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Veterinarian is top amateur in cross-country bicycle race


Wausau, Wis.- It took this 60-year-old veterinarian 11 days to ride 3,021 miles across the United States on a bicycle. He did it averaging two hours of sleep each night.

WAUSAU, WIS. — For how many consecutive 24-hour periods could you get by on two hours' sleep or less?

Two? Perhaps three?

How about 11?

That's what it took for 60-year-old Wausau veterinarian Paul Danhaus to ride 3,021 miles across the United States on his bicycle and come in first in the 60-69 age category, fourth overall, in the 28th Ride Across America (RAAM) race.

Full speed ahead: Paul Danhaus, DVM, entering Monument Valley, Utah

Danhaus crossed the finish line in Annapolis, Md., at 2:35 a.m. on June 28, exactly 11 days, 10 hours and 48 minutes after he started the race June 17 in Oceanside, Calif. Averaging 10.99 mph, he was only about seven hours short of the record for a solo male cyclist in his age group.

"It's an awesome experience, but certainly a sleep-deprived exercise," Danhaus tells DVM Newsmagazine. "It's hard to sleep very much if you want to win or meet a personal goal, because you know if you take time to sleep your competition is still out there."

Paul Danhaus, DVM, entering Athens, Ohio (PHOTOS: COURTESY OF DR. PAUL DANHAUS)

The clock doesn't stop once the race begins. RAAM, called "the world's toughest bicycle race," is 30 percent longer than the Tour de France and, unlike that race, is not run in stages. It is just one stage, and solo riders often finish in half the time of the French race and with no complete rest days. It's a time trial, called "racing against the clock" or "the race of truth." There are no time-outs for weather or other unforeseen conditions. Each rider's total time includes his or her rest periods.

Held annually since 1982, RAAM covers 14 states, with climbs of more than 100,000 feet. The prescribed route took Danhaus through mountainous terrain in Arizona and New Mexico, the Ozarks and Appalachians.

Following his training pattern, Danhaus traveled the first 30 hours without a rest, then took a short break and went another 24 before stopping for 1.5 to two hours of sleep. He continued that pattern, usually taking his rest during the heat of the day, about 2 or 3 in the afternoon, for the rest of the race.

Like other competitors, he had a support vehicle behind him all the way and was required to stay within its headlights at night. His support team of seven used a secondary RV for their own rest, with each crew member required to have four hours of sleep in each 24 hours.

There are 54 time stations along the nationwide route, spaced 45 to 60 miles apart. As Danhaus passed each of them, his crew informed race headquarters of his progress.

The toughest part of the race? The shorter, choppy climbs through the Ozarks in southern Missouri and the Appalachians in West Virginia were much more difficult than steeper, but steadier, graded climbs in the West, where he could maintain a rhythm, Danhaus says. After leaving California, he recalls passing through Flagstaff, Ariz.; Monument Valley, Utah; Taos, N.M.; parts of Texas and Oklahoma; central Kansas; southern Missouri; crossing the Mississippi at Alton, Ill; then Bloomington, Ind.; southern Ohio and Pennsylvania; West Virginia and finally into Maryland.

At one point in Indiana, Danhaus' crew stopped him to provide fluids after he became dehydrated.

He rode a custom-built Seven titanium racing bike, and had two Italian-made backup bicycles, also custom fitted for him.

He was the only entrant in the solo male 60-69 group, finishing fourth overall. He was the first amateur to finish; the top three are professional cyclists. In the 28-year history of the event, only three others in his category finished the race.

Completing the race was "a combination of euphoria, exhaustion and relief, along with a touch of sadness that it was all over," Danhaus recalls.

"It's a very addictive sport," he says. After the award ceremony, he was already starting to plan his next RAAM attempt. He has other commitments for 2011, but plans to race cross-country again in 2012.

Danhaus qualified to enter this year based on his participation in a four-person RAAM team two years ago. He ran numerous marathons in the 1970s and participated in seven Ironman triathlons in Hawaii.

Danhaus, who received his DVM degree from the University of Illinois in 1975, retired and sold his Wausau small-animal practice five years ago, and currently works as a relief veterinarian throughout Wisconsin.

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