RAAM Part 2... let the riding commence
by tiggaJul 21st 2011
With the race now under way, 6 months of my 'training' life of early mornings, mega miles, silly long rides was about to be seriously tested in about six days!
The way this race works is that the 3000miles is broken into sections with a timing station (TS) in various towns/cities of varying distances between each TS. Once you pass a TS you phone in to race HQ and give them a time of day you passed the TS. That time of day is the time of day at the finish lineÂ... as this race progresses we race through 14 states and 3 time zones. It all gets a bit confusing believe me, when you have tired bodies and minds. Add to that a 20-30min gap to the race leaders after over 3 days of racing, stress builds and you desparately try not to get anything wrong as you can get time penalties by the race officials for not following rules and giving the wrong time of day and TS passed.
A race plan!
Riding as pairs for the entire race, we'd swap pairs (and crews) at set intervals. Those intervals (or blocks of riding) had been discussed at length, but eventually Nick's idea made complete sense and we went with it. One of the key things with this challenge is not think about how far you have to go, 3000miles as you pass a startline is just so far away and 6 days of racing away it's hard to comprehend finishing. Our strategy was myself and James to ride the first unsupported 25miles, so if one punctured the other could carry on. Following that each pair would ride a 2 hour block, then a 4 hour block, then a 6 hour block and eventually break into a 7 hour rotation to be done 5 time each as a pair and from there we'd bring those blocks down again. Mentally for me this was much more managable, I could see exactly what we had to do and just how we were going to get through a 3000mile race. Not knowing how long it was going to take was tough, but we knew with those 5 x 7hour blocks we'd get to near enough 4 days and be on the home stretch.
The first 8 miles we all rode, along with every single team, as a controlled 4 man cruise out of Oceanside. Once we hit that 8 mile point, how fast we went was up to us. So how fast do you go? Well, starting 60 teams at 1minute intervals with each of those teams doing rider exchanges and have support vehicles etc etc, you can imagine those first 12-24 hours are quite hectic on the roads as we all try to find change point and abiding by the race rules. The biggest one being, the car must be completely off the road and doors able to open without opening onto the road. Given that the support vehicle is also not allowed to directly follow for the first 1000mile unless is after 8pm and before 6am, our support vehicles are on the moved almost constantly and on the lookout for exchange point. Sometimes it's easy and you have all the verge you need, sometimes there is nothing and you can't just simply use private land (ie peoples driveways) finding these suitable spots is quite a challenge at times.
Back to just how fast do we go? You can see by my details that this race is more than just riding a bike, our crew needed to know the rules and adhere to them without fail or the team incurred penalties, starting a 15minute one and they just get biggerÂ... avoid at all cost! Go out hard was a good plan, we'd get choice of road and exchange points, then we could settle into an economical pace. TS1 and TS 2 passed and we were travelling at suicidal pace really, level pegging with the Allegiant guys and averaging over 24mph. I took on the first major descent of the race called the Glass Elevator dropping 1000m in elevation to the desert floor and heading east (heheheheÂ... if were heading in any other direction we'd never get to Annapolis!). It was a little windy on the descent, clocking up 80km/hr between hairpins with the wind and then into a gale struggling to sprint at 45km/hr around the next. Simply amazing is the only way to describe that 16km of downhill. Hairpin after hairpin and I was nailing everyone hitting the apex, loosing no time and powerful accelerations I was in my element of speed and adrenaline and more speed. It took my support vehicle nearly 10mins to catch me up as the road straightened out ahead. Through Barrego Springs where the RV and the whole team was out shouting support I was giving it some, loving it so much that I had the goosepimples as I passed and headed with a tailwind clocking ridiculous speeds on the desert floor on my road bike? Give me my TT bike with the disc wheelÂ... holy cow, I was travelling on the flat roads at 60+km/hr. And this was just the end of my 2hour block! 1hour 10mins of riding and I'd notched up 60km! Damn, I said to myself, I must be more sensible when we do the night ride and that 4hour block. Yeah, that went out the window as we closed in on the leading team and overtook them on the road. This meant we'd put 8minutes into them since the start? Uh oh, adrenaline is a fantastic thingÂ... but in a 6 days race, it was also a tad dangerous. It was a seriously aggressive start, too aggressive? I'm not sure yet, but we are competitive athletes so being in a ding dong race could only draw the best out of us. Surprisingly I felt quite strong in that 4 hour block and recovered well and started the 6 hour block with good, fresh legs. Wil's (our physio) leg rubs doing a treat, getting the legs up helps but still no sleep had with all the excitement.
Eastward we still head blazing a trail through Arizona with some climbing to come. One of those climbs I've driven before. It's a solid 8mile climb out of Sedona toward Flagstaff. It's hot out that neck of the woods so staying hydrated and eating loads was key. Sometimes, though in the desert heat that's not so easy and Ian was struggling with solid food already and at times looked a not very happy camper. He's a tough nut though and very much like me, when the tough times come we both go quietÂ... I find it helps my focus and all the complaining in the world is not going to change what lies ahead for us. There were many lows to come and that is a scary thing about this race.
Navigating through Flagstaff was a horrible, busy experienceÂ... I got held up by the longest train in the USA (if not the world!!) and seemed to get stopped at almost every traffic light on a road that was smooth as a babies bottom and a healthy tailwindÂ... extremely frustrating I should be travelling at pace, instead I was cooking in the heat at a traffic light. Leaving Flagstaff and loving that wind I was travelling at serious speed with my TT bike and disc in full flight. That road took a slight left bend, the wind changed direction slightly and suddenly I fighting a crosswind on my TT bike with that disc and I was getting blown all over the road. Scary stuff, a cross wind with a disc can mean getting blown right off the road with gusts. We still had a good 3hr30mins left of our first 7 hour block and unfortunately for us this road was arrow straight toward Tuba City. Crosswind from hell got stronger, it was hard enough staying on the road as trucks passed throwing gusts that would almost pick you up and throw you 2metres across the verge! That becomes a huge problem when in places that road verge disappears, both Ian and myself found ourselves in the gravel off the road a few times and it got worseÂ... we were now in 30-40mph winds and a sandstorm! Just greatÂ... still 2 hours to go until rider change and I was digging deep to hang onto my bike, let alone ride it! Altitudes of 6000-7000ft, very dry, very windyÂ... I knew it meant I was prone to nose bleeds, so yeah when the nose bleed came this turned into the stage from hell! I could not stop the bleeding, even in the comfort of the vehicle aircon and all! All I could do was roll up a tissue and shove it up my nostril and block the sucker up and 'soldier' on. Into day two and I was a mess.
We eventually made our rider exchange point relieved we'd survived. Never in my life have been so happy to get off a bike, felt so scared to ride a bike. Mentally that was the hardest in the race so far and if there was worse to comeÂ... this was the first time I doubted myself as to whether this was achievable at this intensity! Shower, food and proper talk to myself and was off to sleep in the RV (likened to sleeping on a tramoline whilst someone is annoyingly boucing on it, but there is nothing I can do about that), 7 hours later I needed to be ready and mentally set to push on! It was a tough session, it's in the past. Lets treat every day as it comes:-) There are still many of those days and nights to come!