Saturday, March 23, 2013

Shift 7: The Last Shift, The Shell Station and The Finish Line

Shortly after the Hammer took off, John and I quickly got in the truck and made quick work to get ahead and make it to the projected hand off spot. We know we wouldn't have a lot of time, and so it was of the essence. Not long after we posted up and got ready, the Hammer came barreling around the corner and it was GAME ON.

In my last post, I spoke of nervous energy (among many things) and a stoic presence from both The Hammer and I. As soon as I saw him come around his last turn of his pull, any and all nerves, butterflies or anything of the like turned into forward energy. Just like any race when the gun goes off, every cell in my body was focused into going AS FAST AS POSSIBLE.

I was so ready to rip. This was my last RAAM, my last shift, a short one at that, and it was time to close the door on what has been nearly perfectly executed race by everyone on our team. I am so proud and ecstatic about how everything came together over the course of months of intense planning, discussions, training, racing and crewing. This was it!


It loomed. It loomed large. The pressure was on. I was ready.

First pull - 27.2 mph (max 40.8). Game on. I was fired up.

The exchange strategy The Hammer and I fine tuned in the early stages in the race was no longer a factor. It was after 7pm local time, which meant that we had to race under night racing rules, despite there being plenty of sun left. This meant that all exchanges were static. To add extra challenge, the main roads of Maryland that we were riding on didn't exactly offer the best places for rider exchanges. Each time I got on the bike, I knew John would try his best for us to do 8 minute pulls, but given the logistics, I also knew that longer pulls were inevitable. I paced accordingly with intel from the follow van when we were stuck at red lights.

Second pull - 26.6 mph (max 34.4).

Given the logistical challenges of everything I mentioned above, riding towards the tail end of rush hour also proved to present its challenges. Cars were everywhere, and red lights seemed long. Really long. Also given night rules, I couldn't pass any cars, as I had to stay within the lights of the follow vehicle. Merging onto highways was also a treat.

The Bad News

I came up on a red light, and Steve rolled down his window.

"Hey, I just want to give you a heads up. We got a penalty"


"Your light turned green, you better get going".

I was so confused. Did I do it? Did Airey do it? Did John park illegally? Did the Follow Vehicle miss something? Is everyone too tired or too excited (or both) and missed something? Did I break a rule?

I was really struggling, but trying to stay focused. I got another red light.

"What happened? Did I do something?"
"Don't worry about it, we'll explain later, but you do have to stop at the last station to serve the 15 minute penalty"
"The lights green, Go"

Damn! Was Steve being nice? Did I totally screw up? Shit!

Airey and I did an exchange and I got in the truck and asked John if he knew what was up. He heard about the penalty, but didn't know any details.

We did another exchange, and at yet another red light, Steve confirmed that I wasn't responsible. Phew. I would have hated to have been "that guy". Oh well, nothing I can do now.

Airey posted up for the last exchange, and based on conversations we were having thru John, we decided to roll the last pull together TTT style. Dude! The Hammer put the hurt on me. It was probably one of my hardest pulls of the entire race! Damn! I found it funny though, as from my last pull in 2010, which I thought was going to be my last pull, I completely emptied the tank. It was such an absolute hard pull in the middle of the night. I had nothing but myself (and Outkast) to push myself to the brink. This time, I had my racing partner, who continued to push me to be my best until the last possible part of the race. Unreal.

Serving Time

Airey and I rolled out to the last station without a lot of physical and emotional steam. This seemed like such a bittersweet ending to our race. Total buzzkill. Everyone gathered, and the story was spilled. One of our riders went off course, and turned around while still pedaling, and got back on course. He did this right near a Time Station where RAAM officials witnessed everything. At first, no one from our team thought he was breaking the rules], since the rules have always stated that a rider must never ride backwards while on course. Come to find out, RAAM instituted a new rule in 2012 that said no rider shall ever ride backwards, whether on course or not. Boom.

Ironically for the rider, this was his fifth RAAM for our team. Not only that, he has historically been our strongest rider, and a leader of the team in his preparation, execution and attention to detail. He has pushed other riders to new level of fitness and has been such an asset to our team for years. Was I pissed when I found out that it was him? Not really, and definitely less so than if it was someone else. What he has given our team has been HOURS of speed advantages over just about anyone, and for many, many years - with this year being no different. To be pissed at a guy for selflessly giving for so long would be immature, selfish and short sighted.

Besides, finishing in 5 Days, 5 hours and 5 minutes sounds way better than 5 days, 4 hours and 50 minutes!

We all were pretty mellow after, and shared some laughs while we were serving our 15 minutes of penalty time.

As the time ticked off, The Hammer and I got ready to close out the last mile or so with a few escorted vehicles. We got on our bikes at a literal white line on the road and got to take it in. This was a pretty important moment for me, as I relished in being done with an awesome racing partner surrounded by awesome people and I was stoked to close out my last RAAM, along with The Hammers first (last?) RAAM in such fashion. Toby got this photo of us, right before RAAM gave us the go ahead to meet the rest of the team at the infamous Shell station, before getting the mandatory escort via RAAM to the finish line.


The Shell Station

The Shell Station is the second of 3 markers signifying the end of the race.

The mood is always kinda weird here. Everyone is tired, but also excited, in a "I raced more than I've slept for the past 5 days" type of mood. It's also kinda weird because we just sit around in a gas station parking lot while we wait for RAAM officials to give us some talk and then an escort, so in a sense, we are kinda just killing time. People go in and out of conversations like we are all kinda drunk.

During this time, you can see us just kinda sittin around:

Analyzing data that doesn't need to be analyzed at that moment

Shootin the shit while completely taking over a parking lot


Telling stories (in fact, I would love to know what story I'm telling that has me waving my arms and making faces like this)

or simply hiding out from everyone.

The Finish Line

The 4 mile escort to the finish line is always kind of funny.

You want to laugh and goof around, but you can't really because there is a truck right in front of you, traffic around you and no one wants to be 'that guy' and make the tired mistake we are all somewhat capable of making at this point. Adrenalin isn't running through our veins anymore, so it's a delicate balance to laugh and prepare for what is one of the most anti-climatic finishes possible.

After we get to the Finish line, there is this kind of confusion as to what is going to happen. We get to the official finishing banner, everyone is standing around, a bunch of cameras are in our faces, and we basically  don't know what to do. Uh, just stand there? General confusion abounds with about 20 cameras in our faces.

We get up on stage and start the usual Q&A with the race directory. This was a little different than times in the past as we actually had an audience other than our crew. I must say, there was something cool about finishing on a Thursday evening with bars surrounding the area, rather than mid-late morning on a Friday. Things were generally a bit more rowdy.

The Q&A with the RD is guaranteed to have the following:
  • Sarcasm
  • A bad joke about METAL and/or his hair
While sarcasm was available, it wasn't as much as years past. The RD actually had plenty of good things to say about us.

"You knew they were out there to win, you guys were not talking any smack, you just went out and quietly put together that you were really confident about" (6:10)

(Despite METAL's best attempts to put a hat on, Rick still was able to bring up old jokes from yesteryear).

After the stage presence, we all hung out in the area to share some more laughs, and to see our family and friends who traveled from both near and far to come see us finish, along with a few more photo ops.

Most of us grabbed showers to feel somewhat human again, and went out to some local watering holes for some suds, since none of us have had any in at least 5 days, 5 hours and 5 minutes, and for most - many months before that. Wei, our Team Manager, who made many, many things happen for us, was in a very generous mood, and we promptly took over a bar.

Team 4Mil finished 4 hours after us, and after they did their stage Q&A, a few of us went over to congratulate them on a very good and hard race. To Wane Dowd, Shawn Olin and James Weinstein, you guys are class acts, and it was a pleasure talking with you and sharing war stories after.

Next post, the final post, are some final thoughts.

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