On September 17th, 2016, at 5:00am, I lined up for the biggest bike race that I had experienced to date. The idea of riding a bike 644 KM’s / 26+ hours never crossed my mind five years ago, as of late, these types of distances have become somewhat normal for me. Five years ago, my goal was just to get back in shape and be a ‘finisher’ in events (Duathlons and Triathlons), but somewhere along the line I found myself searching out new challenges. Well, here I was at the starting line of the RAAM Ohio Challenge, with my sights set on participating in the annual Race Across America (RAAM).
I remember in 2015 reaching out to a fellow BCC Member (Paul McKeever) regarding the TNT - Hairshirt. Paul had done extremely well in this race before and was quick to provide some encouragement and tips on how to ramp up my training for June event. During the ride (Same time as our discussion), I completed my first 200+ ride (~240km). It was a long day in the saddle, but I quickly realized that I had more in the tank to give. My training ramped up very quickly and I completed the TNT – Hairshirt. Later that year, I planned a ride to go around Lake Ontario (Lap of Lake) on my own with just a back pack. The plan was to complete it in 3 days, which seemed pretty aggressive, but after finishing the excursion I still felt I could do it quicker (2 days, which is a 2017 challenge).
With the end of season nearing, I found myself looking for yet another challenge to put in front of me and I started hearing about an event called RAAM (Race Across America) and thought – WOW! That sounds pretty crazy and intriguing. Who, in their right mind, would want to be on a bike for that long? Turns out, this guy is interested in being on a bike for that long. So, I started to research how I could participate in RAAM and found myself ramping up my training for the RAAM Qualifier in Ohio. My initial intention was to enter the 2015 event, but after some careful consideration, I decided that I wasn’t ready. It turned out to be a good decision on my part, but I immediately started laying the plans for the Ohio event in 2016.
In winter 2015 / 2016, my training plan was very simple: 5-7 days a week of 1 hour strength building sessions – NO TrainerRoad! Once the weather was nice enough, get on the road and start building up the base mileage. By June, I found myself already completing 300KM rides and was ready to ramp up to 400+ by middle of July. Along the way, I encountered some small injuries, but they healed quickly for me to resume normal training.
In early August, my team (Bruce Day, Steven Jones and myself) started to prepare for the upcoming trip to Ohio. We met with some key contributors (Sandra M., Bob T. and Jim W.) to discuss logistics and what to be prepared for on race day. It’s a fairly massive undertaking, but necessary for the entire team to be on the same page and ready for almost anything on that day. Looking back at the race, my part was pretty straightforward – keep the bike upright, keep the legs pumping and let the team know what/how I was feeling. Meanwhile, the real work was taking place back in the car. I can’t thank Bruce Day and Steve Jones enough for what they did. The way they handled everything was as close as I will be to a professional cyclist. They executed flawlessly on game day and I was happy to cross the finish line with them in the car.
The day before the race was a little hectic: early morning (6am) to start the drive down, get settled in the hotel and head over to the event tent. Bruce and Steve were responsible for the car/bike inspection, while I was handling the registration and an interview with OHIO RAAM Station (yes, who knew, an interview!). After inspections were completed, we headed back to the hotel for a quick rest before heading back for a mandatory safety meeting. Then we headed off to get some groceries and head back to the hotel. Again, Bruce and Steve kicked into support mode and take care of everything to do with food, bikes and car, while I climbed into bed to hopefully sleep before the race (something I am not very good at doing).
Alarms go off at 3:30am and the three of us are up and ready to roll. Bruce and Steve immediately started to prepare the car, while I focused on the race. Important to keep the morning before a race very simple and normal, regardless of the type of race in front of you. My start time off the line was set for 5:04, so I was at the line ready to go. Being at the line for one of these races is a little daunting and quiet. Everyone is just trying to keep themselves in check and remain calm. Meanwhile, you know it’s going to be a fairly long time before your butt is off this seat. While Bruce/Steve and I try to work through the Radio issues we are experiencing, everyone starts to introduce themselves, idle chit-chat, along with faces being to names. This is where I met John Chinchen and Kristen Waite, who are two very nice individuals with a lot of power.
Now, I am going to apologize here for the remainder of the race play-by-play. Keep in mind, its 26 hours or riding, so I don’t need to bore you with all the details, but I do want to provide enough information so you understand how things went.
5:04 comes and Amanda (RAAM Race Coordinator) wishes you well and says “see you at the finish line (right where she is standing currently).” It’s pitch black and I am heading out on the course relying entirely on Steve and Bruce to provide me with directions. Thankfully, I was told to make the first left by Amanda, because the first two competitors blow right through the intersection. After that, we are already encountering some issues with directions, due to the radios. On top of that, I am making 100% full stops at stop signs and lights, due to the 15 minute penalties that could be handed out. We start to settle in to a groove, but then the rain hits about 20 minutes in and I find myself already gaining on the competitors in front of me. Wasn’t long before I was in the lead and cruising along at a nice steady pace with John and I trading positions. I know hydration is a big issue for me and the fact that it’s raining means I need to be more careful, so I ensure that I take the first bottle of water down early. That’s all well and fine, but my handoff of the water bottle to the team car was not so smooth and required some work. Again, I really need to apologize to Steve because trying to toss a bottle into a moving car from a moving bike is not an approved method. Steve’s face can attest to that (I am still very sorry about this Steve). We agree, no tossing items into or from the car, going forward… good rule! It’s also at this point that we all realize that the radios are not going to work and we need to come up with a different communication strategy – Morse code!?!? One honk for right, two honks for left. It’s pretty good actually, but I need to remember that other cars may honk at some point. You know what, it was better than the radios because I turned the wrong direction every time I heard Steve say something on the radio.
Daylight hits about 7am and things are going pretty smoothly. I’m cruising along knowing it’s going to be a long day and expecting peaks and valleys… just go with the flow and ensure you hydrate, eat and keep your spirits high. At this point, you have to remember that I am preparing myself to be on a bike for a very long period of time. Hence, my idea of timing for this story is likely going to be way off, so let’s switch to bullet form and Steve and Bruce can add some colour commentary:
At about 7am to 8am, the rain stops and I just continue on as per normal, which is really the best way to describe my approach to this race – it’s all normal. I knew I couldn’t control the terrain, the rain or any other elements, just my mental state and the will to keep turning the cranks over.
John and I continue to push forward, leaving majority of the field behind us, with the exception of Kristen Waite. Kristen and I had chatted at the start of the race, but I wasn’t quite sure how she fit into this story. I do know now, as Kristen is a power house.
I stop for a quick bio-break and as I start again, I notice somebody coming up from behind. It’s Kristen! And from this point forward, I realize how much power this person has.
For the next little while (2 to 3 hours) the three of us, John, Kristen and I, are essentially riding together.
Then, the hills hit. Ok! I admit that I didn’t read the race profile as closely as I should have. However, in hindsight, probably the best move I made. Let it be known, Ohio has some fun climbing. It’s not 17km of climbing, but its 100km of some pretty big rollers and some 10% to 12% gradient mixed in. Doing this once or twice over the course of a 60km ride… not so bad. Doing this 20x over the course of 200km…. well, that’s a different story.
We get through the big part of the climbing and I notice I have ‘hot foot’ seeping in. It’s about 150km in and I really don’t want to stop, but my feet are still wet and I need to change something. I also notice that my stomach is starting to not feel great. I change my socks and get on the bike again.
I push forward and make a big right on a road that I know is going to be long with a steady cross/head wind. Instinct tells me to put it into low ring and ride through it. Not much climbing, but the wind is steady enough to keep me in a consistent gear. I see myself gaining on Kristen, but I am fearful to push hard and burn matches just to catch up to her. I hold off and maintain my pace.
It’s not long before my stomach issue catches up with me and I have stopped again. My power is low and I don’t feel like eating. Within a few minutes, the issue is rectified and I am back on the bike moving at a good pace. Lesson learned: confront the issue and deal with it at that moment. Once I dealt with it, I felt a lot better.
I know at this point, I am not likely to see the leaders anymore and my goal is really to maintain my pace and finish the race. However, deep down inside, my goal is to not relinquish my current position (3rd)
Daylight fades into night and I just continue on with climbing, riding and descending. I have to say this… Ohio has some of the best roads to ride on. Smooth and sweeping! I highly recommend the roads. Corn fields everywhere and what seemed to be a lot of dogs willing to chase after you. And yes, Deer crossings are not rare.
Night time hits and you just want to get through the cities as much as possible without any directional issues. I have to say that Bruce and Steve had this nailed down. We may have missed a few turns, but they were quick to rectify and have me back on course.
You know you are going to be tired, but you just don’t understand how tired you will be and how you’re going to handle it. I was climbing up a hill, pretty gradual, but noticed that I was not myself and constantly thinking about our next stopping point. I was trying to time our stopping points with our checkpoint check-in times. However, I wasn’t communicating this to Bruce and Steve and it appeared that I might be delirious or disoriented. Point being: be very clear with your team of your intentions. They don’t know what you are thinking and perhaps have a different plan and this can cause some concerns. In the end, once explained, we were back on the same page and proceeding forward. In short, I wasn’t going crazy.
Let’s skip to around 5:00am… I am tired! This is certainly a time where all of us should be asleep. It starts to rain, off and on. Climbing hills was not a problem, but descending at 60km always concerns me, especially in the dark and with a car that is 5 seconds behind you. You turn a corner and you see darkness until the trailing car turns and everything lights up. It can be pretty unnerving.
We get through the reminder of the climbs / rollers and head along the flats. It’s not just flat, but downhill. Still raining, off and on, but I push hard to keep things flowing - I know that my power is dwindling. At that point, I made a decision to use my lower ring / comfortable gear to carry forward. I switch between low and big ring, but know that it’s best for me to keep it in low ring.
At 7:00am, the sun is coming up and my body starts to feel good again. A bit of a combination between the body waking up during sunrise and I am starting to peak a bit with the knowledge that I am getting close to the finish. Comments, such as, just a ‘Goodwood ride’ or ‘zoo loop de loop’ are being tossed my way. It’s a great way for me to keep things in check, but I am fixated on crossing the line and getting off the bike.
We are now in the last 20kms of the ride and you start to realize that this is a done deal. You’re going to finish, but how much are you willing to give to close it out. I wanted to put it in top gear and fly through the final KM’s, but I knew that I had to maintain my current pace / cadence and just close it out. The end didn’t come quickly as we started our way back into the finish line. Every intersection seemed like it was a mile away and I just wanted to turn right and cross the finish line.
This story has no sprint finish or solo climb to it. It’s quite simple! I rode 644Km, as hard as I could, to demonstrate to myself that I was capable of riding this distance. My goal was to qualify for Race Across America… and I did exactly as I set out to do. There was no cheering crowds (way too early in the morning) or huge fanfare at the finish line. It was just Bruce, Steve and myself with Amanda and some other individuals. I finished with the best two team mates I could have asked for, who were with me from start to finish.
We headed back to the hotel and the guys let me grab some sleep, while they unpacked the car. I won’t give all the details of our night in Dublin, Ohio… too much debauchery ensued… ahhh! Who’s kidding who? It was an early night, following by an early morning of McDonalds and a long drive home.
I want to thank a few people, who contributed to the success of my race:
BCC has always given me an opportunity to develop and train. I ride with great people!
Jim, Bob and Sandra who provided us with sound advice. Helped us prepare and execute on game day.
Danielle F., Bernadette C., Marc D., Jon S., Alex M., Dave O., Paul M., Dan Y. – Thank you!!!!
Steve and Bruce for saying “Yes, of course we will crew for you.” I hope I suffered enough for your enjoyment.
Last, but not least…. My two fantastic children and they know why!
On September 28th, 2016, the team met for a 60km ride and to discuss the Ohio Challenge race and next steps. We agreed that we would wait at least one full week before we discussed next steps. In stating that, I would like to announce the team is planning to participate in the June 2018 Race Across America. Rather than force all that needs to get done into 9 months, we deferred until the following year with the intention to not just finish, but to go after the podium – 3070 miles as fast as we can!
I am now starting to build out a team to assist in a number of different areas. If you are looking to be part of this ‘ride to win RAAM’ campaign, by all means drop me a line.
Thank you again for all your support!