«After reading about the history and heroes of RAAM (see The Race Across America by Michael Shermer, available through the RAAM office) perhaps you ...»
Everything You Always Wanted To Know About How To Do RAAM
Edited by Michael Shermer
© UltraMarathon Cycling Assoc., Inc. All rights reserved
After reading about the history and heroes of RAAM (see The Race Across America by Michael
Shermer, available through the RAAM office) perhaps you have dreams (or nightmares) about
doing the race yourself? Do not think of it as a pipe dream that is ultimately unattainable. If there
is one thing to learn from the history of this event it is not for the elite athlete alone. Nor is it for the rich rider. The Race Across America has been done by professional and amateur, rich and poor alike. Both have succeeded and both have failed. Ultimately your performance in the racewin, lose, finish or not, depends on what you've got inside, and little else. In addition to reading
this short article there are four things you can do to help prepare for RAAM:
1. Read the Race Across America book. Although more of a historical narrative in its primary chapters, it is really a how-to do the race in telling the stories of what actually happened on the highways across America. (Book available from RAAM Office)
2. Watch RAAM videos from previous years to SEE how it was done. The following years are available: 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, and 1996 (by January, 1997).
3. Join the Ultra-Marathon Cycling Association and subscribe to ULTRA Cycling magazine, a quarterly publication that has articles on training, nutrition, equipment, physiology and psychology, UMCA record updates, RAAM updates and results, and much, much more. This is the way to plug into the sport.
4. Talk to previous RAAM riders and pick their brains on how to do it.
Preparation Preparing for an ultra-marathon ride is more like preparing for an expedition to the top of Mt Everest than it is a bike race. This is because the RAAM is more like an adventure than it is an athletic contest. Although the supplies are different, the "gotta be ready for anything" attitude is of paramount importance. Because it is a nonstop event, you've got to have your supplies with you to deal with the contingencies and vagaries of the race. There is one common element in all of the past RAAM winners-professional and amateur, rich and poor-they all paid meticulous attention to every detail from their training down to the spokes on their bike. The more prepared you are for the unexpected the better you will do.
The objective in RAAM is to pedal your bicycle across America as fast as possible. Although this sounds like a simple concept, the variables involved are extensive. For example, spoke patterns on a wheel might not make a difference on a typical training ride, but magnify the effect of 28 versus 32 spokes over 3,000 miles and the difference is measurable. Add up all the seemingly insignificant advantages and they amount to considerably faster average speeds. This concept was best demonstrated by Pete Penseyres' 1986 RAAM victory that produced the all time fastest average of 15.4 mph. It seemed that every part on his bike, every pedal of the crank, every bite or drink of food was calculated. The scientific approach to ultra-marathon cycling arrived long ago. The days of riding 'til you drop are long gone.
Cost One of the most common concerns that would-be RAAM racers have is the cost of the event. I once received a letter from a rider in Nebraska who expressed his "feeling that only the elite, high tech person complete with a staff of nutritionist, doctors, 30-person support teams in a $50,000 support vehicle can hope to compete in RAAM." His opinion is typical, when in fact the truth is just the opposite. Almost no one has ever done RAAM with such an arrangement of equipment, people, and money. As we shall see, most do RAAM on the slimmest of budgets, and do quite well. How do they do it?
What the Rider Needs Since the answer is not an absolute, but rather a variable depending upon how elaborate you wish to travel, I will attempt to outline the "bare bones" approach. This is also referred to as the "worst case analysis." Once the worst case is known, anything you add becomes a step up. Before delving into budgets and numbers, I must point out some important facts. Riders have often commented (myself included) that their support crews are vital in the preparation process for RAAM. It is true, they are. However, never think for a moment that a crew is more important than physical conditioning. If you don't have the lung, leg, and will power to survive the race, a $25,000 support crew becomes an expensive white elephant. In observing the past RAAM stars, I get the feeling they would still be leading or close to the front of the race without elaborate support crews or vehicles. They are top finishers because they are top athletes. I have watched Shelby Hayden-Clifton, Franz Spilauer, and Michael Trail turn in top finishing performances with the "bare bones" crew approach. They did not have lavish matching T-shirts or shiny new
vehicles. Let's look at what a rider needs during RAAM, in general order of importance:
1. Navigation: Guidance through busy areas.
2. Food and drink: Nourishment while on the bike.
3. Mechanical assistance: Repair skills and quick tire and bike exchanges.
4. Medical assistance: Massage, first aid for saddle sores, blisters, and other ailments, and creativity by the medical person to solve the medical contingencies.
5. Sleeping arrangements: Either in a motorhome, van, hotel room, or the side of the road.
Regardless of the location of the sleeping place, the environment should be quiet, comfortable, warm or cool (depending upon the temperature), and roomy enough for typical tossing and tuming during normal sleep.
6. A place to wash and a place to respond to Mother Nature's calls. (You can use gas stations and corn fields if you do not have a motorhome. It has been done many times.)
7. Change of clothing during the ride: Gloves for the cold, arm and leg warmers at the top of hills. The rider should not have to carry extra clothing.
8. Information: Rider split times, location of the competition, average speed, and advice to augment the rider's efficiency (though not critical since the rider's own position will not change knowing another rider's position).
9. Motivation: If necessary. This is more common among rookie riders. Veteran riders often have to motivate their crews.
What the Crew Needs Now that we know what the rider needs, how about the crew's needs? The welfare of the crew is essential or else the rider will not have an efficient crew, which can cause untold problems such as getting lost, tension and fighting among crew members, not providing a positive environment
for the rider, etc. Crew needs include:
1. A place to comfortably sleep during the day or night. Just like the rider, quality sleep for the crew members is essential. The more comfortable the environment, the deeper the sleep, the more rested the person, the more efficient he or she becomes.
2. Food, drink and nourishment throughout the trip. Wash and restroom facilities.
3. A comfortable and safe place to sit while travelling in a vehicle.
4. A place for a bicycle mechanic to make necessary adjustments and repairs.
5. A place to store all the supplies needed during the ride.
6. Communication with crew members in other vehicles.
7. A place to conduct first aid and medical procedures.
8. A place to wash clothes (crew and rider's clothes).
The Bare Bones Budget Now that we know what everyone needs let's put together a bare bones operation. I will not attempt to attach dollar figures to some of these items because they will vary according to the
area of the country and a rider's personal resources. Basic requirements include:
1. Pace vehicle: a mini-van (or full-size van with windows all the way around), stationwagon, or car, acting as the primary pace vehicle during the day and night. It must be in good working order and fully capable of crossing America without any broken hoses, belts, and other mechanical needs. New vans that have gone through a break-in period have proven very reliable. Cost of this van depends upon whether a rider acquires one via personal ownership, friends, sponsors, donations, or rental. Resourceful cyclists can usually get one donated. Rentals can range $500 to $1000, depending on the drop off fee or whether you return it.
2. Bike rack for the pace vehicle, usually attainable at no cost from sponsors. The rack should be able to carry three bikes and several wheels.
3. Bicycle equipment: Bikes, wheels, tires, glue for sew-ups, cables, nuts, washers, rings, cogs, bolts, freewheels, water bottles, pumps, spokes, lubricants, cleaners, rags, work stand, tarp, hand soap, tools, chains, and more. Most bike shops have these handy. The best thing to do is get a bike shop sponsorship and have them go along and bring their tools and supplies. Basically, be prepared to deal with any problems with the bike. These supplies must be condensed in as small a tool box as possible, but easily accessible. The mechanic should be clean, organized, and willing to instruct other members of the crew on how to change a wheel and make other minor adjustments. If a mechanic is sleeping during a minor breakdown, the mechanic should not have to be awakened. The bike mechanic selected for the job should be able to provide the tools. If a rider ends up purchasing some equipment, at least try to pay dealer cost prices. The bicycle industry is good about providing equipment to RAAM racers (but not so good about money). The more experienced and proven you are, the more success you will have in acquiring equipment.
4. Bicycle clothing: At least five pairs of shorts and jerseys, socks, extra shoes, jackets, rain gear, warm weather gear. These items should all be acquired free from sponsors or at dealer cost.
5. Storage compartments in the pace van. I have seen some homemade state-of-the-art storage bins in various pace vans that are perfect for RAAM. Each bin is labeled and contains a specific item. When the rider wants arm warmers, anyone on the crew knows exactly where to look. All dirty dothes are appropriately stored, and pails, soaps, clothes pins are available for doing laundry on the move. The key is space conservation. A pace van is like the Space Shuttle. Much thought must go into storage. These are relatively inexpensive items that you can pick up at a Home Depot. Free or $50.00.
6. Navigation equipment: Pencils, pens, calculators, maps, flash lights, extra batteries, clip boards, and more. The person riding "shot gun" should be the navigator. These costs are minimal. Most people already have these supplies. Free or $50.00 total.
7. Tools and miscellaneous supplies for the van: Pliers, screw drivers, open and closed-end wrenches, socket tools, oil filter tool, gasoline siphoner, jumper cables, stop-leak for minor tire punctures, a working tire jack and tire iron, spare tire, list of authorized dealers for your vehicle, tarp for working in the rain, extra hoses that could typically break (consult with a dealer), motor oil and other fluids. Since someone on the crew will likely have each of the necessary tools, the only expense would be extra hoses, stop leak, oil and fluids. Allocate $100.00 for these items.
8. Communication equipment: CB radio, PA system to talk to the rider and perhaps a twoway "walkie talkie" with the rider. If you cannot borrow a radio, or antennae, buy one.
Allocate $200.00 for a communication system.
9. Lighting system for the pace vehicle: Emergency amber-colored lights visible to the rear;
rear slow moving triangle; extra headlights; control panel. This setup can be low budget or very elaborate. The extra rear amber lights can be rigged up for about $20.00. Extra headlights, which are nice but not essential could cost about $30.00 to $150.00. For the purpose of this budget, let's allot $100.00 for lighting. It seems that almost everyone has a friend who is an electrical whiz. Take advantage.
10. Food for the rider: Since the liquid approach seems to be the most efficient way to "eat," the rider's food is pretty cut and dry. Either obtain product at cost from a sponsor or at no cost. If a rider consumes 8,000 calories per day (20 packets of Spiz) for 10 days at $2.50/pack, the total is $500.00. If the rider eats normal food, allotting $500.00 is more than enough.
11. Food for the support crew members. Using six crew members, counting travel time to the start and home from the finish, allotting 16 days for the total RAAM commitment, you can, on an average, feed a person for $15.00 per day. The grand total is $1,440.00. Round it up to $1,500.00. Actually, that's inflated. You could probably cut that cost considerably by shopping at markets and storing food in coolers and eating sandwiches. If you are on a tight budget, the crew should make the culinary sacrifice.
12. Sleeping arrangements for the crew and rider during RAAM: If you can afford it you can rent one motel room per night. There will be nights when a room will not be available due to distance problems or logistics. In these cases, the crew will have to make do with sleeping in a sleeping bag on a mat or simply stretching out in a vehicle. Space must be made in the van if the rider needs to rest or sleep. Many, if not most support teams do without hotel rooms for the entire trip. So here is a good way to save money. You might be interested to know that the Race Director almost never gets a room either.
13. Regarding motorhomes: Some RAAM riders wouldn't use an RV, cost not being the factor. Other riders like using one.It's a matter of personal preference and budget. The
pros and cons of an RV are as follows:
a. Pros: Immediate and fast service, e.g., cooking, shower, sleep, rest, change of clothes, warm-up from the cold nights, toilet facilities, comfort for crew members.
b. Cons: More likely to break down than a car or van, added expense and liability, not easy for everyone to drive, park, turn around in parking lots, etc.