Cycling to Siddhartha was always about pushing himself beyond his physical capacity. Being the kid who used to wake up every morning and dread pedaling 4 kms to his school to achieving his first 300 km BRM in 14 hours! Lines from his favourite movie, The Matrix, “Don’t think you can, know you can”, reflect his own mental prowess that drives him to excel each and every time. Sandeep Shetty, co-founder of Livingit, connected with Siddhartha Gadekar for the #IamLivingit series and his passion for cycling.
Cycling story: The Beginnings….
Four years ago, Siddhartha Gadekar, a budding 21-year-old psychology student from Pune, began cycling as an exercise. Pune’s beautiful environs, surrounded by mountains, dams, and ghats with splendid views served as an additional motivation to pursue cycling and soak in the natural beauty. After being encouraged by a friend and fellow cyclist, Prashant Tidke, Siddhartha participated in a 300 km BRM (long distance cycling event). He soon realized his forte in the field when he could complete the event in good time. His love for cycling and the outdoors made him start participating in bicycle racing events. He soon started winning a couple of races in succession. After participating in several cycling events, Siddhartha found his niche in hill climbing or mountain cycling. His athletic physique and low weight as compared to other cyclists worked to his advantage.
The Spark of Motivation
While he was mastering his cycling skills, Siddhartha came across an opportunity to witness the Deccan Cliffhanger (DC), a 643 km Ultra Cycling Race from Pune to Goa , as a crew member. The experience left him fascinated as he found the race to be a true test of an athlete’s abilities, riding day and night, combatting the long duration, fatigue, and varying temperatures. Also, finishers of the 32-hour race would be qualified for the Race Across America (RAAM), the world’s toughest bicycle race. Though not an ultra-endurance cyclist, he was keen to participate in the DC event. Siddhartha was also selected for the Maharashtra state cycling team and was invited to participate in the National Road Cycling Championship. The National Road Race is a 100 km flat race where team tactics and luck play an important part in your team’s performance in the race. As luck would have had it, both the DC race and the National Road Race were to be held on the same day. Having set his heart on the DC race, Siddhartha had to make a tough choice of selecting one of the events. While he considered it an honour to be invited for the Nationals, he had to let go of the opportunity to pursue what he was really passionate about.
Siddhartha had started training a month before the DC event but was a bit too quick to ramp up and suffered a hamstring injury, thus had to reluctantly back out of the race. Though sad at the loss of opportunity, Siddhartha wanted to keep his spirits high and used this time to go on a solo trekking trip to the magnificent, 200 km long Annapurna circuit in Nepal.
Not one to sit idle, he pursued other interests while giving time for his injury to heal. Being a trained mountaineer from Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling, he went on to guide a trek to Everest base camp.
Planning for the DC Race: The Ultra Race
After a six-month gap, he was determined to achieve what he had set out for – the DC race! But this time, he planned to be cautious and ramp up gradually over a period of 3 months to avoid any injuries. He soon set out with his plan of ½ hour training every day to 1-2 hours and finally 10-20 hours of mock rides. Sponsored by Psynyde Bikes, he thoughtfully selected his crew of 4 members Abhijeet Marathe, Ajit Deswandikar, Pranjali Palkar and Adwait Parchure to cater to the long-distance travel, his nutrition, and physical health during the race and resolve bicycle issues that might arise.
With all this in tow, Siddhartha was now well-prepared for the DC race, the only hitch being his college exams which were scheduled before the race. The break in the training program due to the exams led to a few unknown factors like cramps, that cropped up during the race.
Being a psychology student, Siddhartha analyzed that emotions play an important role in a road race or an endurance event. Whatever emotion is felt by the contestant sets the tone for the ride and if you are going through a negative set of emotions, your chances of winning are very low. However, Siddhartha learnt to use his emotions, both positive as well as negative, to fuel his physical efforts which in turn helped him get brilliant results.
“D-day” for the DC Race
Siddhartha was used to the high intensity and short duration races but competing in the DC race required him to do the exact opposite. Without any formal coach or mentor, self-learning and meticulous planning of all aspects of the race was his only support. He had to keep his intensity low to cover the 650 km race. Part of the plan was to meet the time frame for the 3 major climbs of the race at Katraj, Khambatki, and Mahabaleshwar. Siddhartha knew that the endurance race was all about conserving energy. Stopping for five minutes every hour for a food and water break, Siddhartha kept his energy level high. Even for the food part, he ensured that all the foods that he consumed were tried and tested ones. Drinking water especially in the evening and night helped to keep his body well-hydrated.
The DC race allowed the cyclists to take breaks, you could even nap during the night as most riders fell asleep while riding and sometimes even the crew might fall asleep, leading to accidents. Combatting sleep and fatigue was the toughest part of the endurance race. However, Siddhartha had already foreseen this and instructed his crew to keep talking to him through the night. This prevented a close fall that might have occurred as Siddhartha dozed off while cycling and his team kept honking to keep him awake. Siddhartha avoided longer breaks, as they served as a disadvantage with the body cooling down and it was important to stay warm and active.
The race had gone on well except for getting cramps at Khambatki, where he had to stop to get a massage. He quickly covered the distance from Satara to Belgaum because of the flat terrain and the body getting into a rhythm by evening. The stretch through the Tiger reserve posed another challenge, with temperatures dipping to 2-3 degrees and the fear of wild animals which kept him awake. Poor visibility in the early morning hours and the increasing humidity as the day progressed, made the last stretch, a gruelling one. Siddhartha was finally able to complete the race in 28.5 hours and came 4 th in the race, thus, qualifying him for the RAAM.
The Ultimate Goal: Race Across America (RAAM)
The RAAM held in the USA, is one of the toughest endurance races covering 4800km from the West coast to the East coast with the cut off time being 13.5 days. Siddhartha is one of the youngest Indian to qualify for RAAM as the average age for a RAAM finisher is 44 years. He hopes to compete for RAAM but the lack of funds and sponsors has made him shelve the idea for now. With not many racing opportunities and sponsors in India, Siddhartha aims to travel to countries which promote the sport such as Europe, America or Australia and get sponsored by a team. This would help him achieve his ultimate goal of competing in the RAAM.
Emotional connect with Cycling
Cycling has helped Siddhartha understand himself better as a human being and explore his own boundaries. In the last 4 years, he has experienced more personal growth sitting atop his bike as compared to 21 years of his existence. He also feels that he is now more attuned and sympathetic to other people’s emotional state and can tap into that to motivate them or change their thought process.
Cycling has given him the opportunity to meet amazing people and make new friends. Siddhartha Gadekar mentions that there are some things you can’t learn from a book or in a college or getting a degree, his journey on the bike has been a similar experience.
Message to Budding Cyclists
Having had several accidents himself, Siddhartha advises budding cyclists to compulsorily wear a helmet while cycling, always keep to the left and avoid riding in the middle of the road. He also emphasizes that ear phones should be avoided while cycling and it is important to keep a safe distance from other vehicles. Though road conditions are improving, it is quite probable that you might come across bad patches, thus it is important to be vigilant while cycling. He suggests that those living in Pune could go cycling along with friends, or alone, to the city outskirts and experience amazing natural beauty within 25 km of the city.
Siddhartha mentions that, whatever sport you practice, to make it more enriching and meaningful it is important to have your idols and learn from them. He also states that youngsters should learn to appreciate things. Siddhartha draws inspiration from many sports icons like Manny Pacquiao (Boxer), Floyd Mayweather Jr. (Boxer), Dorian Yates (Bodybuilder), Ayrton Senna (F1 champ), Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe (Swimmers), Kōhei Uchimura (Artistic gymnast), Sébastien Loeb (Rallying), Mike Tyson (Boxer), Muhammad Ali (Boxer) and many more. Some of his own learnings are “It’s not about how hard you hit, it’s about how you can get hit, how much you can take and yet keep moving forward… One step, one pedal, one mile at a time…”
Siddhartha Gadekar currently works as a spinning instructor at The Room, a lifestyle and fitness club at Pune. Either teaching or training himself, he ensures that he keeps his body active at all times. To all those who know him, Siddhartha is a generous, helpful, fun-loving and incredibly laid-back person. He also prefers to keep himself grounded and humble so that he never stops learning. This is one thing he learnt from his father, Mr. Meher Gadekar who always encouraged him to take the road less travelled. As he rightly puts it “The day you think of yourself as a know-all, your personal growth stops.”
His next target is getting back to competing for short races across India and getting selected for the nationals as well. With RAAM and climbing Mt. Everest topping his bucket list, Siddhartha Gadekar is an inspiration for many to follow.
He sums up his cycling experience in an old Latin proverb –
“Temetnosce”, which means “Know thyself”.
India has actually started to really take a liking towards cycling as a sport, a passion or even a lifestyle. Read more on The Mass High – Increasing Popularity for Cycling in India.