60-year-old New Haven CEO seeks to establish women’s bike racing record

But it’s possible that in a recent decision the 60-year-old did listen to herself but chose to ignore her gut feeling. That is because she knows it’s possible that maybe the 3,000-mile cycling marathon she will start Saturday is not something a human being should do.

However, that’s what the annual cycling mega-marathon Race Across America does to people who need an extra push. It forces them to find a resolve they didn’t know existed.

“I’ve been racing bicycles for a while. I had no interest in RAAM because it’s so grueling,” Karter said.

Karter, chief executive officer of New Haven-based Chabaso Bakery, will participate in RAAM with a four-member, all-women team. The race starts in Oceanside, California, and those who find a way to complete it finish in Annapolis, Maryland.

All four members are accomplished cyclists 58 and older: Susan Lynch, 58, of Dorset, Vermont; Margaret Thompson, 63, of Clinton, New York; and Neil Withington, 66, of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Their age is a major reason they decided to participate in the race. Age is also the key that opened Karter’s mind. After finding that RAAM records for women older than 50 were almost nonexistent, Karter decided to act. Karter said the team will be one of a handful of teams whose journey will be filmed by a RAAM-sponsored documentary.

“I was just, ‘where are the women? Where are the 60-year-old women? We do all sorts of stuff; we’re quite capable,” Karter said. “I’m capable at 60 years old of getting onto a bicycle from California to Annapolis at top speed. It’s pretty great.”

Karter said she’s aware of the dangers posed by the race that will require minimal rest and maximum effort. As the day draws near, her excitement is growing, she said. Her attitude has shifted.

“For the longest time, I wondered what planet I was on when I decide to do this,” Karter said. “I have very mixed feelings about it. I was committed and I was training but I (had) … mixed emotions about doing the event.”

The event website says the race is more than 30 percent longer than Tour de France. For team racers like Karter, each rider will participate in two groups, which will alternate riding every 20 minutes over 10-hour periods. The riders will traverse 12 states, three mountain ranges and climb more than 170,000 vertical feet. Karter said the team wants to complete the trek in seven days. The four-member team requires a 16-member support crew and five vehicles.

Twenty minutes sounds short until Karter explains how fast that cyclist is going.

“It has been optimized for speed … one is riding at 19 mph, the other (cyclist) is in a car behind, being driven to the next place,” Karter said.

If fortune is on their side, each rider will get about five hours of horizontal rest, which non-racing humans call sleep.

Training for the race requires about 300 miles of cycling each week. This is done both on a stationary bike and with actual biking. Atop this training, additional strength training is required. Karter’s training regimen has seeped into her work life: She says she installed a stationary cycle in her office.

“It’s a little unconventional for an office environment,” Karter said.

The racers will help raise money for the Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Brigham Health is the team’s major sponsor.

The team doesn’t just want the record for themselves. They see their endeavor as a cycling statement for all women, who society often expects to live a quieter life past 60, she said.

“(With) some notable exceptions, (older women)aren’t even expected to be in a position of power or authority,” Karter said. “They’re considered old. That’s not the case for men in their 60s. Women in their 60s are expected to look younger than they are. That’s also not the case for men.”

Karter said she’s faced obstacles in and out of the boardroom setting. She’s seen it when she competes in athletic events, noticing how older women athletes receive less attention in the public eye than their male peers, she said.

“I think that’s bad for society,” Karter said. “Women are a huge part of the wisdom, of our collective wisdom of our society.”

Reach Esteban L. Hernandez at 203-680-9901.

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