too many words by laura lemay

pain, race across america, and the slovenian army

That Which Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stranger

A good article from the New York Times (usual annoying login required) about Slovenian Jure Robic, who rides (and wins) the roughly 3000 mile Race Across America bicycle race (RAAM) with support from his friends from the Slovenian army. RAAM is the ultimate ultra endurance race in cycling. The goal of RAAM is to make it across the country as fast as possible, usually within nine or ten days. Sleeping is not really part of the picture. You need a good support team to follow you on RAAM, to help you get through it. Because on RAAM its both about the physical ability to make it through 3000 miles, but also about mental stamina. Jure Robic, apparently, goes kind of nuts.

‘What Jure does is frightening. Sometimes during races he gets off his bike and walks toward us in the follow car, very angry.’’

What do you do then?

Petek glances carefully at Robic, standing a few yards off. ‘‘We lock the doors,’’ he whispers.

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.’’