Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Shift 4: Run for the border!

When Dorothy said we're not in Kansas anymore, she really meant she couldn't see these anymore.

Remember that blurb about those occasional hotels that are kind of suspect? Yeah, that was our Kansas hotel. After walking in, looking around and saying "hhmmm" in a rather glum tone, we focused on just getting some rest. But before we could do that, we need to have a conversation about the 800 pound gorilla in the room - the "good problem to have" conversation.

While we expected 20mph tail winds in Kansas before the race, we got 20mph cross winds throughout the state. Despite this, our team was still cranking along, but we still needed to estimate about where we were going to do a shift exchange. We knew the time (7am local), but where? Before going to bed, we realized we probably stayed one town further east than we should have, and would likely have to backtrack a little more than 'ideally' in the morning. I usually like to get up about ~2 hours before a shift start, but we were going to have get up a little earlier than normal. Now, backtracking is way easier on everyone (current and oncoming team) than trying to play catch up, but its still part of the game.

Fast forward to the next morning.
  • 1st order of business: moan and groan and damn the alarm clock
  • 2nd order of business: Check our updated projections, based on updates from our crew (we had to drive a little further west than expected)
  • 3rd order of business: confirm said projection with Truck1

The confirmation text message was pretty clear: Truck1 was projected to finish 45 miles west of the crew's projection, for a grand total of nearly 90 miles of backtracking. We had two hours before our shift start, had done no packing or prepping, and were still wiping the cobwebs from our eyes. No coffee, water bottles, food - nothing - had been made. I immediately got on the horn with John, started coordinating with our crew, emailing everyone to lift the inertia. While the immediate stress of getting out the door was paramount, the underlying reason also needed attention: weather. Our strongest truck wasn't meeting projections, not for lack of effort, but more for the weather cards they were dealt. In other words, the winds were stuff, and they were slowing us (and everyone else) down. I immediately started preparing for a tough shift (not that any shift is easy, but the challenges can be dynamic).

Fortunately, when we were on the road, I received a phone call from our crew member, the projection from Truck1 was off, and that the original projection place was a pretty good spot to shoot for, and that subsequent updates would be made as they got close. PHEW.

Fortunately, this got us to the exchange point in plenty of time. What was odd was that I feeling cold. After having 3 straight shifts in triple digit temperatures, the 72*F, humid and windy conditions made me cold. Hell, I had goose bumps and was shivering! Weird.

We got wind (no pun) that Truck1 was approaching, and that where we were for an exchange was perfect. It was also time in the race where I had a sinister laugh.

METAL was taking the last pull for Truck1, and Hammer was starting our shift. Hammer was positioned after the right turn, and halfway between the turn and a stop sign. Total Distance - quarter mile or less. METAL can roaring around the corner, and Hammer did his thing of getting up to speed. METAL started flooring it to catch him, but appeared to have some trouble. Next thing I know, METAL screams "SLOW DOWN!!!!", finally crosses wheels with Hammer, and off he goes. Funny part was - no one knew a stop sign was 100ft after an exchange. Whoops.

My thoughts were "Welcome to my world, METAL".

It turns out, the highest wattage, 579W, METAL put out for the entire race was at that exchange. This echoes my feelings. The hardest part of any pull for me is not the beginning of it when I'm getting up to speed, it's the end part of it when I'm just digging to catch up to my riding partner! I admit there was one time where I also got pissed and told him to slow down. I also realize that was probably some payback from the little incident in Monument Valley. hehe

Not as easy as it looks

This shift was wicked (note the Massachusetts heritage), and definitely unlike any shift I've done before. The wind was unrelenting in its battering against our right sides. I tried running my 404 up front, but that lasted all of one 3 mile pull, and that was with some tree coverage to my right. I opted for my most shallow wheel, an AC 420. Even then, it was like wrestling a bear on my bike. This image gives you a hint as to how slanted we rode:

Wind makes for ugly pedaling

I must have spent about a third of my time on the bullhorns, rather than in the aerobars because it was blowing me all over the place. Asking me to hold a straight line was akin asking a college student to do so while walking at 1am on a weekend night. I was all over the place! Just gnarly. There were times where I was really exposed that made it tough, but occasionally, there would be trees or hills to my right to provide some respite. This allowed me to relax a bit, but as soon as the coverage was gone, getting hit with it made me brace myself every time. Even passing our truck caused this on every single pull. It was truly "the gnar". 3 hours into the shift, the right side of my desk wheel was basically brown from all the dirt, grass and other crap that was blown from the Kansas plains onto it.

Waves of pain

After all that description, you can basically see all of that with a not-so-horizontal horizon in almost all of the ANIMAL CAM video, put together by our genious media team. Turn up your speakers!

Somewhere around the middle of the shift, we must have seen 5-6 solos out on the road, all within about 75 minutes of one another. It was insane. I somehow (was the asshole) that passed just about all of them, and while it was great to see them, I felt a tad 'odd' ripping by them at a speed that was likely more than double what they were doing.


About 3 hours into the shift, my left hip started feeling a little funny, and progressed to 'mildly bothersome' by the time the 5 hours were up. It basically felt like someone was jamming my femur into my hip socket. It's about as comfortable as it sounds. I was dealing with it pretty, starting to do a little bit of dynamic stretching off pull, and a little self massage. I wasn't about to let that get to me, because we were on the brink of something big.

Going to war with mother nature

Everyone thinks Kansas goes by fast because it's so flat. And while it does, most people don't recognize how long it is. Every year leading up to this year, it has taken our team more than 20 hours to cross the state. That means one truck gets more than one shift in Kansas. This year, that trend was not happening. We received word about 90 minutes before our shift change that it was possible to get to the Missouri border by the end of our shift. Not that we were sandbagging beforehand, but that fired our truck up! I took my last pull through some little town, and with the help of some locals, totally got the green light and just ripped through some brick-laden streets with plenty of cheering. I then handed off to the Hammer, who crossed into Missouri on his last pull of our shift. High fives and cheers were a plenty, and a lot of credit goes to our crew for helping us get there so efficiently.

The Show Me State!

Team Escort
In what seemed to be a daily tradition, Ryon chimed in with another gem of an email. Hypothesizing that our glycogen stores were getting low, he recommended to the entire team, even the crew, that we start getting more fat into our diets. For me, this is not a big deal. I usually get at least 50% of my daily calories from fat, and have always believed that "animal fat makes everything better". Ryon went on to say that he "didn't care if we were eating cheeseburgers and fries" - we just had to make it happen. Simply reading "cheeseburgers and fries" turned me into a new man. I immediately became fixated on having some. We scoped out the nearest Hardee's and everyone in the truck inhaled their meal.

From that point on, I craved a burger and fries after every shift, and made it a point to have some too!

We hadn't crossed the Mississippi yet, but the fatigue from the race was starting to set in about now (on schedule), and all the sudden sleeping in the truck became a hell of a lot more easy. So, take one tired racer, feed him a burger and fries, and within 30 minutes is guaranteed slumber in the back seat. This marked the point in the race where sleep was amassed more by naps in between shifts, rather than a standard 4-7 hours in a hotel bed.

We headed onward to Indiana, for what was one very tough shift for me...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Shift 3: It's mostly downhill from here

This shift essentially marked the slow 600 mile very gradual decent from the Rockies at nearly 10,000ft down to the great plains for Kansas. It was a shift I was looking forward to quite a bit, since the terrain including climbing the beautiful Cuchara pass, and heading into the flatlands of eastern Colorado. It was a shift that tested not just our climbing and time trial prowess, but also our bodies ability to deal with quite a bit less oxygen.

After trucking through the night, we arrived at our hotel early Monday morning. It wasn't really a hotel, it was the La Veta Inn. It deserves it's own paragraph.

One of the challenges of RAAM is simply finding a decent place to stay in. The country is littered with quite a few Motels - some questionable- and occasionally I've stayed at some during the race. It's not ideal, but since you're so beat, you just deal with it. The La Veta Inn was not one of those places. We got in the room, and it basically was an apartment - full kitchen, nice beds, couch - but it had a touch of "mountain getaway" to it. Waking up the next morning, the courtyard was basically a cafe, and they served, good, free coffee. Now, I am a snob of very few things, and coffee is one of them. Free coffee 15ft from my bed - saaaaaaaweeeeeet! We all got a bit comfy hanging out in the courtyard, ordering breakfast, and sharing a few laughs. The service there were awesome too. Completely acknowledging that you will likely never be in La Veta, CO (pop. 777), but if you ever are in the area and need a place to stay, definitely check this place out!

After we cleared the cobwebs in the morning, John did his mandatory, thankless duties of grabbing water and any other random supplies we would need for the shift, and for the inevitable "drive through the middle of po-dunk eastern colorado before we hit civilization in Kansas". This cued the Hammer and I to do mandatory bike maintenance.

I was stoked for the day. Of the second section of RAAM I wanted to ride, this area - with Cuchara Pass (9,989ft, which were staying at the bottom of) - and the road leading to the top - locally known as the Highway of Legends (ahem) was next on my list after Monument Valley. When I rode it in 2010, I really loved the area, and felt like Colorado left a (good!) mark on me and I was excited to return to what I think is the most beautiful area in RAAM.

1,000 words of METAL
Shortly after starting on the bikes, The Hammer was making claims of not feeling too well. The frequency of such statements was increasing, and I started having an "oh shit" moment, having flashbacks of my riding partner getting sick in 2010. I quietly was dropping f-bombs in my head, but also recognized that it wouldn't do me any good to get all worked up about it and expend energy. He did the best he could to get rid of the nausea, but elevation sickness was already settling in a little bit. It threw a small wrench into our morning mix, but fortunately, having been in the situation before, I knew I had to step up my game a bit for climbing the pass. I also know that if I was ever in a bad spot, he'd back me up, and that eventually became the case east of the Mississippi.

We arrived at our exchange spot on time (again!), and METAL, in usual fashion, approached with maximum ferocity. In his approach, he screamed the expected "GO GO GO!!!", and I put so much torque on my first pedal stroke that I actually popped a wheelie!

The climb was as tough and beautiful as I remember, but fortunately, I was firing on all cylinders. The Hammer, not so much, but even when he is at 60% capacity, the man can still rip! I was taking longer pulls than he, and was going to take over from him at the summit. Naturally, I had to do a photo op:

Not 2 seconds after this photo was taken, The Hammer comes barreling up the road, catching me off guard (again), and I ran to get on my bike.

Now, here's where the FUN was - the descent off of this peak! YEEHAW!

Open Road Descent from nearly 10,000ft. Winning, literally and figuratively.
I was descending for a quite a while, and eventually came around a corner to find Hammer and John waiting for me. I was coming in pretty hot, but was telling them both that I was good, and that they needed to focus on getting the Hammer down the mountain to a lower elevation so he could get back on 8 cylinders. That, and of course, I selfishly didn't want to stop descending :)

Eventually we got to the bottom of the descent, banked left towards Trinidad, and swapped out the roadies for the TT bikes. I was also looking forward to this section, since its flat/rolling, typically with a ripping tail wind.

Hammer doing what he does best - making John and I  look slow. Me saying "sorry dude, but you'll have to keep going"
 Ripping it was, but the ultimate buzz kill came about halfway to Trinidad:
I was stuck at this light for what seemed like an eternity due to road construction closing an entire line. Rest assured that when that light turned green, I basically dropped all the traffic behind me.

After passing through Trinidad with our Media Crew chowing down on steaks and cheering us on, we headed out to the eastern plains of Colorado.
Lunch for me. Hard to say if a steak would have been better.
Temperatures quickly raised from the 80's on the mountain, to over a 100 out here. The road was generally straight, and false flat downhill. In other words, time to RIP! The Hammer was back firing on all cylinders, there was no traffic, and we basically had the road to ourselves. Well, and the wind.

What was a tailwind west of Trinidad, somehow turned into a crosswind east of it. It was a consistent 15-20mph right at our right side, with the occasional gust of about 25. It was difficult, but we were both running our disks and deep front wheels. At times, it made handling the bike a tad difficult, but with such little traffic on the road, it really wasn't an issue if we were getting blown around a bit. The objective was speed, and we used all of our resources to maximize it.

We also started really fine tuning and honing our exchange strategy. The greatest part is that it took just about zero effort for our 3 man truck to be in sync with one another. While our basic team strategy is '15 minutes on / 15 minutes off', we had migrated to a '8 Minute on / 8 minute off' Strategy that was working really, really well. Not only that, we were orchestrating our exchanges with minimal speed loss. John was in tune with how we were feeling, and he was on top of things, as usual. BOOM. Things were clicking in our truck, and I couldn't be happier.

Check out a video our media team did of us through this section:

This section of the country also marked the first time our team was going to be passing some solo's. I think I saw 2 or 3 out there, and fortunately when I saw them, they and their crew seemed to be in good spirits.

The shift ended just east of Kim, CO, quite possibly one of the smallet towns in existence. Population: 72. Damn. Eric and Rich showed up on time as usual, and we handed off the reigns to them to make it to the Kansas border. It was time to rest up, because the winds weren't done with us yet.

While the shift was over at this point, I was beginning to feel really good about the race and its potential outcome. We were about an hour up on 4Mil at this point, and a bit more on Strategic Lions. Ryon, resident number cruncher on the team, chimed in with an email to the team saying that the competition was going to have to increase their power by about 10% over the next day and a half just to catch up to us. Having used a power meter in training, I can appreciate this. 10% more power when you are already racing doesn't just come out of nowhere. In fact, it may not even come out at all. It is a HUGE thing to ask of yourself and your teammates to go from, say, 300W to 330W . Even then, at the speeds the top teams are racing at, so much energy is going into overcoming air resistance, that it's almost sad how much little speed you can get from 10% more power, whereas the energy expenditure would go way up.

Out of the aerobars only for turns
It was at about this point where I started thinking that this was our race to lose. It was a bold thought, and admittedly, one that I was a little bit uncomfortable with, seeing as though we were only about a third of the way into this race, and that real racing starts east of the MississippI river. I was slightly excited with the idea, but really, it was totally back burnered, and it changed my perspective a little bit. I didn't downshift into risk mitigation mode (yet), but it did make me focus on the race a little differently. Kansas isn't really a logistical challenge, but if we weren't careful, we could screw something up, and lose precious time. I refused to do anything of the like. Because everything west of Kansas is wide open roads where you can really rip it and focus on just about nothing except for pedaling, Kansas starts the trend of increased congestion as we continue east, and the need to not miss any turns.

I kind of kept these thoughts to myself, and nonchalantly mentioned to The Hammer "Hey, did you see Ryon's email?" but it didn't go much further than that. It was time to relax, reflect, and share some war stories and laughs amongst the truck, and with our newest crew member. The post shift adrenaline rush/crash and bullshitting with everyone else is always one of my most favorite parts of the race. It was time to kick back and plan for a very hard, windy next shift.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Shift #2: A Monumental Effort

Quite possibly, my most memorable shift in all 3 RAAM's that I've done.

Memorable is about the best way I could put it. Airey asked me what was my "favorite" shift of the race. I'm not sure I could put my finger on a favorite per se, but this shift sticks out the most. The combination of anticipation, pulling away for good, temperatures, average speed, challenges, teamwork, terrain and topography embodied all that was RAAM.


I don't remember much past getting in the truck after finishing our first shift, other than getting to the hotel in the Navajo Indian Reservation before sunrise (I think?), which is the farthest I've ever stayed up the course for a second shift. Pretty cool. I woke up to the Hammer about ready to eat his arm he was so hungry, whereas I pulled the pillow over my head for an extra 45 minutes worth of z's. I ended up walking outside sometime around 10am, and BAM: 100 degrees! Haters would say "Oh, but its a dry heat", and while 10% humidity is WAY better than 90% humidity, it's still freaking HOT. It was like being in a hair dryer, because the wind was definitely up. Oh well, better start drinking and taking in salt.

The wind ended up being a topic of speculation for quite sometime. Like most racers, we were keeping tabs on the weather at least a day ahead of future shifts, and of course, what the weather would be like when we would be riding in a few short hours. Historically, we would get some cross/tail winds through this section, but mother nature, or at least the top 4 weather sites from google, were saying something different. The forecast was calling for 20-30mph winds out of the east-southeast. In other words, 20-30mph winds straight on our sides. Damn. The day, it seemed, would be a character building ride. Little do we know how familiar we were going to get with said winds.

Unofficial standard protocol states that whenever you wake up (or really, whenever you aren't sleeping), to check on race results. It looked like our guys had some trouble with our competition overnight. By trouble, we were still ahead, but it looked we may have lost a few minutes. Not a big deal honestly, because the race was still young and our best riders, and climbers, were out on course climbing through Flagstaff, and en route to us. Here's a little video our media crew made of their shift through Flagstaff:

This mindset actually marked the biggest difference between this year, and shift, than any other in the past. In years past, we were always trying to play catch up, usually in second place by the CA desert. The pressure of chasing is a lot harder. But this year was different. We were ahead, and I just felt confident that we would stay ahead. Of course, it seems easy for me to say that well after the fact, but that "stress" of prior races wasn't "there" this year. I was confident in my training, riding partner, our crew and our other riders.

We were communicating with the follow vehicle and Truck1 on an exchange spot, and we got there with about 30 minutes to spare. No worries, it was probably good to acclimate to the heat and be ready in case we needed to move. As I was standing outside, the wind was all over the place. But, slowly, and surely, it changed, and it stayed consistent, in the best possible direction: at our backs.

God Bless America
As METAL approached, he screamed at the Hammer, who immediately took off like a bat out of hell. Our truck then took off, and as we approached him, seemingly a mile up the road already, John said "I wonder if Airey knows that he's going 40mph". DAMN! Dude was FLYING. Next it was my turn, and fly I did.

The next few hours flew by, literally. While it was hot, the wind kept things reasonable, our legs were fresh, Truck1 put time into the competition, and we were amped TO DO WORK! Our media team, showed up sometime shortly after we started, and it was a blast to have them around. Now, when I saw we were flying, I wasn't BSing you. Here were the team splits from Tuba City to Kayenta (71.83 miles):

Team ViaSat:  30.57 mph (!!!!!!)
4Mil:                27.81 mph
Strat Lions:       25.2 mph

The stoke was easily seen at 3:00 in the video at the end of this post.

A few exchanges later, John and I posted up towards the bottom of a small hill. This is normally a Faux Pas in RAAM, since the oncoming rider likely can't get up to speed in time for the active rider, resulting in a total loss of speed. So, Airey comes over the hill, and John says "You know he's gonna come flying in at over 40, you should get going". I couldn't argue, so I started off in earnest. About a minute later, he was still back a ways, so, I just stopped pedaling. No big deal.

Now, for those of you who don't know the Hammer, he is a mild mannered, cool, calm and collected dude. He's doesn't get pissed off easily or often, but when he does, look out. Well, for whatever reason, he was picking up a headwind while he was catching up to me, and my pedaling just kept on extending him. He rolls up on me, screaming, swearing, and swinging his arms. Basically, he went way into the red to catch me at the end of a long pull. I thought "Oh shit, I'm gonna be out here for like 30 minutes" and paced accordingly. This is partially documented in the video at the end starting around 1:10. Now, it's also worth mentioning, that I was having my own problems on this exchange, because our media vehicle literally ran me off the road as they passed me. Dude! Fortunately, the Hammer's temper was short lived, and his perspective was easily taken over by the beauty that is Monument Valley.

I was SO STOKED to ride this part of the course. I drove it in 2009, and was amazed at how cool this place was. Incredible!!! In 2010, I rode through at night. Boring. Now, we were riding it as the sun was dropping on the horizon. Awesome.
Doing Damage

The stage was set for our media crew to take advantage of "The Golden Hour" in a great place to be, and that they did. It seemed for a while, that every time I was on the bike, about a mile into my shift, there they were posted up on the side of the road with cameras and video. For every pull for well over an hour. I felt like such a rock star, and so naturally, I dubbed them "The Paparazzi".

With the long stretches in Monument Valley, the Hammer and I started refining our exchange strategy without really even talking about. All that geeking out about efficiency before the race was starting to pay off. You can get a taste for what we started doing based on the below video, THE HAMMER CAM:

BIG props to GoPro (one of our sponsors), and our media team for putting this together!!!

Monument Valley wasn't without its hardship though. After 4 hours of 100+ temperatures, and not staying on top of my nutrition, I yakked three times on a pull, and told the follow vehicle to call John and have Airey ready to go on short notice. Fortunately, both of them were ready, and after a few pulls, I got myself better to finish out the final hour. Fortunately, the Paparazzi didn't catch any of this!

It's funny, as incredible as Monument Valley is, I don't really remember leaving the valley of massive buttes and towers, I just remember reaching the point where it was time to get the roadie out instead of the TT bike. The terrain had changed to rolling and hilly, which was a both welcome and unwelcome change to the past 4 hours.

The amount of explosive energy at exchanges can't be captured with a camera

We both finished off the shift on a great note, with me taking the last pull on a descent, and handing off to Truck3, literally, at the same spot I took over as Truck3 on our second shift in 2009. Big props to Truck3 for showing up early and becoming the Follow Vehicle so the real FV could get gas.

For any of you who haven't been through monument valley, it's one of those places where photos and videos won't do the justice.

You might be able to get a taste of it from this video, which was masterfully done by our media team (which still gives me some goose bumps when I watch it):

As we handed off to Truck3, we kicked back to relax, laugh and share some war stories from an EPIC shift...
Some more photography of our shift

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Shift #1: The California Desert

In another minute or so, I was well into the 180's for HR, but I didn't need a HRM to tell me how much this hurt. Ouch. Totally expected though. Fresh legs ("Supple" as the Hammer would put it) and adrenalin will easily make for unsustainable pacing. The second pull was no easier, and in fact harder, and I think by the third pull, I just changed the view of my Garmin so I wasn't even bothered with it. This ended up being a subtle, yet crucial decision. I admit that sometimes I can get carried away with the quantitative aspects of technology and training/racing, but falling back on my laurels and relying on Perceived Effort in a race always puts my mind at rest, and allows me to focus inward. Save the brainpower and geeking out for after!

Hammering out 350W per pull
The first third of this shift was kinda boring honestly. I spent more time dodging debris in the swirling winds in the "bike lane" that is the break down lane of CA-78E. Of course, the fun part was hearing how the Hammer was doing. This, mind you, was in two word spurts during exchanges, or better yet, through John (our driver). Needless to say, he was having fun, and killing it!

Then we hit a wall. It wasn't a real wall, but I've never felt anything like this before - even having done this shift 2 years prior. I can't remember the exact point, but it was somewhere just east of Brawley. I'm in the middle of a pull in the hot and arid CA desert, and then all the sudden I hit a wall of humidity that I swear started to slow me down. It was the gnarliest thing. It wasn't too long after that I started getting a headache. No amount of salt or water was helping, but whatever.

As we exited the farm country of Brawley, we got into the rolling hills of the desert. Then, out of the blue, the media crew rolled up and it was like the Calvary coming to save the day. For whatever reason, I wasn't as jazzed up on this first shift as in years past, and these guys put me on another level. Chuck, Dave, Connie and Toby all barreled out of the media van, and were posting up all over the place, laughing, cheering and having a TON OF FUN! That's what this is about, right??

1,000 words - pick yours

Through the rollers, and I passed the 4Mil second shift bus, and they were all out clapping and cheering me on as I ripped down a descent. To 4Mil - thanks for that - it was pretty cool to see good sportsmanship out there!!

Then, mini-crisis #1 started. Everyone knows RAAM is not easy on equipment, crew members and riders. Oh yeah, it ain't easy on gas either. Out in the middle-of-freaking nowhere, John says "Uh, we're getting low on gas". No cell service, no people, no nothing where we were. Fortunately, out in the middle of nowhere was a gas station. Whew, crisis #1 is out of the way, and laughs were shared.

The rest of the shift was spent battling through a headache that never got better (same thing for Hammer) in the very hot darkness of the desert. We handed off to Hazard and Crossfire about 20 miles before the AZ border (and Hammer handed off $20 b/c of a bet!) and we were off to our hotel in Tuba City, AZ for the most epic shift in all of my RAAM's.

Rough progress made from our first shift from TS2-TS3:

  • ViaSat Projected:   27.50mph
  • ViaSat Actual:        27.18mph (not as windy as expected)
  • 4Mil:                      25.88mph
  • Strategic Lions:      23.71mph

Total distance covered in 5 hours: 133 miles

To anyone driving or riding that stretch in south western AZ:

Next 2,500 miles

Monday, September 10, 2012

From the Start Line to our Shift Start

** Now that grad school is done, I can finish this blog! **

12pm race start - doesn't get much better than that!

The morning of the race is about the same every year: take care of all the little nagging things that I didn't get to during the week or because I was attending the "mandatory" race meeting the night before (zzzzzzz). I always think I'm gonna sleep in, but it never happens. I woke up pretty relaxed, and then realized "Damn, I'm about to race my bike across the country [again]. Sweet!" and off I went.

With Team ViaSat having done RAAM a few times in the past, we knew a lot of the nuances we could improve upon to make us faster. In my opinion, a lot of RAAM comes down to efficiency, and one way to stay both efficient and properly fueled during the week is to bring my own nutrition and food, rather than relying on the rest of the country and its poor food choices to feed the machine, and having to stop to actually get food. For those of us (spoiled) in San Diego, once you get east of the CA border, food quality goes down, and once you are east of Colorado.... fuhgeddaboutit. So, I cooked up a fairly diverse menu of quinoa pasta, butternut squash w/ coconut milk, and sweet potato based dishes to keep me revving high all across the country.

Thankfully, the Hammer was of the same mindset, and brought along a ton of his own food as well, supplying our truck with more Allen Lim rice cakes than one could even imagine. I think the initial count was 120, but it was possibly more. It was a good thing, because before the first shift, I think our truck polished off an entire bag (10+).

I look forward to the RAAM start every year. As I mentioned it before, it's the "anti-Ironman" in the sense that there are barely any people at the start. However, this year was a little different - there actually were people there! They moved the start line down onto the strand, and when I got down there shortly before the 12pm start, there was a ton of people hanging out on the pier, beach and strand, cheering, chatting and having fun! What?! You mean, people are here for a reason?!? Sweeeeeet!

In hindsight, I didn't even need to go to start, but with this being the Hammers first RAAM (and my last), it was cool to accompany him to get him the "full experience". Having already done the race twice already, admittedly, there was a bit less "wide eyed excitement" this time around, and having some new blood in the truck was awesome and kept spirits (and speed!) high.

But I... we, had a responsibility. Because of the way the RAAM start is structured, Slayer and Wildebeast would be doing the non-supported stretch from College Ave to Old Castle. This meant they have to traverse the completely exposed, treacherous O'side bike path, and that meant Hammer and I had to block every bit of wind possible to let these guys save all ounce of energy for the TT onslaught they were about to unleash. We knew WB was going to have something up his sleeve, and we were all pretty anxious on how things were going to unfold.

Pedaling > Walking 
The Hammer and I were Truck2, which means we were going to get the second shift of our team, likely somewhere west of Brawley. We started our eastward journey bypassing all parts of the course, but doing our best to keep tabs on what was happening with our boys. Fortunately, we had a few manned mobile vehicles doing course recon.

From what I understand, and as expected, the WB made up a ton of time on our competition. With ViaSat being the 13th 8-man team to start (on one minute intervals), 4Mil being the 4th, and Strategic Lions being the 8th, he pretty much closed a lot of that gap by the time he got to Old castle, a meer 20 miles inland from the coast. Despite WB putting himself into an absolute world of hurt, the man came out the other side smiling - because thats just the type of athlete and person the man is.

WB handed "the torch" off to METAL. For those of you who don't know METAL (he doesn't have a real name actually), this guy is one intense dude. While everyone on the team stepped up their game this year, I think METAL takes the crown of stepping up his game the most. I don't think he has driven to work since 2010 because he rides every single day, and was regularly doing 140+ miles just about every Saturday, half the time solo. There are implicit brags of how long his X5 sits in his driveway. He laughs at request for smog tests because when you don't drive, who needs to get smog tested?

Well, the now the spot light was on him, and man was he fired up. I mention the figurative torch, but he rode like there was a literal torch under his arse.  I don't know about you, but there is no way I would want to race against THIS GUY:


I'm not really sure if he is catching flies, breathing deeply, pounding his hand to the music and voices in his head or what, but the man was ON FIRE. He was of the mentality that NO ONE was going to ride "with him" on Old Castle, and I can offer guarantees from afar that no one did. Toro was the other member of Truck1, and they take the honor seriously, having always done an exceptional job of giving ViaSat a chance at this thing in years past. To have such energy to start our team off was incredible.

This year was no different. We checked TS1 (Lake Henshaw) times, and as expected, Team ViaSat was up on the competition:

  • ViaSat: 2h34m; 22.15mph
  • 4Mil: 2h54m; 19.6mph
  • Strategic Lions: 2h42m; 21.05mph

Here is a little video our media team put together. Note the METAL music to accompany said rider that documents the battles they did with the Strat Lions:

Naturally, I was pretty stoked about where we were in this race, but was even more excited about what was to come.

Dude, where's my team?
The Hammer and I arrived out to a projected area for a hand off, and when we got out of the car, we were greeted with the triple digit temperatures that we expected. What was unexpected though was the wind. We checked the data of the solo riders (who started 4 days prior on Wednesday), and one solo rider just absolutely ripped from TS1 to TS2, averaging 26mph, a testament to the tailwinds he received. Based on years past, we were expecting 20mph tailwinds, but today would be different. The wind was best described as "kind of swirling". Jeremy arrived at the projected hand off first and confirmed the same. We got the lowdown on how the first shift went for Truck1, and it was only a matter of minutes before it was officially "go time" for Truck2 at 6pm.

I gathered my bike and helmet, and waited for METAL to arrive at the stop sign to do an exchange. As I stood there waiting for him in the 100 degree heat with an enormous amount of nerves and energy, low and behold, the Strategic Lions rolled up and literally parked 30 feet from me. Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!?! IT WAS ON. I was so amped!!!! So, I look down at my HRM, and literally just standing there, my HR was at 132. Usually this is a HR reserved for when people are actually moving or doing anything.Where all that blood was going is beyond me, but shit was about to go down! Within a minute, METAL arrived, screaming "GO GO GO GO!!!" and I was off to start my third RAAM...

Monday, July 09, 2012

RAAM 2012: A prelude to a record setting victory by Team ViaSat

[You may need a coffee for this]

We just won RAAM. Actually, we didn't just win RAAM, we beat by next closest opponent by almost 4 hours, and smashed the old record by 4 hours. That is the brief summary of the result that transpired from A LOT of work that went into the race week that was Saturday June 16th 2012 to Thursday June 21st 2012, with a finishing time of 5 Days, 5 Hours and 5 Minutes with an average speed of just under 24mph.

This is a little prelude on how we got there to the start line to set us up for getting to the finish line very, very fast!

Longtime readers (if I even have anymore readers, never mind long time readers!) of this blog might remember my final RAAM post about our 2010 race when I said:

"Would I do it again?  If we could ride to win, WITHOUT A DOUBT".

(Some of you might even remember of know that there was some unfinished business with a certain team too).

Sometime around May or June 2011, it was around the time that I figured out all my injury woes that my buddy Dan talked me into signing up for Xterra Snow Valley while we were in Sedona, and Kevin and Andrew (RAAM teammates) started chatting about a 2012 team. I was non-committal at the time, but the two of guys were lighting a fire under me.

At that time, training was fun again. During "ride to work" week in Mid May (2011), I rode to work everyday. Not really a big deal, except for the fact that it rained or poured everyday, and I was loving it. I was also coaching my buddy Damian for Vineman half, and he ended PRing by 23 minutes! (4:53). Naturally with me coaching him, those 23 minutes of total race time came off THE BIKE! Also around that time, Kevin and I were discussing training methodologies, and he agreed to give my approach to training a shot. He was fired up, motivated and a handful at times, but it was all good and fun. A lot of the inspiration and influence for 'guiding' my friends came from none other than Mr. V, based on how he coached me.  On the adventure front, Michelle and I went to Colorado so she could run the TranRockies and I tagged along to ride 300 miles through some of the most beautiful country I've ever seen (and play Sherpa extraordinaire). I entered my first time trial at Fiesta Island and actually won my age group. I was starting to get pretty jazzed up about the year ahead. The stakes were higher, and I knew I had to be at my best. This meant hanging up swim goggles and the running shoes. It was time to turn into a cyclist.

One Saturday I ended up doing a ride with this dude named Airey Baringer. We had chatted a couple times at get together's at Toby's, but I never knew much about him. During said ride, we rode conversational pace up to Oceanside, and as we left the harbor, he climbed that short, steep little hill (anyone who has done Oside 70.3 or who has ridden that hill knows exactly which one I'm talking about) with such snap that I literally said out loud "holy shit!". Chasing him up that little booger, I saw power numbers (and stars!) I've never seen before. After I caught up to him, I basically just asked "What the hell was that?!" 

In between gasps for air during the ride, we started talking about RAAM. Seeing how much raw power this guy has, I knew he would be an asset for our team. Come to find out, dude was a State Crit champ a few years back, which made sense, given how much my legs hurt! The race and riding for Team ViaSat literally sells itself. Anyone who wants in just has to be crazy enough to want it, train for and race RAAM. I got a vibe from Airey that he sincerely wanted it. A few months later, he smashed our Time Trial course, and was definitely on the team. He ended up being my riding partner during the race, which ended up being a very, very good thing.

Additionally, we originally had Ryon Graf, the Cat3 CA TT champ all but locked up on our team, but his PhD & research commitment proved to be a bit too much in order to put in the (large) volume necessary for RAAM. Fortunately, he knew some guy named Adam Bickett and Adam seemed interested. I didn't know Adam, but I did learn that he won the Furnace Creek 508 in the Fall of 2011. My initial skeptical thoughts were that he could slog long distances "fast", but what about all the gut wrenching intervals across the continent? At one of our earlier team meetings, I got the recon report on Adam from Jeremy. Jeremy, who rarely shows much emotion about anything, described Adam prowess as "Dude, he is so strong". He might have said "soooo strong". Fortunately, Ryon "stuck" around and was crazy enough to help us in our training. He became our team's unofficial training advisor of sorts, giving us advice and guidance on just about anything.

By late-Fall, our team was essentially set, but that doesn't mean everything went well for the next 8 months. The road to the race was not easy. 2 riders suffered injuries that had them off the bike for 4-6 weeks at a time during January and February. I had grad school (again). Others had other duties as employees, fathers, life, etc. But that's what makes our team so great: despite articles being written about our team (and 4Mil) having "World Endurance, World Triathlon and Pro Cyclists", we weren't those guys. We all had day jobs. Yes, while some guys on our team have some really nice accolades on their cycling resume, none are "Pro", and none would consider putting the word "World" before their name or accomplishments. 3 guys commute to their day jobs every day of every week, while 3 others do so a few times a week. I was stuck in class every other Saturday for an entire day for long stretches. One rider has 6 (!!!) kids. Pro cyclists, we are not, but we were very pro in our preparation for this race.

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
-Einstein's definition of insanity

Over the course of the 2012's first half, we took a step back and re-examined just about every part of our team's overall strategy. In the end, there wasn't much about our team's racing strategy that changed. Yeah, we improved communications and forecasts, but it was really the preparation and execution that set us apart from our 'old' selves, and from what we hadn't learned yet: our competition.

Not so slowly but surely, preparation and training increased. People started entering races. Then nearly the entire team was entering the same race. We all had visibility into each others training through the use of online training logs. Endless analysis, discussions, emails, forecasts and implicit peer pressure was starting to mount, and everyone was firing on all cylinders.

"Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything." - George Bernard Shaw

The roles that Adam, Airey and Ryon played on our team, in my opinion, were as important and pivotal as any decision this team has made in recent memory. I've always found human and organizational behavior interesting (glorified people watching, really), and actually having done some reading on the topics.  These 3 very competent students of the sport represented the "outsiders" most organizations need when they are trying to get over a major hurdle and need some change injected into a groups mindset and processes. Adam & Ryon brought a very analytical, attention-to-detail thought process that wowed even the team veterans. Metabolic rates? Recited in Ryon's sleep. CdA tests? Adam could practically ramble that stuff off without a computer. Adam and Airey added sheer fire-power that was absolutely necessary to winning. Respect on this team is proportional to power output, and with the output these guys had, they had peoples ears, and it represented a change in perspective that I've always thought was necessary for this team to win the race. Coupled with some of the more raging ego's even quieting down so that they could be open to such ideas had a profound effect on the team. Rather than being a misguided bunch of 8 individual thugs & mercenaries who all have our own agenda, there started being an element of team work and camaraderie that I've never seen or experienced before. I rode 303 miles Memorial day weekend with power to spare by mile 300, and there was no way I could have done all of those miles alone.

"The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand." - Sun Tzu, The Art of War

For as much training the cyclists were doing, our crew and crew chief were also stepping up their game and re-writing their own books (literally and figuratively) and methodologies, coming up with different and new ideas that we'd never think of.

"Even our cooks know how to fire rifles" - METAL

We were fortunate enough to have crew members who crewed in 2010, raced in 2011, and crewed for us again this year. This also brought in a touch of "outside" perspective onto the team, not to mention some rookie crew members who immediately embraced the goals and responsibilities we had set forth. There was no such thing as a crazy idea on this team. While we didn't start from scratch, in a sense we thought like we had a blank sheet of paper when necessary.

"Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent's fate." - Sun Tzu, Art of War

As we neared the race, we came across a little bit of chatter on a blog of one of our competitors that mentioned that both Strategic Lions and 4Mil both had good chances at breaking the course record. Technically, he was right, since 4Mil broke the old course record. But throughout the blog post, there's obviously no mention of us, which couldn't make me any happier. We weren't even on their radar or minds. Some might find it motivating to come across stuff like this, but I can't say any of us really did. We did find it a little comedic that we weren't even acknowledged, or respected.

In the end though, it was about our team, focusing on what we could do, and being leaps and bounds above what we have been in the past.

"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others." - African Proverb

I'm not sure there's a more appropriate quote for our team this year. When we race, its one racer going fast on the course at a time, and it's the combined efforts of everyone that allows us to go far... very far, and very fast.

Subsequent blog posts touch on just how fast we got there!