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New book: Hell on Two Wheels: An Astonishing Story of Suffering, Triumph, and the Most Extreme Endurance Race in the World, By Amy Snyder ’82 (Triumph Books)

The author: After an almost two-decade career in management consulting, Snyder retired, moved to La Jolla, Calif., and took up Ironman triathlons. A three-time Ironman finisher and marathon cyclist, Snyder understands what it means to push yourself. But even she was struck by the athletes who compete in the Race Across America (RAAM) — a brutal 3,000-mile bicycle race from Oceanside, Calif., to Annapolis, Md. “I couldn’t fathom racing such a long distance,” says Snyder, who wanted to discover how other athletes could and why they would do it.
The book: Snyder followed a group of the ultra-distance racers before, during, and after the 2009 RAAM. To win, athletes make do with an hour or so of sleep a day. The winner of the 2009 contest finished in nine days. Many athletes experience muscle, joint, and nerve failure, broken bones, terrible saddle sore, hallucinations, and dehydration. Some don’t finish. Their neck muscles can give out from the strain of holding up their heads — a condition known as Shermer’s Neck. “Watching this relentless contest unfold was considerably more disturbing than I expected,” she wrote. “As it dragged on, I saw how RAAM transformed my new friends, brutalized them, and at times broke their spirits. I bore witness to their suffering, but it was their passion and grit that stuck with me most.”
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Opening lines:
“La Vale, Maryland, June 25, 2009, 5:30 am
His legs were churning the pedals like massive pistons, pushing him along a quiet country road as the sun began to rise. His puffy, sun-scorched face was expressionless, and his lips were cracked and bleeding. He simply squinted down at the road through almost-shut eyes, barely able to turn his head as the pavement curved before him. There was nothing left physically. He was driving himself forward on sheer willpower. His crew chief radioed navigation instructions to him along with words of encouragement. ‘Left at the stop. Looking good.’”
Review: Michael J. Ybarra of The Wall Street Journal called Hell on Wheels “engrossing. … She presents a clear, gripping account of the race as it unfolds, affectionately sketching the personalities of the bikers — including the hardy [Marko] Baloh, whose upbeat personality has earned him the nickname Tweety Bird — and chronicling their triumphs and tribulations.”