Don’t read this story if you consider yourself to be a normal human being.
Definitely do not read it if you ride your bike a couple of hours every day, banging out 50 or 60 miles, and consider that a “workout.”
Compared to Mark Pattinson, you’re such a slacker.
This summer, the British-born Westport resident competed in the 30th annual Race Across America.
That’s not a catchy title. If anything, it’s an understatement.
Biking 22 hours a day — you read that right — for 9 days and 41 minutes, Mark raced from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland.
He rode nearly 3,000 miles, through 14 states. He climbed over 100,000 feet. Over 9 days, he slept for 17 hours — total.
And in a field of 48 solo riders, he finished 2nd.
Don’t ever complain about taking out the garbage again.
This was Mark’s 3rd Race Across America. He was in 3rd place last year when an injury forced him to drop out. He couldn’t move his neck — at all. “That’s common in races like this,” he says casually.
In 2008 — Mark’s first race — he also placed 2nd. “I surprised myself,” he admits. “You’re battling weather, exhaustion, mental lows. Everything just breaks down.”
The key to the race is “never being off your bike.” That, of course, is hyperbole. For 3 hours every day, you sleep, eat, have a massage. 24 hours straight on a bike would be crazy!
Although Mark did ride the 1st 38 hours or so without a sleep break. How else would you cross the 110-degree desert, and head to the 10,800-foot Rockies?
Hey, ya gotta get ready for those 30-mph crosswinds in Kansas, right?
Mark prepared rigorously for this year’s race. As soon as the snow melted, he headed for the Connecticut hills. And the Blue Ridge Mountains, taking a tune-up ride 1,200 miles from Tennessee back home.
And another shakedown ride, in California, before the real deal.
(If you’re wondering: He works for himself, in finance. He has a “very understanding, flexible wife.” And 3 kids, ages 11, 8 and nearly 3. Plus one more on the way.)
His family provides plenty of moral support. “It puts a bit of strain on them when I nip out for a 10-hour ride,” he notes. “I don’t have much of a social life.”
For logistical help, Mark relies on 9 volunteer crew members, in 2 minivans and an RV. They hand him bottles filled with liquid food or Gatorade, electrolyte pills, snacks, sunscreen, changes of clothes and anything else he needs. The team forms close bonds, which is part of Mark’s joy.
Westport massage therapist Rosalie Dunn helped too. His neck did not bother him at all this year.
Mark is 41. Endurance sport athletes, he says, peak in their late 30s and early 40s.
Still, they don’t call it “endurance sport” for nothing.
“This race completely breaks you down,” Mark says. “You go from the highest highs to the lowest lows. It’s dark, rainy, windy, you’ve slept for 2 hours, and you know you have to get back on the bike for another 2 hours before it even gets light.
“That’s pretty dismal. It pushes the boundary of your own mental state.”
But the highs are so high. The satisfaction of setting an absurd goal — and reaching it — is incalculable.
“It’s all about racing against the best guys in the world,” Mark says. “It’s a great challenge. You can sit around all day doing nothing, or you can spend your time pushing your body and your mind.”
Then there’s the thrill of slowly catching the racers in front of you, picking them off one by one, as you near the finish line. That’s what Mark did this year. He used a strategy of sleeping a little more than the other racers — yes, 2 hours is “longer” — to have more energy and power in the crucial final days.
The last push came during a brutal 500-mile up-and-down ride through the Appalachians. “It just rips everyone to shreds,” Mark says.
And then its over. “A lot of people break down crying at the end,” says Mark. “For about a week, you feel this massive void. You’ve spent 6 or 9 months preparing for something — and suddenly it’s done.”
Of course, “you’ve been jarred around for 22 hours, 9 days in a row. Your body is in a pretty bad way.” Mark’s hands and feet were numb.
Even getting back to a regular sleep rotation is difficult.
But, Mark says, “the human body is an amazing machine. As long as it gets the right food, the right liquids and massages, it adapts.”
The mind, he cautions, “is the biggest challenge. It plays tricks on you. You can get in a bad state, unless you’re careful.”
So what’s next?
“Placing 2nd was as good a result as could be expected,” Mark says. “So that might be it for me, with this race anyway.
“Right now I’m searching for the next crazy, long idea. It may not be cycling, and it may not be next year.” (He’s having another child, don’t forget.)
“I haven’t yet decided,” he concludes.
“But I’m taking suggestions.”
(For more details on the race — and to feel like even more of a slacker — click here for Mark’s website.)