Jul 21, 2023 - News

Meet Iowa's extreme cycling women

Heather Poskevich with her bike (left) and Michelle Pohlmeyer after finishing RAAM (right). Photos: Courtesy of Poskevich and Pohlmeyer

Two Iowa women recently raced in a competition longer than both RAGBRAI and the Tour de France combined.

Driving the news: Race Across America (RAAM) is a 3,000-mile ultra-endurance event spanning 12 states that's dubbed "the world's toughest bicycle race."

State of play: Heather Poskevich, 43, of Polk City, is no stranger to long hours or handling unexpected events. The ER doctor competed solo in RAAM last month and won her 18-49 age division in 10 days and 22 hours.

  • Meanwhile, Urbandale's Michelle Pohlmeyer, 56, raced in a relay team with three men. Her group rode in honor of Dr. Bob Breedlove — a Des Moines orthopedic surgeon who died when a vehicle fatally hit him during the same race in 2005.

How it started: Poskevich was inspired to race RAAM after seeing Urbandale athlete and mom Sarah Cooper win it in 2017.

  • She worked a nearly full-time schedule but still sometimes trained up to 35 hours a week.
  • At times, she found herself cycling on a trainer in her basement for up to seven hours.

Meanwhile, Pohlmeyer, a Des Moines teacher, found extra time to train over the summer and followed a coaching plan. Her group carried Breedlove's gloves and called themselves "It's Another Day in Paradise" in honor of the surgeon's frequent saying.

The biggest challenge: After extensive training and research for the race, there were few surprises for Poskevich, who prepared four different bikes for the event.

  • She slept only three to four hours a day during the race, planning her rest times in the afternoons and gaining distance in the middle of the night.
  • For Pohlmeyer, the biggest hurdle was the mental aspect.
  • "I just didn't know that I could do it," Pohlmeyer says. "For a while, I was doubting everything that I was doing."

Yes, but: They each had crews in vehicles following and supporting them along the way, whether it was massaging an achy limb or putting on a funny costume to break up the monotony of the road.

The big picture: When it comes to ultra-endurance events, research is starting to show females assigned at birth may have an advantage over men.

  • While men generally have larger muscles and more aerobic power, women have better-distributed slow-twitch fiber muscles, which are used to resist fatigue. according to the BBC.

What's next: For Pohlmeyer, riding RAGBRAI, which starts this weekend, will be nothing.

  • "Oh, it's going to be a cakewalk," she says.

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