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

Posted in Race Reports | Tagged | 6 Comments

RAAM 2012 Race Report – Part II: RAW Revisited

In case you missed it:
RAAM Race Report – Part I, Tapering: More Dangerous than Training!

And now for Part II….

I signed up for RAAM because of how successful my Race Across the West (RAW) experience had been in 2011, so going into RAAM I expected the first 3rd to be relatively “easy peasy” (at least as easy as cycling 860 miles can be!) – after all, I’d already done this section a year earlier (and been very successful with it), and now I was in even better shape so I was going to rock this thing!  I fully expected that there was a good chance that I’d get to Durango faster than I had the year before (my conservative estimate was +/- 6hrs).  Well the first rule of RAAM is to expect the unexpected, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when things didn’t go according to plan.  In hindsight, I was lucky to even get out of California let alone make it all the way across the country!

Joan Pre Race

Pre-Race Mugshot

The start of the race went fairly smoothly, although it was a bit of a whirlwind of activity to get down to the starting line on time race morning. When we got to the start I was surprised but thrilled to be greeted by Erin and Jimmy. I’d met Erin when doing Race Across Oregon in 2009, and she was one of my bridesmaids at my wedding. She’s a very cool person, talented athlete, and gifted writer (she currently writes for Outside magazine). So I was ecstatic to see her before I started my RAAM journey.

Start with Erin and Jimmy

With Erin and Jimmy at the start

I also had the privilege to meet Dex Tooke at the start. I’d followed his 2 RAAMs and been inspired by his tales of RAAM and his positive attitude. He was there to crew for Mike Wilson this year.

Start with Dex

With Dex Tooke at the start

As we made our way to the start chute, I got to meet an ultra-cycling legend who I’m honored to call a friend – Seana Hogan. She’s the most winningest RAAM rider of all time (male or female) and she holds countless ultra cycling records. I got to know Seana this past year on Facebook, and then in the spring she was gracious enough to invite me to join her at her home for a training weekend. She provided a lot of great advice and support and encouragement as I prepared for RAAM. This is one of the coolest aspects of ultra-cycling – you get to interact with the legends of the sport – it’s a very open and supportive community of folks!

Seana Hogan

With Seana Hogan at the start

I then met up with Cassie Schumacher and Janet Christiansen – 2 of the other solo women racers. I’d met and ridden with Cassie in the spring at Seana’s training weekend, and I know Janet from the California Triple Crown double century circuit – we’ve met on a couple of doubles. Both are extremely classy women and it was an honor to race with them!

Cassie, Joan, Janet

Cassie, Joan, and Janet at the start line

Then I got to share a moment with my husband, Mike, which was pretty emotional for both of us. He’s been there and supported me every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done RAAM without him. In fact I was contemplating giving up ultra-cycling just before I met him.


Sharing one last pre-race moment with Mike at the start

Soon enough it was time to hit the starting line, and I got my obligatory interview with race director George Thomas before he counted me down for my start.

Start Line

With George Thomas, Race Director, at the start line

Before I knew it I was on my way, and the journey that I’d prepared so long and hard for was underway! The first part of the course is a parade zone on a bike path, and then after that there are a series of some shorter climbs before hitting the main climb up Palomar Mountain. As we left the coast, the temperature rose steadily and the coastal fog was replaced by bright sun.

Day 1

Climbing early in the race enroute to time station #1

The climb up to Lake Henshaw was tough in the heat, and I was starting to feel my lower back tighten up – this was NOT a good sign…. I assumed that this was related to the saddle changes that we’d made prior to the race (see Part I of this race report series for details on that), and my body not being quite used to the subtle differences. I arrived at Time Station #1 at Lake Henshaw finally though, about 20 minutes slower than my time from last year.

Lake Henshaw

Arriving at Lake Henshaw, Time Station #1

The only vehicle with me at this point was the follow vehicle, and my physiotherapist, Tracey, wasn’t with us – I hadn’t scheduled her to be in follow because who would have thought that I’d have needed her this soon in the race!!! I told Mike that I was going to need to stop and see Tracey as soon as we got to Borrego Springs (that’s where all the other crew and vehicles had gone forward to) and that I would probably also do a saddle change there and go back to my old saddle. Having lower back pain this early in the ride was a bad sign, and I wanted to address the problem as soon as possible. As I moved forward, my brain was starting to go into panic mode – we were barely off the starting line and things seemed to be falling apart. We got to Borrego Springs and I stopped and Tracey went to work on my lower back while Mike and some of the others worked to change my saddle/seat-post.

Soon I was on my way again, and although the positioning did feel better, I could still feel the tightness in my back, especially when I went into my aerobars. The next section was a long, fairly flat section which was ideal for riding in the aerobars, so I wanted to take advantage of the more aero position, but I experienced pain and couldn’t generate as much power in that position. As we went down the road and things didn’t seem to get much better, I once again stopped and got Tracey to look at things. Fortunately the follow vehicle was off filling with gas, so errand vehicle was supporting me, and that’s where Tracey was.

I had not met Tracey prior to RAAM, but she came highly recommended from the UltraMan community in Penticton, BC, and my phone/email conversations with her indicated that I was going to be in good hands. Not only is she a physiotherapist, but she also does ART and acupuncture, so she has a large tool box to work with. Also, the fact that she’s an ultra athlete herself (having completed many Ironmans, and 2 UltraMans) meant that she understands how ultra sports impact the body. After interacting with her for a few days in the lead up to the race, I was even more confident that she was going to be “the bomb” out there, and that I’d certainly lucked out in terms of getting her on my crew!

Here we were barely into the race, and already she was being put to work. I stopped again and expressed my frustration, panic, and concern about what was happening. She was very calm and reassuring, and set about trying to help me with the problems. She did some ART/massage, and then did a bit of acupuncture. She also lowered my saddle just a tiny bit (did I mention she’s also a certified Reutl bike fitter!). I continued on, and things felt a bit better, but I decided to stay out of aero position to give my body a bit of time to adjust to the new position and to not put additional stress/strain on it by forcing the more aggressive position. It was frustrating to have to hold back on this stretch of road somewhat because I knew we should be trying to hammer through the desert at night while it was cooler, but I also knew that I needed to get my lower back calmed down or we wouldn’t make it out of California let alone to Maryland!

I continued to ride through the night, and although we were behind our schedule from last year, we seemed to be making good progress. We stopped just before sunrise to change shorts and I had the breakfast of champions – a Hot Pocket and an iced mocha! There would be plenty more Hot Pockets consumed during the day – naturally warmed by the hot desert sun! I watched the sunrise somewhere just before we passed into Arizona.

Blythe Sunrise

Sunrise over the Colorado River Valley a little past Blythe, CA, 6/13/12

It was a pleasant temperature in the morning, so I tried to take advantage of this and push a bit harder since I knew that as the day wore on it was going to get miserably hot. We got to Parker, Arizona at 11:06 EDT, about an hour and fifteen minutes off my pace from RAW last year. Even though we were through here later, it didn’t feel quite as hot yet, so I was hopeful that maybe it wasn’t going to get quite as hot this year (this was wishful thinking!!).

Parker, AZ

Parker, AZ, 6/13/12

We headed out from Parker towards Hope. The winds weren’t as bad as last year (last year there was a fairly stiff headwind on this section), but the roads were as bad or worse than I remembered! I was using leg coolers, arm coolers, white shorts, and a light colored jersey to help combat the heat. I was also using ice socks wrapped around my neck.

Towards Congress

Somewhere between Parker and Congress in the heat

The last 20 miles or so into Hope seemed brutal – the rough road and heat were really starting to take their toll on me. I was glad to turn towards Salome and get “Beyond Hope”! I stopped in Salome at the market briefly to use the facilities and down a popsicle. Unfortunately we were never able to find the Mexican brand rice pudding like popsicles that I ate so many of during RAW last year.

Then it was on towards Congress, a desert oasis with a wading pool which I knew was going to be my first significant rest off the bike. The stretch from Salome to Congress felt hotter than it had last year, although thankfully the rough road didn’t seem to bother my feet quite as much. I’d done a good job of keeping my shoes super loosely done up, so this allowed my feet room to breathe and prevented some of the foot pain I’d had at this point last year. It was so hot on the way to Congress that the ice socks my crew gave me would only seem to last about 10min and I would need a new one. They were kept busy leap frogging me and providing ice socks, ice water (to pour on my leg coolers and arm coolers), and nutrition (a lot of Gogurts and some of Wayne’s homemade macaroons were the food of choice on this section). Along this section I began getting the first signs of what was to be my next physical problem – my right IT band. I started to notice a radiating pain down the outside of my right lower leg as I tried to push down on the pedals. It wasn’t bad yet, and seemed to go away after I got moving again after a break, but little did I know this was going to be the next hurdle to overcome. We finally pulled into Congress at 19:09 EDT, which was only 19min slower than last year – not bad considering that earlier in the day I was over an hour and a half off pace from last year, so clearly I’d made up some time during the day.

Congress Arrival

Arriving in Congress and greeted by the Bull Shifters, 6/13/12

Preparing for pool dip in Congress

Taking my gloves off in preparation for a dip in the wading pool in Congress

I immediately hopped off the bike and made my way into the inviting wading pool that the Bullshifters bike club from Phoenix who run this time station had setup.

Congress Pool

Getting into the wading pool at Congress, AZ, time station #6 which is run by the Bullshifters bicycle club from Phoenix

I ate a cheeseburger while sitting in the pool, and then my crew took me into a hotel room to shower and get ready for my first sleep break. It felt great to take a quick shower and get out of my bike clothes for a bit. I went and laid down in the back of the errand van and tried to go to sleep while Tracey began to work on me. She put some acupuncture needles in my feet and forehead to help me relax – although apparently I’m pretty good at relaxing on my own and was out like a light (as was to be the case for all of my sleep breaks). Throughout the race Tracey was able to massage and stretch me out while I slept.

Sleep break

Sleep break in the errand vehicle in Congress, AZ, 6/13/12

After my 2hr sleep break my crew got me dressed and ready to go again, and soon I was on the road towards Yarnell Grade.

Departing Congress

Getting ready to depart Congress and head up Yarnell Grade, 6/13/12

As I headed out, my right IT band was still pretty tight, but I tried to ease into riding in order to get it warmed up. This worked ok for about the first half of the climb, and I was feeling pretty good – then all of a sudden it just tightened up again and every pedal stroke I took I felt radiating pain on my right lower leg and wasn’t able to generate any power. I didn’t want to stop on the climb, afraid that I might not get going again, so I tried to push through it. The last couple of miles on the climb I basically had to pedal one-legged using only my left leg to exert any force since the right leg was so painful. I was able to pull up on the pedal stroke with the right, but couldn’t put any downward pressure on the pedal. I wanted to stop at the top and get Tracey to look at things, but Isabelle wanted me to continue down the descent, saying that it would loosen up then. I did the descent and some of the rollers afterwards, but it didn’t really help at all. Again, we weren’t even half way to Durango yet and I was starting to panic in my head – why wasn’t my body cooperating!!! I’d gone through a full year of training with essentially NO physical problems like this!! Why now was everything falling apart at the seams???

Finally I was able to see Tracey, and she worked on my IT band and tried to loosen it up. She used “the stick”, and I can’t remember if she used some acupuncture as well, but whatever she did, as I got going again it slowly started to feel better. The climb up towards Prescott went much better than Yarnell did in that I didn’t have to do it one-legged. The rollers along the ridge line were as never ending as I remembered from last year though.

Somewhere along the ridge line I got a hankering for some of the beef barley soup that I know we had packed. I thought it would be perfect to stop in Prescott briefly and down some soup quickly while having Tracey quickly work on the IT band again to ensure it was ready for the next climb. I didn’t want to take a long break, but I did want to “recharge” before the next climb, because I remember that the next climb was one that I struggled with sleepiness on last year, and I was trying to figure out a game plan that would prevent that from happening again. A “comfort food” power stop can do miracles in terms of perking me up, so I told Isabelle that this is what I wanted to do, and she agreed. The thought of that soup waiting for me in Prescott really motivated me to power through the remaining rollers on the ridge line.

Then we got down into Prescott though and I was told we weren’t allowed to stop – we had to keep going, and maybe we’d stop at the base of the climb. Wtf!!!! Was no one listening to me?? Stopping at the base of the climb given the issues I was having with my IT band sounded like a recipe for disaster – I wanted to have some time to get/keep it loosened up before the climb – stopping right before the climb was definitely not something I wanted to do. And as for the soup, well typically my cravings are pretty good indications of what my body wants/needs right now, and right now it had its sights set on some condensed beef barley soup!! Everything that the crew started offering me instead just didn’t have any appeal. Not to mention the fact that I’d spent the last 15+ miles looking forward to that soup and using it as a motivator. I was not a happy camper to say the least! Then we hit a bunch of miserable road construction that I had to ride through, and I was just getting angrier and angrier. My stomach was churning and for the first time I started to feel a bit nauseous.

I recognize that once the race starts I’m no longer in charge, and decisions are made by others, but I at least like to be told the reasons for certain decisions – if there’s a good reason for it, then I’m more than happy to oblige – just don’t lie to me or keep me completely out of the loop. I was planning to not stop before the climb, terrified that my IT band would tighten up again, but unfortunately I had to go to the bathroom and was feeling upset to my stomach, so I did have to pull over. I was really upset at this point and didn’t know how to convey my frustration.

In hindsight, this was the first sign that perhaps things were not going to go well with my crew chief, and that we just weren’t a good match (on it’s own, this isolated incident is fairly normal for RAAM, but unfortunately it wasn’t the last such incident and things eventually became much worse). The last thing I needed was conflict on my crew, much less with the crew chief, but as I’ve said before, it’s RAAM – you have to expect the unexpected, deal with it, and move on, no matter how ugly things may get (remember that RAAM is a stressful situation and everyone is operating in a sleep deprived mode, so emotions can run high). The relationship between rider and crew chief is very important, and it’s something that is hard to predict until you’re actually out there doing the race. If things don’t work out, it doesn’t mean that either person is a “bad person” – it just means that you’re not compatible for this kind of situation. Everyone has their own philosophies and ways of doing things, and what works for one person won’t work for someone else. I want to take this opportunity to express just how honored I was that Isabelle gave up 2 weeks of her life to come and be my crew chief, and say that I’m really sorry that things between us didn’t work out. I want to thank Isabelle for inspiring me to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Hopefully some good will come of all the fundraising that we did (as of the time that I’m writing this, we’ve raised over $13,500).

Anyway, we finally got on the road again and made it to the top of the climb – I didn’t get as sleepy on the climb as I did last year, but I definitely did once we started descending. Just like last year, I had to stop a few times on the descent to wake myself up because I could feel myself nodding off. We finally pulled into Cottonwood at 7:53 EDT – a full 3hrs off my pace from last year. Part of this was due to a longer sleep break in Congress, and part of it was due to the issues I had with my IT band. I was frustrated that we were this far off pace already, but given how exhausted I felt I was glad when I heard that I was going to get another sleep break in Cottonwood before pressing on to Flagstaff.

After another REM cycle of sleep in Cottonwood, I hit the road heading towards Sedona and Flagstaff. The crew wasn’t allowed to direct follow me though, and after getting me out of town they disappeared back into town to refuel or something. Of course Murphy’s Law, as soon as I was on my own with no crew in sight, BAM, I got a rear flat. I had no seat bag on my bike anymore, so I couldn’t even work to change it myself. Fortunately the crew showed up within a few minutes, got me a spare wheel, and I was on my way again.

After Cottonwood

Between Cottonwood and Sedona, 6/14/12

The ride around Sedona is pretty spectacular. It felt warmer than when I’d ridden this section last year, but that was probably due to the fact that we were several hours later coming through. The crew stopped and got me breakfast at McDonalds in Sedona – the breakfast sandwich, potato patty, and orange juice tasted heavenly! Then there was the steeper climb up to Flagstaff – I was hot and tired, but managed to get up it. On the rollers into Flagstaff I concocted in my mind what I wanted my next meal to be – I wanted some KFC drumsticks and a strawberry milkshake from Dairy Queen! I let the crew know, and they assured me that they would oblige – woohoo! There was a bit of tough navigating through a detour in Flagstaff, then a long, busy stretch through town with a lot of semis – I was having flashbacks of this road last year when I felt so unsafe with semis tearing by me. We stopped at the McDonalds near the time station so that I could do a shorts change and deal with some butt issues in preparation for the next stretch which was going to include what would hopefully be a long, fast downhill – I wanted to feel fresh and comfortable to be able to pedal through this section and make good time. I scarfed down a KFC drumstick before hitting the road again.

I was extremely happy that I was going to be allowed direct follow on this section this year – it was probably the most unsafe section last year without direct follow allowed. There was one little climb out of town, and then the long downhill started. Unfortunately I got another flat part way down the downhill. We stopped and changed wheels again, and the follow vehicle ferried the flatted wheel to errand vehicle so that they could change it since they had the bike tools. The rest of this stretch was fairly uneventful, although it was HOT! My bike computer was reading temps that were a degree or two hotter than I’d seen the day before on the stretch between Parker and Congress. We stopped at a gas station for a bathroom stop at one point, and while we were stopped Janet passed us (we’d been going back and forth with each other throughout the race). When I got back on the road and saw her out in front, she was a bit of a carrot to keep me going. Shortly after the turn towards Tuba City I caught up with her, and since I was climbing a bit faster than she was I passed her just before Tuba City. Seeing another racer on the road always provides a bit of extra motivation. We arrived in Tuba City at 20:51 EDT, almost a full 4.5hrs slower than my pace last year. Last year we’d got to see Monument Valley just at dusk, and I’d really wanted to see it in the daylight again this year (in fact I was hoping we’d get there a bit earlier even), but clearly it wasn’t going to happen. Instead of watching the sun set in Monument Valley we watched the sun set just outside of Tuba City.

Tuba City

Getting ready to depart from Tuba City

Departing Tuba City

Departing Tuba City heading towards Monument Valley, 6/14/12

Navajo Nation Sunset

Sunset over the Navajo Nation. Near Tonoweap Junction, AZ. 6/14/12

On the stretch between Tuba City and Kayenta we had our next unexpected bump in the road – a car rear ended the follow vehicle. Thank goodness the car hit the vehicle and not me! Willy and Isabelle were in the follow vehicle, and Tracey and Wayne were in the errand vehicle. They quickly turned me over to errand vehicle so that I could proceed down the road while they called the police and waited for that situation to be sorted out. The spare bikes were on the back of the follow and got rear-ended, but it seems like only the one wheel on the Trek was damaged (the rim was bent). Wayne, Tracey, and I proceeded to Kayenta, and follow didn’t catch up with us until there, then they still had to deal with some issues so errand continued to follow me as I entered Monument Valley. There was a nice tail wind and I felt like I was moving along pretty well.

At this point some butt issues that I was having were really starting to get pretty serious. The problems started shortly after Prescott and then intensified in the run up to Flagstaff. Many of the stops from Flagstaff onwards took more time as we tried to deal with these issues. This was to be the start of a couple of days of significant unpleasantness until we finally found a system/routine that seemed to keep things in check. Again, this was something I had NOT had to deal with at RAW last year – sure, my butt had gotten a bit sore at times, but nothing like what I was experiencing this year. Just one more unexpected problem (or at least unexpected this soon) to deal with. To quote the French – “c’est la vie”! Or perhaps it should be “c’est la RAAM”!

Anyway, we stopped in Monument Valley to try and deal with the issue enough to get us to Bluff, Utah where we had a hotel and where we’d be next stopping. I climbed out of Monument Valley and then proceeded towards Mexican Hat, Utah. The sun came up on the way to Mexican Hat, so I actually got to see Mexican Hat this year (last year it was all in the dark). After Mexican Hat there was some pretty spectacular scenery as we headed towards Bluff – again, this was all new to me since we’d covered this ground in the dark last year. I got to see the Valley of the Gods which was really spectacular. We plugged away, and as my butt got worse and worse I found myself just standing out of the saddle for really long periods of time. I credit all the work at Integrate Performance Fitness at the winter spin classes that Liza Rachetto taught for preparing me for this – I did one stretch of about 15 miles all out of the saddle!

I’m not sure what time we finally arrived in Bluff, but it was a couple hours after sunrise, and already warming up outside. I got to shower, clean up, eat, and take a sleep break before heading out again. When we headed out from Bluff it was already quite warm, and it proceeded to get hotter and hotter….. Having gone through this section in the dark last year, I wasn’t expecting the heat. We passed through Montezuma Creek, and then made the turn onto the road that last year was a gravel road – thank goodness it was paved this year!!! This whole section felt much tougher than last year – probably because of the heat. I got the crew to put on some “heavy” music to help get me through it – I listened to Eminem, Green Day, Creed, Peal Jam, and others on this stretch as I tried to channel my anger and frustration into turning the pedal cranks. Somewhere along here we finally caught up to Janet again (she’d gone through Tuba City while we were stopped, and I hadn’t seen her since). It looked like she was taking a sleep break on the side of the road. Along this stretch the errand vehicle also started trying to entertain me by dressing up in costumes and doing silly things on the side of the road – this was a welcome distraction! Mike even donned the infamous coconut bra and grass skirt!

Hula Mike

There's been a coconut sighting (just before leaving Utah). Carried by an Unladen Swallow? 6/15/12

We continued on, and I was oh so happy when we finally crossed into Colorado – it was still stinkin’ hot, but the temperature did drop a degree or two. The terrain also changed and we started passing more farmlands. I changed from the “heavy” music playlist to some country music. Somewhere just inside of Colorado I also picked up a new friend – a ladybug landed on my shorts and stayed with me for a while. I took this as a sign of good luck and let it stay there. I also noticed that my butt was feeling a little bit itchy – I took this as a good sign too – hopefully it meant that some healing was going on!

The stretch of road in Colorado leading up to Cortez is rolling, and I was still trying to alternate standing and sitting to give both my butt and my feet some rests (both were pretty sore). The last 15-20 miles into Cortez were a real struggle though – my feet were extremely sore, and my butt wasn’t much better. We didn’t want to stop before Cortez though, so we kept pushing along, even though it was at a snails pace. I’m pretty sure there were some tears shed along this stretch of road… I can’t remember if these were the first, but they certainly weren’t the last!

We finally got to Cortez at 19:00 EDT – a full 9.5hrs off my pace from last year. This time last year I was already in Durango, we’d attended the awards banquet, and we were getting ready to go to dinner – far cry from where we were this year!  I asked for a tuna sub from Subway which the crew jetted off to get while I was doing another shorts change at a gas station. They also got me another Dairy Queen strawberry milkshake – mmmm! All of this made me feel much better as I left Cortez. The temperature was also cooling off, and I was able to enjoy the beautiful scenery between Cortez and Durango. I felt better than I had all day, and was able to do the climbs at a steady pace. I also didn’t seem to notice the altitude as much as I had last year – perhaps because it was cooler since we were passing through much later in the day. And the antics of the crew continued – the “hula girl” made another appearance, this time with reflective vest and ankle bands!

Reflective Hula Girl

Gotta stay legal after 7:00PM local time! On the climb to Mancos Summit. East of Mancos, CO. 6/15/12

We got to the summit of the last climb before Durango just around sunset, and we stopped quickly so that I could put on some warmer clothes for the fast descent into Durango. We got into Durango just at dark at 23:23 EDT, 9.5hrs later than I had last year at RAW. Wow. And that was supposed to be the “easy” part!!! Mind you I slept a lot more this year than I did last year – last year I only slept for 2.5hrs total on this stretch, this year I think I slept for about 5.5hrs, so that accounts for some of the difference, but the list of adversity we faced in this first section that slowed us down (but didn’t stop us!!) is quite impressive – lower back pain, IT band issues, butt issues, follow car rear-ending, some rider/crew-chief conflict, and relentless triple digit heat every single day. If this was how RAW had gone last year, then I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have signed up for RAAM – funny how things like this work out!

As we reached Durango and I contemplated all of this, I didn’t know what to expect going forward – I was certainly hoping that things would get better, but I knew that on some level things would continue to get more difficult from this point just given how far we’d already come and the cumulative miles and sleep deprivation that I was experiencing. I was glad that we made it to Durango 6.5hrs before the cutoff, but I’d hoped to have a much bigger cushion, so I knew I had my work cut out for me to make the subsequent cutoffs at the Mississippi River and at the finish.

Continue reading about RAAM in the next installment:
RAAM Race Report – Part III: Mississippi Ho!

Posted in Race Reports | Tagged | 5 Comments

RAAM 2012 Race Report – Part I: Tapering, More Dangerous Than Training!

Let me start my RAAM race report by sharing a bit of the chaos that went on in the lead-up to RAAM. My training all year long had been going fabulously well, so I guess I was overdue for some “issues”, but the timing of everything that happened in the month leading to the start of RAAM seemed a bit cruel! Plus with several issues developing, I felt like I was being attacked from all sides and it was all I could do to keep my head above water! It was just one thing after another – perhaps foreshadowing what RAAM itself would be like…

In the middle of April I’d come down with a cold or flu, and while I was over the worst of it within a couple of days, I got a nagging cough that just hung around afterwards. I had the cough through the remainder of my high volume training, including the back-to-back weekends of doing 600km brevets the first 2 weekends in May. I finally went to the doctor mid-May and they prescribed an antibiotic and some inhalers. The 3rd weekend in May we headed to Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierras to do some altitude/climbing training (we bagged 3 of the 4 highest paved roads in California during this trip – Upper Rock Creek Road, Horseshoe Meadow Road, and East Tioga Pass), and the cough seemed to continue getting worse. I went back to the doctor and was prescribed a new course of antibiotics, a prescription anti-inflammatory to try to calm my lungs down, and they did a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia. Several days later things were improving, but still not better, and I was seeing my primary care physician anyway to get a couple of prescriptions to have on hand for during RAAM, so she additionally prescribed another cough suppressant. I also started using a NetiPot nasal rinse which seemed to start helping, and was drinking a hot lemon and ginger drink twice a day (several tablespoons of chopped fresh ginger and the juice of a lemon steeped in hot water with honey). At this point we were into June with less than 2 weeks until the start of the race and I was still coughing and feeling pretty miserable – I saw all the hard work I’d put into preparing for RAAM slowly spinning in a spiral motion towards the drain of a giant bath tub! Thankfully the last course of medications finally seemed to get the cough under control, and I slowly started to feel better, although I certainly didn’t feel 100%. This was not how I’d wanted to go into RAAM! I didn’t feel like I was fully recovered, but the clock had run out.

While this was all going on, I was also having “bike issues”. I had a bike fitting the week after the last 600km I did in hopes of getting my back-up bike fit a bit better. While looking at the fit of my “A” bike for reference, my bike fitter (Curtis Cramblett of Revolutions in Fitness) discovered that the saddle on my main bike was actually on its last legs and was significantly worn out stiffness-wise on the right side. This was causing the saddle to drop and my hip to drop as I pedaled, which was putting extra strain on my mid-back (finally an explanation as to why I’d had some mid-back tightness/pain during my training!!). This close to RAAM we were afraid of changing things up, but at the same time it was clear that the saddle was putting me in a compromised position that could definitely cause some issues over the course of 3000 miles (even though I’d been riding this saddle for all my training, my longest training ride was just over 400 miles, a far cry from 3000!). We decided to keep the old saddle and seat-post as they were so that they could be reverted to if needed, but to try and get some new saddles and seat posts setup that wouldn’t be putting the extra stress on my mid-back. It was a bit of a calculated risk, but we were keeping the old saddle/seat-post as a contingency plan.


3 new saddles

What followed was not a cleanly executed plan though – we had difficulty securing the new seat posts, which delayed getting the new saddles setup. Then after finally getting the new saddles setup, there was an incident where the saddle must not have been tightened quite enough, because when the mechanic at the bike shop test rode it, it completely rotated, and so we lost the horizontal position that we’d had it set at… Talk about frustrating! At this point we were 2 weeks from the start of RAAM, and the longest ride on my new “A” saddle was a whopping 31 miles (mind you this was a saddle I’d ridden on a different bike, so it was at least worn in)! And that was with a horizontal angle that may not have even been where it had been fit to.  Again, this doesn’t do much to instill confidence in how things are going to go out there. At least I knew we had the old saddle/seat-post as back-up.

At the same time that this was happening, the trifecta of this pre-race taper madness was unfolding – first the cough/cold, then the saddle issues, and now my own clumsiness was to throw a wrench in the cogs! The Saturday before we were to drive down to Oceanside, I tripped on a curb while walking and carrying some packages, fell hard to the ground, and tore a good chunk out of my left elbow. I think I was so embarrassed with how it happened, that I didn’t go have it checked out by a doctor, and instead I just tried to clean/dress it myself. Well 2 days later it was clear that something was wrong, so I went to the doctor and sure enough it was infected…


Elbow vs. Curb

This wasn’t a good sign considering that I was already on antibiotics at the time for my respiratory issues, so the doctor was concerned about what kind of infection I had. He promptly put me on a 3rd course of antibiotics for the infection, and had a culture done to make sure nothing too serious was going on. The doctor also put my whole arm in a giant splint so that the elbow was immobilized so that the wound would have a better chance of healing.


Giant splint for elbow scrape

So the week leading up to our departure for RAAM I was in a splint, on more drugs, and unable to ride my bikes at all to work out the kinks in the new saddles/seat-posts. Not exactly the pre-race plan that you want to be following in an ideal world!! Trying to pack and organize everything was also a challenge with the giant splint on my arm – thankfully my sister arrived mid-week and was able to help with a lot of that.

Isn’t a taper supposed to be “restful” and “stress-free”??? This taper was far from it! So as we headed to Oceanside on June 9th, rather than feeling rested and ready to go, I was feeling I’d just gone through a battle just to get to the point of being able to drag myself to the starting line. I had a lot of doubts and concerns swirling through my head. Was I really over the cough/cold? Was my elbow going to flare up again and get reinfected? Were my saddles and bike fit going to cause me problems? Was I rested or was my body a torn up battlefield from all that it had been through, and would my immune system just keel over under the stress of the race? When you’ve put more than a year of your life into preparing for something, and spent huge amounts of money on it, and found a dozen other people to give 2 weeks of their time to you, you certainly want to go into the event feeling good and ready to go – instead I went in with a lot of apprehension, doubt, and questions. There was no backing down at this point – time to get to the starting line and see what happened!

Continue reading about RAAM in the next installment:
RAAM Race Report – Part II: RAW Revisited

Posted in Race Reports | Tagged | 8 Comments

RAAM From a Mechanic’s Perspective

(post by Doug)

Our goals as a crew in RAAM are to keep Joan safe and to get her to the finish line.  In order to accomplish this, we have to get Joan’s bicycles to the finish line as well.    I have worked as a professional bicycle mechanic at REI for 12 years, and will be joining Joan and the crew in Durango tomorrow evening.  Here is an insight into the technical strategy that we have prepared for Joan’s race.

On the course, Joan has 3 bikes available for her to ride; two Specialized Rubys and one Trek Madone.    Hopefully we can keep Joan on her “number one” bike (her red Specialized Ruby that is in most of her pictures) but if necessary, she has 2 backups.   We also have an “ER” style toolbox— a tool kit for critical situations where a real fix is needed quick.   Finally, with us we have a moderate selection of common parts that may wear or fail such as tires, tubes, and chains, and also a few specialized (yet critical) harder to find parts.

One of our main worries was the hard to find parts.  It is easy to get a chain or a tire at a bike shop anywhere along the course because common parts are easy to come by.  Our concern was for the less common or proprietary parts that could potentially take days or weeks to special order.  Special ordering a part is not an option in RAAM.

Her spokes and her derailleur hanger are a particular worry for us. Joan is running a wheelset that takes a less common type of spoke that may not be available at some bike shops.   Joan and Mike special-ordered a few spare spokes from the manufacturer before the race so that in the unlikely event of a spoke failure, we will still be able to fix her wheels on the road.

Another potentially hard to find bicycle part is called a derailleur hanger. The derailleur hanger secures the rear derailleur to the frame of the bicycle, and without it, the bicycle will not operate.   Derailleur hangers can be easily damaged if the bike is bumped in the wrong way or simply tips over at a rest stop.  Luckily, it is a very simple fix- if you have the part!    There are hundreds if not thousands of different derailleur hangers made, and they are very specific to the bicycle make and model.  Joan and Mike special ordered four spare derailleur hangers before the race, and we also have these on hand just in case one of them get damaged.

Joan is riding very high quality bicycles with high quality parts.   We are prepared for the worst, but with the quality equipment and the preparation beforehand, we are very confident that these bikes (and Joan) will be running smoothly all the way to Annapolis!

Joan is amazing, has awesome bikes, a killer crew, and I can’t wait to join Joan and the crew tomorrow in Durango!


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 4 Comments

Final Preparations

Emails have been flying back and forth today.  Mike has built  an amazing bunk bed system for the Sprinter Support Vehicle and is putting together numerous other structural supports in the 3 vehicles.  Joan, Katie, and Dawn were packing, organizing and making all the decisions to try to pack as much as possible into 3 vehicles utilizing space as efficiently as possible.

This is the enormity of RAAM.  No matter now much pre-planning and organizing that is done the week before … RAAM is intense with trying to put it all together.  Sandy Earl an amazing Ultra-Cyclist and Crew Chief for Joan last year on RAW is our 24 hour a day contact person.  Sandy has been part of all the planning and is an enormous asset to Joan’s Solo RAAM journery that begins June 12th at 12 noon.

I can’t wait to see the entire team in Oceanside Sunday morning.  We will be getting to know each other and checking over every detail.  Our goal is to create such a well oiled machine that Joan feels totally confident with crew following behind her, tracking her nutrition, anticipating her every need.  We want Joan to be relaxed and just pedaling forward and not worrying about what is going on behind her.  Bonds are formed during these extreme athletic events that last a lifetime.  This crew is like a “Who’s Who’s”list themselves with their own accomplishments.

Joan we are all so proud of you and amazed at your courage and fortitude to take on the “beast” called RAAM.  My heart will forever be touched as you ride also for my son and the hope of a cure for the Leukemia and Lymphoma diseases.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

A Message from the Crew Chief

Solo RAAM is the ultimate race in the world for an Ultra-Cyclist.  Joan has done the training and is very prepared to trek across this country passing through 14 states and traveling from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland in under 13 days pedaling over 3,000 miles with a total elevation gain in excess of 170,000 feet.

To be Crew Chief for this epic ride is a challenge I am embracing.  Joan has raised over $12,000.00 for LLS (Leukemia & Lymphoma Society).   My youngest son was recently diagnosed with Leukemia and Joan is riding in his honor.  By supporting a charity Joan has turned this ride into something much more than a bicycle ride across the country.  Joan is already a winner!

As Crew Chief I hope to motivate and mobilize 11 amazing people who have volunteered  their time and energy so that Joan may realize her dream of becoming the first Canadian woman to ever be an Official Finisher of Solo RAAM (Race Across America).

We have 3 vehicles that will be moving forward on the course following and attending to all Joan’s needs.  Crews will be rotating shifts every 8 hours and changing between vehicles.  The logistics for a race of this distance and  is mind boggling.

Follow us starting June 12th at noon from Oceanside.  Remember that race time will always be EST.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

A Physio’s View on “The Ultimate Time Trial”…

Imagine this…a 3000 mile time trial with 170, 000 feet of climbing…unreal isn’t it? All of this in fewer than 12 days and 12 hours…this is exactly what Joan Deitchman is going to attempt to accomplish in just a few short days. She has done her training, a solid plan has been laid out and she has put together a unique team of individuals to help her on her journey. I am honoured to have the opportunity to be her Physiotherapist and crew mate on this adventure. Joan’s body will have to go through significant stress during this race, which will derive from hours of being stretched out on her bike. Historically past athletes have developed odd levels of peripheral edema, spontaneous neck muscles shutting down, compartment syndromes, not to mention atypical muscle overuse injuries! My role will be to communicate with Joan and Joan’s body to try to avoid and minimize these issues as much as possible. This alone, will be a challenge, as there don’t seem to be any rules as to how the human body reacts during the grueling mileage encountered during RAAM. On a daily (or nightly, afternoon, mid day, sunrise…) basis we’ll be using massage and ART ® to keep her muscles flushed, oxygenated, pliable and ready to attack the mountain passes and miles of asphalt. As well, my toolbox will be stocked with rolls of Kinesio Tape to assist with edema, and muscle proprioception; as well as, acupuncture tools to keep her energy flow up, pain levels down and muscles behaving at their absolute best. Not to mention constant review of her bike positioning to maximize her biomechanics! Anything else we come across…. it will all just have to go with the flow.

This race reminds me of my inaugural day in practice when my first client came in with the typical “you’ll never get this” injury. Prepare for the unexpected, because it will likely happen. This race is going to challenge myself, and the rest of her crew, on all levels to keep Joan at her best. Suddenly that little ache I get in my back on a “long” ride doesn’t sound so bad….Get on board and follow this amazing journey of human body, mind and ultimate determination!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

T-9 days and counting

The preparations are immense. The details are countless. And the tension is starting to build. Joan Deitchman’s attempt to complete and compete solo RaaM (Race Across America) is getting close to the starting point – Oceanside to Annapolis, 3050 miles, 13 days. There are so many activities playing out simultaneously, it is hard to keep track. The training is in the taper stage. The bikes are getting their final tweaks. All the vehicles are here. Amazon Prime has been kept busy – another order every day. And the empty and still full boxes litter the Deitchman’s house. Joan’s husband Mike is busy working as a carpenter to fill the vehicles with things to hold everything – bunks for people, cabinets for the bike shorts, and tables for the coolers. The crew is trying to figure how to put all their stuff in a small bag – 2 shirts and 2 shorts, and that’s all the room they’re allowed. Everyone is drawing their strength from Joan’s monumental energy. As she puts it – it is both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. Not only for her but for everyone involved. The adventure will start soon.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

LLS Fundraising Update

I’m overwhelmed by the support I’ve received for my Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Fundraising – as of today, I’ve raised over $12,000 thanks to the generosity of friends, family, coworkers, and strangers. Thank you everyone – your contribution WILL make a difference in the life of someone who has cancer through the great work of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society! It’s not too late to donate if you haven’t already:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

RAAM Fundraising: Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

I’ve decided to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in conjunction with my participation in Race Across America. I hope to raise at least $3000, which is approximately $1/mile that I will have to ride. I’ve chosen the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society because I have family members and friends who have battled Leukemia. Donors get to “sponsor” a time station, and will be recognized on my website and on Facebook/Twitter as we pass through the time station during RAAM. Here’s the link to the page where you can donate:

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment