Eddlemon crosses Maryland for a new record in 102 temperatures in June. This past year Gerry Eddlemon logged about 11,000 miles on his bicycle – 7,000 miles in training rides and 4,000 miles in actual racing.
He suffered concussions, shoulder separations and collisions with dogs that resulted in over-the-handlebar crashes.
It’s been a brutal season, and for Eddlemon, a 65-year-old grandfather and former University of Tennessee cross-country runner, the toughest challenge is yet to come.
On Wednesday, Nov. 24, Eddlemon will compete in the Extreme Enduro division of the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, New Zealand’s premier cycling festival. He’ll ride an 800-mile race course that climbs 35,000 feet – more cumulative elevation gain than reaching the top of Mount Everest.
A retired aquatic ecologist with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Eddlemon currently ranks second overall in the UltraMarathon Cycling Association’s World Cup standings, and first in the 60- to 69-year age class.
Should he win the race in New Zealand, it will be the first time a 65-year-old has won the World Cup ultramarathon cycling title outright. If he places among the top finishers, he’ll claim the World Cup title in his age class.
Eddlemon has done a lot of long-distance cycling, but he has never raced as far as 800 miles. In a telephone interview the day before he was to board a flight to Aukland, New Zealand, Eddlemon said his goal is to complete the course in less than four days.
“Five hundred and four miles is as far as I’ve gone,” he said. “This is unknown territory. I don’t know whether I can even finish.”
The Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge is held once every 10 years. The event features a variety of races for cyclists of all skill levels, with the basic course being a 99-mile loop around Lake Taupo, a volcanic crater in the center of the North Island.
For the Extreme Enduro race, the festival’s longest event, cyclists must complete the course eight times. The event attracts about 11,000 cyclists, but only about 20 attempt the Extreme Enduro race.
Eddlemon’s goal was to lose 20 pounds, which he said would save him 700,000 fewer foot-pounds of effort during the race. While he didn’t lose all 20, he did manage to shed 14 pounds while maintaining a rigorous training regime that consisted of regular 60- to 120-mile rides.
“I was surprised how difficult it was to drop weight without sacrificing endurance,” he said. “You can’t lose more than 2 pounds a week before you start to lose muscle weight, not just fat.”
Eddlemon said he won’t be able to eat and drink enough to replenish the 800 calories he expects to burn each hour during the race. He’ll be taking two bicycles with him to New Zealand – a titanium-frame Litespeed made in Ooltewah, Tenn., as his main bike, and a Specialized Roubaix as his backup.
Eddlemon’s penchant for long-distance records dates back to 1973 when he set the record for crossing the Appalachian Trail through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by speed-hiking the trail’s 70 miles from Fontana Dam to Davenport Gap in 24 hours and 29 minutes. Thirteen years later, he broke his own record by hiking the A.T. through the Smokies in 23 hours and 38 minutes.
It was while descending Africa’s Mount Kilamanjaro in 2003 that Eddlemon wore out his knees. No longer able to run, he turned to long-distance cycling. His first race was the Sebring 12-Hour Bike Race, in Florida, where he won his age division with a distance of 197.5 miles despite crashing and taking a wrong turn that cost him at least 20 minutes.
In 2006, after realizing no record existed for cycling across Tennessee south-to-north, Eddlemon pedaled 123 miles across the midsection of the state along U.S. Highway 231 in eight hours and 10 minutes. Three months later, he set a record for cycling across Connecticut south-to-north and north-to-south in eight hours, 37 minutes despite a monsoonlike thunderstorm that lasted the final 77 miles.
In 2009 Eddlemon made setting or breaking records his priority. To date, he has set 48 records across 11 states and three Canadian provinces, including a hair-raising, 182-mile west-to-east crossing of Mississippi where he suffered severe cramps and almost got run over by a vehicle after the driver fell asleep at the wheel.
Eddlemon, who has twice qualified for the Race Across America, or RAAM, said that on the ultramarathon racing circuit, age and experience can sometimes trump a younger pair of legs.
“In World Cup competition, the key is grinding it out through the whole season,” he said. “If you don’t keep coming back for more punishment, you’re not going to be competitive.”