“I want to solve the demon”

April 22, 2010 at 10:45 pm 3 comments

Jure Robic is perhaps “the world’s best endurance athlete.”

Over the past two years, Robic, who is 40 years old, has won almost every race he has entered, including the last two editions of ultracycling’s biggest event, the 3,000-mile Insight Race Across America (RAAM). In 2004, Robic set a world record in the 24-hour time trial by covering 518.7 miles. Last year, he did himself one better, following up his RAAM victory with a victory six weeks later in Le Tour Direct, a 2,500-mile race on a course contrived from classic Tour de France routes. Robic finished in 7 days and 19 hours, and climbed some 140,000 feet, the equivalent of nearly five trips up Mount Everest.

To achieve such success, Robic trains 335 days each year, for five and a half hours per day, “logging some 28,000 miles, or roughly one trip around the planet.”

As explained in this NYT profile, however, it’s Robic’s insanity “that sets him apart from the rest of the world.”

The craziness is methodical 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.’’

His wife, a nurse, interjects: ‘‘The first time I went to a race, I was not prepared to see what happens to his mind. We nearly split up.’’

As kottke notes, Robic’s story is “awesome and disturbing.” Kottke also points us to another fascinating episode of RadioLab, this on the limits of the human body:

Jad and Robert talk to two Ironman competitors, Julie Moss and Wendy Ingraham to find out how they do what they do. Physiologist Dr. David Jones tells us how to trick the voice in your head that tells you you’re exhausted. Then we follow two men, Patrick Autissier and Jure Robic, as they bike across the country as fast as they can in a crazy race called The Ride Across America. Producer Lulu Miller brings us their story and New York Times writer Daniel Coyle walks us through the process of physical and mental breakdown RAAM competitors face.

Also worth checking out—Discovery produces an interesting video series called “Human Body: Pushing the Limits.”

UPDATE: Here’s the clip of Julie Moss’ epic body breakdown in the 1982 Hawaii Ironman referenced on RadioLab:

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A strong body, strong mind Get out!

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rebecca  |  April 22, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    This is crazy. I always think of genius and madness, but I have never considered the correlation between sports and madness. It makes perfect sense, but i had just never thought about it. Thanks for posting this!

    Reply
  • 2. laurenmuney  |  April 23, 2010 at 6:01 am

    I listened to the RadioLab show, and remembered that I already knew about Julie Moss. What Radiolab didn’t say (but I knew) was that her adventure shut down her colon. She had to get part surgically removed; she used to have a blog called “Semicolon” (LOL).

    Thanks for posting!

    Reply
  • 3. Josh  |  April 26, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    This is one of the best things I’ve ever seen. I have printed it out, and put it on my wall. Thank you, JR.

    Reply

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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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