At the start of September, X-BIONIC athlete Bernhard Steinberger crowned his career with the European championship title in ultracycling: he won one of the most difficult solo marathon races in the world, the Race Around Ireland (RAI). The Upper Palatinate native needed fewer than 100 hours for the 2150-kilometre race, making it a new German record at the same time.
The RAI is among the hardest races in the ultracycling scene and, this year, was held for the seventh time. Participants cycle around the island non-stop – even breaks are counted against their overall time. So the top riders try to stop as little as possible, reducing sleep to a minimum. Bernhard only slept for 93 minutes in this year’s competition, bringing him to an early victory.
The ultracycling specialist tells us his experience of the race in the interview below – have fun reading it!
How did you feel after this extremely difficult race?
Very well. My head was right back in “racing fever” mode the following day. My body took a little longer. I finished my training unit on the fifth day after crossing the finish line. Now I’m back in casual training and I’m just enjoying movement again. And of course, new sports goals are spinning around in my head again.
What was the best/worst moment during your 100 hours of racing?
Apart from Ireland’s incredible landscape, the best part was my 8-person support team. They motivated me, cared for my symptoms, kept me in good spirits and were at my back every second of the race, and we had a lot of fun racing. Although some of them were new, everything went just as well as if they’d been doing it for ages.
Some of my “old” support crew had work or family obligations. After all, they do this on a volunteer basis. When I threw my arms around each of my support team at the finish line, that was a very moving moment, yes, WE rocked the island of Ireland! My team is the greatest part of my success! After more than four days, I could finally enjoy a Guinness at the finish line.
The most difficult moment in the race was 80 kilometres from the finish line, when I heard that I was so far ahead that it would be impossible for the second-place rider to overtake me. After that, the kilometres got very long, and it was hard to stay with it. It’s hard to motivate yourself again and to focus when the goal is so close and you can really taste victory.
How did you prepare for this long period of strain next to your full-time job?
With long cycling units of up to 12 hours at the weekends. I also trained at the gym, especially working hard on my stomach and back musculature. I didn’t stint on stability training, either. I also integrated alternative sports like running and swimming into my training for that. I wanted to have as much fun with the training as possible. It was often borderline impossible to get through it all. Full-time job, training, organising everything for the race. And you still need time in there for rest and relaxation, too. That was unfortunately often neglected.
How many hours a week does one have to train in order to manage a race like this one?
I think it isn’t a question of the number of hours that allow you to finish the race in the qualifying period. There are a few core units that count and of course, you really have to have the ability to punish yourself. A long, relaxed ride just to count kilometres certainly isn’t the key to success. With just 15 hours of training a week, it should be possible to finish the race. It’s the quality, not the quantity, that makes the difference.
X-BIONIC is the best sportswear I’ve ever worn!
Did you also practice not sleeping, or sleeping very little?
Not really. I did work shifts. But you can’t really practice not sleeping. In the past, some successful athletes have tried to do just that, but they came to the conclusion that you just can’t train for “sleep withdrawal”. At most, it reduces the regeneration time you need between training units, and that just isn’t the point. During the race, everything just has to come together. You can prepare yourself mentally for the fact that there will be ups and downs. And a good team really makes a decisive difference. I only slept 93 minutes during the four days of the Race Around Ireland.
How did you eat during the race? Did you train for that in advance?
During the race, my support crew kept me well supplied with sports nutritional products like gels, bars, energy shots, iso drinks and protein drinks. But since psychology plays such an important role, I also like to eat gummi bears, pretzel sticks, pickles, potatoes, sausage and I drink soft drinks. Everything gets tested during training, but I can definitely say I’ll eat nearly anything.
How do you prepare your equipment? What do you have to pay special attention to when it comes to clothing?
My equipment was thoroughly tested during training. During the competition itself there are no experiments. Only trustworthy equipment is good enough for the race. Everything has to be comfortable, practical and of course weight is also very important. If you add it all up, if you’re carrying around too much unnecessary weight over that kind of distance, you can save energy fast with the right equipment selection. With the clothing, no seams or anything like that can be a bother; that would be disastrous in an ultracycling race. Every detail has to hug the body perfectly. It should be like a second skin. Too much clothing is restrictive, then you can’t move well at all.
How has your experience with X-BIONIC clothing been to date, especially for the long distances you regularly complete?
X-BIONIC is the best sportswear I’ve ever worn. There are lot of little components that make up success in sports. The same is true of X-BIONIC clothing. Every detail is refined and perfect. The aerodynamic characteristics and natural thermal regulation are supported. If I’m too hot, it cools me off. The nights in Ireland were quite brisk, though, at four to eight degrees Celsius. But I didn’t have to change clothing much. That saved me time and didn’t interrupt my racing rhythm. What really fascinates me is that X-BIONIC clothing lasts so long and is so functional. There are cycling pants I’ve been wearing for five years, and feel just as good on my body as the first day I wore them.
What is your favourite part of X-BIONIC? What is it you wouldn’t want to do without?
My favourite part of X-BIONIC, sorry, I really can’t narrow it down to just one item. The X-SOCKS Silver, the three-quarter bike pants (Bike Bib Tight Medium), Powershirt and the Helmet under my actual biking helmet are all great to wear when it’s a little cooler. There isn’t a single cycling unit where I don’t wear at least one of these items.
What does your planning for the future look like, do you want to defend your title next year in Ireland?
Where the European Championship in ultracycling will take place next year isn’t certain yet. A return to the Emerald Isle is certainly not out of the question. Ireland is the prettiest island I have ever seen. Just the landscape made me really love the race. The Race Around Ireland (RAI) is the ultimate test for both material and body from the point of view of weather and road conditions. In the future, I will naturally continue to pursue ambitious goals. They really motivate me to do my best.
Is the RAAM (Race Across America) something you can see in your future?
Of course. It’s the reason for all of this. A dream. The only true goal. But it’s especially a financial question, since the RAAM costs 30,000 to 50,000 Euros. And if I go to the RAAM, then I don’t just want to “roll along”.
What tips can you give to new enthusiasts who might also want to do this kind of marathon distances?
You should have a lot of fun in almost every training session! Patience and setting small goals are particularly important, both in training and in the race itself. Small injuries should be allowed to heal correctly and thoroughly. Daily stretching is very important, and you should especially never neglect the regeneration time. It’s only in the breaks that your body can recover and become faster and stronger. In training, you should consider: Less is often more! And never try pushing yourself to the breaking point, because sooner or later your body will get its revenge.