Linda Dabbiero of Greyhawk Landing and Dan Rocco of Country Creek, both members of Lakewood Ranch’s Village Idiots Cycling Club, went for a long bicycle ride last Thursday morning.
They were joined by Sandor Kormos and Alex Strouhal on recumbent bicycles, which place them in a laid-back position.
But a long bicycle ride to this foursome means something different than to most of us.
Dabbiero, Rocco, Kormos and Strouhal are among a group of 30 to 40 in the Manatee and Sarasota area who meet their weekly fitness needs and competitive urges by riding ungodly amounts of miles on their bikes —100 miles at a time, 300 miles a week, thousands of miles a year.
The big thing for them is to ride and ride and ride and not stop even when their inner voice is screaming, “I hate this and I want to quit,” in the words of Kormos.
They also like to “race” against others and see who can go the farthest the fastest without quitting.
They are called “ultra-cyclists” and they welcome anyone to join their ranks, anyone who thinks they have the willpower to last, which, given the numbers, is not that many.
“A 100-mile ride at one time, we call it a ‘century ride,’ is a big goal riders have,” said Rocco, 52, currently an Orlando-based Southwest Airlines pilot, but also a former Ironman competitor, helicopter rescue swimmer in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard C-130 pilot. “Anything over a century is considered ultra-distance.”
There are many ultra-cycling events in the United States during the year but one of the biggest and a “bucket” dream for many is Race Across America, which goes from Oceanside, Calif., to Annapolis, Md.
Ultra distance bike riding is very tough, but the benefits are great, said Paul Troyer, president of the Village Idiots Cycling Club, which Troyer started with a group of eight to 10 friends about nine years ago and has guided to its current membership of 1,250.
“We have about 30 members who participate in ultra cycling events of more than 100 miles,” Troyer said last week. “The pluses for cycling are weight loss, improved circulation, reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, reduced instances of diabetes and you will have fun doing it.”
The Village club meets 6 p.m. Wednesday nights and 7 a.m. Saturday mornings on Lakewood Ranch’s Main Street and beginners are welcome to come out and try a distance ride with some more experienced riders, Troyer said.
Ultra-cycling has sculpted Dabbiero and Rocco into nearly perfect physical specimens.
A mother of two teenagers who trains five days a week and rides 250 to 300 miles in that span, Dabbiero, 44, started her exercise life doing triathlons. She grew up as a swimmer so the swim, bike and run of the triathlon fit her style.
“I did Ironman Florida and finished respectably, but running was never my favorite and I had done swimming since I was 4, so I decided to focus on the bike,” Dabbiero said. “I found I love being out in the open, that you can get lost in the moment. It’s very relaxing, very therapeutic.”
Dabbiero trains all through Lakewood Ranch, as many ultra-cyclists do. The easternmost part of University Parkway makes a good training loop because there aren’t many cars.
Dabbiero also likes that she is among a unique group of people.
“Ultra-cycling is a very small competitive field,” Dabbiero said. “Sometimes there are only one or two athletes in your division. Few people have the time or desire to train these amounts of hours. So it’s really a competition with yourself. You want to do more than you did the last time.”
Strouhal, who is a physical therapist at Doctor’s Hospital in Sarasota, said he often “zones” out when he rides long distances. He’s been an ultra-cyclist for 15 years.
“You have to think of something besides the pain in your leg,” Strouhal said. “I sing to myself whatever pops in my head. Often it’s something by the Sex Pistols.”
Stouhal suggests that anyone who wishes to try to ultra-cycle needs to work up to 100 miles a week and then go up to 300 and 400 miles.
“You must do 100 miles at least once a week,” Strouhal said.
Kormos said even taking off a week can make an ultra-racer lose his or her edge.
“You must keep training or you will lose it,” Kormos said.
Race Across America
Dabbiero flew to California Monday. Rocco left Friday. The pair are scheduled to be on the starting line in Oceanside for 2016 the Race Across America on June 18.
Dabbiero and Rocco are part of a four-person, mixed racing team called RRT4G and they have a four-person NASCAR-style crew that drive two vans and an RV, keeps them fed and in bike tune, all with a Bradenton flavor.
The four riders, who will alternate back and forth from California to Maryland, hopefully in under seven days, are led by Bradenton’s David Wilder, who is the crew chief. Also on the crew are Bradenton’s Danny Lima, a bike tech expert from Ringling Bicycles on Manatee Avenue in Bradenton and driver Alex Love from River Club in East Manatee.
“We race around the clock, 24 hours, with one of us always on a bike,” said Dan Rocco excitedly. “We are grateful for the support from Village Idiots. They will be following us on a live track link, which will be on our website, RRT4G.com and on our Facebook page, RRT Cycling.”
Besides Rocco, who is the team captain, and Dabbiero, the four ultra-cyclists on the team also include Rocco’s brother, David Rocco, of Lee’s Summit, Mo., and Marc Poland of Bakersville, N.C. Dan Rocco met Poland through an on-line forum for ultra distance cycling.
The 12 of them are hoping to raise $20,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., in honor of Chandler Howard, 15, who has brain cancer. Chandler is the son of one of Dan Rocco’s co-pilots at Southwest Airlines.
The crew and riders are all going to experience 3,068 sleep-deprived miles in seven days.
It will be Dabbiero’s first Race Across America and she is very excited.
“I did a 12-hour ultra distance in Sebring in February and I got first place in my age group, 40 to 45,” Dabbiero said. “I feel like I am ready. I have a coach, Zoltan Tisza, and he has given me training plans since January and he has worked me hard. I have put in 5,000 miles since January.”
Dabbiero has been listening to Dan Rocco talk about Race Across America for months.
“He talks about the heat in the desert and the horrendous winds of Kansas and the cold of West Virginia,” Dabbiero said.
When Dan Rocco gives his famous Race Across America geography speech his voices rises with excitement. His voice seems to hold a hint of what ultra-cycling is really all about. It’s not just cycling but a quest for adventure, a bit of risk-taking in a world that has gotten smaller, to boldly go where no one has gone before.
“OK, you start at the Pacific at the beach,” Rocco said. “We slowly climb out of the foothills up into the high desert of California. We descend down to the low desert, below sea level. We go around the south side of Salton Sea through Brawley, Calif., and start heading through Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border toward Flagstaff, Ariz. After Flagstaff we slowly start climbing the western side of the Rockies up to Durango, Colo. After Durango we go as high as Wolf Creek Pass in the Continental Divide. We are 11,000 feet above mean sea level. After that we descend from the Rockies and transition across the plains to Kansas, which is hot and where the wind is horrendous. Then we get the rolling hills of Missouri and start climbing up the Smoky Mountains which is really hard, five or six days into the race. They are shorter, but steep. Not as high as the Rockies, but really hard at that point in our race and then we descend down to the Chesapeake Bay and, finally, into Annapolis, Md.”