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Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
October 16, 2007
DeKalb — Paul Carpenter pedals his Klein Quantum bike from suburban Batavia to DeKalb and back home again every day, combining his commute to Northern Illinois University with an incredible training regimen.
But was the chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education truly ready to tackle 500 miles in the Texas heat in less than 36 straight hours?
Carpenter knew the answer – yes, of course, absolutely – but wasn’t prepared for what came immediately after he finished his 25th lap around the 20-mile loop in 30 hours and 57 minutes.
“A guy called Tom Rodgers came up and asked me, ‘How do you feel?’ I said I felt pretty tired,” Carpenter says. “He said, ‘No, I mean how do you feel to have won?’ I really had no idea.”
Indeed, Carpenter won the Tejas 500 held the weekend of Sept. 28 near Cleburne, Texas, about 70 miles southwest of Dallas-Fort Worth. Larry Ide, Carpenter’s friend and the father of an NIU graduate student, earned second place.
Carpenter entered the race simply to earn the three “difficulty points” he needed to become eligible to be considered in the overall standings for the Ultra Marathon Cycling Association’s John Marino Competition.
Victory was just, well, like grease on the spoke.
“The last few hours were just dire. It was 101 degrees Fahrenheit and pretty humid as well. The course was susceptible to wind, and we had some pretty nasty winds,” he says. “You were either going up or down – there was 1,000 feet of elevation per lap – on open roads. It was not a closed course. We were out there with the traffic.”
Eighteen-wheelers frequently roared past the racers, even at 3 a.m. One competitor was rear-ended by a car and taken to the hospital with a broken arm and plenty of bumps and bruises.
Meanwhile, the course was not illuminated. Racers were responsible for their own lighting during the wee hours, requiring them to pack plenty of headlight batteries for the overnight stretches and to cover themselves and their bicycles in reflective tape.
Riders could choose to take as many as 48 hours to complete the race, but Carpenter picked the 36-hour option so he would spend only one night on the bike instead of two. The decision improved his finish time through fewer moments spent adjusting lights and changing batteries and fewer hours pedaling at a slower pace in the relative dark.
And even though he spends a great deal of time endurance riding, and recently achieved a longtime goal of qualifying for the Race Across America by pedaling 435.2 miles in 24 hours, he was surprised to have won.
“Commuting has built the base,” he says. “I have miles in my legs.”
Carpenter doubts he’ll tackle the Race Across America (RAAM) until 2009 because he needs time to prepare physically and mentally and to raise money. His qualification is valid for three years.
RAAM is held annually in the middle of June, sending its bicyclists from Oceanside, Calif., to Atlantic City, N.J. Riders must finish the 3,157 miles in 12 days; the winner typically arrives on Day 8.
And yes, Carpenter knows the idea sounds crazy.
“It’s something I heard about back in the late ’80s – I read about it in a magazine – and it was something that attracted my attention. It was a little out there. Now I’m faced with the reality that I’ve qualified,” he says.
“There’s not a lot of prestige in winning, except in a small group of people. And you don’t have to be an elite cyclist. It’s about the notion of endurance. It’s something very difficult to do, and to achieve it would be very satisfying. Speed has never been my big thing. I’m more of a steady pace. I can chug along and hang in there and keep going. It’s the ultimate personal challenge.”
Money is part of the challenge. Carpenter figures he’ll need $20,000, about $3,000 of that for the entry fee. He also needs spare bike parts, food, water and support for a crew of five or six.
Another question is time.
“There’s probably not enough to prepare me for the next RAAM, but it’s something I still haven’t discounted,” he says. “I’ll chat with my friends over the next few months. One already sent me an e-mail that said what I can’t do is, five or six years from now, say that I wish I had.”
Yet one week after his victory in Texas, Carpenter found additional motivation closer to home.
Dan McGehee, an optometrist and bicyclist from Arizona, was looking to regain his UMCA record time for a 100-mile course. McGehee had lost his record time to a Slovenian who posted 4 hours and 1 minute.
The Aurora native found a sanctioned course in Kaneland and, when searching for nearby members of the Ultra Marathon Cycling Association who could serve as officials to oversee his bid, found Carpenter.
“He called me and asked if would be interested in helping out. I jumped at the chance,” Carpenter says. “I think it’s important to give back to the sport. This was an opportunity to give back to the organization and also help someone else out.”
McGehee attempted to set a new record in July but missed by two minutes. He returned Saturday, Oct. 6.
Just after sunrise, McGehee took off. His first lap around the 18.4-mile course flew by in only 41 minutes and 53 seconds.
“We had quite a crowd. He had a full crew there, sweeping gravel from the road,” Carpenter says. “We had two police cars working the course.”
After 3 hours and 56 minutes, he crossed the finish line at Scott and Swan roads. The 45-year-old McGehee had shaved five minutes off the record – the UMCA has yet to ratify the record – and seven minutes off his own personal best.
Carpenter, meanwhile, savored his new friend’s success. “Rewarding doesn’t come close. As a competitor myself, I know what it takes to perform,” he says.
“Here we had a guy who was riding over 25 mph for four hours straight. It was awe-inspiring, working as hard as he does, training as hard as he does with a full-time job and a family with young kids,” he adds. “He told me, ‘It was a real boost to hear from you that you had won the Tejas.’ That mutual support is inspiring: the willingness of everyone to work together and to help each other.”
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