RAAM - The finale
by tiggaAug 23rd 2011
Once we realised the race first was near impossible for us to win unless the USA team (Allegiant Air) made a monumental navigational error, I think we all took it a bit easier in the riding parts. It didn't help that we encountered the worst of the wet weather of the race in that final night. Luckily it was still warm, so it was bearable but certainly not enjoyable. Riding in wet gear is extremely uncomfortable, even more so when all you've done is ride a bike for 5 days¬... the nether regions were a little tender, so when it did rain and my kit got wet it made things a helluva lot more uncomfortable. I won't go into any more detail, cos that would require photos! Two reasons¬... one, you wouldn't want to see those photos and two, I don't have photos. Do you really think I would take photos like that?
When James, Nick and their crew rolled in to do the swap we knew this was our final 2hours. Safely in 2nd place, we headed towards Annapolis as the sun was creeping up. This area of Maryland was a lot more built up, so coming in on the main roads at 5:00am was lucky for us really. I couldn't imagine fighting busy traffic in the heat of the day and being that tired. I really struggled to get warm in this last session. Partly because I probably wasn't pushing hard enough to actually warm up and partly because my head didn't want to push. The legs just seemed to burn like hell all the time. I got the shout in my ear that my very last 20mins was up and Ian's last 20mins was about to start, but I was travelling down a steady hill and travelling at pace with an uphill and smooth dual carriageway road to the crest, so I thought I give it full beans to get to the top of that incline and save Ian from having to grovel his way up the hill without the benefit of the downhill¬... even he was greatful for my last heave ho to save him that trouble!
And so came the end to my RAAM race riding, 20 minutes later Ian and our crew were also done to hand over to James and Nick to complete the last 10miles to the finish line. That was only to the officially timed finish line, where the clocks stopped and we met a race official who patted us on the back and took down our time. Our whole team was there¬... and there were was a lot of relieved, tired, happy and most all proud faces.
We had just finished a 3006mile journey across America in 5 days 13hours 29mins at an average speed of 22.4mph.
Being triathletes it's hard to gauge just what we'd achieved. I knew this was the 4th or 5th fastest average speed crossing in the four man history. Not bad for bunch of rookies to the event, and tri geeks to boot. It turns out this is also the fastest British four man crossing, and would have won in every year bar one in 2002 I think! But to really put this into a triathletes perspective we'd just ridden 27 ironman rides in a row at 5 hour Ironman pace. Some 1.5mph quicker than we had aimed for, which was a little consolation for not winning yet coming so close to it.
From the official timed finsh we had an escort RAAM vehicle to the Annapolis harbour where the finish banner is and where they make a big song and dance for all finishers. Being 6am there were not many spectators, but our crew more than made up for it with cheers and shouting along the way. They were hanging out the windows making us feel quite special. I (and I'm sure my fellow riders) know this was not possible without anyone of their help. As much as the riders do the riding, what's classified as the hard part of this race, it's the crew that keep you sane, keep you motivated, keep you fed, keep your clothes clean, keep the three vehicles moving, keep you on the right route, keep you smiling. To them I owe a huge amount of gratitude. Whilst it wasn't the experience some were expecting we should be proud of what we achieved. I know I am, and always will be!
After the finishline shananigins of photos, medal presentations and a chat with the officials it was time to make our way to the hotel. I felt pretty shattered, hungry and even though Jacks did give me the biggest of hugs I'm pretty sure I did not smell of roses. After asking a local for directions to the hotel we found it and were ready to check in. We'd only booked rooms for that Friday night and having arrived 12 hours ahead of schedule Jacks had phoned ahead and provisionally booked some extra rooms so we could get our heads down. A lot of faffing which had Ian a little wound up, like us all.... a bed had his name on it, they eyelids had someone hanging off them and we really really needed a shower! Jacks paid for our room (thanks hun) which gave us the first bit a space to ourselves in what felt like forever. Whilst the check in was being discussed at length with the hotel staff I did manage ot fall asleep in the foyer after eating all sorts of cakes and waffles like Americans do for breakfast apparently¬... they're weird!
After what can only be described as the longest and best shower of my entire life I thought I felt a bit better, so whilst Jacks freshened up I thought I'd find a news channel and find out what was happening in the world outside of RAAM. Not a lot to report on over the next 8 hours, I did not budge after I'd fallen asleep a few milliseconds after lying on a bed that did not bounce around. Mighty comfortable things them beds that don't bounce. When I did eventually surface it was late afternoon. I was hungry and myself and Jacks went to the local shops and found a Mexican caf√© that had the most incredibly huge, tasty Barritos! A wander around the shops and we came across an ice cream shop¬... awesome, I'll have an extra extra large mix with extra chocolate and honeycomb¬... yum yum!
Getting back to our room I felt quite full, now¬... time for the catch up news outside of the world of RAAM. Not to be at this attempt either as I fell a again within milliseconds of head hitting pillow and the bed that stayed still.
Waking up 5 or 6 hours later it was now relatively late evening. Quick change and out for a quick meal at a steakhouse we'd spotted. With a few of our crew it was time to chill, sink a few couple of cold beers and munch on a big ass ribeye steak followed by another decent helping of dessert. A little worried I'd slept all day and I wasn't going to sleep that night though, I'm not sure what I was worried about¬... milliseconds on that bed that didn't bounce around and I was out until the next morning. In the last 24 hours I'd slept over 20 of them! The other 4 or so hours was spent feeding my face! That pattern carried on through the next day, but with a little less sleeping, more lounging around the pool and I was finally starting to feel human again.
We attended the Saturday awards evening (there are numerous awards evenings given the finishline is open for about 4 days!) and finally got to meet the team that beat us who were full of compliments for our whole team. It turns out their sponsors gave them an 'unlimited' budget for them and their 16 man crew. They had a rock star tour bus used by Ozzie Osbourne no less, as their main 'RV'. Programmed GPS's, chef, towed a jeep on the bus which had so many gadgets and gizmos it was mind boggling. Midway through the race they were offered an incentive for beating us, something like 10$ contribution for every minute they beat us by was given to their charity.
The party continued in downtown Annapolis with the 8 man winners a British team (Strategic Lions) who raced to a finish time 4 hours quicker than us and won the 8 man relay easily. Quite a few beers were drunk that night in celebration and the stories of Andy and Bainsy befriending a local speedboat owner moored up outside a nightclub who took them into the harbour whilst plying them with beers made us crease with laughter the next day. I told you they have the gift of the gab and the Americans do like the British accents!
What have I learnt througout this 2 week adventure?
We were a lot more aggressive in race strategy than I thought we could maintain, yet we did maintain. Strong heads = strong legs. Strong crew = strong head. By powers of deduction: Strong crew = strong legs:-)
If the motivation is their thebody can do some amazing things, finding the bodies limits is tricky business, sometimes dangerous, but this was fun... in a strange way.
Would I train the million miles I did if I did this again?
Probably not, although longer rides are a necessity to get nutrition right and for the more sensitive parts of your body to be conditioned for real torture. I found it more of a sleep deprivation test than a physical test. I'm not sure doing less miles in training would have changed how I coped with the racing.
Unless you do a complete 24-36 hour simulation test, it's impossible to say how the crew will handle it and get on with each other. Barring one or two mishaps we survived and came out the otherside with some stories to tell (good and bad).
A good organised crew can make or break you. It really is as simple as that. We were luck to have a group of ten who were all incredibly dedicated to us and our race, I couldn't ask for more and could repay any of them for the effort they put in and cannot put into words just what you meant to us.
Without our sponsors Team No 422 - Team Feat Data techniques, would have been at RAAM. Thanks to the following:
Data Techniques, Ceno Resturant (Southampton), Musto, NBM Distribution, Hornet Juice, Action Wipes, Fresh n Easy (Tesco), For Goodness Shakes, Panduit, Metabender
Last but not least. In training for this I had the support of Jacks who put up with me riding a bike all weekend, and sleeping a lot too. It's been an amazing nine months, 7 of which I lived for RAAM, 2 weeks of which we lived in each others back pockets and were about as grumpy and tired as we'll ever be¬... we survived, gotta be a good thing right;-) Thanks, you're the best!
An amazing adventure, one I'll remember and talk about for the rest of my life. One which I am so happy and proud to have done. One which to anyone looking for a challenge with a difference, I can't recommend enough. Only to say if the opportunity is there¬... take it!
Now if only I could get back into my running without getting injured¬... Ballbuster is coming, and I lack serious speed!
Happy training folks and thanks for reading!
A few Stats of my riding:
1250km in the 5 day 13 hours 29minutes
Recorded by GPS I was on the road for 33 hours
I was stationary, when supposed to be riding, at lights/trains/roadworks etc for 45mins
My avearge ride speed 36.8km/hr
My moving speed (taking away all stops/delays) 37.9km/hr
Fastest speed 88km/hr (GPS recorded)
Fastest average speed for 20mins was 59.8km/hr (down the glass elevator Day 1)
Fastest average speed for 20mins (tailwind aided) on the 'flats' 53km/hr
Longest riding stint: 1hr09min, very first one leaving Oceanside
Altitude gain is yet to be calculated
Highest altitude ridden over was 9987ft
95+% of the time I was on my TT bike
I lost 4kg, and Ian lost at least 6kg
Would I do it again? Definitely¬... just don't tell Jacks!
Nearly ¬£10 000 raised for Wessex Heartbeat, so my thanks to all those that contributed