Keep movin’ forward

My journey of winning the 2nd place at The Deccan Cliffhanger 2017 race.

Obligatory photo with my crew post race. From left, Mayank, Robin, Myself (brain dead), and my wife Dharati

Circa 2013

I completed my first BRM 200 (Brevet des Randonneurs Mondiaux — These are long-distance, free paced cycling events offering distances to be done within their time cut-offs) just a few minutes before the cut-off time of 13.5 hours, I decided that one day I would ride so fast that I would become the fastest cyclist to complete a 200 kms brevet.

Me riding a hybrid during my first 200kms BRM.

Circa 2016

Up until October of 2016, I considered this as just a thought and the objective was in a deep freeze because it looked almost impossible for me to be so fast for such a distance. In late October 2016, after much contemplation, I got under the tutelage of coach Deepak Raj of Yoska. That deep-frozen thought started getting warmer and one day I shared it with my coach. Considering my willingness and thirst he considered it and we started working towards the journey of finishing a 200 kms brevet within 6 hours. And, so we did. In March of 2017. I became one of the five cyclists (approximately) in India who managed to ride a 200 kms brevet within 6 hours (there are no official timings or list for this, though).

Later, during one of the training rides in the morning my team mate Kishan asked me if ‘The Deccan Cliffhanger’ would be of any interest to me.

Well, I didn’t have any answer at that time and I was focusing more on the nationals and other local races. But at the back of my mind the thought of participating in the Deccan Cliffhanger started taking shape. I decided to talk to my coach about this and he asked me to list down my goals in a prioritized list. The top one was Nationals, then The Deccan Cliffhanger, and the other local races followed on my list.

From May 2017 we started training for the above mentioned. Somehow, my coach knew that he can develop a good deal of endurance in me for The Deccan Cliffhanger. So most of my workouts were more or less focused on building my mental and physical strength towards The Deccan Cliffhanger. However, I was under impression that I would not be ready for it.

Structured training

I used to think that just getting on the bike everyday and riding for an hour or two or may be three hours is enough for anyone to develop the endurance. But, I was wrong. Structured Training is the prime reason behind the endurance that possess today. Building the core muscles is something most cyclists miss out on. If you have undergone structured training but haven’t devoted requisite time in core exercises, you’re taking a longer and slower route. Just 10 minutes of core and resistance exercises every alternate day made a lot of difference in my fitness, stamina and endurance.

My workouts were designed in such an efficient manner that I was perfectly able to manage my work-time, my family-time and my training-time.

Most of the weekdays had 2–4hours of training blocks on an average and weekends were filled with 5–6 hours of workouts. So, each week, I spent around 17–20 hours getting myself ready for the biggie.

One more thing that contributed in a big way in building my power and strength was a simple contraption known as an indoor trainer. Indoor trainer is the best tool to get workouts done in a perfect manner without any modulations of traffic or other riders bugging you with their mindsets. It helped me to develop the mental strength to keep on pedaling for 6 hours without anything moving around, either by watching something on the laptop or staring a blank wall.

Grinding on the indoor trainer

Many of my fellow team-mates and other pro-athletes asked me to go for a long rides of 300 kms or 600 kms during different time of the day and night. This was supposed to get me used to the torture that I would face during the race. Getting influenced I bugged my coach many times asking ‘are you sure we don’t need to do this?’ and he as always with a Zen-like calmness asked me to trust the workout process. I have to confess that I didn’t trust the plan initially, but if an athlete who is 19 times ironman champion asks me to trust him and follow the plan, I can’t think of anything else but trust him. And that’s what I did. It’s magical to see that my coach managed to develop in me the physical and mental endurance required for 700 kms without me exceeding 150 kms of long ride or 6–7 hours of long workouts. It is enchanting for me. And my coach proved that if you follow a structured plan honestly, everything is possible.

When I started the training I weighed 75kgs at a height of 174cm. So, obviously I was out of the perfect BMI number needed for an endurance cyclist. Through the course of almost 10 months I got leaner and meaner, weighing about 65kgs with a greater muscle mass and lesser fat. My power to weight ratio has also increased in a very positive direction; all thanks to the structured training and nutrition (will talk about this in the later part).

The transformation from 2013 to 2017

Sacrifice

“When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.”

In a busy schedule such as mine, it became difficult, in fact almost impossible, to manage everything. I had to say no to parties, going out for movies, hanging out with friends multiple number of times. To be honest, I looked like a selfish friend, husband, son, and an employee. Those days, it was only cycling on my mind as I prepared mentally to take on the arduous task. Talking, thinking, reading or watching things related to cycling and endurance sports became a second nature. Looking back, this was important as the mind needed to be as keyed in as the body in the run-up to an event such as TDC. At a point in time back then, I felt like an alien as I had nothing to talk about with my family or friends. But again, there are no regrets as I think this is natural if you’re chasing your dream and making sure that your focus is 100% in it. And, if it’s not, then it’s not your dream.

I also do not nurse any feeling of regret to have lost a few friends along the way as again, with the power of retrospection, I think they never trusted in my dreams or in my ability to accomplish them. But, as chaff gets separated from the grain, I have also made friends who mean more than a family to me — my Team Amdavad Crankmeisters. These are the people who have always been there for me, with me for most of my workouts, indoor or outdoor. They have always trusted my dreams and my hard work.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have a support system in the form of my family. My family supported in everything I did. They too have sacrificed a lot. Celebrating birthdays or anniversaries or festivals in a way that does not hamper my training in any way, making sure my nutrition is as per the plan and so on, were a sample of things they did with great poise. Trust me, it was not easy and it took a hell lot of patience but they did everything they could to contribute in my well-being and training.

Nutrition…
…plays a very important role for any athlete. If you’ve got everything right as mentioned above but nutrition, you are going to fail. There is no way you can sustain the constant power output in long workouts or long races you do not get nutrition right. I can go on talking about what others are doing, what is right or wrong, but I will focus solely on my journey.

I knew that without nutrition I was not going to finish the race within the safe cut-off time, let alone win the race. I started by consulting my nutritionist, Shaily Chauhan. She understood what I like to eat, what type of food suits me, what my goals are, whether my family is willing to get involved in helping me with my nutrition, how my work-life is, how much do I workout everyday, and a lot more. In retrospect, I think this is one of the best decision I had made after getting under the tutelage of coach Deepak Raj. I say this because I had been trying to follow some nutrition plan on my own for a year, but it never worked out the way I desired. Just 2 months into the nutrition plan and I could literally see myself losing all the junk fat and gaining the proper muscle to fat ratios.

As a scientist Shaily used to do weekly body fat analysis and direct the nutrition strategy for the upcoming weeks. I ended up eating 6–7 times a day. Following a strict regime of eating at a planned clock time was a big challenge, especially when I was at work. Having different proteins, vegetables, fibrous food, carbs, vitamins, etc. in a controlled portions helped me in building up my endurance. Shaily made sure that I ate more of natural foods than artificial, especially the food which suits the climate I am in and the background I hail from. Prescribing bajra rotla, jowar rotla, khichdi, daal, muthiya, idli, etc. was so much convenient for my family to cook and for them to consume the same food. Everybody benefitted and the whole activity became sustainable, which according to me is the key while taking up a new diet regimen.

Crew
The most important part of the race, apart from the rider him(her)self, is the crew. If the crew is weak and uninspired, no matter how strong the rider is, he (she) is not going to make it to the top. I was aiming to have crew members who:

1. Know me, understand me and my style of racing.
2. Have enough experience of cycling and maintenance that he/she can manage a puncture or a minor bike repair, whenever necessary and if needed.
3. Know what I need to eat and at what time.
4. Understand my moods and my focus zones. Not interrupt me while I am in THE ZONE in the race.
5. Have some experience of crewing a racer in The Deccan Cliffhanger.

Considering all the above points I had the people right in front of me. Kishan, Robin, and Dharati — my wife.

Robin has been my training partner. He had accompanied me in most of my workouts and races, so he was well versed with my ride and race styles. He knows how to fix a puncture, change tyre, and basic bike repairs.

My wife Dharati, knows everything about my nutrition and how to manage my emotions, anger, and everything else of me.

Kishan had crewed one of my team-mate Gaurav Yadav in The Deccan Cliffhanger 2015. But he couldn’t join me due to his ACL injury. While I was hunting for someone experienced, a friend from Pune, Mayank Tripathi showed interest in crewing. He managed to convince his wife (his bride of just four days at the time of my race-start-time!) to crew for me. Bravo! I say. Mayank made a tracker to make sure of the pace I needed to maintain at each patch, section, and climbs. We came up with a target of completing the race in 24 hours, which was an eminently achievable target. And, we were ready with a plan B too.

So, the crew was all set up. Crew has to come together as a team in spite of each crew member having a different role. After meeting few times, each crew member was assigned his/her exact role and responsibilities. No-one was to interfere in any other role than what he/she was supposed discharge. I wanted to make sure that I don’t have to think about anything other than pedaling; the onus of everything else laid on the crew. In retrospect, I must admit that I had the best crew in place; I really can’t bring myself to think of anyone else. Even the driver of the crew car knew what he was supposed to do. This made me focus my mental and physical strengths in just riding my bike.

Pre race
On the morning of the race-eve, my crew and I, unpacked my bike and other spares. We made sure that everything is intact and is ready for the race.

At pre-race briefing session

I also wanted to make sure that I get good sleep and rest pre-race and have the planned nutrition intake. However, the race briefing and the bike inspection were so poorly organized that I had to skip two of my day meals and ended up having my lunch at 4:30 pm. I had a severe headache due to this and it didn’t go away till the next morning, i.e. the race day.

Getting my bike inspected by the officials

I managed to eat my dinner early at 7:30 pm while my crew was making sure of everything else. Next day I came to know that they had been working till 1:00 am. They managed everything so well, that the next day we just had to sit in the car and get to the start point.

Such an awesome crew!

The big(gest) day

The reporting time was of 4:15 am, and we were staying 20mins away from the start point. So we got up at 3:10 am. I had a good sleep and was feeling fresh! I finished the morning routine and had my first course of nutrition.

It was freezing outside and I am not used to it, so I thought of wearing three layers — a thermal inside, an aero jersey, and my Team AC jersey on the top along with arm warmers. Leg warmers helped me keep the temperature in the legs in check. I wore an earpiece of my headset on my left ear connected with a basic phone. This was to make or attend calls from the crew team, mainly for the instructions on the route, any other form of communication, and nutrition intake reminders. As per the race rules, the right hand side ear was to be kept open to stay safe on the roads. One of the main reasons for putting in the earpiece was to listen to my playlist which has entire discography of Coldplay and three audio versions of motivational speeches taken from ads, movies, and various sources. I am a person who would get easily motivated by any inspirational speaker, but only in a positive way. And, Coldplay numbers calm me down and instil in me great optimism.

With my crew and my beast (NeilPryde Road Bike), from left Robin, Mayank, myself, Dharati, and Nitin (driver)

We reached the start point on time. The staggered flag offs started at 5:00 am. I was the 9th in sequence, if I remember correctly. At 5:20.51 am, I got flagged off and the race officially begun!

The initial route was mostly downhill for 12 kms till the crossing of the Mutha River bridge, so all I had to do was cruise along the tarmac from the start point. It was freezing outside. Even after wearing three layers, I was feeling cold. My nose started running and I didn’t think it meant to stop soon. But I reminded myself of a self-made quote ‘let it do it’s job, I will do mine’. As the time passed and the kilometers rolled by, the body and core got warmer and I got more comfortable. Looking at the the downhills, most of the riders started pushing harder to create the gap. I kept myself calm, thus following my coach’s instructions to stay at my own pace as there was a lot of work to do later on in the race.

My crew car was following me, dishing out the right instructions on nutrition and hydration intake.

Katraj Climb, 7 kms with 3% avg gradient

To be honest, I am not a climber. I have bugged my coach multiple times by displaying fear for the climbs. To me, it’s like a monster who would eat me and won’t let me pass by.

It’s a highway so you can imagine the amount of vehicular traffic of trucks and cars on the road. Other riders started climbing well, and I changed my gears to the lowest ratio and started climbing. I was feeling fresh but was not exerting too much. Still, I was able to overtake a few riders who struggled to climb.

As I completed the climb, fresh and warmed up, I could see the daylight taking its form. In the hindsight, it was not a big deal to climb this one. We were going as per the plan. This motivated me a lot.

Robin handing off the salt tab

As we were moving towards the next climb, it was time for me to take my first salt tablet. My crew car leapfrogged 500 mtrs ahead of me and we did the first successful handoff managed by Robin. Robin is a tri-athlete so we had him manage all the handoffs as it’s easy for me to maintain my pace while Robin makes his run for the handoffs.

Khambatki Climb, 6kms with 4% avg gradient

At around 7:00 am, we reached the start of the Khambatki climb which has a couple of hairpin bends but were manageable. My core was warm enough and I had to stop and remove the first layer from top. I removed my AC Jersey and the thermal, started climbing with the aero jersey, arm warmers and leg warmers and of course bib shorts. It was still cold outside, but for the people who weren’t riding. I think we took a break of around 3 minutes and managed everything in the time.

With the motivation from the way I dealt the previous climb, I managed to climb this one at a decent pace. As you climb up, you get a beautiful view of the Khandala ghat. I almost felt like stopping by and take pictures, but I wasn’t on a vacation there!

After reaching the end of this section, we took right from the highway. The country-road takes you to a village named Wai.

The monstrous climb ‘Pasarni Ghat’, 10kms with 5% avg gradient

So far, my crew and I were all set for what was to come. We managed multiple handoffs successfully. I had already repeated my playlist twice. I was feeling as fresh as I started and was able to maintain the pace as per the plan.

After crossing the Wai village, we entered the road which lead us towards the famous hill station, Panchgani. The roads on this section were not in a good condition and were riddled with lot of potholes and local traffic. That made it a little hard to maneuver efficiently with a consistent pace. I was afraid that these bad patches might cause a puncture but luckily, I reached the start of the climb.

The road there were noticeably in a bad condition; same bad patches and vehicles flowing on either side. I usually get irritated by the honks and irresponsible driving, and that’s what happened. It made climbing a bit difficult, but Coldplay distracted me from these frustrations. Robin and Mayank kept pushing me with their loud cheers.

Ilnur Zakarin of Team Katusha-Alpecin

I kept pushing myself but was not burning too many matches, thus sticking to the plan. I had to unzip my jersey and that made myself look like Ilnur Zakarin of Team Katusha-Alpecin. It made breathing more comfortable but the people passing by were giving me the glares as if I was riding topless and thought of myself as a skinny-Salman Khan!

At the top of the climb, I realized that I can climb a hill very well without losing a lot of time. It made me recall my first few climbs on my road bike which used to take an average of 195 bpm HR. Now, for the same distance and gradient, my HR stays between 155–170 bpm. This point reiterates the power of structure training and here I’ll again take an opportunity to thank my coach.

Windy Bhilar-Medha short climbs

After reaching the end of this section, we took a left turn towards Bhilar-Medha Ghat section. As we entered Bhilar I noticed, the wind was blowing almost everything that was on the ground. This section of 19 odd kms was replete with strong winds and small valleys on both the sides. It took lot of skill to handle the bike against the cross winds blowing at the speed of 30–40 kmph. But, the view was unbelievably beautiful and serene. I would definitely want to go back to Bhilar and spend some vacation time.

Bhilar-Medha Short climbs Section
Conquering the short climbs

As we started descending towards Medha ghat, we again started facing the bad patches of roads and reckless vehicular traffic.

We were 143 kms into the race and my core was as fresh as it was at the start point. Everything was going as per the plan. Bad patches on the descending road towards the end of Medha ghat contributed to minor numbness in my arms. Breathing the fresh air till now, throughout the scenic route was very exciting, because most of my training rides were either indoors or polluted highways.

Big break after passing Jalsagar Dhaba

At 160kms mark we decided to take a longish break of 10 minutes to:

1. Change my jersey as it was all sweaty
2. Get my HR into Z2 for 5 min. That meant that I had to take a small nap.
3. Have some natural food to eat as I had been gulping GU Gels for the last 6 hours.

My crewmate, Robin helped me with my jersey changeover. Dharati helped me with refueling of the on-bike nutrition and some salted-paneer to eat. Mayank walked me through the positions and overall status of the plan that we had set. The crew car driver seemed to be very surprised and excited to see that I had been riding as much as I had for 6 long hours with still a long way to go. While I was taking a short nap, my crew saw Kabir crossing us and pushing me behind one place from the top. But, as my crew knew that we have to stick to the plan and maintain a good pace till the 500 kms mark.

After taking the planned 10 min break, I started off in a normal HR zone and a pair of ‘almost’ fresh legs.

So far, my crew car had been following me for almost all the time except for the hand offs.

In the race briefing session while explaining the route, Divya Tate — the lead organizer, mentioned that Satara-Kohlapur section would be the one which would the most difficult to deal with in terms of heat. It was already 12:00 pm when we entered the Satara-Kohlapur highway and I was expecting the scorching heat to last throughout the highway till the evening. But, as I started moving further I didn’t feel the heat at all; in fact, it felt like a typical late morning of Ahmedabad. Usually, it gets very hot in Gujarat during the day, except for the winters, and I believe riding in Gujarat has made me somewhat immune to the scorching heat. Taking this advantage, I planned in my head to keep motoring on without taking any breaks till late-afternoon.

Whatever has to happen, happens… (Honi ko kaun taal sakta hai)

While I was cruising through the rolling terrain of Satara-Kolhapur highway, my crew decided to get some take-away food from one of the dhaba in between. They informed me and went little ahead of me to get the packed food for themselves as it was the time for lunch for the crew!

I was pacing well and after about 3 minutes, I happened to over take my crew. While I was climbing one of the short climb on the extreme left-hand shoulder of the road, I heard a loud thud sound right behind me and in fraction of a second I got thrown away 100 metres ahead from where I was. I fell on my left hand side, smelling the tarmac. Immediately, I looked behind to check if any fast moving vehicle was coming, luckily there wasn’t any. Quickly I dragged myself on the edge of the road on the dirt. I noticed there was blood all over my face, left shoulder, and both my legs. Suddenly, I experienced severe headache and my vision got blurred making me almost blind. People gathered around me and started helping me out. I started looking at my stuff that I was carrying in my back pocket. I took out the cellphone and dialed my wife’s number. I wasn’t able to make out who was speaking on the other side from the crew but I just mentioned that I have met with a crash and was lying on the side of the road. I saw a few guys come running to me and enquire about my well-being. They were crewing other team-riders. They quickly informed the officials on their WhatsApp group about the situation. I saw another guy come running to me, wearing a white polo t-shirt, half bald, thick moustache and obese. He asked me if I was okay, and then starting yelling at me that I shouldn’t ride on highway, else I will get killed by people like him. He added that if he was driving fast, I would have died right on the spot. He was driving a white Maruti WagonR, I was losing my vision so couldn’t note the car number. I realised that he was overtaking a huge truck from the left-hand side instead of the customary right, and then suddenly saw me in front of him on the hard shoulder of the road. He tried applying the brakes but failed and hit me at the speed of 60kmph (I assume). For a minute, I thought of fighting against what this bloody driver did to me by breaking the traffic laws, but it would have been a waste of energy at that time. I wanted to focus on myself. I diagnosed my bike through whatever senses were left in me and noticed that my rear carbon-wheel had a big crack on the edge. There were minor scratches on the bike.

In less than 10 minutes my crew arrived at the spot, sick with worry. They all went blank, no thoughts crossing their mind, and witless about what to do with the race. Immediately, they gave me the first aid treatment on the minor and deep wounds. They told me that I have blood oozing from my ear. Upon looking closely they noticed it was due to the impact with the ground and the earpiece that I was wearing for music and crew communications made the matters worse.

Few local guys recommended us to visit a clinic which was 10 minutes away from the spot. I sat in the crew car and left my bike at the spot with Mayank, who advised to stay back at the spot and wait for us to come back. We informed the officials about our decision of visiting the clinic. On our way to the clinic, I was clouded with all the negative thoughts about quitting the race ‘there is no way I can complete the race now’, ‘what will happen now?’, ‘would I be able to even walk properly?’ my mind asked me all sorts of questions..

The clinic was in a village, occupied an area of just 10 sq ft, and a doctor sat waiting for the patients to visit him. My crew explained the situation to the doctor and he immediately asked me to lay down on the bed. He gave an injection of tetanus and a pain killer injection as preliminary treatment. He diagnosed my ear and realised that there are three cuts around my ear near the helix. He asked us to go back to the Satara village and get it operated at a hospital named Sanjivani.

We rushed to the Satara village and reached Sanjivani hospital in around 30mins. During this commute, I was completely out of my senses and felt asleep. They carried me to the ICU on a wheelchair and did the first hand diagnosis of the wounds and cuts. They advised that I should get stitches on the cut and it would take around 3–4 stitches. Without wasting any minute we asked them to proceed. It took two anesthesia injections to numb the senses around the ear. Doctors stitched the cuts on my ear carefully with due patience.

They advised me and my crew that I should not ride any further now and take a complete rest for 4 days. ‘There is no way he would sustain with the pain or will have energy to ride whole day and night’, one of the doctor advised. My crew knew that this is going to break my heart and decided not to buy it.

There was no way for me to quit the race. On the previous night of the race during the phone conversation with my coach, he asked me to keep one thing in my mind, i.e. ‘Before you take any decision in the race, just think about all the hard work, sacrifices, money, etc. that has gone into the training and reaching the start line. If the decision doesn’t justify any of the above then that decision is not worth it.’ I was damn sure that the accident and my suffering wasn’t as critical or had no chance against my hard work, sacrifices made by me, my friends and my family, and all the money that has gone into this so far.

I am a person who gets influenced by words very easily, especially motivational speeches, songs, talks, or videos. This is the very reason for keeping the long audios of speeches in my playlist to help me stay motivated in the race. Throughout the treatment, all the motivational dialogues/speeches from different movies started playing in my head which I have already heard a thousand times from my playlist. I clearly remember those word by word:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure” — Marianne Deborah Williamson.

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that.” — Rocky Balboa to his Son in the eponymously made 2006 English Feature Rocky Balboa

“Everyone’s like oh great — you are lucky, you got the cover. you got this great, everything you do is luck. Bullshit! Because before it was luck, it was a belief. And every day with no one watching at five in the morning by myself I trained, because I believed in it. Then I mastered it.. No I remastered it and remastered it, in hopes that one day my training ability collided with an opportunity to show it off!”

On one hand, doctors were discouraging my riding ahead just to make sure I recover well, and on the other hand there was this war going on in my head. My head was already dizzy and numb due to anesthesia and painkillers, but my will and heart was thumping strong enough to wake me up in the senses. My crew made sure that with the amount of nutrition and hydration that we have, I would be able to sustain in the race and in a position to finish within the cut-off. My crew asked the doctor to put proper bandages around my ear to protect it from the cold wind/air.

The 4 stitches on the ear
Keeping the motivation high before the come back

The come back

After finishing all the formalities at the hospital, we came back to the spot where the accident had taken place. During the commute, I took one painkiller tablet and had 200 ml of Enerzal mixed water. When we reached at the spot, Mayank was waiting there for us, curious and worried. He agreed with us on our decision of resuming the race. No one among us was sure how it would be, so we thought of riding for few kilometers and the evaluate how I was feeling; if the pain sustained and it was practically not possible to ride, then we would quit the race. There is a very thin line between a dumb decision and a smart one in such situations. My crew and I were just making sure that we were not taking any dumb decisions.

Robin informed the officials that we are coming back into the race and resuming from the same spot where we had stopped. Shared a picture for the record.

I told Robin to hand me over the Team AC jersey while saying “Let me wear Team AC jersey now and I will Finish the race in this jersey only”. Quite a Motivational moment for me and the crew.

All set to ride back in the race with ear stitches securely covered (Mayank looks on)

Before re-starting the race, I drank one full can of Redbull and started. It wasn’t easy, I can’t explain the pain but let me try — The wounds on the legs were paining due to the stretches I made to pedal, the aero position was causing the stretch on the shoulder-wound, further adding to the hurt. The stitches on the ear were already stinging hard. To distract myself from this pain I started speaking all the quotes, speeches to myself in my head. It was 10 minutes into the race again and I was able to manage a decent cadence of 90 rpm at 30 kmph making sure I was not exerting too much. But, the pain didn’t mean to end soon. I just said to myself that today is the day to show the world how it is done, no matter what, I will put up a great show. I did not care about the position I would finish in or the time I was going to take, but I will make sure that I don’t let anybody from my team down by saying no to the race or surrender to the pain. I was already in pain and it was a time to get a reward from it.

The terrain was in my favor and so was my will; I increased my pace to 36–40 kmph and maintained my HR zone 4. Whenever there was an opportunity, I pushed myself a little further to zone 5 to make up for the time I had lost. After 3 hours, I decided to take a 5 min break for hydration, to get my thermal and reflective vest on. It was 6pm in evening and I had ridden 120 kms in 3 hours, that’s an amazing ride, I thought! I was flying in the air, I don’t know from where I was getting all these guts to push myself harder and harder. It wasn’t like I was burning the matches, in fact I didn’t burn any matches in the past 3 hours. I was feeling fresh again. All the pain and negative thoughts dried up in the air in the past 3 hours while I was riding. I didn’t even look at the wounds or paid any attention to the pain. I just made sure that I was motivated with the feel and what we had achieved in 3 hours.

Good 3 hours of riding and a good feeling to come back

Mayank gave me the stats and updates. He said we have saved 30 minutes from the time difference of 3:30 hrs that we had lost due to accident. He asked me to maintain a pace of 30–32 kmph further on. I wanted to maintain 36–40 kmph but I thought he must have had a strategy for this and I believed it.

The night — Testing the mental strength

By 7 pm we were able to overtake at least a couple of solo riders and a couple of team riders, which added further to my motivation levels. As it started getting darker, the wind got cooler. I was aiming to ride for another couple of hours till the toll gate, as it was mandatory to wait for the car to cross the toll gate. So to make up for the time that we would lose at the toll gate, I planned to push wherever I would get the opportunity. And so I did. Especially overtaking other riders while I was pushing was something so exciting for my crew that they got their energy back and started cheering me up loudly from the car. I got more comfortable with the feel of the aero-cars, which made sure that I assumed as aero a position as possible.

At the first toll gate that we crossed, we took a 5 minutes break to have a sandwich. I did some stretching with Robin’s help. I tried taking a short nap to normalize my HR. Dharati asked me to have small sips of black coffee to keep myself awake.

Mayank again updated me with the stats and positions. He mentioned that we are doing quite a good job and will be able to finish the race within 32 hours (cut-off time to qualify for RAAM). But, I didn’t come back into the race just to ‘finish’ the race. You can hit me hard when it’s your turn but I don’t want to make it easy when it’s my turn. I asked Mayank and Robin to keep me updated with the positions and timings.

Keeping up the Tempo for the Night Grind

When I resumed the race, our projection of the race finish was around 30 hours. It didn’t excite me as I didn’t train to finish the race in 30 hours. My training, sacrifices, and hard-work deserved a much better number than 30 hours!

It was past 9:30 pm and we we continued overtaking the solo riders and team riders. But, I was getting worried about the night time as I hadn’t trained for it and I was skeptical about my endurance during night time. I thought I might lose time because I may need to get some sleep, for an hour or more. While I was debating with myself about taking a good sleep or taking a break for dinner, I remembered what Michael Lehnig told me in his WhatsApp message: (warning! It’s a long message which is a response to my questions about performing well in Deccan Cliffhanger)

“Okay that sounds a bit better that you are already training specifically for one year now for DC.

1. It is a simple task: make as less mistakes as possible

2. If you have not done yet you might still be able to do one or two long rides as in 300 km test rides. Testing pace, equipment, your crew, food choices, dealing with heat and mental stress once you go at race pace.

It depends on your training condition whether or not you can do one or two of such 300 km rides. You have to now already think about tapering as well so that you do not go fatigued into the race.

3. Whatever mistakes you make during these long rides, correct that for the DC. Change food, develop different food and hydration plan if needed, instruct crew to improve if they make your life difficult.

You might have to change your goals or you can set up a different pace strategy according to your experience during test rides and sensations you have.

4. Know yourself.

That means you can have a perfect plan and you instructed your crew to make sure it gets executed. For example to give you food every 15 min but you do not feel like eating. If you listen to them you might get stuffed and end up with bad stomach 5 hours later. Only you can really know what you need and should do.

My food strategy and race plan got destroyed 20 km into my DC and I simply rode on feeling and intuition.

Question is how well do you know yourself.

My competitors did not know themselves and made a lot more mistakes than me.

For your peace of mind, prepare what you can control.

Equip car with food you think you might want during day and night. Have spare bike parts ready in case your bike has a failure.

Do not save on money. DC is expensive!!!

Instruct your crew well. You should only pedal!!!

5. Pacing:

The race is an aerobic effort. You should only race within your aerobic limitations.

That is quite slow, fat burning mode.

If you go into the anaerobic for too long you will not recover anymore and you will miss your targets and struggle badly.

If you have a heart rate monitor that can help you but by now you should know your pace by feel!!!

Focus solely and exclusively on your body and on the road!!!

It is a race not a brm.

I do not remember much of the landscape I came through during DC because I was literally in a tunnel.

If you spend your attention in many different places you loose precious energy.

Do a test: do the regular multi tasking for 15 minutes. Using phone, fading something online, checking whatsapp and Facebook, doing something in the house all at the same time.

And then just sit still for 15 min, one place, no movement, closed eyes.

Observe difference in your energy level.

The focus helped me during night.

I never practiced a night ride! I did not have experience of a single night ride!

During the DC night, I did not not sleep, I did not need caffeine to stay awake and I did not have a single second of blur vision or any other effect of sleep deprivation!!!

Why/how: I focused only on what was needed for my race: my body and the road to stay safe.

Once the race starts you are a vessel of energy which starts leaking according to the effort you put out. Ideally you want to reach finish line with last drops. Once you are empty beforehand, game over!!!

6. Beforehand:

Know yourself.

Asses whether you are capable of sub 24 hours.

If your training does not suggest that, then no point in setting yourself up for failure.

Realistic target helps you to have success along the way.

Prepare what you can control.

Have someone in the crew who is good at fixing punctures and changing a broken chain.

Buy new tires and tubes for the race. Put on a new chain. Have the bike services by a professional.

Instruct your crew that is all and only about you. They have a harder job than you. They have to stay with you at all times. Only fuel should be refilled. They eat in the car, no chai breaks, no restaurant breaks. If they do not get that, change crew member!!”

“DC is a race!!! The fun is less obvious. For me the fun was in the preparation, the training, getting to know myself, executing a strategy and adapting to the challenges which would be thrown at me. Growing as a person in the process.

Having a good time during DC? I do not know I was focused.

Something that helped me was seeing the difference between perfection and imperfection.

India is a great place for that.

You live in Ahmedabad. Go on ring road where the sugar free cyclothon happens in January. See the quality of the road.

Then compare it with the express highway from Ahmedabad to Baroda.

The express highway was built with perfection in mind, they did not have much fun building it, focused and precise effort.

The ring road on other hand was built by a group of people who had chai breaks, talks with girlfriends on the phones.

Question is what do you want?

Ring road or express highway.

Sub 24 hours target asks for perfection. Will you be perfect no, things will go wrong.

Read my first line of the write up again.

Making less mistakes as possible.”

This message from Michael has helped me a lot. It has helped me to stay focused and not have fun because that’s not what I was aiming for.

Whenever I got an opportunity I pushed myself, especially on the descents. Mayank asked me to take the advantage of descents and push little harder to increase the pace. This strategy worked like magic for me.

Taking a short nap of 5min

The crew car needed to refuel the tank, so we had to take a mandatory break. I thought of taking a 10min break here and a quick nap too. I was able to normalize my HR. Then did some stretching. And again, we started the grind. We took a short 15 min break around 11.30 am for simple rice-dal dinner at a dhaba and then continued the grind.

The patch from Belgaum to Dharwad is of 71 odd kilometers. There is no visible restaurant or dhaba on this route. It was around 1 am that I entered this section and for almost 2 hours it tested my mental strength. If you imagine a road with just flyovers and sometimes street lights, nothing on the sides of the road, then that is exactly what I was riding on. Just you, the road and the night. It became too monotonous after an hour. I somehow managed to reach the Dharwad bypass to enter Dharwad city.

Now, I am not sure why would someone add Dharwad city section in the Deccan Cliffhanger route. The road is full of bad patches, no hydration or eateries in the city due to the midnight hour. The officials at the Dharwad control point were also bored and had no motivation to push the riders. They seemed to be tired of their job. Anyway, I took a 5 minutes break at the control point. By this time, I had consumed almost one and a half bottle of black coffee along with lots of GU Gels. My stomach was burning due to the enormous caffeine intake. I drank half a can of chilled Redbull and had a few slices of cucumber. Then, did some stretching again.

Started off fresh. Again.

The Hunt for Number 2

Mayank told me that we are doing a very good job in getting up to the top 3 positions. He said that we are standing at number 3 or 4 and would need some more pacing to increase our chances to take over the top 3 positions.

I was excited for the hunt now; I can’t give up a podium just like that. I was going to give a tough fight, at least. As we started to enter the Anshi Tiger Reserve, I tried increasing my pace every 30 minutes. I was not sleepy at all and was on a hunt now. My thirst for getting that podium finish and giving my best was increasing. It was cold but my core temperature was already warm and this hunt made it warmer. I was sweating a bit, which helped me to sustain the pace.

It was a rolling terrain with a few climbs at some intervals. I pushed hard and burned few matches till we reached Ramnagar. We reached the 540.5 kilometers mark with only 103 kilometers left when I saw Kabir Rachure, who was till then riding at the second position, a little ahead of me. I observed him riding at a slower pace and not having enough legs to push. Robin and Mayank also noticed that we are about to overtake the 2nd position. They started cheering for me with renewed gusto. I gulped one GU Gel and took a sip of enerzal water. I increased my speed and pushed harder to overtake Kabir. ‘I have earned it’, I said to myself and kept pushing harder till a point where we couldn’t see Kabir. It wasn’t a personal game; I was taking over the place which my hard work deserved. I am the one who has paid the highest price to reach here, I was not going to give in easily.

We are ahead but we need to buy 30 minutes of gap

After burning a match I was feeling little low on energy. There were a few short steep climbs. And I was taking it easy in order to climb them. When we reached at 565 kilometers mark, I stopped to refuel the GU Gels. Mayank told me not to take it easy, we haven’t won the race yet and we need to buy at least 30 minutes of gap. I almost cried in pain. But Mayank and Robin motivated me. It was around 100 kilometers left, ‘make these 100 kilometers the hardest and the most efficient of all time’, I told myself. I started off again and started pushing harder, again.

Pushing my limits in those last miles and heading for finish

After an hour, Mayank gave me the updates. I was in the 2nd position but the gap that I had created was of approximately 20 minutes only. The rolling terrain was not in a mood to give me an easy ride, but my will was not willing to give up either. I told myself, ‘no matter whatever happens you have to earn the second place and there is nobody who can take it away from you’.

Giving it all

As we entered Goa state it was already a good sunny morning and we entered the highway which was less than 20 kms away from the Finish line. I was getting restless at every kilometer and I just wanted to reach the finish line. I just had one goal in my mind; to push as much as I can. This is it. Give it all. Show it to the world how to do it. When we reached the finish line, there were three officials waiting at the desk for the riders to come. No joy, no welcome, just a small YAY. There was some appreciation given to the riders who were reaching the finish line after riding 643 kms. I didn’t even give a damn to anything. I had already earned a respectful time for myself after the injury. I qualified, successfully, for the RAAM.

Brain Dead and Disgusted

28 and a half hours of riding, no sleep, no comfort, painful wounds, sweat all over my body, painful stitches, numb toe-fingers, DISGUSTED look on my face and BRAIN DEAD. There was no thought at all in my head at the finish line. I just sat quietly away from the crowd, had my protein shake and fruits. It was as quiet a scene as of a battlefield where the war had ended just now. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the race or I was feeling sad about anything. I don’t know what are the exact words to define the state I was in. I didn’t talk to anybody, there were messages and calls from my friends, family and well wishers. But I wasn’t in a state to talk to anyone. After almost 15 minutes, I gained some senses and asked Mayank how we were doing in terms of the timing. He told me that we will have to wait for 20 more minutes and see if Kabir is able to make it; I was ready to ride another 100 kilometers if that would increase the gap. But my job was over. We waited for Kabir to arrive and Mayank went to see his timing.

Recovery after the non stop grind..’BRAIN DEAD’ — quite a literal feeling

You’ve earned it

After 15 minutes of waiting I came to know that the time gap that I have created is of around 18 minutes. I got little disappointed but I was happy that after so much drama I have earned a place on podium for myself and for my well-wishers.

Mayank went to reconfirm the positions, and after few more minutes he came back to our group and said we are ahead of Kabir and have earned a 2nd place. That was it. That’s where my race ended. I was aiming to score numero uno but unfortunately due to the 3 hours that I lost at the hospital for treatment I could not compete. However, earning a second place after the drama makes for quite a story.

Robin told me that my Coach was on the phone and he wants to speak to me. He was the first person that I spoke to over the phone after finishing the race. I owed him this podium, so there was no way I could say no to his phone call. Till now, nobody knew about the accident and all the drama that ensued. After telling the complete story to my coach, he was more proud of me. He said “You always manage to make the challenge harder for you in all the races” pointing to my crashes in the recent races. We had a good chat. Slowly, I gained all the enthusiasm and pride.

I finally got successful in putting up a great show and showed the World how to do it. The time difference between 1st and 2nd place was the same as the time I lost because of the accident and the hospital. I still feel that if that crash wouldn’t have happened, it would have been a very interesting race for me in an attempt to secure the all-important 1st position. But, I am happy to have earned the respect and pride by showing grit and determination.

The Deccan Cliffhanger Race Card- Stamped at all Manned Control points. (Official Time — 28hrs 32 mins)

What now?

Well, I haven’t given any thought. I would continue racing locally. Might participate in RAAM 2019, though it needs a lot of financial support. But if I am participating, I will make sure that I put up a great show in the Race Across America and show it to the world again that this is how it is done because I don’t participate to finish, I participate to win!

My Strava Ride

I would like to thank my parents, my wife Dharati, my crew, my brother Kumar, my sister-in-law Falguni, my niece, my entire family, my team Amdavad Crankmeisters (Anuj, Ingit, Kartik, Robin, Nisarg, Kishan, Alap, Artpita, Nikhil and Shivam) my coach Deepak Raj, my nutritionist Shaily, my well wishers, Michael Lehnig, and the officials of the Deccan Cliffhanger 2017.

Thank you Kishan, Robin, Mayank and Dharati for proof reading and helping me with the relevant pictures for the article.

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