At 45, Pune cyclist Preeti Mhaske has set a new Guinness World Record as the fastest woman to cycle solo from Leh to Manali, covering a distance of over 430 km in 55 hours and 13 minutes.
Tell us about your cycling journey so far.
I have always been interested in sports, but it was not until 2017 that I took up cycling and running when I took part in a parent running competition organized by my children . To my surprise, I finished first in the race. It made me feel like I was able to manage my family and pursue my passion for the sport at the same time. Also, I started participating in other competitions, which were a combination of running, cycling and swimming. Over the past five years, I have not only cycled around different parts of our country, but also started my own cycle manufacturing business. Breaking records was only possible because I embraced the opportunities when they knocked on my door.
Preeti Mhaske after completing her solo cycling expedition in Manali
How did you prepare for the solo cycling expedition from Leh to Manali?
The pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty when it comes to training. Fortunately, Guinness World Records approved my applications for running and cycling, and I was able to get back on track. Each endorsement comes with a time needed to break any record, and for me that was 60 hours. Many around me were worried and suggested I opt for running instead. But I knew it was my chance and I had to make the most of it. I felt that even if I couldn’t break the record, I shouldn’t give up and at least complete the course. The Indian Army and the hidden heroes of the Border Roads Organization (BRO) division have helped me throughout my journey and of course my family has been my biggest cheerleader.
What challenges did you encounter during this record-breaking race?
The biggest challenge for anyone not from this part of the country is the altitude. It all starts above 11,500 feet, and it becomes very difficult to breathe. Another challenge I faced was strong headwinds, which caused my usual cycling speed to drop. I also experienced extreme temperatures during the day and night. I remember very well that when crossing the last pass, my oxygen level suddenly dropped. I had to take a break and seek medical help. I was sleep deprived and riding my bike in the snow at midnight. Even a momentary wink may have led to something dangerous, so my teammates were constantly shouting and honking their horns to keep me awake.
What advice would you give our readers?
There is no age barrier to explore your passion. Not many people are aware of this about me, but cycling has really helped me go from unfit to becoming fit than before. I was dealing with severe anemia, PCOD, and hormonal imbalance between 2015 and 2017. Running and cycling made it easier for me to focus on the positives, and even my meds worked better than before. Opportunity is knocking at everyone’s door; you have to grab it, believe in yourself and give it a shot.