Perth cyclist Sabine Bird to tackle ultra-endurance Race Across America

Claire TyrrellThe West Australian
VideoHayley's incredible adventure, cycling solo around the world.

Sabine Bird is no ordinary bike rider.

When the Perth cyclist explains the 4800km challenge she is about to take on, it puzzles even the most diehard athletes. The Race Across America in June is an individual time trial from California to Maryland and is seen as the pinnacle in ultra-endurance racing.

Bird, 36, is the only Australian solo female rider to compete in the prestigious race this year and one of eight solo women.

Riders endure the blistering heat of the Arizona desert, the steep and treacherous Rocky Mountains, and relentless winds in tornado-prone Kansas, all on minimal sleep.

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To make the cut-off time, competitors must cross the continent in 12 days going through 12 States, which means riding more than 400km a day.

Bird said she aimed to cover 500km or ride for 21 hours each day. To do that she has to become acquainted with pain.

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“I ignore it (the pain) — as soon as it starts I try and think about what’s 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, your body is suffering so badly and you don’t want to do this because there’s no real benefit for you — to push through those slow times is what I am working on.”

Bird holds the unconfirmed 24-hour road cycling world record of 729km, so is accustomed to spending long hours on the bike. But the Race Across America is unprecedented territory.

Sabine Bird will tackle the Race Across America.
Camera IconSabine Bird will tackle the Race Across America. Credit: Supplied

She qualified for the event at South Australia’s Revolve 24 race last year, covering more than 600km in gale force winds. Bird found her niche in ultra-endurance cycling in 2014 when she completed her first solo 24-hour Delirium race in Busselton.

“I realised I could stay in the saddle longer than others,” she said. “Growing up, I have always done crazy challenges, always vanished for hours in a day, always loved a good challenge.”

She will burn up to 15,000 calories every day during Race Across America and will meet her energy demands with almost anything she can get her hands on. “Whatever calories I can get I will get, ideally coming from good nutritional food, but I don’t think we can get that fussy,” she said.

“No matter how much you prepare for that sort of thing, eating will always be a problem. I think as the race moves we need to be aware of what types of food I can get.

“America is the land of McDonald’s and it might be that — I have always wondered if there was a McDonald’s in Death Valley (California).”

About 30 per cent of first-time solo competitors finish Race Across America, so Bird is under no illusions about the enormity of the task.

Horror stories of riders falling off their bikes because they can’t stay awake, getting killed by vehicles or medical complications have emerged from race. The mental toll sleep deprivation takes on riders is extreme, with hallucinations and delusions common.

“A few people have described it as being mentally completely stripped of all social influence and exposing who you are as a person,” Bird said.

“If that really happens then I have no idea who I am — it’s a bit like being in a war zone, nobody can really talk about the war until you’ve been there.”

Race Across America starts on June 12 in Oceanside, California.

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