RAAM 2017 photos

I need more time. More hours in each day and more days in each week just to slow things down a little. People often ask me how I manage to do all that I do as a cyclist and a parent of four, and the truth is that it’s often a little much. Sitting down to organize RAAM photos hasn’t been and isn’t going to be a priority any time soon, but I wanted to share what I could. There are plenty of cool photos of me on a bike during RAAM, but few of those are shared below. The more interesting side of any race to me are the people involved in it, and those are the photos and stories I want to share. So here are some of the photos and stories from RAAM 2017, in no particular order or priority.  The rest of the stories you’ll have to get out of me on a bike ride sometime.

This 3T stem was given to me by Tom Navratil, Men’s rookie of the year. Tom passed me in Ohio, and asked me why he was passing me after I had been ahead of him for the entire race so far. I explained the troubles with my neck and that I’d been riding sitting upright since Kansas, and he said he had something that would help. His crew handed the stem off to mine, and Tom himself even stopped to talk to my crew. English is not his native language, but sleep deprived and over 2000 miles into RAAM he took the time to talk with my crew about relieving some of the strain on my neck. This is the spirit of ultra cycling. We are all family, and even though it’s a race, we all try to help one another out as best we can. Someday I’ll pass this stem on to another athlete in need.

Cassie Schumacher came out to ride with me twice for a few minutes in Ohio. Once in the pouring rain even. She brought snacks for my crew, and a gluten free pizza for me. It was so humbling to have people like Cassie show up just to lift my spirits. It’s pretty obvious from my position on the bike that I was in a great deal of discomfort, yet somehow I’m smiling thanks to Cassie.

My glowstick family, Amy and David Croll from Urbandale, IA. David and his daughter showed up on the course after midnight near St. Louis with a bag of glowsticks and money for food for my crew. I asked David what brought them out there at such a late hour, and he said he ‘wanted to show his daughter what a strong woman looked like’.  I’m sure I looked anything but strong at that point as I was in a good bit of pain and struggling to hold my head up. Having the courage to be in that race in the first place, and remaining in that race and enduring all that it threw at me wasn’t exactly the display of strength I was going for, but they reminded me that it was strength all the same. Quite a lesson from a simple shopping bag full of glow sticks.

My crew tried a few times that night to get the glow stick necklace off me. I’m sure they were worried about the weight on my neck. I refused to let them have it, and replied that glowsticks are “aero as f**k”. They did eventually get them off me, and I never saw them again. Amy and David graciously brought me a new set at my welcome home party after RAAM.

My custom RAAM kit designed by Kim Hopkins from Velorosa. It was a bit anxiety provoking trying a new bib short so close to RAAM, but these ended up being real winners. I made it 3000 miles without any saddle sores. When they proved their worth in training, Kim and Lisa got me four more pair in a hurry plus helped me find similar non-custom black bibs to take on RAAM. It was quite moving to see photos of friends and people I had never met wearing a replica jersey that they had purchased to help fund the expense of RAAM. Thanks to Velorosa, the GoFundMe account that Connie set up on my behalf, the fundraiser at Mickey’s Irish Pub in Waukee, and all of the people that mailed checks to my home address, more than half of my crew expenses were covered. RAAM is not an inexpensive race, and their generosity was much appreciated.

Stretch Wilson and Jenn Borst showed up on the side of the highway in Missouri. Both are good friends, and Stretch had a weird alien mask on when I first saw them and I didn’t even recognize him until he took it off! The sleep deprivation was real; a 6’6″ tattooed alien, and I didn’t guess that it was Stretch. They made the 5+ hour drive just to see me for a minute, then drove back to Iowa.

Gina and Bob Fourney caught up with me in Kansas. Bob escorted me into one of the Kansas time stations, and they followed me across much of Kansas. How can you top the experience of having a child decide on her own to follow your race? They were simply a delight to have along, and a pleasant diversion from the increasingly obvious fact that the race was otherwise not going as I had hoped. Gina hopes to be an endurance rider someday, and I’ll be honored to say I knew her back when.

The traffic on RAAM is a constant source of stress, especially for the day shift crew. The race passes through several high population centers and there are areas of heavy traffic that you have to be prepared to ride through. I have been hit by a car before, and have serious residual stress regarding traffic. Brian Arnold and Erik Newsholme were the primary drivers on dayshift, and they did an excellent job of alerting traffic to my presence, while Steve or Jill talked to me over the cardo about what was coming. From my perspective, how they managed that aspect of the race could not have been done any better.

Adam Ashwill and his family staff Time Station 30 in Fort Scott, Kansas. Adam follows many of the RAAM athletes on Facebook, and I enjoy following him back. It’s been fun to watch him grow as a cyclist and take a Strava KOM this year. I asked Adam to ride with me for a bit, and he rode the 7 miles from his house to the Missouri border.

 

 

 

And what do you do when your sponsor sends a youth medium shirt for you instead of an adult medium? You put it on Steve Fuller and take pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And thanks to RAAM media for capturing this gem:

 

100% of my training and race nutrition expenses for the entirety of the my 2017 season has been covered by Carbo Pro. The support and generosity has been truly overwhelming. Fully supporting an ultra cyclist is not an inexpensive endeavor considering I ordered what would normally be a year’s worth of product for one race. I used to despair of ever finding a nutrition sponsor, as I’d previously only been able to tolerate flavored products for roughly 6 months at a time. And once I’d raced gravel with anything flavored, I could usually never do so again. Gravel has a way of permanently influencing flavors for the worst. Carbo Pro has no flavor, so I’ve never been traumatized by it. Mix it with electrolytes, and I’m good to go for days. I’d been racing with it successfully for over a year when Connie contacted Carbo Pro on my behalf after RAW, and they’ve been taking care of my nutrition needs ever since.

Matt Taylor, a friend from REV cycling, met me in Ohio and escorted me on his bike into one of the time stations. Matt and I had made arrangements for him to accept shipments if I ran out of nutrition. I ended up not needing anything, but it was nice to have a plan in case I ran out. There is another picture that I can’t find where I’m hugging Matt, and it looks like I’m trying to take a catnap on his shoulder. I probably was.

 

The cheese finger. I’m not sure why I’m waving it, but it’s in lieu of a real finger and that’s the media crew in front of me recording this nonsense. The blue shirt I’m wearing is Connie’s Quad Cities marathon shirt. She let me borrow it when my base layer got rained on. It became like an emotional security blanket to me; a constant hug from Connie. When it got rained on in West Virginia again and they had to take it off me, it was like a kick in the teeth. I was so sad.

I mostly consumed liquid nutrition on the front end of the race. As the days went on, more food was added in to supplement the calories. Daren offered me a banana on the night shift, and he offered to serve it to me in at least four different ways. I lost patience with the multiple options,  saying “For f**ks sake Daren, just give me a f***ing banana”. Daren, without missing a beat replied, “Well you’re in luck. I happen to have both regular and f****ing bananas.” This isn’t THE banana, but any banana offered after the initial offense was a source of amusement. And however it came out the window was how I took it, without complaint.

This young man and his family were standing by the side of the road in hot, humid Kansas with popsicles. I’m so thankful that my crew captured the ‘You bet I’ll take a popsicle!’ moment. It was just amazing and so humbling to see how many people followed this race online, then either sent me a message, or positioned themselves along the route to be there to offer encouragement when I went by.

Erik Newsholme, self appointed road kill shoveler, popsicle man, and dayshift driver of the ancillary support van. I developed a taste for popsicles during my pre-race stay in Borrego, and Erik went out and bought a special cooler just for popsicles. He also shoveled all of the road kill out of my way across the entire country, so if you were ever behind me, your path was clear because of Erik. Later in the race I struggled with balance related to my neck issues. Quite often someone had to catch me when I stopped, because I couldn’t get off without falling over. This is Erik after a catch. I’m holding my head up with my fist, and you can appreciate the edema in my legs trying to bust through the compression socks.

This is my favorite picture of Alex. Everyone loves Alex. He’s easygoing, can fix anything, and can catch a rider before they hit the dirt. One of my sleep stops got interrupted, resulting in me falling asleep on the bike a few times before we got things worked out. Alex saw me starting to lose it, and was out of the car and had me in his arms before I hit the ground. I woke up in his arms looking up at his face. Falling asleep on the bike is never a good thing, but that ended up being one of my favorite moments of RAAM. It’s amazing the lengths my crew went to in caring for me.

I used to give my husband a hard time about his ability to fall asleep literally anywhere during his sleep deprived medical training days. Now I get it. 2 hours or less of sleep a day ensures that you can fall asleep anywhere, and sometimes without control. I fell asleep standing up waiting on a train in heavy traffic in Indiana. Jill and Steve were working on my neck, so I locked my knees and had a nap on Steve’s shoulder. They did eventually wake me and put me in the car, the train was that long!

 

Jill, Janice Sheufelt, and me at the awards banquet after the finish. I followed Janice’s ultra cycling career as I contemplated taking on longer races, and she is one of the women that inspired me. Janice stepped in as a RAAM official this year after the rider she was crewing for DNF’d. She poked her head into my van when I was stopped to offer encouragement during the big storm in West Virginia. I remember laying there like the dead listening to her tell me she believed I was strong enough to finish. I believed it too, but I really did not want to go ride in that storm anymore. I did anyway.

My crew chief, Brian Arnold. I’m almost certain when Brian agreed to be my crew chief that he did not expect to get felt up by his athlete on the side of the road while wearing a ladies disco top, but such is RAAM. Brian is very professional and not often seen running around in costume. In the haze of sleep deprivation, I couldn’t believe this was him so I grabbed a handful of pectoral muscle and gave it a good squeeze just to confirm.

The majority of my past crew members had been guys, so I did not anticipate my reluctance to communicate with Brian and the other men on the crew about things as they began to go wrong. I’d never done a race where so much went so seriously and scarily wrong at once. Everything is “fine” when you’re riding with guys that are stronger than you, even when it’s clearly not fine. I trivialized all of my major issues, beginning in Colorado with the pulmonary infection and the edema, and continuing through Kansas and the onset of Shermer’s neck. Brian was left to connect the dots and make decisions as best he could. I know he was frustrated with me on a few occasions, and I with him, and the responsibility for that was all mine. There are times to suck it up and be tough, and there are times when you need to say ‘I can’t ride the next 50 miles without stopping, or my head is going to flop on my chest like a rag doll and we’ll never get it back’… In hindsight, I wish I’d had the courage to do that. It would’ve been better for everyone.

The storm in West Virginia. It had rained for hours the day before in Ohio, and the crew didn’t tell me I was about to ride into the remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy. I guess they figured I’d find out soon enough, and after several hours and a tornado, I think it was Daren that finally mentioned it. “You are telling me this nightmare has a name, and you didn’t think to share that with me earlier?” Like any good midwesterner, I enjoy complaining about the weather vigorously and often. It’s a nice distraction from the things that truly concern me, as it’s never wise to dwell on anything of importance during a race. I figure they cheated me out of several hours of quality complaining by not telling me about this in advance. Quite possibly someone had told me, and it was lost in the haze of sleep deprivation.

My Katherine. Everyone should have a friend like Katherine. Katherine managed the media side of the event for Kyle’s Bikes, and she and her husband Eric drove down to see me as I passed through Jefferson City, MO. There is a picture of me riding later on in Missouri while zapping my neck with a tens unit. I promise you that was not a pleasant situation to be in, but there is a big smile on my face because Katherine and Eric surprised me again there.

 

 

My coach Greg turned up first in Kansas, and later on in Maryland. Greg and I have been friends for years, and he’s been my coach since 2015. He told me he’d be out there somewhere, so I was expecting to see him. I was still in denial about how bad things were getting when he saw me in Kansas. By Maryland, there was no more denial. Greg once said he didn’t know anyone else that could tolerate pain quite like me. I think friendships like his are part of the reason why I can. There is confidence in knowing that people care about you, and believe in your strength. My body can utterly betray me, the weather can punish me, and the time constraints of racing are real. But the courage to continue making forward progress in whatever fashion that I can while I still can comes from somewhere. I’ve found a lot of strength in the relationships I have with my family and friends.

The crew does what needs doing, and sometimes things come up that aren’t the most appealing of tasks. Among many other odd tasks, Laurel ended up drying my rain soaked shoes under a hand dryer in West Virginia. I had two pair, both soaked. I was optimistically hoping for a dry day the next day, but the shoes ended up just getting rained on again. Laurel is also a trained massage therapist, and worked on my neck whenever she could. She also taught others on the crew what to do since the times that I was stopped didn’t always coincide with her shift. The goal was to keep my neck functional to the finish, and we did.

Alex swapping Ice Friction chains on my bike with Daren looking half asleep in the background. I’ve been using Ice Friction chains on my bike since 2016. The specially coated chains are designed to improve drivetrain efficiency and speed, with a side benefit of cutting down on maintenance and work for my crew. Rather than cleaning and lubing chains, they simply swapped them out on a schedule. This coating is far better than conventional lube, especially on gravel. I do most of my training on gravel roads. Gravel dust eats drive trains, and using these chains has prolonged the life of my entire drivetrain. I love it. It’s a noticeable disappointment when I have to ride a bike without an ice chain.

Rob White and his girlfriend Leanne made the long drive from northern Wisconsin to Missouri so Rob could ride with me for a few minutes. It was on the worst stretch of roadkill littered highway I’d ever had the displeasure of riding on, and Erik was frantically shoveling loads of dead, liquified armadillos out of our path. Rob can always make me laugh, and it didn’t take much more than “I love Missouri. This road was my favorite part of RAAM” to have me laughing so hard it hurt. Rob and I have been friends since my first 24 hours of Sebring in 2014, and I crewed for him for the first half of RAAM in 2015. The best advice he gave me was to make sure that I had thought about all of the possible DNF scenarios, and to be prepared to ride through anything. If there was any excuse in my mind, any reason to quit that I was ok with, I might take it. It was great advice, and a great way to focus my mental preparation for RAAM.

NEWBS! The only guy I know that would stand on the side of the road dressed as Burger King in the middle of hot, humid, Colorado when he was supposed to be in Kansas is Scott Newbury. I met Newbs (it rhymes with Bewbs) at a triathlon in 2008, and I haven’t had a Newbs free week since. He is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, and helped organize the fundraiser and welcome home parties for me at Mickey’s Irish Pub in Waukee in addition to surprising me in Colorado. It was over 90 degrees and humid when he put that costume on, and I’m thankful he didn’t pass out from heat exhaustion before I got there.

In the final miles, a group of cyclists out on their training ride came to ride with me. One of the members had been tracking the race, and knew that I would be passing through. They had to slow way down to stay near me. What a kindness that was. They obviously were giving up any semblance of a workout just to lift my spirits. I was pretty pathetically slow at that point; just when I had thought it couldn’t get any worse, I crashed during the night with about 70 miles to go, and my right side was messed up. It was surreal watching them surround me and flow up the hills without effort. The sleep deprivation and exhaustion added a dreamlike quality to the entire experience.

Eddie Rayford has been photographing me at 24 hours of Sebring every year for the last four years. He always photographs RAAM as well, and had told me that he would see me in Maryland. And when he saw me there it would mean that he was still alive, and that I was almost done with RAAM. Eddie got a big sweaty hug.

Kathy, coming to tend to me after a nose bleed on the way into Durango. Kathy was my daytime off the bike ‘mommy’, and for the last two years has spent the week prior to RAW and RAAM with me in Borrego while I acclimated to the heat. This year, the pre-RAAMcation was not so smooth. We ended up bailing on two separate condos due to bugs and a smoking air conditioner. She ended up on the pull out couch of a friends condo… RAAM started a little early for her.

 

Erik had arranged with Revolution Cycles to help me with a seat issue when I rolled through their Missouri time station, and when I stopped there was an enthusiastic group of girls with signs. I remember being amazed at their enthusiasm, and thinking that surely no one had told them that I was riding super slow and totally sucking. But then I realized they probably didn’t care, and wouldn’t have cared had they known. They’ll remember being there, and they’ll remember witnessing a woman competing in the world’s toughest bicycle race. I didn’t have many women athletes in my world as a child. I’m honored to have been there for them. It also ended up being a pretty slick and efficient stop. Revolution Cycles stays open 24 hours a day during RAAM, and they fixed up my seat and I was on my way in just a minute.

I was hard pressed to find a picture of me and Kate that didn’t look like I was trying to take a nap on her when she met me at the Mississippi River crossing. This one with what I think was supposed to be a smile is the best of the bunch. Kate Geisen is another friend from gravel riding, and I was so surprised and grateful to see her there as we celebrated getting over the Mississippi well within the time cutoff.

I wish I had more pictures of the night shift guys, but I just haven’t located many yet. Being on the night shift in direct follow, these guys had a lot of uninterrupted air time to fill, especially Daren. He was the master of sports psychology, positive talk and distraction. One time we saw what was likely a drug addicted man walking straight at my bike and the follow car. The rest of the night was filled with a discussion of zombies, halloween music, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The first thing that popped up when I opened Safari on my phone after the race was the search for zombie apocalypse music. I still haven’t cleared that page from my phone.

This is Connie and Joe with relatives of Joe’s that met me in costume at a time station at some wee hour of the night in Indiana. Connie is not a tall woman, and this pint sized, blue wig wearing bundle of energy that came up to Connie’s shoulder would’ve needed a step ladder to look me in the eye. She and her pink wig wearing husband were a delight! They are just one example of the many people that followed me on RAAM because of my family and crew members. 

RAAM media captured this photo somewhere in Arizona. I had been approaching 50 mph on a descent when my bike suddenly went into speed wobbles. It was terrifying. This photo was taken after I stopped. The guys tended to swapping out my wheel and tightening the headset, while Jill took care of me. In every photo I have of Jill, she is taking care of me, physically or emotionally. Ever practical and always caring, Jill never missed an opportunity to get sunscreen on me, cram food down my gullet, and offer a word of encouragement before sending me on my way again.

This is my favorite photo of Connie and Joe. Joe and I had raced together at Trans Iowa and the Alexander. After I registered for RAW in late 2015, they contacted me and asked if I needed crew. Joe offered to let me use his minivan as my main follow vehicle. Their generosity has been simply amazing. Connie took care of most of the lodging logistics for RAAM and RAW. Using their vehicle for both races saved me a lot of time, hassle, and money. Joe served as my co-crew chief for both RAW and RAAM. I can’t imagine that I would have been as well organized as I was, or as well prepared for the problems that ensued on RAAM had it not been for their help. Joe and Connie had crewed for other athletes at RAAM before, but had not made it to Annapolis until this year. I am proud to have gotten them there, and so grateful to them for their help and support.

Penny Barker and me, at the finish line. Penny took Kathy and I in when we needed a place to stay in Borrego before RAAM, and we traded text messages via our crew during the race. Penny knew that she would likely struggle with Shermer’s neck at some point during RAAM, and it unfortunately ended her race prior to Annapolis. As soon as she was able, she was out on the course offering encouragement and humor at some of my hardest moments. I knew as hard as that race became for me, Penny would have given anything to have been out there still racing. I so appreciate her support and friendship, and her courage continues to inspire me.


I’m not quite recovered from RAAM, but I am at least back to racing short distances on a fat bike. My hands and neck continue to be a problem, and I’m better off for now sticking with the fat bike. I asked Kyle if he had a set of wheels that I could borrow to make my tank of a fat bike more appealing to race on, and as is typical of Kyle, he just gave me his much nicer fat bike to use for as long as I need it. More than a sponsor, Kyle is a good friend. The photo does not lie, the fat bike is good fun!

I have so many more photos and stories, and maybe someday I’ll find a way to share them all. For now, life goes on…

 

 

 

 

 

RAAM 2017

4 nights after RAAM ended, I woke up for the first time thinking that I was still on RAAM. I truly believed when I awoke that I was still racing and needed to get to my bike. Hearing my husband asking me if I was OK set me straight. The night before that, I had awakened and navigated myself into my closet instead of the bathroom. Sleep deprivation is a crazy thing.

During the day though, I appear to be making rapid strides in physical recovery. I have significant bruising on my right side from my crash late in the race and my hands are completely numb, but I am beginning to feel more like myself. I have a bit of residual death rattle in my lungs, but as I’m not training currently, it’s not problematic. Hopefully that will resolve before I decide to run or ride my bike. Death rattle appears to be only a minor annoyance while sedentary. I’ve seen a hand specialist for my hands, and they’ve done what they can do for now. Time will take care of the rest.

Being tended by Kathy Fuller after rolling into Durango with a bloody nose

I’m not sure how to adequately tell the story of this race, and thank all of the involved parties. A blow by blow account seems like it would be quite boring, so I’ll offer you a brief summary here, with a few images. A more detailed account regarding the amazing people involved in my race will come out when I have more images to share, and time to do so. And of course there will be the Religion of Sports documentary next year. They caught some seriously funny stuff, numerous very painful moments, and hours of monotony. I believe they will turn it into something you’ll want to watch. I teased them quite a bit about their seemingly excessive sleep relative to mine, and regular meals. They were good sports about my grumpy envy, and cheered me on the whole way. I’m a very shy and private person, but the camera crew melded into the experience of my race. They captured me as I was, from elite athlete to rolling shit show. I think it will be a RAAM documentary like nothing else done to date.

Stretching. Photo by Jill Marks

I have had numerous falls from horses, several bicycle crashes, one head injury resulting in a dent in my forehead, and a few cases of whiplash. While I’ve never had trouble with my neck, I knew that I was at risk for Shermer’s neck during RAAM. It was still quite a shock to find it setting in by Colorado, not even halfway into the race. That in essence became the story of my RAAM past Colorado, and yet I refused to say the actual term Shermer’s neck to my crew. How do you ride from Colorado to Maryland with over 10 extra pounds of edema, a lung infection, and neck and shoulder muscles that are failing you? Slowly, painfully, and as upright as you can get. I had decided prior to the race that I would do whatever it took to finish and win, and ride through whatever the race dealt me. I won’t have the luxury of a second RAAM to try again for a finish. It was one of the most painful and yet amazing experiences of my life, filled with incredible scenery and fantastic people. I told Fred Boethling upon finishing that if you offered me perfect weather and a shot at the course record, or the struggle I had just endured, I would choose the struggle. It was an experience like none other. It was the ugliest win I’ve ever had, at the hardest race I’ve ever done. I am so grateful for the opportunity.

Cuchara pass, Colorado. My favorite part of Colorado, and the beginning of the end for my neck.

People have asked me long before I had actual sponsors how to get them, and I still don’t have a great answer. Win every race you enter for three years, ask for nothing, and don’t be a pompous entitled jerk appears to be the method that worked well for me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to Kyle’s Bikes, Velorosa Cycling, Carbo Pro, Active Edge Orthopedic and Sports Massage, Klite, Beaverdale Bicycles, and Ice Friction Technology. 3100 well fueled miles without a saddle sore or a major mechanical issue is something to be celebrated, and is due to their efforts both before and during the race. Any shortcomings during this race were my own, my equipment and nutrition support were worthy of a pro athlete. Unfortunately for them, I have the heart and mind of champion, and the lungs and 45 year old body of something far inferior. I thank them for their continued support, and look forward to sharing in greater detail their contributions to my race.

Obviously none of this would have been accomplished without the efforts of my 10 crew:  Brian Arnold, Connie and Joe Mann, Kathy and Steve Fuller, Daren Munroe, Laurel Darren-Simmons, Alex Hernandez, Erik Newsholme, and Jill Marks. Part of what makes this race so difficult is the relentless nature of the task, and the time limits imposed upon me. I had really no concept of time once I was off the bike and my Garmin was no longer in front of me, so it was their job to keep me safely on the bike as long as possible, and get me back on the bike in a timely fashion no matter the weather or my physical state. Seeing the photos and videos of my physical decline late in the race, I know that had to be hard for them to do. I am at most times pretty frank and blunt in my communication style and my expectations for their performance, and I can only say that that got probably both more entertaining and more abrasive for them as the race rolled on. So many stories to tell, I’m not sure I’ll get to them all! They gave up over 2 weeks of their life, their vacation time, and time with their families to do this, and all they received was a hat, a few shirts, and time on the stage in Annapolis. I hope the experience was all that they hoped for.

More later! Thanks for reading, and for following my journey.

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

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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.

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Sebring 24 hour RAAM Qualifier 2016

This was my third year at the 24 hour RAAM qualifier in Sebring, Florida. I don’t often repeat races more than a few times, and I was mentally prepared for this to be my last year racing there. Now that it is all said and done, I cannot say with certainty that I feel done with this race. 479.4 miles is a course record that the next lady can feel very good about breaking; I am happy with that mileage on a road bike. But I may be back next year with a TT bike, or I may instead be racing the fat bike at Tuscobia and Triple D. Only time and opportunity will tell.

The course. 89 mile big loop, 11.7 mile short loop, 3.7 mile track

The course. 89 mile big loop, 11 mile short loop, 3.7 mile track

I have not manufactured any more time in my schedule to train, so this winter was much like last winter. I rise in the night, do a little laundry, and get a few hours of training in before dawn. I feel like a creature of the night, doing laundry at 2:45 am and keeping vampire training hours, but at least I am guaranteed a few uninterrupted hours before I get the kids up for school. Some days I am back on the bike a second time after the kids leave for school, and Sunday is the long ride. My coach Greg puts each week together by TSS (training stress score). Each ride has a purpose and objectives, and when I reach the TSS score for the day, I get off the bike. After doing a few races this way, I am confident in this approach. It has resulted in a lot less worrying for me about whether I’ve trained enough, and fewer junk miles.

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The friday social ride

Comparing my Performance Management Chart from last winter to this winter, there is a much larger cluster of rides at a much higher intensity during this past December and January. When you start ultra cycling, you can get a lot better (as I did at least initially) by riding a lot. After a certain point that becomes less beneficial on its own. Over the winter I did a lot of longer, harder intervals than I had done the year prior. Greg also introduced me to the Sunday race pace trainer ride. I had done something similar prior to Sebring in previous years, but Greg put it in my schedule weekly and made it much harder and a little longer. He is fun like that. My longest rides in the last 8 weeks before Sebring were just under 6 hours of nausea inducing work. I wanted to throw up for most of December, and all of January. It was really hard, but it worked. By the time February arrived, I was fast, healthy, and uninjured.

Kelsey Regan

Kelsey Regan. Photo by Eddie Rayford

While I was back home training in Iowa throughout the winter, I was following the adventure of my crew, Kelsey Regan, as she journeyed around the west and then headed south to meet me in Florida. You can read about her adventures on her blog, and follow @ridingultras on Twitter. Kelsey and I are about as different as two women can get. I am a middle-aged stay at home mom, and she is a young, free-spirited wanderer. But despite our differences we always get along great and have fun together. It was a great weekend, and logistically it all worked out perfectly. Her dad arrived in Florida in time to loan her his truck for the weekend, so I was able to cancel my rental car and save a few bucks. Travel went smoothly for me, which is so unusual it deserves mention. Flights were entirely on schedule and no bike fees from either airline coming and going. Good fortune smiled upon me. I flew with the Venge, and shipped a spare bike to Legacy Bikes in Sebring, which I had never done before, and we picked that up on our way into town.

Me and Mark Pipkin

Me and Mark Pipkin

A few weeks before the event, my friend Mark Pipkin from Florida contacted me about helping out with crewing. I met Mark and his family when I raced Sebring for the first time in 2014. They were set up on the miracle strip right next to me and my friends, and were a big help to me that year. This year, Mark rode the century ride in the morning, and helped Kelsey crew for me all of the afternoon and part of the night, giving Kelsey a break now and then, and covering the time she was absent to move the truck to pit road for the night. It made the day flow seamlessly in terms of support for me, and I wanted for nothing. Mark is a positive, upbeat guy which is always a good thing as the day gets long.

The pre-race dinner

The pre-race dinner

Sebring has historically been one of the most fun and competitive races I attend each year, and always draws a good mix of elite men and women. A fast ride at this event is a great way to kick off the season. With it being a loop course, there are no vehicle inspections or any of that type of procedure to suck up every pre-race moment. We tend to gather and socialize much more than at any other event. The Friday ride has become a thing now, and a group of us met for dinner, too. My friend Rob White had not really trained much for Sebring this year, and when asked why he would show up for an event that long and difficult without training for it, he replied that it was because of the people. The people are worth the trip, and I would have to agree.

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Ice Chain

As with previous races, Greg put my race plan together using the program Best Bike Split. It has been surprisingly accurate at predicting my performance for ultra distance cycling. If I stuck to the plan, my mileage would end up between 470-480 miles.

I made a few changes to the equipment I used this year. I rode the Venge with Zipp 808 front and rear wheels; the last two years I had ridden the Tarmac. Kyle had given me a set of CEP compression cycling socks that significantly decreased the discomfort in my feet. They were a definite win, and I’ll be using them in the future. I also used an Ice Chain from Ruster Sports. It is a lubricated chain designed to reduce friction and improve efficiency of the drive train. I am not certain yet how much benefit it provided to me, but I did enjoy how it performed on my bike, and I will use it again in the future.

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Pre-race hilarity. Photo by Beverly Newsholme

Two years and several ultra cycling races later, the start of a 24 hour event is still a very cool moment for me. As the group is heading down the track behind the follow car, I think about the fact that I am not stopping or resting until the same time the following day. My power and pace drop as the day goes on and I begin to fatigue, but the effort is always hard. I never let up for the entire 24 hours. I am using the same muscle groups and maintaining the same position for 24 hours without relief. It takes strong motivation, solid core strength, and smart pacing to maintain that level of effort consistently for the full 24 hours. I’ve gotten better at it each year, but for me the mental aspect is the most important. I have done more physically demanding events with much more climbing and hair raising technical descents. This race is distressing in its sameness; there are no descents to look forward to, and the tailwind only lasts a short distance until the next turn. If you rest, you lose miles. Only the relentless will succeed.

before the start with Rob White, Valerio Zamboni, and Erik Newsholme

before the start with Rob White, Valerio Zamboni, and Erik Newsholme. Photo courtesy of Valerio Zamboni

The race day forecast looked to be the best it has ever been in the years that I have been there. Upper 40s for the lows, and low 70s during the day, with 10-20mph winds. The start was uneventful, and I settled into my pace right away. I caught up with Rob on the track, and he shared a few motivational sentiments with me and chased a drafter off my wheel before I rode on ahead. I took the first few laps on the track out harder this year than last year, so I was behind the fastest draft pack, but well ahead of the next draft pack. It was a perfectly peaceful position that I would stay in for most of the big loop.

On the big loop

On the big loop. Photo by Eddie Rayford

Once I hit the open road, I noticed a difference between my heart rate, perceived effort, and the number on my power meter. My heart rate and effort were high, but my power was a good 10 watts lower than I would’ve expected. I had noticed a similar difference using that wheel at Texas Time Trials, but I hadn’t given it too much thought considering the dental issues I was having during that race. It’s a newer race wheel, and I don’t put training miles on it. I have since borrowed Greg’s PowerTap pedals and will make some comparisons for future races.

photo by Eddie Rayford

photo by Eddie Rayford

My speed was right on predicted pace into the headwind, so I ended up targeting a lower number and hoping my instincts were correct. Fortunately I do a pretty good mix of indoor and outdoor riding even in the winter, so I wasn’t terribly concerned that I was being a big baby about a little headwind in Florida. But you never know, I could morph into a big baby at any time. Losing your feel for the outdoors is one of the hazards of indoor training. The only way I would be able to tell that would be to see my position within the field at the turnaround relative to Marko and the front of the field. Fortunately, the place where I saw Marko last year came and went, and I was a pretty good distance closer to the turnaround this year before I saw the front of the pack heading back towards me. Alexander Hernandez, a friend and future crew person, was waiting at the turnaround with his usual good humor and smack talk. I always appreciate good natured harassment.

The miracle strip. Photo by Kelsey Regan

Heading in to cross the timing mat on the short loop. Photo by Kelsey Regan

The rest of the big loop passed without incident, until the very last stretch on Highway 98. I loathe that last section heading back to the track. It is always heavy traffic with a shoulder that comes and goes, so sometimes you are sharing the lane with fast moving highway traffic. The headwind was strongest here, and cars passing in the other direction created a pull that grabbed my front wheel. I lost some time due to the struggle, at least in that section. Fighting with that wheel in the wind can be terrifying in a high traffic situation. I was buzzed by cars several times. I made it back to the track two minutes later than predicted.

photo by Eddie Rayford

photo by Eddie Rayford

Kelsey had met me out on the big loop at mile 37 and 72, and she was waiting for me in our pit area near the timing mat as expected when I returned to start the short loops. We did quick bottle and nutrition exchanges and kept it moving all afternoon, and I ended up not stopping for more than a few seconds at a time until after 4:00 pm.

The traffic on the highway 98 section of the short loop was intermittently rotten as expected. My first few laps were nearly solo, until others began finishing the big loop. I could smell smoke on the first loop, and began to wheeze. I think they were doing a controlled burn in the nearby orchard, or someone was burning garbage. It was constantly annoying, my power dropped a little bit more, and my lap times were consistently one minute slower than I had anticipated. I held my splits pretty close to 33 minutes, with a few seconds here and there for bottle exchanges and random traffic. I got hung up at the intersection near the track four times this year, last year I sailed through every time without stopping. They were minor delays. The volunteers at the intersections were awesome as always.

A larger fire broke out in the afternoon, and firetrucks were called to the scene. After two laps of smoke, I signaled Kelsey to meet me at the bathroom and I made a pit stop. I was wheezing so badly that I could hear my breathing over the traffic on highway 98. I had her pass me my inhaler, just in case, although I never did use it. My last two short loop times after the pit stop were over 35 minutes, primarily because I couldn’t breathe even after the smoke cleared. I hate having asthma, I hate using that inhaler, and I don’t always make the best the best decisions about my health during a race. I probably should have used the inhaler instead of just resenting the weight of it in my pocket. The move to the track brought relief from the smoke, and I was able to pick my speed back up quite a bit. Kelsey and Mark kept me moving, and I only stopped briefly to pick up my Garmin charger, lights, nutrition, and warmer clothing. No resting.

The cheeseburger stop

The cheeseburger stop. Photo by Kelsey Regan

After a few hours, I started to slow a bit. I pulled in to get a fresh bottle and asked Mark if he would mix some whey powder into one of my next bottles since I was starving. As I was leaving, I made an offhand comment that I would really rather have a cheeseburger. Rubin Randel overheard the comment, and offered to go get me one. I’ve never eaten anything quite that substantial during a race and the idea made me nervous, but it is really hard to turn down a cheeseburger after riding your bike for over 16 hours. Rubin had been cheering me and all of the other racers on all day, even though I had never met him. His enthusiasm was inspiring.

On the track at night. Photo by Eddie Rayford

On the track at night. Photo by Eddie Rayford

Rubin brought me two cheeseburgers, and I ate one and saved the second one for later. I peeled the bun off it since I’m intolerant of wheat, and rode a slow lap while I ate it. At the time, it seemed like the best thing I had ever eaten. I had also taken a few Tylenol for back pain and a caffeine tablet, so those three things combined gave me enough energy to surge through faster laps for several hours. I started to lag again later, and the second cheeseburger was effective, but not nearly as amazing as the first. I probably will never do that during a race again though, and I’ll have to find a completely wheat free substitute in the future. I did the same thing after the race too, eating a couple burgers that had been peeled off the bun, and I ended up developing sores in the back of my mouth and throat, and probably all the way down my esophagus and into my gut. Revenge of the burger bun was a miserable three days post race. I’ve always been able to deal with a small amount of gluten contamination, but perhaps the stress of the racing situation made that unbearable, or I ingested more wheat than I thought. At any rate, I was fortunate to learn this lesson at a 24 hour race. I was long done before symptoms set in.

In previous years, my pace has slowly drifted downward as the night progressed, never getting any faster. My pacing plan was set up much the same way for this year, but I was able to hold my pace higher than predicted, and for longer during the night. Instead of staying slow when I slowed down, I was able to rally. It was pretty painful, but Kelsey and Mark were both positive and upbeat, and kept me moving. I rolled in for a quick bottle exchange, and Kelsey asked me if there was anything else I wanted. As I was rolling out, I said “I want to die,” and Kelsey said,  “Well, you’re doing great. Keep it up!” The entire pit area started laughing. Good times.

Rob's number, aka The Aero Knob. I cannot look at this picture without laughing.

Rob’s number, aka The Aero Knob. I cannot look at this picture without laughing.

I had some fun with many of the other athletes on the road and on the track at night. My Panache teammate Robert Baldino challenged me to a sprint to the timing mat on the track. Robert is 71 years old, and still recovering from being hit by a truck during RAAM four years ago. And I have not had a chance to talk with Valerio Zamboni outside of racing, but for some reason during this race we always tease each other. I always sing his name when I lap him, or give him a big grin. When he passed me as I was stopped on pit road, he called out, “Take your time!” so I wouldn’t lap him again. It’s the little interactions along the way that make the race fun. I saw Rob several times, and one time Rob, Erik and I came together briefly out on the track. It’s pitch black out there, and we all felt like hell, but we immediately started giving each other grief. Rob’s number on his bike was a source of much amusement… very similar to his serial killer Caution Bikes Ahead sign from Heart of the South. He is arts and crafts impaired.

At the awards ceremony with Kelsey and Erik. I'm wrapped in Kelsey's sleeping bag because I had the chills

At the awards ceremony with Kelsey and Erik. I’m wrapped in Kelsey’s sleeping bag because I had the chills

My Garmin had shut off during the night, so my mileage was inaccurate. I asked Kelsey to keep track of my total, and she let me know when I had passed 460 miles, my mileage total from last year. There was about an hour to go at that point, and enough time to  finish another 5 laps. I finished with 479.4 miles, and 6 minutes left on the clock. I was the first female finisher, and third overall. I believe my total stopped time was 20 minutes or less, but with my Garmin file missing some data that is only my best estimate. It was definitely less time off the bike than last year.

Marko Baloh 533 miles Erik Newsholme 491 miles me 479 miles

Marko Baloh 533 miles
Erik Newsholme 491 miles
me 479 miles

I am very happy with how my race went this year. I finally felt strong during the night, and my pace didn’t degrade nearly as badly as it had in previous years. I feel stronger than I did last year, and I am in a good position going forward with training for Race Across the West. Staying injury free will be crucial. That has always been a struggle for me.

Immediately following the awards ceremony, Erik, Kelsey and I began packing my bikes and equipment. Erik was so tired, as was Kelsey, and they were real troopers. Kelsey and I got everything packed, slept for about 90 minutes, and then she drove me to the Fort Myers airport for my 6:00 pm flight. I made it back to Des Moines by midnight. I was so tired, I walked in the door and fell right on to the couch. I didn’t even make it upstairs to my bed.

Tired Erik and me. Note our red eyes from the smoke

Tired Erik and me. Note our red eyes from the smoke. Photo by Beverly Newsholme

I’ve had a few days of catching up on sleep, but now will be back to more disciplined training, and monitoring what I eat, and what I weigh, and planning…. always planning. “See you in Oceanside” are words that carry a weight and meaning all of their own. You can’t say it without a little tug at your emotions, whether you are going to crew, or going to race. Whether you will be there for Race Across America, or Race Across the West, I look forward to seeing you in Oceanside in June.

Thank you Kelsey Regan and Mark Pipkin for crewing me to another course record. You both were fantastic, organized, efficient and fun. I can’t thank you enough for taking care of me, and taking the time to help. I look forward to many more adventures with the both of you!

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Sebring 24 hour Non Drafting RAAM qualifier 2014

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I hardly know where to begin, I’m so overwhelmed by my experience. I had never even heard of this event until mid-December when our family schedule necessitated some big changes to my planned events. Several very cool opportunities came up for our kids, so two big events that I had planned on I was no longer going to make it to, and then the Death Valley Double Century was cancelled. Just like that, I had a gaping hole in my event schedule that I needed to fill. I was very interested in working out any issues that I might have with riding thru the night prior to Trans Iowa, so a 24 hour time trial in the winter actually sounded like a good idea, and a great learning experience. Such is the strange world I am living in these days! A quick google search turned up Bike Sebring. The timing was decent; I still had seven weeks to get ready and theoretically would have enough time to recover after and not interfere with my Trans Iowa prep. It all happened so fast, one minute I’m asking George Vargas if he thinks this would be a good event for me, and the next thing I knew I’d been introduced to and adopted by Rev Endurance Cycling team mate Rob White who filled me in on all of the race details and logistics, and had me set up with his friend Brian Arnold to crew for us both during the night. They also planned to bring the equipment that I would need but couldn’t carry on the plane. It just couldn’t have worked out any better than that.

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My awesome view for 15-20 hours a week

I didn’t have long chunks of training time available this winter, mainly 3-4 hour blocks of time either before the kids went to school, or just after they left for school. So most of my training rides started at 4am, and although I managed to get in a sufficient volume of cycling, any training rides over four hours were broken into two or three separate rides with an hour or more in between. That’s probably not ideal training for a 24 hour event, but it did allow me to ride at a higher wattage  and was challenging in it’s own way. I think it got the job done. On the rare day it got near 30, I rode outside on my cross bike. I trained with a power tap on a trainer or rollers, and used modified workouts from triathlon training plans, or from the book Training and Racing With a Power Meter, by Allen & Coggan. Really anything that I found interesting and was motivated to do. My trainer was set up in the unfinished corner of our basement near the hot water heater, so it was essentially just me, the power tap, and music. My husband plays guitar, so after the last few years of listening to him practice I’ve gotten in the habit of mentally pulling apart the different guitar parts and trying to hear just that one section of the song. I listened to the same albums and the same songs for each interval set, over, and over, and over… That’s how I kept myself entertained. I put a few pictures and race numbers up on the wall, and a white board next to me for my workouts. It’s not a plush set up, but narrowing down the distractions really helped me to focus on cycling, instead of trying to count the minutes until I could quit. Once the end of January was near, my resolve faded… I hope none of my friends that received my texts really worried about me having a fork in my eye 🙂

I stopped at the Manatee sanctuary just outside of Fort Myers on my way in. Saw a few real manatees in addition to this cute guy

I stopped at the Manatee sanctuary just outside of Fort Myers on my way in. Saw a few real manatees in addition to this cute guy

I got into Sebring late Thursday, built my bike, and bought the groceries and water that I would need for race day. Somehow I managed to remember my torque wrench, but forgot arm warmers! Rob immediately replied to my text and said that I could use his. He and Brian were on the spot with anything I needed, all weekend long. I seriously wanted to ask them if they had organic, MSG free alligator jerky just to see if they could put together a plan to get that for me 😉 They were truly amazing!

Cassie Schumacher and crew, Chris Hopkinson, Marko Baloh. Anthony Parsells, me, Rob, and Brian barely in the pic

Cassie Schumacher and crew, Chris Hopkinson, Marko Baloh. Anthony Parsells, me, Rob, and Brian barely in the pic

Friday morning I drove the 11 mile short loop of the course, then met Rob and Brian for the first time. We were supposed to meet to ride with his friends, but he neglected to tell me his friends were all legendary RAAM athletes… My jaw about dropped when they all started getting out of their cars. After introducing me, Rob quietly asked me if I knew ‘who they were’…Um, YEAH. I just tried to keep my mouth shut and not say anything stupid, although I’m not certain I was entirely successful. It was just a very cool experience, it was awesome to ride with them, take in all of the helpful information they shared, have dinner with them, and then share the race course with them. Totally amazing experience, and way more than I expected when I entered this race.

Greg’s Sebring projection chart with his initial numbers

A few weeks prior to Sebring, my friend Greg Grandgeorge had sent me an excel spread sheet where I could plug in my planned wattage and planned rest stops over the 24 hour period to get an idea of how many miles I might accomplish. It’s awesome to have geeky friends that will do this type of stuff for you! He has seen a number of my power files, and calculated the ratio for how my watts translate into mph. It also calculated TSS, so I could see how much stress I was going to be putting on my body over the course of 24 hours. I really had no idea what TSS I could handle before I cracked, but I knew that my Ironman TSS had been in the 900 range for an 11 hour event, so spreading more stress over 24 hours might be ok. It’s just guesswork really, since this was my first 24 hour race.

I changed the ratio to 9.1, a number grabbed from a more efficient ride and cut back on the break time

I changed the ratio to 9.1, a number grabbed from a more efficient ride, and increased the power for the first 12 hours

  I had to laugh, because when he originally sent me the sheet he had plugged in 10 minute breaks every three hours. 10 minutes?! GREG, IT’S A RACE!!! You don’t plan to stop that long if you can help it 🙂 I played with the chart a bit, left some breaks in there, and came up with a few different plans based on how the weather might be over the course of the day. If the winds were high, I strongly favored riding at higher wattage on the road and cranking out as many short loops as I could before hitting the track for the night. Give the constant turns, rough surface, and 1950’s pavement on parts of the race track, I doubted my ability to ride that well on the track in the dark. I knew the winds would die down at night, hopefully making it easier to maintain speed at a really low wattage. My goal was to get in 300 miles by midnight, then just hang on til sunrise. I wanted to RAAM qualify, and I was going to ride however hard I needed to in order to make that happen… and hopefully not fall to pieces before dawn.

Rob and I at the start. Brian started in the back

Rob and I at the start. Brian started in the back

Race day forecast looked good, but way windier than originally predicted with 20 mph winds gusting to over 30mph. The predicted high was low 70’s with lows in the mid 40’s (HAH! weatherman wrong again!). I had packed winter gear that would normally get me through temps as low as the 30’s for hours, so I wasn’t worried at all about being too cold at night. Ah, blissful ignorance! Rob had brought a cooler for me, so I had twelve bottles premixed and ready to pick up as I needed once I transitioned to the short loop. Brian was riding the 12 hour, and then planned to begin crewing for us once he was done. Rob and I met up at the start line in the cold, dark morning. He pushed us up to the front of the start area, which was totally cool. I had my headlight on my bike, and just planned to leave it mounted the entire 24 hours, Rob planned to pick his up later. I was glad that I had it, because the men took off like this was a one hour race and I promptly was spit out the back of the front of the pack. It was still pretty dark, so it was nice to be able to see the potholes and bad pavement before I ran myself into them. The track surface is not great, but honestly that’s part of the charm of this race and it’ll be a sad day when they finally need to replace the pavement. Some people deal well with things like that, some people are driven crazy by repetitively hitting the same bumps for hours on end. It bothered me much less than I thought it would.

Screen shot 2014-02-20 at 5.42.24 AMThe big loop was very easy to navigate, and very well marked. It was sunny and very windy, but not too hot and I wasn’t staring at a hot water heater so all felt right with the world. Brian went by me in a group of drafters a few hours into the ride. It was nice to see him having so much fun. I was averaging 190ish watts and over 20mph by that point, and they just flew by me. I had packed powder to mix bottles at the turn around, but I decided on course that I wasn’t stopping until after the 100 mile loop. It sounds a little stupid in hindsight, but I did the first 100 miles on just the 3 bottles of fluid I had on my bike. If it had been just a few degrees warmer earlier in the ride, I would have stopped for fluids.

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Early on the big loop. I’m wearing Rob’s arm warmers. The pink monkey gloves are mine 🙂

The first 100 miles went by in under 5 hours. I had one scary moment with my front wheel when it was caught by a cross wind gust. It literally blew 45 degrees off to the left, then bounced equally as far over to the right. It did that four times, back and forth before I got it under control. I am just amazed that I did not dump my bike, and it was only by the grace of God that I didn’t. I’ve ridden those wheels in all kinds of crazy wind, and that was my first close call with wrecking. The wind gusts caught my front wheel many times over the day, but never caught me off guard again.

After finishing the big loop, I picked up 3 more bottles and food for another 100 miles and hit the short loop. Highway 98 was by far the worst stretch with the headwind and traffic. It seemed I always passed the most people on that stretch, and venturing out into the traffic to pass was a little nerve wracking. No real issues with the cars though, they were considerate all day. There was a little diner on the right hand side of the road just before the turn off 98, so that was my reminder to eat something every lap. I ended up drinking a bottle an hour by this point, and Brian had taken a break during his 12 hour ride to pass me what I needed. When he went back out to ride more, the Pipkin family that was set up next to us in the JPR Mobile Services trailer handed me stuff as I needed it. It was all very efficient, and I really can’t thank them enough for jumping in to help. To keep myself entertained and celebrate every loop, I blew the timing guy a kiss every lap. I hope I wasn’t driving him crazy, but being just a little silly at the turn around helped me to blow off stress and get back into focus for the next loop.

ECR_8161-(ZF-8716-96709-1-004)My wattage was a little lower on the short loop due to the downhill and tailwind sections, and my speed was fairly consistent despite the nasty headwind section. I saw 200 miles on the garmin just past 9.5 hours and felt good, ‘good’ being relative to being on a bike for almost 10 hours. As I was riding along, I thought of all of the cool things people had said to me prior to this race and how many people were praying for me. My friend Katherine Roccasecca had posted “kill it. just kill it.” on my facebook wall the day before… I probably repeated that in my head hundreds of times during the race. Rob had started me listening to Hatebreed back in early January, and whenever I started drifting out of race mode I repeated the refrain from Boundless (Time to Murder It), or Own Your World over and over.

Brian told me I was in third overall at my second pit just after 200 miles, and I just had to laugh. I’ve seen a good amount of garbage on facebook and twitter this winter about how training on a trainer is ‘fake’ riding and ineffective, and real men ride rollers or outside no matter the weather… I had read those words and felt doubt in my training but now I can honestly say what a load of crap! A trainer is just a tool, you only need to use it right to get results. I would have loved to ride outside more this winter, but all of that indoor riding was certainly not ‘fake’ or ‘mindless spinning’.

I had time for a few more short loops before hitting the track for the night, but I was growing mentally weary of the short loop, and the relentless wind. I told Brian I was ready to get off that merry go round and get on the other one. I’m glad I got in those last few laps though because I got lapped again by Marko Baloh on his way to crushing the 12 hour race. We exchanged a few words as he went by…. actually I think he talked and I just nodded like a moron 🙂 Anyway, it picked me up a little as I hadn’t been feeling very good in that particular section. He is really an amazing cyclist to watch, and I forgot all about not feeling good.

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Having fun on the track at night

Transitioning to the track went very smoothly. The first few laps were light, then the sun set and the temperature dropped rapidly. It was pitch black outside of pit road, but strips of red tail lights laid out on the pavement lit the route around the track, otherwise it would have been easy to ride off into the wall. After a few loops, I made a longer stop to air up my tires (I had latex race tubes that bleed air quickly) and transition to winter gear. I wore a smart wool base layer, long sleeve jersey, windproof coat, full finger gloves with liners, face mask, toe covers, heavy wool socks… I thought I was dressed for your average Iowa training day in the polar vortex. I later stopped for leg warmers, thermacare heat wraps, and hand and foot warmers. My garmin recorded low temps in the 40’s for most of the dark hours, then dipping into the 30’s before dawn. That’s cold!

Fries, music, friends, and biking: all things that make me happy!

Fries, music, friends, and biking: all things that make me happy!

The night actually went very quickly. It was way more fun than I anticipated, and not at all boring. The Pipkin family, the same folks that were set up near Brian to crew during the day were also nearby all night, and jumped in to help me when Brian was gone. I really can’t thank them enough, their generosity and enthusiasm over the entire race was exceptional. Their daughter literally gave me the soup she had been eating, because I pulled up and needed something when Brian was gone. He took my rental car and came back with coffee, chocolate, and French fries. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see cold fries in my life. I stuffed the fries into my jersey, Brian poured the coffee into a water bottle, and off I went. When I got to the far side of the track where it was dark and lonely, I shouted “I’ve got french fries!” What a strangely good time this event turned out to be. The full moon and clear, starry sky was amazing. The crowd on pit road was small, but people cheered every time I went through pit road. I really appreciated that!

rolling out of pit road, looking tired. That's Brian behind me, keeping things together

rolling out of pit road, looking tired. That’s Brian behind me, keeping things together

I hit 300 miles well before my midnight goal, and was fairly consistent with pacing and nutrition. I knew my power had dropped off dramatically, but I felt ‘ok’ and couldn’t see my Garmin in the dark to see how bad it was. I was reluctant to drain the battery by lighting up the screen. I started to have some knee pain that really had me worried about making it until dawn, but then Rob pointed out that I had not yet put on my leg warmers. That seemed to help. This is why Rob is ready for RAW and RAAM, and I am not even close. He kept his brain together the entire race, while my IQ got progressively lower, and my decision making ability went to pieces. By 350 miles, it was all bad. I started to get really cold, and completely stopped eating and drinking. Brian kept asking me if I needed anything, and I just kept telling him no. Your crew can’t help you if you don’t let them! I started hallucinating, and saw translucent cats running next to bikes. I saw unrecognizable things moving in the pitch black areas of the track. The Michelin Man that was lit up on the sign above the timing mat was seriously creeping me out. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

This is a day shot of the sign we rode under that I pulled off google. Seriously, at night he looked scary...

This is a day shot of the sign we rode under that I pulled off google. Seriously, at night he looked scary…

I hung on til 400 miles, and did a few more laps to set a new record. I was so cold and stupid by that point I was starting to have trouble steering my bike and I knew it was time to stop and regroup. I hadn’t had anything more than a few sips of coke for two hours. If you’d asked me my middle name, I would’ve had to stop and think for a few minutes. Brian put me in the truck to warm me up. I told him to give me 20 minutes and get me back out there. I was in a pretty bad way, and I just could not reconcile the fact that my race was about to end with me as a shivering, stupid, hypothermic mess and quitting before dawn. Brian handed me the Ipad and I remember George trying to give me a pep talk but I was not processing much at that point. It can’t end this way. It’s  not going to end this way. I didn’t spend 20 hours a week on a trainer to quit. Will this happen to me at Trans Iowa too? I knew if I didn’t get myself back out there and finish the last 60 minutes it was going to haunt me.

Creepy….

I asked Brian if he had a sweatshirt, and he literally pulled off the one he was wearing plus his thermal gloves. I put it on over my other layers and went back to my bike. There was one hour left, and I told Brian I would do two laps. I did the first lap super slow to minimize the wind chill, but then people started to pass me that hadn’t passed me the entire day. I found that very irritating, which made me laugh. My head was back in the race! I did the next lap faster, avoided looking at the scary Michelin Man, then had time for two more laps before the official finish at 6:30am. I FINISHED. The sun was just starting to glow on the horizon and it was so beautiful to see.

One of my last laps in Brian's sweatshirt

One of my last laps in Brian’s sweatshirt

I must have stopped my garmin at some point because it was off and Rob had to tell me my total mileage. Tears came to my eyes when he told me 433.8. First woman overall, 3rd overall RAAM 24 hr, and a new course record. I’m just so happy I stuck it out, that is a really solid day. I knew I was taking a chance by riding harder on the front 12 hours, and it was really coming apart pretty badly by the end, but I accomplished my goal and then some so I’m going to say it was worth it. Age comes to us all, and at 42 I feel like my time to push my limits is now. I’d rather take chances and leave it all out there.

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My power over 24 hours

speed and elevation profile

speed and elevation profile

My normalized power for 24 hours was 164, TSS 932, IF .643. I burned 12,510 KJ. My Normalized power for the first 100 miles was 191, then got progressively lower as the day went on. My speed stayed near 20 mph for the first 200 miles, then thanks to the wind dying down a little, held near 18 mph on the track for another 100 miles before it got ugly. I rode in aero most of the day and some of the night, which helped me maintain speed for less power. I also came into this race reasonably light, which always pays off in terms of speed. I had great people, selflessly giving me whatever I needed. There you have it 🙂

A lot of hard work went into preparing for this, and anyone that knows me knows that’s something of an understatement. I am so totally overwhelmed with gratitude to Rob White and Brian Arnold for taking care of me this weekend, and ensuring that my race ran like a well oiled machine. With their help, I was able to have the race that I was capable of, and that is an absolutely priceless gift. I am so very blessed to have met them, and honored to have them as friends. I am forever in their debt.

Rob and I at the finish. I'm all bundled up in Brian's sweatshirt

Rob and I at the finish. I’m all bundled up in Brian’s sweatshirt

Thanks to the race directors for putting on such a great event. They really have this race dialed in, the transitions between loops were smooth, and I had way more fun than I ever imagined I would riding in circles. My apologies to the timing guy for annoying him… Thanks for putting up with my nonsense.

George Vargas! Thanks for supporting my dream! Don’t kill me at your training camp. And next time you want me to break a record, please tell me that while I’m training…. The week before was a little late 😉

Kyle Robinson and Kyles bikes: thanks once again for getting my bike ready to roll. Every race I bring it in to you, and every race you get it dialed in exactly the way I want it. Thanks for your patience with me, and your enthusiasm for my kooky long races.

Greg Grandgeorge: Your Sebring projection sheet was exactly what I needed at the exact moment I needed it, and it gave me the confidence to believe in my training. It’s always good to start a 24 hour event with confidence, so thank you!

I didn’t tell a lot of people that I was doing this race, but my friends that knew were over the top supportive. Katherine Roccasecca, Liz Bryant, and Steve Fuller: thanks for breaking up my solo monotony and keeping me company on a few trainer rides. To my support crew at home, there are far too many people to name here, and I am so very blessed to have you. You all sent me messages before and during the race, and I saw those when I was weak and shivering in the truck. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting me, making me laugh, and giving me the strength to get back on my bike.

ECR_9158-(ZF-8716-96709-1-006)What’s next? Yes, I’ve qualified for RAAM, but no, I’m not anywhere near ready to consider an event of that magnitude. The other Sebring winners looked like they could have a meal and get back on their bikes… My eyes were swollen shut, I was in great pain and could barely walk straight. Recovery has been difficult, and ironically I have been so swollen that I resemble the Michelin Man that haunted me during the race. I need to get back on my bike ASAP  and hit the gravel to prepare for Trans Iowa in April. I’ll need to be massively prepared for that race. It’s sure to be a bad weather year! I need to work out my issues with cold, hypothermia, and nutrition, and make sure I have a reasonable plan in place. Poor decision making at any point in that race will lead to a DNF, it’s just that hard. Beyond that, I’ve got a great list of events to prepare for, and I’m very excited about my season. My kids and husband all have cool stuff going on this year as well, so hopefully we can all stay healthy and enjoy the adventure.

Thanks for reading!