Race Across the West 2016

I’ve always said that I would have a hard time writing about a race that went well, and such has been the case for Race Across the West. 928 miles, from California to Colorado with over 50,000 feet of climbing. Yes, it went very well, and mostly according to plan. The race plan my coach put together had me arriving in Durango pretty close to Leah Goldstein’s record time from 2012. Even with the extra 68 miles on this year’s course, we beat her record and his prediction, arriving in 2 days, 11 hours, and 59 minutes. The overall win was a bonus, and a tribute to my skilled crew.

We had our share of trials. Three flat tires, and a loose headset resulting in a severe case of speed wobbles on a fast descent. A support vehicle that had to be towed out of the desert sand. Temps as high as 112, and lows in the 40’s. Sandstorms, tough crosswinds, road construction, traffic, elk and wild horses on the road, hypothermia…and a rider determined to push the limits of sleep deprivation and exhaustion. We managed it all with good humor. I am so proud of my crew, and thrilled with what we accomplished.

I was very impressed with this race. The organization, the people, the entire experience. It was a very warm welcome into the RAAM and RAW family. I could have done without some of the crazy traffic, but the desert, the mountains, the scenery, and the toughness of this race was the experience of a lifetime. Officials were a frequent sight on the course. I felt very watched, and that is a good thing. It adds to the legitimacy of a race, especially one of this length.

There has been talk of next year, and RAAM. I am overwhelmed by the number of people around the world that have contacted me to offer congratulations to me and my crew. I am humbled by those within the RAAM community that have told me they believe that I have what it takes to succeed at RAAM. It’s a daunting task. There is much to consider. We’ll see what the year brings.

I have not experienced any depression since this race. Often I fixate on my mistakes, or the times when I was weak. There was plenty of that during this race, but I am ok with all of it. My crew was there to support me during those times, and they struck the right balance of tough love and mercy so that I could get the absolute best out of myself physically and mentally. There were times when I felt so bad, all I could do was pedal and listen to a crew member talk. And I was so, so tired at times. It has been hard for me to explain the opportunity that really racing an event of this distance was for me. The crew managed the logistics of navigation, hydration, and nutrition that would ordinarily be limiters. My job was to hurry up, harden up, get back on the bike. See what I am made of. No excuses.

What follows are the photos captured by Steve Fuller (unless otherwise identified) and some narrative about the race. The pictures tell part of the story of our race, but there are so many stories that they didn’t capture. I thought I hit my limits outside of Flagstaff, and yet somehow I found myself back on the bike after 20 minutes of not really sleeping and rode another 300+ miles. The experience still amazes me. And the funny moments…Greg, reading the nutrition log in the morning and saying “That looks like it says cheese dick”. Yes, yes it did say cheese dick. Connie, giving me a hug in Flagstaff at my low point and telling me “Let’s just work on getting you to Tuba Shitty”. I have no love for Tuba City, hence the nickname. As difficult as this race was, we did manage to have quite a bit of fun along the way. This is only a brief summary.

Specialized Shiv, KMC ice chain. Zipp 404/808 wheels with a Wheelbuilder rear wheel cover. Pro zip tied bottle cage on the aerobars.

Specialized Venge

Specialized Venge, KMC ice chain, Zipp 808 wheels.

Specialized Tarmac

Specialized Tarmac. My climbing bike. KMC ice chain. Zipp 202 wheels.

 

somewhere in Utah

Somewhere in Utah with Kathy Fuller on the drive out to Borrego. Kathy spent the week ahead of the race with me in Borrego, and drove the Transit van with Connie during the race. Photo by a random stranger

training in Borrego with my friend Erik.

Training on the World Championship loop in Borrego Springs with my friend Erik. Photo by Erik Newsholme

IMG_4979

Some of the elite in ultra cycling on a group ride in Borrego Springs. All smiles at 110 degrees. I’m living the dream right there. Photo by Birgitte Haaning

The RAW press conference.

The RAW press conference.

 

Kathy and Greg, putting on the vehicle signs.

Kathy and Greg, putting on vehicle signs. photo by me

My first interview with Media 1.

Pre-race inspection. We were early for our appointment and passed without any problems

Pre-race inspection. 3 bikes, 3 vehicles, 5 spare wheels, all 8 crew, 2 officials, and me. We were early for our appointment and passed without any problems. Photo by me

With Marko before the start. I don't recall what we were discussing

With Marko Baloh before the start. I don’t recall what we were discussing.

Coolest start line in the world

Coolest start line in the world

Brian running up one of the many climbs with me.

Brian running up one of the many climbs with me. Photo by Greg Grandgeorge

One of Steve's tweets from Borrego

One of Steve’s tweets from Borrego

Sandstorm outside Borrego

Sandstorm outside Borrego

Another shot of the sandstorm. 100 degrees and a mask was almost as bad as breathing sand

Another shot of the sandstorm. 100 degrees and a mask was almost as bad as breathing sand

The first of many photos of my backside

The first of many photos of my backside

On the road to Brawley

On the road to Brawley

Stopped at a traffic light in Brawley. photo by Laurel Darren-Simmons

Stopped at a traffic light in Brawley. photo by Laurel Darren-Simmons

First stop for a kit change 342 miles into the race in Salome, AZ

First stop for a kit change 342 miles into the race in Salome, AZ. Photo by Connie Mann

On the way to congress. A beautiful view, marred by death metal and my backside. I remember feeling horrible right there

On the way to Congress, AZ. A beautiful view, marred by death metal and my backside. I remember feeling horrible right there. Photo by Greg Grandgeorge

Getting passed by Stefan Schlegel between Congress and Prescott

Getting passed by RAAM solo Stefan Schlegel between Congress and Prescott. Photo by Greg Grandgeorge

Playing leapfrog with Stefan. He and his crew were so energetic and nice. It was nice to be near a fellow solo rider for a while.

Playing leapfrog with Stefan. He and his crew were so energetic and nice. It was nice to be near a fellow solo rider for a while. Photo by Greg Grandgeorge

My 20 minute stop before the climb up Mingus Mountain.

My 20 minute stop before the climb up Mingus Mountain. Photo by Terry Grapentine

Media One following me to Jerome. The crosswind was pretty wicked on the descent, ruining the fun factor

Media One following me to Jerome. The crosswind was pretty wicked on the descent, ruining the fun factor

Past Camp Verde, before I lost my mind

Past Camp Verde, before I lost my mind

Rob, checking in with me on a climb between Camp Verde and Flagstaff.

Rob, checking in with me on a climb between Camp Verde and Flagstaff.

Sun setting on the way to Flagstaff

Sun setting on the way to Flagstaff. Well over 500 miles into the race, and officially farther than I had ever ridden before.

Leapfrogging at night with Stefan. We did our best to introduce him to some better music.

Leapfrogging at night with Stefan. We did our best to introduce him to some quality music.

Getting passed by Marko Baloh after Flagstaff.

Getting passed by Marko Baloh after Flagstaff. photo by Rob White.

 

Stopping in Tuba City to pull off the winter clothes and change back to summer kit. I had a rotten time in Tuba City last year crewing for RAAM; it earned the nickname Tuba Shitty

Stopping in Tuba City to pull off the winter clothes and change back to summer kit. I had a rotten time in Tuba City last year crewing for RAAM; it earned the nickname Tuba Shitty. Photo by Terry Grapentine

Connie or Kathy putting sunscreen on me. Those two ladies went without a bed, and slept in the van the entire race.

Connie or Kathy putting sunscreen on me. Those two ladies went without a bed, and slept in the van the entire race. photo by Terry Grapentine

photo by Terry Grapentine. Terry did a good job of photographing the off the bike moments when you could see my exhaustion

photo by Terry Grapentine. Terry did a good job of photographing the off the bike moments when you could see my exhaustion

Leaving Tuba City and beginning the climb to Kayenta, AZ. That stretch is all uphill, and on a shoulder littered with broken glass. 72 miles of just getting done. Photo by Greg Grandgeorge

Leaving Tuba City and beginning the climb to Kayenta, AZ. That stretch is all uphill, and on a shoulder littered with broken glass. 72 miles of just getting it done. Photo by Greg Grandgeorge

Monument Valley. For the entire race, this was my only off the bike, let's take a picture and enjoy this moment. Photo by Vic Armijo

Monument Valley. For the entire race, this was my only off the bike, let’s take a picture and enjoy this moment. Photo by Vic Armijo

Connie, taking care of me again in Mexican Hat. She made the best smoothies for me during the race

Connie, taking care of me again in Mexican Hat. She made the best smoothies for me during the race

794 miles in and hot as hell at Mexican Hat. Only 134 miles of mostly climbing and rough roads to go

794 miles in and hot as hell at Mexican Hat. Only 134 miles of mostly climbing and rough roads to go

A long hot climb on the way to Bluff. I started hallucinating in this section, watching a beautiful picture of mountains and scenery on the surface of the road that wasn't really there.

A long hot climb on the way to Bluff. I started hallucinating in this section, watching a beautiful picture of mountains and scenery on the surface of the road that wasn’t really there.

Connie or Kathy, feeding me something before getting me back on the bike after a 20 minute break in Bluff. I think I actually slept there.

Connie or Kathy, feeding me something before getting me back on the bike after a 20 minute break in Bluff. I think I actually slept there. Photo by Terry Grapentine

In a word, hypothermia. This is the last photo of me riding during the race that I could find. I ended up adding another coat that belonged to Greg, and Connie's yoga pants. It wasn't that cold, 40 something degrees.

In a word, hypothermia. This is the last photo of me riding during the race that I could find. I ended up adding another coat that belonged to Greg, and Connie’s yoga pants. It wasn’t that cold, 40 something degrees. Photo by Greg Grandgeorge

The awards banquet with George Thomas

The awards banquet with George Thomas. First overall, new course record

At the banquet with my crew

At the banquet with my crew

My crew took me back to the time station after the race to thank the volunteers who staff it. Here with Caroline Eastburn

My crew took me back to the time station after the race to thank the volunteers who staff it. Here with Caroline Eastburn

We also took a trip out on the RAAM course to find friends, including Erik Newsholme. Friends make the journey so much better.

We also took a trip out on the RAAM course to find friends, including Erik Newsholme. Friends make the journey so much better.

Special thanks to my coach and crew chief, Greg Grandgeorge of Tri2Max Coaching, Kyle Robinson and the staff at Kyle’s Bikes and Discount Tri Supply in Ankeny, and Ice Friction Technology (for re-coating and testing my chains post race). Thank you to the people around the world and at home in Iowa for the support and encouragement. Your kind words and congratulations are much appreciated. I can’t think of this race without a smile.

Greg Grandgeorge, Connie and Joe Mann, Terry Grapentine, Kathy and Steve Fuller, Brian Arnold, Rob White. How do you thank 8 people for giving up so much of their time to help me accomplish a dream? I’m still trying to work that out, and words seem to fail me. And my husband, Brian Cooper, who shouldered so much of the load at home while I was training and racing. They all believed in my ability to succeed, to break a course record, and win the whole damn race despite being nothing more than a 44 year old mom from Iowa. It’s a pretty cool thing, to have people believe in you like that.

27197865453_d5641e78c0_z

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 thoughts on “Race Across the West 2016

  1. We are so proud of you and inspired by your ability!! Congratulations to you and your amazing accomplishment with your “tribe”. Hope to see you soon.

  2. I’m beyond impressed with your accomplishment and SO happy for you. Having struggled terribly in less heat during that time period, I’m in awe of the way you overcame the weather, distance, and exhaustion. I’m pretty sure you could accomplish anything you set your mind to, and I look forward to cheering you on!

  3. Pingback: Race Across the West 2016: Sarah's Report ‐ Discount Tri Supply Blog

  4. Pingback: Sarah Cooper in Race Across the West ‐ Discount Tri Supply Blog

  5. Hi Sarah – I’m writing an article on women who beat men in bike races, and I’d really love to feature you, as I was blown away by your performance in RAW this year (I was on Juliana Buhring’s crew in RAAM, and am an endurance racer myself). Would it be possible to get in touch with you by email? We’ll need one good photo of you to accompany the piece, and I don’t want to use one without permission.

    many thanks,

    Emily

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s