Re-fueling during an overnight ride, May 5, 2012
(Photo credit: Kate Morlock)
(Photo credit: Kate Morlock)
Q: Now, what is it that you are doing this time?
Well, after all these years, I still have the Ultra Cycling bug and am very motivated to continue to train and race. But with contributing factors such as past injuries (hand), the strain on the crew and myself, it might not be a smart idea to do another cross country race like Race Across America (RAAM). The Race Across the West (RAW), starting June 13, 2012, is the perfect solution. Here is why: it covers arguably the best, most scenic part of the country (Oceanside, CA to Durango, CO). It is only 860 miles (compared to the 3,000 mile RAAM). We start on a Wednesday and, based on my 2010 RAAM time splits, I should be in Durango late Friday night. A very manageable time frame for both crew and racer.
Q: Is the training for RAW different from RAAM?
After consulting with my long time Ultra Cycling Coach John Hughes, we came up with a regimen that closely mirrors the training plan that I used for RAAM. The only difference is the “long” rides leading up to the race are a bit shorter. For example, for RAAM I did two 24 hour rides, with a few other 300 mile rides in mid-May. This time I only needed to do one 18-20 hour ride, plus several 200 mile rides. The staple 100, 150, 200 mile rides all through the winter leading up to the race were identical. The tempo and intensity rides were also exactly the same. It is still a lot of work, but I really notice it paying off in my training.
Q: How is training going? When did you start?
I started training back in October 2011 and it is going great. During my night ride this past weekend, my wife Kate, who was following me in a support vehicle, commented that she has never seen me ride so strong. She attributes this to the yoga classes that we take together and the fast tempo group rides that I take part in on Saturday mornings. Kate and I were talking on the ride and we realized that I have been racing bicycles for 25 years now. I feel like the miles in my “bank” have really paid big dividends this time around. No injuries, aches and/or pains to report (“knock on wood”!). Usually by now in the training cycle I would have some sort of overuse injuries and/or tendonitis to complain about.
Q: What distance is your longest training ride?
300 miles will be my longest training ride this time around preparing for RAW. This takes approximately 16-18 hours of continuous effort.
Q: You’ve ridden the RAW course multiple times, most recently during your successful 2010 RAAM. Does knowing the route give you any kind of advantage?
Great question. This is a double edged sword. I am definitely a “home field advantage” kind of guy. People marvel at how I can ride the same 3-5 training courses year after year. I definitely like that “homey” feeling of knowing where I am and what to expect up ahead. However, this can also work against you. For example, if you know the course you may dread or fixate on a big climb that is coming up. I have been thinking about Day 2 of the race for a long time now. I know that portion of the course all too well. After a relative fast and flat first night of the race, going from Brawley, CA to the CA/AZ border, you start climbing the dreaded and famous Yarnell Grade right outside of Congress, AZ. This is a 9 mile ascent and it is only the beginning of the climbing for the day. From there you go up to Prescott, Cottonwood, and finally Flagstaff, AZ. You finally get some relief as you roll down towards UT and Monument Valley. If I was a rookie, I would go into Day 2 like any other day so sometimes knowledge (of the course) can be a bit of a personal mind game. It can also give you an advantage knowing when to make a push on a particular section and when you can ease up some. I heard a rumor that the race organizers were contemplating changing up the course through AZ this year. Initially I was excited because I wanted to be surprised regarding what was up ahead out there. In the end they left things alone, at least for another year.
Q: How long did it take you to reach Durango in RAAM 2010? Do you plan to go faster for RAW?
In 2010, I left the start of RAAM in Oceanside, CA at 12:00 pm local time (or 3:00 pm EST race time) on a Wednesday. I arrived in Durango 2+ days later on Friday night (I believe that I checked into the Durango Time Station at 10:30pm race time). I will hopefully be faster arriving in Durango this year knowing that I don’t have to ride the additional 2,100 miles to Annapolis, MD. In RAAM 2010 I slept the 2nd night for a total stop time of about 3 hours. With this year’s RAW, I will take a power nap, but it should not take 3 hours. Headwinds/tailwinds also play into the equation. In RAAM 2010 we had a nice tailwind that first afternoon and I completed 437 miles the first 24 hours. This will be hard to match as conditions were pretty good that year (in the beginning at least). Every year is new and different and each race offers a whole new host of challenges, but I am planning to get to Durango faster this year. Durango is a great place so the carrot is to get there quickly so we can enjoy the town.
Q: Relative to RAAM, RAW is a pretty short race. But it’s still 860 miles over 2-3 days. What’s your thinking on sleep?
Funny, the other day I was looking at the time splits from last year’s RAW and they looked incredibly fast. I actually contacted one of last year’s competitors for comment on his sleep schedule. To me, it looked like the top guys did not sleep due to their fast time splits. Apparently two attempts were made to stop and sleep but both were unsuccessful. Several distractions can play into this sleep game: road noise, rider may be overtired and cannot fall asleep, fear of being passed by another racer while stopped, etc. It is hard to believe but a quick shower, massage, and power nap can be enough to get you going again. In my opinion 860 miles is a bit too far to go without sleep, so at the very least I will try and stop for an hour or two. Hopefully this will be enough to get me to the finish.
Q: What does the crew support look like? Same number of crew members and vehicles as RAAM?
Crew is locked in and ready to go. I will take 8 total crew members and 2 minivans on this race compared to 13 crew, 2 minivans and a motorhome for RAAM. Three crew on day shift, 3 on night shift, and 2 in the shuttle van. Due to the time commitment, it can be difficult getting 12-13 people on board for RAAM. However, with RAW I actually had to turn people away this time. This was not an easy task because my crew members have been so good and supportive for so many years that I wanted to take everyone along again. With a shorter race you simply do not need that many people. I told those who are not coming along this time will get “dibs” on the next one. It is such a great comfort knowing that you have an experienced crew behind you. The average person has no idea what goes into these races and having the right personnel in place is key. RAAM legend Pete Penseyres once said “that your crew cannot win RAAM for you, but they sure could lose it for you.” Very true!
Q: Did you recover fully from the nerve damage in your hand from RAAM 2010?
I would put my hand recovery at 98%. I feel like that there is still a little weakness in my hand. This could be the fact that it is my non-dominant hand and therefore, will never be as strong as my left hand. However, between surgery, rehab, and constant hand strengthening exercises it feels great (and strong). I was very determined to get my hand strength and feeling back after my last RAAM. To this day, I perform daily strength and nerve glide exercises. It was very scary because, following the race, I was unable to tie my shoes, button my shirt, or even squeeze a toothpaste tube. Never mind racing again, I was worried that I was going to be slightly handicapped for the rest of my life. This is why these shorter races are a better choice for me now. I would be too nervous to risk my health by doing another RAAM. My hand has responded very well during training and I do not anticipate any problems following this year’s RAW.