Biking Beyond Madness (link)

by hirvinen 1 min read22nd Oct 20096 comments


‘‘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.’’

This 2006 New York Times story is about Jure Robic, a Slovenian ultra long distance bicycler who goes seriously insane when he pushes himself far enough during the races. At the point he feels like dying out of fatigue he still has a major portion (estimated 50 % by his team) of his strength left. So he hands over control to his team and with their help, pushes himself into the realm of insanity and gives up control to the team:

 For Robic, his support crew serves as a second brain, consisting of a well-drilled cadre of a half-dozen fellow Slovene soldiers. It resembles other crews in that it feeds, hydrates, guides and motivates — but with an important distinction. The second brain, not Robic’s, is in charge.

 ‘‘By the third day, we are Jure’s software,’’ says Lt. Miran Stanovnik, Robic’s crew chief. ‘‘He is the hardware, going down the road.’’

 His success isn't because of exceptional physiology or training:

 On rare occasions when he permits himself to be tested in a laboratory, his ability to produce power and transport oxygen ranks on a par with those of many other ultra-endurance athletes. He wins for the most fundamental of reasons: he refuses to stop.

 The whole thing is an intriguing example of making an extraordinary, desperate effort by knowing that even when his body and brain scream for him to stop, he can go further, and doing so. Also, pushing one's self to become insane isn't the sensible thing to do, but for him, it is the path that wins.