Over the last few weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has put a dampener on most celebrations around the world. But despite all the restrictions, Amit Samarth wanted to make his 40th birthday on 5 May a memorable one.
A few weeks before his birthday, Samarth arrived at a fitting celebration to mark his special day. While the endurance cyclist based out of Nagpur has been part of a number of long-distance races in the past, such as the Race Across America (4,940 kilometres) and the Trans-Siberian Extreme (9,100 kilometres), this challenge was to be of a different kind. He decided to take on the onerous task of riding a stationary bicycle at a stretch for 48 hours on an indoor trainer, and along the way, raise funds for the Maharashtra Police forces who have been at the forefront of the prevailing lockdown.
By the end of the effort, Samarth had not only pulled off a mammoth ride of 1,301 kilometres, — to put it in perspective, this is the distance covered when travelling from Mumbai to Lucknow on the fastest route, according to online maps — but had also managed to raise over Rs 2 lakhs for the cause.
“I had never been part of a fundraiser of this nature before. It was an idea forced by the lockdown, since I couldn’t step out to cycle as part of my training,” Samarth says.
“Then again, I had no intention of chasing big numbers. I just wanted to let people know what was possible despite the lockdown, and highlight the importance of staying fit during this time. And of course, raise funds for the most underrated warriors of this pandemic,” he adds.
Samarth’s training routine took a beating ever since the lockdown was imposed, as did his daily schedule as a full-time endurance coach. It took him a while to get comfortable with new norms, such as conducting online sessions for his students, and spending hours on an indoor trainer in the confines of a room.
However, the weather made things all the more challenging for Samarth. The month of May in Nagpur is a frightening proposition; on the days of the ride, the forecast predicted a sweltering 45°C. Though he was to cycle indoors, he still needed a cooler and fan to deal with the stifling heat. With the entire effort streaming realtime on social media, he also had to get extra bandwidth from the internet service provider, and request backup electricity in case of power failure. Finally, he connected with a crowdfunding platform to run the campaign.
“I decided to do 48 hours because 24 hours seemed a little too easy. My target was to ride between 1,200-1,300 kilometres. I thought it was a great way for people to experience and appreciate the various aspects of ultra-cycling, though at the same time there was pressure on me since my progress was being followed online,” he says.
The longest he had ridden on the trainer until then was around 200 kilometres. Though he had the experience of logging big distances, he knew this would be unlike anything that he had attempted in the past. Keeping in mind the relatively cooler evenings, Samarth started his ride at 5 pm on 2 May.
“It’s mental torture really, because you are in the same place for all those hours. The animation on the app keeps you engaged for a bit, but it soon becomes monotonous. For me, relief came through conversations with all those who were following my ride online,” he says.
Riding on fresh legs, the first night was a breeze. As the sun took charge the next afternoon, the scorching roof above him made conditions gruelling indoors. The crew comprising his family kept him comfortable with regular hydration, and riding at home gave him the option of sourcing fresh food. But there was little that he could do about the saddle sores that were developing over time.
“It’s a lot more tolerable while out on the road, since you don’t tend to be in the saddle for long periods of time. In this case, I was continuously sitting, irrespective of the terrain that was being simulated by the trainer. There was simply no respite,” Samarth says.
“And to think that there was a time I would tell friends that it was a crazy proposition to ride on a trainer for anything more than an hour,” he recalls.
Over the first 24 hours, Samarth managed to cover a distance of 700 kilometres, with the occasional break to change gear or use the bathroom. Boredom and irritation soon caught up with him, losing momentum even as he tried to divert his attention in every way possible.
On the second night, a technical glitch and his first sleep break resulted in a loss of time. He was now racing against the clock to meet his target.
“That’s when it got really interesting because I realised that I may not reach my goal. It was strange because there was a part of my brain that was clear on what needed to be done, while the other half was still uncertain. So, I used this part to convince the other section of my brain that it was possible. And I was witness to this conversation in my head as the miles rolled on,” he recalls.
During the final 12 hours, Samarth got off the saddle just once, given all that was at stake. By the time the clock stopped at 5 pm on the eve of his birthday, pulling off on his trainer 1,301 kilometres was enough reason for him to get the celebrations underway.
“The ride was a 48-hour-long party in itself — something really special that I did for my birthday, which otherwise would have been celebrated simply sitting at home,” the endurance cyclist signs off.
Updated Date: May 19, 2020 09:43:06 IST