RAAM 2015 Race Report

Customized license plate with my RAAM number, 441

Another year, another RAAM, but 2015 was a very different RAAM from 2012 or 2014. I knew that this was going to be my last RAAM for the foreseeable future, and I wanted to make sure it was one that I could be 100% satisfied with. The time, energy, money, and risk that go into a RAAM effort make it such that it isn’t something I’d consider doing year after year simply with the same goals or objectives. I tend to tire of races rather quickly – for me the allure of endurance races has been new challenges and new experiences. I don’t think there is any race or event that I’ve done more than 3 times (at least not in the same division), so for me to return to RAAM there needed to be a new purpose beyond just showing up again. One of the most common questions I’m asked about RAAM is “why do you do it?”, so let me spend some time trying to explain more about what RAAM has become to me, which might help to answer that question. There were many reasons for returning to RAAM – some quite obviously related to the sporting aspect of RAAM, and some quite complex and subtle having little to do with bike racing.

In 2012 the goal was to finish RAAM, in 2014 the goal was to “do it right”, and in 2015 the goal was to try and actually race it. Even trying to acknowledge this goal of being competitive though was difficult for me. I have felt tremendous pressure to excel at everything that I have done my entire life, and have become my own worst critic in the process. I’ve spent more time feeling like a failure than I have feeling like a success, and have felt the tremendous disappointment of feeling like I could never live up to the expectations of people who were extremely important to me. Cycling was different though – it was an activity that I found on my own as an adult, and one where I didn’t feel the same degree of expectations or pressure to excel like I had in other areas of my life. I was just an average athlete at best, and no one saw me as a threat at races (in fact I was the only solo female racer who wasn’t profiled by RAAM media in the lead up to 2015’s race). Cycling was my outlet, my escape, my medicine, my church. So for me to take cycling and try to change the focus to be about results and competing was something that I found to be very difficult to reconcile in my head and my heart. Even though part of me really wanted to leave my mark on the sport and try to win, I was scared that in trying to do so I risked losing the underlying intrinsic value of what cycling was to me. I was afraid of turning it into yet another area where I would feel the pressure to succeed and thus feel like a failure if I didn’t meet my goals, not to mention having that failure play out in a very public arena.

I did ultimately decide to return to RAAM and to try and compete, but there were many stages along the way when I felt doubt and fear, and things happened that impacted my ability to execute on this goal. I got sick in mid December and fell victim to the nagging dry cough that has plagued me ever winter for over 5 years now. Every time I’ve gotten sick I’ve had a cough develop that doesn’t go away for months, despite various medications and treatments. As the weeks and months went by and I watched my fitness evaporate due to not being able to train fully because of the cough it was extremely frustrating and disheartening. I watched as my fellow RAAM entrants were racking up double, triple, and even quadruple the mileage I was doing.

It wasn’t until mid February when I finally seemed to have mostly shaken the cough and could again return to training. That only left 4 months to train for RAAM and basically build back up from minimal fitness. While my goal remained to race, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to be where I’d originally hoped to be physically with only 4 months of serious training remaining. Then I got sick again in mid May following a training camp that I did in Bishop with several of my crew. I was terrified that I was going to get the dreaded cough again, and I didn’t have 2 months to let it take its typical course before RAAM! Thankfully by attacking the cough with a slew of medications early and shutting down my training completely it miraculously didn’t evolve into the usual nagging cough, but it was another 2 weeks where I essentially had to put my training on hold.

Factoring all of this in, we ultimately decided on a time goal of 11.5 days since this seemed very doable based on my ride time from last year even if I didn’t ride any faster but we were just able to better manage off the bike time. It was also a finishing time that in most recent years would have been in the ballpark to win the women’s division, so while we couldn’t control what other competitors would bring to the table, it was a goal that seemed to at least have the potential to yield a good result.

Speaking of past results, some people ask why the women’s times at RAAM have been so much slower in recent years compared to in the 80s and 90s despite all of the advances in technology. One argument is that the course is more difficult today than it was back in the day when the course followed mostly interstates with less climbing than some of the back roads traversed in today’s rendition of the race. Even Pete Penseyres’ men’s record from 1986 stood until 2013 when Christophe Strasser finally bettered it. But as for the women’s race, I honestly believe that it is largely because women are doing RAAM once and then walking away from it. They don’t take those learnings and then come back to try and improve. Seana Hogan didn’t set the transcontinental record on her first RAAM – she returned year after year and honed her skills. Many of the other faster times from the 80s and 90s were also from riders who competed multiple years – Susan Notorangelo, Muffy Ritz, Elaine Mariolle. RAAM is such an immense undertaking and is so logistically complex and intricate that experience becomes perhaps the biggest advantage that you can have. It is ridiculously easy to lose hours and days of time on the road without even realizing it, regardless of how fast of a rider you are.

I also had other reasons to doubt and question my decision to return to RAAM. In the fall of last year after doing the PAC Tour Ridge of the Rockies cycling tour, Mike and I decided that we wanted to relocate from California to Colorado for the next stage of our lives. By deciding to do RAAM again I was delaying facilitating this move. Not only was I delaying our move, but I was also delaying our plans to try and start a family. Race Across the West back in 2011 was supposed to be my last ultra, yet here I was 4 years later considering toeing the RAAM start line for the 3rd time in 4 years. This decision weighed heavily on my mind at various stages in the lead up to RAAM. Was I making the right decision? Would I live to regret my decision to return to RAAM a third time?

In order to help try and address some of my conflicting emotions around returning to RAAM, as well as to develop mental strategies that would help improve my performance, I started working with a sports psychologist, Julie Emmerman. This was a tremendously valuable investment, both for me and for my crew (we did a couple of group sessions that helped to prepare the crew for what they were about to experience also). Julie helped me to interpret and understand my reactions to and feelings from past RAAMs, and thus prepared me to better handle myself and perform in 2015. She also helped the crew to understand the stresses and situations that they would face during RAAM as I regressed from a high functioning adult to a temper tantrum prone toddler-like version of myself. It was extremely important for me to not have to worry about my crew judging me for those inevitable moments during RAAM when I would reach my lowest of lows – I needed to be able to instead focus my attention and energy on moving forward as efficiently as possible. Similarly the crew needed to know that they shouldn’t take these outbursts personally – that they were part of the extreme stress and sleep deprivation that I’d be experiencing, and not a true reflection of who I was as a person. We also worked on developing coping strategies for those moments when I would struggle to find motivation. The mental challenges of RAAM are huge, and I highly recommend working with someone like Julie to help prepare – you train and prepare your body, why wouldn’t you also train and prepare your mind?

Underneath the goal of trying to compete in RAAM this year, there were also deeper more subtle threads that were tugging me back, and Julie has helped me to understand these characteristics of RAAM as well. For most people something like RAAM or ultra cycling would be considered outside of their “comfort zones”, but for me it had become my comfort zone. I’ve been living and breathing ultras since 2008 when I did my first 500 mile race, so the thought of walking away from RAAM and not having those experiences again was a very scary and depressing proposition. RAAM had gotten into my blood and become part of my identity, so while there was definitely a part of me that wanted to return to race and see if I could be competitive, there were also other needs that RAAM was filling for me.

RAAM had become a place where I could escape the emotional baggage I’d been accumulating and walls that I’d been fortifying my entire life – RAAM was where I could truly feel “alive” emotionally and feel connected to and loved and respected by others. Through experiencing and processing various RAAM experiences, I have begun to find and unlock my own humanity. Experiences growing up moulded me into a very emotionally guarded individual – someone who avoided expressing and acknowledging emotion. I had put up walls that prevented me from emotionally connecting with others, and which in fact made doing so intimidating and even terrifying. I’d also built an outward facing persona of self reliance and independence, even though underneath it all I was rife with self doubt and low self esteem. These personality traits in fact drew me to RAAM and ultra cycling – the nature of the sport at first seems to reflect those same characteristics – very isolationist being a solo sport, and requiring great determination, independence, and stalwartness. So it is ironic that it was RAAM that actually allowed me to begin to break down those walls, and allowed me to be vulnerable and begin to connect with people emotionally.

The nature of RAAM is that it strips you down to your most primal self and leaves you in a very vulnerable state where you have to rely on those around you for even the most basic things, and in the process any walls that you may have erected in your day to day life quickly get torn down. I had not received a lot of emotional nurturing or empathy growing up, so it was a very foreign yet strangely wonderful experience to be reduced to such a vulnerable state during RAAM and have people around me who I could rely on and who were nurturing and comforting me, all the while accepting me and not judging me. People whom I could trust, and to whom I could bare the depths of my soul to. This was incredibly freeing and gratifying, and was a large part of what drew me back to the race. RAAM forced me into a state of being that I guarded myself from in regular everyday life.

Sure, I love riding my bike, but I have very little interest in riding across the country on my own, or doing other self supported ultras such as PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris – a 1200km brevet). For me what made RAAM special was sharing it with my crew – getting to forge those deeper emotional connections, allowing myself to step beyond the walls that I’d spent my entire life building and fortifying, experiencing and expressing raw emotion without fear of judgment or shame, and allowing myself to be vulnerable and rely on others. In a way I was recreating my childhood via RAAM in terms of surrounding myself with people who were like family, and experiencing the nurturing and acceptance that had been somewhat lacking from my actual childhood. My RAAM crew were like a self selected family – a family who would take care of me as I regressed to the state of a child during the course of the race. RAAM has been very therapeutic for me, and while the process of self discovery has been terrifying and traumatic at times, I’m so thankful that RAAM has unlocked this opportunity to begin to work on redefining myself and stepping out from the shadows of the walls that I’ve lived behind most of my life.

So yes, the “why?” question about RAAM does not have a simple or short answer! Hopefully I’ve shed a bit of light on at least what it has meant to me though. But enough deep philosophical thoughts…..back to the race itself!

Let me introduce you to my fabulous 2015 RAAM crew since they’re the ones who made all of this possible! This year I had 13 crew members – 9 who crewed for the full duration, and 4 who swapped out part way across the country. My crew were a geographically diverse group from across the continent and around the world. They also were a mix of seasoned RAAM veterans and complete rookies. It takes a very special kind of person to crew solo RAAM, and without them I could have never achieved my goals and done so well, so my utmost respect and heartfelt thanks goes out to each and every one of them!

Crew posing in front of a John Wayne statue

Veronica Beagan from Alaska was crew chief and lead the day shift. I met Veronica during the 2014 PAC Tour Ridge of the Rockies cycling tour where she was crewing. She had crewed RAAM on 2 previous occasions, and I was extremely fortunate that she agreed to take on the difficult and stressful role of crew chief! As retired air force, and an ultra athlete herself (she’s done various ultra running events), she brought to the table a great mix of leadership and insight/understanding into racing.


Jamaica Lambie, from California, was assistant crew chief leading the night shift in addition to being bike mechanic. Jamaica had crewed RAAM last year for a 2x team, and has wrenched for various multi day cycling events, so his experience and leadership were also greatly appreciated!


Sonya Weiser Souza, from Hawaii, was massage therapist and was on the night shift. Her major role was orchestrating my sleep breaks and using her magical hands on me as I slept! She crewed for me last year on RAAM, so I was incredibly fortunate and excited to have her agree to return again this year!


Carson Grant, my youngest brother, from Alberta, Canada, was in charge of “medical” being that he’s a veterinarian – he’s not used to his patients talking back to him though! ;) He also quickly became the Cardo master on the day shift, and spent almost the entirety of his on duty time in the follow vehicle gabbing at me to help me stay awake. I was blown away and greatly impressed at how much random sh*t he knows! ;) He had crewed for me at my very first ultra, the Furnace Creek 508 in 2008, so had some experience crewing despite being a rookie to RAAM.


Mike Deitchman, my husband, was back for his 3rd RAAM crewing adventure, and as always, I’m incredibly thankful for his continued love and support! He mostly lead the errand vehicle on the day shift, but also had some stints in the follow vehicle during the last third of the race, helping me deal with a couple of my emotional breakdowns.


María Del Pilar Vázquez, who lives in Florida but is originally from Puerto Rico, joined the nightshift and became known as “Mamma Maria”. She was mostly in charge of nutrition and cleaning and reorganizing the van after “the boys from the day shift” had been in it! ;) Maria had crewed RAAM last year for a 4x team, and has raced ultras such as the 508 and PBP, so also brought experience and wisdom to the table. She’s one of the toughest, most hard working women I know!


Chai Velhal joined the day shift all the way from India. He is qualified for RAAM, having won the Deccan Cliffhanger ultra race in India last year, and is hoping to take on RAAM himself in a few years and try to become the first Indian to finish solo RAAM. He had boundless energy and was often seen sprinting along the road beside me!


Rohitash Jamwal, or “Roh” as he came to be called, is also from India, but is currently working on his PhD in Rhode Island. He too joined the day shift, and took a variety of roles between the follow and errand vehicles. Somewhere along the way he decided to start an attempt to do 3000 pushups during the course of RAAM, and had some of the others on the day shift joining him. I’m not sure how many pushups he did, but I remember seeing him do a LOT! He’s also a cyclist, and hopes to do RAW or RAAM one day.


Steve Browne was the final member of the day shift. He’s been a friend of Carson’s for many years, and is also from Alberta, Canada. Steve, although a fairly quiet guy, quickly showed his witty humor, great work ethic, and knowledge of the lyrics of far too many country songs on my playlist! ;) In particular I remember him, Carson, and Mike loudly singing “Beer for my horses” over the PA somewhere in eastern Ohio as we approached West Virginia! I also found out after the race that Steve was our “bridge” to the locals, especially in places like Appalachia. He had a camouflage ball cap that he wore, and the locals felt comfortable approaching him and asking what was going on, so thank you Steve for garnering us safe passage through the back roads of America! :)


Joining us from the start until Durango, CO on the night shift was Melissa Rosen, from Virginia. Although I didn’t get to know Melissa as well as the others since she was with us for the shortest period of time, I know that she was a hard worker, and I appreciated that she gave up her time to join our band of misfits and support me!


Replacing Melissa in Durango was Lindsay King, from Ontario, Canada. Lindsay was on my 2014 RAAM crew where she was Cardo master of the night shift and talked me through many of my lowest moments of the race, so I was ecstatic to have her rejoin the crew in 2015! She picked back up with the Cardo as if a year hadn’t passed, and was up to her usual antics keeping me alert and awake during those tough night hours!


Joining us from the start until Wichita, Kansas on the night shift was Rob DeCou, from California. I met Rob during the 2014 RAAM Challenge Oregon race where he qualified for RAAM. Rob was a hard worker and could always be counted on. As an ultra runner, he also has some insights into what it is like to race ultras. Rob has signed up for solo RAAM in 2016, so I wish him all the best with his own RAAM journey!


Rounding out the crew and replacing Rob in Wichita was Jim Kern from California. Jim is an accomplished ultra athlete himself having completed races such as the Furnace Creek 508 and the Badwater Ultramarathon. He’s also raced RAAM on a relay in the past, so his experience was a great asset to the crew. If you ever run into Jim, ask him about the “ditch weed” in Kansas! ;)

Maria and Jim

While not a physical member of the crew, one other person needs to be called out as having been an extremely important member of the team, and that is Sandy Earl. She was heavily involved in preparing the crew prior to the race by participating in email discussions and providing race scenarios for crew to think about and work through. She was also an available remote resource during the race whom crew could call upon if they had questions, etc. Sandy’s input and assistance were greatly appreciated, and were a huge contributing factor as to why my crew were so prepared and executed so well, so thank you Sandy!


Another individual who was involved remotely was Lane Parker. He manned my Facebook athlete page during the race and provided updates to everyone following the race. A big thanks to Lane!


Charlie was the final addition to the crew – he was an inflatable purple unicorn that Sonya brought from Hawaii, and he made for a great entertaining prop along the route!


Charlie and Carson

I was incredibly fortunate that each and every one of these individuals gave their time and energy to help me finish RAAM a third time – they were all incredibly hard working, and their selflessness, dedication, sense of humor, teamwork, patience, and tolerance were greatly appreciated! RAAM isn’t possible without a stellar crew, and I had about as stellar of a crew as one could ever hope for!

Group shot at the start

As with each of my RAAMs, I decided to associate my racing efforts with a charity. RAAM is a very expensive endeavor, but I’ve never been comfortable asking individuals to give me money – that feels selfish to me since this is a personal goal and endeavor. So instead I’ve asked that first they consider donating to a charity. In each of the years that I’ve fundraised, 100% of the benefits have gone to the charity, none to me, and thanks to the generosity of others I’ve raised over $25,000 for charity. Each year I let donors choose a time station to “sponsor”, so throughout this report I will recognize the donors for each time station. This year, as like last year, I partnered with the Canary Foundation which does research into early cancer detection.

As everything came together in Oceanside, CA for the start of the race, I felt all kinds of emotions – anxiety, fear, trepidation, excitement, anticipation, nervousness, etc. But mostly I was just happy to get underway and put all of the countless hours that had gone into planning and training behind me. Logistics and leadership had been handed over to the extremely capable hands of my crew, and now I just had to focus on one thing – riding my bike as quickly and efficiently as possible to the other side of the country.

The first 8 miles of the race are a parade zone on a bike path where riders are escorted by a local rider, are required to stay below a certain speed, and are required to maintain their start order (i.e. no passing is allowed). Riders start in reverse numerical order one minute apart, so rookies go first, and then veterans with lower numbers go last (the race number that you’re assigned for RAAM then becomes yours for life, so I’ve been #441 for each of my RAAMs, and no one else will ever have that number). This put me smack dab in the middle of the women’s field – after Isabelle and Shu, and before Kathy and Seana.

With Mike just prior to the start

With Shu just before the start

At the start line

And we're off!

Despite trying to follow the speed rules, I soon had riders immediately behind me. What was really a distraction for me though was the fact that apparently I had done far too good a job of hydrating that morning, and I found myself desperately having to go to the bathroom only a few miles into the race! I knew there weren’t really going to be any good places to stop on the side of the road for quite some time, and I couldn’t stop on the bike path due to having to maintain start order, so I decided to stop at the little park where we exited the bike path. This meant having to go off course a little bit and wait for a pedestrian signal to cross the street, but riding with a full bladder this early in the race was not appealing, so I decided to bite the bullet and stop. This dropped me into last place, but that would have happened anyway since I wasn’t trying to go out super hard, and was trying to moderate my pace. I’d planned to go out stronger than in past years, but still had a power range that I was trying to stick to.

After my nature stop at the park, I rejoined the course. One by one the male riders who’d started after the women began to catch up to and pass me. I’d expected this, so it didn’t bother me – I just stuck to my game plan and continued to try and ride at a steady power output. It became frustrating a few times on the flatter sections though where I caught up to riders who had just passed me on the hills. It wasn’t like I was trying to chase them or anything – I was just trying to ride at constant power whereas clearly they weren’t. What did surprise me though were 2 things – first, that Christophe Strasser didn’t pass me until the base of the climb up Palomar and that he said hello as he passed (last year he blew by me much earlier without so much as an acknowledgement), and second, that I actually passed a couple of riders on the climb up Palomar! It was already pretty hot (about 90degF), and I was pushing a bit harder than last year, but I was still well within my game plan, so I felt pretty good about this!

Somewhere along the way I must have passed Kathy, but I didn’t see her, so I’m not sure where she was when I passed her (presumably she was stopped on the side of the road for something). Then just before the first time station, I caught up to and passed Shu – this was another surprise as I hadn’t passed her until after Borrego Springs last year. This moved me back into 3rd place, and was to be the last time I would actually see any of the solo women racers (I would eventually pass Seana, but when she was stopped) – so just over 11 days of racing without ever seeing your competitors – kinda crazy!

Receiving a water bottle handoff from Carson

Canary Foundation Donors: Lake Henshaw, CA: Minel Diaz

Descending the glass elevator to Borrego Springs is always a bit nerve wracking for me. It can be quite gusty, making navigating the hairpin turns a bit scary since you don’t always know what will greet you as you make the turns windwise, and I’ve experienced some pummeling gusts going in and out of turns in the past. There have also been some crashes on the descent during RAAM/RAW, and I certainly didn’t want to be overly aggressive and jeopardize the entire race for a few seconds of saved time on the descent. I was pleasantly surprised though that windwise it was actually about the most favorable conditions under which I had ever descended the glass elevator! It also surprised me that I passed several riders on the descent – the most surprising perhaps was Chris O’Keefe, who was racing RAW this year (he raced RAAM in 2014 but unfortunately DNFd – he’ll be returning to RAAM in 2016). Chris is a very strong rider, much faster than me, so I was surprised to be passing him so early in the race, especially given that he’d had quite a large head start (the RAW riders started at least a half hour before the RAAM riders). I later found out that he was racing with an injury, but he persevered and finished RAW.

California Desert

After descending to Borrego Springs the trek across the California desert began. The wind conditions were quite favorable, so I was able to zip along at a steady clip. It wasn’t very long until I started passing more of the RAW riders. I passed Karen Armstrong shortly after Borrego Springs – I’ve raced against her at Race Across Oregon in 2009 and 2010 and had never seen her after the start of a race, so it was another surprise to be passing her at all let alone this early in the race! I also went back and forth a few times with Carol Pope, a teammate of mine on the Panache Endurance Elite Team.

Chai running alongside Joan at dusk in the California desert

The trip through the desert continued mostly uneventful, although what was a bit unusual was that the heat didn’t seem to dissipate as much as it usually does as the sun set – the temperature continued to be above 80degF for much of the night. I think the heat started to catch up with me and I started to feel a bit nauseated, and I also struggled with sleepiness more than I expected to at this point in the race. Both of these developments were concerning and frustrating given how early it was in the race. Eventually the sun began to rise which helped with the sleepiness, but it was the beginning of a brutally hot day.

Riding toward the Arizona border at sunrise

Heading into Arizona on day 2

Canary Foundation Donors: Brawley, CA: Scott Bolter
Canary Foundation Donors: Blythe, CA: Jeff Radick, Kelly Cochran

Typically the temps in the Arizona desert are above 100degF, but this year temps were 5-10deg hotter than I’d experienced in past years, reaching temps in the 115-120degF range – a truly hellish temperature! Not too long after Parker in the early morning hours the temps hit triple digits, and continued to rise from there. By the time I reached Salome my Garmin was reading about 110degF, and it stayed above that temp for quite some time. I did a pretty good job of staying on top of my hydration though, consuming over 50oz of water and Skratch per hour, and going through countless ice socks (tube socks filled with ice that I wrapped around my neck to try and combat the heat). Many riders stopped and took breaks due to the heat, but my strategy was to keep going and push on to the higher elevation where temperatures would drop a bit – staying low the temps were just going to be even worse, so I might as well get through it as quickly as possible. It was my 2011 RAW crew chief, Sandy Earl, who had imparted on me this piece of wisdom when all I’d wanted to do during RAW was to stop and take a break from the heat, but she insisted that moving forward was the best strategy. That’s been my strategy in all 3 RAAMs, and it has served me well.

Riding the TT bike in the Arizona heat

Riding through the Arizona desert

Desert Landscape

Arizona Cactus

Arizona Cacti

Receiving an ice sock handoff from Chai

Chai Chasing me in the Arizona Desert

Canary Foundation Donors: Parker, AZ: Jeff and Lisa Faillers
Canary Foundation Donors: Salome, AZ: Michelle West and Josh Talley

Not too long before Aguila and the turnoff towards Congress we encountered a brush fire on the side of the road. Apparently it may have been caused by another racer’s crew vehicle being stopped along the side of the road, and initially there was a lone highway patrol officer fighting the fire with a single fire extinguisher. Just before I got there reinforcements had arrived but the road was closed while the firefighters worked to put out the fire. This gave me an opportunity to get out of the heat and into the van for a quick nap, but it was also frustrating since I knew that the 2 women in front of me were able to continue unaffected by this delay, and that the 2 women behind me would be rapidly closing in. I had no plan to take a break this early in the race, so being forced to stop when I really just wanted to keep pushing on was frustrating. I’d presumed that there would at least be a time credit granted by race headquarters since it was a delay imposed on us by law enforcement, but alas no time credit was given for the 40min that we were stopped…..

Lone Highway Patrolman Fighting the Fire

Approaching the brush fire

Napping while stopped for the brush fire

After being allowed to proceed past the brush fire when they reopened the road, I continued on to Congress, the oasis time station in the desert run by the Bullshifters bike club from Phoenix. I arrived in Congress about 1hr 10min slower than 2014, and while 40min of that was due to the forced stoppage for the brush fire, the heat had clearly taken a toll on me. I was eager to stop for a quick dip in the pool that they have set up at the time station before tackling the climb up Yarnell Grade. Leaving Congress the temp was about 97degF, but it felt downright cool compared to the temps from a few hours earlier. I distinctly remember being amused by the fact that 97degF had never felt so cool before, and that I was so happy that it was “only” 97degF!

Canary Foundation Donors: Congress, AZ: Russ and Sheila Stevens

Base of Yarnell Grade just outside of Congress

Base of Yarnell Grade

Climbing Yarnell Grade

Climbing Yarnell Grade with an ice sock

Shortly after Yarnell my crew had an interesting encounter with a local. They were pulled over on the side of the road when a vehicle coming from the other direction did a u turn to come and talk to them. Rather than chew them out or anything, the woman blessed them and gave them a bible of all things! I continued on through Skull Valley – a town with a welcome sign that always cracks me up since it says “Skull Valley – Watch for Children”, which sounds horribly sinister to me! Then it was the long relentless climb towards Prescott. The stage from Congress to Prescott has the most feet of elevation gain per mile of any stage west of the Mississippi I believe, so it isn’t an easy stage.

Sinister Welcome Sign

Dusk climbing towards Prescott, AZ

Sunset before Prescott, Arizona

Arizona Sunset

Mike sporting some Canadian shorts!

Canary Foundation Donors: Prescott, AZ: Yvonne Linton
Canary Foundation Donors: Cottonwood, AZ: Jerry Hitchcock and Silvana Torik

We decided to push on to just past Cottonwood, AZ for my first sleep break. I passed through Cottonwood just over an hour and a half slower than last year – a bit disheartening, but still well within our targeted range for our goal time of 11.5 days. At this point I’d been racing for just shy of 500 miles, which had taken me just over 36hrs. After a quick rinse off and meal I was able to close my eyes for about 90min of sleep.

Back on the road again, my stomach continued to be a bit bothersome, and I had to move away from my planned main nutrition of a liquid diet of maltodextrin mix. This was frustrating since I had used it without problems in all of my training, including my 5 back to back days of 12 hour rides a couple of weeks earlier. I had gone into the race knowing I wouldn’t do only liquid nutrition, but I had wanted to try and do a larger portion of liquid and just supplement with real food. I think the combination of the extreme heat as well as trying to use it continuously (as opposed to having 10hrs between uses in my training camp) was what doomed the plan to failure. But that’s RAAM – you can have the best plans in the world, but at some point things will change and you’ll have to improvise and come up with a new plan.

Climbing Oak Creek Canyon Towards Flagstaff

Nearing the top of Oak Creek Canyon

I passed through Sedona in the early morning light, and then proceeded up the climb towards Flagstaff. As I entered Flagstaff I was joined by PJ Lingley, another teammate on the Panache Elite Endurance Team. PJ is a firefighter who lives in the area and who attempted RAAM last year making it over 2200 miles before an injury forced him to withdraw. It was great to have a bit of company on the road and get escorted through Flagstaff by another cyclist. I hope to see PJ return to RAAM in the coming years and get that well deserved finish!

Canary Foundation Donors: Flagstaff, AZ: Sean and Valerie Munday

Leaving Flagstaff I entered a section of the course that I perhaps dreaded the most. The road between Flagstaff and Tuba City is a major highway with heavy traffic moving at high speeds, including a lot of big rigs. The shoulder also comes and goes, and there are pretty nasty rumble strips along large sections of the road. Add to that the fact that the wind can be a pretty strong cross wind, and it makes for a bit of a scary passage, not to mention that it is also typically very hot. This year the winds were mostly favorable though, and I was even comfortable enough to switch to my TT bike (last year I’d switched to the TT bike just outside of Flagstaff after the last little climb, but had been being buffeted around by the wind and passing traffic and had been terrified, so had switched back to my road bike in short order). The temps continued to rise though, and soon enough we were back to triple digit heat after we passed through Tuba City, with my Garmin topping out at 106degF.

Canary Foundation Donors: Tuba City, AZ: Natasha Lee

Chai running alongside me between Flagstaff and Tuba City

On the road between Flagstaff and Tuba City

Steve, Chai, and "Charlie" the inflatable unicorn providing roadside entertainment outside of Tuba City, AZ

The section after Tuba City was a struggle – the heat was sapping my energy and my spirit, and I was feeling somewhat demoralized about not being ahead of my pace from last year – I was actually through Tuba City an hour earlier, but last year the course had been 16 miles longer due to a reroute before Flagstaff (we had bypassed Oak Creek Canyon due to construction), so my average speed was the same. In all reality I was doing fine given that the conditions had been tougher, but I still felt disappointed in my performance, especially given that I was over 4.5hrs behind the leaders, Isabelle and Seana. I was also disappointed as it became clear that I would yet again pass through Monument Valley in the dark. Ever since I’d done RAW and passed through Monument Valley just after sunset I’d been hoping to try and get through in the daylight so that I could see one of the most beautiful sections of the course, but each RAAM I ended up going through in the dark.

Adding to my frustration, just before Kayenta I got my first flat tire, but the crew was quick to change it out and I was soon back on the road. As I headed towards Monument Valley the last dusk light drained from the sky, and the brilliance of the night sky appeared. Carson was on the Cardo talking to me, and I got some astronomy lessons. I also got treated to some KFC that I’d requested be picked up back in Tuba City. Yes, KFC tastes really, really, really good when you’ve been on your bike riding through the heat for several days! Sonic burgers are also really good I discovered this year, and they soon became a fairly common meal also.

Canary Foundation Donors: Kayenta, AZ: Michael and Tina Svihura
Canary Foundation Donors: Mexican Hat, UT: Justin Burstein

Heading towards Monument Valley after sunset

We made it to Bluff, Utah for my next 90min sleep break. When I hit the road again I was still feeling pretty low, and the sleepiness wasn’t helping. I was ready to leave the desert behind me, and should have been looking forward to Colorado, but soon my mind started to try and self sabotage. In every RAAM I’ve done, the section between Bluff and Cortez has been a struggle for one reason or another, and this year was no different. It was along this section that I started having serious thoughts of quitting. I was a bit caught off guard by these thoughts, because in all reality things were actually going pretty well – nothing physically was bothering me severely, but rather the cumulative effects of riding for 3 days were starting to pull on my psyche. My butt was starting to bother me a bit, and the fatigue and sleepiness were also setting in. The fact that I was back in 3rd place and continuing to lose ground to Isabelle and Seana made my goal of competing seem like it had already failed, so my mind started to try and pull the escape cord.

The mind’s job is to protect the body, so it kicks in and tries to find ways to stop the suffering – it is a kind of defense mechanism, and something like RAAM can turbo charge this response. My thought process was something along the lines of I knew what lay ahead, and thus I knew that things were just going to get worse from here on out, so why bother? I’d already finished RAAM twice before, so I had nothing to prove to myself or to anyone else. I felt that I wasn’t in a position to try and win, which had been a large goal coming in, and I didn’t know if I wanted to put myself through all the pain and suffering again just to achieve another finish. In fact I started to justify my thoughts by rationalizing that by DNFing I would actually be proving more than by continuing – by DNFing I’d be showing RAAM that I was the boss, the one in control, and that RAAM didn’t own me and couldn’t control me! I started believing that perhaps quitting was what I needed to do in order to “cure myself” of the RAAM disease. But at the same time I recognized that I was not in a normal mental state, and that I shouldn’t make a rash decision. As these thoughts were rushing through my head we came on a stretch of road construction that meant riding on a gravel road for many miles, and this just seemed to further add insult to injury!

Canary Foundation Donors: Montezuma Creek, UT: Thierry Masciarelli
Canary Foundation Donors: Cortez, CO: Dennis Feick

Riding between Montezuma Creek, Utah and Cortez, CO

Heading towards Colorado from Utah

Tarantula Wasp that Jamaica found being posed with the lego man

As we came into Cortez I got on the Cardo and told the crew that I needed to stop there for a bit to regroup, and that I wanted to talk to Sonya alone. I knew that I would be able to confide in her and share what was going through my head, and that she would provide a good sounding board and understand what I was talking about since she had gone through RAAM with me last year. I tried to assure her that I wasn’t going to quit right there and then, but explained all the thoughts that were rushing through my head. She did a great job of playing devil’s advocate, and it just helped to be able to talk to someone about it. Her and the rest of the night shift worked hard to try and refocus me and help me to refind my motivation, as did the day shift when they came on duty a few hours later.

As in each of my RAAMs, one of the big motivators that I was able to turn to was the notion of not letting down my crew – many of them had not had the opportunity to crew RAAM and experience the sense of accomplishment of helping someone achieve something so extraordinary, and I didn’t want to let them down. While my brain was still yelling “red alert” and trying to get me to stop, I knew that I had to put off any final decision until at least the next day – hopefully by then the thoughts would have passed, and this moment of weakness would be nothing but a blip in the rearview mirror.

The crew were obviously legitimately concerned about my mental state though, and they called and let Julie know what was going on so that she too could help me, and so later that night I chatted with her on the phone as I climbed Wolf Creek Pass. She helped remind me to “be here now”, and to not dwell on the past or on the future. We weren’t even a third of the way through the race, and a lot could still happen. I needed to focus on my race and what I was doing now, and not worry about the others or jump to conclusions about what the outcome was going to be. Having crew who were so focused on the goals, and outside resources such as Julie who could be called on to help when I was struggling mentally really made a huge difference in my race this year!

When the day shift had come on duty I shared the fact that my butt was starting to bother me a bit – which was feeding into my desire to quit because I’d “been there, done that” with regard to painful butt issues having ridden half of the race last year with what turned out to be a pressure ulcer. We decided to have Carson take a look and provide his medical opinion when we stopped in Durango. Nothing like having your little brother inspecting your butt, but there’s no room for modesty on RAAM!

This was a pivotal moment of the race, as he was able to recommend a strategy that would ultimately lead to the least amount of butt pain that I’d had during any of my RAAMs! He had us move away from the thicker chamois cream that I’d been using and move back to the lighter, more water soluble one. This would mean having to stop and reapply much more frequently, and also change shorts more frequently, but in the end it really worked! In my training I use a thick chamois cream (Morgan Blue Solid Chamois Cream) because it has staying power and I don’t have to stop and reapply very frequently, but the result is that the skin doesn’t get to breathe as much, and while this is ok for a day or two of continuous use, or back to back days where you have a good chunk of time in between training blocks where the skin gets to breathe (such as was the case during my training camps), it wasn’t working after 3 days of continuous riding in the extreme heat and I had the beginnings of dermatitis. The crew agreed that they could handle doing laundry every day if necessary so that I could change shorts as frequently as every couple of hours if necessary, and so began “Laundromat Across America” for the errand vehicle! I’m so thankful for Carson’s input on this, and hope that he isn’t scarred for life having had to inspect his sister’s butt!

One of many laundromats visited by the crew - looks like Rohitash almost picked up a new crew member at this one!

As I approached Durango at least the scenery improved, but the temps yet again hit triple digits despite being at almost 8,000ft elevation. This was definitely the hottest sustained conditions that I’d faced on RAAM or RAW, and it continued to sap my energy. Climbing out of Durango my Garmin read a sustained 106degF – wtf!!

Canary Foundation Donors: Durango, CO: Don King, Peter and Carolyn Lehman

We continued on towards Pagosa Springs and then up and over Wolf Creek Pass in the dark. Wolf Creek Pass is where we crossed the Continental Divide, and the elevation at the summit is about 10,600ft. In Durango Melissa had departed and Lindsay had joined the crew, so when the night shift came back on duty I was happy to hear an all too familiar voice on the Cardo! Just in time too, because I was about to have my first mental “check out” of the race. Last year Lindsay had helped me to stay awake on the descent off of Wolf Creek Pass by prompting me and the crew to sing Do-Re-Mi and Oh Canada. This year not only was I sleepy descending the pass, but I also had a mental disconnect. I remember starting the descent while talking to her, and then I don’t remember anything for a while. Then I remember “coming to” mid sentence while blabbing about something over the Cardo to Lindsay, but not sure exactly what I was talking about or how much time had passed. It’s a pretty disconcerting feeling when something like this happens! But Lindsay is a pro, and she got me through it. My eyes were also playing tricks on me during this stretch, as I would look at the cliffs and think I saw statues carved into them – my own personally imagined Mount Rushmore so to speak! We eventually made it to South Fork where I took my next sleep break – another 90min sleep.

Canary Foundation Donors: Pagosa Springs, CO: In memory of Hamish Grant
Canary Foundation Donors: South Fork, CO: Kerin Huber, Charles Gray

Summit of Wolf Creek Pass

Heading out of South Fork I started on the TT bike since there was a fairly flat and fast section through Alamosa and to the base of La Veta Pass. Luckily my crew were very disciplined and I didn’t lose any of them to the “Rails & Ales” festival that was going on in Alamosa! ;) I believe it was somewhere along this section that I came upon Franz Preihs with a flat tire on the side of the road. I’d gone back and forth with Franz a few times during the race, and was surprised to be anywhere near him given that he’s an experienced and talented RAAM rider. Neither of us had tools for changing his flat, but my crew quickly caught up to us and were able to start helping him (I think his crew arrived shortly thereafter as well).

Canary Foundation Donors: Alamosa, CO: Pam Goodley, Francien and Tijn Dechesne

Riding towards Alamosa from South Fork

Cowboy Cross

Things were going fine for me at first on the TT bike, but soon I started to notice that I was struggling to hold my head up. Uh-oh – was I finally about to fall victim to the dreaded Shermer’s Neck??? This is an affliction that happens when the neck muscles become so fatigued that they lose the ability to hold one’s head up. Every year you see pictures of riders who suffer from this, and the various contraptions that their crews construct to try and hold their heads up so that they can keep riding. I wasn’t in this extreme state yet, but alarm bells were going off in my head. I’d never had issues with my neck in my past RAAMs, but I had sustained a whiplash injury 8 months earlier when I’d been hit head on by a pickup truck while riding my bike. Back when I sustained the injury I had certainly worried about whether there would be any long term effects and whether it would make me more prone to Shermer’s Neck – well I guess I finally had my answer unfortunately!

I continued to ride with my head hanging low, just looking up every now and then to try and make sure there weren’t any big obstacles coming up in my path. Murphy’s Law though, shortly after this began a RAAM media car appeared and was driving next to me asking questions and taking pictures. I didn’t want it to get out that I had neck issues, so I did my best to keep my head up and act as if everything was normal, but boy oh boy was I happy when they finally continued on their way and I could resume the ragdoll position! Maria informed me shortly thereafter that I was closing in on Seana, and that she was only about 3 miles in front of me, but my mind was too focused on my neck and the potential ramifications to hone in on this fact and properly process it.

In Fort Garland we stopped and I switched back to my road bike and Sonya worked on my neck and shoulders for several minutes to try and help with the Shermer’s Neck. Being back on the road bike helped, and soon I was climbing La Veta Pass. Last year this pass had flown by as I’d had a killer tail wind – this year it was much calmer, so I had to work harder to get up the pass. My spirits were already low due to the neck issues, but then the temps started to soar yet again… Temps climbed from 90degF in Fort Garland at 7900ft elevation to a sustained 104degF at 8900ft elevation just before the summit of La Veta Pass. What happened to the theory that things would get cooler in Colorado at the higher altitudes – geesh!!!!

Heading towards the base of La Veta Pass

Climbing La Veta Pass

Bottle handoff at the base of La Veta Pass

La Veta Summit

At the summit of La Veta pass we stopped for my first 20min nap of the race. Then it was onwards towards the town of La Veta. Temps remained in the upper 90s through La Veta and again reached 100degF as I began the climb up Cuchara Pass. Finally when we got back up to about 8000ft the temps dropped into the upper 80s, and then eventually into the 70s for the remainder of the climb. This is a beautiful part of the course, but it was hard to appreciate the beauty given that I felt like I’d been being slow cooked for the past 4 days!

Canary Foundation Donors: La Veta, CO: Alan Bell

Charlie and crew stand guard at my nap on La Veta Pass

A typical bathroom stop, this one on Cuchara Pass

Chai dons the grass skirt and coconut bra on Cuchara Pass!

Mike posing on a National Forest Service sign

Chai blows bubbles to entertain me

Riding between La Veta and Cuchara Passes

Approaching La Veta

Heading towards La Veta

Scenery at the base of Cuchara Pass

Climbing Cuchara Pass

Climbing Cuchara Pass

Roadside signs

Lake just after Cuchara Pass Summit

Stream on Cuchara Pass

Stream on Cuchara Pass

Cuchara pass, which tops out just shy of 10,000ft elevation was the last of the big Colorado passes, and then it was a fast descent into Trinidad and then the long, gradual downhill towards and through the plains of Kansas. Shortly after dark I found myself once again dozing off, so I had to stop and take another nap between Trinidad and Kim, Colorado. This was my second nap of the day, so it was decided that starting that night we would double my sleep break from 90min to 3hrs (2 REM cycles). We eventually got to Kim, Colorado where I took that sleep break in the church nursery, the same place where I had slept the previous year. The highlight in Kim despite what you might think was NOT the vast array of gigantic and plentiful bug life in the church! Rather it was a small grey kitten that tried to adopt my crew! She was a real sweetie!

Canary Foundation Donors: Trinidad, CO: Rachel Grossman
Canary Foundation Donors: Kim, CO: Dan Sauers and Anna Luo

Kitty in Kim, Colorado

I was a couple of minutes ahead of my time from last year when I arrived in Kim, but the course was shorter so my average speed was actually still a bit lower than a year earlier. I had however closed the gap quite a bit to 2nd place, and was less than 2hrs behind Seana at this point. Isabelle was still well out in front though, almost 8hrs ahead. Of course taking the longer sleep break quickly dropped me further behind again and allowed other riders to catch up to me. When I started up again Jose Bermudez was just in front of me, and Shu was only 7 miles behind me. The extra sleep had helped though, and I was able to ride decently that morning and quickly pass Jose and put additional distance between myself and Shu, bringing the gap back up to 3hrs by the time I reached Ulysses, Kansas. Seana had gained quite a bit on me though, and was once again over 5hrs in front of me at this point.

Canary Foundation Donors: Walsh, CO: Tom Davis
Canary Foundation Donors: Ulysses, KS: Tamarise Cronin

Roadside Umbrella Ballet in Eastern Colorado or Western Kansas

Kansas Graineries

Riding the TT Bike Past the Fields of Kansas

Kansas morning direct follow

Kansas Grainery

Chai hanging out the follow vehicle in Kansas

To help me stay awake Lindsay started a drawing game where she would draw things based on what I told her. She would ask what kind of eyes, what kind of mouth, etc., and I would respond. One of the creations was “Hal”, who was noticeably Kansas themed and heavily influenced by the massive grain elevators and irrigation systems that we were passing in eastern Colorado and western Kansas!

Art inspired by my answers to questions


The slow cooker trend continued as the temps once again reached and hovered around 100degF for much of the day. The wind started as a tail wind, but in typical Kansas fashion it soon turned into a fairly strong cross wind. I was able to stay on the TT bike for most of the day, but late in the evening I switched back to the road bike as the winds became gustier and stronger in the early evening hours. In the evening I was surprised by a call from friend Sheila Stevens – I believe she was in Iowa visiting family, and had called expecting to get one of my crew, so she was quite surprised when I answered the phone. It was nice to chat with her as I approached Pratt, Kansas. We made it past Pratt to Kingman that night for my sleep break, unknowingly passing Seana in Pratt where she was stopped. I had also managed to finally start improving on my time from last year – by Pratt I was over 3hrs ahead of my 2014 pace. Finally things were starting to look up a bit!

Canary Foundation Donors: Montezuma, KS: Ingrid Hillhouse
Canary Foundation Donors: Greensburg, KS: Katie Grant
Canary Foundation Donors: Pratt, KS: Johnna Andrews

Kansas Sunset

Kansas sunset

Sunset in Kansas

I started out the next day on the TT bike, but it quickly became apparent that this was not going to work. My neck had become much worse again, and I was struggling to hold my head up. I resorted to propping my left elbow on my aerobar armrest and cupping my chin in my left hand to hold my head up, but riding one-handed as the winds started to pick up again was not going to be a good idea. We decided to move my Hed trispoke wheels to my road bike and get me off the TT bike. The more upright position on the road bike was much better for my neck, and so I said goodbye to the TT bike for the remainder of the race.

These early morning hours in Kansas also yielded sightings of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz! Lindsay had brought along a Dorothy outfit, and was out on the side of the road cheering for me in it!

Jim and Lindsay (aka Dorothy) in Kansas


Riding into the sunrise in Kansas between Kingman and Maize

I’d been surprised when I’d been informed that I was in front of Seana at this point, and it did give me some extra motivation to try and ride harder. Through Maize I had about a 1hr 15min lead on her, and through El Dorado I had extended the gap to about an hour and a half. Throughout the day I kept asking my crew where Seana and the other riders were. Isabelle was over 13hrs in front of me though, so it seemed like the race was for 2nd place at this point.

Canary Foundation Donors: Maize, KS: Ed Parish

Maize is where Rob departed and Jim joined the crew. Maize was also the location of one of those funny moments that sticks with you. I was in a gas station bathroom with Sonya and Maria when the door started to open. Without even blinking, Maria, who was standing with her back to the door, drop kicked the door with lightening speed! Poor Lindsay who’d been on the other side of the door was nearly knocked into next week! We all got a good laugh about it though – joking about how you didn’t want to mess with “Mamma Maria”! It also set the tone for some fun discussions while on the road to El Dorado. Maria, Sonya, and Lindsay were in the follow vehicle, and we began the task of trying to assign all of the crew a spirit animal. We’d done something similar last year, so this was a fun and distracting exercise. The spirit animals that we came up with were:

Chai – Kangaroo
Rohitash – Llama
Carson – Orangutang
Mike – Slow Loris
Veronica – Matriarch Elephant
Steve – Bear
Jamaica – Honey Badger
Maria – Goose
Sonya – Quokka
Lindsay – Wombat
Jim – Lemur
Rob – Clydesdale Horse

It was also near El Dorado that we saw a school being demolished by a wrecking ball – quite the ominous sight! The stretch from El Dorado to Yates Center was where the cross wind last year had been so strong that I had had trouble maintaining control of the bike, and had nearly been blown across the yellow line several times. This year the wind was similar in strength (perhaps not quite as strong, but still a force to be reckoned with), but was less of a direct cross wind, and instead actually had a partial tail wind component. This made for a much easier and faster ride to Yates Center than last year, and also yielded some laughs with the “flying squirrel” pose. I basically tried to extend my arms and knees as wide as possible in order to try and catch the wind and have it push me forward.

Canary Foundation Donors: El Dorado, KS: Barbara MacRae
Canary Foundation Donors: Yates Center, KS: Sue Kelso

Passing through El Dorado, photo courtesy of Jill Marks

School demolition near El Dorado, Kansas

Grasslands of Kansas

Flying Squirrel Pose!

Kansas Grasslands

The temps continued to be in the mid to upper 90s, but the wind at least helped to make it feel a bit cooler. Out of Yates Center there was a couple mile detour on gravel roads due to road construction. This was somewhat miserable since this also corresponded with the hottest part of the day when temps rose to a high of 99degF. This was the first day of the race that the temperature hadn’t reached triple digits, and it was only shy by 1degF! So we’d essentially just been through 6 consecutive days of triple digit heat – no wonder I felt cooked!

Gravel detour in Kansas

This second day in Kansas also highlighted the issues that had been developing in my mouth starting 2 days earlier in Colorado. In each RAAM that I’ve done, my mouth has gotten into a state where it is extra sensitive and my sense of taste gets completely out of whack. Plain water tastes disgusting, and it often tastes like there is salt or something nasty permeating out of the pores in my mouth. I’ve discovered that using Biotene mouth spray helps, as does chewing gum, but this year it severely impacted my ability to take in electrolytes. I’d been using Skratch for the first third of the race, and it had been working wonderfully. I’d gone through so much of it that when we’d gotten to Durango I had advised the crew to check our supply and possibly try to stock up since we might not find it further east and I didn’t want to run out. So the crew cleaned out a Durango store’s supply to fortify our stock. Of course wouldn’t you know it, the next day Skratch started to taste nasty, and I could no longer drink it! We were able to switch to using Nuun tablets for a while, and trying to “hide” them by dissolving them in Sprite and other sodas (since soda was the one thing that tasted good to me), but by the 2nd day in Kansas I was really having trouble taking in any kind of electrolyte. I suggested getting some Gatorade to see if that was tolerable, but even it wasn’t agreeable to my taste buds. I knew that I needed to get electrolytes in, but they all just tasted so disgusting that I was really having a hard time trying to force myself to drink them, so an ongoing struggle to get electrolytes into me began.

Canary Foundation Donors: Fort Scott, KS: Dawn and Marty Chuck
Canary Foundation Donors: Weaubleau, MO: Brian Feinberg

In the early evening hours we reached the Kansas/Missouri border and said goodbye to Kansas for good – yay! The western part of Missouri is actually quite scenic – there are gentle rollers through picturesque farmland that remind me a lot of the area that I grew up in in Alberta, Canada. My spirits rose, especially knowing that I would soon get to see Lauryn. I met Lauryn at the Camdenton time station in 2012 when she was 11 years old, and I’d stayed in touch with her ever since. Last year she’d joined my crew between Camdenton and Jefferson City, and we had plans to get her in the follow vehicle again this year. By this point I was quite a bit ahead of my pace from last year, passing through the first Missouri time station about 13 hours faster (so I had made up about 10hrs in the second half of Kansas thanks largely due to the more favorable winds!!). Veronica and Mike coordinated with Lauryn’s mom Kim to bring Lauryn into the follow vehicle for the section prior to my sleep break which was planned for Hermitage. It was great to have a chance to talk to her for an hour or two, and to have watched her growing up to be a fine young woman over the past several years!

Night riding in Missouri

Lauryn got to witness some of the chaos of RAAM first hand though when we discovered that the hotel we were planning for me to take my sleep break in was several miles off the course. There weren’t any other options closeby, so I was loaded into the follow van and shuttled to the hotel for my sleep break. Also complicating the situation was the fact that the night shift had taken a wrong turn when they got on the road in Fort Scott, KS after their sleep break, and had been heading back into Kansas rather than into Missouri! They finally realized something was amiss when they continued to see “Keep Kansas Clean” signs along the road and thought it was strange that Missouri was advertising to keep Kansas clean! They therefore didn’t catch up to us before we got to Hermitage, so the day shift had to begin orchestrating my sleep break.

Starting up from Hermitage I really struggled. Even though the temps were only in the 70s, the humidity was through the roof, and it felt like I was in a swimming pool! The terrain was also a relentless series of ups and downs through the Ozarks. I was almost wishing for the hotter, drier temps again rather than this, or for it to just go ahead and rain so that it wasn’t so muggy. The conditions put me in a pretty sour mood, which wasn’t made better when I got a flat tire. This was only my 2nd flat though, so I really couldn’t complain.

Roadside trash turned into art

It was also on this morning that I learned that Seana had dropped out of the race, so the women’s field was down to 4. At this point I had extended my lead over Shu to about 8 hours, but I was happy to see that she was still making good progress. Her DNF last year after crashing and breaking her collarbone had been very disappointing, and I was really rooting for her to make it this year!

Canary Foundation Donors: Camdenton, MO: Jill and Tim Marks
Canary Foundation Donors: Jefferson City, MO: Bill and Marion Lytle

The sun eventually emerged from the cloud/haze, and the humidity seemed to dissipate a little bit, but the temps stayed in the mid 80s so it was still fairly oppressive. There were some major reroutes on this section due to flooding. My aversion to electrolytes continued, and I started feeling some paranoia about some crew interactions which certainly didn’t help things. I recognized that I shouldn’t feel this way, but the feelings were pretty intense, and my extremely sleep deprived and fatigued brain had found something to lock onto and stew about. This escalated into a series of outbursts just past Washington, MO. I hated how I was acting, but I also felt helpless to control it. This was exactly the kind of scenario that Julie had worked with the crew to prepare them for, and they handled it extremely well. I tried not to dwell on it, trying to trust that no one would judge me for these outbursts that my extremely primal and regressed self was having.

Canary Foundation Donors: Washington, MO: Terri Boykins

The signs you see in Missouri...

Lewis and Clark Trail sign in Missouri

We proceeded towards the Mississippi River, skirting the edge of some storm activity. There was a stretch along here where a guy in a car kept leap frogging in front of me and stopping on the side of the road and wildly cheering for me, saying things like “Go, Baby, Go!”. There were also some other folks in houses along the route who came out and cheered me on. These displays of support were greatly appreciated and motivating!

Due to flooding, there was a major reroute across the Mississippi River, and in fact I was to be put in the follow vehicle and shuttled across. We orchestrated this so that I could sleep in the back of the follow van for the 30-40min that it would take to get to the drop off point, but what we didn’t consider was that this was a bit too long to be asleep. Sleeping much longer than 20min you go into a deeper sleep that is difficult to wake up from unless you then complete a full REM cycle. The result was that I awoke extremely groggy, and just couldn’t seem to get my brain out of the fog that it was in. I briefly got to see Paula MacMann of Chainspirations and her family on the Illinois side of the Mississippi where the shuttle segment ended, but everything was a bit of a haze. The next couple of hours to Greenville, IL were a real struggle.

Canary Foundation Donors: Mississippi River: Chainspirations (Paula MacMann)
Canary Foundation Donors: Greenville, IL: David To

I was treated to a gourmet meal when I arrived at my sleep break in Greenville though – a friend of Maria’s who lives in Missouri, Cristel Santiago, had delivered some pasta and tiramisu for me, and boy oh boy was it tasty! After a 3hr sleep I was back on the road, and as with the previous morning, I was in a pretty foul mood (just ask Jamaica what my response was to the waffle he offered me that morning just before I started!!). My neck was pretty stiff and sore, and I was struggling a bit to hold my head up again even though I was on the road bike. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, and was whining and complaining and throwing a pity party for myself basically. I knew that I was pulling the spirit of the team down, so at a stop in Effingham (nothing good ever happens in a place called “Effingham”!), I tried to apologize to my crew for being such a downer, and they were very forgiving and understanding, which was such a comfort.

Canary Foundation Donors: Effingham, IL: Lan Tran, Keith and Ellen Wolcott

Cloudy skies

Riding in Illinois near Effingham

Shortly before crossing into Indiana the day shift took over again, and Carson was in fine form. He’d now decided to impersonate a drill sergeant, and he had me in stitches with his tirades over the Cardo calling me a maggot and telling me to “pedal soldier pedal!!”. Talk about just what I needed right about then, resulting in a complete mood reversal from earlier in the morning!

Canary Foundation Donors: Sullivan, IN: Bashar Aziz

Passing through Bloomfield I saw Caleb Derouin and his mom, Tressie, out in front of their house. They decorate their lawn with signs for the RAAM racers each year, and this was the first year I’d actually seen (or at least remembered seeing) them. I don’t remember much about this section in 2012, as I was out of it mentally and have missing chunks of time, and in 2014 I remember passing the house and seeing the signs, but due to family illness Caleb and his mom had not been physically present to greet the riders. The support from people like Caleb and Tressie is one of the things that makes RAAM special – seeing how a bike race inspires everyday people to be involved and how excited they are about having the race pass by them is very humbling!

Caleb and Tressie in Indiana

Passing Caleb in Indiana

Rolling hills in Indiana

Just before I arrived at the Bloomington time station, the first relay team passed me (relay teams start 4 days after the solos). I felt pretty good that it had taken them this long to catch me, as in past years I’d been passed several states earlier. I was also feeling pretty good about the fact that I was now over 14hrs ahead of my time from last year, and still on pace for the 11.5 day finish that I was gunning for, despite the brutally hot first half of the race.

Canary Foundation Donors: Bloomington, IN: Jerry Cottingham (In memory of Brad)

Leaving Bloomington I got treated to a light show by the fireflies, one of the special sights and experiences of RAAM. My first RAAM I didn’t even notice the fireflies I was so out of it by the time I got this far east, but last year and this year I really did enjoy watching them in the fields and ditches along the side of the road – there is definitely something magical and whimsical about them dancing through the blades of grass in the evening hours.

As we approached Nashville, Indiana I wondered whether I would get to see Steve Marshall. I met Steve on the PAC Tour Ridge of the Rockies last year, and he mentioned that he lived near the course, and said that he would come out and see me if I decided to do RAAM again. Sure enough, there he was as I made the turn. It was great to see a familiar face as I went by!

We continued on through Columbus and Greensburg towards our sleep break destination in Batesville, IN. The final 30 miles or so were another struggle, as was the recurring theme during the final few hours before my sleep break. Making things worse was the fact that my mouth had gotten worse, to the point that it was so sensitive that I was having trouble finding anything that I could eat. Even yogurt and bananas felt like they were burning my mouth. Of the few things that I seemed able to continue to eat were rice pudding and tapioca pudding, but they didn’t come in containers that I could easily eat from while riding, so my crew was trying to coax me into eating other things, knowing that I needed calories.

Canary Foundation Donors: Greensburg, IN: Veronica Beagan, Maria Parker

My sleep in Batesville was anything but restful. I had vivid dreams where for some reason I thought I was being pushed along the route on my bed! I woke feverishly a couple of times completely disoriented and asked Sonya what I was supposed to be doing. I also felt like I was overheating when I slept, and would wake up feeling like I was burning up. Sonya was covering me up with blankets when I went to sleep because I was shivering, but all the inflammation and tissue damage that my body was trying to deal with was causing my body to generate a lot of heat, making me feel hot even though I was shivering, so managing my temperature was becoming a challenge. This restless sleep and feeling like I was burning up made for another “explosive” start to the day with several more expletives involved! It didn’t help that the initial part of the route this day was difficult to navigate and we made some wrong turns. I wasn’t shy about expressing how pissed off I was! This was the stress and sleep deprivation speaking though.

I noticed that the crew had put a fender on my bike that morning, and they told me that a storm was moving in and we were trying to stay out in front of it as long as possible. Sure enough, barely an hour into riding the rain started to fall, and proceeded to get worse. I stopped to put on some rain gear and go to the bathroom, and while I was stopped the skies literally just opened up and sheets of rain began to fall. We decided to stay stopped for a few minutes to see if the worst of the rain would pass. The temps were only in the 50s though, and being stopped I suddenly got really really cold. And also really really hungry, and started eating everything in sight! There were some comical maneuvers by the crew as they tried to shield me from the rain and get me bundled up for the road again – I think at one point the rain was running off an umbrella and directly down the back of Lindsay’s shirt as she tried to create a canopy for me, and she was getting an upper body workout trying to hold both umbrellas against the wind and rain and not get swept away and blown back into Kansas!

Beginning of the Indiana/Ohio downpour

A little bit wet...

Riding in the Indiana/Ohio Rain

Rainy Ohio Countryside

Sonya providing roadside entertainment mummified in toilet paper in Ohio

Roadside entertainment in wet Ohio

Lindsay and Sonya having fun with toilet paper in the rain

The rain continued to fall fairly heavily, and as we crossed into Ohio we were treated to some thunder and lightening. I asked that the crew play the song “Rain is a Good Thing” by Luke Bryan, as I figured it was a pretty fitting song for what I was riding through! We passed through Oxford and the rain continued as we headed towards Blanchester, but slowly it gave way to overcast skies. I went through another tough patch mentally. I felt like the folks who I wanted in the follow van weren’t there, but then when I found out that they’d needed some time to recharge I felt bad for having been so “demanding” of them. I tried to fix this by trying to find other sources of engagement and self motivation. I started calling folks on the phone and chatting with them as I rode. I called my brother Peter and spoke to him, then I called my friend Bob Corman back in California and spoke to him for a while. Then I spoke to my sister in law for a while, as well as my sister at some point. When we finally arrived in Blanchester and were preparing for a crew change, I still felt something wasn’t right between me and the crew from the night shift though. I didn’t know what to do, but finally I just went up to them and one by one gave everyone a hug and apologized for anything I might have said earlier. It was a very cathartic experience, and their understanding and forgiveness really made me feel a lot better about the situation. A hug is truly a powerful gesture – whether you’re the one giving or receiving!

Canary Foundation Donors: Oxford, OH: Carol Ashburner, Brook Henderson
Canary Foundation Donors: Blanchester, OH: Bob Bihler

As we headed out of Blanchester the sun finally started to come out, and with the sun and heat I started to feel extremely sleepy again. Even though it was only about 75-80degF, the sun felt really intense for some reason – I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact that I’d been riding for 9 days straight! ;) We finally stopped for a nap in Leesburg before continuing on towards Chillicothe. While not unique to this stretch in particular, I noticed that there were a lot of folks out on ride on lawn mowers. Starting in Missouri my crew and I had been commenting on how many huge yards there were, and how many people we saw out on ride on lawn mowers – political billboards even showed candidates on their ride on lawn mowers! We joked about setting up a new race called “Mow Across America”!

In Chillicothe I got to say hello to Bruce Smith, who I’d first met at the time station there in 2012. He’s a long distance truck driver, and was very supportive of the race and of my fundraising for cancer charities (the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in 2012, and the Canary Foundation in 2014 and 2015). The other highlight in Chillicothe is a Tim Hortons! The Canadians all put in our orders with the errand vehicle for a little taste of home!

Canary Foundation Donors: Chillicothe, OH: Lisa Lawin

From Chillicothe it was on towards Athens, OH, the last time station before entering West Virginia. As we passed through the rolling countryside abundant with corn fields the corn took on a life of its own thanks to Carson’s running commentary! He started pointing out the corn as if it were waiting to ambush us, and saying things like “don’t be alarmed, but there’s corn to your left”, and “confirmed, we have corn”. This became a running joke for the remainder of the race, and beyond.

Corn is a dangerous thing!

Approaching Allensville, OH

More corn in eastern Ohio

Highway 50 in eastern Ohio

Ominous looking sky in eastern Ohio

Corn fields in Ohio

We passed through Athens, OH after dark, and being a college town there seemed to be a lot of seemingly drunk students out on the streets as we passed through. They were pretty funny as they cheered me on. Outside of Athens there was a road construction area that resulted in another shuttle section where I had to get into the van and get driven down the course. This was a good opportunity to eat the goodies from Tim Hortons that the crew had picked up for me back in Chillicothe – nothing like a bit of Canadian comfort food to raise your spirits! I dipped the Timbits in tapioca pudding and they were very tasty!

Canary Foundation Donors: Athens, OH: Chetan Raina

My next sleep break was to be in Parkersburg just after crossing into West Virginia, but alas there was a miscommunication and it turned out that the hotel was actually something like 20 miles past where I’d originally been told it would be. Being the witching hours immediately before my sleep break, this didn’t go over well with me when I was told the bad news…. I griped and moaned about it, and threw myself another pity party, but eventually we made it there where I was quickly shuttled to the hotel by a superhero (Chai was wearing an Ironman costume!).

Rohitash and Chai dressed as superheroes

When woken from my sleep in Parkersburg I was informed that I’d been given a shorter sleep break because we wanted to get on the road and avoid some of the heavier traffic on Highway 50. You guessed it – grumpy pants wasn’t thrilled about not getting her beauty sleep! I got out on the bike and initially really struggled to get going. My joints just didn’t seem to want to work, and I felt quite chilled. Lindsay started talking me through a series of exercises though to keep me moving and focused – pedal to that sign, now pedal to that tree, etc.

Then something really special happened. A four woman team, The Veloroos from Australia, passed me. These were the first women riders I’d seen since back in California, and I think that sparked something in me. I picked up my pace a bit as they slowly started to pull away. Then the next thing I know I was reeling them back in. I was about to let them go when the crew got into it as well and started encouraging me and cheering me on over the Cardo, and this sparked me to try and stay with them longer. It was still before 7am, so they had to do stationary rider exchanges, so when they exchanged riders I would pass them. Then I would slow down to let them back in front and take a short breather before chasing after them again. This went on for over 45min and about 3 or 4 of their rider exchanges. I was working way harder than what was sustainable for an extended period of time, but it was really fun and invigorating to actually have a carrot to chase! At one point I dropped my chain so they pulled away a bit as I stopped to get it back on. Initially I was going to let them go, but then I decided to sprint to catch back up, so there I was doing over 200w flying down a hill to try and bridge the gap! I hadn’t felt this focused on anything the whole race! Shortly after that though I got a front flat, and that was the end of my little chase game, but it was fun while it lasted! Here’s a video of me chasing the Veloroos: https://youtu.be/IVUonoKE9Hk

Chasing The Veloroos in West Virginia

As the adrenaline rush of chasing the Veloroos wore off I found myself incredibly sleepy again. We’d taken a shorter sleep break the previous night, so we stopped and took a nap in Clarksburg before proceeding to the bigger climbs in West Virginia. I was still pretty sleepy, and the climbs seemed relentless, never ending, and steep! I felt completely out of breath and was gasping for air on the climbs. My mouth wasn’t helping matters, as I now had some full blown sores that were extremely painful! The crew found some ambesol swabs that we used to try and numb my mouth, and that helped a bit.

Canary Foundation Donors: West Union, WV: Nelson Hom
Canary Foundation Donors: Grafton, WV: Ildiko Papp

Deerwood Market in Aurora, West Virginia

Deerwood Market in Aurora, West Virginia

Climbing one of the many West Virginia mountains

There was a bit of a reprieve terrain wise around McHenry before more climbs leading to Cumberland. The descents weren’t enjoyable because all I could think about was how I was going to have to immediately go back up the other side when I got to the bottom! As we came into Grantsville though all the traffic was stopped. It turned out that there was a parade going on in town and the road was closed to through traffic. So I got a little bit of an unplanned break as we waited for the parade to finish. Chai gave me a really great massage as we waited for the road to reopen. Unlike the brush fire back in Arizona, we did at least get a time credit for this forced delay.

Canary Foundation Donors: Oakland, MD: Brenna Broadnax

Old fashioned fire engine in Grantsville parade

Grantsville Parade

Grantsville Parade


Veronica hands off a flower to French rider Arnaud

The seemingly endless climbing/descending then continued until the longer descent into Cumberland, MD. The next stage was the hardest stage in the race in terms of feet of climbing per mile with 5 fairly major climbs back to back, and it had already been a really long and hard day of riding. A storm system was starting to build, and our strategy was to get to Hancock before taking a sleep break. I had some scary moments early in this stage when I nodded off and started swerving across the road, but Carson did a great job of jumping in and starting to ask me a tonne of questions about random stuff to try and keep my mind engaged. It started to rain as I did the final climbs, and in the dark I was having trouble seeing the road, so I was looking forward to getting to Hancock and getting my sleep break.

Canary Foundation Donors: Cumberland, MD: Rosalie, Peter, and Louise Grant
Canary Foundation Donors: Hancock, MD: Kelli King

While I knew that we were trying to beat some rain, I didn’t know the extent of the storm system that was moving in, so I was confused and angry when it seemed that my sleep break wasn’t actually a proper sleep break. I’d had a shortened sleep break the night before, and now I was getting cheated out of sleep again??? When I was woken from my short sleep break, I was pretty angry. I didn’t want to ride in the rain in the dark because I was having trouble seeing, so I insisted that I would have rather had more sleep and ridden in the rain in the daylight. My paranoid sleep deprived self felt like I was being kept out of the loop, and that my safety wasn’t being considered, so I got pretty angry. I eventually grabbed my bike and stormed out of the parking lot without putting on any rain gear or getting a water bottle.

At this point with less than 200 miles to go, it had been decided that Carson, Sonya, and Lindsay would “bring it home” in terms of staying in the follow vehicle to get me to the finish. I doubt that this situation is what they’d envisioned when they’d been thrust into the follow vehicle together – following a maniac with an apparent death wish! On or around day 10 on each of my RAAMs I’ve had a spectacular emotional meltdown, and 2015’s meltdown was now unfolding and they had front row seats to the “Hulk Joan” show! I turned off the Cardo, refused to turn it on, and pretty much did the exact opposite of what my crew instructed me to do over the PA system. Stay off the white line because it was wet? Ok, let me ride directly on the white line. Stay to the right? Ok, I”ll ride pretty much in the ditch. Stay to the left? Here, let me ride near the center line! You should put a jacket on. Hell no!

Carson, Sonya, and Lindsay were tasked with "bringing me home" for the final 24hrs

Hulk Joan as depicted by Lindsay!

The rain soon started to get much worse, and soon it was coming down in buckets and getting colder. Carson and Lindsay tried to convince me to stop, but I was having none of it. They wanted me out here riding in the rain damnit, so ride in the rain as unsafely as I could was what I was going to do! I’m actually pretty fortunate that I stayed upright given how I attacked some of the short descents on the twisty roads in the rain! When I finally did turn the Cardo back on and they were trying to get me to stop I told them that Christophe Strasser wouldn’t stop if it were raining like this, so why should I! Their response was that sure, that worked great for him as he’d DNFd due to a lung infection this year! Well played crew, well played!

Shortly after leaving the parking lot though I had at least partially acknowledged to myself that what the crew was doing in terms of trying to get me on the bike was the right thing for them to do, but I was still somewhat determined to make my point and express my displeasure. I was actually riding pretty hard (it’s amazing what a bit of anger does to your power output!), so was getting thirsty since I had no water bottles and had been on the road for about an hour, but I was too proud to ask for a water bottle, so I tried squeezing water out of my gloves to drink! Eventually I started to calm down, and was able to begin communicating with Lindsay. I accepted responsibility for the fact that I shouldn’t have done some of the things that I’d done (eg. run a couple of stop signs – which for anyone who rides with me knows is a big deal since I always stop at stop signs and it is one of my pet peeves when cyclists don’t stop!), but tried to assure her that I honestly wasn’t cold and really didn’t need a rain jacket, and that I wanted to continue. I conceded though that I’d stop and put a jacket on when we got to the turn where we’d start going downhill, which we did.

The visibility was pretty bad on the descent as it was extremely foggy, and at the bottom the wind really seemed to pick up, and I did begin to feel really cold. I told them that I was now cold and ready to stop for a bit. We stopped on the edge of a cemetery, and I crawled into the back of the follow van like a drowned rat. I was hungry and thirsty and tired and cold. Sonya was in the back, and she massaged my neck and shoulders as I cowered there. She told me that it was ok for me to lean back and take a nap, so I did. That was a powerful moment, as I was ashamed of my actions and worried what the crew was thinking, but she showed acceptance and forgiveness, as did the rest of the crew, which was incredibly reassuring and comforting. We had weathered “Hulk Joan”, and could now proceed onwards toward Annapolis.

After a short nap I was back on the bike riding in the rain and wind. It was pretty cold, and I was now very subdued and sleepy. At one point I turned onto a side road – I’m not even sure why I did, but for some reason I did, and then in the process of trying to get turned back around I nearly rode off the road because my brakes weren’t working well in the wet conditions.

Rainy last morning

We eventually made it to Rouzerville, PA and the wind was still howling and it was still raining quite heavily, so the crew decided to give me another short sleep break while seeing if the weather would let up at all. I think I slept for about 90min, and then after getting changed was back on the road. John Benton, the son of Roy Benton, who I’d ridden some double centuries with back in California several years ago, rode with me on the climb out of Rouzerville. He lives nearby and had also ridden the climb with me last year. It was nice to have some company, especially given the conditions, so thank you John! The wind was still howling, and it was still raining, but at least I was making forward progress.

Canary Foundation Donors: Rouzerville, PA: Lisa Hern, Tracey McQuair

Riding out of Rouzerville, PA with John Benton

Blurry, rainy, green descent

Blurry Wet Descent

Riding in the rain

The horrendous weather continued as we made our way towards Gettysburg. Apparently there were some reroutes that went into effect shortly after we passed through due to localized flooding! There were a couple brief respites where the rain died down, but there were also some more heavy downpours as well. On several downhill sections where I picked up some speed I told the crew that they had to be my eyes and tell me if there were any obstacles in the road, as I was getting pelted by so much rain that I really couldn’t look forward, so was essentially riding blind. We passed through more areas where the road was flooded, and I honestly started to laugh at how ridiculous this was! I don’t think I’d ever ridden in such heavy rain for such a prolonged period of time! There was one traffic light that I came up on as the light turned red, and as I tried to brake it literally was as if I didn’t have any brakes, so I ended up having to go partially around the corner before I could come to a stop!

Canary Foundation Donors: Hanover, PA: Julia Book, Neil Schmerling

Maryland Rain

Rohitash tries to entertain me in the rain by doing pushups on the roof of the van

Carson chasing the follow van

Carson chasing the follow van

At one point in the afternoon the sun did actually make a brief appearance. We stopped on the side of the road around this time because I had to go to the bathroom, and so that I could change into dry clothes. This was one of my favorite stops because everyone was laughing and joking about how ridiculous the rain had been, and probably since everyone was sleep deprived we were all pretty punch drunk. Carson wandered out into the corn, which was pretty funny as we all begged him not to surrender to the corn! And then at one point I looked over at him and he was in front of the follow van with my fold-up toilet sitting squarely on the center of the hood like a hood ornament, and he was wiping it down with wet wipes as if it were a piece of fine china or something – I just couldn’t stop laughing! What a difference from how the morning started out! That’s one of the special things about RAAM – how things can change on a dime, and you can go from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs all within a relatively short period of time.

Canary Foundation Donors: Mt Airy, MD: Gary Aochi and Family

It stayed dry for a while, but the clouds moved back in as we approached evening. The rolling terrain was causing me problems due to the fact that I was having trouble shifting gears. I thought there was something wrong with the bike, but in hindsight it was actually my hands that were the problem. Between the nerve damage that I’d been slowly sustaining, and the cold/wet conditions, I didn’t have the strength to shift anymore, even though I have electronic shifters that require very little strength. I actually ended up with pretty bad nerve damage in my hands this year – I lost the ability to control the muscles in my right hand and ended up with severe muscle atrophy that took about 3 months to start to reverse. Even as I write this report 4 months after finishing RAAM the fingers on my left hand are still numb and I don’t have full strength back in my right hand. I hadn’t had this bad of nerve damage in 2012 or 2014 after RAAM, but we figure that it was actually related to the neck issues – because of the fatigued neck muscles I wasn’t able to support my upper body as well with my core, so more weight went into my hands, causing more severe nerve damage.  One thing I will say though is that all the work I did with Jeanette at Revolutions In Fitness in the months following the neck injury and continuing through the months leading up to the race most certainly helped!  Doing a repetitive activity like ultra cycling can expose you to various injuries due to muscle imbalances and alike, and Jeanette was able to help me focus on all aspects of my body from my neck to my core to my legs to my feet and ensure that the entire chain of movement was working as efficiently as possible. I also had all my bikes fit at Revolutions in Fitness, so thank you Jeanette and Revolutions in Fitness!

With Jeanette at Revolutions in Fitness

Pictures illustrating the nerve damage in my right hand - I'm trying to do the same on the right as on the left

We stopped at a gas station just before we left a more residential area and headed into the more built up commercial areas leading into Annapolis. At this point we were probably less than 25 miles from the finish, so there was more joking around. Someone had a packet of pancake syrup (I’d been eating a lot of McDonalds pancakes and scrambled eggs the last couple of days – the crew rolled them up like a tortilla so that I could eat them on the bike – some of them even had bacon in them – mmmm, bacon!), and joked that as a Canadian I should do a syrup shot, so of course I did! What we didn’t really think about though was the sugar crash that would soon follow…oops!

Syrup Shot!

As I left the gas station, it started to rain again, and soon it was raining pretty hard. It rained all the way to the final time station, where it briefly let up before the skies yet again started dumping spectacularly. Tim Copeland was at the final time station to escort me to the finish line, so after quickly changing clothes I got back on the bike for my final couple of miles of RAAM. Even those final miles weren’t to be without incident though! It was still very wet, and I was following immediately behind Tim’s car when he stopped suddenly for a yellow light. I hadn’t been paying close attention and was following pretty close to him, so my delayed reaction time due to being sleep deprived combined with the wet conditions meant that I couldn’t stop behind him. I narrowly averted crashing into the back of his car by instead swinging quickly to the left and going up beside him! Nothing like one last dose of adrenaline before the finish line!

Canary Foundation Donors: Odenton, MD: Amy Friel, Vidya Devarasetty
Canary Foundation Donors: Annapolis, MD: Ali Ashburner

The rain continues even in the final miles approaching Annapolis

Pulling into the final time station in the rain

Group shot at the final time station before the finish

At the final time station - happy to be almost done!

Eventually we made it to the finish in one piece, and I got to cross the finish line with my entire crew. I couldn’t have done what I’d done without them, and I wanted to recognize them for all that they’d done. In the end we finished in a time of 11 days, 5 hours, and 9 minutes, almost 27 hours faster than my time from last year, and a new Canadian women’s record (I’m still the only Canadian woman to have finished RAAM, so I’ve actually set the record each year – I’ve also finished solo RAAM more times than any Canadian irrespective of gender at this point too). I believe my pace makes me the 10th fastest woman to have finished solo RAAM having an average speed of 11.16mph. I was 2nd place woman for the third time, although this was somewhat bittersweet given that I had hoped to win my division. My time would have won the women’s race 12 out of the last 14 years though, so I have to be pretty satisfied with my performance, especially given that the conditions were anything but ideal, and were the toughest conditions I’d faced out of all of my RAAM experiences. I’d bettered my goal of 11.5 days, and in fact come pretty close to about what I’d thought I could do if everything went really well and the conditions were really good (which they weren’t!) – I’d pegged 11 days as about the fastest I’d be capable of. By finishing a third time I also joined an elite group of women who have completed solo RAAM 3 or more times – the others are Susan Notorangelo, Elaine Mariolle, Seana Hogan, and Muffy Ritz. It’s an honor to be part of this group of exceptionally talented women athletes!

At the finish line

At the finish

At the finish, photo courtesy of RAAM Media

A nice thing about finishing a day earlier than in past years was that most of my crew and I got to spend the next day hanging out and sightseeing in Washington, DC. It was fun to get to spend some time with them outside of the race, and I hope we have more opportunities for that in the future! We also got a private tour of the Pentagon from race volunteer Tim Copeland who works there which was pretty cool, so thank you Tim!

Visiting the Pentagon with Tim Copeland

Boys will be boys...

In front of the Lincoln Memorial

Vietnam Memorial

Washington Memorial

In front of the White House

Lincoln Memorial

Another highlight was getting to go back to the finish line and see Shu finish and become the first British woman to officially finish solo RAAM. At the awards banquet the next day Shu and I had a bit of fun with Isabelle after she collected all of the awards – Shu wrote out on paper the fact that she was first Brit, I was first Canadian, but Isabelle was second Swiss! This was good for a laugh! Unfortunately both Seana and Kathy ended up DNFing, a reminder of what an accomplishment it is to just finish solo RAAM, regardless of what place you finish in!

Greeting Shu at the finish

All 3 women finishers with Fred Boethling, owner of RAAM

First Canadian, Second Swiss!

Shu, First Brit!

At the awards banquet with another plaque to add to the collection

Finisher plaques and medals from all 3 RAAMs

Again, I can’t emphasize enough how indebted I am to each and every one of my crew members – they were an incredible team, and I will cherish their friendships for a lifetime! I’m happy to report that I feel I’ve had my fill of RAAM for the time being, and am looking forward to moving on to other life adventures. Within a month of returning from RAAM I was able to find a software engineering job in Boulder, Colorado with MakeMusic, and we moved here at the end of August. I’m enjoying exploring new roads by bike, but mostly enjoying just riding for fun without any particular objectives or training goals. I’m even bike commuting to work! There are certainly aspects of RAAM that I will miss, but I’m ready to move on. I’m extremely grateful for each of my RAAM experiences and for all that RAAM has given me – both in terms of self discovery and personal growth opportunities, as well as lifelong friendships and memories. It’s been a wild ride, that’s for sure!

Posted in Race Reports | Tagged | 11 Comments

Ultra Racing: Setting Your Crew Up For Success

Note: This article first appeared in the UMCA UltraCycling Magazine in April of 2015.

Group hug conveying the teamwork that went into a RAAM finish, photo by of RAAM Media

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” –Helen Keller

So you’re a cyclist who has set a goal to do a crewed ultra cycling race, and now you’re faced with the task of finding a crew and preparing for the race.  Or conversely someone has approached you and asked you to crew for them.  Both of these scenarios are the gateway to a tremendous undertaking, one that has the potential to be “life changing”, so what you do next is pretty darned important – much more so than many racers or crew realize!

As a racer, recognize that having a strong and cohesive crew can make a huge difference in your race.  Do not look at crewing as a minor, supplemental role, or as simply yet another item to check off on a checklist alongside flashing lights, a water cooler, and baby wipes.  Especially in longer races your crew are your lifeblood!  They can make or break your race, but it is up to YOU to do the groundwork to enable them to perform to the best of their ability.

Setting clear expectations, doing the appropriate planning and crew training, having the equipment and procedures in place to execute things smoothly during the race, and ensuring that you have assembled a team that is cohesive and contains strong leadership are all things that you’re responsible for as a racer.  If one of my crew has a bad experience, then I personally feel responsible because it means that somewhere along the way I failed to do one of these things adequately.

In what follows I will go into more detail on each of these areas and provide some suggestions and guidelines for both the racer and the crew that will hopefully set the team up for success rather than failure.  Much of what I’ll share can be applied to ultra races of any length, but some of what I’ll share is clearly more applicable to longer races.

Note that this is not intended to be a “manifesto” on crewing, and that what I present should not be taken as “gospel” or as the only way to do things.  It is simply my attempt to share some of what I’ve learned over the years being involved in the sport of ultra cycling as both a racer (six 500 mile races, two RAAM Challenge races, RAW, and two solo RAAMs) and crew member (three 500 mile races and two UltraMan triathlons).  I have not gone into instructional detail on the nuts and bolts of how to actually do particular tasks (to do so would require an entire book!), rather I’ve tried to present general philosophies and guidelines.  Crewing and race preparation are continual learning processes, so don’t be afraid to try new things, ask questions, and seek out the advice of others in the sport.

Special thanks to the MANY racers and crew whom I’ve had the pleasure to learn from over the years!  Much of what I’ve learned about crew organization and planning I’ve learned from Sandy Earl, Lee “Fuzzy” Mitchell, and Bill Osborn.  Thanks also to the many individuals who have crewed for me – I am forever grateful for your selflessness and generosity in helping me to achieve my dreams!

Set Clear Expectations

It is imperative that as a racer you be as open and honest as possible with potential crew members.  Crewing is NOT easy, so sugarcoating things or painting a purely romanticized view of ultra racing is not going to serve you or your potential crew members well.  My husband has completed 500 mile ultra cycling races, UltraMan triathlons, and ultra running races, yet he adamantly states that crewing for RAAM is the hardest thing he’s ever done!  Crewing can be a very positive and rewarding experience, but it comes with a lot of hard work, so the trick is in trying to convey the good without glossing over the bad.

Setting clear expectations from the onset is vitally important – if someone expects that they’re going to be on a glorified vacation, sleeping in a hotel for 8hrs a night, eating meals at a sit down restaurant 3 times a day, and simply being a cheerleader on the side of the road, then they’ve been setup for failure because expectations have not been set correctly.  Not everyone is cut out for crewing at an ultra race, so you do your entire team a disservice if you do not accurately set expectations with potential crew members.

I try to convey to potential crew members that crewing is certainly not a luxury vacation, and may in fact be the hardest thing that they’ve ever done, but that it is one of those “once in a lifetime” type of experiences that hopefully they can look back on and be proud to have been a part of.  I also tell them that some people crew once, are glad for having had the experience, but would never crew again, while others catch the crewing “disease” and become crewing regulars.  A crewing guru and good friend told me that he tells RAAM crew that they may learn more about themselves in the two weeks of crewing RAAM than they knew about themselves beforehand.  I.e. this is an intense and epic experience!  I liken it to a roller coaster ride – there will be incredible highs, but there will also be incredible lows, and you’re going to swing back and forth between these states throughout the race, covering every state in between.

Talk in depth with potential crew to get a sense of their personality and what they hope to get out of the experience, as well as finding out what their skills, strengths, and weaknesses are.  Provide them with resources to learn more about what they’re being asked to do (for example Dex Tooke’s book “Unfinished Business”), and have them talk to others who have crewed at a similar race.

Knowledge is power – and it works both ways.  Potential crew need to understand what they’re signing up for so that they can decide if this is something they truly want to do, and you as a racer need to determine if the potential crew member would mesh well with the team that you’re assembling and bring a complementary set of skills.  If someone isn’t a good fit, it certainly doesn’t mean that they’re a bad person – but it is better to make this determination during the crew selection phase rather than find out half way through your race!

As a racer also be sure to set clear expectations as to what, if any, financial obligation the crew is expected to be responsible for.  Ideally you will cover transportation to/from the race and all expenses for the duration of the race (meals, accommodation, etc.).  Some racers may not be able to afford to pay for transportation to/from the race, in which case they should make this very clear from the onset when asking people to crew for them.  Some crew may be willing and happy to pay for their own transportation in cases like that, but transparency and honesty is critical.  Communicate to your potential crew what will be covered financially, and what, if anything, won’t.

Set expectations for how expenses will be dealt with during the race (things like fuel for the crew vehicles, meals for crew, hotels, supplies needed by the racer, etc.).  If you expect crew to pay for any of these expenses themselves during the race but you plan to reimburse them afterwards, then make this clear in advance.  I always have multiple credit cards available to my crew while I race (at least one in each vehicle), as well as cash in each vehicle.  I also set the expectation that if crew have to purchase anything out of their own pockets that they simply get the receipt, write their name on it, and put it in the designated envelope (I have one in each vehicle) and then after the race I will go through the receipts and reimburse everyone.  Not everyone has credit cards or has the ability to float large expenses for any length of time, so crew need to know going in what to expect so that they can be prepared and not be caught off guard.

Set guidelines on what expenses are considered reasonable – for example give a daily per diem guideline for food and personal expenses.  For expenses during the race like fuel and hotels keep in mind that the crew needs to have the freedom to purchase whatever is most convenient.  If crew are using hotels for sleep during a race like RAAM, then certainly you can advise that they not choose the $200/night hotel if a block away there’s a $60/night option, but recognize that in some areas expenses are going to be higher than in other areas.  The crew needs the freedom to operate efficiently and the peace of mind to know that they will not be saddled with any of the race related expenses.  Don’t budget based on a cheapest cost scenario.

Try to paint a picture as to what conditions crew should expect throughout the experience.  For example, before the race will you be putting them up in a hotel, a shared house, a hostel, the RV?  What about during the race – if it is a multi day race like RAAM, what can they expect their living conditions to be like out on the road?  Will they be sleeping in the RV, a van, a hotel?  Try to paint an accurate picture of what they’ll be experiencing throughout the race.  Life on the road during a race is tough, so do your best to ensure that conditions before and after the race are better.

Similarly, as a potential crew member you need to be honest with your racer and fellow crew members so that their expectations of you are calibrated correctly.  Don’t be embarrassed or scared to share that you can’t change a flat tire, or that you have a medical condition that requires that you have to go to the bathroom frequently, or that you can’t see well enough to drive at night.  These are all very important pieces of information to share, and if known about beforehand they can be addressed and planned for, versus finding out about them mid way through a race and then having them be perceived as a “burden” on the team.  I send crew members a questionnaire that attempts to gather this kind of information in the early planning stages.

As a potential crew member be sure to share what your skills, strengths, and weaknesses are.  Even if you have skills that you might think are irrelevant, share them – especially on longer races such as RAAM there aren’t many skills that are completely irrelevant!  On larger crews that need to be split up into subgroups this allows crew to be grouped in a way that key skill sets are distributed between the groups.  For example you don’t want all of your medical skills in one subgroup, you don’t want a subgroup in which no one knows how to change a flat tire, and you don’t want to assign someone to a role of driving the follow vehicle at night if they have trouble with night vision!

As a potential crew member, if your racer isn’t asking questions about your skills and whatnot, this could be a red flag that things might not be being thought through fully, and you should discuss this with them.

Obtain References

If you’re a racer evaluating the suitability of a crew member, especially someone who you don’t know personally, find out if they have experience crewing for other racers, or being involved in similar scale events.  Try to talk to some people who know the person to get a sense for their personality and how they might stand up to the stress of crewing.  Finding crew, especially for longer races, can be a daunting task, so it can be easy to be swept up in the excitement of finding a volunteer that you find yourself ignoring potential red flags.  Not being suited to being a crew member for an ultra race doesn’t mean someone is a bad person – its just that teams need the right mix of personalities and skills, and a racer who is not taking this into consideration is setting the team up for difficulty.

Prior experience crewing is certainly not a requirement to being a good crew member (some of my best crew members have been rookies!) – but at least try to get a feel for a potential crew member’s personality to determine if they’d mesh well with the team that you’re assembling.  Having a cohesive team makes everything run smoother and makes for a better experience for all involved.

Similarly, as someone who has been asked to crew for a racer, you want to find out about the racer, and probably the crew chief as well.  Try to talk to past crew members if the racer (crew chief) has done other ultra races.  Get a feel for what the racer (crew chief) is like personality wise during a race – someone’s personality during a race can be very different from their personality outside of a race!  Find out how prepared and organized they were, and what they did to prepare their crew.

While speaking to past crew keep an open mind – if they cite problems, make note of these as issues to bring up with the racer (crew chief) to find out how they’re going to improve on them this time around.  The logistics and planning of an ultra are an immense undertaking, and no race is going to be executed “perfectly”, but what is important is that the racer (crew chief) has recognized and learned from those past problem areas and has a plan to mitigate/prevent them this time around.  If the racer (crew chief) isn’t paying attention to things that did and didn’t work well in the past, they’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

Ask past crew whether they would crew for that rider (crew chief) again, and why.  Especially for longer races the time commitment alone prohibits many people from being repeat crew.  Others might share that crewing just isn’t something that they want to do again but they’re glad for having had the opportunity.  Others might have serious concerns about a racer’s (crew chief’s) preparedness and the way that they treated their crew.  Try to get a couple of different perspectives – don’t just rely on what one person has to say.  After all, we’re all human, and a stressful environment like an ultra race is bound to lead to some situations where people are rubbed the wrong way.  Ultra racing can bring out the best and the worst in people.  Look for patterns in the feedback though.

Pre Race Planning and Training

Don’t underestimate the difficulty and complexity of the task ahead.  Ultra racing with a crew is an expensive sport, so it is understandable that you want to keep costs to a minimum, but don’t try to cut corners where safety is concerned.  Make sure that you have enough crew members to have a safe race.

It is typical to have 3 crew members for a solo 500 mile race – this allows 2 crew to be awake and 1 to be napping.  While it is certainly possible to have only 2 crew (I have been a member of a 2 person crew), I would highly recommend against it unless both crew members are extremely experienced and you’re a faster racer who won’t be out on the course for the full 48hrs.  For a 3-4day race like Race Across the West I would recommend 6 crew and 2 vehicles.  For a race like RAAM I would recommend a minimum of 9 crew and 3 vehicles.  Obviously it is possible to have fewer crew, and plenty of riders have done so, but again, I feel that this potentially sets you up for a less safe race, especially if a large contingent of your crew are rookies.

Financial issues coming up during a race are an unwanted and unnecessary distraction and burden on the crew.  Make a realistic budget – and then build in a cushion above and beyond that.  Crewed ultra racing is not a cheap endeavor, and just as you shouldn’t sign up for a race if you’re not going to be prepared physically, you shouldn’t sign up for a race if you’re not going to be financially prepared either.  Financing the race is YOUR responsibility as a racer.  There are plenty of self supported and minimalist rides and events out there that you can participate in without accruing these expenses, so if you’re going to do a crewed race make sure that you can afford it.

You’ve got your finances in order and you’ve got your crew lined up – now what do you do?  Well now begins the act of forming a cohesive team out of people who may be geographically dispersed and may have never met each other (if your crew is all local and all knows each other, consider yourself lucky!).  The longer the race, the more planning is involved.  For something like a 500 mile race you can probably get away with mostly email communication, but once you start talking about longer races like RAW or RAAM, having all communication in email can quickly become a nightmare.

I suggest creating an online wiki that you can make available to crew.  I’ve used Google Sites to create such a wiki – you can selectively give permissions to access the site, and its free.  For larger crews I also suggest creating an email group so that everyone can just send email to one address and know that it will reach the entire team.  On your personal race site you can aggregate all important information in a single place, which is much simpler than trying to go through months worth of emails when you’re trying to find a particular piece of information.  I had printouts of almost everything on the site in a binder in each crew vehicle.

On my site for RAAM this year the table of contents was as follows (note that this is just an example – set your site up to best suit your needs and goals):

- Annapolis
- Equipment Rentals
- Flights
- Oceanside
- Vehicle Rentals

(all crew as well as their emergency contacts, resources outside of the crew, etc.)

Crew Information
(summaries on each crew member including questionnaires that they answered, contact info, transportation details, medical info, dietary restrictions, etc.)

Nutrition Tracking
(details on how nutrition tracking is going to be done during the race)

Official Race Docs
(rules, route sheets, etc.)

Other Resources
(links to things like Dex Tooke’s book “Unfinished Business”, the movie “Bicycle Dreams”, Amy Snyder’s book “Hell On Two Wheels”, past race reports, etc.)

Packing Lists
- Bike Equipment
- Crew Packing List
- Food Supplies
- Medical Supplies
- Rider Clothes
- Vehicle Setup

Race Strategy and Logistics
- Crew Life
- Crew Roles
- Crew Rules and Guidelines
- Example Scenarios
- Race Scenario Instructions
- Rider Strategy and Goals
- Rules Cheat Sheet
- Troubleshooting During The Race


While it is important to provide information to crew members, it is also important to get your crew interactively involved in the process early on.  If possible, do in person training sessions, especially if you have rookie crew members.  Practice things like water bottle and food handoffs from the side of the road, handoffs from a moving vehicle (if your race permits this), direct follow, navigation, use of any rider/crew communication systems, etc.

Try to get your crew starting to think like they’ll have to think during the race by providing race scenarios and having them send you their responses.  Aggregate and share the responses with the entire crew.  An example of a scenario would be:“Your rider is in the heat of the day, they’ve fallen behind on their hydration, they haven’t peed for 6 hours, and now they’re refusing to eat or drink due to feeling nauseous – what do you do?” Emphasize that there is no “right” or “wrong” answer, but that these scenarios are intended to be thought provoking.  In the heat of the moment during a race it is likely that crew and rider won’t be thinking clearly, so having had some practice thinking about these kinds of scenarios in advance is a good collaborative exercise.

Crew should know long before they arrive at the start what their duties will be, and how things will be run during the race.  Be sure to provide information on the different roles that different crew members will have during the race (driver, navigator, feeder, etc.), and the protocols/schedules that will be followed.

Emphasize the importance of sticking to schedules.  If a shift change is supposed to happen in 8hrs, then a bit of leeway is acceptable given the complexity of predicting where your racer is going to be in 8hrs.  Showing up 20min late is fine, but showing up 4hrs late is unacceptable.

Try to develop and stick to procedures for common tasks (sleep breaks, bathroom breaks, clothing changes, etc.).  Repeatability leads to efficiency – don’t reinvent the wheel each time you need to do a particular task.  Each crew member should know how these scenarios are going to play out, and what their role in it will be.

Crew should also clearly understand the chain of command and how decision making during the race will work.  When does the crew chief need to be consulted vs when can a decision be made independently?  If you’ve observed unsafe behavior or have other concerns, what’s the process to report this?  If you have ideas to improve something, what’s the process to communicate these ideas?  Communication is vital to good teamwork and leadership, so plan in advance how this will be handled.

As a crew member, if you’re not hearing regularly from your racer or crew chief in the lead up to the race, then this should be a red flag!  You can’t expect to show up to the race, learn everything on the job, and be successful.  Just as the rider needs to train for the race, as a crew member you need to be prepared for what your role will be.

Don’t be lulled into thinking that on a longer race like RAAM where you may have an RV that bringing small children along is a good idea.  An ultra race isn’t your typical road trip, and while it is understandable that you may want to share the experience with your family, an ultra race is not an environment that is safe or practical for very young children.  You’ll be passing through extreme climates, be in remote locations without cell service, be subject to extreme weather, and be stopped on the side of busy roadways.  The crew needs to focus on keeping the rider and crew moving safely and efficiently down the road around the clock.  This alone is a huge undertaking, and one which has inherent dangers even to adults – this isn’t a safe environment for young children!

In addition to not being safe, having small children along is going to be a distraction for your crew and consume valuable resources (time, space, focus, attention).  Even if you have someone dedicated to tending the children, this task isn’t something that can be solely managed by one person around the clock.  Inevitably responsibility is going to fall into the hands of other crew members at various points in time.  By having small children present you’re essentially increasing the size of the crew without increasing its ability to be productive, thus placing more burden and stress on everyone.  No one wants to see your family be in harm’s way.

If you want your family to be involved, have them follow the race separately and safely.  Perhaps fly them into a couple of different locations to cheer along the race course, or on a shorter race have them driven separately to a few points along the race (assuming this is permitted by the race rules).  This will be safer and less stressful for everyone involved.

Vitally important to pre race planning is ensuring that your primary planned methods of payments are going to work, and that you have backup methods of payment available (multiple credit cards, debit cards, cash, etc.).  Credit card companies and banks need to be called in advance and told that there are going to be patterns of spending that will trigger their fraud alert systems.  Call and explain the situation, and make sure that they put a note on your account.  Then just prior to the race call again and confirm that the note is there.  Also ensure that you don’t have any daily limits or anything else that might cause payments to be declined.

Similarly, do your due diligence in terms of understanding liability concerning crew vehicles.  If you’re using your personal vehicle, talk to your insurance agent to find out if other drivers are covered through your insurance or whether they need their own insurance.  If you’re using a rental vehicle make sure you have liability and collision insurance, and understand what needs to be done to allow different crew members to legally drive the vehicle and be covered by insurance.  Also ensure that the vehicle can be taken out of state if your race enters multiple states.

Redundancy is also very important.  A mentor of mine once told me that if it’s worth having one of something for a race, then it’s worth having a spare.  Many things you might be able to find replacements on the road if you’re going through major centers, but particularly for specialty items you should bring your own spares.  Bike parts are the obvious candidates (no, you’re probably not going to find a derailleur hanger for your $8,000 TT bike anywhere near Kim, Colorado!), but consider other equipment and supplies as well.  Look over your equipment and supply lists (hint – you should have these lists!) and identify items that you can’t easily replace on the race course which are fairly critical to completing your race – those items should be candidates for having spares.

Recognize up front that even the best made plans are likely going to go out the window at some point during an ultra race.  The longer the race, the more likely you’re going to find yourself improvising on the road.  But try to anticipate most of what could happen and prepare your crew to deal with such situations.

Race Execution

The biggest challenge for crews during a race is looking after themselves.  You may be scratching your head on this one, but think about it for a moment.  The crew is so focused on the rider and the excitement of the race that it is easy to forget that they need to look after themselves.  I put it to my crew this way – if you’re not looking after yourself, then how are you going to be able to look after me?  It’s like the safety instructions on an airplane – you put the oxygen mask on yourself before you assist others!  On 1 or 2 day events crew can get away with running themselves pretty ragged, but the longer the event the more important it is for crew to be looking after themselves.  Nutrition and hydration are obviously important.  Yes, your rider may be riding through 100degF heat in the desert, but guess what, as a crew member you’re also in that same desert, so YOU need to be hydrating and applying sunscreen too!

Perhaps the biggest danger to any race though is a sleep deprived crew.  Humans just don’t function well in a sleep deprived state – we don’t think clearly, we become more on edge, we start to take things personally and become paranoid, we lose our ability to think critically and evaluate the bigger picture, we become reactive rather than proactive – basically all hell breaks loose!  A sleep deprived crew can ultimately end a race and endanger the rider, crew, and even innocent bystanders in the process.  This is why it is so important to plan things such that crew are getting enough rest.  Bragging that your crew didn’t sleep for 60hrs straight is not something to be proud of – rather it is something to be ashamed of!  Unfortunately from my experience this is also perhaps the most difficult part of the race to plan and execute well.  I’ve done solo RAAM twice now, tried 2 different crew sleep strategies, and I have still not found a crew schedule that has allowed my crew to get what I consider to be adequate rest.

Emphasize to your crew that they need to monitor their own alertness and be responsible for getting rest.  As a crew member when you’re on your designated sleep time you need to be trying to sleep, no excuses!  If you’re too wound up and unable to sleep, then you should at least pretend to sleep.  No joke – lying there doing nothing with your eyes closed is better than being up and about.  I also tell my crew that no one should try to be a hero – if you’re too tired to keep driving, speak up and have someone relieve you for a while.  Also monitor your teammates.  If you notice that Bob is dozing off, point it out and work within your group to relieve Bob of his duties for a while so that he can take a nap.  The safety of the entire team is dependent on everyone self monitoring as well as monitoring each other.  Safety first!

Organization of gear is also very important for a successful race.  If you have all the supplies that you’re going to need but no one knows where anything is or that you even have it, you’re going to be very inefficient and likely end up with a lot of unnecessary purchases during the course of the race.  If you, the racer, are the one who packed everything and knows where everything is, then you need to have a “brain dump” session with your crew before the start of the race.  Each crew member should have a basic idea of where everything is located, and at least one person on each subgroup should have a very thorough understanding of where things are.

Organize all your gear in clearly labeled and easily accessible storage units (we use stacking plastic drawers that are mounted along the inside wall of the follow vehicle).  Having all of your cycling clothes in one big bag is not going to make things easy for your crew – especially when you ask for your favorite pair of pink polka dot socks in the middle of the night!!

Be proactive – have a process in place for taking an inventory of key supplies at various points during the race so that you can restock as needed.  Keeping the crew vehicles clean and organized is also vital to maintaining efficiency as the race proceeds.  Emphasize that if something is taken from its designated place that it needs to be returned to that place as soon as it has been used.  It may sound OCD, but when it’s the middle of the night and you’re sleep deprived, you’ll be appreciative that when your rider asks for animal crackers that they’re in the drawer labeled animal crackers and not in the sock drawer!

Even if you’ve planned and prepared for every scenario under the sun, remember that we are all human – mistakes will be made.  Someone’s going to forget to charge the battery on your light (but of course you do have a backup, right?), or make a mistake while navigating, or forget to buy that chocolate covered bacon jerky that you so badly wanted from the last town, or order your sandwich with no pickles and extra mayo instead of extra pickles and no mayo.  These are all examples of the kinds of things that seem minor as you read about them outside of the context of a race, but they can all be blown out of proportion when experienced in the pressure cooker environment of the race itself.

Tearing someone down for making a simple mistake is NOT going to help matters.  It’s NOT a sign of a good leader and it certainly isn’t good sportsmanship.  Once a mistake has been made, it can’t be undone.  You can either get on with correcting it and move on, or you can waste precious time and energy making a big deal out of it – I recommend the former!  This applies equally to crew and racer – treat each other with respect and work together to overcome obstacles.  The team dynamics on an ultra race can very easily turn into “Lord of the Flies” or “Survivor” with all kinds of power games and unpleasantries, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  Instead think of something like the movie “Apollo 13″ – mistakes were made, but everyone came together to work hard to find a solution.  This is the essence of teamwork, and it is a beautiful thing when it happens!

Dealing with Conflict

Hopefully you don’t have to deal with much conflict during a race, but inevitably there will be some form of conflict – whether it’s frustrated locals who don’t understand why you’re driving behind a cyclist at 12mph when they’re trying to get to Bingo early and get a good seat, whether it’s that Sue and John on the crew just don’t get along, or whether it’s that your cyclist is so tired that they’re being ornery and have staged a “sit-in” on the Ohio roadside (yes, that would be yours truly!).  But conflict, like every other aspect of an ultra, can be thought about in advance and strategies put in place for dealing with it.  This is where leadership on the crew becomes super important – managing crew dynamics and making adjustments in order to keep conflict to a minimum.

Know and understand going into an ultra race (as crew or rider) that the environment that you’re going to be in is not a “normal” working environment.  Stress, fatigue, weather, the annoying song that your rider insists on listening to over and over again, sleep deprivation, not having showered in 3 days – all of these things compound to make for a potentially very explosive situation.  Crewing is not a 9-5 job – it is a 24-7 pressure cooker!  If you ever find yourself about to “blow”, try to take a deep breath, count to 10, and remind yourself that this is not a normal environment, and that “this too shall pass” (a mantra that is great for the rider too!).

Try to be more forgiving – of your fellow crew, of your rider, of the locals, even of yourself!  Remember that this is a temporary situation, and that you’re all working together and that each person is doing their best.  Very rarely will you have a crew member who is intentionally trying to sabotage the team – even if it really may feel like that in the moment!  That other person is probably just doing what they feel is best, just as you are.  No race is worth ruining friendships or potential friendships over – act accordingly!

If there is conflict going on within the crew, then certainly try to keep this from the rider as it is an unnecessary distraction.  I’ve had races where I thought everything was going smoothly with all the crew members, but after the fact found out that certain crew members really weren’t getting along.  The fact that I didn’t know this was going on during the race is a testament to the crew’s professionalism and their ability to keep this out of the spotlight so that it wasn’t a distraction for me.

As a rider, try to prepare yourself mentally going into the race and know that you’re going to be tested to your extreme.  Know that your personality is possibly going to change when you’re experiencing extreme stress, fatigue, and sleep deprivation.  Try to warn your crew that this may happen (and apologize in advance!) so that if it does it’s not a complete shock and they’re hopefully able to deal with it better.  For me, extreme sleep deprivation leads to paranoia, which has lead to some “interesting” situations during races – situations that I’m certainly not proud of!  When I experienced this paranoia during my first RAAM I wasn’t prepared for it, so I wasn’t able to recognize what was happening and the results were pretty horrible.  When I returned to RAAM again I was mentally prepared for this to happen, so while I still had a few “moments”, I was able to more quickly recognize what was happening and change my behavior accordingly.

Whether you’re crew or rider, if you have a moment where you know you stepped out of line, clear the air as soon as possible and apologize to the other person.  Doing so helps both you and the person you’re apologizing too.  I find that if I don’t apologize then it starts to gnaw at me and adds extra stress, as I’m sure it does to the other person as well.  When I apologize though it is like a weight is lifted off my shoulders and I am able to resume focus on the job at hand.  The corollary of this is obviously to be forgiving – accept the apology and move on, don’t dwell on things or hold a grudge.

Where possible try to keep things light hearted and see the humor in things.  Sometimes it is really hard to see the humor in the moment, but afterwards you’ll look back and it will be something that you can all have a good laugh about.  One particular story comes to mind in this vein.  Approximately 680 miles into Race Across the West a crew member really wanted to get a change of clothes from her personal bag which had ended up on the roof of the follow vehicle (tip – don’t keep crew belongings in/on the follow vehicle if you have more than one vehicle!).  The thought of changing into clean clothes after being on the road for over 2 days was something that would provide a huge sense of comfort to this crew member who had been working selflessly in the extremely hot and dusty desert.  The crew chief was completely focused on the race and did not want to have the vehicle stopped any longer than necessary.  When the crew member asked to get her belongings while the follow vehicle was stopped refueling the crew chief snapped “You don’t need no stinkin’ underwear!”.  The quick witted crew member responded “You’re right – I already have that!”.  The crew chief burst out laughing, and a moment that could have easily escalated was instead defused, and to this day is a memory that both parties will recall and laugh about.  And yes, the crew member did in fact get her clean underwear and no time was lost.  This also illustrates that during an ultra race it can be the small things that can make such a huge difference for crew.  Keep in mind that while the energy and focus is on the rider, do what you can to make the situation even just a little more comfortable for the crew.  They’re working their tails off out there, so be appreciative!

Try to make a pact between all team members before the race that whatever happens during the race you will all at least be civil to each other after the race.  Hopefully as crew or rider you will bond with most of your team (and these bonds can be very deep and last a lifetime), but don’t be surprised if there are some team members whom you may not want to interact with again – at least not for a while.  This is ok – respect each other’s personal space, but again, try to be forgiving, and stay civil.  Recognize that you’re now outside of the confines of the race and back to “normal” life.  Leave any petty squabbles behind, take the high road, and focus on the positives.

Gather Feedback

The only way to learn from our mistakes is to recognize them and understand them.  Conduct a post-mortem after the race to learn from the experience, especially if you plan to race again.  After a race I will send out a questionnaire to crew members to try and gather their feedback.  I ask about all aspects of the race – the pre race planning/communication, race execution, supplies, leadership, teamwork, etc.  I ask what worked and what didn’t in all areas – with regard to managing the rider as well as with regard to managing the crew.  Remember, as a rider you only see a small slice of what is happening during a race, so this feedback can be very enlightening and helpful!  Encourage crew to be honest, be accepting of this feedback, and use it to try and improve your next race experience for all involved.


Following these guidelines is by no means a guarantee that you’re going to have a “perfect” race, or even that you’re going to finish, but you will at least arrive at the start line with a crew who are prepared for the journey ahead.  Rider and crew will still be tested mightily on the race course, but you will be much more prepared to rise and meet those challenges head on.  Your overall race experience will also be much more pleasant, positive, and safer for everyone involved.  Hopefully you’ll all be able to walk away from the race as friends who have great respect for each other and who would work together again, and you’ll have memories and stories that will last a lifetime!

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Ultra Racing: How To Progress to Longer Races Without Drowning – Build a Bridge!

Note: This article first appeared in the UMCA UltraCycling Magazine in October of 2015.

Ultra cycling, like any sport, is something that you become better at with experience.  As the old saying goes, “practice makes perfect”, only in the case of ultras it can be hard and even unfeasible to “practice” in the same way that you would for other sports or distances.  If you’re training for a 10k, you’ll likely run 10k many times in your training.  The longer an event though, the less likely you’ll actually complete the full distance in training.  If you’re training for a 500 mile race, you’re not likely to do a 500 mile ride as “training” (if you did, it would most likely be in the form of another race).  This is not to say that there aren’t progressions that you can follow while getting into ultras that will put you on a path to success though.

Typically, the longer a race is, the larger the investment of time, energy, and money into trying to make the race a reality, so logic dictates that you would want to go into such a race with the highest possible probability of success.  I’ve noticed however that it can also lead to the opposite behavior – because the stepping stones that exist that would bridge the gap to the longer event are also fairly large commitments, racers are sometimes inclined to skip over these “bridging races” and just jump directly to the longer race that they have as their end goal.  While this doesn’t necessarily doom the racer to failure, I believe that it decreases the racer’s chances for success, and that the longer the race is, the more important these bridging events are.  If you choose not to do these bridging events you may get lucky and achieve your goal on your first attempt, but if you don’t, then you’re faced with having to return to that event again (not to mention the disappointment associated with not achieving your goal).  This results in a doubling of your investment of time, energy, and money, which is likely more than you would have invested had you done several smaller events in preparation that would have increased your chances of success at the longer race.  Plus by doing the bridging events you’ll enter your goal race better prepared and will likely have a better experience and performance as a result.

There’s a reason that the rookie DNF rate is typically higher than the non-rookie DNF rate in ultras.  Ultra racing is about so much more than just riding your bike in a traditional sense – there are things that you learn while doing ultra races that you just don’t learn while training due to the fact that your training is limited in terms of continuous duration.  I’m not just talking about physical challenges either – I’m talking about mental and emotional challenges as well, because the longer a race is, the more important these other aspects of ultra racing become.  Plenty of very talented athletes have DNF’d ultra races in which average Joes and Janes have finished.  Success in an ultra race is not purely dependent on physical ability – it certainly helps, but physical ability alone will not get you through an ultra.  This is part of the beauty and richness of the sport of ultra racing!

Just as things start to happen 8 hours into a ride that don’t happen on a 2 hour ride (for example those shorts that work perfectly for your weekly bakery ride suddenly declare war on your crotch 6 hours into a ride), the same is true the longer you ride.  New things start to happen 24 hours into a ride that didn’t happen 12 hours in – perhaps your digestive system which was perfectly happy with product X during all of your 12 hour training rides is now rejecting and in fact expelling product X as quickly as you try to consume it, necessitating that you switch to products Y and Z.  Likewise, you experience new challenges 48 hours into a ride that weren’t there at the 24hr mark – perhaps you start struggling to stay awake and possibly even start to hallucinate – why is there a pink dolphin swimming beside you in the middle of the desert???  3 or 4 days into a ride even more challenges rear their ugly heads – perhaps you develop Shermer’s Neck, or get sores in your mouth, or your hands and feet go numb (while you wish that your butt would go numb instead!!), and so on and so forth.  The exact scenarios are different for everyone, and can differ from race to race, which is why it is important to get as much experience as you can!

Ultra racing ultimately boils down to troubleshooting and problem solving – you can plan as much as you like, but in the end even the best made plans will likely have to be modified and adapted at some point, so your success is dependent on your ability to adapt to and find solutions to new challenges as they arise.  By gaining experience at different races, you become an expert problem solver, and you learn what works and what doesn’t work for you.  You still may encounter new problems and challenges in future races, but through having overcome and solved a multitude of problems and challenges in past races, you have the confidence and calm to methodically tackle these new problems, and you have experience to draw from with regard to remedies to try and approaches to take.

Hopefully by now I’ve convinced you that experience is important, but how do you get it, and  what form should it take?  A decade ago there weren’t nearly as many ultra races and opportunities as there are today.  While the sport is still fairly small in the grand scheme of things, it has grown and diversified, and new races and race divisions have sprung up to fill various niches and bridge the gaps that historically existed between traditional races and the various lengths of ultra races.

When I got into ultra racing there were double century rides and 500 mile races, but not much in between.  Now there are more events that bridge these two distances.  Some 500 mile races are providing “stage race” options – completing the 500 mile course in prescribed chunks over 3 days rather than continuously.  Some races are offering shorter options such as 300 miles, and there are other intermediate distance races such as the RAAM Challenge races which are typically 375-400 miles.  There are also time based events, most of which offer several different options (6hr, 12hr, 24hr), and many of which do not require a support crew since they are done on a looped course, thus making them easier logistically and less expensive.  You also have the randonneuring community offering various distances (200km, 300km, 400km, 600km, etc.) – a great way to get some experience riding longer distances without many of the expenses traditionally associated with ultra racing such as having a support crew, assuming you don’t mind being mostly self sufficient.  All of these options combined provide a nice progression of events that can be used as preparation for building up to a 500 mile race such that you shouldn’t have to jump directly from a double century ride to a 500 mile race.  I recommend at least one or two such bridging events when charting out a plan for your first 500 mile race, as well as several instances of back to back days of long riding during your training (for example a double century ride one day followed by a century ride the next).

For many (well not “many” in the general sense, but “many” in this community), a 500 mile race or even something shorter may be the epitomy of your ultra racing goals (which is perfectly ok, and rather sane in fact!), but some of you have been or may find yourself bitten by the RAAM bug!  You’ve done that 24hr race or 500 mile race and find yourself qualified for RAAM, and it has planted the seed.  If this is you – read on!  If this isn’t you and you’ve sworn off RAAM with the blood of your first born, still read on though, because the concepts and approaches I discuss can still be applied to progressions toward shorter races.

While I’ve tried to convince you that getting experience in a logical progression through doing races of increasing distances is important regardless of your race goal, when facing something like RAAM, it is even MORE crucial to get as much experience as you can beforehand.  While doing one 24hr race or 500 mile race may have “qualified” you for RAAM in the technical sense, it by no means indicates that you’re “qualified” in a practical sense.  Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security from this qualification designation – while it is a tremendous accomplishment that you should take great pride in, it is only the beginning of a well thought out RAAM plan.

I recommend a 2-3 year progression leading up to RAAM after you’ve qualified, which I know can sound a bit like what your parents sounded like when you kept asking “are we there yet?” on those family road trips when you were a kid!  It is difficult enough in today’s world of instant gratification to set goals that require a year of planning and preparation much less a goal that takes multiple years, but patience young grasshopper!  A solid progression when done right has many satisfying milestones along the way, and gives you invaluable experience that will improve your odds for success at RAAM.

The year after qualifying I recommend doing two or more 500 mile races, and possibly some of the shorter races (24hr races, RAAM Challenge races, etc.) as well if they provide opportunities to experience different conditions.  Each race out there is unique and has different characteristics that provide great learning/testing opportunities.  Some are hot, some are cold, some are at altitude, some are hilly, some are flat, some are windy, some are dry, some are wet, and so on and so forth – I’m sure Dr Seuss could have written a great book about ultras!  Get experience in as many different conditions as possible, because RAAM will traverse many different environments, and what works in one set of conditions may not work in another.  Try to experience as many different conditions as possible to find out what works and what doesn’t work for you.

Talk to other racers and find out what works for them and what their strategies are, but don’t be limited by their ideas, because what works for them may not work for you.  Try to come up with your own ideas and test them out.  Remember, we are all different, and only you can test and learn about yourself and how you respond to different conditions.  You know you better than anyone else knows you – be your own guinea pig!

Keep in mind that when something doesn’t work, this shouldn’t be considered a “failure” – learning what doesn’t work for you is extremely valuable, and it is much better to learn this during a shorter race where you’ve invested less than it is to discover it during a longer race where you’ve invested so much more and it now jeopardizes your chance of success.  Also, when something doesn’t work in one particular condition, don’t rule it out for all subsequent conditions – it may work great in a different set of conditions, so just make a note of the conditions under which it didn’t work.  That’s the purpose of gaining these varied experiences – it allows you to experiment with things and better get to know your body and how it responds to varying conditions.

After a solid season or two of 500 mile or equivalent races, I then recommend doing a longer race – one that lasts 3 or more days.  Race Across the West is a great candidate since it traverses the first third of the RAAM course directly.  Another option in North America is No Country for Old Men in Texas, which offers a 1000 mile race option.  In Europe there are several races that fit the bill in terms of being longer than a typical RAAM qualifier, but shorter than RAAM itself.  The purpose of doing this longer race is to try and get insight into how your body is going to respond once you get several days into a race.  It can also boost your confidence in terms of knowing that you’ve successfully completed something that is closer in magnitude to RAAM.  Going from 1000 miles to 3000 miles is still a big leap, but not as intimidating as going from 500 miles to 3000 miles.  If you can troubleshoot your way through a 3-4 day race, and have additionally gained experiences in varied conditions by doing several other 2 day races, you’re probably pretty well prepared for troubleshooting the remaining days that you’ll face during RAAM.

In summary, I’m certainly not trying to discourage you from dreaming big – rather I’m trying to help you to dream big while maximizing your chances for success.  Regardless of what race you’ve set as a goal, find out what races and events are out there that will act as bridges from your current experiences to that particular race, and then put in place a plan that incorporates those events.  Gain as much experience as you can in different conditions, and don’t be afraid to experiment.  So go forth and dream big, but also plan big!





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RAAM 2014 Race Report

Where to begin. As I sit here trying to process RAAM 2014 and figure out how to put it into words, I’m surprised at how difficult the looming task seems. Normally I don’t have trouble writing, and the words just spill forth. But this is different for some reason. RAAM wasn’t a new experience for me in 2014, so simply documenting what happened as was the case in 2012 doesn’t feel right. It seems like I need to tell the story from a different perspective – yet I’m struggling to find that perspective.

RAAM 2014 was about “doing it right”. The goal in 2012 was to finish, and that we did, but the experience left me unsatisfied and confused – I “lost” myself out there during that intense and scary 12+ day journey. I was disappointed in how I’d handled myself and how I’d let my emotions get the best of me on more than one occasion. I felt shame rather than accomplishment. It felt like a blemish rather than a defining moment. RAAM had exposed my weaknesses, and I didn’t like what I saw. I did a lot of “processing” post RAAM in 2012 and into 2013, and ultimately I kept feeling the tug to return to RAAM to try and “right the wrongs”. I felt a need to come “full circle” and see if I could go out there with my new understanding of myself and all the learnings from 2012 and see if I could have a better race – one that I could be proud of. And so became the goal of “doing it right”.

Almost everything about RAAM in 2014 was different than in 2012. I’d completely changed the way I was riding (I’d started working with a coach in 2013 – Thomas Chapple), I was on completely new bikes and equipment (even venturing as far as getting a TT bike for some of the flatter sections), I had an almost completely new crew (Mike, my husband, was the only carry over from 2012), the logistics/organization of the crew was completely different, I had a new nutrition plan, I had a new sleep plan, I was leaner and lighter, I was fitter, I was healthier, etc., etc. But most importantly, I had an understanding of what to expect. I had lived and breathed solo RAAM – I had faced this beast before, so I knew what to expect as I headed once again into the dragon’s lair. You can’t buy experience – you earn it, you fight for it, you live it. I’d paid my dues in 2012. While I had come out with a “victory” in terms of finishing, it hadn’t felt like a victory – I had unfinished business with RAAM, and now I was back for round 2.

I knew that the biggest factor that would run contrary to my goal would be the sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation to the extreme that you experience during RAAM changes you as a person. We joked as a group before the race that I would become Benjamin Button – regressing from a mature, self composed adult to a whiny, out of control baby who required constant care and attention and could do nothing on their own. My goal was to be a “well behaved” baby, but I tried to prepare the crew for the worst. Knowing though that the sleep deprivation was a large culprit with regard to my problems in 2012, I made it very clear that we were to have a much better planned sleep strategy. Unlike in 2012 when we often pushed through the night and didn’t stop to sleep until the sun had already come up, we were instead going to take regular sleep breaks starting around 1-2am local time such that I would be starting up again when the sun was coming up. I also hoped that we would be able to take some longer sleep breaks, especially earlier in the race so as to delay the extreme sleep deprivation symptoms.

Additionally, nutrition was going to be key, because emotion often follows calorie intake – if your calorie intake drops, your mood and energy drop too, and it’s a vicious cycle. The goal was to stay on top of calories to keep the mental, emotional, and physical engines stoked and primed. I had a liquid nutrition plan that I hoped to use as much as possible, but I fully intended to supplement it with real food as we went. Food is not only fuel, but it also has a mental/emotional effect on you – so having that tasty treat that sounds really good when you’re miserable and suffering can really boost your state of mind and kick start you back into action. So yes, there were some KFC moments out there! :)

The most important thing to me about doing RAAM this time around though was for my crew and I to make it to Annapolis all on speaking terms with each other, and as friends. In fact I went as far as to tell my crew before the race that I would rather DNF and walk away from RAAM friends with everyone on my crew than finish and have even 1 crew member wish that they’d never been part of the experience. I still knew that RAAM was going to be brutally tough, and that I would have my “moments”, and I warned my crew about this and asked for forgiveness in advance. But my goal was to try and be able to handle myself better, be stronger, and minimize those moments. Bonding with your RAAM crew is a very special and unique thing – you literally go from being strangers with someone to trusting them with your life and “baring all” (emotionally, mentally, physically) to them in a very short period of time. RAAM makes you vulnerable, and life happens when you’re vulnerable. It’s an intense and powerful experience for crew and rider alike, and one from which lifelong friendships can develop. I had 9 crew, and I wanted 9 lifelong friends when/if we reached Annapolis.

So let me introduce you to my amazing, super star crew who made this entire journey possible! They were the enablers, the ones behind the spotlight that made it all happen, and I’m incredibly fortunate to have had each and every one of them share in this amazing adventure!

Mike is my husband and has crewed for me at all but one of my ultra races. He was the crew chief at RAAM this year, and he worked tirelessly before the race to get the follow vehicle setup and ready to go. He’s also an ultra endurance athlete himself, having completed the Furnace Creek 508 and Hoodoo 500, as well as Ultraman Canada and Ultraman Hawaii. Mike had to deal with the extra stress of being the crew chief, but that didn’t prevent him from busting out his coconut shell bra, kilt, and various other costumes along the course!

Mike shaving in a WalMart parking lot

Mike changing a flat


Mike at the top of Cuchara Pass

Dex and Joni Tooke are so well known in the ultra cycling community that they need no introduction. Dex completed solo RAAM in 2011 after a failed attempt in 2010, and wrote a book about his experience titled “Unfinished Business” (which was required reading for all of my crew). Hanging out with Dex before the start of RAAM was like hanging out with RAAM royalty – everyone knows and respects him, so it’s like hanging out with a celebrity – everyone wants a piece of him! Dex will be fondly remembered for his blue surf shoes which he wore for the duration of the trip (although we did buy him some red ruby slippers in Annapolis!), and his amazing sprinting ability when he managed to scare everyone in the follow vehicle when he came out of nowhere and was running alongside the van going up Wolf Creek Pass! Joni, his wife, was his crew chief and has crewed several RAAMs. Joni just retired from teaching elementary school art in their hometown of Del Rio, Texas. What probably surprised me the most about Joni though was her amazing assortment of dance moves – going up Wolf Creek Pass she donned the chicken costume and was seriously busting out the moves!!! Whether it was busting out dance moves, climbing on top of the van to help get the bikes up and down, or tackling the less glamorous tasks on RAAM – she was high energy all the way, and always willing to lend a helping hand!


Joni and Dex, the dynamic duo!

Dex and Joni at the finish

Jeff is a paramedic and also has advanced bike mechanic skills – talk about valuable double duty for something like RAAM! He came to us by way of a referral from my 2012 RAAM mechanic Doug. Jeff grew up in Southern California, and used to go out and watch the RAAM racers in the early days of RAAM, so it was a dream come true for him to participate in RAAM. Jeff is pretty quiet and reserved, but during RAAM he was swept up in the energy of the “party van” (he was on the graveyard shift with Lindsay and Sonya), and as a result we were treated to Jeff’s vocal prowess as he did a “Doh Re Mi” solo over the PA somewhere in eastern Colorado!

Finger puppet!

Ingrid is an accomplished ultra triathlete from Texas who we met at UltraMan when both her and Mike were competing in 2011. In 2013 her and Mike competed at the Furnace Creek 508 on a 2 person team, Unicornfish. She has her own ultra cycling ambitions, and hopefully RAAM has further inspired her to pursue those goals! We also discovered during RAAM that Ingrid would make a great mascot – especially if the mascot were a chicken!! She busted out the chicken costume in multiple states, and had myself and the follow crew in stitches with her crazy antics! Ingrid was a very devoted and diligent crew member, and we were incredibly fortunate to have her along!

Kati, Tam, and Lindsay all joined the team by way of my involvement with the Vanderkitten VIP program – these incredible women cyclists all volunteered when I put out the word on Facebook that I was looking for crew. I had met none of them prior to this year, but I knew that anyone in the Vanderkitten VIP program is a force to be reckoned with, so I knew I was in good hands bringing them onboard the crew!

Vanderkitten VIPs

Kati is from Iowa and only recently got into cycling. She’s lead an exciting and varied life, including serving in the Air National Guard for 23 years. Currently she’s a reading and special education teacher for kindergarten through 2nd grade – so she was well equipped to deal with my Benjamin Button regression during the race! She seemed to have a tendency to want to hang out the back window of the van a lot though, and unfortunately sustained a bit of a black eye on one occasion! Kati, like Dex, has some speed in her legs, as she challenged me to a sprint going up Wolf Creek Pass as well, and I had to work darned hard to drop her! Kati was excellent at staying on top of my nutrition, and would gently “suggest” that I should eat or drink when I neglected to.

Tam is from just outside of Boston, and it was her friend Tim Brown of the Wounded EOD Warriors who completed RAAM on a Walter Reed team who inspired her and encouraged her to become involved in RAAM (thanks Tim!). Tam is a professional artist and designer, and also teaches LEGO Engineering and art to kindergarten through 3rd grade students (again – another one equipped for Benjamin Button Joan!). Tam did an amazing job taking photos during the race, but alas since she was the one taking photos, we have very few photos with her in them! Tam has a fun going personality, so she fit right in and was a pleasure to be around!

Lindsay was the token Canadian on the crew, eh! She’s from Ontario where she works as a recreation and development planner. In addition to cycling, she enjoys soccer, hiking, and weaving. Lindsay claims to be an introvert, but as a member of the all night long party van (i.e. the graveyard shift), it’s hard to believe that! She was a master at talking to me during the night and keeping me entertained with her funny accents and expressions. She was also the genius creator of the ‘Merica game – as a Canadian she noted that there seemed to be an abundance of American flags all around, much more so than you see flags in other countries, and so the game of ‘Merica was born. This game kept me entertained and alert for hours – scanning the horizon for ‘Merica flags and calling them before my crew did! We kept a tally, and let’s just say that I did rather well at this game! If you find me randomly blurting out “‘Merica!” when I see an American flag, you can blame Lindsay!

And the final addition to our crew (a last minute addition I might add, as another crew member had to withdraw fairly close to the race) was Sonya, a massage therapist from Hawaii who was referred to me by yet another Vanderkitten VIP (thanks Debby!). In addition to being a massage therapist, Sonya has a degree in psychology – so she was well equipped to deal with the psychological escapades of RAAM! Sonya was also a member of the all night long party van (i.e. the graveyard shift), and she took turns with Lindsay keeping me going at night. Sonya and Lindsay were the dynamic duo, and I honestly don’t know how they kept their energy levels so high throughout the race! Being stuck in the back of the follow van though (she called it her “cave”), Sonya was at a noticeable disadvantage in the ‘Merica game, but she tried to make up for it when she was off shift by calling to tell me that she was snagging all the ‘Mericas along the route in front of where I was – ‘Merica, ‘Merica’, ‘Merica!!

A few short months ago most of these folks had not even met me much less met each other, so the fact that they were able to come together and form such a cohesive and supportive team was something really special to witness!! Everyone brought something different and unique to the table, and each and every crew member leveraged their strengths and stepped outside of their comfort zones to enable me to cycle across the country. I can’t thank each of them enough for all that they did for me – I’ve made lifelong friends with each of them! So as you can see, my crew and my interaction with my crew were super important to me during RAAM. These folks were giving up 2+ weeks of their lives and giving it to ME – I did not want to disappoint them!

Sign seen in Illinois

Another important part of RAAM for me was being able to raise money for the Canary Foundation – a research organization based out of Stanford University that is trying to develop early cancer detection tests. Everyone who donated got to choose a time station to “sponsor” – I listed time station sponsors on my website, plus we tried to recognize donors as we passed through the time station that they had sponsored. Additionally, I’m going to call them out in my race report as we progress through the race, so look for each time station to be listed with the sponsor(s) listed next to it.

The pre-race activities included crew bonding, vehicle setup, crew training/orientation, and socializing with other racers and crew.

With Shirley, Lee "Fuzzy" Mitchell's wife

With Seana Hogan, women's transcontinental record holder

With Marko Baloh before he started (and won) RAW

With fellow solo women racers Shu, Jacquie, and Janice

June 10th arrived quickly, and strangely that morning in the couple hours before the start I was probably the most relaxed I’d been in several weeks. Perhaps it was the realization that at this point everything that could be done was done, and that there was nothing left to do. Surely it had something to do with the fact that I knew I was in good hands for the journey to come. In the moments before I started I spent a few minutes with Mike. As he put his arms around me I was hit by the significance of the 2 year journey that had brought us back to this pier in Oceanside after our first visit in 2012. I thought back to the struggles of 2012 and the aftermath that had left me dazed and confused. It was a solemn and emotional moment as we reassured each other that we were going to get through this together.

And just like that I was in the start chute and beginning another RAAM adventure. I’d warned my crew up front to not be surprised if I was bringing up the rear at the beginning, as my plan was to pace myself and keep my power down. It’s hard not to get swept up in the excitement and energy of the start, especially having a lot of riders around you – many riders end up going out too hard as a result and then pay for it later, typically once they drop down into the California desert. So I reminded myself of this each time someone passed me in those first 50 miles (and a LOT of riders passed me!!). This was essentially my 4th time riding the start of RAAM (having done it in RAW in 2011, RAAM in 2012, and the SoCal RAAM Challenge earlier this year), and I noted that it seemed “easier” than it had those earlier times. I figured this was a good sign – it meant I wasn’t over exerting myself. What surprised me though was when I started passing people after reaching the top of the climb up the side of Palomar before the first time station at Lake Henshaw. Here the terrain flattened, and there were some downhills, and I found myself catching up to and passing riders who had passed me on the climb. I was trying to ride at a fairly steady power output, whereas clearly they had been doing much higher power on the climb and had backed off significantly on the flats/downhills. Again, I took this as a good sign, and was encouraged by it. I was sticking to my game plan!

There was a tailwind on much of the first section of the race, which was great, but the fact that it was windy meant that the descent down the Glass Elevator (a drop of almost 4,000ft down into the California desert town of Borrego Springs) was likely going to be “interesting”. The descent is a very technical one, and it weaves in and out of the cliff bands, so as you come around a corner and a rock formation the wind will change direction and be VERY strong. Every time I’ve done this descent it has been challenging due to the wind, but this time was perhaps one of the worst. On several occasions I was nearly blown into the opposing lane the wind was so fierce, and I was quite tentative going into each corner not knowing whether the wind was going to blast me as I rounded the rock. But I made it down safely thankfully.

Lake Henshaw, CA: Kyle Welch, Alan Bell

I was surprised to see 2 of the solo women shortly after I completed the descent – Jacquie Schlitter and Shu Pillinger. I hadn’t expected to see any of the women for quite some time, so it was encouraging that I was still in the midst of things. A little ways after Borrego Springs I switched from my road bike to my time trial bike, and so began my journey across the California desert. The wind continued to blow, first as a cross wind, and then as more of a tailwind, and there was a lot of blowing sand on the road, but I was just glad it wasn’t a headwind! Over the course of the night I actually managed to pass 4 of the women, and moved into 2nd place – wow! I was happy with our pace, as we were well ahead of my 2012 pace, and I was glad that we’d pushed through more of the desert in the cooler night temperatures – although I knew there would be plenty of heat to follow during the day!

Brawley, CA: Jeannine Giem, Scott Bolter
Blythe, CA: Ildiko Papp
Parker, AZ: David To

Exiting Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs, 2 other women in sight!

Heading into Parker, AZ

Heading out of Parker, AZ the conditions were more like in 2011 than in 2012 – a stronger head wind, which made the long, gradual climb up towards Salome slower – in fact a full 2mph slower on this stretch this year compared to 2012. But the temperature wasn’t as hot as in 2011 or 2012, so I tried to be thankful for that. Along this stretch my crew told me that Janice, the lead woman, was only 4 or 5 miles in front of me, which was a real shocker! When they told me this, I was going through a bit of a lull where I was feeling sleepy and having a hard time focusing, but this news woke me up instantly – the thought that I was doing this well (even though it was very early in the race) was enough to give me some new focus. We passed through Hope (and got beyond Hope!), and then through Salome. The next stop was Congress, which I knew had a nice cold swimming pool waiting for me, but between me and this oasis in the desert lay roughly 60 more miles, the last 24 of which were on a rough chipseal surface. This final stretch into Congress really drained me – it was nearing the hottest part of the day, and the rough road was really doing a number on my sore and swollen feet. I did get to chat briefly with Keith Wolcott on this section though – he told me that he had read my 2012 race report and had learned a lot from it, so that was cool to hear. It was also along this section that we passed the 24hr mark of the race, and I realized I’d set a new PR, having covered 367 miles in 24hrs.

Salome, AZ: Heather Savage and Vince Doromal
Congress, AZ: Karen Thompson

Heading towards Salome, AZ

Heading towards Congress, AZ

When I did finally arrive in Congress I eagerly jumped in the swimming pool – but alas I forgot that my Tractalis GPS tracker was in my jersey pocket – doh!!! And so began the next 1400 miles of “stealth mode” riding with no one knowing exactly where I was except for when I checked into time stations. My dip in the pool was quick, and then I did a quick clothing change while eating some cold cup-o-noodle soup and ate an ice cream bar before hitting the road again. Because my feet were so sore and swollen at this point, I switched into my one size larger cycling shoes that I’d gotten just for this purpose. This was one of the best decisions I made in the preparation for RAAM, as I ended up wearing those shoes for the next 2600+ miles all the way to the finish! Big thanks to Rachel and Eric for hooking me up with the shoes – they definitely made my RAAM journey more comfortable!

Leaving Congress is Yarnell Grade – a long and pretty sustained climb made more difficult by the heat and the fact that the climb is completely exposed. I wasn’t moving very fast, but I got myself up and over the climb and to the town of Yarnell. Yarnell is where 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighters lost their lives in June of 2013 while trying to protect the town of Yarnell from a wild fire, so it was a moment for somber reflection passing through the town and seeing the nearby fire damage as well as the memorials and references to the fallen fire fighters. After descending out of Yarnell there is another sequence of climbing before dropping down into Prescott. This was the first time that I’d done this section in the daylight, so it was kind of cool to get to see the area.

The sun set as I headed out of Prescott and began the climb up Mingus Mountain. This was a critical section in the race for me, as it was the 2nd night of the race and I had not yet slept – the goal was to push on until about 1am local time before taking my first sleep break of the race. At the bottom of the climb Seana Hogan interviewed me which helped to kick me back into alert mode, and after that the all night party crew kept me awake as Sonya chatted with me and we rocked out to my high energy playlist. We stopped at the top of the climb for a quick bathroom break and I was surprised to see RAW racer Dave Preston – again, I was surpassing all my expectations and seeing folks who I would have expected to have been far out in front of me, so it was another boost to my confidence. The descent down through Jerome and into Cottonwood is a fun descent – even in the dark. The road is smooth (for the most part), and there are some pretty cool views of the lights of Jerome as well as below in the valley. It’s a technical descent though, with some hair pin turns through Jerome, so I didn’t get too aggressive.

Prescott, AZ: Dennis Feick, Kara Woolgar
Cottonwood, AZ: Brenna Broadnax

Night riding on the way to Cottonwood

We proceeded a bit beyond Cottonwood before we finally stopped for my first sleep break. This was just shy of 500 miles into the race (497.7), and was the longest that I’ve gone without sleep during an ultra race, so I was really happy that we’d been able to do this. During RAW in 2011 and RAAM in 2012 I’d slept in Congress, however on both occasions I’d had to stop again in Cottonwood for another sleep because I was too tired, so this year I decided to try and push through after Congress and just take one longer sleep break in the middle of the night and get onto my planned sleep schedule right away rather than have to take multiple sleep breaks so close together. Not only was this the longest I’d gone without sleep while racing, it was also essentially my fastest 500 miles (35hrs elapsed time) – my previous best was my first ultra when I did the Furnace Creek 508 in 36:20. As I drifted off to sleep I couldn’t help but feel really positive about how the race was unfolding thus far!

After a 2.5hr sleep, I hit the road again just as the first signs of light were starting to appear in the sky. The route was different from past years in that we had to take the interstate into Flagstaff due to road construction on Oak Creek Canyon out of Sedona. Riding on the interstate wasn’t particularly fun as there was lots and lots of debris on the shoulder, and we weren’t allowed to stop for any reason. We got on the first section of the interstate and suddenly my digestive system was very unhappy – this made for some unpleasantness given that we couldn’t stop, and the next exit was several miles away which all happened to be uphill… But we made it to the exit and took care of “business” as quickly as possible and then jetted back onto the interstate. This time though we failed to fill my water and nutrition prior to getting back on the interstate, and since we couldn’t do handoffs on the interstate it meant that I was starting to get a bit low on caloric and fluid intake. Did I mention I don’t like riding on the interstate and the modified rules that go with it??? Eventually we left the interstate behind us for good though as we entered Flagstaff.

Flagstaff, AZ: Dan Sauers

I swapped to the TT bike after the last little climb out of Flagstaff, but almost as soon as I headed out again I realized I’d made a big mistake. There was a strong and somewhat gusty cross wind, plus the road had a lot of very large traffic that was moving really, really fast such that as they passed me it would cause a lot of turbulence in the air. I found myself somewhat terrified as I white knuckled it down the descent, and I decided pretty quickly that this was not the most efficient way to ride this stretch – I would be better off on my road bike which I was more comfortable on and thus would actually be able to ride faster in these conditions. So as soon as I saw the follow vehicle go by and pull over I stopped and switched bikes again. I was angry at myself for having wasted the time switching bikes twice, and for not being able to ride the TT bike, but I tried to not let it get to me too much. Back on my road bike I proceeded into the heat and the wind towards Tuba City.

This section of road is perhaps my LEAST favorite section of road on all of RAAM – and it was made worse this year by the road construction that was going on. It’s a busy highway with lots of large and fast traffic, with little or no shoulder to ride on, and huge/deep rumble strips. The follow crew of Dex, Joni, and Kati helped to try and guide me through the mess – they would communicate with me over the Cardo trying to warn me about the traffic that was coming up behind me so that I knew when it was safe to cross back and forth over the bone jarring rumble strips as the shoulder would appear and disappear. At one point I actually had to stop when the shoulder ran out because there was large traffic bearing down on me so it wasn’t safe to move into the lane. I really, really, REALLY hate this section of road, and the heat and wind did not help.

Finally we got to the turn off to Tuba City, and I was feeling pretty demoralized. My feet were killing me again after all the horrible rumble strips and road construction. While I didn’t want to take an extended stop and waste precious time, I also really felt like I “needed” a break right then, so I proposed to the crew that we stop in Tuba City at the time station and quickly try to address my worsening feet, get out of the heat for a few moments, and get some serious calories into me (since it had been hard to eat/drink on the previous section of road given how much focus and energy it took just to try and stay alive!). So I put in my first order for KFC – I’m sure there was probably a pool as to how long it would take for this moment to come given my fixation with KFC during RAAM in 2012! So there in Tuba City unfolded a typical only-on-RAAM scene – me sitting inside the women’s bathroom with my feet in a tupperware container with ice water, chowing down on KFC like I hadn’t eaten in days, with 2-3 crew members adorned in reflective gear fluttering about me tending to my needs (putting sunscreen on me, changing some of my clothes, massaging me, etc.). More than one person entered the bathroom and did a double take!

Tuba City: Maria Parker, Brian Feinberg

We left Tuba City, and I started to feel a bit better. The cooling gel that we’d put on my feet made them feel a bit better, and I was feeling a bit rejuvenated from the food and time spent out of the heat. So while we had lost some time being stopped, I left the time station in a better state to be able to try and make some of it up. Plus now the wind was a tail wind instead of a cross wind, so we were moving right along! A ways outside of Tuba City it was time for a shift change on the crew, and I saw them lined up on the side of the road doing “the wave” and other funny antics which brought a smile to my face – I really did have the BEST crew!

Crew doing the wave along the road between Tuba City and Kayenta

Passing my entertaining crew!

As we headed towards Kayenta, I was faced with the next challenge – my eyes had taken a beating during the day with all the wind – because it was a cross wind my sunglasses had provided little protection, and now I found my eyes were watering, and constantly blinking, to the point that I was having trouble seeing the road. I had to ask my crew to provide extra guidance and be “my eyes”. I eventually tried wearing some goggles, but even that didn’t seem to help – in fact it seemed to make things a bit worse as my eyes then seemed to overheat in the goggles. This made for the section between Kayenta and Bluff (where we eventually stopped for my 2nd sleep break) all the more challenging, but we got through it – such is RAAM!

Kayenta, AZ: Pat Grant

Monument Valley as viewed by the off duty crew who saw it in daylight

Approaching Kayenta at dusk

We reached Kayenta just as the sun had set. I’d hoped to get to Monument Valley in the daylight when I’d started that morning, but with the longer route into Flagstaff via the interstate, and then some of the challenges of the afternoon it just hadn’t been possible. But we did get to see Monument Valley under the light of an almost full moon! Going into Monument Valley my feet and eyes were really bothering me though, and pretty quickly I got into a funk where I just started to feel sorry for myself and threw myself a “pity party”. To make matters worse, we couldn’t have external music in this area because it was Navajo land. I don’t even remember why, but I think I started giving the follow crew my “silent treatment” – which made me mad at myself – after all, my crew was there to help me – it wasn’t their fault that my feet and eyes hurt! The follow crew needed to take a bio break, so errand vehicle took over direct follow, and I chatted with Joni over the Cardo. She reminded me that it was my choice to be out here, and that not many people could say they’d done this. This helped me get my head back on straight somewhat, although then there just seemed to be mile after mile of horribly rough road, and I felt like my body was just taking a constant beating.

Mexican Hat, UT: Lindsay King

We went through Mexican Hat, and proceeded to what the route book calls “rollers” – which I knew damn well are NOT rollers! I was still in a funk, and having trouble staying awake, but I asked that the follow vehicle play my morning play list – a collection of songs that I’d put together that were a combination of some high energy songs as well as songs that had some meaning to me and expressed various parts of what RAAM is all about. Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”, The Black Eyed Peas “Let’s Get It Started”, Katy Perry’s “Roar”, Dierks Bentley’s “Home”, Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried”, Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger”, Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb”, Imagine Dragons’ “Demons”, Rodney Atkins “If You’re Going Through Hell”, and Bob Schneider’s “The Other Side”. Music is a powerful thing – especially when you feel a connection between it and what you’re doing, and suddenly I felt myself come alive and my determination and ambition return. I would stand out of the saddle during the chorus of the songs, and suddenly I was wide awake and moving steadily forward again with purpose and intent rather than inching forward in the midst of my own self pity party! When the crew asked about stopping for my sleep break, I almost didn’t want to – I almost wanted to just keep going! What a complete turn around! But I knew we needed to stick to our schedule and strategy, so we stopped in Bluff, Utah for my second sleep break.

We left Bluff with the sun already up, so we got to enjoy the beauty of the cliffs that we’d stopped beneath during my sleep break. I knew from 2012 that this section of the course would heat up quickly and become rather miserable, so I really wanted to get out of there ASAP and get up to Colorado where the scenery would improve and the temps would drop. I got into a bit of a bad mood shortly after starting riding though when we were having some problems with the Cardo units and so I lost my communication with my crew. At one point the errand vehicle came up beside me though, and I turned and glanced at them (with a scowl on my face) and the rear window was down and there were a bunch of finger puppets of all things! That totally made me crack a smile and really helped to turn my mood around! It’s the little things like that on RAAM that make such a huge difference, and it’s why I love sharing RAAM with a crew!

Soon enough we passed through Montezuma Creek and then were headed towards Colorado. The road out of Utah has perhaps one of the most littered ditches that I’ve ever seen! It was unbelievable the amount of trash that was strewn all over the side of the road – mostly beer/alcohol bottles (but other stuff too – Lindsay spotted a muffin tin of all things!), making you wonder what goes on in that part of the country! What was strange too was that there were “trash circles” – there were plenty of randomly strewn bottles, but there were also neat collections of bottles organized in circles fairly evenly distributed along the side of the road. Lindsay commented and asked about whether they were created by “conscientious litterers”!

Montezuma Creek, UT: The Cronin Family (Tam, Mike, Will, and Chip)

Sonya creating bubbles in Utah

Some random trash that Sonya found on the roadside - an arrow!

More of the scenery leaving Utah

Leaving Utah

We continued out of Utah and into Colorado, and were soon making our way out of Cortez and towards Durango. There’s some really pretty scenery in this area, and I was glad to be leaving the CA/AZ/UT deserts behind! We passed through Durango mid afternoon, and then it was on towards Pagosa Springs and Wolf Creek Pass. What caught me off guard though was how busy the road out of Durango was! There was a steady stream of traffic, and the shoulder was somewhat unreliable (rumble strips, gravel, etc.). In 2012 we’d done this section at night with direct follow, so this was a bit of a shocker for me having to do it without direct follow. Where were all these people going? Although I guess it was a Friday afternoon. At one point I had to pull over and just take a short break to try and regain my composure, as I was feeling so stressed out trying to ride safely on this stretch of road. Eventually the traffic died down though, and then we were in the peace and serenity of the Colorado countryside. We even saw some cowboys on horses herding cattle on the side of the road – now this was the Colorado I was expecting!

Cortez, CO: Mike D’s Garage (eBay Store)
Durango, CO: Jeff Radick, Don King

Heading towards Pagosa Springs, CO

Cowboys herding cattle on the side of the road heading towards Pagosa Springs

On the way to Pagosa Springs we made the strategic decision to push up and over Wolf Creek Pass that night and get to South Fork before sleeping. This would likely delay my planned sleep break a bit, but we didn’t want to be taking a sleep break up at altitude (Wolf Creek Pass tops out at about 10,800 feet), and Pagosa Springs was going to come too early to sleep there. Because we’d had reports of the temps getting down in the 30s and 40s on Wolf Creek Pass and even down lower, we decided that we’d get a hotel in South Fork rather than take my sleep in the errand vehicle as we’d been doing. This yielded some other advantages too – it would allow Sonya to work on me a bit more and do some more massage, and it would allow me to take an ice bath which would hopefully help my body with the aches and pains it was experiencing. Sonya dubbed it our “spa day” – a reward for all the hard work up until this point! So I was now on a mission to get up and over the Continental Divide – so that I could enjoy an ice bath….and one that I had suggested???? Tracey would have been proud! ;)

Pagosa Springs, CO: Chris Hoeber

Climbing Wolf Creek Pass at night seemed much tougher than doing it during the day like I’d done in 2012. Mind you in 2012 I’d slept in Pagosa Springs, so I was coming off of a break, whereas this year we’d started the day in Utah and had already climbed some high passes in Colorado before reaching Wolf Creek Pass. The errand crew did an amazing job of keeping me entertained on the climb though – they were dancing on the side of the road, and doing other antics. At one point Dex literally scared the crap out of the follow vehicle occupants when he sneakily came up behind the vehicle and started running alongside it on the drivers side, and no one knew he was there until he knocked on the driver’s window! Can you imagine if you were driving along and suddenly there was someone knocking on your window?? It totally freaked everyone out inside the vehicle! Then Kati challenged me to a “sprint” which certainly got my blood flowing!!! Then low and behold Joni donned the chicken costume and proceeded to bust out dance moves that one did not expect to see coming from her! I was in stitches, as was the follow vehicle!

As the climb progressed though, I definitely started to feel the effects of the altitude and the 900+ miles that were already on my legs. Being dark out, it also impacted my sense of balance, and since I was riding so slowly I found myself swerving several times as I started to lose balance. The last few miles seemed to drag on FOREVER, and I was getting pretty disheartened. Why was it so hard??? It wasn’t this hard in 2012!!! I started entertaining thoughts that I couldn’t make it, and a few tears were shed. But Lindsay was an absolute trooper as she kept talking me through the climb and telling me that I could do it! When we finally DID make it to the top it was such a relief! As I stopped at the top of the pass and collapsed over my handle bars, my crew embraced me and Joni reminded me of my Dad, who passed away in January, and said that I’d done it for him. I’d dedicated the South Fork time station to my Dad because I’m sure that he would have loved to have seen that area around Wolf Creek Pass, so this reminder made me all the more emotional.

Top of Wolf Creek Pass

After warming up in the follow vehicle for a bit and getting some food into me and warmer clothes on, we headed down to South Fork. It was really cold at first and I was shaking and shivering, but soon enough the descent ended and then I was overheating in my multiple layers. The final few miles into South Fork the crew and I did some singing – they were trying to keep me engaged and awake, as often times descents can be the most dangerous times in terms of when you’re most likely to fall asleep. First we sang the “Doh Re Mi” song (this was prompted by seeing a deer on the side of the road) – even Jeff was singing along in the vehicle, and apparently Sonya was making up her own lyrics as we went along! Then Lindsay and I sang “Oh Canada!”. After what seemed to be forever, we pulled into South Fork, and so began my “Spa Day” – an ice bath, some extra massage, a backpacker meal, and then 2.5hrs of sleep!

South Fork, CO: In memory of Hamish Grant (my Dad)

In the morning leaving South Fork I was shocked when Mike told me that Janice (the women’s leader) was just a little ways up the road, stopped, and hadn’t moved in a long time – WHAT?? When I’d been watching the GPS tracking the day before I’d seen her steadily pulling away from me, so I figured she’d be well on her way to Kansas by now! Why had she been stopped for so long? Was her strategy to take a really long sleep break at this point? Little did I know that she had developed breathing problems on Wolf Creek Pass and had gone to the hospital overnight. Then just as I hit the road I saw Shu go by – she had stopped earlier to sleep and had gone over Wolf Creek Pass in the early morning hours while I was sleeping. Suddenly there was the excitement of being in the midst of the “race” aspect of RAAM (something which I’ve never really focused on before).

I saw Shu pull off the road – probably to take off the layers of clothes that she had on for the descent – and so I motored on down the road. I was feeling MUCH better after my “spa day” (I think the ice bath really helped!), and soon I was flying down the road with a partial tail wind. I quickly asked to switch to the TT bike, and then I was on a mission to get to Alamosa ASAP! Along this stretch of road we passed the 1000 mile mark in the race, and Ingrid, Tam, and Mike marked the spot with a strip of duct tape on the pavement and much celebrating on the side of the road! But I continued and pressed onwards. Not knowing why Janice had stopped or when she’d be returning to the road, I set out to beat her to one time station (and stay in front of Shu) so that I could get a screen shot of the leaderboard with me at the top of it – after all, how many people can say that they lead Race Across America even for a short period of time!! And I did just that – arriving in Alamosa first among the women and officially leading the women’s race – WOW!

Alamosa, CO: Peter Lehman

Heading towards Alamosa with a finger puppet show!

Near Alamosa

As we headed towards La Veta Pass the wind funneled through the valley and seemed to get stronger and stronger – but unlike in 2012 when it was a headwind, it was a tailwind this year – woohoo!! I swapped back to the road bike near the bottom of the climb, and then literally let the wind push me up the climb! I’ve never felt such a “push” up a climb before – wow! But then as I began descending and the road curved to go in a different direction, alas that tail wind became a brutal cross wind. I was VERY happy that it wasn’t a head wind, but even as a cross wind it made the trek into La Veta challenging – I was getting blown all over the road, and it made holding any kind of line nearly impossible with the gusts. Add to the mix some big semi trucks that were passing me, and it was a recipe for disaster! The crew would warn me over the Cardo when big traffic was approaching since they weren’t allowed to do direct follow, and when a couple of the big trucks approached me I actually came to a near stop to make sure that I didn’t get blown off the road.

La Veta, CO: Sylvie Louise Hunter

La Veta Pass, with Mike dressed as Lee "Fuzzy" Mitchell

We finally pulled into La Veta, and I needed a quick break to regain my composure and to eat and drink something since I’d been unable to take my hands off the handlebars in the hellacious winds coming down the pass. I also wanted to put on some goggles because my eyes were really suffering in the wind. I headed back out, but now the wind was a head wind…. I slogged along barely going 8mph on the flats wondering at this rate how many DAYS it was going to take me to get to the top of Cuchara Pass!! The wind was discouraging me, plus I was quite sleepy, so I decided to call my brother Carson, as we’d been playing phone tag for a couple of days. Amazingly I had cell reception, so we chatted for a bit, and that helped. As I neared the top of the pass I thought I might get rained on, as there were dark clouds and it was clear that there was a storm cell moving over. Luckily I didn’t get rained on, but I did continue to get battered by the wind. Near the top of the pass the errand vehicle came by and started cheering me on – Mike had a colorful wig on, and Ingrid was in the chicken costume!

Ingrid in the chicken costume on Cuchara Pass

More chicken antics

Colorful crew antics!

Entertained by the chicken mayhem!

Smiling at crew antics descending Cuchara Pass

The first part of the descent off of Cuchara was pretty brutal – the road would dip and curve and I’d get slammed by a wall of wind that nearly stopped me in my tracks when it was a headwind, or nearly blew me off the road when it was a cross wind. As I got lower though the road straightened out, and then I had a tailwind all the way to Trinidad so I started to fly again. Out of Trinidad are some rollers and then flatter terrain on the way to Kim, Colorado. We’d hoped to get to Walsh, Colorado that night for my sleep break, but the wind on Cuchara had slowed me, and then the wind had shifted out of Trinidad and slowly became a bit of a headwind, so we settled on making Kim our goal for the night. I went through another funk those last couple of hours, but Lindsay came through again and really talked me through it.

Trinidad, CO: Debbie Cain and Sandy Lombardi
Kim, CO: Hakan Ceylan, Johnna Andrews

While I was glad for a break from the high altitude and climbing, I knew that “flat” didn’t equate to “easy” – the wind can make a flat ride harder than a hilly ride, so I was apprehensive about heading into Kansas and the great plains the next morning. I remembered the vicious cross winds that I’d encountered when I entered Kansas in 2012, and the weather forecasts seemed to indicate that we were in for more of the same this year. As I started riding again in the morning, the wind was mostly calm, and so I quickly switched to the TT bike. The road surface in eastern Colorado was pretty rough though, so I was getting jostled and jarred. Imagine my relief when we passed into Kansas and there was brand new glassy smooth pavement – suddenly Kansas was looking more appealing! Shortly after entering Kansas a bunch of my crew had done a bunch of chalk art on the road as well, which was pretty cool! There was even a Wizard of Oz theme with some instructions to follow the yellow brick road!

As I worked my way across Kansas the wind progressively picked up, but it stayed steady and predictable, so I was able to stay on the TT bike all day. It was probably about a 15-20mph cross wind at its worst. It made eating and drinking on the bike quite difficult though, so I had to do a couple of quick stops to quickly gobble down a bunch of food and fluid. The wind died down later in the day as we headed towards Greensburg, but then heading out of Greensburg it picked up again and seemed to be a headwind as we headed towards Pratt. There was apparently a large storm cell just off course, so while we got spit on a bit with a tiny bit of rain, we were lucky to escape from worse. Pratt was where we stopped for my next sleep break – just shy of the half way mark in the race (1494 miles).

Walsh, CO: Chris O’Keefe
Ulysses, KS: Erin Beresini and Jimmy Wills
Montezuma, KS: Gary Aochi
Greensburg, KS: Katie Grant
Pratt, KS: Sheila Romane

First day in Kansas

Sonya tending to crew duties

Mike tending to crew duties

Lindsay getting my breakfast ready

Jeff taking a nap

Leaving Pratt in the morning I was in another bit of a funk. It was already humid, and I just felt sticky and icky having spent my sleep break in the errand vehicle in a tractor shop parking lot! I was near tears when Lindsay came over and just gave me a hug – I’ve never been a particularly touchy/feely person, but boy oh boy did that hug really help at that moment! If not before, I’m now a believer in the power of the hug! I thought I’d recomposed myself, but then as I got on my bike and started to ride I noticed that my power seemed high but my speed seemed low. We were in Kansas, so while there are some rollers, there aren’t any real “hills”, and while it looked like there was maybe a tiny uphill gradient, it wasn’t significant. It was windy already, but seemed to mostly be a cross wind, not a head wind. I asked the follow vehicle, and they said I was on a bit of a climb, and to not worry about it. Forty minutes later though I still felt like I was not making forward progress, so I got a bit suspicious. I reached down and released the quick release on my front brake, and suddenly my speed shot from 10mph to 18mph! Sh*t!!! In my sleep deprived, already grumpy state, I got even grumpier, especially as I calculated how many miles of my lead I’d just lost (I was still leading the race at this point). After realizing that I was actually able to go at more than 10mph, I decided that it would be worthwhile to get on the TT bike again, so we did. Unfortunately though the wind was picking up much earlier than it had the previous day, and it was stronger and gustier. After battling a section where I was nearly blown into the oncoming lane of traffic, I switched back to the road bike.

It was on the run in to Maize that I got an unexpected call from Carolyn at Bicycle Brüstop. Bicycle Brüstop is one of my sponsors, and they helped me out with regard to getting me onto the Liv Avail bike and helping me out with the many equipment needs that I had for RAAM. Carolyn wanted to do something nice for the crew, so she was calling to see about ordering sandwiches for the crew from a deli in Maize – how nice was that! She totally wasn’t expecting me to answer my own phone though, so that took her by surprise! Chatting with Carolyn was a welcome distraction from the wind though, so I’m really glad she called!

Maize, KS: Tracey McQuair (in memory of Haley)
El Dorado, KS: Pamela Goodley, Anna Luo

Chicken meets cow in El Dorado, Kansas

Why did the chicken cross the road?

The theme of this 2nd day in Kansas continued to be wind… Leaving El Dorado in particular the wind seemed to pick up even more. I believe it was a 25-30mph sustained cross wind with gusts that were significantly higher. I was having a difficult time keeping the bike upright, and several of the gusts swung me out close to the center line of the lane. Again, eating and drinking on the bike became pretty much impossible, so I had to take quick breaks to get in food and fluids. At least the entertainment was good though! Ingrid was dressed up in the chicken costume again, and was doing all kinds of antics on the side of the road. Perhaps my favorite was when she was holding onto a sign post pretending like she was being blown away! This was also the stretch of road where I first remember seeing turtles! I’d remembered them in Missouri in 2012, but hadn’t remembered seeing them in Kansas, but we saw a lot of (unfortunately) smashed turtles on the road between El Dorado and Yates Center. My crew did rescue at least one turtle though – hopefully the little fella survived and didn’t head back out onto the highway!

Yates Center, KS: Dave Verrecchia and Vanderkitten

One of the many turtles we saw - this one was still alive!

As the evening approached, thankfully the wind started to die down. We passed through Yates Center and then headed for Ft Scott where we intended to take my next sleep break. As darkness enveloped me, the cumulative fatigue and sleep deprivation coupled with probably having fallen a bit behind on calories and fluid due to the wind caught up to me, and I experienced my first serious mental “disconnect” of the race. In 2012 I had first experienced this going into Trinidad, Colorado, so we had managed to delay the onset of this by 2 days this year. Basically my brain shuts off at a conscious level, and I’m kind of a zombie out there – I’m not really aware of what I’m doing, and I’m not really capable of rational thought – but I am able to respond to verbal instructions. It’s hard to explain, as I’m “there”, but I’m “not there”. This would probably freak a lot of folks out, but I was amazed at how easily my crew seemed to adapt to this new challenge, and how amazingly well they handled it! Lindsay and Sonya took turns on the Cardo, and they talked me through this disconnect as if they were old pros at this kind of thing! At one point I kind of snapped out of it, so in doing so I recognized that it was happening (I even told them “I’m back”), but then I slipped back into it. Things didn’t get as bad as they got in 2012 going into Greensburg, Kansas when I actually have huge chunks of missing time – at least this time I was somewhat aware of what was happening, and only have a few smaller chunks of time that I think I lost completely – but I was just not in a “normal” conscious state.

At some point on this stretch of road there were some locals out on the side of the road, and one of them started running along beside me – and he was running FAST! I had to really sprint pretty hard to drop him. I think it was this incident that lead Lindsay and Sonya to start instructing me to do little sprint sessions (similar to what Doug had done in 2012). I remember doing them, and I remember being rather amazed at what I was able to do – both power wise and cadence wise (I had some 30s intervals where I was averaging well over 300w and upper nineties cadence wise out of the saddle). Jeff, Lindsay, and Sonya were also apparently impressed with what they saw, and I remember overhearing them talk amongst themselves as to how amazed they were at what they were witnessing – so even though I wasn’t really fully conscious, at some primal level I took it to heart and it served to make me try even harder, and to give it my all!

Ft Scott, KS: Scott Morgan, Susan Wollen

Eventually we made it to Ft Scott where I took my next sleep break. In the morning I was surprised to hear that Janice had caught up to me – last I remember checking (Yates Center) she had been about 3hrs behind me, so I was surprised that she had made all that time up in one night. I knew that she was sleeping less than I was, so I’d expected her to eventually catch up and pass me, but it seemed to happen very suddenly after several days of status quo. I guess she was finally starting to recover from her asthma incident in Colorado. I left Ft Scott, and ended up passing Janice while she was stopped on the side of the road, so I ended up in front again. We quickly left Kansas behind and entered Missouri – the crew all celebrated wildly!

The rolling hills of Missouri didn’t feel as bad as I’d remembered them in 2012, and we moved right along. At one point the Danish rider Morten Kjaersgaard came up beside me and presented me with some daisies that he’d found on the side of the ride – how sweet was that! We rode together and chatted for several minutes. Morten had also raced RAAM in 2012, but had DNFd much earlier in the race (near Durango I believe), so it was great to see that he was still riding strong in Missouri! Eventually he dropped back, but I kept leap frogging his crew, and they were all very supportive and did some dances and whatnot on the side of the road for me, so that was pretty fun to see!

Weaubleau, MO: Karen Thompson, Lisa Hern

Riding with Morten who gave me daisies!

In Weaubleau at the next time station I stopped quickly for a bathroom break and to change shorts, and while I was stopped Janice pulled into the time station as well. I headed out from the time station just in front of her, but this caused some confusion, as when my follow vehicle came to catch up to me and follow me, they mistakenly started following Janice! We were both wearing the same color kit, and Janice had a red camelbak on just like what I’d been wearing on previous days. I was confused when my crew was talking to me asking about the rider in front of me given that there was no rider in front of me! Then they got confused when Janice’s crew cut in front of them to follow Janice. Finally they figured out they had the wrong rider and quickly corrected things and moved forward to follow me. I gave Dex a hard time about it though saying that he’d been staring at my butt for several days now, so I was offended that he mistook someone else’s butt as mine! ;)

On this stretch of road Janice caught up to me and we rode together briefly and chatted a bit. She was riding faster on the uphills, and then I was going faster on the downhills (gravity is my friend on downhills – not so much on uphills!). She eventually dropped back a bit, and I proceeded to ride in front through to the next time station in Camdenton. It was also along this section of road that we were finally given a new Tractalis GPS tracking unit by the head RAAM race official, so finally we were back online with regard to live tracking – it had only taken 1400 miles of stealth mode to make it happen unfortunately. Seana Hogan once again caught up to us just before Camdenton and did another on the bike interview.

Weaubleau time station

Still in front - barely!

Camdenton was a very special time station for me. In 2012 it was in Camdenton that I met 11 year old Lauryn, and we’d struck up a conversation and inspired each other. I’d stayed in touch with Lauryn and her family after RAAM, and in fact had met up with her later in 2012 when she was in California for her uncle’s wedding, so I was really looking forward to seeing her again in Camdenton! I’d told my crew from the start that regardless of what was going on in the race at the time, we were going to stop in Camdenton and visit with Lauryn! I’d brought along a Vanderkiten T-shirt for her, which I presented to her when we arrived at the time station. Then we got to do something really special – Lauryn joined my crew for the next several hours and rode in the follow vehicle in the navigator’s position. She wore the Cardo communication system and we were able to chat, which was really special for both of us. She was looking up jokes on her phone and sharing them with me, and then she was going through my playlists and picking music to play for me. Of course she did make me feel old though when she came across some Black Eyed Peas music and excitedly proclaimed that it was “throw back” music! ;) I guess she can be excused since she’s only 13 after all!! Lauryn’s mom came and picked her up just outside of Jefferson City, but it was so amazing to be able to have her be a part of our journey, and I hope it was as special for her as it was for me!

Camdenton, MO: La Dolce Velo
Jefferson City, MO: Chainspirations (Paula MacMann)

Pulling into the Camdenton time station

In Camdenton

In Camdeonton with Lauryn, Lanceton, and Kim

Presenting Lauryn with a Vanderkitten T-Shirt

Lauryn in her new T-Shirt

Two Vanderkittens!

Leaving Jefferson City and crossing the Missouri River

Riding through the night towards Washington, MO I got to chat to several people. First I chatted with Tracey when she called me (she was the physical therapist on my 2012 RAAM crew). Then I chatted with Cindi Staiger (a fellow RAAM finisher) when she called. Then I was interviewed by Seana Hogan again. Then I chatted with my brother, Carson, and my mom when they called. I joked with my crew that I needed one of those number dispensers I was in such high demand! My brother told me about some old photos that he’d just found, and then he texted them to me. One was of him on a bike with me standing behind him when we were kids, and the other was of my Dad riding that same bike in the yard of our farm. Seeing the picture of my Dad brought tears to my eyes, as I’d not remembered him ever riding a bike, so I suddenly felt closer to him.

Washington, MO: Debby Vandersande

My youngest brother Carson and I

My Dad

During my stop in Camdenton, Janice had also pulled into the time station, and then she had left in front of me, but apparently we caught and passed her again later when she was stopped, as I had arrived in Jefferson City just before her. We bounced back and forth a few more times that evening as one or the other of us was stopped, but she had finally pulled ahead for good when I stopped for my sleep break in Washington, Missouri. It was an honor to lead the race for as long as I did (almost 4 days), and something that I had never expected would happen, but my primary goal this year was not to “race” – rather it was to “do it right”, and to have a positive experience. So I didn’t allow myself to get sucked into changing my strategy to try and race Janice. She’s a very talented and strong rider, so to even be able to hold her pace for that day while riding was pretty cool, but ultimately she was sleeping less than I was, and I wasn’t willing to go down the path of increasing my sleep deprivation and jeopardize the goals that I’d come to RAAM with this year. I do liken RAAM to Russian Roulette in a sense – it’s a risky event, and it only takes one split second of falling asleep in the wrong place at the wrong time for things to end horribly, or even permanently, so I stuck to my sleep schedule of getting 2.5+ hours of sleep each night.

After a sleep break in Washington, we hit the road towards the Mississippi river. It was on this stretch of road that the ‘Merica game was born! Lindsay, my Canadian crew member, was noting that there was an abundance of flags – much more so than any other country that she’d visited – so she was teasing her American crew mates about it by pointing them out and proclaiming “‘Merica!” when she saw them. Pretty soon this turned into a friendly competition between rider and crew to see who could spot the most flags, and I must say that this was an extremely effective way to keep me awake, alert, and engaged! I was scanning the horizon like a hawk (or bald eagle? that’s more ‘Merican, right!), and I would bang out the ‘Mericas before the crew behind me even had a chance! It became a fun theme to the remaining third of our journey, and I’ll never be able to look at an American flag again without thinking ‘Merica! Interestingly, in 2012 it was very close to the same point in the race that the red truck spotting game was born, so there must be something about Washington, Missouri that brings out counting games!

Countless ‘Mericas later, we pulled into the Mississippi River time station, two thirds of the way through the race. Here I had 2 neat encounters. One was with a little boy and his dad – at first I thought they just happened to be at the gas station, but we found out later that they’d been following the race and had come to see us go through. The little boy was really shy, but we did eventually get a photo with his dad and me and the bike. The 2nd encounter was with a local reporter. She just happened to be there, and hadn’t known that there was a race going on, but she did a quick interview and snapped my picture with the Clark Bridge over the Mississippi in the background. Meeting locals along the route is one of the most rewarding and unique aspects of RAAM!

Mississippi River: Carolyn Lehman, Bill and Marion Lytle

At the Mississippi River

As we crossed the Mississippi and headed into Illinois, I felt like the humidity just shot through the roof, and I became very miserable very quickly. Add to it the fact that it was mid day and there was pretty heavy traffic on the road as we headed out of Alton and towards Greenville, and I was pretty miserable. My ‘Merica crew got a smile out of me though when they passed me in the other van and I saw that they’d gotten some ‘Merica bling – glasses and hats or something, which made me smile! We passed through Greenville, but I was getting more and more sleepy. After Greenville I was drifting off to sleep, so I stopped for my first nap of the race. Just getting out of the heat and closing my eyes for 20min or so helped, but then it was back into the oppressive humidity. We continued on through Effingham and then on to Sullivan, Indiana before I took my next sleep break.

Greenville, IL: Chuck Gray
Effingham, IL: Betty Buhr, Carol Ashburner
Sullivan, IN: Matt Malone

Heading towards Effingham, Illinois

Roadside bike in Illinois

Heading towards Bloomington I had my scariest moment in the race up to this point. The follow vehicle had pulled off to let some traffic by, so I was riding without them behind me. All of a sudden I woke up a foot or two from the center line with oncoming traffic in the other lane. This really scared me, and as soon as the follow vehicle caught back up to me I told them what happened and we stopped so that I could take a 15min nap. It was during my nap that the 8 person team with Pippa Middleton (sister of Kate Middleton – wife of the heir to the British throne) passed us. Pippa garnered a lot of media attention during and after the race – hopefully some of which will positively impact the race in the future by raising awareness of it.

The nap helped with the sleepiness, but the heat and humidity were already starting to take a toll on me, and it was still early in the morning. Heading into Bloomington I chatted with my brother, Peter, on the phone, then in Bloomington we saw Jill Marks who was crewing for a team that her husband was riding on (I’d met her at the 508 last year). Heading out of Bloomington I chatted with Janet Christiansen on the phone for a few minutes, which helped keep me alert. Then I called and chatted with my coach a bit later when I was once again having a hard time keeping my eyes open. Talking to folks helps a lot when I’m battling sleepiness.

Bloomington, IN: Jerry Cottingham
Greensburg, IN: In memory of Lee “Fuzzy” Mitchell

As we approached Batesville, IN I learned that there was a very large thunderstorm in the area, so Mike was working to figure out what our strategy should be. We had crew already in a hotel sleeping in Batesville, so we stopped there and I went down for an early sleep break (it was only about 4pm local time I believe). This allowed us to miss the storm, plus the next day had a similar forecast in terms of a late afternoon storm, so our plan was to stick to the late afternoon sleep break through the next day as well.

As we left Batesville and headed towards Oxford in the fog/mist in the evening light, I was reminded of how pretty this area was in 2012 as well. This time it was evening instead of early morning though, so we were treated to a display by the fireflies! I’d been so “out of it” by this point in 2012 that I don’t actually remember seeing the fireflies. They were everywhere the last couple of days of the race, and it truly is pretty amazing to see them, so I’m glad that I was with it enough to appreciate them this year!

Storm clouds in Batesville, Indiana

Leaving Batesville, Indiana

We passed through Oxford, OH late at night, but there were still some exuberant RAAM fans out to cheer us on! Ohio has some hard core RAAM fans – both the Oxford and Blanchester time stations are staffed around the clock, the course is marked with lots of signs (which is very reassuring to whomever is navigating, as it provides reassurance that you’re still on course), and there’s the Ohio RAAM Show hosted by Lee Kreider that does weekly (or thereabouts) interviews with various folks involved with RAAM. We headed out of Oxford and continued on into the night towards Blanchester, during which time the crew read me a lot of the comments that had been flowing in from Facebook. It was interesting that they did this here, as in 2012 it was this same stretch of road that Tracey had done the same. About an hour out from Blanchester the rain arrived, but I opted to keep going as I wanted to get to the time station before taking my next nap. We pulled into Blanchester at 4am, but were still greeted by some fans, including Lee Kreider.

Oxford, OH: Lee Kreider, Alison Ashburner
Blanchester, OH: Lori Cherry

After my nap I headed out again, but almost immediately it started raining on us again, and a pretty heavy rain. I was still half asleep, and we hadn’t put my shoe covers on, or fender on my bike, so we stopped to do that. Once I got going I was really struggling though. The rain splashing on my face was making me close my eyes, and then they wanted to stay shut due to sleepiness. We stopped at a gas station and I tried to compose myself. I knew I needed to suck it up and get moving, but I was in a funk. Eventually I got moving again, but it was slow going. We were approaching the 10 day mark, which was when things started to go downhill fast in 2012, and that was certainly in the back of my mind.

Later that morning I had my first off-roading experience – I dozed off and rode off the road. This was really frustrating and scary for me, so I stopped for a nap. A while after my nap I got some company on the bike – Cassie Schumacher joined me for a while and we chatted. She was a fellow competitor in 2012. She’d DNFd that year, but she’d come back and finished in 2013. It was nice to have a bit of company, and it woke me up for a bit. Heading into Chillicothe though my eyes were once again closing against my will. After I started drifting towards oncoming traffic or the ditch a few times, Tam, Ingrid, and Mike got the hang of noticing when I was starting to drift, and would get on the Cardo and PA and warn me. They did a great job of trying to keep me safe out there. We continued past Chillicothe towards Athens, and I couldn’t help but think back to 2012 and how I’d had some of my meltdowns on this stretch of road. This year that was not to be the case though, and we continued without incident.

Chillicothe, OH: Tina Waitzman
Athens, OH: Dana Meske, Deanne Copeland

We arrived in Athens just after 4pm in the afternoon, and I took my next sleep break. This was perfect timing, as a large thunderstorm swept through the area just after I got off my bike. After my sleep break we headed out of Athens, and passed the spot where I’d staged my “sit in” in 2012 – the point where I’d gotten off of my bike and refused to continue until fellow racer Janet Christiansen had happened along and stopped and talked to me. It felt good to slay another dragon and continue past this point without incident. Then it was on to the next dragon – the point just outside of West Virginia where I’d fallen asleep and crashed into the concrete barrier. I was on the look out for that concrete barrier as we passed by this year, and I rode past it strongly and defyingly!

Just like that we were in West Virginia, and the relentless up and down and up and down and up and down began. I’d done this stretch in the day time last time, but it was the middle of the night this time. There was fog and mist out there at the tops of the hills that added to the ambience of feeling like you were in the middle of nowhere and not making much progress. We took one nap during the night, and then another just after dawn. I was once again battling the sleep monster, and I was getting grumpy too.

West Union, WV: Rachel Grossman
Grafton, WV: Amy Rubin

We continued through West Union and on into Grafton. The temperature was cooler, as it was threatening rain, but the humidity was still high, so it still felt sticky out. When the rain did finally come just outside of Grafton, it was almost refreshing. There were 2 biggish climbs outside of Grafton, and it rained on me as I was climbing the first. The climbs were probably 6-8%, so they were certainly challenging, but I got into a groove and actually felt pretty decent on them with my high energy playlist blaring behind me. In between the climbs I had a sleepy period though, and at one point I crossed the yellow line. My crew suggested it was time for a nap, but I really wanted to get to the next climb and get it over with before stopping and napping, especially since I was already soaking wet and it was still raining. So this goal focused me and kept me alert as I continued on towards and then up and over the next climb.

Roadside scene in West Virginia

Riding in West Virginia

What was about to transpire was my one semi-major “breakdown” of the race. The rain seemed to have stopped, so when I stopped to use the bathroom I changed into dry clothes. A little while after this I got a blowout on my rear tire (and we’re talking full on gunshot volume blowout!). We swapped wheels quickly, and were back on the road, but I found myself drifting off to sleep, so I decided it was time to cash in on that nap that I’d declined earlier. I got on the Cardo and told my crew that I needed a nap at the next opportunity. Now somehow I’d gotten it in my head that I was going to take my naps in the errand vehicle this day (even though I’d been taking them in the follow vehicle previous days) – I’m not sure if someone had told me this, or whether my exhausted brain had come to this conclusion based on the fact that my early morning nap had happened in the errand vehicle. Regardless, it wasn’t the case – I wasn’t supposed to nap in the errand van. When I saw the errand vehicle pulled over on the side of the road though, I thought “great – there’s my nap”, so I stopped, got off my bike, hopped in the van, and proceeded to fall asleep almost instantly. Little did I know that the errand vehicle was stopped there because the follow vehicle had requested some help from them with regard to changing the tire on my latest blowout (I had a lot of problems with blowouts the last couple of days of the race), and they were not prepared for me to be taking a nap (they weren’t really in a good spot to be pulled off the road for an extended period of time). So when Mike woke me up and told me that I couldn’t take my nap in the vehicle, I became really angry. I stormed out of the vehicle, got back on my bike, and rode away very angry.

Of course wouldn’t you know it, the skies decided to open up right at this time, and I found myself in the most torrential downpour that I was in all race…. This didn’t serve to ease my mood – I was livid that I’d been “kicked out of” my nap and into this downpour – after all, my nap timing had been perfect if only I’d been allowed to take it! The dry clothes that I’d put on probably less than an hour earlier became absolutely and completely drenched. I could barely see the road it was raining so hard, and some parts of the road were flooded. At least my anger had woken me up though! Apparently my Cardo microphone was malfunctioning, so while I could hear my crew, they could not hear me. They had not heard my request for a nap, and they weren’t able to hear anything I said now (perhaps a good things, as I’m guessing I wasn’t saying anything very nice!). They told me to ride further to the right, but I was scared to ride too far right because I’d got in my head that they were doing better at warning me when I drifted left than when I drifted right, so I was compensating for this perception by riding further left – but this only scared my crew further (I was still riding on the shoulder, but hugging the white line rather than moving further to the right). Eventually even my anger couldn’t keep me awake, and I started to drift off again, so I facilitated my own nap – the next time I saw a gas station I quickly pulled in, got off my bike, proceeded to lay down on the pavement under the awning to the store, set my watch timer for 15min, and went to sleep! It may not have been the most comfortable nap that I’d had (I woke up cramping at one point), but it was still a nap.

When I woke and got up, various crew came over to talk to me. I was still angry though, and I wouldn’t listen to them. I still felt betrayed over having not been allowed to take my nap earlier, so I proceeded to demand my credit card and proclaimed that I was going to self support the rest of the race (another 265 miles!). I then set about trying to open the route book on my phone. Eventually it was the combination of Kati, Mike, and Tam who settled me down and helped me to see what had happened – we figured out that my Cardo wasn’t working and that this had all been one big miscommunication (or non-communication I guess). I suggested that we get my backup helmet out since it had a dry Cardo mount and microphone on it, and sure enough it worked just fine.

I got back on the bike, this time with Mike, Tam, and Ingrid in the follow vehicle (presumably Dex, Joni, and Kati needed a “break” from me at that point – and me from them – a cooling off period so to speak). Soon enough I started to feel pretty stupid and bad about my little tantrum, but I also recognized that this was the result of extreme sleep deprivation – not that it fully excused it, but it helped explain it. This was the difference between 2012 and 2014 – in 2012 when these moments happened I just kept digging in my heels harder and harder, not recognizing what was happening to me, whereas this year I was able to recognize that I was out of control and reel myself back in. I still wish that this moment hadn’t happened at all, but I was able to put it behind us, get back on the bike, and apologize to my crew.

McHenry, MD: Ingrid Hillhouse

First or many times entering Maryland!

Riding in the wet in West Virginia or Maryland

Riding in West Virginia or Maryland in the fog

Riding in West Virginia or Maryland after the rain

We proceeded on towards Cumberland, but the section between McHenry and Cumberland seemed harder than the old route (this was the first time RAAM had come through McHenry). It seemed to be climb after climb, and relatively steep climbing at that! As the sun was going down Cindi Staiger called me again, and it was good to chat with her. After the sun set there was a long descent into Cumberland, but I was really struggling to stay awake. We were planning to take another nap at the Cumberland time station, but I started to doubt whether we could make it that far. I had several scary moments where I veered towards the center line after dozing off. We proceeded to the time station though where I finally got my nap.

Cumberland, MD: Terri Boykins

The next section to Hancock is the hardest section of the race with regard to feet climbed per mile. There are 5 big climbs over the 38 mile section, some of which are sustained 8% gradients – not particularly steep when you’re fresh, but certainly challenging when you’ve already got 2800 miles on your legs, are sleep deprived, and it’s the middle of the night! I knew I was going to get a proper sleep break in Hancock, so I tried to use this to motivate myself to get there as expediently as possible. The first several climbs came and went without difficulty, but then we hit the final climb. I was getting really sleepy again, plus this was the steepest climb. I discovered on RAAM this year that I have trouble with my balance on the steeper climbs when doing them at night – I’d first noticed it on Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado, how off balance I felt, and how I almost went down a few times, and now I was noticing it here in Maryland as well. I guess it is because I didn’t have the visual feedback to keep me oriented given how slowly I was climbing. I’d stormed up this climb with a vengence in 2012 in the daylight (well maybe “stormed” is an overstatement, but comparatively speaking I’d not struggled too much), but I was weaving up it like a drunk this year! In fact I had to unclip a couple of times because I lost my balance and thought I was going to fall over. Due to the steepness, it made it hard to get going again too, so I did end up walking a couple of short sections, something that I’d not done in 2012. I felt embarrassed, but the important thing was to keep making forward progress. I believe it was also on this final climb that I managed to drift off and then ride off the road again – the 2nd (and thankfully last) time this happened (the 1st was in Ohio). Finally we got to the top of the climb – yay! But this meant a descent, and I was struggling to keep my eyes open. I had to stop several times on the descent and regain my composure as I kept drifting off and swerving violently across the road. Such a difference from 2012 when I’d bombed down this descent!

Hancock, MD: Barbara MacRae (in honor of Holmes F. Crouch)

In Hancock we took our last sleep break of the race. We were a mere 180 miles from the finish – so close, yet so far! Sunday morning we hit the road one last time and soon entered Pennsylvania. The non-follow crew leap frogged us for a while and provided antics on the side of the road as Sonya was dressed up in a red body suit and would run along beside me. This is a very picturesque part of the course, so I tried to soak it in and enjoy it. As the day progressed though, I became sleepy once more. This was where I had my most vivid hallucination – I thought I saw Mike on the side of the road doing a handoff, when in fact he was in the follow vehicle behind me! It was so vivid that I was slowing down and everything to take the handoff, then I realized that he wasn’t there. As we approached Rouzerville, my crew mentioned that there was someone – John – at the time station who wanted to ride out of town with me. It turned out that he was the nephew of a guy I’d ridden a couple of double century rides with in California. I was amazed how he’d found this out given that I hadn’t seen his uncle Roy in several years! (Apparently John had been riding with other RAAM riders and had posted it on Strava, and his uncle had seen it and had told him that I was racing and that he knew me.) I of course agreed eagerly to accept his company on the climb! It was really nice to be able to ride with someone for a while and chat with them. We parted ways at the top of the climb, and I thanked him for taking the time to be out there and ride with me.

Rouzerville, PA: Robert Brunner, Kati Bak

Riding in Pennsylvania

Riding with John out of Rouzerville, PA

Climbing out of Rouzerville with John

Covered Bridge in Pennsylvania

Next up was a section of the race I was really looking forward to seeing in the daylight – Gettysburg. We’d passed through here during the night in 2012, so I really wanted to see it in daylight. It was a beautiful sunny day, and even though I’m not American, riding through Gettysburg was a special moment of the race.

Riding through Gettysburg

Riding through Gettysburg

Hanover, PA: Stacy Washington

The last part of the course seemed to drag on forever, but I was kept entertained by “Safety Chicken” on the side of the road – Ingrid was back to her antics in the chicken suit!! At one point she was trying to hitchhike, and had a cardboard sign that read “Annapolis” – this made me burst out laughing! Then a while later we came upon a large, metal rooster statue, which made all of us laugh hysterically, because there Ingrid was jumping up and down under the rooster in her chicken costume, finally having found a mate!

Mt Airy, MD: Brian and Kris Moriarty

Last day of riding!

This kid asked to have his picture taken with Ingrid - aka Safety Chicken!

Hitchhiking Safety Chicken!

Laughing at Safety Chicken!

Hitchhiking Chicken

Safety Chicken found a rooster!

The last 50 miles of the race seemed to be a series of relentless little climbs. I kept joking with my crew about this, as the route book had claimed that the climbing was done quite some time ago, so I joked about how I better slow down on these “downhills” as I inched my way up another climb! This was the section of road that in 2012 I was so out of it that I thought I was dreaming, and I don’t remember much about the road. This time I’m happy to report that I was fully functional mentally – or at least as much as is “fully functional” at the completion of riding your bike 3000 miles!! Since we were coming through late on a Sunday night, the traffic was also MUCH better than what it had been during Monday morning rush hour traffic in 2012!

Odenton, MD: Jamie Hull
Annapolis, MD: Joan Marshall, Margaret Lum
Finish, City Dock, Annapolis, MD: Dawn and Marty Chuck, Diana Garbarino

Eventually we reached the final time station, and our official escort to the finish line. When we got to the finish area I waited for all of my crew to gather, as I wanted them to accompany me down the finishing chute to signify that this had been a team effort. We then all embraced in a big group hug, which was so very satisfying for me! We’d made it – we’d traveled 3020 miles in 12 days, 8 hours, and 27 minutes, and we were still all friends! Mission accomplished, goal achieved!

Coming down the finishing chute with my crew

Group hug at the finish line

Post RAAM pushups!

Post race interview with George Thomas

With my crew on the finish stage

Of course then there was all the aftermath – the post race pushups (11, one more than I’d done in 2012), pictures, an interview with George Thomas, and receiving my finisher’s medal. Everything just felt so much better than it had in 2012 – 2012 had been gutted out down to the wire, and had been a battle of survival and I’d arrived at the finish line dazed and confused. 2014 was a concerted team effort – and while things didn’t always go perfectly, we stayed on track and continued to work as a team, and had arrived at the finish tired, but in good spirits. RAAM was still brutally tough, but things remained in control, and rather than feeling “lost” at the finish, I felt “found”, and thus I had come full circle as I set out to do.

If 2012 was a year to “survive”, 2014 was a year to “thrive”! And that would not have been possible without my AMAZING crew! Like I mentioned at the start of this report – they came together, a group of individuals from across the continent, most of whom had never met each other (or me) before, and they focused all of their energy on helping me pedal my bike across this nation in just over 12 days! Their selflessness and teamwork was a sight to behold, and I’m humbled and deeply grateful to each and every one of them! So THANK YOU (in alphabetical order) Dex, Ingrid, Jeff, Joni, Kati, Lindsay, Mike, Sonya, and Tam! You are ALL incredible individuals, and I’m honored to now call you friends. We’ll always share the bond of RAAM, and I hope the experience was even a tenth as rewarding to you as it was to me!

With my crew the day after the race

Special thanks to my husband and crew chief Mike. For putting up with my obsession with RAAM. For accepting that many weekends he barely saw me because I was on my bike all weekend. For allowing me to buy all the new bike “toys” that I did for RAAM. For rescuing me when I had mechanical issues or physical issues that forced me to abandon rides. For sharing in this 2014 RAAM journey – together we did it!

Thanks also to my coach – Thomas Chapple. I read his book “Base Building for Cyclists” in early 2013, then hired him as a coach, and haven’t looked back since! If you want to change your cycling for the better, read his book, and then consider hiring him as a coach. He totally changed the way that I ride, and he was instrumental in my success at RAAM this year!

Thanks to everyone who donated to the Canary Foundation. It means a lot to me to be able to raise money for such a good cause in association with doing a race like RAAM. Including company matches, I was able to raise over $6,000 for the Canary Foundation – money that will go towards research for early cancer detection. It’s not too late to donate – visit my website for more details: http://joandeitchman.com/cause.php

Thanks to Lane Parker, who posted countless updates on my Facebook athlete page, including lots of interesting trivia and history about the places we were passing through. It was great to have someone outside of the race posting updates so that when we didn’t have data coverage or my crew were simply too tired or otherwise occupied to post updates, fans following along online got updates.

Thanks also to my sponsors!

Bicycle Brüstop provided so much assistance with my bikes and equipment, investing countless hours working on my bikes and answering my questions. If you’re anywhere near Novato, CA, stop in and say hello and enjoy a beer or other beverage while checking out their great bike shop and friendly and knowledgable staff!

Thanks to Liv Cycling for being a brand committed to women’s cycling needs and recognizing that women are NOT small men! I absolutely love my Liv bikes (the Liv Avail Advanced SL road bikes) – they are highly performant while also being super comfortable, so check out their line of products if you are a female cyclist!

Revolutions in Fitness continued to support me by providing exceptional bike fits on all of my bikes as well as amazing physical therapy services. Definitely check them out for your bike fit and PT needs!

SpiderTech provided many of the pre-cut tape kits that I used extensively during RAAM and other races. I used the pre-cut knee kits during all of RAAM, as well as the lower back, neck, postural, wrist, and elbow kits. If you’re having any nagging issues while being active, definitely check out their products!

David Ledesma provided sports massage to me, which aided in my recovery during my training and racing. He’s worked with endurance athletes for decades, so he knows what we put ourselves through and how to help us.

Thanks also to Vanderkitten for supporting and promoting women’s cycling – being part of the Vanderkitten VIP program has provided daily inspiration as I’ve followed the athletic endeavors of VIPs around the globe!

So the next logical question is “what’s next?”. Mike and I are doing a 3 week PAC Tour through the Rockies in September (Ridge of the Rockies), then the Silver State 508 in October (on a 4x team). Then I had originally planned to retire from ultra cycling. But RAAM is a “disease” – it gets in your blood, and as much as you hate it at times when you’re out there battling the elements and yourself, when you cross that finish line that hate seems to evaporate so quickly. I got a taste of what “racing” RAAM would be like this year. I’ve never really “raced” an ultra before – sure, I’ve done my best, but it has always been about personal accomplishment and pushing my limits. I’ve never focused on the race against other racers – just the race against myself and the elements. I’ve changed so much in my cycling the past year and a half, and I saw the fruits of that labor during RAAM when I surprised everyone, most of all myself, and was in 2nd or 1st place for most of the race in what was considered to be a pretty competitive women’s field going into the race. Now that I’ve had a taste of that competition, and seen that perhaps I could have a shot at doing well competitively speaking if I focused on that, there’s a bit of a tug to return one more time and find out. Perhaps take that progression from survive (2012), to thrive (2014), to STRIVE (2015)! I haven’t made any firm decision either way yet, but rest assured that it’s a notion that’s rumbling around in the back of my mind – even as I sit here unable to properly ride my bike yet because of the effects of a pressure ulcer that I developed somewhere in Kansas and had to ride on for another 1600+ miles! Part of me wants to beat myself over the head with a baseball bat for even considering going back, but part of me is swept up in the allure of living the RAAM dream one more time with a new goal. 2011′s RAW was going to be my “last” race, then 2012′s RAAM, then 2014′s RAAM….. Perhaps a written contract will need to be written up should I decide to make 2015 the “last” RAAM! Anyway, time will tell whether I toe the start line of another RAAM, but in the meantime, 2014 was an incredible experience, and if I never return to RAAM then I couldn’t be happier with how things turned out!

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2013 Hoodoo 500 Race Report


Where to begin. In the 15 months since I finished RAAM, a lot has happened, and in a way that likely only other RAAM riders can understand, I’ve struggled with “what’s next”. RAAM was an incredible journey – incredibly difficult, somewhat less “satisfying” than I’d expected in some regards, but so incredibly special and unforgettable in other ways that I hadn’t expected either. I just have to think back to some of the many incredible experiences such as meeting 11 year old Lauryn in Camdenton, Missouri to make me want to leap off my chair and go sign up again. But there are other times that I’m tempted to steer clear of RAAM like it was the plague when I remember the incredible physical pain and suffering that I endured, the nightmarish hell of losing my mental faculties and struggling to stay awake, and the act of slowly being mentally and emotionally torn down, layer by layer, until all that was left was an animal, fighting for survival, lashing out at those around me. I saw parts of myself that frankly scared me. I came face to face with my own weaknesses and inner demons in a way that I’d never experienced before. And therein lies the dilemma – I do feel that I learned so much from RAAM that I should be able to go back and do much better (in fact I feel that I owe it to myself and my crew to do so – to redeem myself), but I also feel that having already finished it once, I may not have that undying motivation to tough it out again – I might succumb to my own weakness, especially now that I’m more familiar with it and have come face to face with it. Also, I tend to have difficultly going back and doing the same events over and over again – for me part of the draw of an event is conquering something new.

Then there’s been the uncertainty about whether physically I could even do it again – I’ve struggled since RAAM to find my endurance again – I think that I crossed that line into overtraining after RAAM, and continued to dig myself into a deeper and deeper hole. I was no longer enjoying riding – I’d go out and almost immediately feel fatigued and weary – I’d lost my spark, my motivation – riding was becoming a chore rather than a passion. I decided to start focusing on some other activities – take a down year from cycling. I started hiking more, and playing volleyball again for the first time in 10 years. Mike and I were planning some big mountaineering trips – Mt Shasta, Mt Whitney, Mont Blanc. Then in February I tore my calf muscle while playing volleyball and all that came to a crashing halt. I was on crutches for a couple weeks, and could barely walk for over a month. The irony in it all was that the one activity that I could do without aggravating the injury too much was cycling… So my year of focusing on stuff other than the bike suddenly changed back to a year of focusing on cycling.

One of my RAAM crew members, Alan, loaned me a book (and a power meter) just before I got injured. The book was “Base Building for Cyclists” by Thomas Chapple. I read it cover to cover while I was laid up unable to walk due to my injury. Then I found out that Thomas was local, and he coached cyclists, and a cycling acquaintance put me in touch with him. He said he was interested in coaching a RAAM athlete, and I got a good sense about his coaching philosophy and strategy from reading his book, so I decided to give it a whirl and see if he could get me back on track and out of the funk that I was in. Looking at the calendar I earmarked Hoodoo 500 in September as a litmus test to evaluate whether I was out of the funk and whether I did in fact want to go back to RAAM.

In the months that followed, I drastically changed the way that I rode. I learned to ride with a power meter and try to ride at a consistent power output rather than varying widely based on terrain. I learned how to hold back on the hills and not overextend myself, and how to push a little harder on the flats and downhills rather than just coast along. I also dramatically changed my pedaling style by increasing my cadence quite significantly, because riding at a higher cadence allows you to generate more power with less force, which is key for endurance events where you want to recruit slow twitch muscles rather than fast twitch muscles (which yes, sounds a bit confusing when you realize that a faster cadence uses more slow twitch muscles and a slower cadence uses more fast twitch muscles if you’re generating the same power). Anyway, I basically started from scratch all over again, easing into the riding again, only doing shorter rides without too much intensity so as to rebuild that base and not plunge myself back into overtraining syndrome.

In February I only rode 174 miles total due to the injury. In March I only rode 247 miles, April we bumped it up to 517 miles, May was up to 709 miles, June was 875 miles – but still my longest ride was only about 80 miles. Knowing that Hoodoo was only 2.5 months out, of course there was a voice in the back of my head wondering if I was going to be ready, but I trusted my coach.

In July Mike and I took a whirlwind trip to the east coast and then to Europe. We did the Newton’s Revenge bike race up Mt Washington in New Hampshire – rated as the most difficult climb by bike in the USA (and it didn’t disappoint – climbing over 4600 feet in a little over 7 miles, with 60mph wind gusts and heavy fog/mist at the top!).

Then we rode in Acadia National Park in Maine, and in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in Canada.

Then it was over the pond to the famous European climbs, where we banged out climbs like the Hautacam and Luz Ardiden in the Pyrenees; Mont Ventoux (x2); Alpe d’Huez, Col du Lautaret and Col du Galibier in the French Alps; Passo di Stelvio and Passo Gavia in the Italian Alps; and Tre Chime and Passo di Giau in the Dolomites. We were in awe of the beautiful scenery, and thoroughly enjoyed getting away and getting to ride in some new, inspiring places with such a rich and vibrant cycling history.

We even got to pop into Slovenia for a day and ride with Marko Baloh and his wife Irma – Marko is one of the best ultra cyclists in the world, but is also one of the humblest and nicest people that you’ll meet – on or off the bike.

We got back from Europe at the end of July, and the focus for August became ramping up the mileage – and that we did! In the month of August I banged out 1757 miles – my highest volume training month ever outside of doing RAAM itself. My longest weekend was 400 miles – 220 miles on Saturday and 180 miles on Sunday. I once again did battle with my dreaded foe called sleepiness (and had to take a nap outside of Roberts Market in Woodside on one occasion). As I struggled to deal with some cysts I battled another familiar foe called butt pain. I did however get a lift in my motivation when Bicycle Brustop came on board as a sponsor and I got a new bike – a Giant Avail Advanced SL 1 – complete with Di2 electronic shifting (which lead to the name “Wall-E” because the noise that the electronic shifting makes reminded me of a robot).

I immediately noticed a difference in the responsiveness and handling of the bike, as well as the compliance on rougher road surfaces. I was in new bike heaven! As August came to a close we headed to the Eastern Sierras over the Labor Day long weekend so that I could do some riding at altitude. I did climbs up Horseshoe Meadows, Whitney Portal, South Lake, Lake Sabrina, Sherwin Summit, and Dead Man’s Pass. This was 2 weeks before Hoodoo, and I was definitely feeling the fatigue in my legs.

The big question now was whether or not I’d be recovered in time for the race. I knew that we’d gambled a bit in this regard since this was my coach’s first time preparing me for a race like this, and so we didn’t really know for certain how I’d respond. With endurance events it’s a delicate balance of recovering but also not loosing too much fitness in the process. In hind sight, we probably crossed that line slightly too aggressively and perhaps I needed a bit more recovery, but doing so provided some good data to go off of in the future.

The week leading up to the race was not without stress – in fact it had more than its fair share of it, and it was impacting my sleep and I was experiencing headaches, very unusual for me. Suffice it to say that all of this unnecessary stress was not beneficial, but at least I knew that I had a rock star crew ready to help me get through the race! Because I was using Hoodoo as a bit of a litmus test to decide about RAAM 2014, we were trying to use it as an opportunity to work with some potential crew members, as well as train some rookie crew members. So rather than just use 1 vehicle with 3 crew, we were going to use 2 vehicles with 6 crew. Unfortunately one crew member had to pull out at the last minute due to a family emergency, so that put us down to 5 crew, only one of whom was a rookie. Brooke was the rookie, and she was flying in from Richmond, Virginia. She’s a massage therapist, and had heard about RAAM from one of her massage instructors who’s crewed several RAAMs. She was really enthusiastic and excited about trying her hand at crewing, and was a great addition to the crew! I’d never had the luxury of having a massage therapist or PT along on any of my previous races except for RAAM, and there were definitely a couple of times when it was really nice to be able to have Brooke help me out by working on my neck, shoulders, and low back when they were giving me problems. The other 4 crew members were all seasoned veterans – Bill & Kathryn have crewed several RAAMs and countless Furnace Creek 508s, Jackson has crewed 2 RAAMs, and Mike has crewed all but one of my ultra races. With the depth of experience on my crew, I knew that I was in good hands!

The Race

Pre-race activities went off fairly smoothly, and before I knew it race morning arrived. The race started with a neutral start where all riders were supposed to stay together. Unfortunately the race starts climbing immediately, and trying to stay with the group as they charged up the hills in St George forced me outside of my game plan in terms of what power I was going to ride at. Only a couple of the riders were capable of sustaining that kind of power for the duration of the race (many riders, especially rookies, tend to make the mistake of going out too hard in ultras), so it was a bit frustrating having to get sucked into riding their pace rather than my own. I was very happy when we got to the end of the neutral start and I was able to let everyone else drop me so that I could settle into my own race. The goal was to keep my power between 100 and 150 watts for the first 8-12 hours. This is the low/mid range of my zone 2 (which is 100-175 watts). Of course this felt pretty easy at the start – especially when climbing since my legs were fresh so it was easy to creep up into upper zone 2 and low zone 3, but I tried to really stick to the game plan.

At about the 19 mile mark of the race I reconnected with my crew (there was no support allowed until this point). I was using a new crew/rider communication system – Cardo BK-1, which is a bluetooth communication and entertainment system for cyclists. The speakers and microphone attach to your helmet and do not go into your ears directly, so it’s much nicer than having something stuck in your ear that obscures other sounds that you should hear for situational awareness. The unit provides intercom communication between units, as well as bluetooth connectivity to mobile phones and music players, so it’s a very versatile system! Given that Hoodoo doesn’t allow for any external PAs or sound amplification, having the Cardo BK-1 units made communicating with my crew much easier. As I came within sight of them, either of us could open a channel and then I could let them know what I needed so that they could get it ready for me, and likewise they could pass information on to me as well.

After the climb out of Hurricane there’s a flatter more rolling section, and I got comfortable in the aerobars and just focused on trying to relax, breathe, and eat/drink. There was a bit of a headwind, but nothing too bad. I didn’t expect to see any other riders for a very long time, but by the time we got to the Arizona border around mile 50 I had riders in my sight. I still just kept to my game plan cruising along at about 130-140 watts. The first rider I caught up to was Karen Dee Williams, one of the 2 other women in the race. She seemed to be just taking it super easy when I passed her and we exchanged encouragement. She looked like a strong rider, so I knew I hadn’t seen the last of her (in fact I was surprised to see her again so early in the race).

A while later I caught up to the other woman in the race – Jessica Walker. I’d noticed right from the start that she was grinding a huge gear at a really low cadence, and was wondering how sustainable that would be. By this point she appeared to be struggling a bit – weaving a bit, head/body bobbing around. Apparently passing her gave her a bit of motivation and shortly after passing her she passed me back. I wasn’t about to get sucked into someone else’s race, and happily dropped back sticking to my game plan, keeping my power output steady. It was a couple more miles before I passed her again on a downhill, and I didn’t see her again after that (unfortunately she DNFd after the 2nd time station, which was a shame, as I was hoping we might have 3 women finishers – as it was, this was the first year that there were 2 women finishers I believe).

A little while later I passed Steve Teal, another solo rider, who was pulled over on the side of the road for something, and a while after that I passed Tom Jones who was also stopped for something. Just before Fredonia there was a traffic light for some construction, and unfortunately I had to wait a few minutes. Then after Fredonia on the way into Kanab there was a flagger stopping traffic due to road construction. I waited several minutes, and then when it was time for the traffic to go, he made me wait until all the other traffic had gone, which was a couple more minutes. This was frustrating since 3 riders caught back up to me while I was stopped waiting (although the final 2 may have had to stop and wait for the next passage – I’m not sure since they were just approaching as I was finally allowed to proceed – Steve and I got through at the same time though). In Kanab I got off the bike for the first time – a quick bathroom break at a gas station, and then I was on the road again. I passed the first time station at 12:38pm, 8min slower than what I did in 2009, but between the little bit of headwind, the 2 delays due to road construction, and the fact that I was purposefully holding back and keeping my power in a certain range, I wasn’t too concerned.

Leaving Kanab you pretty much climb for about 15 miles, with it getting a bit steeper towards the end of the climb. I was starting to feel fatigued near the top of the climb, which was a bit frustrating since I wasn’t even 100 miles into the race yet, and thought I’d been doing a good job of sticking to my game plan (eating, drinking, keeping my power steady).

There’s a quick/fast descent and then another 25 miles or so of climbing. Along this section Karen passed me, as did Tom (Steve passed me earlier on the climb out of Kanab). Along here the weather started turning too, and soon enough we were riding through the rain. The temperature also fell quickly, so eventually I stopped to put my rain jacket on. Finally we finished the climb and then it was a fast gradual downhill towards the turnoff to Red Canyon.

Along here the “BikeVan” passed me, and I felt the spirit of Lee “Fuzzy” Mitchell. Lee was a legend in the ultra-cycling community for volunteering to drive SAG at every ride under the sun, and for crewing at pretty much every RAAM, Furnace Creek 508, and other ultra-cycling race out there (he even crewed at the Badwater ultra-marathon running race a few years ago). He was known for his red minivan with license plate “BIKEVAN” blaring rock & roll music from the speakers as he drove SAG. Whenever you heard the BikeVan coming, it would lift your spirits. Lee’s the only person to receive an honorary Furnace Creek 508 totem (Maggot), and is in the RAAM Hall of Fame and California Triple Crown Hall of Fame. I had the honor of having Lee and his BikeVan crew for me at Race Across Oregon in 2010. Lee passed away after a battle with cancer 2 weeks before Hoodoo, which was a huge loss to the ultra-cycling community. He was such a giving and selfless spirit, and he will be deeply missed. Lee was also known for his appearance – he was the Santa Claus of ultra-cycling with his bushy white beard, his red socks, and his red shirt. Our crew wore red socks to the pre-race to honor him. Anyway, his BikeVan was being used as a crew vehicle by 2x team “Sierra Mountain Goats” Jeanine Spence and Steven Decker. I know Jeanine, so it was great to see her out there crushing the course!

On this stretch of road Dave Elsberry also passed me – I’d not realized that we’d passed him earlier when he was stopped on the side of the road. Dave was one of the riders during RAAM which I went back and forth with quite a bit between Wolf Creek Pass and Indiana. Dave rides to raise money for MS.

The rain had stopped on the downhill, so I was hoping that maybe we’d paid our dues, but boy oh boy was I wrong. At mile 145 we turned towards Red Canyon, and shortly thereafter the rain began again. This was also the beginning of another climb of about 5 miles where you climb up to close to 8,000 feet elevation, the highest point thus far in the race. As I entered the bike path at the entrance to Red Canyon (bikes are not allowed on the road and instead have to ride on a bike path that parallels the road), the rain began coming down even heavier. I literally felt like I was riding through sheets of rain and sleet – the drops were bouncing a good half foot or more up into the air off the pavement! Then there was the thunder and lightening – one was a bit too close for comfort – I saw the flash of lightening and a half second later there was a tremendously loud booming clap of thunder that echoed through the canyon!! I was busy wondering if I’d become the first ultra-cyclist struck by lightening, and was wondering if my skinny road bike tires would provide any kind of insulation! Fortunately that was the only close call – the rest of the lightening strikes were followed by thunder 3-9 seconds later. The bad weather though had left the bike path littered with debris – I was able to ride through the first couple of patches, but the sandy/muddy red dirt streaking across the path was becoming less and less navigable, and on one section I almost slid out. This began the “cyclocross” section of the race – there were several sections that I had to get off my bike and walk through. One section of the path literally had a rock/gravel slide across it! So I did my hike-a-bike in the ongoing thunderstorm.

When I reached the Chevron station, time station 2, at mile 156 at 5:50pm (8min faster than in 2009), I debated continuing on without stopping since it was still raining, but I kind of needed to go to the bathroom, and figured maybe it would be good to get into more rain gear at this point while we had some facilities. I was dripping wet like I’d just gotten out of a swimming pool or something. And of course as soon as I stopped riding, I started to get cold. It wasn’t long before I was shivering. I ate some hot lasagna (a backpacker meal), and then began the task of completely changing clothes and trying to get dry clothes on. While I was doing this, the rain got pretty heavy again, so I prepared for the worse and donned my rain pants, rain jacket, helmet cover, shoe covers, long fingered gloves, and headband. This stop was much longer than I’d have liked it to be, but it did recharge me a bit.

Of course Murphy’s Law – by the time I was ready to ride again the rain had stopped…. I felt like the Michelin man with all my layers of rain gear on! It was a quick descent down through Tropic, Cannonville, and Henrieville before another 1800ft climb. In the rain I’d been feeling fatigued and my power seemed to be dropping, so I was mentally struggling with where I was at. Already in my head I was toying with the idea of quitting – not because I didn’t think I could finish, but because I felt like I’d made my decision that I wouldn’t return to RAAM, and thus had got what I came to get, so I was struggling to find any motivation to continue. I’d never faced this kind of motivational struggle so early in a race before. Part of me wanted to DNF so that I wouldn’t forget how I’d felt and what was going through my head – because when you finish a race it’s so easy to forget all the negatives. Anyway, I decided to at least see how I felt, and when I started climbing again out of Henrieville I was pleasantly surprised that I was feeling much better and my power was back into the range that it was supposed to be. I’d stopped to take my rain gear off given that it looked like it was going to stay dry for a while, and at that point I took the opportunity to take a dose of Sprayable Energy – a new product that I’m trying that delivers caffeine by absorption through the skin. This delivery mechanism yields the increased alertness that caffeine is known for, but without the side effects of feeling jittery. I’d used the product a couple of times in training and it showed promise, so I was looking forward to testing it out more at Hoodoo. I felt re-motivated, and continued on as the sun set. The last part of this climb gets pretty steep – some 12% gradient sections, but I felt pretty strong and then began the long descent into Escalante, the next time station at mile 204.

I arrived in Escalante at 9:28pm, 30min slower than in 2009, but given how long we’d stopped at time station 2 (about 35min), I’d likely ridden this section as fast or faster than in 2009. In Escalante the 4 woman team “Deadly Viper Assassination Squad” caught up to me. I know most of the women on this team, and they’re great folks, so it was great to see them and hear their encouragement. I was stopped for about 15min here as I finished off my lasagna that I’d started at the previous time station, I got my more powerful MagicShine light mounted, and also got my iPod. I headed out a bit in front of my crew (you’re allowed to do so at Hoodoo at night as long as you have 2 front and 2 rear lights).

There’s a bit of a false flat gradual climb for a while out of Escalante, then a quick descent before you climb the Hogsback – a road that has been rated one of the top 10 most scenic highways in the world. Such a shame that we were there in the dark and didn’t get to see it in all it’s glory – even in the dark though you get a sense from the canyon walls and what not that you’re passing through something that’s pretty amazing! The climb up the Hogsback is deceptive because when you look at it on the map it doesn’t look all that bad, but it’s a series of relentless steep pitches followed by little flat sections or downhills. The steep pitches are routinely 10% gradients or steeper, so being over 200 miles into the race they start to wear on you. Through this section I could see another rider off in the distance not that much farther in front of me – it was one of the voyager racers – they do the race self supported, which I think is insane!! I eventually passed him when he stopped on the side of the road briefly. I think this was Raphael, who would abandon later on Boulder Mountain, and whom our crew gave a ride to Loa.

After the Hogsback you go through Boulder at mile 231, and then it’s about a 12 mile climb up Boulder Mountain which tops out at 9600ft elevation. The temperature was dropping, and I was really struggling to stay awake at this point. I stopped briefly on the outskirts of Boulder to rest my eyes for a couple minutes to see if it would wake me up. I didn’t sleep, but just lay down and closed my eyes for 10min or so. Altogether I was stopped about 15min. At this point I was really struggling with motivation, and was really thinking that I didn’t want to finish. But I knew that I didn’t want to DNF on Boulder Mountain – I wanted to at least get up and over the mountain, down to lower elevation, take a sleep break, and then re-evaluate at that point. So I headed back out onto the road, and began the painfully slow ascent up Boulder Mountain. I was still half asleep, my power was in the toilet, and my speed almost wasn’t even registering on the Garmin I was going so slow, and I was weaving all over the road. I was also starting to feel some nausea – possibly from the altitude. Additionally, the temperature dropped down into the mid 30s according to my Garmin. Near the top, Bill & Kathryn who were in the secondary crew vehicle started entertaining me from the side of the road – at one point Bill donned a pink tutu and was seen clinging to a signpost – perhaps pole dancing? I stopped near the top and downed some hot chocolate and put on more warm clothes in preparation for the descent. On the descent I was still sleepy, but I tried yelling out loud at myself in order to help stay awake. I did pull over at one point though for a couple minutes because I was nodding off.

I pulled into Torrey at about 4:45am where I stopped and took a sleep break. I was so cold that I was shivering uncontrollably, and my teeth were chattering. I remember thinking I’d never fall asleep in this state, and then the next thing I knew Bill was waking me up! I’d slept about 30min, and then I ate some macaroni and cheese and changed into dry clothes. At about 6:30am I finally hit the road again, so I was stopped for 1hr 45min. At this point I was back to being in last place, and my motivation was still pretty low, but I wanted to at least give it a shot and see how I felt. I knew that there was one moderate climb out of Loa, then flats/rollers until Panguitch, and that the climb up Cedar Breaks was the “big climb” remaining, so if I could get up and over Cedar Breaks then it shouldn’t be too difficult to finish. I downed a cup of coffee as well as another dose of Sprayable Energy before hitting the road. As I started up again I felt more awake and better than I had the night before – I was still tired, but my power was back up in the lower end of the range that I was aiming for, so I decided at that point that I was going to give it my best to finish. I got to Loa, the next time station at 7:55am, over 2.5hrs slower than in 2009. It was in Loa that I learned that Janet Christiansen had DNFd – she was racing in the voyager division self supported, and had succumbed to the cold on Boulder Mountain. I was really disappointed to hear that, as I know that Janet is a very strong and experienced rider with multiple RAAM finishes to her credit. It just goes to show how difficult the voyager division is – I can’t imagine riding 518 miles self supported like that! Even with a crew it’s no easy task!

The climb out of Loa was longer than I remembered it being, and it seemed to drag on and on, but finally I reached the summit and got a welcome descent. Just before the summit Mike appeared dressed up as the likeness of Lee “Fuzzy” Mitchell, which brought a smile to my face.

There wasn’t as much headwind on the long gradual downhill from Koosharem to the turn onto Highway 89 as there was in 2009, so I made much faster progress along here. At one point I had to stop to go to the bathroom and take some layers off since it was getting quite warm. I’d also started to get a bit sleepy again, so I took another dose of Sprayable Energy along with downing an iced coffee.

After turning onto Highway 89 it was 31 miles to Panguitch on a gradual uphill. Unfortunately the wind began to pick up more, so it slowed my progress and made this section a bit of a slog. I did however catch up to several riders on this stretch – Vito Rubino, Dave Elsberry, and Brian Martin. This was the first I’d seen of Brian since the start of the race where I’d chatted with him during the neutral start. He’d done Race Across Oregon the first year I attempted it (when I DNFd), and he’d unofficially finished that year. When I passed him he was stopped on the side of the road bent over looking like he might have been vomiting – not fun!

I was glad to finally reach Panguitch at 2:23pm, only about 35min slower than in 2009, so I’d made up almost 2hrs since Loa. I took a bit of a break here to recharge before the big climb up Cedar Breaks. I changed shorts and had a bit of massage work done by Brooke before heading out again, so I was stopped for about 25min total. The climb out of Panguitch starts out with a couple of steeper pitches before settling into more rolling terrain for a while. The bottom part went better than I expected, but sure enough the upper part turned into a bit of a struggle – the climb goes up to 10,200ft elevation, and finishes over 400 miles into the race.

Finally I got to the top though, and was rewarded with the screaming fast and fun descent into Cedar City. I hit my max speed on the descent – over 46mph – and even managed to drop my follow vehicle! Towards the bottom in the dusk light I thought the road was perhaps a bit wet, and was covered in a thin film of red silt, so I started holding back a bit on the speed since I was concerned about losing traction and didn’t want to crash at over 40mph!

I got into Cedar City at 8:02pm, 18min faster than in 2009. I stopped for about 20min for one last shorts change and downed a package of backpacking mashed potatoes and an iced coffee, as well as another dose of Sprayable Energy before hitting the road again for the final 80 miles. I was feeling pretty good, and cruised up the climb just outside of Cedar City. After that climb I was treated to some KFC drumsticks – and let me tell you they tasted as good then as they did countless times on RAAM! Things were uneventful until the last 20 miles or so before reaching Snow Canyon – I started to get really sleepy again, and nothing I did seemed to help. I’d passed Vito and Steve near the base of one of the last climbs when they were stopped, but in my sleepy section Vito passed me back when I stopped to put on a vest because I was getting cold. The final few miles before Snow Canyon I caught a glimpse of tail lights in front of me, and that helped to wake me up – there were 2 sets of tail lights, and I didn’t know who the one in the lead was. It turned out it was Jon Shellenbarger who had developed a knee injury and Bill & Kathryn had seen him go through Cedar City before I got there. I worked to bridge the gap up to Vito, knowing full well that he wouldn’t want me to pass him (earlier in the stage I’d passed him when he was going slower and he almost immediately sped up and passed me back). My strategy though was to not stop at the top of Snow Canyon and go right down (this final 14 miles you have to ride alone without your support crew, which means navigating yourself). I’d pre-ridden the final part of the course on Friday, so knew by heart all the turns.

We got to the top of Snow Canyon and I was surprised to see Jon stopped there. He and Vito both stopped, but I proceeded directly down without stopping. After I got down the steeper part of the descent and into the lights of St George I pushed quite hard, constantly looking over my shoulder expecting to see Jon and Vito bearing down on me. It turned out that I needn’t worry as they’d both stopped at the top for several minutes, and didn’t get to the finish until about half an hour after me.

I finally rolled across the finish line at 2:11am in a time of 43 hours, 11 minutes, good enough for 4th overall and 2nd place woman (Karen was the 1st place woman and 3rd overall finishing almost an hour and a half in front of me, most of which she made up after Panguitch since I saw her there when I was there, and she headed out only a few minutes in front of me). Full results can be viewed here. My time though was 1 hr 47min faster than my time in 2009, and was a course record in the Athena division (women over 160lbs). I didn’t meet my goal of finishing in under 40hrs, but given the challenging conditions on day 1, the fatigue I felt early on, all the stress I had going into the race, and my motivational struggles, I’m happy with my performance. No 500 mile race is “easy” or “a given”, so just finishing is always the first goal. Breaking my time from 2009 and setting an Athena course record were icing on the cake. My ride time was 38hrs 47min (moving average speed of 13.4mph compared to overall average speed of 12.0mph), which means my off the bike time was 4hrs 24min – not horrible, but not great either (I’d been hoping to keep off the bike time between 2 and 3 hours).

As for other stats, my average power for the entire duration was 102 watts with 14,906 kJ of work done (I’m not sure what the normalized power was). Weighted average power according to Strava was 118 watts, average heart rate was 126bpm. Minimum temperature was 34deg, maximum temperature was 99deg (although that was recorded when my bike was sitting in the sun in Panguitch while I wasn’t riding it). Much of the course is at altitude, reflected in the fact that the average elevation was 6476ft. The entire race can be viewed on Strava here. I consumed 11,815 calories, so about 273cal/hr. I consumed about 739oz of fluid (about 31 large water bottles total). I consumed over 14,000mg of sodium during the race (or about 333mg/hr). I had 5 ibuprofen during the race – 2 on Boulder Mountain to try and help combat nausea from the altitude, and 3 in Cedar City to help take the edge off a bit of butt pain before the final homestretch of the race.

I can’t thank my crew enough – they were wonderful out there, and worked exceedingly hard to look after me and keep me moving down the road safely. So thank you Bill, Kathryn, Mike, Jackson, and Brooke! Thanks to my coach, Thomas Chapple, for helping to change the way that I ride, and getting me back on track on the bike this year – and for putting up with all my verbose training notes! ;) Thanks to Bicycle Brustop in Novato for their support and for hooking me up with my awesome new bike, Wall-E! If you’re anywhere near Novato, definitely check them out! Thanks to David Ledesma for the continued support – I see David on a regular basis for deep tissue sports massage, and can’t recommend his services enough. Thanks to Revolutions in Fitness for the continued support with regard to bike fitting – such a crucial part of being able to ride long is having a good bike fit. Thanks to Al Painter of Integrate Performance Fitness for teaching me the correct way to do strength training and undo some of the damage that the repetitive stress of cycling puts on my body. Thanks to Cardo Systems for providing me with the BK-1 bluetooth communication and entertainment systems – these systems are a must for ultra-cyclists and are so much better than the walkie talkies I used during RAAM for crew/rider communication. Thanks to Sprayable Energy for providing me with samples of their product in advance of the more general release – this is an innovative product that I think has great potential for ultra-cycling given how easy it is to carry with you when riding. Thanks also to Vanderkitten for supporting and promoting women’s cycling.

So, back to the question I posed early in this story – if Hoodoo was the litmus test for deciding about RAAM, what’s the result? Let’s just say that I’m trying not to make a rash decision either way. Hoodoo was a valuable learning experience in that we got a lot of concrete data out of it. It was also a good gut check to see where I’m at mentally with ultra-cycling right now. Next up I have the Furnace Creek 508 in a couple of weeks where I’ll be racing on a 2 woman team with one of my RAAM crew members, Tracey (our totem is “Pygmy Jerboa”). After that I want to take a few weeks or maybe even a month to “decompress” from everything that’s happened this year, and will then try to make a decision about what’s next. In the meantime, thanks to everyone who supports and encourages me – I truly do appreciate it!

Posted in Race Reports | 6 Comments

Race Across Oregon 2009

Race Across Oregon, 2009

The elevation profile for Race Across Oregon.

Race Across Oregon course.

My crew and I at the starting line in Hood River.


To describe Race Across Oregon, first let me preface it with a brief history of what lead me to decide to tackle this beast! 2008 had been hugely successful for me on many levels athletically – four double centuries, one triple century, one 24hr race, my first Death Ride, successful shoulder surgery (which finally significantly improved the nagging injury obtained in 2007 after being hit by an SUV), and my first ever 500+ mile event – the Furnace Creek 508, which was more successful than my wildest expectations (I finished in 36hrs 22min). 2008 was the first year that the Furnace Creek 508 was not a Race Across America (RAAM) qualifier, which was unfortunate since to my knowledge I would have qualified had it been a qualifier. So in 2009 I set out with the new goal of trying to qualify for RAAM (not necessarily with the intent of doing RAAM, but just to try and qualify which is an honor in itself), which meant finding RAAM Qualifiers to attempt. I knew that the Hoodoo 500 was one possibility, and I’d previewed that course while crewing for Mike in 2008, but I’d also heard of Race Across Oregon, and was intrigued by it (in my mind I had this notion that all of Oregon was lush and beautiful – well RAO bypasses most of that part of Oregon, but more on that later!). Additionally, I recognized and respected the fact that nothing is guaranteed or assured of in events of this magnitude, so giving myself multiple opportunities to qualify seemed like a good idea. So I decided to sign up for RAO and for the Hoodoo 500.

When I signed up for RAO, I knew relatively little about it. I’d tried to find out about it online, but there seemed to be very little information. Plus throw in the fact that the 2009 course was to be a completely new course from previous years anyway, and it meant that the unknown was even more of an unknown – to all competitors. Well, sometimes not knowing what you’re getting yourself into is a good thing….!!! Had I known just how brutal RAO would end up being – on so many different levels – I may not have had the courage (stupidity?) to sign up! But I did, and hence I’m sitting here writing this report!

The lead up to RAO was rather hectic – things at work had been busy for several months, plus in the spring I’d perhaps been a bit over ambitious in my training and had done a lot of events in close proximity to each other, so when June rolled around I suddenly felt exhausted and overtrained. In many ways my training for RAO was polar opposite to my training for the 508 – the 508 was only 10 weeks after shoulder surgery, so I’d been forced to focus on quality over quantity and do intense trainer workouts indoors and mainly hill repeats outdoors – my longest ride outside post surgery was only 75miles. But leading up to RAO I rattled off an Ironman triathlon, 5 double centuries, and a 12hr event in 3 months. My strategy was “ride long, ride tired”. Four of these events had come in a 5 week period (Devil Mtn. Double, Davis 12Hr, Central Coast Double, and Davis Double), and almost every event had had challenging conditions and/or weather that made them even tougher (rain at Davis 12hr, 90+deg heat at Central Coast, 100+deg heat at Davis Double, and rain and frigid 30deg temps at Eastern Sierra Double). So as July crept closer and I didn’t seem to be recovering despite backing off dramatically on the training, I started to get concerned. But finally 1.5 weeks before RAO I did a short, hard effort group ride and finally felt like I had a bit of pep in my legs, so that was a huge relief! Although this feeling was short-lived when the route-book was published online and I caught my first glimpse of the elevation profile I think my heart started to mimick the course and I nearly had a heart attack! Apparently there are over 40,000ft of climbing in the 517 miles. How on God’s Green Earth (or Oregon’s Bare Brown earth as it would turn out!) would I get through this???? Images of spiky elevation profiles now permeated my thoughts!

Anyway, my crew (Mike, my sister Katie, and Donna) left the Bay Area on Thursday afternoon in a packed minivan, and drove up to Medford, Oregon arriving just before midnight, then drove the remainder of the way to Hood River on Friday. Check-in was uneventful, and it was great to see Erin and Jimmy again. As always, the pre race meeting was a bit intimidating – being in the same room as some of these incredibly talented athletes always leaves me feeling sorely inadequate and out of place! My crew member Donna, a much stronger and faster cyclist than I, seemed far less out of place – maybe I could pretend she was me and I was her crew – that would afterall appear more logical! Alas, it was I who was signed up, and some of these people knew me, so no such swap would be possible!

The start on Saturday morning was an early one at 5am, so when the alarm went off shortly after 4am it was difficult to roll out of bed, but this was what I’d signed up to do, right? And this was supposed to be FUN, right??? I showered, dressed, and forced down a breakfast consisting of a peanut butter and jam sandwich and some coffee (my first caffeine in a couple of weeks – I’d tried to ween myself off of it in hopes it would have a bigger impact during the race). In hindsight, I should have forgone the sandwich, as it ended up sitting in my stomach for what felt like all day, and never really digested. This is what I’ve always eaten before events, but usually I eat longer before the start, allowing more time for digestion, so I should have instead just had a GU or something and started in on my bike nutrition earlier. Anyway, at the start I saw Erin, who was WAAAAY too perky for pre-5am!! Mike took some pictures of us together (both with our own unique sense of bike fashion – her with her blue jersey and pink arm warmers, and me with my green and orange jersey and blue arm warmers), and then I quickly wished Sandy good luck – I knew she was going to kick butt out there so I likely wouldn’t see her for very long! Then at 5am George, race director, lead us out on a neutral 9mile start. Almost immediately there was a short but very steep climb – I take 40+ miles to warm up usually, so my body was not happy about the effort required to get over that sucker at 5 in the freaking morning!! I lost the main pack during this climb, so the rest of the “neutral” start was spent trying to claw my way back to the main group. I was happy to see that I wasn’t the only one back there though – there were a couple of us, including Erin and Karen Armstrong (another amazing athlete!). We finally caught up to the main group just as we reached the end of the neutral section.

Then we made a left turn and started the long, relatively gradual climb that would eventually take us up to an elevation of over 4000ft on the side of Mt. Hood. Almost immediately I found myself in last place. I didn’t panic though – I fully expected this to happen. I tend to start out slow on any ride, and I knew that every one of these competitors was strong and talented. So I happily brought up the caboose of the group for quite some time. I finally caught up to Jeffrey Bonk somewhere on the climb, and pulled in front of him, although he stayed pretty much with me the rest of the climb. As I slowly started to feel more warmed up and got into a rhythm, I started to reel in the riders in front of me. My crew would occasionally say things like “you’ve made up x seconds on Erin!”, or “you’re only x minutes behind Sandy!”. This was great to hear, but my goal wasn’t to push myself super hard to pass them this early – I knew it was going to be a looooong weekend! But as I did draw within sight of Erin and some others, it did make me feel good! Finally the top of the climb came, and then it was a fast descent. I actually passed a handful of riders on the descent, including Erin and Sandy. I was quite surprised to say the least – guess I have gravity to thank for that! ;) Of course gravity would not be my friend most of the rest of the ride though!!! Anyway, after a pretty nice, fast descent, there was a section with some rollers and such, but for the most part this section all the way to the first time station was pretty fast. I arrived at the first time station at 9:58am, almost 5hrs from the start – not exactly lightening fast for 73 miles, but still good enough to be only 10min behind Karen and 2min behind Sandy (she’d whizzed by on her recumbant on a gradual downhill – she was racing “recupright”, which meant she was switching between an upright bike and a recumbent).

It started to heat up on the next section, although not oppressively so. The terrain started to get drier and drier with less vegetation. As I passed the waterfall on the Deschutes River I saw some fisherman hauling in what looked to be a pretty good catch! Shortly thereafter began the climb up towards Grass Valley where no support was allowed since the road was narrow with no shoulder and a shear dropoff. This climb was totally exposed, but it wasn’t exceptionally hot yet, so it actually rode not too bad. I was however glad to see my crew at the top, and I popped some ibuprofen shortly thereafter since my knees had gotten a bit achy. The ibuprofen did the trick, and the achiness went away. The next section looked like it should have been relatively flat according to the profile, however due to scale, the profile couldn’t show that in reality it was a series of never-ending short rollers! The race director had said we’d have a tail-wind here – WRONG!!!! Instead it was a pretty constant head wind. Along here I passed John Pearch – one of his crew members was Lee “Fuzzy” Mitchell – a legend in the ultracycling community who supports many of the California Triple Crown rides in his “Bike Van”. As I went by once he called out and encouraged me with something like “there’s another man up there – go pass him!” – that made me chuckle! :) Finally this section ended and I rolled into time station 2 at 1:39pm – this was only 121 miles into the race, and I’d already eaten through over 8.5hrs total….

The next segment started off ok – there were some more gradual climbs, and it was getting warm, but I was feeling half decent. Then came a long decent into a canyon contatining the John Day River from which I knew I had to subsequently climb out of, and I started to feel blast-furnace like pockets of air on the way down, and it got hotter and hotter as I descended further and further. I kept hoping the descent would end, because I knew for every mile down I went, it was just another mile up I’d have to go very soon in the heat! Finally the descent ended, and almost immediately began the 9+ mile climb back up. It was hot. Let me rephrase that – it was HOT! The van thermometer apparently read 97deg, and I’ve read other racer’s reports that said their bike computers were reading 106deg. On this stretch tube socks filled with ice became my friend and savior! Along with cold watermelon and cold drinks handed to me by my dedicated and diligent crew. The climb went on, and on, and on, and on….! I thought I’d started to prematurely hallucinate when I saw someone actually running up the road on the opposite side – it was a crew member for another competitor who was apparently trying to get some run training in during the event – he was running up the hill in the heat almost as fast as I was riding up it – wtf!!!! Talk about feeling slightly demoralized!!! Anyway, at long last the top came, and the heat seemed to dissipate a little bit. I stopped and changed into some dry (and not salt encrusted!) clothes, and this was when I was passed by the first team (unless my memory has blocked out that I was passed even earlier, which is a possibility) – they’d started 4hrs after me and had caught me in less than 150 miles – apparently feeling demoralized is a big part of RAO!!! At this point the heat and winds had made me fairly miserable, and so the fact that the next section was more ups and downs through extremely BORING terrain did not help my constitution!! I was trying hard to make it to Heppner before 8pm so that my crew could get food at the apparently amazing diner there which closed at 8pm, but as the miles wore on it became apparent that this was not going to happen. It was one climb after another, accompanied by more head winds and more boring terrain, so by the time I arrived in Heppner I was pretty miserable – and pretty sick of Oregon! I pulled into Heppner at 8:44pm, only 207 miles into the ride, and almost 16hrs into the ride. Apparently I was in 9th place overall, but that did little to cheer me up. My lower back had started to become incredibly tight over the last 50 miles or so, and in general I felt worse than I had felt after the entire 508. Thinking about the 310 miles that lay in front of me was rather daunting, and doubts started devouring my brain. Additionally, the excessive heat during the day did what it always does to me – it made me extremely sleep very early in the evening, so here it was not even dark and I was already having trouble keeping my eyes open….. I took a relatively long break at Heppner – I needed it physically and mentally. Mike massaged my back, legs, and feet, and tried to give me a pep talk while I lay on the ground feeling pretty defeated. I wasn’t even half way and thoughts of quitting were already fleeting through my mind. But I finally got up, got changed yet again, and hit the road.

It was dark by the time we left Heppner, and so began my struggle to stay awake. My crew fed me chocolate covered espresso beans and caffeinated beverages out the window of the van, and I asked for some salt’n'vinegar chips to munch on to try and help keep me awake. The combination helped, although on the descents I found myself drifting off, so I asked my crew to honk the van horn every now and then to try and keep me awake. This segment had another series of several climbs tacked one after the other. At one point I passed a crew stopped on the side of the road and was shocked to see that it was Jason and Alfie – Bruce Carroll’s crew! Bruce is an uber-fast cyclist, so I certainly didn’t expect to see him, but I guess like so many others, he was struggling too. In a way seeing them helped me feel better about my own sorry state of affairs – if Bruce was suffering this bad, then I knew it was a tough course. Anyway, the night wore on, and I finally reached the top of Battle Mountain at an elevation of over 4200ft. Then there was a descent of about 25 miles to the next time station – there are chunks of time in here that I simply don’t recall – I was fighting hard to stay awake, but it was a losing battle, and I kept waking up to the sound of the van horn honking. Finally we pulled into Dale at 4:56am, just at dawn. I immediately got off my bike and lay down for a 20min nap. I think my crew wanted me to keep going without a break, but I desparately needed a respite. I was now 285 miles into the ride, and already 24hrs had passed. I was just over half way in terms of mileage, but I felt broken – I was unable to stay awake, my back was getting progressively worse, and my spirits were low. What the hell had I gotten myself into????

My crew woke me up and I got back on my bike and started on my way again – it was another climb, and it felt muggy and the wind was starting to pick up. Pretty soon the wind got even stronger, and there were even some sprinkles of rain. There was a longish climb followed by a descent, but the descent could not be enjoyed since the wind was blowing so hard. I was riding close to Jeffrey Bonk again on this section, and at one point we chatted about what we had to do to finish – he said something about having to average only 10mph over the next 200 miles to finish – sounds easy, right? I realized I still had a chance, and tried to focus on getting through this damn course so that I never had to come back and do it ever again!!! Then there was another climb, and now my back really started to get worse. At the top of the climb I asked my crew to rub some Alcis on my back. I started up again, and now it was a series of rollers, but into a strong headwind. My lower left back started to go numb, and then I started getting excruciating pain as I tried to pedal. I was in tears trying to fight the wind and the pain. I didn’t know what was happening – I’d never had lower back pain like this before. My crew was nowhere to be seen, and I was so tired that I couldn’t remember whether they were behind me or whether they’d already passed me and were up front somewhere. So I rode on, crying like a baby! Then my crew passed me and pulled off the road up ahead. I got to them and promptly got off my bike. I told them about my back, and they tried to help me massage it and stretch it. This helped a bit, and I got back on the bike and started out into the wind again. There was a brief downhill, and then a turn and another uphill. I started up the climb, and my back started to seize up almost immediately. I was in serious pain, and I started to think about what kind of damage (potentially permanent for all I knew) I was doing to my body. Was RAO worth it? Not at this moment. I caught back up to my crew and they tried to encourage me to keep going. Mike started to run along beside me, and I told him I didn’t think I could keep going. He kept running and trying to encourage me as I grunted and groaned and yelled out in pain between sobs. I had finally reached an utterly new and depressing low on my bike – I literally couldn’t go any further – the pain was too much. I stopped in the middle of the road. At this point I was pretty sure my weekend was over. I stumbled into the ditch and leaned/sat against the rocks. Mike came and sat with me, and then I realized that he was in tears too…..for whatever reason this calmed me. I told him it wasn’t his fault. His response was that it hurt him to see me suffering this much, and that I was the strongest person he knew. I obviously recognized that I’m NOT the strongest person [stubborn, maybe! ;) ], but hearing those words from him, and seeing how invested he was in me lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. We sat there for a while, and then a couple of other cyclists came by – John, followed by Sandy. I stood up, and my back had calmed down a bit again, so I got back on the bike and proceeded to trudge on down the road.

I caught back up to Sandy near the top of the hill, and I asked her if we still had a shot at finishing. Without hesitation or any inkling of doubt she said “yes!”. We talked a bit more, and she gave me a bit of a pep talk. Her crew then stopped to show me and my crew how to try and stretch out my back. My crew didn’t see the initial stages of this though, so when they came driving up and saw me sprawled out on my back on the ground with all of Sandy’s crew members hovering over me, they got all concerned and thought I’d crashed or something! Anyway, this was yet more evidence of how even though this is an individual sport, it’s a tight community, and assistance is freely given. That’s one of the coolest things about this sport – the people involved in it! :)

A short while later began a looong and fast descent. I had to play around with positioning on the bike to try and keep my back from tightening up too much. I finally found that if I kept my left leg at the bottom of the pedal stroke and slowly rocked it back and forth a bit just to keep it somewhat mobile, that kept the pain at bay while descending. After the descent there was a section which was essentially the first (and only) “flatish” part to the course. But by now it was getting late into the morning, and the temperatures were once again soaring. As we approached the next time station in Spray, I felt like I was in an oven! Combine this with my sleepiness, and it made it tough to stay awake – there are sections along here that I don’t remember. For example I know at one point I had a V8 can sitting on top of my aeronet, and a while later I noticed it was gone – I guess I dozed off and the can bounced off at some point (I apologize for littering – I honestly didn’t mean to!). We finally arrived in Spray, 358 miles into the ride, at 12:38pm, and I promptly ran – ok, “run” is not an accurate description – I “hobbled” into the store to get out of the heat. Here I changed clothes, stretched, and ate some cold noodle soup and part of a popsicle. I probably lingered too long here, but I dreaded going back out into the stifling heat….. But finally I did, armed with a fresh tube sock filled with ice around my neck and tucked into my jersey.

After Spray the flats continued a little bit longer as we followed a river. The temperature was up in the mid to upper 90s, and as I saw people swimming and playing in the river I so badly wanted to jump off my bike and run and jump in! But I didn’t, I kept trudging along trying to think cold thoughts! I was still really sleepy too – at one point I was jolted out of my sleepy stupor when Erin passed me. She looked strong, and seemed to be far more cheerful than I was. She was starting to talk about not being able to get through it though, so I tried to encourage her and tell her that we were both going to hang in there and finish. She rode on ahead, but then when we got to the base of the next climb (another long one – about 9 miles, and steeper near the top), she stopped with her crew, and so I passed her and continued up the climb. The heat was still oppressive, so the ice filled tube socks, as well as Mike hosing me down with the weed sprayer, and Donna and Katie giving me cold drinks were what kept me going. Thankfully as we gained some elevation the heat began to drop, although the wind was picking up. I was still battling sleepiness, so when Erin’s crew van passed me and I thought I heard her call out from the van saying she was done, I didn’t know whether I’d halucinated it or whether it’d actually happened. It turns out she had abandoned the race a couple miles into the climb, but I’m still super impressed with what she accomplished – she only did her first double century ride this year, yet here she was taking on the toughest 500 miler there is, in what had to be some of the toughest weather conditions. Huge kudos to her for her strength, courage, and tremendously infectious sense of humor! If for no other reason, attempting RAO this year was worth it since it allowed me to meet and get to know this fellow nutcase! ;)

Anyway, back to my story……I finished up the climb and was looking forward to the descent into Fossil, but there was a fierce headwind which made it difficult to get up to the kind of speed I knew this gradient should provide. Then began another 5 mile climb, and the skies were now starting to look stormy. The wind was whipping around, and in some of the switchbacks I was fighting to hold a straight line due to the gusts. Finally I got to the summit, and started a long, fast descent. The skies were still dark, and the wind was still blowing, and then I started to feel pellets hitting me – great, it was hailing!! I just about started laughing at how ridiculous this ride was starting to become – only a few hours ago it had been nearly one hundred degrees, and here it was now stormy and hailing! Luckily I think I caught the edge of the storm though, because I only got rained/hailed on a bit, but the roads were quite wet as we got further along. Despite the weather, this was probably one of the most scenic parts of the course (although after the boring scenery a lot of the day before, a blank piece of paper might have looked interesting!) – the area is known as the Painted Hills, and there were some very interesting hoodoos and rock formations in the surrounding hills. After a quick stop near the bottom to put on my fender and stretch out my back, it was back to the matter at hand – another 9 mile climb of course! This one too seemed to have some steeper sections – although this many miles into a ride a highway overpass would have probably felt steep! At one point Mike handed me a sunflower he picked on the side of the road – I put it in my aeronet, and looking at it helped to keep me motivated. The climb kept going and going and going…. Part way up John Pearch passed me – he was looking good and climbing well. Seeing him in front of me gave me something to chase, and so I tried to not lose sight of him. Near the top of the climb we hit 7pm and so my crew had to start following me again. There was a quick descent into Antelope, and then you guessed it, another climb! This one was comparitively short though – just under 4 miles. I passed John on the descent, so now I made it my goal to try and stay in front of him on this climb. It’s great to have another rider in your vicinity at this point in the ride, as it can do wonders in terms of keeping you motivated. Too, my crew had said that when I got to the top, then I would have a 22 mile descent into the next time station, so I was looking forward to that. I was doing the math in my head – it was almost 8:30pm, so that gave me 8.5hrs to get to the finish. I figured about 1.5hrs to get to the time station, which would leave 7hrs to do the last 60 miles. I knew the last stage had a lot of climbing in it, but I felt confident that with 7hrs I could make it. I was going to finish this thing!! I saw the crest of the hill, and I started to get excited – I could taste the descent coming up, and victory was to be mine!! But then I crested the hill, and thought I must be hallucinating again – where was the descent???? It just looked like an open plateau that stretched on as far as I could see! Was my crew playing cruel tricks on me??? Where was the fricking descent??? I tried to convince myself that it must just be a little ways up the road. So I continued, and noticed that there was a VERY strong cross wind coming from my left. And great, wouldn’t you know it, my next turn was a left turn into the wind. Who’s cruel idea of a joke was this!!! Then there was another right turn – ok, perhaps things would be ok after all. But no, the road then managed to turn into the wind yet again (or perhaps it was the wind turning into me as it got an updated bearing on my heading – afterall, it’s sole reason for being right now was apparently to blow in my face and suck any last remaining specks of self confidence from my beaten body! It was by now pretty dark, and not only was the wind blowing, but I could see lightening in the distance – wonderful – the weather gods had all converged and joined forces in this miserable little pocket of Oregon to wage war on me, and right now it was winning the war hands down! At some point there did come a little descent where the gradient was such that I could actually move forward at faster than 8mph without pedaling – this was where I began to shiver from the cold. We stopped and I put on a jacket, and then I continued on into the wind – my hopes of finishing diminishing more and more with every pedal stroke. Then to add insult to injury, I don’t know where it was, but probably about 20min before we got to Maupin and the last time station, the final straw broke – a large chunk of skin dislodged from my bottom, making it nearly impossible to sit on my saddle. Up until now my butt had been holding up relatively well. Now it was screaming at me!

Finally we pulled into Maupin at 11:25pm, almost 3 hours after cresting the top of that last climb. There was now only 5.5hrs left before the race was officially over, and although there were only 60 miles to go, almost half of that mileage was uphill, and given my pathetic ~8mph average speed on the last “descent”, the math just wasn’t adding up to being able to finish. My crew figured I needed at least 6hrs, more likely closer to 7hrs with back-stretching breaks and such added in, and since I’d left my gizmo that makes time stand still at home (it was locked away in a drawer along with my sanity!), there didn’t appear to be a way to finish. And the final kicker in it all was the fact that a large part of my left buttock no longer had skin on it, and it wasn’t shy about letting me know any time I tried to sit on my saddle! So there, in the middle of Maupin, I finally cracked. I had gone from feeling that I had this race in the bag just 3 hours earlier, to being utterly defeated and feeling like I had no chance. John came into the time station right behind me, and he continued on. The next morning I saw that he had finished a mere 6min after the cutoff – boy oh boy did that send shock waves of self-doubt through my mind – did I give up too easily? If I’d kept going would I have had a chance to finish? Afterall, I was going about the same pace as John. But hindsight is 20/20, and there’s no sense asking the “what ifs”. Afterall, considering that about 14hrs before finally abandoning I was sitting in a ditch thinking I was done, the fact that I was able to keep going and ride another 160 miles through heat, hail, and wind is still an accomplishment that I can be proud of. I may not have finished, but this was an extremely challenging course coated with pretty miserable conditions, but I didn’t go down without a fight! I rode 457 difficult miles in 42.5hrs, of which I was on the bike riding for 38hrs and 16min. I probably lost a good hour or two due to the back issues, which ended up putting me in enough of a hole that I couldn’t quite crawl back out. About half the field DNFd, which goes to show how tough a course it is. And experienced veterans struggled too. Karen Armstrong, the women’s winner, had done the 508 in about 34hrs last year, and it took her over 45hrs to complete RAO. And Sandy, a hard core ultra cyclist with a lot of these events under her belt just snuck in under the cutoff as the only other woman finisher. I’m still disappointed that I didn’t finish – this was afterall the first time that I’ve DNFd anything – but at the same time there’s a lot to be learned from defeat. I know in my heart that I’m capable of finishing RAO, so perhaps I’ll be back next year for revenge! In the meantime, a heart felt thanks to my awesome crew of Mike, Donna, and Katie! Without you guys I’d have never made it as far as I did – your encouragement and support were incredible! It was a tough weekend for competitors and crew alike, but you all rose to the challenge, so thank you, thank you, thank you!!

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The Numbers of RAAM: Training, Stats, Nutrition, Costs

I often get asked about the “numbers of RAAM” – things like training, stats, nutrition, cost, etc. Below I’ve tried to summarize these numbers and give a bit of info about each area.

I split my training into 3 phases: 2 high mileage phases (one in Aug/Sep of 2011 and one in Apr/May of 2012) and 1 strength building phase. After the high mileage phase in Aug/Sep (where I rode over 3,000 miles in 2 months) I took a little bit of down time in October before focusing in on the strength training through the winter and into the spring. During this winter/spring phase I focused on intensity (spin classes at Integrate Performance Fitness), strength/power/muscular-balance (strength/conditioning classes at Integrate Performance Fitness), getting lean (I dropped my body fat percentage from about 25% to about 16% and lost about 15lbs total while actually increasing my lean body mass), and getting stronger on the bike (doing shorter rides with lots and lots of climbing, especially difficult climbing – sustained climbs with gradients over 10% – think climbs like Redwood Gulch, Jamison Creek, Alba, Montevena, China Grade, Sierra Road, Black Road, Bohlman-On-Orbit, etc.!). Then I ramped up the volume again in the spring, while still trying to keep the climbing numbers decently high (i.e. very few “junk” miles) – I did another 2 month period where I rode over 3,000 miles between mid-March and mid-May. This approach to my training really seemed to work well, and I got significantly stronger and faster on the bike. Here are some of the stats:

12 month lead-up to RAAM (June 2011 to May 2012 – includes Race Across the West in June 2011):
Distance: 10,400 miles

11 month lead-up to RAAM (July 2011 to May 2012 – the time after I decided I was going to do RAAM):
Distance: 9,300 miles

9 month lead-up to RAAM (when I started tracking elevation and time):
Distance: 7300 miles
Elevation: 511,875 feet
Ride Time: 509 hours (21.2 days)
Average Climbing Ratio: 70 ft/mile
Average Speed: 14.3 mph

Stationary trainer (October to April): 62 hours
Strength Training (July to May): 88 hours
Bikram Yoga (October to May): 75 hours

Highest mileage month: 1720 miles (April 2012)
Highest climbing month: 121,300 feet (April 2012)
Hardest climbing month: 131 feet/mile (January 2012)

Lowest mileage month: 269 miles (October 2011)
Lowest climbing month: 16200 feet (October 2011)
Easiest climbing month: 51 feet/mile (May 2012)

Highest mileage week: 610 miles (August 1st-7th, 2011, 4 days of riding in the Canadian Rockies)
Highest climbing week: 39,250 feet (April 3rd-8th, 2012, 507 miles, 77 ft/mile)
Hardest climbing week: 145 feet/mile (January 2nd-8th, 2012, 83 miles, 12,076 feet)

RAAM Training By Week RAAM Training By Month

Here are some of the “stats” for the actual race itself. Some of the nutrition data may not be completely accurate, as I believe there were some things that didn’t get recorded later in the race, but they’re still pretty good ball park figures! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to gather complete data on the exact climbing and my ride time (versus the total elapsed time). I do however know that over the last 733 miles of the race there were 41,000ft of climbing and my ride time was 53.67 hours (2days, 5hrs, 40min), so my ride-time average was 13.6mph. This was from about Bloomington, IN to Annapolis, MD, which took me about 87.25hrs (3 days, 15hrs, 15min) of elapsed time, which is an elapsed-time average of only 8.4mph. So my off the bike time during this segment was a whopping 33.5hrs! During this time I took 5 sleep breaks and 1 power nap, but I also had my crash and all of my “melt-downs” which wasted a LOT of time. Up until the first melt-down between Chillicothe, OH and Athens, OH I was on track to finish in just over 12 days – then all hell broke loose and I was lucky to finish at all! Anyway, here are some numbers!

Distance: 2993 miles
Elevation: ~120,000 feet (~40ft/mile)
Elapsed Time: 12 days, 18 hours, 46 minutes
Average Speed: 9.76 mph (this includes off-the-bike time)
Placing: 2nd place woman, 1st Canadian woman to ever finish solo RAAM, and the 31st woman to ever finish solo RAAM
My Official Results: RAAM website
Percentage of Solo Women Racers Who Finished: 75% (3/4)
Percentage of All Solo Racers Who Finished: 62% (28/45)
All 2012 RAAM Results: RAAM Website
Sleep: ~2hrs/day
Longest Distance Without Sleep: 395 miles in 28hrs (Oceanside, CA to Congress, AZ)
2nd Longest Distance Without Sleep: 310 miles in 24hrs (Trinidad, CO to Greensburg, KS)
Calories: 83,000 calories
Average Calories: 270 cal/hr (6,480 cal/day)
Fluid: 3,500 ounces
Average Fluid: 12 oz/hr (288 oz/day)
Money Raised for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society: $13,500
Crew Members: 10 from Oceanside to Durango, 11 from Durango to Annapolis
Highest Elevation: 10,800 feet (Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado)
States Crossed: 12 (California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland)
Weight Lost: ~5lbs
Flat Tires: 6 (4 rear, 2 front)
Bicycle Chains Used: 2
Bikes Ridden: 1
Bikes Available: 3
Tears Shed: Too many to count!
Ice Baths Taken: 5 – all facilitated by an evil crew member! ;)
Times Ridden Off The Road Due To Falling Asleep: 6+
Crashes: 1 (just before leaving Ohio – I fell asleep and drifted into a concrete barrier)
Temper Tantrums Thrown: More than I care to admit to!
Number of Times a Bike was Purposefully Thrown into a Guardrail or to the Ground: 2
Number of Times a 2-Way Radio was Purposefully Thrown to the Ground: 1
Times I Lost My Mind: Pretty much at least once a day starting on day 5
Ladybug Hitchhikers: 1 (just after passing into Colorado)
Red Trucks Spotted in Missouri: Lots!
Sightings of Men In A Coconut Bra and Grass Skirt: Mike (x?), Justin (x1), Wayne (x1), Alan (x1)
Cow Costume Sightings: Doug, Justin, Mike
Super Hero Costume Sightings: Justin
Scantily Clad Men Sightings: Mike, Wayne, Justin
Frog Hats: 1 (Doug’s!)
Corn Fields Passed: Way too many!
Corny Jokes About Corn: Way too many! (Mike, Tracey)
Number of Crew Who Want to Move To Kansas: ZERO!
Unidentified Road Kill in Missouri: Way too many!
Number of Cases of Athlete’s Foot on a Butt: 1 (mine!)
Number of Times the Crew Questioned my Taste in Music: Unknown…
Number of Times Macaroons Were Made in a Laundromat: At least once!
Max Number of Women Who Fit Into A Bathroom Stall at Once: 5 (Tuba City has spacious bathrooms!)
Number of WalMarts Visited: More than the crew would have liked!
Number of Times a Crew Member Was Spotted Shaving in a WalMart Parking Lot: At least once! (Mike)

After the first night when I didn’t sleep at all, I slept about 2hrs per night. The strategy was to not sleep the first night in order to try and get through more of the desert at night when it was cooler. Here are the segments between my sleep breaks:

Oceanside, CA – Congress, AZ: 395 miles (28hrs)
Congress, AZ – Cottonwood, AZ: 87.7 miles
Cottonwood, AZ – Bluff, UT: 266 miles
Bluff, UT – Pagosa Springs, CO: 164.3 miles
Pagosa Springs, CO – Trinidad, CO: 218.3 miles
Trinidad, CO – Greensburg, KS: 310.2 miles
Greensburg, KS – Yates Center, KS: 207.5 miles
Yates Center, KS – Jefferson City, MO: 231.7 miles
Jefferson City, MO – Effingham, IL: 244.5 miles
Effingham, IL – Batesville, IN: 218.4 miles
Batesville, IN – 40miles past Chillicothe, OH: 182.9 miles
40 miles past Chillicothe, OH – Little Hocking, OH: 47.2 miles (sleep break after crashing)
Little Hocking, OH – Grafton, WV: 104 miles
Grafton, WV – 15 miles past Hanover, PA: 239.4 miles
15 miles past Hanover, PA – Annapolis, MD: 76.2 miles

I often get asked what I ate during RAAM and during my training. I’ve found that I can only stomach “sports nutrition products” for about 10hrs before I start getting sick of them – obviously RAAM (and the training) is much longer than 10hrs, and taking in enough nutrition is critical, so I decided to abandon sports nutrition products completely in the lead up to RAAM, and focus on eating “regular” food. Yes, I ate some bars and gel blocks during training, but I also ate things like trail mix, muffins, sandwiches, burritos, donuts, etc. And I drank things like juices, chocolate milk, iced coffee drinks, iced tea, and sodas. I’m blessed with an iron stomach, so I’m able to eat almost anything while I ride. This was my strategy going into RAAM – regular food, with an emphasis on variety so that I didn’t get sick of any one thing. Basically if it sounded appealing or I was craving it, then I was going to eat it. Yes, I planned on some “junk” calories (fast food, sodas, etc.), but I also planned on healthier options as well (sandwiches, pasta, mashed potatoes, etc.).

Since you’re trying to consume a LOT of calories (upwards of 7,000 calories per day, or over 80,000 calories during the race – the equivalent of 40 days worth of food crammed into 12 days), you want to eat calorie dense food (just think of the stress that you’d put on your gastrointestinal system if you tried to do this quantity of calories on high volume low calorie foods!!). Since I also don’t have very good luck with taking salt tablets (they tend to upset my stomach), I also needed to get a lot of sodium from the food I was eating. So I wanted calorie dense foods that were high in sodium. As Tim Woudenberg said one time when talking about food on RAAM, the American fast food industry has mastered the ability to serve you a meal with over 1,000 calories that still leaves you hungry for more – i.e. fast food can certainly help you get some calorie dense high sodium foods! I hadn’t intended to eat as much fast food as I ended up eating, but some of that was due to the fact that often when I was stopping for my sleep break and taking my big meal of the day it was in the wee hours of the morning and food options were limited.

In general I think nutrition was one area that we had relatively few problems with during the race – sure, there was some room for improvement, but my physical energy levels seemed to be pretty good throughout (far better than I’d expected in fact!), and I was riding “stronger” than I’d expected to later in the race. I don’t think that would have been possible if we were way off base with nutrition. Much bigger issues that caused us to lose time were sleep deprivation and butt issues. Anyway, here are some of the numbers in terms of what I consumed during RAAM on my way to taking in over 83,000 calories (the equivalent of what is stored in about 24lbs of body fat!) and 3,500 ounces of fluid (over 27 gallons)!

Some Examples Of Totals During RAAM:

75 Gogurts (5250 calories)
19 KFC drumsticks (2300 calories)
4 McDonald’s Quarter Pounders (3000 calories)
7 Milkshakes/Malts (3480 calories)
8 McDonald’s Breakfast Sandwiches (4800 calories)
6 Hot Pockets (3540 calories)
4 Subway Tuna Sandwiches (2120 calories)
8 Banana/Nutella Sandwiches (4000 calories)

21 Mountain Dews (3570 calories)
14 Sunkist Orange Sodas (2660 calories)
11 Sprites (1540 calories)
8 Cokes (1120 calories)
13 Chocolate Milks (2470 calories)
22 Iced Mochas (3300 calories)
24 Grape Juices (3360 calories)
19 Orange Juices (2090 calories)
10 Cranberry Juices (1260 calories)
11 Iced Teas (990 calories)

5 cups blueberries
2.5 cups strawberries
10 bananas

The costs of RAAM are pretty intimidating. The entry fee alone is over $3,000 for a solo rider. Then you have all the costs of vehicle rentals, assembling a crew (flying crew to/from the race), accommodation (pre/post/during the race), fuel costs, food/supplies for the rider and crew, equipment to outfit the vehicles (power inverters, splitters, flashing lights, external sound/PA systems, communication systems [satellite phones, 2-way radios, cell phones], navigation systems [netbooks, GPS], first aid kits and medical supplies, safety equipment, etc.), extra bike equipment, bike clothing to handle any kind of weather conditions that might be encountered along the way, etc.!

Some of these items could be viewed as “capital expenditures” in that once you have them you don’t have to buy them again for subsequent races (examples would be things like the electronics, external PA/sound systems, a lot of the bike clothing I purchased, etc.). Since this was the first time I did RAAM, I didn’t have a lot of that equipment, so adding them into the totals makes the number even larger than I’d anticipated it would be (I’d estimated/budgeted between $20,000 and $30,000, hoping it would be closer to the $20k number – instead we ended up spending over $35k).

Other factors that played into us exceeding our budget was the fact that I opted to go with a bigger crew. Some folks do RAAM with only 2 vehicles and 6 crew members, but I felt that this would be spreading things too thinly and the crew wouldn’t get enough opportunities to rest, and I’d be possibly setting myself up for failure. I didn’t want to “cut corners” and jeopardize my chances of finishing (or my safety or the safety of the crew) by being “cheap” – after all, this was a HUGE investment of my time, energy, and money, so I wanted to set myself up for success. So I decided to go with 3 vehicles and 10 crew members (I actually had 11 crew members from Durango to the end). This obviously increased the costs as well.

We rented 2 of the vehicles (a one-way minivan rental and a return Sprinter van rental) and used our own personal minivan for the 3rd vehicle (we essentially bought the minivan last fall with the main motivator being to use it for RAAM). We bought 2 vehicles back across the country (the Sprinter van plus our minivan), so that was additional fuel costs and food/accommodation for the return trip too (but it also allowed us to get all the gear back easily). We opted to use a Sprinter van instead of an RV for our crew sleeper vehicle – one of the large motivators for this was to save costs, but in the end given how much money we spent building the sleeping platform for in the back of the Sprinter, and the number of hotels that we stayed at during RAAM anyway (more than originally anticipated because of all the butt issues I was having that necessitated accessing showers more frequently), it probably wasn’t much cheaper than an RV would have been.

Anyway, I’ve added up all the direct costs during the race (including the trip back), as well as the purchases directly related to RAAM that happened in the months leading up to RAAM (by no means have I accounted for every penny that I spent in the year leading up to the race, but I’ve tried to account for most of the bigger expenditures, so the numbers should be fairly accurate). It’s amazing how quickly it all adds up! Here’s the breakdown:

Vehicle Rentals: $5,250
Flights: $1,600 + 193,000 air miles (20 flights total)
Lodging: $3,400
Race Registration/Fees: $3,300
Gas/Diesel: $3,700
Food: $5,600 (food, medical, supplies, etc. during the race)
Equipment: $8,000 (electronics, netbooks, GPS, phones, radios, crew supplies, medical supplies, etc.)
Bike Equipment: $4,700 (spare parts, clothing, etc.)
Building Supplies: $900 (to build sleeping platform in Sprinter van and shelving in Follow vehicle)
TOTAL: $36,450

So there you have it! RAAM is by no means “cheap” or “easy” on ANY level! Since I’ve committed to doing another similar race next year (Tour of BC), you can see why I’m going to be working extra hard to try and find some cash sponsors! If you or the company you work for are interested in sponsoring an ultra-cyclist, certainly get in touch with me!

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Motivation for something like RAAM

I’ve been thinking a lot about RAAM since I finished, and trying to process everything that happened. Even almost a month later I still don’t think the accomplishment has truly “sunk in”. I’ll be honest – rather than feeling elated I’ve felt an “emptiness”. I worked so hard and so long to get to RAAM, that when it was all over and done with I felt I had a gaping hole.

I’m often asked what makes me want to do these crazy ultra-endurance events – why put your body, mind, and soul through such agony? It’s something that’s intangible and difficult to explain, but I think the emptiness I now feel helps me to understand it. What makes me (and others like me) do something as crazy as RAAM is something deep within us – a source of self-motivation and self-challenge that probably only those with a similar such fire within can fully understand.

I’ve looked back at RAAM and tried to understand some of the conflict I had with my crew at various points along the race – in my race report I wrote about the importance of the crew/rider communication compatibility, and how some types of communication worked and others didn’t. I think I’ve also tied this issue of communication style back to that inner fire of self-motivation as well. My crew were rookies to crewing for a solo RAAM athlete (most had never even crewed for a shorter ultra cycling race), so when they were told by the person in charge that I, the rider, would be looking for any excuse to be off my bike, and that their job was to keep me on the bike, they took this at face value (why shouldn’t they?). Yes, they were right about needing to keep me on my bike, but they were dead wrong that I would be looking for any excuse to be off my bike. You don’t sign up for something like RAAM and invest all the time, effort, money, and energy into it to show up and then look for “excuses” to stop riding or to quit. I think anyone who’s crewed for me in the past will corroborate that I’m a fighter, and I’ll endure pain and the elements and fatigue and will keep getting back on my bike without someone telling me to do so. Yes, I may slow down as I get tired, but the only things that will stop me, or at least cause me to take pause and reconsider continuing, are if I’m concerned about causing permanent physical damage to my body, or if I feel unsafe.

You can’t do something like RAAM if you don’t have that burning motivation within you – it doesn’t matter what your crew does or says to you, if you don’t have it, you won’t finish. You personally have to want it with your entire being, with every fiber in your body. The crew then needs to tap into this inner motivation and nurture it throughout the race. This goes back to the “midwife vs. dominatrix” crewing styles – if you have that fire inside of you, the crew just needs to tap into it and keep it stoked. Keep the rider in the loop about things concerning the race and allow the perception that the rider is still a part of the decision making process. You the crew will be the ones actually making most of the decisions, but at least present decisions to the rider and explain how/why they’re being made in the context of the race. Doing so will allow the rider to tie it to their inner motivation and tap into that motivation – don’t just tell the rider to do something with no context or reasoning provided, because then the rider will feel like they’ve lost that connection to their goal, and they start to disconnect from that inner motivation because they feel out of the loop and powerless (this is what happened to me when I was threatening to quit during RAAM).

Yes, external motivators are needed to supplement the inner motivation (I was extremely motivated by hearing encouragement and messages from the outside world, seeing my crew dressed up on the side of the road doing silly things, listening to my crew joke and laugh with me on the radio, etc.), but ultimately the rider chose to be out there, and if they did so for the right reasons then they will find a way to make it through, and if they didn’t, then there’s probably nothing that you as crew can do to change that. This doesn’t mean you should give up or not try of course, and in shorter races you might be able to “coax” or “domineer” someone through it, but I just don’t think that’s possible with something like RAAM – the finish line has to be within you before you even start, or you’ll never get to it. Many exceptionally talented athletes far stronger physically than me have started RAAM and not made it to the finish. I’m not saying that none of them had it in them – there are obviously many other factors that come into play for something as long and grueling as RAAM, and many of them did have it in them (illustrated by the fact that many return and subsequently finish). I’m just trying to illustrate that RAAM is so much more than a physical challenge – the human body is incredibly adept at surviving and persevering – it’s the mental/emotional desire to “want” to keep going that’s the challenge, and that’s where that inner motivation is vital.

I think the ABC Wide World of Sports 1983 RAAM coverage had a quote at the end that captures the essence of what I’m trying to say:

“There is a motivation here, that most of us cannot understand or identify with. It’s shared only by a very few, and while they may derive some satisfaction from the attention we pay them, they don’t need it. They would do what they do with or without our cameras, with or without the support of bystanders along the road. Most of us will never fully understand that, but we should be able to appreciate it.”

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RAAM 2012 Race Report – Part IV: Angels and Demons, the Run-In to Annapolis

In case you missed the first installments of this race report:
Part I: Tapering, More Dangerous than Training!
Part II: RAW Revisited
Part III: Mississippi Ho!

And now for Part IV….

We were just over 8 days into the race, and I’d just crossed the mighty Mississippi River. We’d traversed 6 states in the first 2000 miles (California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri), and had 6 states left to go (Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland), all of which were to be first time visits to these states for me. We had a little under 5 days left to cover this last 1000 miles, so just over a double century a day – it seemed doable.

As we crossed the Mississippi River and entered Illinois, I was feeling a lot better than I had a few hours earlier – the longer break on the other side of the river at the time station had really rejuvenated me. Katie, Doug, and Dawn were in the follow vehicle, and we proceeded to make our way towards Greenville, only about 45 miles up the road. Along here Doug was Skyping with his wife, Allyn, and so I got to say hello to her. I also got another Dairy Queen strawberry milkshake on this section which tasted pretty good. On this section we were caught by several teams as well, so it was nice to see some other riders and crews on the road. I think one of the teams was a Canadian team. I was surprised that I didn’t get sleepy at all on this section – I just kept plugging away and riding to the music that was playing over the external speakers. In Greenville we stopped quickly and I ate while I got a foot massage from Dawn and Donna (Donna and Mike were in the errand vehicle).

Foot massage

Getting a foot massage from Dawn in Greenville, Illinois

Next up we had a 50 mile stretch to Effingham – the location of my next sleep break. It started out fine, but pretty soon I couldn’t keep my eyes open. So was to begin another night battling the sleep and self-awareness demons. This night wasn’t quite as bad as the first night in Kansas, but I was definitely clueing out for sections, and my memories are a bit jumbled. I do remember Doug getting me to do little sprints to help keep me awake, and him telling me what good form I had (thanks Inetgrate Performance Fitness!). I remember really battling to stay awake. I also remember becoming at least partially disconnected mentally in that there are some blocks of missing time. I also remember when we got to a town before Effingham and I thought we were almost there and then was disappointed to find out we still had about 20 miles (or something fairly significant) to go. I remember seeing a rider in front of me who didn’t seem to have a follow vehicle (even though it was dark) – although I’m not sure if this is a “real” memory or a figment of my imagination. In the final run-up to Effingham I fell asleep on the bike and rode off the road – I woke up on the gravel on the side of the road, but somehow managed to stay upright and get back on the road – this “off-roading” was becoming a concern…. There were a couple of rollers going into Effingham, and I seem to recall seeing a train as we entered the city, although maybe it was just a highway, I can’t recall for certain. When we got to the time station I was loaded into the vehicle and ferried to the hotel, where you guessed it, an ice bath was waiting for me!

The next morning was one of the more difficult mornings (to date) for me to get going – I was really sleepy and really low for some reason. I wasn’t moving very fast, and I was half asleep on my bike. I remember a couple more teams passed me on this section. I don’t remember when things turned around, but perhaps it was after our first bathroom stop that I finally “woke up”. I then remember a good chunk of time where I was moving really well – the music that was playing really got me going – I think it was more of what we’d played the previous morning (Ke$ha, Katy Perry, etc.) plus some of Tracey’s music. This was when we passed into Indiana by crossing the Wabash River. I remember asking Mike to take a picture of the “Entering Indiana” sign and post it on Jerry Cottingham’s Facebook wall. He’s from Indiana and his brother, Brad, had tragically passed away a few months earlier, and I remember Jerry had said that Brad would be with me in Indiana. I’d gotten rather emotional thinking about this earlier in the day when I’d asked how long until we passed into Indiana, and this was another special moment on the race. Later in the day I definitely think I had a guardian angel with me, so I can only assume it was Brad.


Crossing into Indiana

Wabash River, Indiana

Crossing the Wabash River into Indiana

We soon passed through Sullivan, IN, the next time station, and after that we stopped at a gas station for a bathroom break. The follow vehicle needed to get gas and take a break, so the errand vehicle followed me for a while. With no music or 2-way communication I quickly became very sleepy again. Then when the follow vehicle caught back up we were apparently in a more built up area and they didn’t want to play external music (or perhaps it was an area it was banned in, I’m not certain), so my doldrums continued. I’d now had 2 wild swings for the day – I’d started off half asleep, then come to life, and now I was back asleep. I recall that we were going over some rollers, and on one of the descents I nodded off and was somehow jerked awake when my arms started to collapse. This sensation was starting to get distorted though – it had happened several times that morning, and when it happened I remember it feeling like there was something wrong with my bike and the cog or chain was slipping. At some point I know I’d told my crew this, and said that I assumed it was related to me just nodding off, but that I wasn’t completely sure. Anyway, after this latest nod-off incident on the downhill, I stopped on the next crest of the hill because I was concerned about safety. This is when Jason “The Hammer” Lane, also from Canada, passed me. I didn’t know at the time that he’d actually been hit by a vehicle back in Arizona, and the vehicle had driven over his arm and shoulder, yet here he was still riding strong – wow!

What follows is a blur – this was the beginning of my first “mind losing” experience during daylight hours (and probably the “scariest day” for me at RAAM). I’m missing some time here, and then I remember being in a town and the crew possibly asking me to pull over at one point because we needed to let cars pass that were backed up behind us. As happened so often, I had a tremendous sense of deja vu, and felt like I’d just ridden through this town on a different ride (even though I’d never been to Indiana before!) and very recently (even though obviously I was no where near Indiana until today!). I remember being confused, and not sure what was happening since I couldn’t remember the stretch leading up to this. Then at one point a truck pulled out immediately in front of me and I had to slam on the brakes and stop to avoid hitting it. I was rather shaken up and we pulled off onto a side street as I tried to regain my wits. My brain was slowly shutting down, and my senses were becoming distorted. I remember feeling like there was something wrong with my bike – I kept thinking the brakes were rubbing or something because I was slowing down on what I perceived to be a downhill (since it turned out that there was nothing wrong with the bike, I can only presume that what I perceived to be a downhill was in fact an uphill), and I felt like there were some horizontal forces on the bike that were “pulling” it. I’d ridden this bike for a year and a half and suddenly it felt foreign and unresponsive to me. I expressed to the crew what I was feeling, and even admitted that there was a possibility that it was all in my head, but that I wanted Doug to take a look to be sure. We were approaching a crew shift change, so the crew assured me that they’d get Doug to take a look when he came on shift. I assumed that this meant he’d look at the bike while I was stopped, so I was confused when I rode past him on the side of the road and supposedly that was the visual inspection required to say that the bike was fine. I was open to the possibility that it was all in my head (after all, there wasn’t much else up there right now anyway!), but I wanted someone to look at this seriously to be sure. I was conceding that I was probably losing it mentally, but I still wanted to be taken seriously, just in case there was an issue.

As the crew shift change occurred, the crew chief who was in errand vehicle ended up following me, and I remember her talking over the PA to me, which immediately set me off emotionally. At one point she said something accidentally over the PA that was clearly intended to be said over the radio to the other vehicle instead, and the contents of that communication made me livid. I think this further sent me into the downward spiral that I was on. The follow vehicle with Doug, Katie, and Dawn took over shortly thereafter, and I felt like we were going in circles. I kept thinking we were passing the same house over and over again. I was also still upset that no one had looked at my bike (although for all I know we had stopped and they had looked at it, because it became clear pretty soon that I was missing chunks of time). I’d been wanting to stop for a while but wasn’t being allowed to, so finally I stopped anyway even though my crew was telling me not to. I don’t think I’d been eating/drinking enough, which wasn’t helping. They gave me a corn dog that they’d picked up for me (I’d asked for one many hours earlier when we’d had our last bathroom stop, but there weren’t any there), and I wanted to eat it while I was stopped, but they kept trying to push me back on the bike to eat it. I got mad and threw what was left of the corn dog on the ground. Yes, RAAM diminishes you to acting like a 2 year old…. I got back on the bike, and to show my anger I started riding as slow as I possibly could – because of course this is absolutely what a stubborn 2 year old would do – forget that the race is for them and that this behavior is hurting no one but themselves!!

I was in a really messed up state mentally – I felt like we were going in circles, I had no idea how far we’d gone (my cyclometer batteries had died earlier in the day so I had nothing to reference what progress I was making or how fast I was riding), my bike felt strange and foreign, and I didn’t know where we were going (I felt like the crew shift had happened haphazardly and no one had bothered to tell me what the plan was – it really helps in these situations to know what the plan/goal is – it gives you something concrete to focus on and something to try and hold onto to keep yourself in reality). I finally stopped and tried to express this to the crew. We had a very productive pow-wow (at least from my perspective – it calmed me down and got me back on track). I told them I felt like we were going in circles, and that I needed them to help me by talking me through this. We set out again, and I felt somewhat calmed down, but then I started falling asleep again. I had my scariest fall-asleep moment on the bike up to this point – it was descending a hill in an area with trees on the side of the road, and I remember waking up on the lip of the pavement on a curve going very fast. To this day I don’t know how I didn’t go down – somehow I managed to hold that lip and stay on the road. I really do think that I had a guardian angel at that point who woke me up just in time, and I’ll always assume that was Brad Cottingham, Jerry’s brother – he was my Indiana angel.

At this moment I knew we had to take drastic measures if I was going to be able to keep riding to the next time station and get there in one piece. I immediately asked for caffeine, and lots of it. The crew started mixing caffeine tablets into my drinks, but it took a while for them to start to kick in. I went through another phase where I don’t remember anything. I know that to be the case because I’d looked at my watch when we’d stopped for our earlier pow-wow, and when I looked at my watch now it was an hour later, but when I was talking with Doug on the radio he said we’d stopped and talked 15 minutes earlier but I had zero recollection of this stop. He had however gotten new batteries into my cyclometer, plus Justin in the errand vehicle was doing a good job of telling me from the side of the road how far I’d gone and how far I had left to go to the time station – this gave me something to focus on. Perhaps the caffeine took effect finally, but I stayed fairly lucid from this point, although I was still battling sleepiness. I remember seeing Justin donning the infamous grass skirt and coconut bra somewhere along this stretch!! Apparently several people stopped and had pictures taken with him while he was on the side of the road marking a turn for me dressed this way! Unfortunately I don’t think we got a picture.

We seemed to be making our way over some pesky rollers in the countryside, and then suddenly we were in a built up area again. We were making our way to the next time station, Bloomington, Indiana, which is a fairly major city. As we got closer to the time station, I remember several more teams passing me, including a recumbent team, who’s rider said “see you in Annapolis!”. I was getting sleepy again though, and rode off the road at least one more time on this stretch. There was quite a bit of road construction on the lead up to the time station, which added to the stress. Finally we got to the time station and then pulled in to the Wendy’s parking lot nearby to do a bathroom break and shorts change. I knew that if we were going to keep going we needed to up the anti with the caffeine, so I took a couple more caffeine tablets. The original goal had been to get to Oxford, Ohio tonight, but that was 110 miles away, whereas Greensburg, IN (the next time station) was only 60 miles away. We figured we’d at least try to get to Greensburg, and re-evaluate as we went.

I left Bloomington feeling much more awake than I had in a while. The road we were on was pretty busy though, so we had to pull over several times to let traffic past. Along this stretch my friend Bob Corman called and they put him on the external speakers. Unfortunately I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but it was still nice to hear his voice. At one point on this stretch I thought I had a flat tire and stopped – it wasn’t completely flat, but appeared that it might have a slow leak, so we changed wheels just to be safe (or perhaps the crew was just playing along with me at this point?). Since I was amped up on caffeine pills, I was wide awake, and riding pretty strong. We were on the look-out for the caffeine “crash” though, and had figured I’d probably have to take more caffeine pills in about 2hrs. I needed a bathroom break, so the errand vehicle scouted out a location. Sure enough, just before we got to the bathroom break, about 2 hours from when I took the caffeine pills in Bloomington, I started coming down from the caffeine – the crew commented that it was pretty visible when it started to happen. The bathroom break was in a CVS, so Katie and Dawn accompanied me on this trip – what do you know, CVS actually has nice bathrooms! Caffeine pills also have a tendency to mess with your stomach, and I could definitely feel these effects – my stomach was churning and I felt a tad nauseous. I needed to make sure that I was still eating though, so along with 2 more caffeine pills I had some banana pudding and some cherry cobbler that the crew had picked up sometime before Bloomington – yum! The comic relief at this stop came when the 3 of us were temporarily locked in the CVS (the store had closed after we went in, so the doors were locked when we emerged from the bathroom). It only took a minute for the clerk to come and let us out, but we still got a good laugh at it and a picture of our predicament.

CVS Lockdown

Locked in the CVS in Indiana

We continued out of the CVS and were in a more built up area. I believe this is when we entered Columbus, IN, another fairly major city. It was late enough in the evening that traffic wasn’t too terrible, but it was still pretty busy. The errand vehicle, driven by Justin and Donna, did a great job of navigating us through the city. They ended up following me shortly thereafter as a crew shift change happened, and I told them my thoughts on what our strategy should be that night. I didn’t think we should plow on to Oxford, Ohio – it had been a stressful day (mind you what day at RAAM isn’t stressful?), and I knew that the only way to continue to Oxford would be to continue to pump myself full of caffeine, and I was concerned about the effects that further large doses would have on my body, especially my ability to keep food down (already I’d been feeling somewhat nauseous). Additionally, the stretch immediately out of Oxford was fairly hilly, but the stretch out of Greensburg was flatter, so I felt that starting up on a flatter section after my sleep break was a better idea. I also didn’t see much value in delaying my sleep break – if I was going to take a sleep break, why not stop earlier for it rather than continuing to dig ourselves a hole with regard to the problems I was having – maybe a slightly earlier sleep break might help get me back on track. Just before Greensburg, the follow vehicle caught back up after performing the crew shift change, and back in follow were Wayne, Katie, and Tracey. I reiterated my thoughts to Tracey, who I believe was also talking with Sandy. They decided on a compromise – we’d continue past Greensburg to Batesville. This would allow the caffeine to hopefully get out of my system before my sleep break, but would be an earlier stop than Oxford. I agreed, and we continued on. I also let Tracey know what a great job I felt the previous shift (Doug, Dawn, Katie, Justin, and Donna) had done – they’d stepped into a situation right where I was falling apart and was very unsafe, but we’d been able to work together to come up with a means of keeping me moving safely up the course.

Right around Greensburg, and right about 2hrs after my last caffeine pills, on cue I started coming down from the caffeine. Batesville was about 15 miles up the road, and on this section I started getting sleepy again now that the caffeine had worn off. It also started to sprinkle rain. The final run-in to Batesville seemed to take forever – talk about a spread out town! We finally got to the hotel though, and apparently as if on cue the rain got much worse as soon as I was off my bike and into the hotel – so our timing was impeccable, and the decision to stop here was a good one. Here we went through the typical routine – ice bath, food, and then sleep. On the run-in to Batesville I’d been asked what I wanted to eat when we stopped, and I’d told them that I’d like some “real” food if possible – I wanted a break from fast food, so I asked if possibly they could find some pasta or something. Of course it was late at night and nothing was open, but Dawn and the other crew who went ahead were able to find a frozen pasta dish at a grocery store, some mashed potatoes and gravy and biscuits, some chicken, and a microwave to heat it up – it really tasted good! I remember that this night though my sleep was very different – for the first time I was having vivid dreams/nightmares. I’m not sure if this was related to the caffeine or not.

After a couple of hours I was woken and the task to try and get me back on my bike ASAP began. As was becoming the pattern, I felt like I was being rushed. By this point in the race, what was probably happening was that time was slowing down for me and I was moving very slowly. Plus due to the extreme sleep deprivation that I was going through, I was more and more groggy every time I was woken up. So what I thought was taking a few minutes might have been taking 20 minutes. The crew’s job is to try and keep me moving as efficiently as possible, however once the rider reaches this slowed-down state there isn’t really anything that you can do to speed them up – you just have to deal with it because they’re just not capable of moving faster. I felt like I was being shoved and tugged out the door, so when I got outside and the follow vehicle wasn’t even ready to go I was pissed off to say the least! Why were people yelling at me to hurry up (ok, not yelling, but forcefully trying to rush me outside) when the vehicle wasn’t even ready to go and now I had to stand around and wait!!! At this point my “verbal filter” was long gone, and I let them know how mad I was. Finally the follow vehicle was ready to go, but we went to leave the parking lot and they didn’t know which way to go. Again, I got angry about having been rushed only to have to sit there and wait, so I arbitrarily picked a direction and made the turn. Well I guess I picked the wrong direction, so then we had to walk my bike back across the street and get moving in the other direction. Not exactly the best start to the morning!!

Once we got going I settled into a rhythm though, and actually rode relatively decently through to Oxford, Ohio. We were now in a new state – woohoo! I believe Mike, Tracey, and Charlie were in the follow vehicle, and I’m pretty sure I had another Nutella/banana/pita-bread sandwich made by Charlie. The day before Mike had made one for me while we were in Indiana and I’d commented that he wasn’t anywhere near as good a sandwich maker as Charlie was, so I once again got an expertly made sandwich from Charlie! :) I also ate a lot of Gogurt on this section – I think they even handed me 2 at once a couple times – nothing like a double fisted Gogurt to start your morning! The ride between Batesville and Oxford was actually fairly picturesque. In Oxford we stopped at the McDonalds at the time station for a bathroom break, and then continued on our way.

Leaving Oxford I remember Tracey reading me some of the comments/messages that had been coming onto my Facebook page, and this was pretty inspiring. Tracey was also talking me through the terrain, insisting that I power to the top of the rollers and keep pedaling beyond them too. This dialogue really helped. Somewhere along here I passed Hans Georg Haus (we’d been going back and forth for a few days now, and I’d seen his RV on the road a lot – his crew always cheered me on). We really got into a groove with Tracey talking me through the terrain, and it ended up being my 3rd fastest segment of the race. My mind was mostly there, but there were still a few “moments” – I remember at least once I made a turn when the crew had not instructed me to do so.

We got to the time station in Blanchester and took another bathroom break at the McDonalds. This was another of the rare manned time stations, and the volunteers even had homemade “Buckeyes” to give us (a peanut butter/chocolate treat). It was here that I started to realize that something was beginning to go wrong with my sense of taste. Since the previous evening in Indiana I’d started to notice that plain water was tasting funny to me. At first I thought the water bottles weren’t getting cleaned out properly after having juice/soda/etc in them, but here I had some water that was pre-bottled, and it too tasted awful. Earlier in the race I’d noticed that my mouth was becoming more “sensitive”, but this was the first sign of things not tasting right.

McDonalds, Blanchester

In the McDonalds in Blanchester, Ohio

As we headed out from Blanchester around mid-day I really started to feel the heat. I just seemed drained of energy, and the crew in the follow vehicle seemed to recognize that I’d pushed pretty hard on the previous segment so they allowed me to ease up on this section. I remember Tracey had me do some drills on this section – we did some high cadence work between power poles, and a couple of sprints as well. Not only was I feeling a bit weary, but my knees were a bit achy too. Just before the crew shift change was about to happen, Tracey came up with her “Let’s Make A Deal” game. I don’t remember what my part of the “deal” was, but we got to pull over in the shade for a couple of minutes and she did some acupuncture on my knees to try and help them feel better before she went off-shift. We hit the road again and came into a town – I remember seeing the Sprinter and the crew from both Errand and Sprinter. Tracey was continuing with her “high energy narration” of our cross country adventure, and I remember her dialogue through here including talk of the “paparazzi” (the crew) who were waiting for us to pass through town. She always seemed to be able to get me to smile and laugh out there. The crew shift change happened, and Doug, Katie, and Dawn were back in Follow, and Mike and Donna were back in Errand I believe. The terrain had been fairly mellow up to this point, but soon enough we found ourselves going through some bigger rollers. The heat continued to bother me, and eventually I needed another bathroom break. We stopped at a market and it was nice to get out of the heat for a few (ok, more than a few) minutes. I ate some cheesecake that Mike bought here, plus an ice cream sandwich. I also found a new hat that felt good – a ziploc bag full of ice!!

Ice hat

Cooling off somewhere between Blanchester and Chillicothe, Ohio

We continued down the road, and encountered even more of the big rollers. I once again caught up to Hans Georg Haus (he must have passed me while I was stopped somewhere), and this time I rode with him and chatted for a while.

Hans Georg Haus

Chatting with Hans Georg Haus

He told me how he’d attempted RAAM before but DNFd back in the 90s, and talked about his crew which included at least one of his children. He was wearing a neck brace already, and it looked rather uncomfortable – I was fortunate to have no neck issues throughout the race. It was nice to chat with another racer, and it further re-energized me to continue onwards. I proceeded past him and rode stronger all the way to the next time station in Chillicothe.
Riding with Hans Georg Haus

Riding with Hans Georg Haus between Blanchester and Chillicothe, Ohio

In Chillicothe there were 2 things of note – a Tim Hortons (which Mike and Donna were quick to visit!), and another RAAM fan who had been following my progress, Bruce Smith. Bruce knew our friends Tina and Michele, and apparently had helped the crew that Tina was on last year when they had some issues with their RV. Additionally, his wife was a Lymphoma survivor, so he had donated to my Leukemia and Lymphoma Society fundraising efforts. He was really excited to meet me, and likewise I was excited to meet someone who’d taken such a keen interest in the race. We chatted and took some pictures before heading out again. It was here that Doug showed us a video that he’d taken of Dawn dancing in the market that we’d stopped at earlier – they had really loud southern rock music playing, and I guess Dawn had felt the urge to dance – it was quite an entertaining video and was good for a laugh.

Dawn dance video

Watching a video of Dawn dancing, photo courtesy of Bruce Smith

Joan and Mike

Mike in Chillicothe showing me the upcoming route, photo courtesy of Bruce Smith

We headed out from Chillicothe with the goal of getting to Parkersburg, West Virginia before stopping for a sleep break. This was between time stations, but that’s because there were no hotels in Ellenboro, the time station beyond the next time station (Athens, OH). Little did we know that “the sh*t was about to hit the fan”…. Leaving Chillicothe I was tired but not overly so. We meandered through some corn fields, and I remember a house that we passed where everyone was outside waiting to cheer us on as we went by, including a little boy. A little bit after that Jason “The Hammer” Lane caught up to me again (he’d passed me the previous day back in Indiana just before my mental hiatus of the day, but somehow I’d ended up in front of him again). We rode together for a few minutes and chatted before I let him go on ahead. I think it was also along this section that Mike and Donna were keeping me entertained on the side of the road – Mike was dressing up in the cow costume and doing plank on the side of the road, and pushups off the bumper of the van, and Donna was wrapping herself in the Canada flag we had and pretending to flash people as they went by. It was certainly good for a laugh or two!

Donna flashing

Donna entertaining me on the side of the road by "flashing" me with the Canadian flag

We continued on through the Ohio countryside, and just before dusk the crew got Al Painter of Integrate Performance Fitness on the phone to talk to me over the external speakers. Unfortunately I couldn’t hear everything that he was saying, but it was still nice to hear someone’s voice from outside the race. While he was still talking I pulled over to put a vest on I believe because I was getting a bit chilled as the sun set, so I actually talked to him on the phone for a few minutes before we hit the road again. He told me how everyone back home was cheering me on and following my progress.

We were riding through some rolling hills, and as the sun set I really started to get sleepy. The crew had been giving me caffeine pills throughout the day – about 1 per hour I believe – but I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. Given the terrain, I didn’t feel all that safe (a few times I started to nod off on the downhills), so I decided to ask to take a power nap. From my training, I knew that power naps weren’t terribly effective for me – they’d wake me up for a couple hours, but wouldn’t really sustain me, but I knew that we were only a couple hours away from Parkersburg, so I was hoping a power nap would give me the kick start that I needed to make it to Parkersburg for a proper sleep break. The crew agreed, and soon enough I was napping on the ground.


"Obi-wan-Tracey" works on me while I nap

What happened next is a blur, and it wasn’t pretty….. I think what happened was that a shift change happened just before they woke me up (or maybe it was even happening as they were waking me up). When you wake up from a power nap, especially 10 days into RAAM, you’re extremely groggy, and it takes a few minutes to get your bearings. I remember feeling like I was woken up and suddenly I had a bunch of people all around me trying to put me immediately back onto the bike. I was groggy and still half asleep, so I became combative and resistive. This could just be my perception of what happened – again, I’d lost sense of time, so things were probably moving a lot slower than I felt they were, but I suddenly felt like chaos had broken out around me and I was being pulled from all directions. I think that if I’d been woken up by just one person, and given a chance to just come to my senses and get over the grogginess, eat some food, and then get put on the bike, things might have turned out better – but hindsight is 20/20, and it’s hard to know what would have happened given the state that I was in at that point. Instead, I was put on the bike half asleep and extremely combative/resistive. I’m not sure if it was at this point or a little bit later, but I think I ripped off the radio headset that was attached to my helmet and threw it and the radio to the ground before getting on the bike. I didn’t feel safe, I didn’t feel in control, and being reduced to the emotional state of a toddler the only thing within my control and my only way to “rebel” or express my displeasure was what I did on the bike. In order to try and demonstrate that I wasn’t safe, I started doing really stupid things on my bike – like riding close to the center line, and veering all over the road. The crew was yelling at me to stay to the right, so I veered off to the shoulder and onto the ditch partially and came to a stop. I got off my bike and threw it into the guardrail. In hindsight I’m certainly appalled and ashamed of my behavior, but that’s the mental and emotional limits that you take yourself to on something like RAAM – you become someone else out there and are reduced to an extremely primal being (or at least clearly I was – I can’t speak for every RAAM rider).

I was now off my bike and the crew set about trying to figure out how to get me back on the bike. At some point they got Sandy on the phone, and they had her talk to me. I fully expected her to give me a scolding and tell me to get the hell back on my bike and behave! I told her I felt unsafe, and I was somewhat surprised when she said that according to the rules if I felt unsafe then I had to take a sleep break, and then she instructed the crew to put me down to sleep. I guess she recognized that at this point arguing and fighting was a waste of energy, and that time would be better spent sleeping (we’d already wasted a lot of time at this point and only gone a couple of miles from where I’d taken my power nap). They put me in the back of the errand vehicle to sleep, and I remember laying there, ironically unable to sleep for quite a while, but finally I did drift off to sleep.

I don’t remember exactly what happened when I was awoken again, but I was still in a combative state. I do remember though that my knees were definitely achy, and I still felt terrible. My mouth felt awful at this point too – it had a salty taste that just wouldn’t go away. The crew somehow got me back on the bike, but I was barely moving. Every pedal stroke seemed to be a struggle, and I just didn’t feel right. Then I had to go to the bathroom. I was stopped again for quite a while. I can’t recall exactly when/where this happened, but somewhere along here I was trying to express the fact that I felt unsafe and that I didn’t feel that the crew understood how bad things were for me (how I was literally falling asleep mid-thought). I remember Tracey emphatically insisting that she “had my back” and was there for me, and that she’d be devastated if anything happened to me, so she (and everyone else on the crew) was doing everything she could to keep me safe. I remember Doug also playing a pivotal role on this stretch in terms of getting me calmed down. He showed me a picture of his friend who had battled cancer and said he hoped I got to meet her one day, and he reminded me of all the people all over the world who were cheering me on. Wayne also showed me a video that he’d taken of Lauryn, the 11 year old girl that I’d met back in Missouri. Finally just at dawn I was back on the bike and riding, somewhat calmed down. Somewhere along here the crew had addressed the fact that I’d wrecked the headpiece for the radios, and Doug had Macguyvered the radio so that it was zip-tied to my stem.

Macguyvered Radio

The radio "Macguyvered" to my stem with zip-ties thanks to Doug

I was riding along, and then suddenly the next thing I know I’m woken up by the fact that I’d ridden off the road onto the grassy shoulder – I’d fallen asleep yet again… I remember getting momentarily angry/upset and saying something over the radio like “I thought you had my back! What’s going on!”. Tracey came on the radio and I could tell that she was distressed. She told me that there was no advance warning that I was falling asleep – I was upright and riding, and then suddenly I was off the road. I could tell that she was crying, and this immediately calmed me down as I caught a glimpse of just how emotionally invested she was in my success AND my safety. I got back on the radio and tried to express that yes, I knew she did have my back. It was a very sobering moment, and it snapped me out of the funk I was in. Suddenly I found myself refocused and trying to do everything that I could to get back on track – I owed it to Tracey and the rest of the crew. My pace picked up, and I set about getting to the next time station in Athens. I even tried to lighten the mood by cracking a couple jokes about some of the town names on the road signs and alike.

We came through Athens in the early morning hours, and had to ride over some nasty cobblestones for a while. We got to the time station at the Walmart and stopped for a bathroom/breakfast break. I felt back on track, but then little things started happening that started freaking me out again. After being on my bike for over 10 days, all I wanted to do was sit and eat my breakfast off the bike. The crew wanted me back on the bike though, and I started to feel like I was being pulled at from all directions again and was being rushed and had no control. My sense of time was severely impacted by this point – I was probably moving in slow motion even though I felt like I was moving normally. When a rider gets into this state though, you can’t do much about it – trying to rush them and make them move faster is probably not going to work, and with me at least, it just caused me to dig my heels in even further. You do want the rider to try and be more efficient and multi-task, so trying to get me to eat while I was on the bike was the right thing to do, but how you go about trying to communicate this to the rider is key. I felt like I was being “lectured” and bossed around and had no control. Given that I had only just recently gotten back on track after the last blow-up, I was like the embers in a fire pit that weren’t quite out – it just took a little bit of fuel to reignite the fire, and unfortunately this was the fuel that set me off again. I threw the rest of my breakfast sandwich on the ground and had a few choice words with the crew as I angrily got back on my bike. I’d gone from calm, refocused rider, to angry, irrational rider again, all in the course of a few minutes.

Before going on to describe what happened next, let me take this opportunity to try and further explain the crew-rider dynamic and how different riders need different things. First off, I think it’s pretty safe to say that all ultra endurance athletes are very independent, self motivated people – you can’t train for and do ultra endurance events successfully without these characteristics. Many of us are even what you might call “control freaks”. This is probably a somewhat accurate description of my personality – very independent, and always wanting to be fully in control of the situation. Now look at something like RAAM where as the rider you basically have to turn over all control to the crew – this can be a very difficult, and in fact even a scary situation for the rider to be in – they’re used to being in control. Now you’ve got people dictating your every move – what/when you eat/drink, what you’re wearing, when you stop, when you sleep, how long you sleep, etc. There are different ways for the crew to orchestrate this with the rider though – you can just tell the rider what to do in a militaristic style, or you can present things in a way that gives the rider the illusion/perception that they’re still at least somewhat in control and that they’re being “heard”. Giving the rider the perception that they’re still somewhat in control is a tricky skill to master, but the crew who I’ve got along best with seem to be masters of this. One extreme example is what happened with me at Race Across the West last year on the last night. As we’d come into Montezuma Creek, Utah in the middle of the night, the follow vehicle had gone ahead to set up for me to take a sleep break. I got there, and with only about 100 miles left to go at that point I told the crew chief (Sandy) that I was wide awake and didn’t need a sleep break and we should keep going. I didn’t find out until 6 months later while visiting with Sandy that she’d fully expected this to happen (she didn’t expect that I would want to sleep), but by giving me that option she knew it gave me the perception that I was in control of my race. Sneaky, eh!

Another thing I learned from Sandy has to do with what a rider needs from their crew chief. I remember the first time she was crew chief for me at Race Across Oregon in 2010, I went into the race a bit scared of her – I knew she had a reputation for being “tough” – but she also had a perfect track record in terms of getting riders to the finish line, and I needed to get the “RAO monkey off my back” (I’d DNFd the previous year – my only DNF in an ultra). When we got out on the course I was surprised that rather than being like a drill sergeant she was much more “mothering” than I’d expected. I asked her about it afterwards, and her response was that with regard to what was needed out of the crew-chief, there were 2 types of riders – riders who needed a dominatrix, and riders who needed a mid-wife, and she figured out early on that I was the latter type, so that’s the role/personality she took on (she’s crewed for both types of riders, and gotten them all successfully to the finish line).

So I’m a rider who needs a “mid-wife” crew chief (or go-to person), and who needs at least the illusion that I’m somewhat in control. We’d discovered early on that my crew chief and I were incompatible, but Tracey had stepped in and was doing a great job being the “mid-wife” and my go-to person. She, like Sandy, also had a way of always making it seem like I was still being heard and that I was still somewhat in control. But some of the crew were interacting with me in a way that made me feel like I had absolutely no control over my race, and I kept trying to express this to them by telling them that I wanted to race “under my own terms”. They were just doing what they felt needed to be done, and I certainly can’t/won’t fault them for that. Throughout the race they were all selflessly giving their hearts and souls to the one single goal of getting me safely across the country, and obviously they were under a lot of stress and were somewhat sleep deprived as well. It was just a fact that at this point in time I was extremely emotionally/mentally unstable, and they didn’t realize that the way they were communicating with me was just causing me to dig my heels in even further. With other riders, a swift kick in the pants may have done the trick – but with me and my stubborn streak it wasn’t working and was having the opposite effect. So even though the crew was doing what they were doing because they were concerned about us losing time, my knee jerk reaction to the way they were communicating this with me was in fact causing me to lose even more time. Another description that comes to mind in terms of explaining this is that I didn’t want to be “lectured” on my race. I was the one who signed up for RAAM, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and I didn’t want to be lectured on it. Additionally, know that caffeine, sugar, and sleep deprivation are a potent combination, and they really do impact the rider and turn them into loose canons. I wasn’t the first RAAM rider to turn into an angry temper tantrum throwing beast out there – and I’m sure I won’t be the last!

So, with all of this in mind, and knowing what had already happened the night before, as we rolled out of Athens I was a land mine just waiting to go off. I felt I’d been rushed back onto the bike (for good reason of course), I felt like no one was listening to or understanding me (paranoia setting in), and I felt like I had no control over the situation and this wasn’t “my race” anymore. I started riding slowly to express my displeasure, and every subsequent instruction over the PA telling me to pedal faster made me pedal slower just to spite them. Again, what I did on the bike was the only thing I had control of, and even though this was clearly not helping me and my cause, it’s what toddler-Joan had been reduced to doing. Then Mike, who was driving Follow, started honking the horn at me (he’s explained since then that he actually thought I was falling asleep because I was riding so slow). Well that was the final spark that set off the explosion (I thought they were honking at me to go faster). I stopped, got off my bike, threw it to the ground, proclaimed that I was done, and went and sat on the sidewalk next to the road. I wasn’t physically spent, I wasn’t falling asleep (at that moment at least), I certainly didn’t “want” to quit, but I didn’t want to go on when I felt I was no longer racing under my terms and had no control or input regarding what was happening. Several different crew members tried to talk to me, but I wasn’t listening to them. My stubbornness had taken hold, and I was “too proud” to budge.

Sit-in in Ohio

"I'm Done!" moment in Ohio

Then something really special happened. Janet Christiansen came along. This was her 4th solo RAAM, and she’d DNFd 2 out of her previous 3 attempts. She said that when she saw me sitting there she knew what I was going through, because she’d been there herself. She stopped her race, got off her bike, and came over to me. She put her hand on my shoulder (up to that point I hadn’t even known she was in the vicinity), and I think the first words out of her mouth were something to the effect of “I’ve been there, I know what you’re going through”. She sat down next to me and we chatted. I expressed my frustration with how my crew was interacting with me and how I didn’t feel I was able to race my own race anymore. She told me that at this point in the race you as a rider start to get paranoid, and she shared some of the things that were going on in her race. I told her how I didn’t really want to quit, but how I also didn’t feel that I could go on like this. I think at some point it was Janet who noted that under the rules we were permitted to ride together for 15 minutes a day (or maybe it was one of our crew members), and suggested that we ride together and continue our discussion. This gave me the “out” I’d been looking for and an excuse to get back on my bike. We mounted our bikes together and rode off with her follow vehicle behind us as we chatted some more. Janet’s true and selfless sportsmanship in this situation was remarkable, and she was definitely one of my RAAM angels. If she hadn’t come along, I’m not sure whether I would have ever gotten back on my bike – my stubbornness and demons might have won out instead. Thank you Janet!

Janet approaches

Janet stops racing and comes over to me

Janet gestures

Janet shortly after approaching me

Janet talks to me

Talking with Janet on the sidewalk

Ohio circus

The "circus" in Ohio - Janet, me, and both our crews

More talking

Janet continues to talk with me

Getting up again

Getting up again to get back on the bike

Janet and I head out again

Janet and I mount our bikes to ride together for 15 minutes

Solo riding

Back on the bike riding after talking with Janet

After our 15 minutes together, I rode on ahead, and my crew vehicles started leap frogging me (I think they recognized that I needed some space). I actually felt pretty good physically, and felt like I was riding pretty well. Then I started getting sleepy again though. The highway had a large grassy shoulder along this stretch, and it was fairly flat – just a couple of very minor rollers. Suddenly I woke up riding through the grass on the shoulder – I’d drifted off again. The Errand vehicle with Justin and Tracey had passed me just before this happened, and I guess they saw that I’d veered off the road. They stopped further up the road and when I got to them I stopped, still a little shaken by my latest off-roading. Tracey gave me her coffee to drink. Knowing how easy it was to set me off, I was avoiding the Follow vehicle and was stopping at the Errand vehicle more because I knew that both Justin’s and Tracey’s communication styles were less likely to set me off. I continued on, and I remember stopping to take my knee warmers off, and to put sunscreen on. I remember continuing to battle sleepiness, and finding myself nodding off on several occasions.

Then all of a sudden I woke up as I was bouncing off of a concrete barrier to the right of me – we were going over a bridge, so there was no grassy shoulder to drift off onto this time, instead I scraped up against the concrete barrier, bounced off of it a few times as I tried desperately to regain control, and then BAM, I was down on the pavement. I just lay there for a second trying to process what had happened – the first thought through my head was “well, I guess I’m done RAAM”. The Follow vehicle (with Wayne, Charlie, and Donna) had caught up to me just before the crash, and they were behind me when it happened. Almost immediately Charlie was at my side asking if I was ok. My shorts were shredded, as was my jersey sleeve, my right glove was shredded on the top and I was bleeding from my knuckles, and my right arm was covered in road rash. The ironic thing about all of this was that I think this was the first day that I was riding without arm coolers on – most of the rest of the race up until this point I’d had some kind of arm covers on. If I’d had my arm coolers on when I crashed, I probably would have walked away with barely a scratch…. I was still a bit dazed, but we needed to get off the road, so we walked up the road to where there was a side-road and a place that the vehicle could get safely off the road.

The errand vehicle came back down the road, and Tracey and Charlie got in the follow vehicle with me and set about trying to clean and dress my wounds. The follow vehicle was pretty crammed for space, and was only intended to have 1 person in the back, so with 3 of us back there it was pretty interesting! They cut my shorts off me (they were toast anyway) – and I only had one tiny scrape on my leg. Then they set about to clean the road rash on my arm. It hurt like heck, but I knew it had to be done. Tracey was trying to keep the situation light hearted (which I absolutely appreciated), and was cracking jokes. I had kinesio tape on my IT band and knees and she commented that I did an excellent job of protecting the kinesio tape during the crash and thanking me since this meant she didn’t have to redo it! It helped to be able to laugh at the situation. At one point Charlie dropped the scissors because of the tight confines she was working in, and they landed point down on her foot and impaled her – ouch!!

Road rash upper arm

Road rash on my upper arm from the crash (picture taken 4 days later)

Lower arm road rash

Road rash on my lower arm from the crash (picture taken 4 days later)

Tracey told me that she didn’t want to rush me back onto the bike, rather she wanted to give me a chance to collect my thoughts. She did say though that there was nothing about my injuries that should prevent me from continuing, and she told me about races where she’d crashed and then regretted quitting. She handled this situation perfectly – she didn’t tell me what to do, and didn’t try to rush me into anything, she just planted the seed that continuing was an option, but that it was my decision. I believe she then said they were going to leave me alone in the van for 15min and let me think about things and collect my thoughts. She did say that she hoped I’d at least get out there and at least try riding for 10min though to see how it went before I considered quitting, because she didn’t want me to regret not having tried. I asked for my phone and the iPad before they got out, as I figured that perhaps looking at some of the comments and such on Facebook might help me. I also decided to call a friend and solo RAAM finisher (not to mention she has close to 20 years of crewing and officiating experience), Cindi Staiger. I called Cindi, and fortunately she answered right away – I told her I’d just crashed, and that I didn’t know what to do. She asked about my injuries, and asked what caused the crash. She was very calm and she told me that I needed to take a 90min sleep break, and that then I needed to get back on the bike and ride 10min and then re-evaluate (exactly what Tracey had just told me I needed to do). Talking to her really calmed me down, and I agreed that what she said made sense. Cindi was my next RAAM angel. The crew moved me to the Errand vehicle to let me sleep. Before going to sleep I also posted on my Facebook page that I’d had a little crash, and that I was trying to decide what to do. Almost immediately responses started pouring in – several people mentioned they’d crashed in a race, quit, and regretted it later. Another friend, Tina Svihura, posted my cell number on Facebook and asked that folks send me encouragement, so then my text messages started going crazy too. Wow – up to this point I don’t think I realized just how many people were paying such close attention to my race!


A kind local delivers pizza to my crew while I'm sleeping after my crash

I took my 90min sleep break, and then Katie came and woke me up. I was groggy, and my arm hurt. It took me a while to get me dressed and ready to go, and I still didn’t know whether I was going to keep racing, but I at least was going to give it a shot. My arm was bandaged, but the sun beating down on it hurt even more. I got on the bike and proceeded down the road. I really needed to use a bathroom, and just beyond the top of the hill that I started on we came into a town, and there was a gas station, so I stopped. I think the crew was upset that I stopped, but I really needed a bathroom. When I came out, I also asked for my arm coolers – I thought that putting them on would help because I’d be able to wet them to cool my arms and then maybe the sun beating down wouldn’t hurt as much. The crew obliged, and then we were on our way again. The arm coolers made a world of difference, and suddenly I didn’t feel so bad – in fact I started to feel pretty good. The one thing I did notice though was that the left side of my saddle suddenly seemed to feel uncomfortable. At one point I asked Doug if they’d done anything with my saddle, or whether it had been damaged in the crash, and he said no. I still don’t know why my saddle felt uncomfortable on that side – maybe I had a bruise from the crash or something.

Pretty soon we crossed the state line and left Ohio behind us and entered West Virginia and passed through Parkersburg, the location we were supposed to have gotten to the night before, about 10hrs earlier…. After getting warmed up again, I was actually feeling pretty good, and the endless series of rolling hills on this section were much easier than I’d anticipated (none of the climbs were all that steep). I figured there would be worse to come later (everyone I’d spoken to said that West Virgina was one of the toughest sections of RAAM), and I kept wondering how much longer until we hit those worse sections. Katie, Dawn, and Doug were in the follow vehicle, and did a great job of keeping me motivated and moving along this section. Just before dark though we hit a LONG patch of road construction and the entire road surface had been “grooved”, so I had to ride over the grooved pavement for several miles. Grooved pavement isn’t fun to ride on in the best of times let alone over 2500 miles into a race when your butt, hands, and feet all hurt, and you’ve just recently crashed and have a sore arm!! Finally the grooved pavement ended, and shortly after that we turned off that highway and onto a narrower road – we were definitely into the steeper rollers now.

The sun set over the West Virginia hills, and we continued on. I felt ok for a couple more hours, but then I started getting really sleepy again… I battled it for a while, and then I finally pulled over and asked for my phone. I called Cindi again and told her I was having trouble staying awake, and that I was scared of riding on these twisty/windy West Virginia hills in the state that I was in. She gave me a couple suggestions to try, but said that I would probably have to go down for another sleep break eventually. She told me to hold my hands over my eyes for 2 minutes to warm them up – this definitely helped for a bit, but soon enough I noticed myself nodding off both on the uphills and downhills. I was less concerned about nodding off on an uphill – I was terrified of nodding off on a downhill. Cindi had also said to have the errand vehicle leap frog in front of me and stay in my line of sight to help guide me and provide visual cues/hints as to what was coming up – the errand vehicle tried to do this, but they weren’t staying in my sight – they’d just come into view and then they’d tear off up the road and I’d immediately lose sight of them again, which was very frustrating. Katie was trying to talk me through the course, which was a big help, but still not enough to keep me awake. On this stretch I also had the feeling again that we were going in circles, or that I had deja vu. I felt like we kept coming past the same gas station over and over again. At one point I pulled over again and asked what the terrain was like to the next time station. I was told it was mainly uphill, with only one or two shorter downhill sections. I decided to try and make it to the next time station and then take a sleep break there.

We pulled into Grafton, WV a little before 1am and proceeded to setup for a sleep break. I remember a crew member asking “are you sure you need this break”, which upset me again. My response was something like “I crashed into a friggin’ concrete barrier earlier today, and now we’re in a twisty technical section with a lot of hills and I can’t keep my eyes open, so YES I need this break!”. Another oversight here was that I didn’t eat before I went to sleep – you always want to eat right before you go to sleep on RAAM. I slept, and then was woken and given some macaroni and cheese to eat. I was groggy, but was trying to eat and wake myself up. I felt like I was doing a good job of getting myself going, but I guess I appeared to the crew to be moving in slow motion again, and “diddling” away time. The comments started to come again about hurrying up, and I felt my anger bubbling to the surface again. I felt like I was doing the best that I could, but that it wasn’t good enough for anyone. I was being told I wouldn’t make the cutoff if I didn’t stop wasting time and get moving, so I said “Fine, I’m done!”. I was once again ready to throw in the towel, not because I couldn’t continue on physically, but because everything had become a chore and I was tired of being told what to do and that what I was doing was wrong. Tracey came over and tried to talk some sense into me, and then she left me alone for a while.

I sat there for a while really struggling with what to do. Of course I didn’t want to quit, but I didn’t want to keep going either. Finally I decided to call Michele Santilhano, another friend who’d finished solo RAAM. At this point I didn’t even know if it was possible to make the cutoff, but I knew that she had finished very close to the cutoff, so I figured talking to her might help. Plus she’s always so positive and energetic and supportive that I just wanted to hear her voice. I called her (this was around 4am EST, so 1am her time), and thankfully she answered. I told her the predicament I was in, and she told me I was doing fine and that yes, I could make the cutoff, and started outlining what I needed to do. I immediately felt better talking to her, and decided to keep going, and I handed the phone over to Tracey so that the 2 of them could talk. Michele was yet another of my RAAM angels over this last section – she got me going again, but she was also instrumental in helping to guide Tracey and the rest of the crew through those next 30hrs. At this point I knew I couldn’t afford another “break-down” on my part, and wanted to surround myself with the folks who I felt were least likely to cause such a break down, so I told Tracey I didn’t want certain crew members who’d just upset me in the follow vehicle. Tracey told me that she was there for me those next 30+ hours all the way to the finish, but that she needed alert drivers, and she also needed the errand vehicle to be involved to help mark turns. I agreed, and asked for Katie and Dawn in the follow vehicle, and also said that I had no problem with Justin being in follow. Dawn, Katie, and Tracey piled into Follow, and then we were on our way again.

I definitely felt more alert than I had when we’d stopped, and things seemed to be going pretty good. Soon enough the sun was rising, and we were climbing a longish climb. Maybe a mile or so from the top I caught up to Janet again (she’d probably passed me back when I’d crashed and then gone down for a sleep break). I rode with her again and we chatted some more. I told her about my crash, and she shared with me that she didn’t think she was going to make the cutoff. I tried to assure her that YES, she WAS going to make the cutoff! She was a strong rider with a lot of experience, and she was going to make it!! I found out later that apparently my chatting with her did in fact help to lift her spirits, so I was happy to have been able to help given how she’d literally saved my race the day before. We got to the top of the hill and then I went on ahead.

With Janet in West Virginia

Riding with Janet just after sunrise in West Virginia

The next stretch through the countryside of West Virginia was really pretty, especially in the early morning light! It wasn’t easy – there seemed to be one climb after another, and some steeper climbs too – but I actually enjoyed this section. I started cracking jokes with the follow vehicle, and I was in good spirits. Shortly after the climb up Cheat Mountain we did a shift change, and after a bit of confusion that temporarily had Tracey out of the follow vehicle, things were cleared up and I had Charlie, Donna, and Tracey behind me, while Mike, Wayne, and Justin were in Errand. At one point we passed the errand vehicle on the side of the road and Wayne was crouched down doing video. I had a banana peel from a banana I’d just eaten, so I decided to toss it to the ground so that they could pick it up – well wouldn’t you know it, I tossed it and it hit Wayne! I swear this wasn’t on purpose, and I probably couldn’t have hit him if I’d been trying to!! Somewhere along here I also dropped a water bottle, so the errand vehicle had to retrieve it for me – this was only the 2nd time I’d dropped a water bottle – the only other time was in Ohio between Blanchester and Chillicothe where I’d dropped a bottle as we passed through a town, and another motorist had been nice enough to stop and pick it up and bring it up to where we’d stopped. We continued through the roller coaster countryside of West Virginia, and then crossed into Maryland for a brief period of time before once again crossing back into West Virginia.


Entering Maryland for the first time!

It wasn’t until closer to mid day that I noticed myself start to get sleepy again. I had to stop a couple of times to try and wake myself up. I knew we had a fairly long descent into the next time station coming up, and I was concerned about staying awake on it. Somehow I made it to that next time station, although I remember on the final run-in that my mind was struggling to process things – I was nodding off, plus I had this sense of deja vu again that I had just come by here the previous day going in the other direction. I also remember thinking at one point that I was just off the California coast, which was very bizarre!

We stopped at the time station in Keyser for a bathroom break, and then were back on the road to Cumberland. On this stretch it started to heat up, plus my arm really started to hurt again. Around Cumberland the traffic seemed to get a bit heavier, and we were in a more built up urban area. Wayne, Justin, and Mike were attempting to keep us girls entertained by showing plenty of skin on the side of the road – lord knows what the general public thought of this display (although apparently Wayne had a couple local fans who were asking for more skin!)!!

Justin and Wayne show some skin

Justin and Wayne show some skin

Shortly after Cumberland we accidentally started to get onto a freeway that we shouldn’t have – it wasn’t a huge deal, I walked back down the freeway onramp with Charlie and then rode up to the Errand vehicle and they took over direct follow while the follow vehicle got back on course (they had to continue on the freeway and then double back, which apparently required going quite a bit out of their way). This was the only time we took a wrong turn (as far as I know), which is really quite amazing given how far we traveled and the complexity of some of the navigation! Plus we caught the mistake immediately, so it didn’t cost us hardly any time. This is a testament to what a great job the crew did with navigating!

With the errand vehicle behind me now, I lost the external music and 2-way radio communication, so I started getting super sleepy again. I remember we were on a road that was winding along beside a river, and I was nodding off, so I finally pulled into a gas station on the right to try and wake myself up. Unfortunately the gas station had no beverages or anything in the store (and the errand vehicle had minimal supplies), but Justin did manage to rustle up a can of Coke from somewhere, which I drank eagerly. We headed out on the road again and had a bit of urban riding before we ended up on a road that was paralleling the freeway.

I knew that this section was, on paper, the most difficult section of RAAM in terms of feet climbed per mile. There were basically 4 big climbs between Cumberland and Hancock, and we were now on the first.

First MD climb

The first of the 4 difficult climbs between Cumberland and Hancock, MD

We were also in the hottest part of the day, and I was feeling the heat, and was still battling sleepiness. The errand vehicle didn’t have any 5hr energy shots (we’d switched from caffeine pills to these after the crash I believe it was, or perhaps it was after talking to Michele earlier that morning, and I was downing them on the rate of about 1 every 3hrs since the crew noted that that’s about how long they seemed to last), but the Sprinter van did have some, so at one point we passed the Sprinter and got a 5hr energy from them (I remember Alan handing it off while he pretended to do the hula dance!). Soon after the follow vehicle finally caught back up, and they were able to put music on again, and that really “revived” me and got me moving better again. I got into some good rhythms going up the climbs to the beat of the music. This is also where I started noticing chalk art on the road – the crew in Sprinter were going along in front of us and writing all kinds of cool and inspiring stuff on the road – awesome!! This really helped to motivate me, and brought a smile to my face, and I continued powering through the climbs.
Chalk art

Chalk art done by the crew to cheer me on

On one of the descents I had to contend with more grooved pavement for a decently long stretch again – ugghh! The first couple of climbs weren’t quite as steep as the last few (if I recall correctly), but they were all decently long and difficult, especially in the heat. While descending the 3rd climb I passed one of the solo male riders who had a neck brace on – boy oh boy was I glad that I didn’t have any neck issues!! The last climb definitely felt to be the steepest I think, but I got over it and enjoyed the descent and then the rollers into Hancock. Believe it or not, this was once again one of my faster segments of RAAM, despite it being the hardest!
Get 'er done!

Climbing a hill with chalk art as motivation

Sideling Hill

Sideling Hill, the last of the 4 big climbs between Cumberland and Hancock, Maryland

I was hoping for a bit of a break from the hills, but we continued through some fairly rolling terrain, including at least one hill that I didn’t know if I was going to make it up and over it without stopping (my cyclometer was reading about 15% as the gradient I believe) – thankfully it wasn’t too long though and I finally ground to the top (where I quickly stopped and collapsed over my handlebars trying to catch my breath and replenish my fluids!!). Somewhere along here we passed into Pennsylvania, and the endless rollers seemed to continue.


Somewhere in Pennsylvania

I needed a bathroom break, so we finally found a town with a gas station (Charlestown, PA I think it was) and we stopped. A guy was standing outside when we pulled in, and he said something along the lines of being a long way from California and funny running into me out here. I didn’t recognize him, and said “I’m sorry, but do I know you?”. Well it turned out it was Tom Barry!!! I’d ridden with Tom several times over the past couple of years, but he’d moved to West Virginia last fall. He looked different than I remembered him though (probably because I think I’d only ever seen him in bike gear!!). I was so embarrassed for not recognizing him, but he laughed it off. He’d driven about 4hrs or more to come and see me, and I was extremely touched by this! I wanted to chat with him and Susie (and Henry – their gorgeous dog!!), but my crew was of course trying to get me on down the road. Tom said he understood, and off we went. They leap frogged us for a while and took several great pictures (Tom is an awesome photographer!).
Chatting with Tom

Chatting with Tom Barry in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania, photo by Tom

Photo that Tom took of me in Pennsylvania

Evening Pennsylvania

Cresting a hill somewhere in Pennsylvania

The terrain was fairly mellow all the way from here to the next time station in Rouzerville, PA.

Sunset in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania just before sunset

Right out of Rouzerville though there was a pesky little climb that seemed to feel much harder than it should have, and beyond that there were some rollers towards Gettysburg. It was dark now, and I could see storm activity off in the distance, including a bit of lightening I think. Despite it being dark, going through Gettysburg was still pretty cool – I could see the old canons and some monuments and alike in the glow of the moon. Through here though I once again started to feel like we were going in circles though – I could have sworn we kept returning to the same intersection over and over again!

We continued on to Hanover, PA, the next time station, arriving just before midnight. I was still lucid, but apparently moving in slow motion. By this point my mouth was a real mess – when I had nothing in my mouth it tasted incredibly salty, which was an awful sensation. I’ve since found out that what happens is that the taste buds get messed up, and the ones that taste salt are the last to be effected, so everything starts to taste like salt. Things that help with this are chewing gum (I wish we’d figured this out earlier!), Biotene mouthwash, and oddly enough eating cantaloupe. Also avoiding sweet foods (since they won’t taste good), and eating relatively “bland” or “plain” carbs (mashed potatoes are a good example). Starting earlier that morning in West Virginia I’d been eating instant mashed potatoes with cheese that seemed to go down really well, and I’d also had some macaroni and cheese that tasted really good. Now I was in the gas station in Hanover eyeing the sandwiches, but unfortunately the one I chose didn’t agree with my mouth. Tracey had also started to give me Ensure a couple days earlier to help get additional calories into me, and although I didn’t like the “vitaminy” flavor, I was downing them as instructed.

We headed out of Hanover with the intention to stop for a short 45min or so nap within the next couple of hours. I don’t remember being super sleepy on this stretch, but I also don’t remember much about it, so perhaps I was. When we stopped for the sleep break I think they put me in a seat in the errand vehicle (not laying down), and I think they cranked the heat up. I don’t remember being woken up, but I remember suddenly being aware that I was sitting there being fed some lasagna. I felt completely overheated and uncomfortable, and my mouth felt absolutely horrible like there was salt pouring out of it, and the lasagna was just not tasting good at all! I was disoriented, and not all that with it. The crew got me back on the bike, and again, I don’t remember much. I think I forgot to keep pedaling up a hill at one point or something, and had to clip out, and then I started walking up the rest of the hill. I don’t remember if it was a steep hill that I couldn’t get going on, or what was going on, but for whatever reason I remember walking. I think Tracey got out of the follow vehicle and came up to me to ask what was going on – I don’t think I knew what was going on, but I knew my mouth tasted awful, and I asked for some gum. Apparently there was gum on my bike in my aeronet, but I hadn’t known it was there. I started chewing it and that helped my mouth. I got back on the bike and started riding. The stretch between Hanover and Mt Airy (the next time station, which had a cutoff of 7am EDT) was only 36 miles, but it seemed to be taking forever. I remember Katie started calling out over the PA how many miles we had left to the time station, but because I’d lost all sense of time it seemed like huge chunks of time were passing and we had only gone a half mile or a mile. I started panicking – I felt like there was no way we were going to make the cutoff – I started to think there were 80 or 90 miles after Mt Airy to the finish, and that we were barely going to make the Mt Airy cutoff which would only leave 5hrs to do 80 or 90 miles, which in my state I knew wasn’t possible. I had the numbers wrong in my head – it was only 55 miles from Mt Airy to the finish, but I didn’t realize this at the time. I was yelling out that we weren’t going to make the cutoff (although the crew wouldn’t have heard me because I wasn’t using the radio), and I was crying and extremely upset. I was trying to ride fast, but it seemed like no matter how fast I tried to ride we weren’t making any progress. I was an emotional mess at this point, and in my anger and frustration I started riding out in the lane instead of on the shoulder. It’s almost like a part of me wanted something catastrophic to happen to just put an end to this since I felt like a failure and was so distressed.

Then somehow we ended up at a gas station – I’m not sure if I took a wrong turn, or if I veered off course, but there we were. I think I was standing there dazed and then someone told me to go use the bathroom (I’d mentioned wanting a bathroom break earlier I think). I was still really upset thinking I wasn’t going to finish, so I stormed off to the bathroom and didn’t wait for the crew to accompany me. When I emerged, I think I tried to tell them that it wasn’t possible to finish so why were we bothering to continue. Tracey took me and shook me and tried to talk some sense into me – she insisted that I absolutely could still finish.

Once again the crew got me back on my bike and we worked our way to the time station at Mt Airy (I have no recollection of how far away it was from where we’d stopped). I do remember that we rode past the time station, but then we had to stop and walk backwards on the course because apparently we were required to stop at the time station or something (or perhaps there had been some kind of route change or something – I’m not sure exactly). It was still dark at this point (it was 5am), and then I remember we seemed to be on some steeper rollers as the sun came up. I recall some other riders around us, and I recall being very much out of it, and nodding off, and the crew honking to try and keep me awake and telling me to follow the white line. I remember still being in panic mode and feeling like I needed to rush in order to try and finish. Then I remember waking up as I was once again riding through the grass on the shoulder of the road…. I stopped, completely frustrated and upset. Tracey got out of the follow vehicle and came over to me. I sat on the side of the road to try and collect myself, and she had the route book with her and tried to explain to me what we had left. She went over each remaining section briefly, and told me that even if I only went 10mph we still had a 2hr cushion to finish, so we were going to finish this – I just had to stay calm, listen to her and Katie, and do my best to stay right on the white line. I think Katie and Dawn might have gotten out of the vehicle as well and participated in this “pow-wow”. This calmed me down and I got up feeling less panicked. They put 2 bottles of Mountain Dew on my bike (hoping for a sugar/caffeine hit), and we continued down the road.

I was refocused and calmer and doing my best to stay awake (even though I wasn’t always successful at this – I do remember weaving a few times and Dawn having to honk the horn at me and Katie/Tracey having to yell at me to get back over to the white line). Then I have a gap in my memories. Next thing I remember is that I felt we were doing some kind of “practice” loop where I was riding and follow was giving me step-by-step instructions on what to do. Pedal here, stay on the white line there, catch up to errand vehicle and pull in where they were pulled in here, keep pedaling on the white line so traffic can pass us there, power up this hill here, turn there, pedal faster so that we catch this traffic light here, etc. I really did feel like we were doing a practice loop where we kept coming back to the same hill and the same traffic light. Then I remember at one point I guess I got my wires crossed and I think I turned off the road where I wasn’t supposed to – I remember them trying to say “no Joan no”, but it was too late. We pulled over and Tracey possibly got out of the vehicle again to talk to me. Between me thinking this was a “practice session”, and the way that I was perceiving things, I started to wonder if I was dreaming, but I decided to at least play along with the dream for a bit longer – after all, if it was a dream, then no harm could come of it, right!

Almost immediately I have another gap in my memories. Next thing I remember is suddenly being on busy highways with a lot of traffic, and our “practice session” had just become more stressful. Now I was having to deal with crossing entrance/exit lanes in the busy traffic, making traffic lights that the Errand vehicle was going through up in front of us (because we didn’t want to get separated from them – they were helping to guide us), going through traffic circles, and in general dealing with a lot of traffic all around me. At one point there was an accident off to my left (a car rear ended another car – perhaps because they were looking at the spectacle of me going by), and although the sound of the crash was pretty pervasive, I still had this sensation that I was dreaming. I looked down at my watch and saw that the date was June 25th – I remembered that the last day of RAAM was in fact the 25th, so was this real? Then I started looking around at the signs to try and figure out where I was – I saw signs that said Maryland, which I knew was where the race finished, but could my brain just be planting these facts into my dream?? Somewhere along here we were stopped at a traffic light waiting to make a turn, and some guy came up to me and fist-bumped me and congratulated me (he’d apparently stopped his car, gotten out, and come over to do this while we were stopped at the light). This all just seemed so bizarre and unreal!! I then decided to think really hard and try to recall a non-RAAM memory – surely I’d been at work yesterday, or at home watching TV – if I thought hard enough surely I’d think of one of these memories and it would confirm that I was in fact dreaming. Well try as I might, I couldn’t think of a non-RAAM memory. I looked at my watch again – still June 25th….I looked around again….still Maryland….back to my watch again…..still June 25th. I felt this sense of panic returning – was this real????

Finally I saw a parking lot and motioned that I wanted to pull over. I pulled over in the parking lot, dazed, confused, and panicked. Tracey got out of the follow vehicle and came over to me. I expressed that I didn’t know if this was reality – surely this was a dream. She took me by my shoulders and got her face within an inch of mine and told me to look into her eyes – “this IS real, you’re doing RAAM, we’re almost at the finish!!” she said. Then she pinched my wrist really hard, and told me to squeeze her hand as hard as I could. I was still panicky, thinking my mind was continuing to form an elaborate dream, but not as sure anymore. Then she pointed at someone and said “who’s that?”. I responded and said “Dawn”. Then she pointed at someone else and said “who’s that?”. I responded and said “Katie”. Then she pointed at the errand vehicle and said “who’s that in there?”. I said “Doug”. She pointed at Mike and asked the same, but I don’t think I verbally responded this time – my mind was slowly processing this, and I think I was starting to realize that maybe this was real. She told me it was Mike. Then Justin appeared and she asked who he was, and I said “Justin”. Then she took me by the shoulders again and looked right at me and asked if I trusted her. What follows is my favorite quote of all of RAAM – I looked at her and said “Yes, I trust you, but I don’t know if you’re real!!”. She got the route book and started to show me what we had left. I was looking for mistakes in what I was perceiving – anything that would indicate that this was just a dream. I remember her mentioning the Rams Head which was just before the end of the timed section of the race, and I remember knowing that this was correct. I couldn’t pick out any flaws in the situation around me, so perhaps it was real. I decided to at least do what I was told and get back on the bike – after all, if it was a dream then no harm would come of it, and if it was real, then I had a race to finish!

As I continued, I saw that we were coming into Odenton. I remembered who was the time station sponsor for this time station for my Leukemia and Lymphoma Society fundraising (my cousin Alison from the UK), so I tried to quiz my crew to see if they got it right (again, looking for mistakes that might indicate this wasn’t real). They said they didn’t have it right in front of them at the moment, but that they would find out. They didn’t exactly pass the test, but they didn’t fail it either….hmmmm…. We continued on, and Tracey kept talking me through each and every moment. The radio was still zip-tied to the stem on my bike, and there was a non-stop chatter coming from it – just how obnoxious the radio itself was sort of made me think that maybe this was real – I didn’t think I could dream such a vivid and obnoxious thing as the radio and it’s constant never-ending stream of guidance! I was getting a crack out of it when Tracey or Katie would say “follow the natural curve in the road”, as if roads have “natural” curves!

After Odenton it was about 10 miles to the end of the timed portion of RAAM. We were off the really busy roads, but there was still a decent amount of traffic, and we were still following the errand vehicle. I remember at one point seeing a sign for “Bacon Ridge Natural Area”, and thought that was funny – how does a natural area get a name like that! I pointed it out to the crew just for kicks – they were probably scared that I was going to head off in that direction instead of to the finish or something! After a while we passed the Rams Head, the location that any sprint finishes were to be settled at. There was an empty table/chair outside, but no one in sight – this certainly didn’t feel like the end of a race, maybe I was dreaming? Then from here we seemed to keep going and going and going. I started looking around a bit more panicked again – it just didn’t “feel right”, and I started questioning reality again. Then we finally got to the gas station in Annapolis, the final time station before the finish, and the end of the timed portion of the race. The errand vehicle was there waiting for me, and it was a very surreal moment – I was done, I’d made it! I’d ridden my bike from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland, about 3000 miles, in 12 days, 18 hours, and 46 minutes!

Everyone got out of the vehicles and there were congratulations and hugs. I think I was so emotionally spent by this time though that it didn’t really sink in (in fact I don’t even know if it’s sunk in now as I write this 2 weeks later!). I believe I spoke to Michele on the phone briefly because Tracey had her on the phone – Michele had been a godsend for Tracey those last 30 hours in terms of guiding her through what to do every step of the way! From here, it was a 5 mile escorted parade in to the official finish line at the Annapolis City Dock. While we waited for the escort, I changed into some clean shorts and put on the Canada jersey that I’d worn at the start as well – I was the first woman representing Canada, and only the 31st woman ever in the 31 year history of the race to finish solo RAAM!

For the escort to the finish line the follow vehicle got to follow me, and Mike, Katie, and Tracey were in the vehicle. Right before the finish chute I had to ride through a ginormous pool of water (and almost wiped out in the process since I hit some bump under the water that I couldn’t see!). Then I got to the finishing chute and got to cross the official finish line. There was only a smattering of people at the finish, but my crew were all there, and that’s the only thing that mattered! I also saw Lori and Jeanine, a couple of extremely talented cyclists from Fresno who I know who’d volunteered to help me out by driving the Sprinter van back across the country after the race. Trix, the women’s winner of RAAM, was also there to congratulate me. After crossing the finish line I was interviewed by George Thomas, the race director, and he mentioned something about me looking fresh enough to do 10 pushups, so I obliged and dropped to the ground and cranked out 10 pushups – I figured it was good for a laugh if nothing else! Then we took pictures under the finish banner, and I got my finishers medal.

Finish chute

Crossing the finish line in Annapolis, Maryland in a time of 12 days, 18 hours, and 46 minutes


Still fresh enough to do pushups at the finish!

Bike hoist

Hoisting my bike overhead at the finish

On the stage at the finish

On the stage at the finish

Finish line with crew

At the finish line with my crew

I was a bit dazed and knew we had a lot to do that day in terms of getting ready for everyone’s departures and such, plus the sun was beating down on me and my arm was really feeling sore again and I wanted to make sure I got it checked out before the banquet that night. In my daze I forgot about Janet still being on the course. In hindsight I would have loved to have stayed and seen her finish given how instrumental she’d been in getting me to the finish, but I certainly wasn’t thinking straight at this point, and didn’t think of it, so we loaded up into the vehicles and headed for the hotel. So, given all the drama and intensity and emotion that happened during the race, the finish line itself was rather anticlimactic. I guess that kind of aligns with the sentiment that “the journey is the reward”.


Finisher plaque

I can’t thank my entire crew enough for everything that they did out there – I definitely could not have made it to Annapolis without each and every one of them giving 110% every step of the way. Being a crew member for a solo RAAM rider is a very selfless task, and they had to put up with a LOT out there! I maintain that crewing for an ultra is in some ways harder than racing – the rider just has to pedal their bike, the crew has to do everything else, and make all those critical, strategic, and potentially life and death decisions all the way across. They have to put up with the elements – being out there in the same triple digit heat that I was in day after day. They don’t get luxurious hotels to stay in – they’re sleeping in bunks in the back of a moving (and often hot) Sprinter van much of the time. They’re not getting enough sleep along the way and are slowly becoming sleep deprived themselves. They don’t get casual sit down meals – they’re living off of take-out from whatever places they happen to find along the way. They’re spending way too much time having to hang out in Walmart parking lots! They have to deal with irate drivers who have no respect for a cross country bicycle race and just view the racer and crew vehicles as annoyances who are in between them and their destination. They have to deal with navigating a complex course through heavy traffic on busy roads during rush hour commute hours knowing that their rider has lost their marbles and is somewhat of a loose canon. They have to put up with emotional outbursts and temper tantrums from a tired and cranky rider who’s basically been reduced to the emotions/mentality/irrationality of a toddler. They have to find ways to motivate and get said rider moving even when the rider doesn’t want to move. They have to witness and deal with the stress of seeing what RAAM does to the rider, including things like them losing their mind, enduring physical pain, falling asleep on their bike and riding off the road, crashing, etc. And they do all this as volunteers, and give up 2 weeks of their own time away from their families to come and support a rider who in some cases they haven’t even met before, or hardly even know! I.e. these people are AMAZING!!!

Not a single one of my crew members had experience crewing for a solo RAAM athlete, yet they came together as a team and tackled problem after problem and solved them all in order to get me successfully to the finish – this is an incredible achievement, and one that each and every crew member should be extremely proud of! Much of what happened went on behind the scenes, and I, the rider, didn’t get to see what was happening, so I can’t fully thank everyone for everything that they did because I don’t even know the full extent of what everyone did. Certain roles had higher visibility to me, the rider, such as the role that Tracey played, so I’ve shared a lot of those experiences and praised her for the tremendous job that she did. But I know that each and every crew member was working hard behind the scenes completing the tasks assigned to them and making sure that everything that needed to be done to get me to Annapolis was being done, so thank you to everyone!!

Let me try to take a stab at thanking each of my crew and recognizing them for their contributions. Again, I don’t know everything that happened out there, so by no means is this a complete portrayal of their roles!

Wayne was a superb videographer, follow driver, and motivator (both to other crew, as well as to me at various points). He also made homemade macaroons that were oh so tasty (plus he made awesome blueberry pancakes before the race!)! In general he was a jack of all trades with clear leadership and mentoring skills.

Charlie was an expert follow driver and was great at managing nutrition (need I say more than Nutella/banana/pita-bread sandwiches!!). She was also great at first aid (even though I wished we hadn’t had to find that out!), and always calm and level headed throughout.

Donna was full of spunk and energy throughout and provided lots of entertainment on the side of the road (think Canada flag flashing!), was always on top of getting my bike replenished when I was stopped for a break, and shared various other duties including driving and navigating.

Isabelle, despite having to adapt her role on the fly, was still kept busy behind the scenes and helped to keep things moving. She was also great at keeping on top of rider nutrition through the first part of the race. She also provided a lot of the inspiration before the race to do the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society fundraising, which definitely made RAAM more special and meaningful (thanks to Isabelle really helping to spread the word, we raised about $13,500 for LLS, and I consider that to be a team effort that she was instrumental in!).

Alan was instrumental before the race in getting all the electronics and navigation systems figured out, and during the race he was our electronics troubleshooting expert, plus he did a lot of the driving of the Sprinter. He also dealt with unloading/returning the Sprinter when it got back to California, and somehow managed to get the 200lb bunk bed out of the back of the Sprinter singlehandedly! His attention to detail and organization were obvious throughout.

Willy, although only along until Durango, still had a significant impact – he was a good strategizer, always calm and level headed, an expert follow driver, and displayed his Macguyver like skills with regard to things like installing a fan in the Sprinter to try and keep it cooler for the sleeping crew. As the only crew member with RAAM crewing experience (even though it wasn’t for a solo rider), he was also able to provide guidance and leadership to other crew members.

Doug was an amazing bike mechanic, and did an excellent job at keeping my bike in meticulous shape after he joined in Durango. He was also great with regard to guiding me through the course and giving me run downs of what to expect terrain wise, as well as talking me through sections when I was struggling to hold onto reality (such as in Indiana). He was always calm and level headed under pressure, and was a good motivator. Not to mention he had the awesomest frog hat ever!

Justin also joined in Durango, and was another great entertainer on the side of the road – from coconut bra and grass skirt, to cow costume, to superman costume! He was also a great follow driver at night, and great at communicating with and encouraging me. He also spent a lot of time in errand helping to navigate and mark the course, making things much easier for the follow vehicle. He also had a knack for communicating with the locals along the way as well apparently!

Dawn had a calming influence on the crew and on me, was able to rise to the occasion of driving some of the most stressful segments of RAAM (the final couple of days when I’d lost it and when we had to deal with some stressful traffic situations). She was also great with managing nutrition through much of the race. Her mothering/nurturing nature was also apparent throughout.

Katie, my sister, was a master multi-tasker and had a knack at recognizing what needed to be done and getting it done. She talked me through many stretches when I’d either lost my mind or was falling asleep, most notably the night in Kansas and several stretches through West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland the final few days. She also helped orchestrate many of my sleep breaks, drove follow and kept me safe on one of the more difficult sections early on in the race (between Flagstaff and Tuba City), and was helping out wherever she was needed.

Mike, my husband, was apparently the “glue” behind the scenes providing direction and guidance to other crew members, as well as helping to mediate situations where conflict arose and help to calm/settle folks down when emotions ran high. And of course just him being there and supporting me was emotionally reassuring and extremely important to me. He was also a great follow driver through one of the most dangerous and stressful sections of the course as we passed through eastern Missouri, and was also involved in the roadside antics that went on!

Sandy, although not physically present, was a great resource for the crew in terms of helping to provide a non-sleep-deprived perspective on things, and sharing her wealth of knowledge and experience having both crewed and raced RAAM several times. She helped to guide the race strategy and talk the crew through situations that they were unsure of.

Tracey was the crew member who I interacted the most with, so there’s already been greater visibility into what she did and the role she played. I can’t emphasize enough though how vital her role was. She entered the race as a physiotherapist (who I had never met before) with her responsibility being to help look after my body through massage, ART, acupuncture, etc., but she exited the race as so much more. From day 1 she had to troubleshoot and solve problems that I was having physically, not to mention help to calm me down when I started to panic about these issues. Through her handling of these situations, we formed a close bond, and this bond only strengthened and grew throughout the race. She had boundless energy, and was a master at keeping me engaged and motivated – I’m amazed that she didn’t lose her voice out there on several occasions! We just seemed to be extremely compatible from a crew/rider perspective, and she always seemed to know exactly what to say and how to say it to keep me motivated, calm, and moving forward, which is a very special talent. As I was slowly reduced to the mentality/emotions/irrationality of a toddler on the last few days of RAAM, the connection that I had with her became even more important. I’ve heard it explained that this kind of bond that forms is akin to the bond that forms between a parent and a child, and I know that I’m not the only RAAM rider to form this kind of bond with a “go-to” person on their crew. I certainly had no idea going into the race that my “go-to” person was going to be Tracey, as I’m sure she had no idea she’d end up in that role either. But that’s what happened, and I can’t thank her enough for stepping up to the plate and accepting that role and all of the pressure and responsibility that went along with it! She (like the other crew) gave her heart and soul out there, and became about as emotionally invested in the race as is possible. I know for a fact that I couldn’t have finished RAAM without her – she too was one of my RAAM angels!

It was a team effort on the part of the entire crew to get me to the finish line though, and I couldn’t have made it to Annapolis without the entire team, so in that regard I had a whole flock of RAAM angels with me every step of the way! Every crew member’s role was extremely important and key in achieving that goal, so thank you to the ENTIRE crew! I can’t thank everyone enough, and I know I couldn’t have done it without each and every one of you! You were a rock star crew, and you all deserve a medal for what you put yourselves through out there! I’m forever in your debt!

While giving thanks, I also have to thank my sponsors. Integrate Performance Fitness was an extremely important part of my training (spin classes, strength training, and cycling workouts), David Ledesma kept me going through all my training with sports massage, Revolutions in Fitness kept my bike fits comfortable and suited to my body, La Dolce Velo kept my bikes in working order before RAAM, Bob Corman of Infinity Press was a constant source of encouragement and support, and Bertoni Eyewear provided sun glasses and goggles that were instrumental in protecting my eyes during RAAM. Thank you to all of my sponsors!

So, a question that I get asked frequently now is “will you do RAAM again?”. RAAM was supposed to be my last big race before Mike and I tried to start a family, however now I’m reevaluating and deciding whether maybe there’s one more year of racing left in me… Despite how brutally hard RAAM was, as someone once told me, “it gets in your blood”. Another quote that comes to mind is a quote from the movie “Bicycle Dreams” from the Italian rider Fabio Biasiolo – I don’t have the exact phrasing, but basically he said that as a rider “you love the RAAM and you hate the RAAM, but after you cross the finish line all that’s left is love for this race”. I now understand what he meant. Additionally, I look at all the things that went wrong for me during RAAM, and I can’t help but analyze and try to figure out what I and the crew could have done differently to prevent them. Part of me wants to go back and try to “do it right”. I can’t do RAAM next year because my brother is getting married at the end of June, however there’s a new ultra cycling race in Canada in August that I’m quite intrigued by – the Tour de BC. Maybe I’ll be on the Tour de BC start line next August, maybe I won’t. What’s unquestionable though is that I want to remain a part of the ultra cycling community, whether it’s racing or crewing. It’s just such a wonderfully supportive and unique community, and I’m honored to be a part of it! So many people have given me so much support and encouragement along the way and helped me to achieve my dreams, and I really want to be able to return the favor, as well as “pay it forward”.

Additional Links:
Motivation for something like RAAM
The Numbers of RAAM: Training, Stats, Nutrition, Costs

The VeloReviews.com podcast interview that I did about RAAM:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Also Available to Download via iTunes Here:
3 Parts, episodes ‘VR 030 – Joan Deitchman Interview’, ‘VR 031′, and ‘VR 032′

Posted in Race Reports | Tagged | 12 Comments

RAAM 2012 Race Report – Part III: Mississippi Ho!

In case you missed these:
RAAM Race Report – Part I: Tapering, More Dangerous than Training!
RAAM Race Report – Part II: RAW Revisited

And now for Part III….

After Durango, the RAAM course continues in Colorado for a while up and over the Continental Divide via Wolf Creek Pass and then drops down to the plains of Kansas and Missouri and to the Mississippi River, the location of the next time cutoff. I was looking forward to going places I’d never been before – this was all going to be new territory for me, and I’d get to check off a couple of new states (Kansas and Missouri). Durango was also where we did a crew swap – Willy left the crew and Justin and Doug joined. Willy did a great job and was a valuable addition to the crew, so I can’t thank him enough for joining us through to Durango!

We reached Durango just after sunset, and decided to push on through to Pagosa Springs before stopping to rest. The crew chief told me that this was an “easy” section, so easy in fact that we didn’t even need to worry about doing a crew shift change for it. Thankfully I asked another crew member to show me the route profile, so I had a heads up that this was NOT an easy section, and in fact had more climbing than the section we’d just done into Durango. As a rider I want to know what to expect while I’m riding – don’t try to sugarcoat it, just tell me the truth.

We left Durango and I was feeling pretty good. Doug joined the follow vehicle just outside of town, and Justin was in the errand vehicle, so I got to say hello to both of them and welcome them to this crazy adventure called RAAM! Little did they/I know that they’d joined just in time for the true craziness to begin!! The first several climbs went well and I powered through them, but I started to get pretty sleepy on the descents. Then the last climb came – it was about 17 miles long I believe, just continuing to gradually (and sometimes not so gradually) go up and up and up. I was starting to feel the butt issues return, and wanted to stop and address it so that I didn’t set myself back any further, but when I stopped I was told by the crew chief that I needed to keep moving. I know that the crew chief’s job is to keep me moving, but I also know that there are certain things that I need to take care of if I’m going to have any hope of riding another 2000 miles – if I ignore problems that my body is having and let tissues deteriorate and break down, then I’m setting myself up to lose much more time going forward, so it’s better to take the time now to address/prevent it. It’s a calculated tradeoff – in shorter races it’s ok to just push through those issues because you’ll be done within a day or so and then your body will be able to heal – when you need to be able to keep going for another 9 days, you can’t just ignore these issues and try to cover them up with pain medication – you need to listen to your body, figure out what’s causing the problem, and try to solve the root cause. I didn’t feel that my crew chief understood this – I wasn’t trying to be lazy and squander time, I was trying to do what needed to be done to ensure that I could still be riding a week from now. Trust me, I’d much rather have not had the pain and just been able to keep riding without stopping!! Anyway, I quickly slapped some chamois cream on hoping that would at least minimize the damage, and continued on to Pagosa Springs.

We finally got to Pagosa Springs in the wee hours of the morning (4:45 EDT), and I was pretty mad with my crew chief for both not telling me the truth about the difficulty of the stage, and for not allowing me to take care of the butt issues I was having. Honesty is one of the most important things to me, and if someone lies to me (or even if I perceive that they’ve lied to me), it’s very difficult for me to get past that – I take it extremely personally, and I lose the ability to trust that person. This was the point in the race where I lost trust in my crew chief, and that’s about the worst thing that can happen between a rider and crew chief – the rider needs to be able to trust the crew chief and not question the decisions that they’re making – I could no longer do that, plus I felt negative energy in the presence of my crew chief because of the feelings of betrayal that I had due to believing I’d been lied to. In hindsight, what happened wasn’t a “huge” deal, however keep in mind that this is happening several days into RAAM when emotions and stress levels are running pretty high, and I’m not necessarily thinking clearly.

I was the one who signed up for RAAM, I knew it was going to be difficult, I just wanted my crew to tell me the truth and be honest and forthright with me, but without “lecturing” me on it. It’s a difficult balance to find, but fortunately one crew member in particular had been a shining light in this regard – Tracey. From day 1 I’d felt that she understood me and what motivated me, and my interactions with her were always positive. She always seemed to know exactly what to say and how to say it to get me moving again – even when what she had to say maybe wasn’t what I wanted to hear. This is a special kind of connection/bond, as there are many different ways to say the same thing, but certain ways may have the opposite effect intended (even though you’re trying to convey the exact same message), especially in a stressful environment like RAAM where everyone is on-edge and sleep deprived. I had no idea going into RAAM that Tracey would end up playing such a pivotal role, especially since I’d not met her before, but it was here in Pagosa Springs that in my mind it became solidified that she was the one I would trust and turn to for guidance for the remainder of the race. She was now my “go-to” person on the crew. This was a lot of pressure to put on her, and I’m forever grateful that she was able/willing to take on this role – it’s not an easy role for a seasoned veteran crew member to tackle let alone a rookie. Plus she still had all the responsibilities of being the physio person looking after my body, so she was truly being slammed with double-duty responsibility.

And again, I can’t emphasize enough that I bear no hard feelings towards my crew chief – I understand and know that she was doing what she felt was best and doing it in her own way, it just so happened that it wasn’t an approach that was working for me, and as selfish as it sounds, this was my RAAM and the goal was to get ME to Annapolis, so we needed to do whatever was needed to achieve that goal, and right now what was needed was for my point of contact to be Tracey and not Isabelle. Personal egos had to be set aside, and I thank Isabelle for giving me the space that I needed.

After a sleep break in Pagosa Springs, we headed out just after it got light out. This next stage was one that I’d most been looking forward to, even though it wasn’t going to be easy. The next stage included Wolf Creek Pass, an 8 mile 8% climb to the Continental Divide at 10,800ft elevation. I love riding in the mountains, and this was going to be the highest elevation that I’d ridden to. The countryside leading up to the pass was absolutely beautiful, and I really enjoyed the ride despite the emotions that I was still feeling from the previous night.

For this stage I wore a jersey that my close friend Deb had given me – the artwork on it was created by a friend of hers, Terri Hill, who has terminal brain cancer, and Deb had told me how excited Terri was that I might be wearing one of her jerseys during RAAM. Wearing this jersey on this stage was very meaningful, and provided some extra inspiration/motivation to get ‘er done. Here is some of Terri’s work: http://www.DesignerHill.com/Biking.html

The climb up Wolf Creek Pass certainly wasn’t easy, but I got into a fairly decent rhythm and just plugged away at it. The spectacular scenery around me definitely helped – for whatever reason I love riding in the mountains!

Wolf Creek Pass with Local Rider

Joined by a local Pagosa Springs resident riding up Wolf Creek Pass

A couple miles from the top a local Pagosa Springs resident caught up to me and slowed to chat with me. He said he rides the pass 6 days a week. His company was a welcome relief and chatting with him gave me a distraction to make the climb go by faster. He left me with about a mile to go, and shortly after I caught up to Dave Elsberry – a solo rider in the 60+ division who’d started when I started. His crew were very supportive along this section of road and I appreciated their encouragement!

Wolf Creek Pass

Nearing the top of Wolf Creek Pass

I stopped at the top of the pass for a photo-op at the Continental Divide sign, then it was quickly off down the other side.

Continental Divide

Top of Wolf Creek Pass, and the Continental Divide

The descent was fast and I was really enjoying it until partway down when there began to be expansion joints…. I didn’t even see them at first, but I sure as heck felt them!!! Trying to figure out how to minimize the pressure on my feet, butt, and hands was a futile exercise. At one point I tried to put weight onto the top-tube through my legs/knees to take some of the force, but that wasn’t very successful. After the main descent it was a fairly fast gradual down hill all the way into South Fork. The road followed a river, and it was absolutely gorgeous! It’s moments like this that I ride my bike for!

As we passed through South Fork, I stopped at a gas station for a bathroom break and to down some food (I hadn’t eaten much on the climb itself because it was fairly steep and I was focused on pedaling). I asked for a vanilla cappuccino and an apple fritter, and I ate those as Tracey worked on massaging my lower back (it had tightened up a bit again on the climb). The RAAM media folks stopped by right about this time, and took some pictures/videos and asked some questions. I remember Vic asking where he could sign up to get a massage from Tracey, and my response was that “she’s all mine!”!

South Fork Breakfast

Getting a back/shoulder massage while enjoying a cappuccino and apple fritter in South Fork

From South Fork we headed out of the mountains and into more of a plains/plateau area. It was windy, and there was a lot of traffic. I could see storm clouds off in the distance on both sides of the plains, and I remember at one point asking Doug in the follow vehicle whether we should be concerned about tornadoes or anything. It was also along this stretch that we passed the 1000 mile mark – woohoo – we were into quadruple digits finally! One third of the way there…..gulp!! I also continued to have butt issues along this stretch, which was frustrating since it was a flat, fast section and I wanted to be in my aerobars cranking away to make up some time (especially since my legs felt pretty good). It was still going to be another day and a half before we found our “system” for dealing with these butt problems, so until then it was more trial and error and discomfort….

Country Bumkins

The Sprinter Van finds a fitting mailbox near Alamosa, CO


Near Alamosa, CO, just after passing the 1000 mile mark!

As we came into Alamosa (the next time station), I made my next food request – curly fries from Arby’s! And of course some more KFC (boy oh boy was KFC tasting good out there!!). I was feeling a bit down and tired from the events of the last few days, and earlier in the day I’d been told that today would be a “shorter” day in the saddle, and that we were going to stop earlier to rest and try to get into a better sleep schedule (up to this point I’d essentially been riding until very close to or after dawn before stopping), so I was looking forward to stopping earlier. Unfortunately there was a miscommunication though, and the time station that we were to stop at was miscommunicated to me – I thought we were stopping at La Veta, when in fact the goal was to get to Trinidad. I wasn’t too upset – I figured there was good reason for this strategy, and I was just happy that the crew informed me of it as soon as they’d realized the mistake and didn’t withhold it from me – I would have been pissed if we’d gotten to La Veta and then they’d told me!

Throughout the race Sandy was providing “Remote Overlord” assistance – she was my crew chief at Race Across Oregon in 2010, and at Race Across the West in 2011, and I absolutely trust her judgement and race strategy. And as a solo ultra-racer herself, I know that she understands the rider perspective as well and can put things into terms that the rider can understand. Unfortunately Sandy wasn’t able to be physically present on RAAM, but knowing that she was helping guide the crew through this journey was comforting. If Sandy said we needed to get to Trinidad tonight, then that’s what we needed to do. Doing the number crunching in my head it seemed like we should in fact get there not too late, so I was looking forward to an earlier sleep break. Well that notion quickly went out the window when we got onto a stretch of road with a vicious headwind….. It was a downward grade and I was barely moving at 8-10mph. This stretch went on for a couple of hours, and it quickly became apparent that tonight was not going to be an early night if we were still going to try and get to Trinidad. Again, “C’est la RAAM!”. Finally as I began the climb towards La Veta pass, the wind died down a bit – and was replaced with some rain instead – gee thanks weather gods!! Fortunately the rain wasn’t that heavy, and didn’t actually last very long (we missed the brunt of the storm system I think). The roads did remain wet though, and at least we were rewarded with a spectacular double rainbow!!

Double Rainbow

Double Rainbow near La Veta Pass, Colorado

The descent into La Veta had a spectacular backdrop of the mountains behind it, but unfortunately I was getting sleepy. I remember nodding off at one point on the descent and being jerked awake as my arms started to collapse on the bike – it was a very scary moment!! I’d hoped to change into dry shorts/clothes in La Veta for the night time climb up Cuchura Pass, but the crew wanted me to keep going. I certainly wasn’t happy about this, and just hoped it wouldn’t come back to bite me in the butt – literally (riding in wet shorts isn’t the best way to prevent chaffing). We headed up the climb and I remember Doug and Alan in the errand vehicle chatting with me for a bit while the shift change was unfolding back in La Veta. They both expressed their gratitude for me inviting them on this journey – their words touched me and made me feel better – I certainly hope that by the time the race ended they still felt the same way! The follow vehicle soon took over with Justin, Isabelle, and Dawn. I remember Justin cracking some jokes about Erin Beresini, our mutual friend (who’d seen me off at the start). This was Justin’s first night driving follow, and he did a great job! I didn’t really feel like eating on the climb, which in hindsight was a dumb move on my part, and probably contributed to what was to become the first night of “losing my mind”. For this stretch of road I requested my “Folk” playlist, and rocked out to tunes by Great Big Sea, The Waifs, The Wailin’ Jennys, and alike. The climb however did seem to drag on FOREVER! And it seemed to get pretty steep at the top.

Finally we got to the top, and I was cold, tired, hungry, and grumpy. I insisted on stopping and putting warm clothes on – lots of warm clothes in fact. I put on a jacket, leg warmers, shoe covers, long fingered gloves, and a headband. I think this was the only time during the race that I wore shoe covers, a head band, and long fingered gloves. I remember Fred Boethling made an appearance at the top (at least I think he did!). Fred and his son Rick own RAAM. Soon enough I was on my way down – I think it was 40 or 50 miles to Trinidad from here – which seemed an eternity away. The top of the descent was fast and steep, and at least once I overreacted with my brakes and was lucky not to send myself over the handlebars. I also started getting really sleepy on the descent. I stopped at one point to try and wake myself up, and I remember Dawn getting out of the Follow vehicle and coming to talk to me. I remember Justin suggesting that I stand out of the saddle and sprint a bit to help wake myself up – I did this and it seemed to help. We continued down the main part of the descent, and then we hit the flatter rollers at the bottom.

It’s along here that I started “losing my mind”. I felt a tremendous sense of deja vu – like I’d ridden this road before under the same circumstances. I also didn’t understand why we had to go to Trinidad, and why I had to keep riding. I’d lost touch with reality and the fact that I was racing RAAM. I continued with the short sprints that Justin had originally proposed, and I was literally giving it all I had for short bursts. Then I remember Justin saying something like “great job, at this rate you’ll be in Trinidad in a couple of hours”. Couple of hours???? Wtf!! We still had HOURS left to go? This really demoralized me, especially given that I’d lost touch with the fact that we were doing RAAM – I didn’t understand why I had to keep riding in the middle of the night for HOURS! I started to become angry, and channeled that anger into my sprints. Then things got interesting at one point when a dog came out from a yard and started chasing me – that got the adrenaline going! The last 15 or so miles into Trinidad I really started to get angry. I remember purposefully riding on the rumble strips, and weaving back and forth across them. I don’t know what got into me, but I certainly wasn’t myself. Finally when we pulled into Trinidad and the Sprinter van was there to ferry me to the hotel, that’s when I realized again that I was doing RAAM. It was a disconcerting feeling to realize that I’d at least partially lost my marbles. As I went into the hotel with Katie and Tracey I shared with them what I’d experienced. Little did I know that this was only the beginning of the “Joan-mental-check-out” saga….

After a shower, food, and sleep, it was back on the bike to head out of Trinidad. The Sprinter van ferried me to the time station where I’d stopped riding a few hours earlier. The wind was howling, but fortunately it was a favorable tail wind!! I was cold and a bit disoriented at first, but once I got riding I warmed up and started to feel better. There were a couple of rollers, but it was mainly a gradual downhill towards the plains. With the tailwind I was moving along really well, and made pretty good time to Kim, Colorado. Early on I was treated to a herd of horses running across the field to greet me – I think that they thought I was bringing them breakfast! We also saw a lot of cattle, and at one point I think it was Donna who asked me to point out the cows that made chocolate milk! A couple times the road turned and I had a cross wind, but for the most part there was a steady tailwind. The temperature started to rise, but initially I didn’t really notice it because I was moving along at such a good clip. Things really started to heat up as we approached Walsh, CO though – I think the temperature was “only” in the upper 90s, but with the humidity it felt stifling. I started using ice socks again – but this time Charlie came up with a system to wrap the ends in plastic bags to try and prevent too much water from dripping into my shorts (since butt issues were still an ongoing concern).

In Walsh we stopped at a gas station to take a brief (ok, probably not so brief) respite out of the stifling heat. I ate part of a sub, as well as an ice cream sandwich. I headed out from Walsh feeling pretty miserable in the heat. My butt issues took a turn for the worse as well – it was taking me a long time to find and settle into a comfortable position after I stood up out of the saddle (which I did on a regular basis to give my butt a break from the pressure) – I would coast as I sat back down and shifted around until I found a position that I could tolerate. We passed into Kansas, and shortly after that a crew shift change happened. The wind also picked up and seemed to be whipping around from various directions as the road curved.


Entering Kansas!

I continued having butt issues, and Isabelle tried to insist that I take a prescription anti-inflammatory for it. I was NOT going to just start throwing drugs at this problem to mask it – we were still potentially over a week from the finish, and masking pain and ignoring the source was not what I wanted to do – it sounded like a recipe for disaster in terms of causing further damage, and potentially long term damage. It wasn’t too late to properly identify what was going on and find a treatment that didn’t involve heavy duty prescription drugs. If there was any doubt before as to whether my crew chief and I had different philosophies on how to approach an ultra race, this incident removed that doubt and solidified our incompatibility. I definitely didn’t feel that I could trust someone who was trying to push drugs on me without even first trying to understand what was causing the problem and deal with the root cause. I refused to take the drugs, and an exchange of heated words followed, including some words from her to the effect that there was no way that I could finish if I didn’t take the drugs, and that I had to pedal faster through Kansas because these were “good conditions for Kansas”. Since I couldn’t find a comfortable seated position (at least not without taking a few moments to experiment and try different positions), I started just riding standing out of the saddle again. I was angry and upset and didn’t want any further interaction with my crew chief.

I think this had been the errand vehicle that was following me while the crew shift change happened, and after a while the follow vehicle was back behind me with Doug, Mike, and Tracey. I told Tracey what had happened and made it clear that while I wasn’t completely ruling out taking the drugs, I wanted it to be an educated last resort decision and that first I wanted us to try and find the root cause of the problem and find a solution that was more sustainable through the remaining 7-8 days. The presence of Doug, Mike, and Tracey calmed me down, and I set about the task in front of me – get through Kansas as quickly as possible! There was a really strong cross wind coming out of the south, and I really had to lean into it to stay upright. I certainly wasn’t flying along, but I was at least able to sit and get into my aerobars and make forward progress. We pulled into Ulysses, Kansas and took a break to try and address the butt issues as well as to eat – this time chicken nuggets from McDonalds.

Our goal for the night was to get to Greensburg, Kansas, which was still 2 time stations away. As we headed out of Ulysses, the errand vehicle kept us entertained – Dawn, Katie, and Alan would go in front of us, pull over, and then entertain us with costumes and dance skits as we passed by. It really was quite entertaining to see what they’d come up with next. This was also when Alan made an appearance in the grass skirt and coconut bra. I think he also appeared topless at one point with just his reflective vest on! Apparently when he was in the grass skirt he got some honks from some of the truckers going by, so that became the running joke of the evening. I even got my own external cheering as a pickup truck complete with gun rack and filled with young men drove by and were yelling “go Joan go!”. The rest of the section to Montezuma was fairly uneventful, but it was along here that our butt solution idea began to formalize. I felt like my skin was “sticking” to the chamois which was causing a lot of the discomfort, so I told Tracey that we needed to figure out how to get rid of that stick/friction – I said that I basically wanted to create a “slip-n-slide” between my skin and the chamois. She set about brainstorming how we could achieve this, and consulted some of her medical friends back in BC. By the next day we would have “Tracey’s Crotch Concoction” which would be used for the rest of the race. Until then though, I was still left dealing with a great deal of discomfort. My feet were also getting quite sore from doing a lot of standing to give relief to my butt. In Montezuma I was turned over to the next crew shift. I believe I’d asked if Tracey could quickly work on my feet to get them ready to handle the next section, but for whatever reason the crew wanted to keep me moving so Tracey said she’d tell Katie what to do. I had some extra motivation too in that I’d been told that back when I refused to take the prescription meds my crew chief had told the rest of the crew that by doing so I wouldn’t even make it to Greensburg. Well I was going to get to Greensburg, and then Pratt, and then Maize, and eventually Annapolis damn it!!

I continued through Montezuma knowing there were about 65 more miles to Greensburg. It was supposed to be a fairly easy section, and I think everyone anticipated that we should complete it fairly quickly. I remember starting to get really sleepy as we left Montezuma, and I remember that my feet and butt were in a competition to see who could recruit the most pain receptors. A couple times I remember thinking someone was directing me to turn off the road that we were on, so I would slow and stop, when in fact no one was directing me to do so, and we were supposed to keep going straight. I remember stopping a couple of times, and I remember Wayne talking to me. After then there’s a giant blank in my mind, dotted with a couple of random memories of what I thought at the time was all a dream, and even so felt like deja vu. This was my first complete mental disconnect (the night before enroute to Trinidad I had only had a partial disconnect – I’d stayed lucid and remembered pretty much everything – I’d just forgotten about the race and why we were riding). I was completely out of it tonight though. I remember little things, like the fact that Doug was dressed up in a cow costume on the side of the road with grass in his mouth at one point, and that Wayne gave me more of his macaroons to eat. Then I have a vague recollection of us suddenly doing these 1 mile sections where I had to follow the errand vehicle to get to the next mile marker, and people were telling me to chase Doug and Justin and “go get those boys!”. And that we were going over lots of rollers that felt like they were the same roller over and over again and Wayne was telling me to power over them.

Basically what the crew had had to do was to break the section down into 1 mile sections with about 50 miles left to go, and coax me through each and every mile – that’s how messed up I was! Apart from a couple of disjoint memories during this time, I have no consistent memories until we reached about 18 miles to go (so for 32 miles I was a zombie – I don’t remember what I did, said, or felt). At that point I had this sensation that was extremely weird and disconcerting – it felt like the special effects that you see in the movies where they patch together a bunch of scenes very rapidly like they’re fast forwarding through time and you’re traveling through a vortex or something before suddenly being popped out the other side and suddenly being in normal time again. I felt this vortex of patched together images, and then BAM, suddenly I was there on the road riding my bike and things felt “real” again. It was such a bizarre feeling that I didn’t know if what was happening was real or whether it was still all part of an elaborate dream. I didn’t know where I was, I didn’t really know what was going on, but I heard a steady dialogue coming from behind me over the PA system – Katie was literally talking me through every pedal stroke. Any time I stopped pedaling she’d call out to me “no – pedal, pedal, pedal!”. My senses weren’t really all there yet either, so I couldn’t really seem to see what was going on behind me – it didn’t even really feel like there was a vehicle behind me – more like Wayne and Katie were somehow floating along behind me. Katie was telling me all kinds of things – she was mentioning people on Facebook who were cheering me on (I remember she mentioned Becky Berka), she mentioned Jim Swarzman, my friend who was killed while riding his bike last year, she mentioned the race and how I needed to make the cutoff and how I could only do that if I kept pedaling. At this point I wasn’t even sure where we were – I thought perhaps we were in Maryland already since there was talk of a cutoff?? Although it didn’t seem to make sense that I would have forgotten everything from Kansas to Maryland! She told me I had 18 miles to go to the hotel, and that Mike and Tracey were waiting for me at the hotel – hearing this helped to motivate me to get there – I just wanted to see their faces.

Even though I still wasn’t really sure whether this was reality or not. I remained a bit more “conscious” during these last 18 miles, although there was still plenty of weird stuff going on in my head. I remember at one point I thought we were riding over something where I could see through the pavement and underneath there were bunch of big trucks and stuff, perhaps even a mine or some construction or something. It was a very disconcerting feeling riding over these “things” – it reminded me of nightmares that I used to have as a kid where I was precariously walking over huge open spaces below me – only this time I was riding over them. I have no idea what prompted those visions – perhaps we were on a bridge or something, I’m really not sure. I believe I also rode off the road at one point as I drifted off to sleep. All in all, this was perhaps one of the most scariest nights of RAAM for me – I really didn’t think anything was real, and I didn’t know what was happening. It wasn’t until we pulled into the hotel just after sunrise and I got off the bike and was greeted by Tracey that I think my brain snapped back and I realized what was happening. Throughout the race when I had these moments of confusion/delirium, it was often the sight of Tracey that brought me back to reality – I think she must have done more than acupuncture on me with those needles – perhaps she hypnotized me and made me her puppet as well! ;)

Greensburg, Kansas

Entering Greensburg, Kansas at sunrise

Tracey hustled me into the hotel where I was greeted with an ice bath – oh boy! I got into it and started shaking uncontrollably. She wrapped a towel around my upper body to try to help keep me warm. I knew that this was probably really helping my legs, but boy oh boy was it uncomfortable at the time – and it certainly snapped me back to reality! Soon enough I was down for my sleep break though, still feeling very freaked out about what had happened.
Doug Greensburg

Doug essentially replaces my drivetrain while I sleep in Greensburg, Kansas

The next morning I felt a bit groggier than I’d remembered feeling after my previous sleep breaks – perhaps the cumulative sleep deprivation and fatigue were catching up with me. It took me a while to get going, but soon enough the crew had me out the door and back on the bike (I think they drove me to the time station since the hotel had been a little bit off course). I don’t remember much about the beginning of the ride, but I remember more as we got going. Alan, Doug, and Tracey were in follow (I think), and we were on a fairly major road (perhaps an interstate?). I was groggy and half asleep, and my legs were barely turning over. The wind wasn’t too bad, and I should have been trying to take advantage of the conditions before it heated up, but I just couldn’t seem to get going – mentally or physically. At one point I pulled over for no good reason where a side-road came onto the highway, and the crew was trying to get me moving again – at that point I happened to look down and noticed that I had a front flat tire. So we took the opportunity for me to hop off the bike and Tracey quickly worked on me (I think she might have done some acupuncture on my knees which were kind of achy). When we started up again I finally started to feel better. They gave me some fruit to eat (blueberries, watermelon, and strawberries), and it tasted really good! As the morning wore on I needed to take a bathroom break, but we weren’t anywhere near a town, so finally I pulled over on the side of the road where there was some kind of road-side sign. Doug and Alan held up a sheet while Tracey and I attended to matters “down below”.

By this point the “crotch stops” were well beyond being comic relief for the women – we had to laugh at them, what else could we do? I started calling the female crew members that accompanied me on all bathroom breaks the “Crotch Brigade” – I always had at least 2 women helping me in this regard (all the female crew except Donna ended up in on the act – somehow she escaped “crotch duty”). I believe this was the first day of “Tracey’s Crotch Concoction” – a mixture of vaseline, oragel, and polysporin I believe. We put tegaderm on the chamois of the shorts, and then applied the concoction to my crotch so as to lubricate the area and prevent/minimize chaffing. Before doing this though, every time I peed there was a routine – peeing was excruciatingly painful, so I had to have water on the ready to rinse as I peed (we tried various spray bottles and alike before settling on the NeilMed Sinus Rinse bottle – my female crew members will never look upon one of these bottles the same again!!), then I soaped and rinsed the area to get rid of salt, sweat, etc., then I patted dry with paper towel, then we applied “Tracey’s Crotch Concoction”, then we applied some cortisone cream on my upper inner thighs where there was some redness/irritation, then we applied Assos chamois cream on my backside. This was the routine that we had to go through every time I had to go to the bathroom. As you can imagine, it sucked up a lot of time, however it was something that had to be done in order to be able to keep my crotch somewhat happy so that I could keep riding. Each bathroom stop ended up taking about 20-40min (we often combined clothes changes and foot work as well since we were stopped), and you figure that with at least 4 stops per day, that adds up to 2-3hrs per day spent dealing with butt issues. That means that during my almost 13 days on RAAM, probably a full day was spent in the bathroom (or on the side of the road) dealing with this issue – time I certainly wish I could take back, as I’m sure my female crew members wish they could have back as well! But the important thing to note is that we made it through all of RAAM without ever having any open sores or any broken skin (just redness and irritation) – this was a big accomplishment! Some of these stops happened in tiny bathrooms, so it became quite comical with 3 of us jammed into the stall – again, there was nothing to do but laugh at the situation – either that or cry, and you lose electrolytes and fluid crying, so better to laugh!

Anyway, as I hit the road again after this pit stop, I felt MUCH better – YAY! It’s amazing what a difference it makes to be “comfortable” on the bike – when you feel good you’re able to pedal harder and go much faster, and I always felt MUCH better after a “crotch stop”. So even though they took time, they allowed me to move down the course faster afterwards.

With Dave in Kansas

Riding with Dave Elsberry in Kansas

As we kept going and I perked up we caught up to Dave Elsberry again – I hadn’t seen him since Wolf Creek Pass, but clearly he’d gotten in front of me at some point. I rode up to him and we chatted for a while. He’d done RAAM last year, so I asked him what part still to come was the toughest, and his answer didn’t surprise me – West Virginia. I’d heard that West Virginia was pretty brutal in terms of the short, steep, and relentless climbs. Oh well, I’d deal with that when we came to it – for now we were in Kansas where it was relatively flat, so I might as well take advantage of it and keep on moving. I continued on past Dave, and really got a good rhythm going. The wind hadn’t felt as strong yet today, although that would soon change. We turned off the interstate and onto a road where suddenly BAM, I had a screaming tailwind! Unfortunately the road was pretty rough though, so it made the stretch slightly less enjoyable. The stretch didn’t last too long though until we turned right and then the wind was a fierce cross wind – it would stay like this the rest of the day. Along this section I got a treat from the follow vehicle – a giant ice cream sandwich! I ate it on the bike, and got it all over my face and hand in the process, but it was oh so tasty in the hot Kansas sun! We were now off the main interstate and on some back roads which was nice. The errand vehicle consisted of Dawn, Charlie, and Donna, and they were doing their best to entertain me along the side of the road with various skits/costumes. Even though the crew had told me they wanted me to get out of Kansas as quickly as possible, I actually kind of enjoyed this section of Kansas, despite the cross wind and heat. It was more rolling farm land with trees here and there, so a bit more interesting than the completely open plains of a day earlier.

We had another bathroom stop just before Wichita, and at this point my eyes were bothering me quite a bit from being in the wind all day. Throughout RAAM I used a pair of Bertoni Eyewear goggles at night which did a MARVELOUS job of protecting my eyes and letting them recover from the assault of wind and dust during the day. Without these goggles my eyes would have been in much worse shape. I put the goggles on just before sunset, and we continued through Kansas. We got on the interstate just past Wichita shortly before dark, and on this stretch the crew put on some of my heavier music and I really got into a groove and was powering along at a good clip (at least a good clip for this point in RAAM – probably a snails pace to an outside observer!). We got off the interstate around dark and were pretty close to the next time station, El Dorado. My back had tightened up a bit, so we stopped so that Tracey could work on it quickly before she went off-shift in El Dorado. The goal was to get to Ft Scott that night, although Yates Center, one time station earlier was said to be an ok stopping point as well – we’d play it by ear.

There was a bit of a climb out of El Dorado, and I started getting really sleepy. I pulled over to collect myself and get a caffeinated beverage. I remained pretty sleepy on this whole next section, and we deemed that it was best to stop in Yates Center rather than push on to Ft Scott. On the run in to Yates Center I chatted with the crew to help stay awake, and we talked about RAAM and what they had been most surprised about, etc. We pulled into Yates Center – the “Hay Capital” – in the middle of the night. The hotel here was about the worst hotel I’d ever been in, but I still had an ice bath and got a couple hours of sleep.
Yates Center

The next morning the first order of business was to “get the F out of Kansas”! The entire crew wanted out of Kansas, and ASAP, so it had become a running joke. I started out the morning listening to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” – I listened to this song quite a bit during RAAM, as the lyrics are really applicable to what I was doing/feeling. Lyrics include: “Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment would you capture it or just let it slip?”, and “You better lose yourself in the music, the moment, you own it, you better never let it go, you only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime”.

Shortly after Ft Scott we finally found what we’d been looking for – the Kansas/Missouri border – woohoo!! There was a big celebration by the crew as we left Kansas behind us!

Goodbye Kansas

Leaving Kansas for Missouri

Just after entering Missouri I had a pita bread filled with Nutella and banana – I forget when I’d had the first of these, but I think Donna had planted the seed in my head for the idea, and at one point a day or two earlier I’d asked for one and Charlie had made one for me. Charlie became the expert pita-bread/Nutella/banana sandwich maker!! Missouri quickly became a never ending series of roller coaster rollers – really long ups and downs through farmland. The landscape actually reminded me of my home province of Alberta a bit.

Entering Missouri

Missouri also quickly became known for it’s horrifying roadkill! Not only was there LOTS of it, it seemed that every one was posed in just about the most horrifying way possible! Lots of skunks, turtles, armadillos, and URKs (unidentified road kill)! Mid-day we stopped in Collins at Peggy’s Restaurant for a bathroom break and shorts change, not to mention an awesome refueling stop – Mike bought me some coconut cream pie with ice cream, and Doug got a chocolate malt for me which we put in my aeronet on the bike and it kept me fueled the next several miles – boy oh boy were these good!!! Of course all that pie and malt necessitated another bathroom break not too far down the road, but it was totally worth it!!

Coconut Cream Pie at Peggy's Restaurant in Collins, MO

Collins, MO

Bike loaded with a chocolate malt ready to roll, Collins, MO

Missouri Rollers

Somewhere in Missouri

Missouri Riding

Somewhere in Missouri

The heat was pretty oppressive in the afternoon – perhaps a bit more humidity than we’d had up to this point. We pressed on towards Camdenton through the late afternoon and evening. Highlights included a sign to “share the road” complete with a picture of a horse and buggy, and yielding to a turtle that was crossing the road (at least that was one turtle that didn’t turn into road kill – at least not right then).

Share the road

Share the Road sign in Missouri

Going into Camdenton we were on a pretty busy road, and there was a lot of debris on the shoulder. I got 2 more flat tires on this section – both a front and a rear flat. I was feeling pretty tired and low as we pulled into Camdenton, especially knowing I still had to get to Jefferson City that night. As we pulled into a gas station in Camdenton, I was surprised to see the rest of my crew – I thought they were going to go on ahead to Jefferson City, so it was a pleasant surprise to see them. Justin was out marking the turn in a superman costume – at least I think that’s what he was wearing, I don’t think I was hallucinating! ;) Then perhaps the coolest experience of RAAM happened – I met an 11 year old girl, Lauryn, who was hanging out with her family at the time station. I shook her hand, had pictures taken with her, and got to chat with her. It was a really special moment to see the enthusiasm and excitement in her eyes when she met me. I’d come into this time station feeling weary and low, but interacting with Lauryn totally raised my spirits! It’s moments like this that make RAAM special and worthwhile! Since then I’ve become Facebook friends with Lauryn, and it looks like I’ll have the opportunity to meet her again in the fall when she visits California – I’m really looking forward to that!! Her Mom says that meeting me sparked a fire in Lauryn, so if that’s true, it totally makes RAAM worth all the pain and suffering! I may have inspired Lauryn, but she also inspired me!

With Lauryn

With 11 year old Lauryn in Camdenton, Missouri

Bertoni goggles

Getting my Bertoni Eyewear goggles adjusted by Tracey in Camdenton

We pulled out of Camdenton in the dark, and were on really busy roads/highways – it was rather stressful, especially since it was dark, with cars whizzing by and us having to deal with on/off ramps and a lot of bridges. After we got past the really busy part of the road, my mind didn’t shut off completely, but it did “slow down” and get a bit confused. I remember being on the highway riding/coasting, but not really sure what was going on. Why was it taking so long to get to to our destination – I kept thinking it should be just around the corner, but we were still over 20 miles away. Then as we got to Jefferson City we hit some road construction and possibly a detour – I don’t remember exactly what was happening, but I remember there being some confusion about where we were going, and I remember feeling really really angry again. I remember “sprinting” (I’m sure it didn’t look like that) as hard as I could just because I wanted to be done. I had a lot of “anger” moments during RAAM, I guess the stress, fatigue, and sleep deprivation made all those raw emotions bubble to the surface and I had less control over them. It’s an eyeopening and humbling experience to find yourself falling apart like this day after day. In Jefferson City we stayed at the Motel 6 for our sleep break (I think). I’m pretty sure there was another ice bath too – Tracey was evil putting ice baths as the final obstacle between me and the pillow!! ;)

The next day the big highlight was going to be to get through Missouri and get to the Mississippi River – the next cutoff in the race. We started out of Jefferson City and immediately there were a bunch of short hills which my legs/feet/knees didn’t appreciate. We passed by the capitol building though which was cool (Jefferson City is the capitol of Missouri). Then we crossed a bridge and were on a more rural road, although there was still a fair amount of traffic on it. I was once again battling sleepiness, so I asked Tracey to DJ and find certain music that I thought would kick start my morning – of course the staple of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” kicked things off, then some Black Eyed Peas, Ke$ha, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, and Nicki Minaj. This helped quite a bit, and I was awake again at least for the meantime. There was then a series of about 8 significant roller coaster climbs – steep descents and steep ascents – several of which had me in my easiest gear out of the saddle. Ugghh!

Still riding

Riding somewhere in Missouri

After that there was a flatter section, and I started drifting off again. It was a HUGE struggle to stay awake. After a few hours of this things got to the point where I pulled over and got Tracey to do her “wake-up acupuncture” on me – basically shoving a needle in my upper lip right under my nose – it hurt like hell, but certainly woke me up! I also asked that she keep talking to me over the radio. Tracey came through yet again (seriously, she’s a rock star crew member!!), and invented a “spot the red truck” game. The crew had noticed a lot of red trucks in Missouri, so she created a contest to see who could spot the most – me or the crew in the follow vehicle. This absolutely worked in terms of keeping me mentally engaged. I had the upper hand on the uphills because I’d crest the hills first and see what was beyond the top of the hill. We were having a good old time out there looking for red trucks – the things that keep you entertained on RAAM!! :)

Keep Joan Awake

The "Keep Joan Awake Machine" (as dubbed by Justin)

After we passed the time station at Washington, Missouri, things got pretty sketchy on the road – Mike was driving the follow vehicle, and he stated afterwards that driving that section was the most stressful thing he’d ever done!! The traffic was absolutely crazy (fast, passing where it wasn’t safe, unfriendly, etc.), and apparently these were some very anti-bike counties/communities that we were passing through. In fact one county had tried to ban cyclists all together – sheesh!! The mandate the day before had been to get out of Kansas, well now we wanted the hell out of Missouri! It was hot out, I was tired, and we didn’t want to stop anywhere in this area. We would pull off in driveways here and there to let the traffic past us, but other than that we tried to get through here as quickly as possible. To make matters worse there was some difficult navigation through this section as well. The errand vehicle was a big help in terms of helping to mark turns. I probably wasn’t drinking/eating enough on this section because there weren’t opportunities to do handoffs due to the traffic, so when we finally got off the busy roads and into some quiet roads that meandered through the corn fields along the Mississippi river, I wasn’t feeling all that great. It felt like I’d stopped sweating, and I was starting to get a salty taste in my mouth after taking some salt pills, and I was feeling the heat. It seemed to take forever to get to the Mississippi River. One cool thing along this section though was that there were some local Missourians who’d looked me up online and came out with signs to cheer me on – wow! Then we pulled into the gas station just before the Mississippi River and there were some more cheering fans – a couple from St. Louis who’d come to see me go through – again, very cool! Paula makes jewelry out of recycled bicycle chains (http://www.chainspirations.com/), and she also donated to my Leukemia & Lymphoma Society fundraising. Meeting people out on the course is a pretty cool part of RAAM!
Paula from St Louis

Paula, a RAAM fan from St. Louis came to the time station at the Mississippi River

The Mississippi River was the 2nd of 3 cutoffs during the race, and was at just over 2/3rds of the total distance. I’d now been racing for just over 8 days, and I’d reached the time station 11 hours before the cutoff. Although this was a pretty decent cushion, I was still pretty hard on myself and I kept thinking of all the places where I’d lost time along the way and how I should have gotten here much sooner. My crew did a great job of getting me to focus on the positive though. I stopped for a fairly long time at this time station just to cool off and recharge after the stressful day going through Missouri. We headed out from the gas station and I got to ride across the Mississippi River and enter Illinois – a pretty cool experience.
Mississippi River

Crossing the Mississippi River between Missouri and Illinois

I still had almost 1000 miles to go, and part of me didn’t know how that was going to be possible, while another part of me just accepted that it needed to be done and that it would be done. I was tired and sleepy, but I was far from feeling unable to keep riding. In hindsight, I’m actually quite amazed at how I’d held up physically to this point (apart from the problems we’d faced the first couple of days related to the saddle problems). I think it’s a testament to several things. First, to the strength training that I did at Integrate Performance Fitness the past 2 years – the work I did at the studio really worked on getting my muscular skeletal system balanced and strong and ready to stand up to the rigors and stress of being on my bike day after day at RAAM. And second, to the work that Tracey was doing on me during the race – I don’t know exactly what she did to me while I slept, but I know she was a busy worker bee working on my feet, legs, neck, back, shoulders, and hands.

So, we’d made it to the Mississippi River – one more cutoff left – the big one, Annapolis, Maryland and the finish line! We had just under 5 days to go just under 1000 miles. I’d done the first 1000 miles in just over 4 days, and had done the next 1000 miles in roughly the same amount of time (at least I was consistent!), so if I held the same pace I had just under a day of cushion – things were looking doable, although it certainly wasn’t going to get any easier – some of the toughest climbing of RAAM was still to come, and the sleep deprivation monster was already devouring me. I’d already been losing my mind and/or falling asleep on the bike for several days now. Little did I know just how difficult things would get in that last 1000 miles, but for now the only thing to do was to keep moving forward, one pedal stroke at a time.

Continue reading about RAAM in the next installment:
RAAM Race Report – Part IV: Angels and Demons, the Run-In to Annapolis

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