Spotlight: Covering ground with the marathon man
Imagine this: It's 2 a.m. You've been riding your bike
non-stop for 18 hours. Your muscles are screaming. You've
sweated all you can. People are dropping out all around
you to sleep, vomit or just quit. Somehow, amidst all
of this, you manage to be glad that you drove the four
hours and forked over the $65 needed to participate in
this, your hobby.
Sound like fun? It's just one example of what cyclist and information retrieval programmer Phil Farber experiences during the 12- and 24-hour ultra marathons he participates in on summer weekends. Biking a century100 mileson most Saturday afternoons, and upwards of 370 miles in marathons, this 54 year old has found his own way to get around town.
Farber, who works for the Digital Library Production Service, has participated in ultra marathons since 1994. This year, in the National 24-Hour Challenge near Grand Rapids, Farber biked a personal-best, ranking fifth in his age group with 370.3 miles.
"It's all about your mindset. You just tell yourself over and over, 'You're going to ride 24 hours. You're not going to rest, you're not going to lie down, and you're going to have everything ready,'" Farber says of the weeks and moments before the race.
Though his love for biking developed while participating in United States Cycling Federation races after college, Farber says it wasn't until 10 years after leaving the sport that he decided to try ultra marathons.
"I was getting older, and at my age, if you don't do anything physical for a while, you tend to fall apart," he says. "I met people who did marathons. It was an older group because older riders have less to prove (than racers) and have less speed."
And while the speed might have been gone, the endurance stayed. So, at the age of 44, Farber traded in his breakneck, post-grad pace for more breathable six-hour centuries.
Farber says the trick to riding a full day straight (in his last marathon, he was only off his bike a total of 40 minutes) is a comfortable, custom-built road racing bike, a good crew and plenty of his favorite energy shake. As for special pre-race rituals, Farber says he doesn't bother.
"The trick is in getting your mind ready, and that's something you do weeks in advance, not the night before," he says.
Though he says he'll never stop riding, Farber plans on taking a break from marathons next summer to crew for friends. In his free time, he says, he will continue to bike wherever and with whomever he can, including the Ann Arbor Bicycle Touring Society, which rides most days on scenic Huron River Drive.
Even when he's not training for a marathon ride, he just can't stay away from his bike.
"Walking is nice, but for me it's about canvassing tremendous spaces. There's just nothing better."