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!