Juneau doctor cycles to women's solo title in grueling Race Across America

Beth Bragg

Janice Sheufelt, a Juneau doctor who spent much of the winter pedaling a stationary bike in her garage, won the women's solo division in the unforgiving Race Across America ultra-marathon bike race Sunday.

Her 3,000-mile journey ended in Annapolis, Maryland, a little less than 12 days after it began in Oceanside, California. Along the way, Sheufelt took a doctor-mandated 15-hour break in Colorado that included an emergency-room visit for altitude sickness.

She finished in 11 days, 18 hours, 2 minutes, beating the next-fastest woman by more than 14 hours. Six women attempted the race; three of them finished it.

Sheufelt, 47, is a family physician and clinic administrator at the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium's Ethel Lund Medical Center. She is a Sealaska tribal member who was awarded the National Indian Health Board's National Impact Award in 2012 for her service to the Native community.

She's also a ultra-marathoning maniac. A year ago, Sheufelt and a partner set a RAAM age-group record in the coed division of a race that is one of the longest endurance cycling events in the world. In her ultramarathon debut in 2011, Sheufelt beat six-time RAAM women's champion Seana Hogan to win the Furnace Creek 508, a 508-mile race with 35,000 feet of climbing.

To win RAAM's solo women's title, Sheufelt averaged 10.71 mph on a highway-to-highway course that included 170,000 feet of vertical climbing. In a race with more horror stories than a Stephen King anthology -- race-ending hemorrhoids, sleep deprivation and debilitating and, most seriously, run-ins with vehicles that have resulted in two deaths since the race began in 1982 -- Sheufelt's biggest challenge came in Colorado's Rocky Mountains.

After finishing Sunday, Sheufelt told ridefarther.com that she felt fine until she neared the Continental Divide and started wheezing.

"Over Wolf Creek Pass I couldn't breathe at all," she said. "I couldn't put any power into the pedals. So when I got down to South Fork I knew I was in trouble. That's when we decided to go to the hospital."

An emergency room doctor in Del Norte, Colorado, told her she needed to stay off her bike. "He said the only way I could finish was by being off for the next 12 hours and then going as easy as I could," Sheufelt told ridefarther.com.

She put the brakes on her race, allowing two racers to pass her before getting back on her bike the next day. For two days she continued to wheeze and cough, she told ridefarther.com.

"Then I finally started feeling better in eastern Kansas where there started to be some humidity," she said. "It was like a light switch went on and I could put power into the pedals."

In her bio on the RAAM website, Sheufelt said she does much of her training indoors: "I live in Alaska and ride my trainer for over half the year," it says.

"I've gotten used to it," she told ridefarther.com earlier this year. "It's just what I have to do. But I have a really good coach, Hunter Allen, so I always have a workout plan. It's never 'Just get on the trainer and ride for nine hours.' That's really crucial for my sanity when riding the trainer."

At an awards banquet Sunday, Sheufelt cleaned up. She claimed the Seana Hogan Award for being the fastest woman, the Queen of the Prairies Award, the Queen of the Mountains Award and the Queen of the ER Award.

Team and solo riders from around the world competed in this year's RAAM. Among the entries: Pippa Middleton, sister of Duchess Kate, who raced on an eight-person team that finished in less than seven days.

The top solo finisher was Austria's Christoph Strausser, 32, who won in a record-setting time of 7 days, 15 hours, 56 minutes.

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn,.com or call her at 257-4335.