Monday, July 20, 2009

Post-RAAM Thoughts & Stuff

* Sometime during the Missouri shift, I got back in the truck after a pull, took in some water and calories, chilled for a bit, then just blurted out towards Matt:


I wasn't pissed or anything - in fact it was the opposite - I was feeling like a million bucks! It's just that all the sudden this thought came to me, and it needed to get out.

Matt and I went on a very philosophical path (I'll leave out the details), and just as we were on the brink of solving all the worlds' problems and figuring out the meaning of life, the voice of our crew chief John, who was in the follow van, apparently right behind us, came through on the walkie-talkie and said:

"Uh guys, you missed your left turn"

Matt and I looked at each other, burst into near uncontrollable laughter, and hammered out a u-turn to get back on track - mentally and logistically!

Probably one of the better conversations I have ever had!

* No, I did not do any of the following:
  • Tracked how many miles I rode
  • How much elevation gain I accumulated
  • What my avg HR was at any point in time
  • Computed an average or normalized power output
  • Counted calories
  • Weighed myself before or after
  • Marked exactly where and when I rode
  • A transition run (ha!)
I like to race on feel. That, and the fact that it's way too much work do all that crap. See a couple bullets down when I talk about the only things we were concerned with and focused on during the race.

But if you must, I have ball park figures:
  • 3,014 miles/8 people = 375
  • 100,000 ft/8 people = 12,500 (Actually, much less since Larry and I didn't do all that much climbing)
  • High (165+)
  • 300W+ (avg)
  • Thousands per shift - pretty much just CHO and sugar.
  • I really could care less about this, but I may have gained a pound or two due to water weight
* Please don't ask the question "How does it compare to an Ironman?". It doesn't in any kind of way.

* Do I want a road bike now? Yup. (I rode my TT bike the entire time)

* We were 4.5 hours/.7 mph faster than last year's team, and came in second to a professional cycling team. The fact that we even led during certain points during the race, and nipped on their heels during others feels really good!

* I don't ever want to look at a Denny's again

* I can't say enough about how anti-climatic the finish was, and this really isn't a bad thing.

* When I think back to all of the states I rode through, I don't think of them as states. For example, Kansas wasn't a state that is part of the US. It was this "thing" or "area" we had to get through. Same with every other "state". It's really hard to describe.

* Everyone is so focused over the course of the week, that it makes the previous bullet point seem not so far fetched. I mean, during a 5 hour shift, the rider is really only concerned with a few things:
  • Do I have a turn coming up on this pull. If so, when, how many, and in what direction?
  • Consume liquid/calories
  • How far into the shift are we? (I mean, how much longer until we are off :) ?)
  • How's the other rider doing
  • About an hour before the shift ended, we would start asking if Greg and Ralph would pick us up on time
Even during our 15 off hours, things weren't lax. We averaged 22+ mph over the "course". Which meant that we had to drive apx. 330 miles during our 15 off hours to make sure we could be in the right general area to take over. Now, driving at 65mph, 330 miles is doable - assuming you can get to a freeway. Since RAAM travels through some rural areas, sometimes you aren't going 65 on a freeway - more like 45mph on some back road.

Things we would have to do during our off shift typically consisted of:
  • You should also get some food shortly after your shift, and if you are lucky, sit down to eat it
  • Call ahead to get a hotel room (this can take multiple iterations)
  • Drive to the hotel right after your shift is done so you aren't playing "catch up" right before your next shif
  • Unpack the truck
  • Shower
  • Get up apx 2 hours before your shift to find out where the current team is, and where they are projected to end up
  • Eat before your shift
  • Prep bottles and/or everything else
  • Get to the projected hand off point, on time
  • Oh yeah, sleep (usually about 3-5 hours)
* Everyone on Monday/Tuesday (after the race) just felt let down. I emailed everyone and was like "Does anyone feel like we didn't just do, what we just did?" There were a lot of "what the hell just happened?", "I feel let down", "Me too!", and "I can't wait until next year!"

* Another BIG thanks to Chuckie for getting me ready for such an event. When we were reviewing some of my power numbers shortly before RAAM, he said "I've never seen this sort of improvement with an athlete, and I've been at this for a while now". I can't say enough about how much of an incredible coach this dude is, and what he did to my cycling (and running!)

* I definitely had some weird/random thoughts at various points in the race - most of which aren't fit for print :)

* As of the time of this blog post, I can count the amount of times I have been on my bike on one hand

* Huge thanks to our crew who were just a ton of fun, and we definitely couldn't have done it without them!

* Does talking about racing my bike across the country get old? Not one bit!

* I definitely want to take more pictures and videos next year! (Wait, did I just say I want to do it again?)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

RAAM Finish

The Finish

The finish is two fold. Time Station #52 is a shell station where a team meets up to be escorted the final 4 miles to the real finish.


Here we are listening to a bunch of blah blah blah:

So we get the 4 mile escort (and make fun of Greg tailgating the escort van), and finally reach the real finish line:

To say that the finish of Race Across America is anti-climatic is an understatement. It's not like a triathlon where there are hoards of people screaming and cheering - it was more like just our crew and a few innocent bystanders. Fortunately, my buddy Rob made the trek from DC, and my wonderful girlfriend flew in from San Diego!

After, we all went up on stage to get our medals, and to say a few words.

As if you couldn't tell from this picture...

... at 5'7'', its not exactly complimentary to stand next to Tobias and Jeremy. To add insult to injury, in the video of us getting our medals, you can't even see me! hahaha

I find it rather funny...

Then, there was a photoshoot with some photog who might put us in bicycling magazine in a few months, and then a video interview for the team.

Larry "Nails" Bice and I:

As with all endurance athletes, what did we do after finishing our "workout"? FOOD! A bunch of us piled into a local pub for some grub and grog. Promptly after getting back to the hotel, I slept for 5 hours. Woke up, got food, and then it was back to bed.

Saturday, Michelle and I went to DC to check out the smithsonian museums:

... and I took a few pretty cool snaps:

Afterwards, we went to the RAAM finishers dinner, which was equally anti-climatic. There were about 75-100 people there, eating a ton of food, talking about the race. After dinner, the crew went out and drank, and I slept (again). Sunday, we boarded a plane and flew back to San Diego, and just like that, the journey was finished...

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Shift #7: Maryland

Shift #7: Maryland

Ah, the final stage.

Larry and I headed to bed around 6pm local time. Shortly before catching the most sleep we got all week, Larry asked me what time I wanted to wake up. Seeing as though our shift was starting at 2am, I said midnight. He looked at me with the proverbial deer-in-the-headlights-look, and asked "what time is that - 9:30 pacific?" I looked at him with the proverbial "WTF" look, and asked where the half our offset came from. I said 9pm with a laugh, and he just looked at me and said "oh yeah". It was obvious that both of us were at the end of our mental rope. The cliche "burning the wick at both ends" comes to mind!

Aside from the fact that this was our last shift, I thought it was going to be doubly cool that Larry and I were going to finish the race for the team - stoked! Only 92 miles? Damn, we could do that in our sleep (especially at that hour - we should be sleeping!)! We packed up the truck, and after a short SNAFU, Larry started the last leg for us.

Once I started, I was all sorts of jazzed up, excited and absolutely tearing it up. The roads I was riding on were pretty wild - they were kinda twisty/turny, and have just enough of rolling terrain where once I'd crest, and because it was so dark, it literally looked like I was going to fall of the face of the earth!

Before I knew it, I had the honor of actually doing a pull through Gettysburg. During the Pre-race meeting, the RAAM officials made a big deal about it, as did a few others on our team. I didn't realize it until I came up on this road, and noticed a pretty particular looking fence on both sides of the road, and then all the sudden - cannons everywhere! Very cool stuff for sure...

At some point later, I realized that Larry and I didn't have 92 miles to do in our shift - it was more like 130! DAMN. I thought it was 92 miles to go based on the bottom left hand corner of the route book that said 92 miles left to go in the race. I totally forgot to count the 40+ miles we had to do in the one time station section we were currently riding. I became very mentally deflated at this point. My third thing I wanted to do in this race (although it was unpublished and unofficial) was to be the last group to finish. the race for the team. I don't know why, but I was kinda bummed about it.

As we made our way through Maryland, the sun came up, which got me my second official wish: to be riding my bike at sunrise while the rest of the country (or just time zone) was waking up. Here it was:

However, this little bout of happiness was short lived. Riding at sunrise meant I had to deal with morning rush hour traffic. Since we were nearing the end of the race, we started getting into a little bit more populated areas. We were on this main road where cars go by at about 60mph, and for some reason, everything just seemed really LOUD. This quickly put me into an even more cranky mood!

About 4 hours into the shift, something got messed up (mainly me), and I missed a left turn. It was rather frustrating because I didn't think the turn was coming up so soon, and I couldn't hear the follow vehicle yelling at me, and there was traffic, and just shit. After a few louder-than-inside-voices words with the follow vehicle, I turned around and got back on track to time station #51. TS51 is where any person/team has to serve any penalty time if they incurred one over the race. We had a bullshit 15 minute penalty to "serve", and to be honest, I was happy to be off the bike. I got off the bike, laid on the ground, and munched on a clif bar while everyone else shared stories and strategies. Surprisingly, that video of me laying on the ground hasn't surfaced on the internet(s).

After my 15 minutes of lame, Larry started the final hour of our shift. I think I did 3 pulls in the last hour, and each one was just painful. I knew it was the last leg, and we were almost done yada, yada, yada, but I was just rather miserable!

We slugged out the last hour, handed off to Greg and Ralph to finish up the last 30 or so miles...

Shift #6: Ohio

Shift #6: Chillicothe, OH to Athens, OH

If you haven't noticed, each successive post has a few less pictures and descriptions than the previous. This is because mental fatigue had certainly set in, the importance of taking pictures, making note of where we were, and how fast we rode starting waning!

I took over from Tobias, who gave a bit hearty "HHHHHEEEEEYYYYYY!!!!!" at some stop sign somewhere in OH. The terrain looked arduous - LOTS of rolling hills. I really wasn't looking forward to doing this leg for one main reasons: I hate rollers (I can never really get into a groove on them), and they were just as I expected.

Anyhow, back to Ohio - so yeah, the constant up and down of the rollers, in addition to some tired legs for some "fun". It basically went like this for about 50+ miles: crest a hill, get about 1-2 second recovery, hammer the downhill, and hope that whatever hammer I tried to drop, carried me some distance up the next hill! Eventually, Larry and I got through this, and into the back country of OH. It pretty uneventful honestly, except for when a tractor trailer wailed on his horn as he passed me, and then nearly swerved into me. You can bet a little birdie followed by a few verbal expletive came from yours truly. We finished up just past Athens, which was a freakin cool little college town.

During the ride, Hans got a few pretty sweet pics of me:

Shift #5: Missouri

Misery... I mean, Missouri.

This was mostly a repeat of Kansas, only about 5 degrees cooler. More flats, more mind numbing flat and fast terrain.

However, what was a little different about this leg was that a little fatigue was starting to settle in. In the past, I always get really sore the day after some hard workouts in the heat, and today was no exception. My legs just couldn't really get going until a while into the shift. What I was also noticing was that I simply just couldn't push a cadence of 85 or 90 anymore, so I upped it to about 100-110, and this worked magic. By moving to a higher cadence, I was putting less strain on my leg muscles, and more on my aerobic system. This helped twofold, because for some reason, it was getting harder and harder to get my HR up near LT - making my cadence higher certainly got the HR easier and faster. The effects were certainly noticeable - I would go up about .3-.4mph just from spinning at a higher rate.

Also, mentally, since this leg was very similar to the previous, and b/c I had only amassed a mere 15 or so hours of sleep since sunday morning, things were starting to blur together. Even my riding partner, Larry "Nails" Bice was starting to make mental gaffs.

But, when the going got tough, I decided to do something that I had never done before in cycling - put on some tunes. This helped tremendously. I put in one ear bud from my mp3 player, and just started charging. I did this about 3 hours into the shift to get me over a hump, and it was huge. The speed for each 3 mile pull started going up and up! It was back to having FUN!

Here is my climbing some small midwest hill with the disk (which kinda sucked - not gonna lie!) on some shitty ass gravel road that we had to get re-routed on:

Shift #4: Kansas

From Kansas to Kansas

Although the previous shift was my favorite, this is the one that stands out the most.

The weather report was calling for triple digit temperatures, with just as much humidity. It was funny because the weather reports were saying "Do NOT go outside, and especially do NOT do any physical activity." HA! Whatever...

For as much good karma as we got the day previous by relieving Andrew, we zeroed that out by showing up an ungodly 45 minutes late due to getting lost in Kansas roads, even with a car garmin, and multiple edge 705's. Once we finally got on the correct road, Matt was flooring it - going apx. 80mph down these back country roads, running over snakes, and leaving me with a wet chamois!

We finally took over, and took over from about 10:45am-3:45pm (greg and ralph ended up being 45 minutes late as well), which basically meant the hottest part of the day. The temperature reading in our truck was able to confirm what the weather was saying about temperature - although after stepping outside, I didn't need a thermometer to tell me it was atrocious out.

I did a 4 mile pull, and after I got back in the car, I mentioned to Matt that Larry and I should move to 3 mile pulls, 4 miles at absolute max, just due to the heat. Larry agreed, and we did 3 mile pulls for the rest of the the shift. I also wasn't messing around today - I was rockin the desoto arm coolers. Here is the deal with them: once they are wet, and if you go fast enough - they work. But, if you are gonna cruise around with them (not us damnit!), and not sweat - they don't work.

At any rate, Kansas was mostly flat, straight, and if I didn't mention, hotter than hell. Heat Index was 105. Brutal. After every measly 3 mile pull, I easily put down half to an entire water bottle. Over the course of 5 hours - I put down over 2 gallons of water alone (not including other caloric fluids) - and only peed once (NOT on the bike believe it or not!) - but that was in the first hour, so it almost didn't count since that was mostly pre-hydration.

However, it really wasn't that bad - and dare I say - it was kind of nice. This was RAAM - gutting it out and laying it down in some tough ass conditions. This was one of the parts of the race that I was looking for - the world's toughest bike race. BRING IT.

If you have never been to Kansas, then I could sum it up in two pictures:



Shift #3: New Mexico


Shift #3

From Eagle's Nest, NM to just short of the Kansas border.

This was probably my favorite part of the entire race (however, not the part that sticks out the most), and the part where I started thinking about doing this again next year.

We stayed in a small town called Eagles Nest in New Mexico after finishing our leg in CO. We got there, and although I was tired, I had a few hours of sleep in me, unlike the rest of the people in the truck. I let them go to sleep, went and got some food, tweet'd, texted Michelle, and just kinda enjoyed some downtime to myself, without the constant go-go-go feeling that is still very apparent even when not cycling. I showered, and then caught some z's for about 4 hours or so.

Standard protocol (for us anyways) was about 2 hours before our shift would start, we would call the follow vehicle to see where the current riders are, and to get an ETA on an estimated destination. Much to our surprise, Tobias got lost in the little town on Taos, NM. Below are some videos documenting the whole melee:

and a blog post on it:

I think this is the point where the race really became REAL.

Barrie, one of our crew members, started brewing some ideas. He called the follow vehicle 20 minutes later, and Tobias was still lost (but his driver was trying to find him). There was some discussion about Larry and I starting early to help relieve Andrew since he looking to take on a long pull. Even though we have 15 hours "off", there is a lot that happens in that time - especially mental recovery. He asked us both if we could ride - mentally and physically - even though our bags were far from packed. Without question, I said "YES - IN". This was one of the coolest aspects of the race - to be mentally and physically ready 90 minutes beforehand to help out THE TEAM. We took off within 5 minutes.

After driving backwards for over an hour, we found them, and Larry and I each did two 10 minute pulls to help Andrew out. We could tell he was suffering (by the look on his face, not his average speed, which was still amazing). Just as we were starting, we received word that Tobias was found, and on his way.

Andrew was more than happy to see us - both to relieve him, and to see teamwork happening. Tobias was in the same boat, and grateful that we made the charge in. Once we realized they were good to go, we headed back to the hotel, finished packing, and headed back out on the road to meet them.

It was a 180 degree turn from the cold night of Colorado. I went from a low point, to helping out the team, and feeling much better mentally, and physically. My first few pulls had me smiling from ear to ear (which is really hard to do at 170HR). As the shift progressed, I just fell into a groove. What was gnarly is we were started at 8200ft of elevation, and made our way down to about 7,000ft-ish, but I wasn't feeling the effects. It was mostly flat, temperatures were about perfect (80's and dry), and as the sun was setting, all seemed right with the world.

Except for the follow vehicle, which got a flat:

This wasn't too concerning for us at first, since we had about 90 minutes until "night time", as considered by the race, which is at 8PM local time. The whole deal with night time is all rider exchanges MUST take place within the beams of the headlights. Normally, this is not a problem, but 8PM came around, and the follow vehicle was no where to be found, nor could we contact them. So, that meant our truck had to serve as both the follow vehicle, AND rider truck. This became a minor PITA b/c each rider would do his 5 mile pull, then simply pull over to the side of the road, with the other rider hopping out of the truck, unracking the bike, getting on the bike, and then taking off. This caused considerable speed loss, but hey - you deal with the cards you are dealt. Fortunately, this only happened for about 20 minutes or so.

The bittersweet part of the whole deal was that for the time stations that Larry and I rode, we were only 1 minute behind Team Type 1, which meant that had the follow vehicle not gotten a flat, Larry and I would have beat them for the 2 time stations. It's ok - its still bragging rights that we were only 1 minute behind them, even with our lack of quick transitions at night!

Below is a photo montage of day 3:

Shift #2: UT to CO

From about TS#11 Mexican Hat, UT to just short of TS#13 Cortez, CO (I think). Somewhere around 108 miles, 21.5 mph.

I ate something shortly after getting back in the truck, and passed out for a few hours. I woke up near Flagstaff, AZ to what didn't look like AZ - lots of pine trees:

I also noticed I had a pretty consistent cough. Every few minutes, I started hacking every few minutes. Larry thought it was breathing in all the dry air. I thought it was breathing in all the dry air at such a damn fast rate! Woof! We got to our hotel around 9am, grabbed some Denny's, and crashed for about 5 hours. We woke up, I got interviewed:

and we made our way to start the next leg in Mexican Hat, UT. This is the mexican hat:

It was absolutely beautiful driving through Monument Valley in AZ:

I also couldn't help but think that the course for IM St. George (which I would know nothing about!) would look somewhat similar to some of the scenery I was seeing too, which was absolutely gorgeous.

Below is a pic of what was to come: Andrew is just past the far vehicle (right lights), with Andrew waiting to do an exchange up the road (left lights).

This is the exchange with Larry starting it off for us:

Larry and I barreled through the UT desert in 85 degree heat, and finally made our way to some way-out-in-the-middle-of-effin-nowhere-back-country-road and at some point ended up in Colorado. Shortly after getting into CO, things started to chill out a bit, and I am not talking intensity unfortunately. It seemed like every time I was getting out of the truck to do an exchange, it was getting colder. In hindsight, this falls in the "duh" category since we were riding later into the night, and also getting up in elevation. But, in the heat of it all, I was kinda confused. So, every time I was getting out of the car, I was putting another layer of clothing on: first it was knee warmers, then it was arm warmers, then it was stretching the knee warmers down to be leg warmers, then it was gloves, then it was the vest, then I was just screwed! It was getting cold. Really cold. I finally checked the temp, and it was in the 50's. Growing up in MA, I shouldn't have been bothered by this, but being at elevation, and being wet with sweat made for chills everytime I got out of the car.

Further, it was completely dark out at this point, and all peripheral vision was completely gone. Flats seemed liked downhills, and uphills seemed liked flats. This was very frustrating. Not to mention the headwind! Climbing the rockies into a headwind sucked! BUT, climbing the rockies was something I was always wanted a piece of, so here I had it.

But then, things started going downhill for me, while going uphill of course. I started feeling light headed. I started seeing spots, and stars. I was BONKING (for the second time in my life), and it was not cool. I saw the follow vehicle about half a mile ahead, and let me tell you - IT WAS TOUGH to try and get there. I tried to motion for the follow vehicle to come up and give me some sugar, but they had no liquid sugar, which was useless. I finally got to the exchange on fumes, and handed my bike to Matt to rack onto the truck. In the time it took him to rack my bike, which is about 90 seconds, I slammed 5 gels, a banana, and literally, crushed a red bull. He came in the truck, and was like "WTF is going on?!" This is the aftermath:

Within another minute, I put down 2 more gels, and another banana. We still had an hour left, and I needed calories stat. I followed it up with a full clif bar about 2 minutes. In total, there were over a THOUSAND calories consumed within 5 minutes. I then realized that my body needed extra calories to stay warm, and that was probably one of the reasons why this was happening.

We finished up the leg, and I was so spent. I was moaning in the back seat, freezing. Beyond hungry, unable to move, and no motivation or energy to eat! It was definitely a low point. We headed to Denny's (again, against my wishes), and I could barely eat. I was laying down in the booth, barely able to communicate. I am sure Larry and the crew were wondering how this 28 year old rookie, youngest on the team by 10 years, was going to be able to finish. We got back in the truck, and I feel asleep very quickly. DONE.

Below is a montage of Day 2 put together by our awesome crew:

Shift #1: CA to AZ

From almost TS#3 (Blythe, CA) to a few miles short of TS#4 (Congress, AZ).
Apx. 120 miles travelled, apx 24mph.

Larry and I took over from Tobias and Andrew just short of Blythe, CA at midnight, PDT. Larry was turning 55 at midnight, and requested for a birthday present, that I go first - I happily accepted!

There weren't the normal nerves like I have before a triathlon start (probably for a million different reasons). About 5 minutes before I started, Matt and I put a much more appropriate wheelset (that he let me borrow):

Planet X 101 deep front tubular wheel, with a PX disc. Bad ass.

As Andrew approached...

I simply got on the bike, and started pedaling mercifully. I had way too much adrenaline (expected), and way too fresh of legs (also expected). Matt said I started off at about 30mph for the first few miles, and finally settled in around 25-26mph. The next 5 mile pull was the exact same. After I finished my second pull, I actually had to take some antacid tablets because my stomach was ... way too acidic!! This had never happened to me, so I was really glad that I had some! This is Larry and I doing a (slow) exchange...

My HR for each pull was easily north of 170. I felt like a million bucks, and was having an absolute blast! Riding at night, in cooler weather, on butter smooth, relatively flat roads, with no one else on the road was just kick ass.

Because we were riding on the interstate, we actually had to ride longer than 5 miles sometimes because RAAM rules state that exchanges must take place on on/off ramps (in addition to being in the beam of the headlights at night). Coming from more of a distance background, I had no problem with that, and it also allowed me to settle into a more realistic pace, and more realistic HR (170 vs. 180. sheesh!).

At some point during the pull, I noticed a car pulled over in the breakdown lane, and it looked like to be Matt and Larry. I was a little confused at first, but after the exchange, Matt clued me in on what happened. He said "Dude, you'll never believe what happened." Below is Larry talking about what happened:

We crossed over into AZ, and right around 430AM PDT, I started getting a little tired. I finished off the leg at 5am, and handed it over to Greg and Ralph.

AZ sunrise...

The first leg of RAAM (for me) was in the books, and I couldn't have been happier! It was so cool to finally be doing it, and everything about it was just so freakin cool.