Cycling to me is an elixir for the soul.
I, Lt Col Bharat Kumar, a serving officer of the Indian Army. A graduate in aeronautical engineering, my mastery skills narrow down to helicopters.
Born in Rohtak and brought up across the length and breadth of India, cycling is a love for me since my very childhood. However, I never imagined taking it in all seriousness, hence, it just remained a mode of recreation until I moved to Nashik in September 2016. It was the tipping point from where I set the wheels spinning and pedals rolling.
Back then it was just leisure rides as escape tools from the routine hustle-bustle. But sooner, I realized cycling was my high, and I mushroomed it to greater levels. For the focus, I needed a goal, and the Super Randonneur title it was. Two months from then and whoosh… target achieved. Sooner I was gearing up for the next level to become a RAAM Qualified cyclist. The best outcome of Super Randonneur's title was the confident me, ready to risk out for the next level tougher ultra-endurance cycling race.
Cycling is a race, but in true sense it is a journey, where life not only shows you new places but also, new people, some of which become friends for life. There are memories to cherish for life.
Gradually, I put my steps forward to racing and decided to participate in the 1st edition of The Ultra Spice Race, organised by INSPIRE INDIA. As a first-timer, the road was unknown, we as a team didn`t have any experience of the multi-faceted strategies which need to apply in an ultra race. Although it was nerve-racking to sign up I pitched in the gamble for the 1000 km category. This leap worked wonders for me and I recorded my name as the first Indian to successfully complete any Ultra race in India of a distance longer than 400 miles. The cherry on the cake was that it was a qualifier for the prestigious RAAM and whole I did it!
We need to break self-created mental barriers which hamper our progress. We should think big and have untiring attitude to achieve the target despite all odds. Everyone is gifted; we just need to open the package.
Two targets down… and the third in line, Race Around Austria (RAA) – was set in August 2017. We took the dive on 29th March to register for the 2200 km race in the 2-Person team category. At that point, it was just the two of us, Darshan and I. We knew we had to set up a strong backend crew and logistics. It was going to be tough but not impossible. With consistent efforts alongside our training, we were able to muster an awesome and experienced team. We came up with flying colors in Austria as the first Indians to successfully finish any ultra race in Europe. The quote "When going gets tough, tough gets going" suited best for us in this context.
By this time I had immersed myself in the world of cycling and I was ready for another role; as a crew member for TEAM SEA TO SEE, a visually impaired team. I was there as navigator/driver of the follow van in RAAM 2018. With combined efforts, the team became is the first Visually Impaired team to complete RAAM.
A good team is like a well-oiled machine where every component is aware of its task and desired results are produced without any friction. The most important thing which keeps me moving is my support crew. I as a rider can`t dare to give up in front of my team who takes so much of hardships/sacrifices to make me achieve the target .
Next on the list was my own attempt at RAAM 2019 in the solo category.
The preparation was in full swing for the ultimate challenge at Race Across America as TEAM INSPIRE INDIA. As a contender in the solo category of RAAM and we had an aim to bring home the ARMED FORCES CUP from RAAM. The training drill was off the mark and we did Ultra Spice Race 2019 as a simulation ride with the complete crew who were to accompany me at RAAM 2019. Our strategy, nutrition planning, sleep pattern, etc everything was put to test to extract the most out of the event. This event not only marked me as the winner of the 1750 km race by a big margin but also established me as the new record bearer for the 1750 km Goa-Ooty-Goa route.
During the final spell of training for RAAM 2019 in Borrego Springs, California, I broke my right collar bone during a ride on 20 May 2019 just 20 days before the start. We had to forgo the event to heal the injury. It was a team decision in the best interest for a full-fledged comeback for RAAM 2020.
"Everyone deals with adversity. It`s how you bounce back from it." - Daniel Cormier
Three months on from the injury, I was in good shape to get back to training sessions. However, not everyone felt optimistic about my comeback. Dismissing all doubts I successfully cruised in to attempt the Guinness Record for solo cycling from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, all with a new crew. Without any prior experience of working together, we traversed the length of the country (3604Km) in 08 days 09 hours & 45 minutes surpassing the existing milestone by almost 02 days. This achievement circulated a new sense of spark in the team to brace for RAAM 2020 with double the zeal.
The year 2020 is the start of the new decade and we were coming up for the Race Across America (RAAM) with a new zeal. The calendar was booked for this event in June and our team was in high spirits for it. But, as fate would have it, the world was struck by the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in the cancellation of sporting events around the world. RAAM 2020 was cancelled and all the entries were rolled over to the year 2021.
Endurance – the power to withstand pain or hardships, the ability of strength to continue despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions.
Ultra-endurance events are not only about physical endurance, but it is also a mix of mental strength. A correct combination of both can boost up the rider’s performance manifold. Since April 2018, I am training with Mr Tracy Mckay, Alabama, US, a veteran for providing endurance training to athletes. As a coach, he has never restricted himself to just design my training routine but has helped me train my mental faculties to believe that sky is not the limit to human capabilities.
A chain is as strong as its weakest link, and the same applies to our body as well. Every ride is a lesson and through this learning process I have had lows that hampered my progress gravely, but I fought back. There were serious balancing issues while using aero-bars and I have to avoid them during my first 1000 km Ultra Spice Race. Gradually, I got accustomed to them. Then, there was a pain in my left knee, for which I had to regularize the use of cleats and it took me nearly 18 months to get comfortable using them. Eventually, I use them in races since Deccan Cliffhanger 2018. At present, I am facing pain in my lower back and I will surely bounce back with proper care and physiotherapy sessions.
Any ultra-cycling race is a tough one depending upon the number of variables which affect your race. You need the right kind of mindset, strong logistics, understanding crew, regular training and apt strategy.
All in all, it is a team performance, an able and supporting team will always have the rider’s back. And I feel truly blessed and motivated when I look up to the selfless attitude with which each person of my crew works. My journey revolves around me, but to the core of it is an incredibly supportive family, which pushes me through all odds to be capable enough to trace my own path alongside a 24X7 job responsibility.
Ultra-endurance cycling for me is a path of full-on excitement and adventure. Challenging myself to gear up for higher levels is a staircase that I take in search of finding myself. My dive into the world of Ultra Cycling was a well-thought decision and sometimes I pat my own back for taking this sound decision. The road and route both have been tough but I like the immersive experiences I gain when I meet stalwarts in this field. Cycling for them is a passion so high that they encourage it in all walks of life.
My experiences have made me the person I am today. I value not things but people more. I keep myself close to experiences that help me evolve as a person better than yesterday. I don’t judge people based on prejudices. Company of friends and strangers both alike have been instrumental in shaping me through thick and thin… and then strangers turn into friends. This is the beauty of my cycling community.
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” – Thomas A. Edison
My story doesn’t end here….I look forward to the year 2021 as a new chapter of my story, which unfolds with new challenges and subsequently RAAM 2022, London-Edinburgh-London in 2022 & Paris-Brest-Paris 2023.
And I want to keep going …. Looking forward to the challenges ahead and memories to cherish for the lifetime…Rise and Shine!!!
Feeling bucked up??? Follow me on Instagram to get an immersive view of my cycling world.
“Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body. But rather, to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming... WOW… What a ride!!!”
- Mark Frost
The chronology of events since 2017 have been tabulated below:-
1. Super Randonneur Title (Audax Club Parisien) - 02 What's a Super Randonneur?
3. Race Around Austria (RAA) - 2017 (2200 km) - 5th in 2-Person Category (99 Hours 53 Minutes) First Indians to successfully complete the arduous race.
4. Ultra Spice Race - 2018 (1750 km Goa - Ooty - Goa) - 3rd (113 Hours 49 Minutes)
5. Lokmat Marathon - 2018 (04 Hours 04 Minutes)
6. Race Across America - 2018(5000 km West Coast - East Coast) - Support Crew Member for a US Team Team Sea To See.
7. Deccan Cliffhanger - 2018 (645 km Pune - Goa) - 5th (26 Hours 07 Minutes)
8. Ultra Spice Race - 2019 (1750 km Goa - Ooty - Goa) - Winner (Course record of 95 Hours 47 Minutes).
9. Race Across America - 2019 (5000 km West Coast - East Coast) Had to withdraw from the race due to a Collar bone fracture.
10. Bliss in the Hills - 2019 (1200 km) Finisher (87 Hours 40 Minutes)
11. Kashmir to Kanyakumari Solo Cycling - 2019 (3604 km) - Guinness World Record - 08 Days 09 Hours & 48 Mins - Record also listed by World Ultra Cycling Association (WUCA).
12. Ultra Spice Race - 2020 Self-Supported (1750 km Goa - Ooty - Goa) - Winner (Won the Ooty King of Mtn as well)
13. Virtual Everesting Challenge - 2020 HALL OF FAME MEMBER (12 Hours 08 Minutes)
14. Base Camp Challenge - 2020 Half Everesting (05 Hours 53 Minutes)
15. Virtual Race Across America - 2020 Indoor (Virtual) Overall 3rd (1st in Age Category) First Indian to win a Podium Finish at an International Ultra Cycling Event.
16. National Virtual Time-Trail 2020 (12 Hour) 3rd (Distance Covered - 390.4 km)
17. HOODOO 2020 (500 Miles - 805 km) - Finisher (41 Hours 30 Minutes)
19. Golden Quadrilateral Fastest Journey on Cycle (Solo) - 2020 (5942 km) Guinness World Record (14 Days 23 Hours 52 Minutes) Record also listed by World Ultra Cycling Association (WUCA)
20. Ultra Spice Race - 2021 Self-Supported (1200 km Goa – Madikeri - Goa) - Winner
21. Race Across America - 2022 (5000 km) - Yet to start
22. London-Edinburgh-London - 2022 (1500 km) - Yet to start
23. Paris-Brest-Paris - 2023 (1200 km) - Yet to start
MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME - My story in Shyam's words