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Q&A: Mileage world record holder Amanda Coker

How many miles did you put on your car last year? On May 14, 2017, Amanda Coker, 24, set a new world record for the most miles ridden in a year. (The UltraMarathon Cycling Association oversees the mark, referred to by the acronym HAM’R, or Highest Annual Mileage Record.) She rode a staggering 86,573.2 miles, for an average of 237.19 miles per day for 365 straight days.

You’d imagine she took a nice long nap after that. Wrong.

Coker kept on riding. She had her sights set on another record: accumulating 100,000 miles faster than any human before her. She accomplished that feat in 423 days, on July 11, averaging 20.31 miles per hour.

The numbers alone are stunning. When you consider that six years ago Coker suffered a traumatic brain injury after being hit on her bike from behind by a distracted motorist — which left her with a multitude of debilitating symptoms, including depression and anxiety — it seems unfathomable.

It isn’t. Every day, for 423 consecutive days, Coker awoke before sunrise to set out on one of three bikes — a road, TT, or recumbent bike — allowing her to use slightly different muscle groups (that’s legal, according to UMCA rules). Efficiency and economy were crucial to Coker’s efforts. That, in part, led her to choose Flatwoods Park near her home in Tampa, Florida, as the venue for the large majority of her miles.

That’s right, she rode nearly every one of those 100,000 miles around a seven-mile loop in a wooded suburban park. Her devoted parents, mother Donna and father Ricky, supported her during 13-hour-long days. It also helped her inspire hundreds of other park users. So many decided to set personal records that a celebratory poster was created to document the so-called 100- and 200-mile club.

We caught up with Coker just days after she completed her monumental ride.

VeloNews: First of all, how do you feel? Physically? Emotionally?
Amanda Coker: Emotionally and physically I feel amazing! I’m in the best shape I’ve been in my entire life. I am excited to be an actual world record holder, and am already looking forward to new challenges.

VN: Why did you want to do the HAM’R? When did you decide to go for the 100,000-mile record?
AC: After I competed at Sebring in the 12-hour race in February 2016, several fellow cyclists suggested that I should attempt to set a women’s HAM’R. In 1939, the Guinness World Record was set by Billie Dovey at 29,603.7 miles, for 365 days. I was already riding 100 miles several days a week and felt sure I could push that average for a year. I didn’t know how far I could push so there was only one way to find out, and that way was to go for it. In all reality I wanted to push my limits every day to the max without injuring myself. So once I was in that rhythm I just continued on with as many miles as I could do.

I decided go after the 100,000-mile record more than a month before I finished my HAM’R attempt. Estimating what my final total for the year would be, my parents and I calculated that I would “only” need about 14,000 miles to reach 100,000 miles. Figuring I’d more than likely never be that close to the 100,000-mile record again, we decided why not go for it.

VN: Was there ever a time when you thought, “This is a waste of my time?”
AC: Never!

VN: What did you think about? How did you keep yourself entertained?
AC: Believe it or not, I was never bored. I truly enjoyed spending the majority of my record at Flatwoods, away from vehicles, where I could concentrate on the task at hand. Over time I got to know many of the people that frequented Flatwoods, and we all started to motivate each other. I still can’t believe the amount of people that have approached me who are thankful for the inspiration I gave them. Inspiration is contagious! During the many hours that I was riding solo, I did listen to a random mix of music.

VN: What hurt the most?
AC: Other than saddle sores, which I’d rather not go into detail about, there were several injuries related to crashes that hampered my well-being. Even though I was in pain, I chose to keep rolling and pushed through.

The discipline and mental fortitude it takes to put in the enormous amount of miles day after day was an even bigger challenge to overcome, but I did it.

Photo courtesy Amanda Coker

VN: Speaking of fortitude, how did you possibly have the strength to do this every day for 423 straight days?
AC: Not long ago my cycling career was abruptly ended, almost permanently. Sitting and slowly recovering between each surgery, I had a lot of time to think about missing cycling. I vowed to myself to never take it for granted if I could ever get back on the bike. Anytime I hit a wall during my attempt I remembered back to those times sitting sedentary, wishing I were riding, so I dug deep and just kept pedaling. I used those horrible memories as motivation.

There were no days off; that was not an option for me.

My shortest day was 55 miles during Hurricane Hermine. If it were up to me I would’ve kept riding, but for safety reasons my parents persuaded me to stop for the day.

My longest day was 402 miles. It took me a little over 19 hours and a lot of self-motivation.

VN: How did this effort impact your recovery from the TBI?
AC: You never really recover from a brain injury; your brain learns how to adapt. Pushing my mind and body to the maximum limits day after day provided me with therapeutic endorphins, which in turn played a major part in the neurological healing.

VN: When you were at your lowest moments after the crash in 2011, did you ever imagine you would be able to set world records for riding your bike?
AC: Absolutely not. I honestly thought I would never ride my bike again, which just goes to show you if you want something bad enough, you can find a way.

VN: What has this journey taught you about yourself, and how will you use what you learned going forward?
AC: I’ve learned that every person has problems and challenges that must be overcome, to be as good as they can be. I have learned to do that myself, and am eager to share it with others along the way. We can grow and overcome together. I have also learned that I really enjoy inspiring others and that more and more people take courage from the things accomplished in my own journey, and I find that to be a rich and rewarding experience.

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