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...