I dreamt of doing this race since the past 3 years. But never got to do it till this year. Finally I decided to take the plunge and signed up. I started practise many months ago. I would ride 6 days a week, over 13-15 hours of actual ride time. I also did a 400 kms BRM to test myself. This BRM gave me a lot of confidence and then I was confident of doing this in 33-32 hours if all went well.
As the event came nearer, it just gets larger than life and it was in my head all day. Thinking about strategies, dreaming of riding, knots in stomach, what if I failed and of course silent but growing confidence. The practise, the sprints and the BRMs did its job.
Now for the Fast N Furious team.
In the Ultra race, the Team is extremely crucial. Their involvement in the race has to be 100%. The rider’s nutrition, ride logistics, taking care of issues and of course driving at bike speed for 30+ hours is not an easy task.
I had the good fortune of having the world’s best team in 1. Pushpak Desai 2. Rishu Shah 3. Ravi Bhavnani and 4. Prashant Patil. They were accomplished riders themselves, had lot of ultra-event experience, bike repairs experts and most importantly were completely invested in the team’s success. All were completely ready to push me to finish in 30 hours or less.
Bikes & preparation
I used my Trek Madone and my Trek Emonda bikes for the race. A race like this means that you need to carry a car load of spares, accessories, lights, spare tires etc. Nothing can stop or slow down the racer. So thoughtful preparation was the key to success. The team did that very well.
Nutrition & Hydration
Pushpak, An Accomplished ultra-runner, made the nutrition and hydration plan for me. Right from pre-race to all through the race, he actually made me follow the nutrition chart till the end point. Salt tabs with caffeine, BCAA, Daal Khichdi, Sandwiches, Idlis and a dozen different liquids rotated through the race to keep me from getting bored of eating the same thing. This was a vital cog in the success of the team. It ensured that I had enough energy to ride through the 34 hours event.
The Race Day unfolded
The race flagoff was to happen at 5.15 AM from Pune. The team was up at 3 AM, making sandwiches and other stuff ready for the rider for the next 34 hours. Unforgettable to see my FNF ride mates doing this for me.
We got flagged off at 5.25 AM from Pune. Nice and cool weather meant that riding was a pleasure. We were doing great on speed, covering 100 kms in under 3.45 hours. Climbing the Katraj ghat, followed by the 6 kms Khambati ghat climbs, I was racing downhill at up to 80 kmph on the descents and racing towards the formidable 14 kms Panchgani climbs.
The Panchgani climb is long and challenging. But having done these few times earlier, made it easier. I knew how to pace myself over the long climb. The weather was cloudy and a bit chilly at the top of panchgani.
Again, speeding downhill from Panchgani was a sheer delight. Having said that, going down at crazy speeds on a busy road also calls for extremely high awareness and high quality of bike handling. Even a small error can land the rider down the ravine.
Meanwhile the FNF team constantly were feeding me on the go. Sandwiches, drinks, BCAA, fast N Up and water. They would massage the neck, back at every brief stop. The 4 were the biggest pillars for the effort that I was able to make.
Rains, Cold, Shivering and uncomfortable
At 3 pm, the rains came down slowly at first and then incessantly, riding towards Satara. After a brief halt, I changed into a new cycling suit, hoping for better weather ahead. But that was not to be.
The route to Kolhapur had even more heavy rains. Wearing a rain jacket, I was still cold as was riding in a wet suit. This slowed down the speed substantially. We stopped near Belgaum at a bus stop. I was visibly shivering and cold. But my teammates served me hot Daal Khichdi and coffee. This made all the difference.
We went on to ride all night after entering Karnataka. Riding towards Hubli, I had a flat. My teammates sent me off on another bike immediately with the backup car. They relaced the tube withing minutes and cleaned up the bike as well. Soon they caught up with me again and handed over the yellow Trek Emonda to me to race ahead.
The team’s enthusiasm pushed me to go on. There was no question of giving up as I was now doing it not only for me, but also for the team who were equally gunning for the finish line.
We stopped at a petrol pump at 4 AM. A 3rd change of bike suit, theplas and chai and we were off once again to the final leg of the race to Belgaum and then on to Goa.
After we reached Belgaum, the road was horribly bad and moon-like craters were regular all through the route thereon to Dharwad forest. The forest was so beautiful and majestic. But the climbs there were seriously tough, long and very challenging as well. Infact I saw couple of riders walking up. That was the level of the difficulty there. Also the riding in wet bibs took a till on me and I had extreme chaffing and saddle sores. Also, my toes were hurting. So, any bump on the road sent pain all through the body. I couldn’t sit on the saddle without pain by now. But I was determined to complete. My team was stull super enthusiastic and that made all the difference.
And then some magic happened. At about 12 PM, We saw a racer from my group at the bottom of choral ghats. This made us quite pumped up and the team pushed me to race at top speed from then on. This was in typical Goa heat after 575 kms and about 30 hours of riding.
I raced at max effort from then on. The heat meant that I didn’t want any solid food. The team kept on feeding me variety of drinks like sprite, coconut water, fast n up and even Red bull which I had never tasted in my life. I had no sense of the pain, fatigue, or heat. All I was doing, was racing to the finish.
With about 20 kms to go, we saw another race from my group and soon I was clambering up one of the toughest climbs of the entire route. A incline of about 15% and the bike was moving at 3-4 kmph. Yet no stopping. We were moving up and on to the finish.
The last 7 kms saw me going back to my Red Trek Madone for the final sprint. Pushpak pushed me like crazy to chase down the rider about 1 km ahead of me. With him screaming behind me from the car, I was sprinting like hell. And just 1 km to go for the finishline, I passed the rider and raced to the finish. This was crazy. But I was doing it – all thanks to the incredible team.
Finally, we finished the race just after 3 pm at the finish point at bogmalo beach with my time reading 33.40 hours and RAAM qualified.
A team like this meant all the difference between winning and losing, success or failure. Their incredible efforts, awesome management of resources, planning and ofcourse constant flogging me to push myself to the limit helped. The feeding on the go by the team meant valuable saving of time. All this counts and the final result is a sweet victory in this race versus time.
An epic race, an unforgettable experience, a humbling experience due to the team efforts and memories for life for me and for the Fast N Furious team.