American race a vicious cycle

ELLE HUNT
Last updated 07:50 10/12/2012
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PHIL REID/Fairfax NZ

GLUTTON FOR PUNISHMENT: Despite suffering hallucinations, falling asleep and crashing, and throwing his bike in frustration, Josh Kench plans to repeat the Race Across America next year.

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A Johnsonville plumber's bid to kick bad habits resulted in him biking almost non-stop across America.

Josh Kench is the only Kiwi to have completed the Race Across America, a 4800-kilometre race from coast to coast.

His adventure began with a simple resolution to stop smoking and drinking. In 2002, Mr Kench, then 30, announced his intention to compete in the Speight's Coast to Coast multisport event. "It was something to motivate me. If I didn't quit smoking, then I'd never be able to do the Coast to Coast."

While training, he discovered that he "couldn't swim, and that I loved cycling".

He went on to compete in endurance events in Taupo, Rotorua, Australia and even the prestigious Paris-Brest-Paris road race in France, where he first heard of the Race Across America.

"At first I thought, 'Surely they wouldn't race that far'. But I put it in the back of my mind, and then a few years later, there was a qualifier for it here."

The race, described by Time as one of the toughest endurance events in the world, requires participants to ride about 22 hours a day for eight or nine days.

Last year, Mr Kench finished in eighth place, after 10 days 5 hours and 27 minutes of close to non-stop biking. Biking through the desert was his lowest point, he says.

"I was terrified. The air's so dry and hot, it evaporates on your skin, so you don't know you're dehydrating."

With "nothing to think about apart from the wind, pain and boredom", he found the race an extreme test of mind and body - and from about day four, his condition started to deteriorate.

"I was hallucinating. I saw people trapped under the asphalt. I fell asleep on the bike and crashed.

"My final breakdown was where I stopped, picked up my bike, threw it across the road, sat on the ground and said to my support crew, 'I've had enough'.

"At that time I was a day from the finish."

It was a "day or two" after finishing that his achievement sank in, but even then, he says, "I knew I could've done better".

After writing a book - RIDE, published by Allen & Unwin - about his experience, Mr Kench will line up to take part in his second Race Across America next year. "I don't know whether I'm more fearful of it now that I know what I'm getting into."

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- The Dominion Post

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