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.”