Where Finishing is Victory

☕️ 5 min read

This was article written for The Post SD an endurance athlete from South Dakota.

A slim, yet athletic looking man sits on the opposite side of the couch from me. He speaks passionately about the journey he is about to undertake. His weathered exterior displays his obvious experience. He speaks with such enthusiasm, excitement and rationality – all necessary ingredients for what he is about to do.

Mike Dunlap, Sioux Falls, is a 53-year-old former marathoner and Sanford Health exercise physiologist. On June 9 he will participate in arguably the most difficult endurance bicycle race in the world. The Race Across America is a staggering 3000 miles and some beginning in California and ending in Maryland that must be completed in 12 days or less. Fewer than 200 people have finished the race in its 27 years of existence.

After an injury in 1991, Dunlap’s running career was sidelined. He was getting stir-crazy and knew he needed to do something. Some of his triathlete friends suggested he come out biking with them. He not so enthusiastically agreed, purchased a cheap bike and went for a ride. With the help of his friends, he quickly learned the tricks of the trade and was soon an avid cyclist. Cycling filled the void that Dunlap’s injury caused. It became a healthy addiction.

Dunlap participated in races regularly and continued to put in a lot of miles on his bike every year. In 2006, the Gut Check 212, a race across the state of South Dakota, was founded. He was a little amazed that people actually wanted to ride across his home state. Dunlap watched the progress of the first one and was immediately intrigued.

He remembers watching the local weather and seeing the map of South Dakota, wondering if he could ride from border to border. This is a common mindset among endurance athletes. Always testing the limits of physical and mental endurance. Dunlap is no exception. He participated in the event the next three years, riding as part of a two-person team twice and solo once.

Dunlap has been specifically preparing for this race for well over a year and feels about as ready as he thinks he could. To say that this race is physically demanding is an understatement. He has spent an almost countless amount of time on his bike physically and mentally getting ready.

Dunlap plans to spend 18 hours on his bike every day. He’s going to allow himself two hours of total time off the bike for breaks throughout the day. That leaves him a whopping four hours to sleep. There’s a common mantra among RAAM riders - “stay on the bike” and obviously Dunlap’s plan adheres to it.

This, however, is only one small piece to RAAM. Weather, food, rest and mechanical issues are all things that are planned for, to a certain extent. The sobering fact is that it’s just impossible to know exactly what the road has in store for Dunlap and his team.

“It’s like an algebra problem. There are just so many variables,” he said.

He’s also preparing for the unplanned. It’s almost a guarantee that something unexpected will happen. It’s really just an understanding that Dunlap and his team have. Something will happen and they will calmly deal with it. That’s the mindset the all must have.

Though this is technically a solo event, Dunlap will be the first to tell you that it is actually quite the opposite. There are 13 official members of his team. This will be the group that will actually accompany him on the road as he pedals across the country. They will be following in an RV and two vans.

He’s also had an incredible amount of support from his sponsors and other friends throughout the last year. It’s definitely been a group effort and Dunlap feels very fortunate to have such an incredible support system.

“I’ll take care of the training,” Dunlap said. “I love to train. The other stuff - not crazy about it. People have been great in helping out with all the planning and fundraising. My job has been to train and just check to make sure everything is getting done.”

Being mentally prepared is enormously important and Dunlap is completely aware of this. One way he plans to battle mental fatigue is to have a large board in his RV with the names of all of those that have donated and supported him on this quest. If he ever feels like he wants to quit, his wife, and team member, Karen is instructed to show him the board. Just a subtle reminder of those that are pulling for him.

There’s an obvious question that needs to be asked. Why do this? So much effort for essentially no tangible reward.

“I just want to see if I can do it,” he said.

If you’re not an endurance athlete, this may seem like a pretty crazy reason to do a 3000-mile bike race. If you are, the answer probably makes a lot of sense. For people like Dunlap there’s always a desire to test the physical and mental limits and RAAM is the ultimate test as far as cycling is concerned.

He also thought this would be a great opportunity to help others. He decided to help two charities that he has close ties to. Dick Beardsley is a good friend, also a team member, who started the Dick Beardsley Foundation, which is a charity focused on education and treatment of chemical dependency. Since Dunlap is employed at Sanford, he also wanted to donate something to theirCardiovascular Health Research Center.

Dunlap estimates the race will about $15,000. He’s set a goal to raise $30.000. At least half of whatever funds are raised will be evenly split and donated to the two organizations. He hopes the whole experience will be a wash for him financially and a great opportunity to raise some money for two causes in which he strongly believes.

The ultimate goal is to simply complete the journey.

“Finishing is victory,” Dunlap said. “Just completing it and coming out the other side would be victory for me.”