Oceanside CA— Sabine Bird is sleeping in an altitude tent and cycling more than 1000km a week in her bid to conquer the toughest challenge of her life.
The 36-year-old Perth-based cyclist will soon swap dodging kangaroos and emus on long bush rides in Australia for encountering wild coyotes and moose in America’s vast mountain ranges.
She is the only solo, and second-ever Australian woman to compete in Race Across America (RAAM) – an individual time trial from California to Maryland – described as the hardest bike race in the world and the ultimate test of mental and physical endurance.
Riders have just 12 days to pedal at least 3,000mi (5000km), racing through the Arizona desert, Sierra, Rocky and Appalachian mountain ranges and tornado-prone Kansas, all on minimal sleep.
Sabine, who rides with Western Australia’s Veris Racing Team and trains with Exercise Institute, is one of only eight solo women competing in the race.
“I will be aiming for about 500km of riding a day,” she said. “There will be times when I think ‘I want to go into the car now, drive me home, fly me home’ so I am trying to visualise those situations to see how I can work against this longing.”
Sabine, who this year achieved a PhD in Alzheimer’s research while juggling 40-hour training weeks, said working with pain would be key. “I try to think about what is happening in the brain, about how we perceive pain — I know the brain gives us a harder time than what the body goes through,” she said.
“When you are very low on energy and you don’t know what you are doing and why you are doing it, to push through those low times is what I am working on.”
During the race she will burn up to 15,000 calories every day and will meet her energy demands with almost anything she can get her hands on. “Whatever calories I can get I will use, ideally coming from good nutritional food, but I don’t think we can get that fussy,” said Sabine.
Snickers bars, burgers, apple sauce, milk shakes, muesli bars, energy gels, sandwiches, pizza and electrolyte drinks will be among her fuel sources.
A support crew of six, known as ‘Team Bean’, will track her food intake, navigate the route, manage her injuries, sleep patterns and mental state.
“The crew is everything — if the crew doesn’t work the rider is not racing, they are the brain of the racer, doing all the cognitive work,” said Sabine.
Sabine found her niche in ultra-endurance cycling in 2014 when she completed her first solo 24-hour Delirium race in Busselton, Western Australia. She traces her passion for endurance events to her youth, when she would disappear for hours on end from her childhood home in Cologne, Germany.
“I always have sought these crazy challenges, sometimes vanished for hours in a day without anyone knowing where I was,” she said.
While aware the odds are stacked against her, with about 30 per cent of first-time solo competitors completing RAAM, Sabine has a fierce determination to succeed. “Endurance racing is what I do, this is my thing, and this is the pinnacle of all endurance races so if I don’t try this, I will regret it for the rest of my life,” she said.
Sabine is raising money for Solaris Cancer Care during RAAM. Click here To donate to Sabine’s campaign.
RAAM starts from the Oceanside Pier on June 11 at noon and finishes on June 23 in Annapolis, Maryland.
You can follow Sabine on Facebook or Instagram where Team Bean will provide rolling coverage throughout the race.