After experiencing the death of her partner, Juliana Buhring set out to ride around the world. Some 18,000 miles, 152 days, 4 continents, 19 countries and a cyclone later she made it
As a woman, do you feel that it’s important to get your story out there? Do we hear enough stories about what women are capable of in the endurance world?
I never really thought of myself as being any different from the men when it comes to cycling. I ride for the joy of riding as well as a good helping of curiosity as to how far I can push my own body and limits. Unfortunately it is a lot more difficult for a woman to find a way to support her cycling addiction than it is for the men. There is still a rather gaping disparity between the sexes when it comes to sponsorship and salaries both within professional racing and amateur. Perhaps as more and more women are starting to take on these kind of extreme rides and races, the interest of the public, media and subsequently, sponsors will start to pick up. It is always harder when you are among the first to do something, but if my rides and races help increase the interest for women in future events, then I will feel more than compensated.
What was it inside you that kept you in the saddle when so many others would have given up? What did this ride teach you about yourself?
I think I am my own worst enemy. When that self-preservation warning alarm sounds in my head, I just switch it off and carry on. I suppose it may be due to foresight and knowing the personal consequences of quitting. I could never live with myself if I were to give up. This ride taught me that you are always stronger than you think and whatever limitations we think we have are generally self-constructed and self-imposed by our own fears as a consequence of either social, religious, cultural or personal conditioning.
Would you recommend endurance challenges as a way to process grief?
I would venture to say some of the greatest human exploits come off the back of some great loss, or period of turmoil and suffering. Mental and emotional suffering can be a lot more painful than physical, so if you can endure the one, you can usually handle the other pretty well. I think just being out in nature and bringing yourself back to the basics of existence, ie. eating, sleeping, and physical activity, is a great way to process just about anything life throws at you. It reminds you of who you are and what it’s all about, when everything else is stripped away.
What was the worst day on the bike and how did you manage to get through it and not quit?
I think there were a lot of “worst days”. A number of them come to mind, but possibly one of the worst was cycling with diarrhoea in India under the burning heat with no food or water. I got through that episode by laughing. Come to think of it, most of the bad times I either gave myself the “snap out of it, stop feeling sorry for yourself and toughen up” talk, or I found a way to laugh about it. Laughing makes everything bearable.
What practical tips can you give us mere mortals who are training for marathons or triathlons? Any foods/training tips you can share?
Two words: Go Primal. If you’re curious enough to research what that means and try it, you’ll understand what I am talking about. That, and train your mind as much or more than you train your body. It is 70 per cent in the head.
How does it feel to be an inspirational role model for other women? What words of encouragement can you pass on?
I don’t know that I am, but if so, it’s really just an added bonus for me. I rather shrink from the word “inspirational” as I feel it is so overused these days, almost like being inspirational is turning into a fashion trend. Actions speak louder than words. Be true to yourself. Do what you love and if that inspires others to do what they love, fabulous. But never do it for that reason. Do it for you, not for anyone else.
How is training going for The Race Across America in June – what are your expectations for this event?
Training is going well. I am working with Billy Rice from Invictus Cycling and Performance and he’s got me pushing myself physically in the healthiest possible way. I have no real expectations, because that is the surest way to ruin a new experience. I will go as hard as I can, take my body as far as I can, but above all, I plan to just enjoy the ride.
• This Road I Ride by Juliana Buhring is available in paperback (Piatkus, £13.99)