Ultracyclist Kabir Rachure reveals how he prepared for Race Across America, a grueling 5,000km race
One day after the Race Across America (RAAM) in June, ultracyclist Kabir Rachure, 33, realized he was in trouble. Shooting pain affected his left knee, forcing him to take a more conservative approach to riding. And to protect him, he was now also forcing the other leg.
Despite the setback, he had pushed himself to cover 450-odd miles (more than 720 km) from the start. But the ascent of Yarnell Grade in Arizona, an 1,800-foot climb over seven miles, set off alarm bells for Rachure and his crew. From podium aspirations on his third attempt at RAAM, this was now coming down to a wear and tear effort.
“This was all very new to me as I had never experienced knee pain like this in the past. The physios gave me relief and tried to get me comfortable on the bike, but ultimately I had to manage it the best way I could. It was clear that to protect the knee, I couldn’t make the effort that I would have liked”, recalls Rachure.
Nothing prepared him for how things unfolded on day 6 of the race. During a break that night, Rachure eyed his saddle, then turned to look at the spare bikes mounted on top of his support car. When comparing the two bikes, his eyes lit up.
“I noticed that the saddle on my bike had moved by a large margin and was no longer aligned with the fit on my bike. So essentially I was riding with a very different stance than I normally do. It’s what led to the knee pain. I had also lost about 25% of the power while pedaling all those miles,” says Rachure.
These are small margins that add up when taking on a behemoth like RAAM: a 3,000-mile (4,828 km) race that stretches from Oceanside, California on the west coast of the United States to Annapolis, Maryland in the east. Rachure would certainly know, as he completed it on two previous occasions. During his second attempt last year, he finished seventh overall and third in his age category (18-49).
This time, it took Rachure all of his nine years of ultracycling experience to make history. His effort of 10 days, 19 hours and 21 minutes earned him a fifth-place finish, the first top-5 finish by an Asian runner at RAAM, and his second-place age category finish. It is also the fastest time recorded by an Indian cyclist in the race.
“Riding in the RAAM is like gambling, a huge risk. You are so invested in time, preparation, finances, energy. You have a team that puts its life on hold to be part of the team for you. And it can all end in a crash or injury. All this is at stake just for a medal and a lot of self-satisfaction”, says Rachure.
Since RAAM’s attempt last year, Rachure competed in the World 24-Hour Time Trial Championships in Borrego Springs, California, in November, where he finished 12th out of 90 riders. The following month, he won the Deccan Cliffhanger, a 650km race between Pune and Goa, and the 1750km Ultra Spice Race in January. He drastically improved his time in both races and considered signing up for RAAM.
His training has evolved over the years to become more efficient and consistent, compared to the long hours he used to spend on the bike before. Rachure put in 10 to 12 hours of work each week as she prepared for RAAM, with a special focus on biking uphill and negotiating fast descents. A month before the race, she trained at altitude in Leh to increase her aerobic capacity; this also helped him develop faster recovery rates.
“I had aimed for a finish in less than 10 days. And that was possible if I traveled for more than 20 hours each day and arrived at each time station 15 minutes before my time last year,” she says. “This is mostly a team effort rather than the work of one rider. More than my own performance, I think the previous two attempts helped improve my crew’s performance. And that, in turn, improved my efficiency during the race”, he adds.
From the start, Rachure’s goal was to build a gradual lead over the other riders and keep up the effort throughout the ride. The weather in general was much kinder, especially in the Arizona desert, where he once experienced heat of nearly 50 degrees Celsius.
“One of the toughest sections of the race is the Flagstaff climb in Arizona. It was canceled this year due to a forest fire. I feel like it had a big impact on the result as a lot of riders tend to struggle here. It’s all very unexpected and you have to be prepared for anything,” says Rachure.
A healthy tailwind in Kansas helped his progress, before a storm halted it. But he used the time effectively to regain his rest, rather than fight the elements. Lack of sleep and freezing rain made the road to the finish difficult, but he eventually made it to the finish line on time, if not in less than 10 days.
“Winning RAAM is my goal, so I know this is not the end. And despite the problems I faced during the race, I never had any problems or experienced fatigue, which tells me that I have a lot more to offer. I know I’m getting my personal best after every race, so I don’t want to stop or celebrate until I’ve achieved my dream,” he says.
Shail Desai is a Mumbai-based writer.