Tuesday, May 25, 2010
It's been about a month since we last checked in with Rob. The Race Across America starts in two weeks, so we thought it would a good time for an update.
Q: You depart for California in about 10 days. How do you feel?
Rob: Excited, nervous, respectful of the distance/difficulty of the race. Overall I feel very strong, fit, and ready to race again. Thanks to my coach John Hughes, my training this time feels right on the mark...peaking at the right time.
Q: You had some sort of cold or sinus virus right in the middle of your heaviest distance training. Did that affect your training at all?
Rob: No, but I did take a few days off after that 24-hour training effort just as a precautionary measure. I did not want to start the race sick. I resumed my normal training load a few days later, and my body feels strong again (Did a nice 18 hour effort last weekend).
Q: You put in some crazy miles during training, and yet that is just a hint of what RAAM throws at you. Did you ever think to yourself during one of those long rides "What am I doing???"
Rob: Sure, sometimes I do question my participation in this crazy sport. After doing it for so many years, I do have a love/hate relationship with it. It is a weird "lifestyle" to most, which I understand, but I do love cycling and everything about the sport, especially Ultra Marathon Cycling and RAAM! For every low moment out on the road, there is a "carrot" around the next bend. It could be a nice tailwind, a scenic view, great music playing from the pace van, cool sunset, and things pick up. I have learned that this type of riding requires you to be patient, and the hours just melt away.
Q: Tell us a bit about logistics: How do your bikes and equipment get out to California? How many vehicles will you use during the race? What happens between now and the race start?
Rob: As you can imagine, things have been very hectic the last few weeks. Between the heavy training sessions, and organization load, our house is a bit messy right now. People who know me best can tell you how "organized" I am, but there are so many things to do before the race it is mind bending. Every little detail from bikes, the crew, airfares, food, medical supplies, van/RV rentals, hotel reservations, training, etc. On that note, I take three bikes, six spare wheels, spare parts, etc. These bikes, along with all the other gear (medical, food, cloths) will be driven out to California on May 31. They will arrive on Saturday, June 5. A few of the team members will fly with me to California on Friday, June 4, and the balance of the crew will fly in on Monday, June 7. One other mini-van will be rented, along with an RV, out in California. The race starts Wednesday, June 9 and we race back to east coast where, after the race, all equipment and vehicles are broken down, cleaned, and returned.
Q: This is your fifth RAAM start. You are truly one of the "old guard" veterans in the race. Do you think this gives you any advantage?
Rob: As a matter of fact, I am the most veteran (not the oldest), rider in the field this year. The RAAM organization assigns life numbers, and mine is #203. I think the next most veteran guy is Jure Robic at #273. Just as a reference, the assigned numbers today are in the 400s. Does this give me an advantage? I'm not really sure. It does give me a little confidence when I know a lot of the race folks. It feels like home out there at the start. But, once the race starts, you have to put forth such an effort that only the veteran guys can fully understand, and that is not an advantage. Being a naive rookie has its benefits. I remember in 1996, my rookie year, I was wide-eyed and so excited about what the roads of America would bring. Now I know all too well what lies ahead.
Q: Do you plan to approach the race any differently this year than you did in 2008?
Rob: About the same, I think. I know I have to be patient and not get caught up in the hype of the early stages of the race. Based on past performance, I will ride my own race early on and hopefully I will be in a good position after 15-20 hours. Based on my veteran status, I will start next to last in the field (previous winners will start dead last). This means that I will have to weave my way through the field the first day or so.
Q: Take us through the first 48 hours of the race? What kind of terrain, weather, temperatures will you encounter?
Rob: The first 48 hours of the race can be very difficult. Right from the start, we begin climbing up to the first time station at Lake Henshaw, CA. Temps are usually decent - in the mid 80s - then we scream down, via the "glass elevator" into the desert near Borrengo Springs, CA. In 2008, it was 99-100 degrees through this section. The only saving grace is that is it later in the afternoon, and the sun starts to set offering a little relief. It's pretty flat through the next section into Arizona and then big climbs prevail: Yarnell grade, Prescott, Cottonwood, Jerome, and finally Flagstaff. These climbs are all knee screamers, very difficult through here. Then, at about 650 miles we get the beauty of Monument Valley in Utah!
Q: When do you think you will take your first sleep break?
Rob: I don't want to give away all of my race tactics here, but it is fairly common practice for most guys to ride to Kayenta, AZ (about 680 miles/ 35-40 hours into the race) before their first sleep break (note: most sleep breaks last only 3 hours. Some time to go down, sleep, and time to get up and get dressed and go). Last time I rode to Flagstaff, AZ (about 500 miles in), and tried to sleep without any success. From Flagstaff to Kayenta is relatively flat, so I will try to make it that far this time. It makes sense, because we can then avoid the heat of Monument Valley, crossing it in the early morning when I wake up. Now, this is only a plan, we all know what can happen out there in the actual race, so we will see how things unfold this time.
Q: Talk about nutrition and hydration for the race. What will you eat, drink and anything else?
Rob: An effort like RAAM requires that most riders consume approximately 500 cals per hour, or about 10,000 cals per day. In the past about 90% of my calories come from a great liquid product called Spiz. It is a tasty, easy, and reliable food source. I will supplement some of the liquids with solids foods such as Naked Nuggets, fresh fruit, pasta, oatmeal, eggs (in the am after I get up). As a rare treat, believe it or not, fast food (ie. pizza, fries, eggrolls) taste really good. Water basically covers my hydration needs and Spiz contains the essential electrolytes, etc.
Q: OK, let's get this out of the way, since everyone wants to know and lots of people ask: Bathroom breaks - where and when?
Rob: Real simple answer - Number 1: Usually once an hour, stop and pull down the front of the bibs and go. In the past I have tried to pee from the bike but this can be a challenge. There's the "spray factor" and pulling down the front of those bib-shorts can be cumbersome while on the bike, so I just feel that it is safer, and cleaner to just stop and go.
The math, however, is not a trivial matter when it comes to how it affects race time: If I pee once per hour, and each break takes, say, two minutes, that is 40-45 minutes lost, per day. If on the bike, my average speed is 16 miles per hour, then that comes out to about 12 miles per day lost to peeing. Add that up over 9-10 days and I'm 100-120 miles or about eight hours further back than I would have been. It's academic, of course, since I have to pee but in RAAM, all those little minutes can add up big time.
Number 2: In the beginning, once a day. But from about 1,500 miles to the end, it can be 2-3 times daily. This must be from the massive calorie consumption. This task is not pleasant. As the race wears on, my butt and surrounding area takes a beating and is a major source for pain. This gets compounded with getting off the bike, cleaning up and get going again. Some of these breaks can take 15-20 minutes - real time consumers!
Q: There is a video of you, on your bike, during the 2008 RAAM, where you say that it was your "last RAAM." Is this your last RAAM?
Rob: I have a history of saying things like that during most of my Ultra races. It's probably not a good time (during the race) for me to comment on my future race plans. Similar to a woman giving birth (well, not really, but you get the point): She might say "I am never doing this again", and she goes on to have several kids.
RAAM is a lot like that and human behavior is funny. I think over time we forget some of the bad stuff, and remember the good. So, I will race again, but one at a time for now. We'll see how this one goes. So much time and effort goes into RAAM, it would be easy to stop and do shorter races. It would also be nice to continue because I have a great crew, training regimen, and the right race template to follow right now, and "it is what I do". So few people will ever know what it is truly like to race in this incredible race, or to do an overnight training ride talking with your spouse in the follow car on a little walkie-talkie - priceless stuff and great memories.
Also, without Blue Ribbon Restaurants/Naked Nuggets, there would be no RAAMs in my future. They are great sponsors and very supportive of my racing. I would have to have a conversation with them about future race plans.
And most important - my wonderful wife Kate and I would have to talk it over. She has been so supportive over the years. I love her so much, value her input, and I would never jeopardize our future together over a silly, little race.
Q: Who do you think would win in a fight - Batman or Mighty Mouse?
Rob: Don't you mean Superman?
Yes, sorry. Superman.
Rob: Well, there you go.
Thanks again, Rob! This will be the last time we bug you before the race.
For everyone else, keep checking back here for updates leading up to and all during the race itself. In the coming days, we'll introduce each of the intrepid troopers who will be serving on Rob's crew during the race.
Also, don't forget to join our Facebook fan page.