Vernon’s Leah Goldstein competes in a stretch of the Race Across America cycling event

Vernon’s Leah Goldstein competes in a stretch of the Race Across America cycling event

Goldstein takes on the continent

Picture yourself trying to ride a bicycle from Vernon to Vancouver, over the Coquihalla Highway, using only the white lines on the road as a guide.

Picture yourself trying to ride a bicycle from Vernon to Vancouver, over the Coquihalla Highway, using only the white lines on the road as a guide.

You can’t lift your head up on the bike to see what’s coming ahead of you because your neck muscles are throbbing. And when the white lines end abruptly, you end up in a ditch.

And you ride this distance every day, for 11 days, in 40 degree C heat because you’re in a race. And it’s a race you want to win so bad, you ride on. The hell with the pain in the neck.

Oh, and you sleep an hour, maybe two, each night.

Now you get an idea of what Vernon professional cyclist Leah Goldstein went through to win one of the most gruelling races on the planet.

Goldstein, 42, a former commando in the Israeli army, a woman used to sleep deprivation and who says she doesn’t sleep a lot on a regular basis, won the women’s solo division of the Race Across America – RAAM.

It’s one of the most respected and longest running endurance sports events in the world. Individuals and teams gathered in San Diego in June to compete in a 3,000-mile cycle race across America to Annapolis, Md., home of the U.S. Navy.

“The experience was awesome,” said Goldstein,.

“It’s hard. More people successfully climb Mt. Everest than finish RAAM. People scared me big time for the race, saying the failure rate is quite high.”

Only 15 women in the 29 previous years have completed RAAM. Goldstein, an ultra racer who retired from competitive road racing in 2010 after she was hit by a car during a race and broke both her arms, became the 16th.

The former world bantamweight kickboxing and national junior taekwondo champion turned to ultra racing, completing three long distance events to qualify for RAAM, which is 3,000 miles across 12 states and climbs over 170,000-vertical-feet. Solo racers, such as Goldstein, have a maximum of 12 days to complete the race.

Backed by a seven-member support crew – Team Mad Dog – which included Lori Moger and Janessa Neufeld, of BreakAway Fitness, where Goldstein conducts workshops, and mechanic Sean Cameron, of Olympia Cycle and Ski, Goldstein set out on June 15 from Oceanside Pier in San Diego.

For the first few days, Goldstein had no issues with her legs or her conditioning. She’d stay on the bike for 23 hours, the support crew monitoring her, planning meals, encouraging her to get some sleep, planning support crew shifts.

“I went down (to sleep) after two nights and slept an hour,” said Goldstein. “You hallucinate. I didn’t know if the animals I was seeing were real or not. There were, like, real pigs but I was seeing things. I didn’t know if they were real or not. When you’re so sleep deprived, all you know is to pedal and go forward.”

It was on day four that Goldstein’s neck muscles betrayed her.

“It was really hard,” she said. “My legs wanted to go but I couldn’t see the road. I stopped more than I wanted to, to rest the neck for a couple of minutes. I was riding according to the white line on the highway. The crew was telling me ‘OK, you’re going to go left, you’re going to go right.’ It was like riding a bike with your eyes closed. I rode into the ditch a couple of times because the white lines all of a sudden ended.”

It was Moger who came up with the idea to shave the back of Goldstein’s head, add some hair extensions and attach the extensions to the back of Goldstein’s heart rate monitor to help keep her neck up.

Goldstein’s sore neck wasn’t the only thing getting to her. She entered the race not only to win, but to set a women’s record. She won her division and now holds the 11-day record (she finished RAAM in 11 days) but that’s not good enough for the elite, ultra athlete.

“I’m not satisfied with that kind of win,” she said. “I want to win it in 10 days, I want a record no one can touch. I’m happy I won the race but it’s the way I won the race that doesn’t satisfy me. Normally when I finish a race I can’t walk and I felt a little too good when I crossed that finish line.”

Goldstein, who had to have her neck held up by a race director when she was being interviewed after her victory, gave tons of credit to her support crew, which included some other mechanics and doctors.

“Without them, you can’t do anything,” said Goldstein. “Success is based on how organized your crew is and mine was fantastic.”

As soon as she gets back to Vernon, Goldstein will hop back on her bike.

“I still have a couple of ultra races I want to do and I’m coming back (to RAAM) for sure,” she said. “I’m going to break that record.”