing the race seems mind-bogglingly difficult. Cycling 4,900 km in under 12 days means you have to traverse a little more than 400 km per day, on an average, and probably a bit more during the initial days before extreme fatigue sets in. That’s a speed of about 17 kph, but you need to get some sleep as well, so the actual time is much shorter. Preparing to complete such a race isn’t easy. Along with strength, flexibility and endurance, you need to train mentally too. “Every weekend, I would cycle for 700-800 km,” says Samarth.
When it came to his diet, Samarth would consume loads of complex carbohydrates and protein, and considering he would soon be doing stuff that was probably unhealthy for a normal human being, Samarth’s diet would be rich in fat too. Avoiding injuries is equally crucial (if not more), and Samarth believes that strength training and regular stretching do help a cyclist. “Since we practice on highways, it’s very important to find safe roads (without too much traffic). It’s also necessary to have a team to protect you, in case a mishap occurs.”
Coming back to the race, it isn’t just the time and distance that make it so difficult – the range of climatic conditions across America is another challenging aspect. You have to endure everything from the freezing cold to the burning sun, selfdoubt and hallucinations, all with sheer will and conviction.
According to RAAM’s website, “The route travels west to east, traversing three major mountain ranges (Sierra, Rocky and Appalachian), crosses four of America’s longest rivers (Colorado, Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio) and the Great Plains, also passing through such iconic American landmarks as the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, Monument Valley, Great Plains and Gettysburg.” To qualify, you have to complete races in India that are organised in the Thar desert, the hills of South India and the Deccan plateau. After that, you need to make sure you find the funds (training expenses can be upwards of Rs 20 lakh) to sustain your passion.
Even though this was Samarth’s first attempt at RAAM, he is a proven master of endurance sports. He has completed the Ironman Triathlon several times, and holds a 1st Dan Black Belt in Taekwondo. Fitness is not the only thing he is good at. He has an MBBS from Indira Gandhi Medical College, Nagpur as well as a Masters in Public Health from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, in USA.