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How this desi conquered Race Across America

Nashik cyclist Dr Srinivas Gokulnath, who become the first Indian to finish Race Across America, shares his relentless journey from failure to success

pune Updated: Jul 08, 2017 16:26 IST
Ashish Phadnis
Lt Col Srinivas Gokulnath pedals his way to seventh place at the Race Across America 2017.
Lt Col Srinivas Gokulnath pedals his way to seventh place at the Race Across America 2017.(HT PHOTO)

In sports, one can find several success stories, about the athletes who turned their failure into success with dedication and passion. Nashik cyclist Dr Srinivas Gokulnath is another inspiration. The 36-year-old was forced to quit the Race Across America (RAAM) in 2016 after he failed to maintain the speed. Utterly disappointed yet resolutely determined, he undertook intensive training and followed a proper regimen to come back strongly and become the first Indian to finish the race in solo category, and made history. 

In the solo 18-59 age category, Gokulnath finished the distance of 3,070 miles (4,941kms) in 11 days 18 hours. The riders were expected to finish the distance in 288 hours. Gokulnath finished overall 7th. Lt Col Gokulnath is an aerospace medicine specialist. Gokulnath tells HT his relentless journey from failure to success. 

“The moment I was declared DNF (Did Not Finish) in 2016, I told my wife that I am going to try once again. It was a strenuous process of hard work, intensive training, planning and strategies. I was thinking about RAAM every time. I was the early bird when the registrations were open for 2017 and I had already started working on plans. Frankly speaking, I hadn’t understood the magnitude and brutal nature of the race, didn’t have a proper team and a crew chief in 2016, and it was kind of amateurish attempt. Yet, I had managed to pull on for 10 days,” he said.

Gokulnath approached Alberto Blaco, who is a finisher of 2011 edition and was declared the best rookie of the year that time. Blaco, a big motivator, shared some valuable tips. Gokulnath later also worked with crew chief Chris O’Keefe,who himself had failed in his first attempt.

“I started midnight and for the first 90 miles I was going strong. I was among the top 10 riders. But then I had some health issues, I started puking and resulted in dehydration. It immediately reduced my pace and I slid down to 27th place. Though we rectified the mistake, it took quite a long time to fully recover. My crew chief and team were particular about the diet and rest period. I was consuming 8,000 calories and 20 litre of fluid, energy drink daily. I took a 3-hour rest between 1 to 4am and even though I was lagging behind, my team meticulously followed the schedule. That helped a lot, as I started recovering from 7th time station,” he said. 

Speaking about his crash, Gokulnath said that it happened on the 7th day. It was raining non-stop for almost 48 hours and visibility was low with potholes covered with muddy water. He had a bad fall but his cycle remained intact. Another obstacle was the storm and strong headwinds near West Virginia. “I was shattered and gathered all my energy and strength to continue. My team played a big role in motivating me to keep going,” he said. 

The team just stuck to the plan without bothering about competitors. “In fact, other crew teams were spying on us. In the later stages of the race, I was going really strong and everyone praised me for that. It’s a rare phenomena to improve performance when you are fatigued after 10 days of constant cycling,” he said. 

For Gokulnath, it was a personal struggle on the finance front. “I managed everything on my own. And there are several dues to be paid now. But that’s the message I want to give. If I can do it, anyone with determination can do it. Money is not an issue. Most of the riders think managing finances is the biggest obstacle for RAAM, but that’s not the case, it’s the physical and mental preparation that matters the most. Everything else can get managed,” he said. 

STATS 

Total distance: 4941kms 

Total time: 11 days 18 hrs 

Riding time: 10 days 17 hrs 

Avg speed: 19.6kmph 

Route distance per day: 394km 

Daily calories: 8,000