Friday, June 10, 2011

RAAMing Speed

"You gotta have a dream. If you don't have a dream, how will you know when a dream comes true?" - from the musical South Pacific

As many of you know, I love feats of endurance and although my attempts at it have been mostly bordering on pitiful, middle-of-the-pack-living-as-Walter-Mitty examples of pushing to the limits, it's still a passion of mine. Yes, there have been times in the woods where I was sure death was around the next tree (maybe hoping?), or in hour 21 of a 24 hour run wondering if Relentless Forward Motion was some sort of twisted dream, or thinking "Damn, 100 miles is one hell of a long way". But, somehow, having done dozens of these runs, my mind could get into a certain place, hide, and come awake at the other side of the tunnel. It comes down to four words...YOU JUST KEEP GOING!

I have always been enthralled by events, books and tales of overcoming staggering odds - you know, like Earnest Shackleton, or climbing Everest, or crossing the Sahara. And when you couple that with an athletic event, like Badwater, Triple Ironman races, or RUNNING across the Sahara well, I think my mind sounds like Gomer Pyle looking up at the skyscrapers in New York City...GOLLLLLLYYYYY!! Once you step onto the sideroads of ultra events, like I have, you marvel when you see or read about some athletes that do their events on relative interstates compared to my sideroads. I'll review some of my favorite books in a future post, but beginning this week will be one of those athletic events that 1) literally is so amazing that it is hard to get your head around, and 2) it goes basically unnoticed by 99% of the population. This is the RAAM - The Race Across America cycling race. Within Ultra-endurance athletic circles, it is one of the most respected and longest running annual endurance events. Since 1982, each June, cyclists dip their feet in the Pacific Ocean somewhere near San Diego, the gun goes off, the clock starts, and the clock doesn't stop till they dip their feet in the Ocean on the Right Coast in Annapolis, Maryland - some 3000 miles away!

This race has different categories, from solo to teams of 2, 4, & 8 persons, but it is the solo riders that awe me. This is a Race. Unlike other famous races, like the Tour de France, RAAM is not a stage race. The race is one stage that is almost 1000 miles longer than the famous Tour! This race is essentially a time trial...a 3000 mile time trial! In stage bike races, a time trial is usually called The Race of Truth. Well, my friend, this is more than a race of truth. It is a race to find out exactly what you're made of, what's inside you, who you are, and really, what is the breaking point and can you somehow get around it to finish.

In the heart of the race, in the solo division, this transcontinental crossing competition goes through 12 states and has greater than 170,000 feet in elevation (>32 miles!). They will usually ride 250 - 350 miles per day and will finish the race in 8 - 12 days averaging less than 3 hours of sleep per day. Now, while the clock is running, a support crew handles all of the logistics – food, fluids, navigation, clothing changes, medical needs, bike repairs, etc. so that the racers can try to focus on racing while they also must coordinate their nutrition with mostly staying on the bike and dealing with the many injuries, hallucinations, mechanical and mental breakdowns so unique to this long bike race (no, I won't go into them, but just use your imagination).

Just to get a taste of this epic ultraendurance event, take a look at the trailer of the movie BICYCLE DREAMS http://youtube/alEHvr-zKm0 .There is also a book recently released called HELL ON TWO WHEELS by Amy Snyder. I heard an interview with her and it sounds like she's captured the passion of these cyclists, but I don't think you can ever get them to eloquently answer the question...WHY? Several posts back, I tried to convey that there is no answer. It's just "in your blood". You can follow the race at

Ok, one more thing staying somewhat on this biking theme. This morning, I was running and listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Competitor Radio ( ). I have NEVER heard a bad show on this podcast. Anyway, they were interviewing Conrad Stoltz. He has won 40 Xterra competitions and 4 World Championships. Been an Olympian twice and obviously raced the world over. He was asked what his favorite race is and he said...get ready...Xterra Alabama!!! He went on about what a great venue Oak Mt is and how he loves the course going around the lake and talked about Blood Rock. It was really pretty neat. If you download the episode, the Oak Mt part is about 30-35 minutes into the interview.

Hope you all have a good week and whether you're on your bike, in a pool, or pounding the pavement or trail, I'll see you on the proverbial roads - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"

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