RAAM 2014 REPORT
RAAM 2014 was amazing and my best yet. But I better start this report from the beginning not the end.
I am never sure on what to write in the reports, different people do it different ways just like in the race itself. This is my chance to write about my whole RAAM experience.
RAAM for me has always been an amazing experience, it's a race like no other and this year was no different. People have asked me why do it again? The answer is easy each time I have done it for a different reason and each time I have gained something different. The first year was to become the first ever British cyclist ever to complete the race and last year was my come back year after 5 years away from cycling, both those times I finished just inside the cut off time this year I knew I could go quicker.
Financing RAAM is always a difficult task, shortly after last year's race I thought I had landed on my feet, a company were going to not only sponsor me but put me in touch with some very big names, so my head and heart were in the 2014 race, I entered then. Unfortunately the company folded leaving me stuck. I was not going to put all the hours I had trained and the money I had already spent to waste so Jenny and I set about finding new sponsors, some fantastic ones came about (more about them later) and with the help of some fantastic friends and family and the crew agreeing to pay their own way to the start and from the finish we were on our way, just. At the start of the race we were still $300 short for fuel, thanks to a contribution from Bob McEnaney's team a few days before the start (that and Tom Niccum's Garmin due to problems with our Edge 800) we were just on budget, but we had nothing spare for anything going wrong! What could possibly go wrong?! Anybody who knows anything about RAAM knows that the possibilities are endless.
The team and I were lucky enough to have our pre race accomodation provided by a fantastic friend (well he is now, he was a staranger then) Rick Schulze, Rick has finished RAAM 3 times as part of a 2 man team so understood RAAM. He and his wife Terry put our whole team (well apart from one that stayed in Oceanside) up, that was 8 complete strangers. They looked after us so well we could not have asked for better, we all wanted them (and their jacuzzi) to come with us but that wasn't possible. I am so grateful for all their help and support.
The team got along very well and got the equipment and things sorted, space was limited so everthing had to be labelled and organised as best it could.
Inspections and photos were booked for 2 days before the start. Jenny likes to get it all the paper work side of things out the way as soon as possible. I went out for a bike ride with one of the members of the team down the glass elevator, a few other members of the team came along in the follow car so that we could go straight to the HQ in time for the photos, we set off in plenty of time, had a fantastic ride then the follow vehicle got a flat tyre right at the bottom where there is no phone signal, the team sorted it as quick as they could and we were on our way back everyone kept trying to contact the team to let them know we were ok and on our way.
Jenny and the team at the HQ meanwhile were starting to get worried about what was happening the time of my photos was getting close. Jenny was pacing at the HQ and the team were pacing by the van all waiting to hear. A bit of stress we could have all done without but it turned out ok in the end. The inspections went well, it was good to have somewhere safe to put all the equipment thanks to Kleen-tex for their mat (it came in very handy during the race for somewhere safe to put me as well) my Caygill bikes were all ready, they had done me well on my last RAAM and I knew they would do well again this year, we arrive at the day before, it always comes round quickly and I'm there wondering if I've done enough and am I well rested but you can not start doubting yourself.
Once the doubt sets in you have already lost part of the battle so I went out for a relaxed ride with Pnut (team member) we came across Seana Hogan and Marko so it was a really lovely ride, well it would have been if both my bikes had not broke, chain on one (easy fix for my mechanic) but the crank on the other, not so easy to fix. After a mad run around with people telling us they had the part to find out when we got there it wasn't what we were asking for we finally found one (I do like to keep my mechanic busy)
Race day arrived and its always a fantastic atmosphere. All racers and crew walking round chatting getting ready, and a good excuse to eat lemon meringue pie, it was lovely to see some old faces and meet some new people. Team all together, all problems out the way (we hoped) and I was definitely ready to start.
The first 24hrs could not have gone better I was at the pace I wanted completing 409 in the first 24hrs. I was finding things, not easier because no part of RAAM is ever easy, but less stressful than last year. My fuelling was 100% better as I kept a steady intake of Torq energy drinks bars and gels (thanks to Jenny for keeping on at me all year to sort it so I wouldnt yoyo like last year) I felt good going up Palomar mountain and I always love going down the glass elevator.
The first night went by with no problem and for the first time I wasnt sleepy, I pushed on all night feeling strong. Morning came and I was well on my to TS4. There is a steady grind up to TS 6 and last year I was at the point in the mid day sun, I love riding in the heat but I found this very hard, this year it was early morning and lot cooler I was looking forward to getting to TS6, Jenny and I had discussed things before the race, she had said I would get to TS6 in 24hrs I said I would get there before, jump in to the pool and be up Yarnell Grade, I was right :-) the pool and drinks were very refreshing the people at TS6 are always lovely. After a quick cool down and changing in to my ice vest I was heading up Yarnell Grade, a very tough climb especially in the heat.
Other years on RAAM I have used the timestations as a way of splitting up the race this works really well as if you look at it as a 3000 mile race it can blow your mind but the problem I have found is I very quickly start using them as stopping points, this year was different I raced through many of the timestations at 27hrs I tried to have my first sleep break but it wasn't happening, I laid down and was wide awake so I was quickly up and racing again, no point wasting time laid awake, I have never had this happen before and my sleep managment was where I saved a lot of time I was also not wasting as much time off the bike, Jenny had got it set up that tbe only people that were allowed to talk to me were the crew in the follow car which meant I wasn't chatting to everyone when I did stop, its very easy to lose time this way, also with no RV I wasnt wasting time showering and faffing about and sleep breaks were a lot quicker with the same amount of sleep (when I finally did sleep) The crew were being quite strict about it and its what I needed.
The second night got cold, a lot colder than we anticipated with space being limited we did not have very much cold weather clothing in the follow car, we managed to sort it out but it did result in Pnut hitting me in the face as he tried to put my gloves on, at least it kept me awake. I was worried about falling asleep on the interstate so I took my first sleep break before that section started, I was supposed to have 3hrs but was awake after 2.5 so was quickly up and back on my bike. Getting help up on the interstate was very frustrating but before long it was over and I was looking forward to daybreak. By the end of day 3 I was at TS11, 7hrs earlier than last year I was really pleased, things could not have gone any better.
Last year I had a nightmare with punctures this year was looking different, today was my first one and that was only because I rode over a 6" nail, nothing much happened on day 3, it saw me out of Arizona through Utah and into Colorado. going through Monument Valley during the day was fantastic (the first year the rocks were waving and last year was dark) Towards the end of day 3 I went past the RAW finish point and with no time penalties (thank you team) I was at TS16 before I knew it, still feeling good even if it was the hardest I had ever pushed it.
I started eating "real" food although the Torq energy drinks, bars and gels were keeping my calorie intake just about level with my expenditure. I love my food and was missing it, so a quick KFC, a quick snooze then some rice and chicken and I was ready to start climbing Wolf Creek Pass. Wow what a difference to last year when I arrived at this point in the dark, it was cold and I had major problems breathing due to the smoke, this year I was flying the crew could not believe how well I was going, espesally the ones that saw me struggle so much last year, quick photo at the top and I was flying down the other side. I carried on to just past Cuchara where Dr Bob Breedlove's memorial is, this means a lot to me, as I rode 2005 RAAM when he sadly lost his life, if it was not for him I would not have got through the desert. Its nice to be able to pay my respects. I cleaned up the area and was amazed to see the team t-shirt I left last year was still there. Its hard not to let things get into your head when cycling 3000 miles this brings home how dangerous it is.
Day 5 took me into Kansas we got a welcome to Kansas I could have really done without. the tail winds were fantastic to start with but they didn't last for long. The storm clouds formed and before long it got quite nasty, I tried to ride through it but the side winds were very strong and I was due a sleep break so the decision was easy for me to stop when ever I felt unsafe and use that opportunity to sleep, I pulled over on what I thought was a large tarmaced area only to find it was thick mud, my front wheel sunk straight in and I went over the handle bars the team in the follow car said it was a spectacular cartwheel, we can laugh about it now but at the time it was quite scary it only takes moments like this to finish your race. Whilst I was laid on the floor Dale Capewell came past after slowing to ask if I was ok he continued on, I found out later that minutes after this he had done the same thing, this wasnt a sleep deprevation accident it was just very dark and even with an excellent USE Exposure light you just could not see what was road and what was mud due to the storm. After a 3hr sleep break the storm had passed but I was still left struggling with a side wind.
For some reason on day 6 I really struggled, I guess on a 3000 mile race you are going to have your good and bad days. I think riding into the constant cross winds down neverending roads finally got to me, my stomach was playing up which is very unusual for me (luckily neovite sorted it out) even crossing into Missouri didn't help improve my mood and its one of my favourite states on RAAM I asked the crew if we could find a hotel for the following night, well for 3hrs. I needed a bath and a decent nights sleep. One thing that really made me smile and meant a lot to me was seeing James Doggett on the road side with a Union Jack, he was a crew member last year and is a good friend.
I managed to brake another chain, so my mood was not improving. Thanks to James Doggett we got a hotel for the night, this was great news for me and the crew. I had started to get paranoid about my neck and had convinced myself it was going to go, my mood was getting worse and my speed was getting slower. When we arrived at the hotel Jenny put her crew chief head on (rather than her fiancé one) and basicly told me off she told me I needed to sort myself out and give myself a shake she mentioned that the way I was going I would not get to the finish and all the hard work I had done over the last 6 days would have been for nothing. She put me in the bath then to bed, I got a solid 3hr sleep with a good massage when I got up I was back to my old self, there were still problems but my mental attitude was back I was smiling and being civil to the crew again (very unlike me not to be) my speed improved and I felt like racing again, time to put that day behind me and bring on a new one.
The pool at TS34 was just what I needed, it gets very hot in the afternoon, a quick dip and chat with some smiley happy people and I was pushing on, eager to get some more miles in. The Missisippi river was a good sight and it was nice not to be concerned with the cut off time for a change.
Its true what the song say, "what a difference a day makes" I was a different rider and was back in it. I always say that RAAM is part phyisical and part mental. If one part is missing you won't get to the end. We tried teaching some of the American members of the crew some Geordie slang (they were having a hard time with cuppa tea ) this kept me smiling for a while. It's silly things like that help keep you going, that and my music system that Rick Schulze had set up at the beginning I was rocking down the road (and not in a bad way) the crew are always surprised at the variety of music.
We got caught in another storm just after TS41 but I used the opportunity for a sleep break. I was looking forward to getting to TS42 to see some friends, it's a great timestation and they look after everyone but I was silly to continue on in bad weather when I was due a sleep break. After 3 hrs the storm had passed but another one was on the horizon. a quick stop to say hello was all I could manage before Jenny was pushing me on before the next storm arrived.
This has to be one of the most unusual days on RAAM, crowds were everywhere with British flags, loads of people were cheering, it was very surreal and very motivating, I knew they weren't for me but it was still nice. Pippa Middleton (sister to the HRH Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) was riding as part of an 8 person team for Michael Mathews Foundation. I had stopped for a quick pit stop (one hand had gone so eating on the bike was difficult) and saw them coming up the hill as they went past I was just getting ready to climb on my bike. I went past him and carried on but I could not resist a photo opportunity (I know most people think I'm camera shy) I noticed Pippa standing at the side of the road so I pulled up and asked, well she could only say no but she didnt she was very polite said no problem and chatted a bit about what it was like to do it solo, the crew said after I left they were amazed at the solo racers and how they kept going for so long, they had the upmost respect for the solo racers. As she started her leg I slowed down to let her catch me. I was surprised at how good a cyclist she was and how lovely she was to chat to, we were just about to go our seperate ways when my navigator pulled up besides us and told us to take the exit, we had not made a wrong turn so far so I had no reason to doubt him (I have a reduced copy of the route on my handle bars to give my mind things to keep me occupied) so we turned off still laughing and chatting, that was until 2 minutes later when we realised we had gone the wrong way! Of all the people to lead the wrong way we had to pick that moment! Who I was with very quickly didn't matter, her team were just behind to look after her and get back on course and I needed to do the same. It's very frustating to be working so hard to find you have lost time and cycled extra miles going the wrong way! But these things happen especially when your distracted for whatever reason we were soon back on track. At least we can look back on it and laugh now, plus its another RAAM tale to tell.
Although I only went 18hrs into day 11 this had to be the longest day on RAAM. It was also the day the means the most to me out af all 3 RAAM'S (apart from proposing on the finishing line) as most people that know about RAAM know stage 49 is the Jure Robic Award, this is known as the most difficult stage in RAAM. Jure was a good friend of mine and we have raced together many times. I had talked to my crew chief about going for the award but we both agreed that hills were not my strong point but we said I would just do my best without making myself to wrecked for the rest of the race, 180 miles is still a long way to go even when you have covered over 2800. I gave it everything I had and more. I was maxed out the whole of the stage but it was worth it, that award means more to me than most people will ever know. I managed to limp to the end, it took Jenny getting cross (again she put her crew chief head on not her fiancé one) to give me the kick I needed to get me to the end without losing a place. It worked, I arrived at the finish after 10days 18hrs 55mins my quickest RAAM by over 27hrs and in 6th place. I could not have done it without all my crew. They were all brilliant and thank you to all my sponsors, friends and family for all their help. It might be Solo RAAM but it is certainly a team effort. I am now recovering and getting ready for the UK 24hr in June. My hand is the only thing not recovered, I never had any problems with my feet unlike in other years and that must be down to the fantastic Lake Shoes I wore most of the time, physically and mentally I am ready for the rest of the season.