The day – 76-year-old Dave Burnett hopes to set a national cross-country race record
Norwich – Dave Burnett will embark on a cross-country trip on Saturday that will take him from a southern California beach to a seaside dock in Annapolis, Md.
It will cross the Rocky Mountains, the Mojave Desert, the Great Plains and the Mississippi River, and will pass through Gettysburg.
But he won’t have time for sightseeing.
“Just the road ahead and the potholes,” Burnett said on Friday of what he will be examining at the prestigious Race Across America.
the RAAM website calls the event “the toughest cycling race in the world”. The race has solo runners, who need specially designed splints to support their necks due to fatigue, as well as teams of four or eight runners. In its 38th year, RAAM normally attracts runners from around the world, but COVID-19 restrictions on international travel will narrow the field this year.
“There is no other race in the world like RAAM,” the website says. “There is no race that combines distance, terrain and weather; no other event that tests a team’s spirit from start to finish. The race inspires everyone who participated: rider, crew, staff and fans. RAAM is the real test of speed, endurance, strength and camaraderie, the ideal combination of work and play.
Burnett, 76, will compete in a four-man squad with an average age of over 75, with a vital 12-member support team coordinating everything from bike repairs to food to ensure their gear and their well-labeled garment bags follow them.
His team is called NOMI or No Old Man In, named after Toby Keith’s country song, “Don’t Let the Old Man In,” which urges older men to “get up and go out” and not let the old man knock on the door between. It is sponsored by Hammer Nutrition, a manufacturer of nutritional supplements for endurance sports.
Burnett, who has said he will have his “front wheel on the start line at Oceanside” on June 19, is expected to be on the road as the team climbs to the highest altitude, around 11,000 feet above. from sea level at Wolf Creek Pass, Colo. , and expects to be in the final sprint across the finish line.
The NOMI team has higher aspirations than finishing the race.
In 2012, at 68, Burnett was part of a four-man squad that set the record for the 70-year-old middle age category in the RAAM. This year’s teammate, Dur Higgins of Chattanooga, Tenn., Was part of that team. Now, along with Higgins and new teammates Ed Chamberlain of Colorado and Larry Peterson of Utah, Burnett wants to set the record for the 75+ age group.
The 2012 team finished in six days, 13 hours and 13 minutes, averaging 19.04 mph. Burnett remembers hitting the finish line desperately to stay above the 19 mph mark.
“It sounds so much better to say 19 miles an hour than ‘almost’ 19,” he said.
Don Metz’s book “More Than a Race” chronicled Burnett’s team in 2012. The cover shows Burnett climbing the Wolf Creek Pass. Burnett said shortly before the photo was taken he passed the runner seen in the distance.
“Competition is in my blood,” said Burnett.
In his early twenties, he went to California to race motorcycles. Later, as a longtime director of Reliance House, now Reliance Health in Norwich, Burnett competed in local road races. At 60, an old pre-school football knee injury ended his run and he took to cycling.
His racing uniform is trimmed with red, white and blue stripes, white stars inside the blue stripes. Only national racing champions can wear these stripes. Burnett has won six United States National Masters Cycling Championships.
Locally, Burnett often rises from his home on Huntington Lane in Norwich to Scotland Road north to Canterbury and Scotland. Either he’s heading west to Colchester or south to Mystic. But for his final workout, Burnett didn’t leave the stationary bike in his basement, simulating the nine hours of riding for 20 minutes and resting for 20 minutes that he and a teammate will experience during the race. He will then rest for nine hours while the other two team members ride.
“He can make anything a competition,” said Nancy Burnett, his wife of 43 years. “If he and his brothers walked up the aisle, they’d be in a sprint at the end. They could make a contest with anything.
Nancy Burnett will remain at their Huntington Lane home on Tuesday after sending Dave on a flight to California to prepare for the four-way relay that begins on Saturday, June 19. She will follow his progress on Facebook and racing channels and plans to plan a trip to Annapolis to meet him at the finish line. Their adult children, their daughters Molly in Berkeley, Calif., And Laura in the Boston area, and their son Andrew in Norwich, will also follow their father from a distance.
In the 2012 race, Burnett’s body rejected the punishment and came to a halt during a pass through the Arizona desert. He ended up in a hospital receiving 3 liters of IV electrolytes. His teammates raced extra lengths during his absence, and Burnett recovered in time to sprint those final miles to the finish line.
“We have the experience now, but he’s also nine years older,” said Nancy Burnett of her concerns. “I’ll be happy when it’s over. However, it could be safer than when driving on the back roads here. “