RAAM is done, and we got through in one piece. Here’s a brief summary of how we got on. I was hoping to send reports throughout the race, in fact everyone on the team planned to keep a diary at the end of each shift/day but there was absolutely no time to spare. We were rushing from one thing to the next and keeping a diary was on our minds but not possible.
Next Tuesday I go under the surgeon’s knife for an operation and will need 4 to 6 weeks off work to recover, during which I hope to put pen to paper and recount my RAAM experience. So, until then I just wanted to give you a top line update.
We completed the ride – 3,014 miles (including cycling up the Rockies and the Appalachians) in 6 days 22 hours and 48 minutes. This was well within our target as we had a target of 7-8 days. As a team we averaged 18.07 mph which again beat our target of 17 mph, and we faired well in ranking at the finish. An extremely good result for a rookie RAAM team of triathletes (not cyclists) and support crew who all had a very steep learning curve.
Upon my return to work and when asked by people how was it, the simple answer is that none of the 4 cyclists found the riding hard. Sure there were some tough climbs and tricky descents but at the end we all had strong legs and bags of energy left. We all felt we could have gone on a lot longer. We had no sores or aches and pains and at no time during or after the event suffered any stiffness or muscle concerns. This could be down to two things, a good training plan which we followed leading up to the race and the fact that we all thought it would be much harder and psyched ourselves up for it. The hardest parts of the race were the sleep deprivation, team dynamics and logistical challenges.
Sleep was in short supply. Riders were lucky, we got to rotate in 6 hour shifts (6 hrs riding, 6 hrs recovery). The crew, however, had a much tougher job. The crew were supposed to work for 12 hours and rest for 6 but for some of the crew this didn’t happen. For example, Leigh, my wife, was in charge of all nutritional aspects of the race for all of the vehicles but also got roped into RV navigation, laundry duties, food and ‘stuff’ shopping etc. etc. At one stage Leigh was ‘on shift’ for 48 hours before she got about 90 minutes sleep and then was on shift for another 36 hours. As you can imagine the crew struggled to carry out simple mental challenges, so organising the logistics of moving this caravan of people and vehicles across the USA as a race team brought its challenges.
Even as a cared-for rider on my second shift on day three I fell asleep on my bike three times only to be awoken with a start drifting across the road and I also had a couple of hours where I was hallucinating quite badly. This improved on day 4 as the tiredness increased and I became able to catnap anywhere and actually got a reasonable amount of sleep. The crew on the other hand struggled to get sleep on their rest shifts let alone at any other time. The RV driver managed to get about 10 hours sleep throughout the 6 plus days of the event hence Leigh was navigating for him (Leigh’s main job here was to ensure he didn’t drift off to sleep).
We had our ups and downs as the race progressed and the exhaustion grew. We did have one or two upsets but mainly got on with the job in hand. Some of the other teams struggled to hold it together and after blazing rows just went to pieces and became a team of individuals. Far from an ideal situation for a race team.
So, some of the things we expected to be hard weren’t whilst other things which we hadn’t even considered became challenges to overcome. Not only did we struggle to work out what day of the week it was, we struggled with what time of day it was too. We had to work on two clocks, everything reported to RAAM HQ (at each of the 54 time stations we had to report the time the rider passed through) was in Eastern (New York) time whilst everything else had to be in local time. Throughout the race we moved in and out of 4 time zones and had to ensure that the RAAM lighting-up regulations were adhered to and work out when facilities and supply stores would open. One of the crew couldn’t work out why these crazy Americans were cutting their lawns at 5am and no one else in the crew realised until later that it actually wasn’t 5am but 5 pm!
When a team member was either finishing or starting a shift it was hard to decide if you should be eating breakfast, dinner or tea. I take a daily supplement but ran out on about day 5 as it was hard (actually, impossible) to determine when a day starts and finishes.
There was very little room for privacy. The RV, which I add was huge by UK standards, was big enough for 4 adults and 2 children. However, we had it as home for 13 adults in two shifts. As you can probably imagine there wasn’t any spare room. Don’t forget we also had all of our kit (suit-cases, nutrition, electrical charging stations for race coms and PCs etc. etc.) stored in the RV as well as the essential race kit.
The on-board facilities were challenged and that was despite the rule that only riders could use the shower and toilet. The crew were not allowed to shower or use the loo because of water availability in the tanks. Even the riders were only allowed to use the toilet for solids with urine to be directed into used water bottles. In fact all of the vehicles were cleared every 6 hours at a crew change and most of the rubbish was filled or partially filled water bottles (a tip here was to not drink the bottles that looked as if they were filled with apple juice!).
To help the situation one of the riders decided that sleep was the most important thing and didn’t shower (more water for the other riders to shower in) for the entire race. He also wore the same top, the results of which you can imagine. He cycled in high 90oF heat in dusty conditions and then went straight to bed. Unfortunately, he sweats heavily whilst asleep and more unfortunately I was sleeping in the same bed that he vacated (we were on opposite shifts). So, at the end of my shift I got in to a very wet bed for the first three days and after that it was not only wet but became more and more smelly. I can say this was a particularly unpleasant experience and one which we couldn’t get him to appreciate.
We had a few minor set-backs but thankfully no show-stoppers. Incidents included:
* Damaging the RV by scraping the side of it down some concrete bollards in a fuel station
* A broken rear wheel spoke
* The electrics in one of the cars which powered the comms equipment, navigation PC and rear facing flashing lights failed and I had to do running repairs.
* The engine warning light came on in one of the vehicles on day 4 (we just ignored it and continued to drive and it lasted the remainder of the race).
* A few other minor hiccups.
All in all I think luck was on our side and some of the other teams had much bigger problems than we did. For example, we were really lucky with the weather and managed to avoid the tornados, giant hailstones and flooding. Some of the other teams were caught up in some bad weather and had to stop and wait, delaying their race.
At times I wondered why I was doing it but as usual upon reflection it was a great challenge and something that I will always remember. The crew took lots of pictures which I haven’t seen yet but look forward to viewing and whilst I am in plaster after my operation I hope to spend some time writing a full account of the adventure. We all learnt a huge amount about how to do (and more importantly how not to do) RAAM which it seems a shame to ‘waste’. If it was possible to raise the funding and a crew worthy of a further RAAM challenge, I would like to give it a shot as a solo. This would be a massively more difficult challenge as a rider but hopefully less difficult logistically (so more enjoyable) for the crew. However, I have a lot of things I need to get done before I seriously contemplate this but I am starting to think about what next year holds in store for me with regards to a sporting challenge?