Prof pedals 765-mile ‘commute’

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Alex MillerUT was never far from Alex Miller’s mind as he participated in Europe’s premier amateur ultra-endurance bicycling event last August.

The 100-year-old event, known as the "Paris-Brest-Paris," is a race against the clock, requiring riders to complete a 765-mile course through the hilly French countryside in 90 hours or less. Alex Miller, the associate dean for executive education in the College of Business Administration, completed the grueling ride in just over 84 hours with daily performances of 265, 200, 200, and 100 miles, respectively.

A dedicated training regimen helps explain his success. His year-long preparation for the event included commuting by bike from his home in New Market, Tennessee, to his job at the university as often as possible. The round-trip commute of 50 miles is about the same as the distance between the French event’s control stops, where riders’ health and progress were checked.

The race also required considerable mental discipline.

"Instead of thinking about the entire 765 miles, I focused on the control stops instead," Miller says. "Mentally, I told myself this is just another commute to UT. All I had to do was commute to school 16 times over four days and the ride would be over with."

Paris-Brest-ParisLike the other 5,200 riders who started the course, Miller faced three days of rain, headwinds and cold weather, all of which made this year’s ride one of the most challenging in recent history. Only 3,600 of the bikers completed the entire course.

To finish in less than 90 hours, Miller resorted to extreme measures. He ate most of his meals on his bike to save time and slept a total of only eight hours over the four days.

That took its toll.

At one point, Miller’s digestive system shut down. During one 20-hour period, he was able to eat only 50 to 100 calories per hour. Still burning about 500 calories per hour, he became delirious and began to hallucinate. When he pulled off the road to lie down during a dark, rainy night, a couple driving by stopped their car to check on him. They spoke no English, but the man covered Miller with his coat while they sat with him until he was able to continue his ride.

But Miller has no complaints. "What made it really special was the people and how incredibly supportive they were," he says. Passionate about cycling, people of all ages lined the cobblestone streets of villages and waited alongside cornfields day and night to support the riders.

Alex Miller is the William B. Stokely Professor of Management and associate dean for the Center for Executive Education. A UT faculty member since 1984, he specializes in strategic planning, organizational innovation, and change. He has worked on the development of several graduate programs at UT and is known for his passionate, dynamic and demanding classroom style.

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