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Biking Beyond Madness (link)

21 Post author: hirvinen 22 October 2009 03:16PM

‘‘During race, I am going crazy, definitely,’’ he says, smiling in bemused despair. ‘‘I cannot explain why is that, but it is true.’’

The craziness is methodical, however, and Robic and his crew know its pattern by heart. Around Day 2 of a typical weeklong race, his speech goes staccato. By Day 3, he is belligerent and sometimes paranoid. His short-term memory vanishes, and he weeps uncontrollably. The last days are marked by hallucinations: bears, wolves and aliens prowl the roadside; asphalt cracks rearrange themselves into coded messages. Occasionally, Robic leaps from his bike to square off with shadowy figures that turn out to be mailboxes. In a 2004 race, he turned to see himself pursued by a howling band of black-bearded men on horseback.

‘‘Mujahedeen, shooting at me,’’ he explains. ‘‘So I ride faster.’’

This 2006 New York Times story is about Jure Robic, a Slovenian ultra long distance bicycler who goes seriously insane when he pushes himself far enough during the races. At the point he feels like dying out of fatigue he still has a major portion (estimated 50 % by his team) of his strength left. So he hands over control to his team and with their help, pushes himself into the realm of insanity and gives up control to the team:

 For Robic, his support crew serves as a second brain, consisting of a well-drilled cadre of a half-dozen fellow Slovene soldiers. It resembles other crews in that it feeds, hydrates, guides and motivates — but with an important distinction. The second brain, not Robic’s, is in charge.

 ‘‘By the third day, we are Jure’s software,’’ says Lt. Miran Stanovnik, Robic’s crew chief. ‘‘He is the hardware, going down the road.’’

 His success isn't because of exceptional physiology or training:

 On rare occasions when he permits himself to be tested in a laboratory, his ability to produce power and transport oxygen ranks on a par with those of many other ultra-endurance athletes. He wins for the most fundamental of reasons: he refuses to stop.

 The whole thing is an intriguing example of making an extraordinary, desperate effort by knowing that even when his body and brain scream for him to stop, he can go further, and doing so. Also, pushing one's self to become insane isn't the sensible thing to do, but for him, it is the path that wins.

Comments (6)

Comment author: rhollerith_dot_com 23 October 2009 03:22:50AM 2 points [-]

On rare occasions when he permits himself to be tested in a laboratory, his ability to produce power and transport oxygen ranks on a par with those of many other ultra-endurance athletes. He wins for the most fundamental of reasons: he refuses to stop.

I wonder if he will drop dead during or right after a future race.

Comment author: Kutta 23 October 2009 11:11:53AM *  3 points [-]

There is quite the chance he'll drop dead, so I personally think his method is irrational under the vast majority of circumstances. In the case that winning an endurance bike race saves one million lives this strategy is not that bad, however.

Comment author: hirvinen 24 October 2009 06:08:39PM 1 point [-]

That's a value judgement. He appears to think the risks he places himelf in when he's not in control are an acceptable price for the utility he derives from his bicycling.

Comment author: hirvinen 22 October 2009 05:16:53PM 1 point [-]

Did Eliezer or someone else with admin rights just edit the tags? I don't think this is really relevant to akrasia, as it isn't about doing something that wouldn't otherwise be done at all, but ignoring thoughts known to be erroneous("I'm at the limit of my strength"), making a convulsive effort and doing the winning thing instead of the "sensible" or "rational."

Comment author: eirenicon 22 October 2009 05:53:52PM 4 points [-]

Wouldn't ignoring thoughts known to be erroneous despite immense physical pressure to listen to them be a display of extreme rationality?

Comment author: jimmy 22 October 2009 08:51:10PM 1 point [-]

Maybe. How well do we think the ability to push one's self exceptionally hard during exercise correlates to non exercise akrasia or believing uncomfortable things in general?

For the first data point, I have a friend that does adventure racing, and his whole team 'takes turns' hallucinating, and rely on those less insane at the moment to keep them going in the right direction.

He doesn't seem to have akrasia problems, but does hold beliefs that I think are only there because it'd be uncomfortable and unPC to believe otherwise.