NORWALK — Phil Millard says the record number of 100-mile races he rode on his bicycle last year was only a stepping stone to bigger things, such as a 500-mile race, and maybe even a 3,000-mile, cross-country race.
"It's the challenge," said Millard, a 38-year-old printer. "It's another goal. I could sit down and say I did it. No matter what, no one could take it away from me."
The Norwalk resident is the 1988 champion of the Ultra-Marathon Cycling Assn.'s "century" division. He rode 39 official century races last year, more than anyone else in the 1,500-member association, said John Marino, president of the Irvine-based group. The second-place finisher, Ray Balz of Long Beach, finished 34 century races, Marino said.
Millard has ridden six century races this year and is training every day for a 500-mile race in October that will start in Valencia, run through Death Valley and finish in Twentynine Palms.
If Millard rides well enough, he will qualify for the 1990 Race Across AMerica, sponsored by the Ultra-Marathon Cycling Assn. The grueling event runs about 3,000 miles. This year's race will begin Aug. 13 at the Orange County Fairgrounds and end in New York City.
Pete Penseyres of Fallbrook holds the record time for the race, which he completed in eight days, nine hours and 47 minutes in 1986.
Millard, slender and tan, seems almost too casual as he talks about ultra-marathons, races of more than 200 miles.
"One guy in the association said ultra-marathoning is a dirty job but somebody has to do it," Millard said. "That says it all."
Millard said he was not big on strenuous exercise until fairly recently. He ran a bit from 1969 to 1975, when he was in the U.S. Marine Corps. But in the years after his discharge, he was mostly a couch potato.
Then in late 1983, a friend bet Millard that during the next six months, he wouldn't finish a marathon run. Millard won the bet. He said he ran his first 26.2-mile race, the Long Beach Marathon, in February, 1984. He ran the San Francisco Marathon the following August. His times were only average, Millard said, and his body did not take well to marathons.
"I got stress fractures and shin splints," he said. "I wasn't really trained for the distance."
Millard bought a bicycle in early 1985 while he was recovering.
"I found it was much easier on my body, and never went back to running," Millard said. "I could go out and ride 100 or 200 miles and feel better than if I had run 26. It didn't seem like a hard decision."
And there is the solitude, the emotional release, said Millard, who also likes to build model airplanes and read.
"What I like the most about cycling is you can gear the workout to fit your mood," he said. "If you're upset about something, instead of breaking things you get out there and ride as fast as you can."
In addition to the century races, which range from 90 to 150 miles, Millard said he has ridden five races of more than 200 miles. Millard says his forte is endurance, which enabled him to be the century champ.
"It's strictly ability--he who grinds the longest," Millard said.
He finished first in four century events, which usually take him about five and a half hours to complete, including stops to refill his water bottles. His cruising speed is about 20 m.p.h.
Millard, a bachelor, says he trains every day and logs at least 300 miles a week on his lightweight road bike in preparation for the 500-mile qualifying race. He says he intends to work up to 600-mile training weeks before the October race through Death Valley.
If he qualifies, he must then try to attract sponsors to help finance his ride in the 3,000-mile Race Across America. Marino, the cycling association president, said it costs at least $4,000 to participate in the race. Most of that is spent on food and gasoline for support staff and vehicles. Marino said 30 to 40 cyclists enter the race, and about one in three finish.
Those odds do not scare Millard.
"There are no guarantees that I can make it," he said. "But I found if you can dream it, you can do it. Your body can do anything your mind tells it to. Seventy percent of it is mental."