Another year of Race Across America is in the books, which means we are up next! June 2018, the team will be heading to Oceanside to take on the world’s toughest bike race. My team and I continue to discuss final objectives and strategy, but make no mistake, our plan is to put it all on the line and put forth an incredibly special and amazing effort.
Over the past few months, I have been asked countless times – Why Race Across America?
Well, to quote the organizer of the Barkley Marathons, “If you’re going to face a real challenge it has to be a real challenge. You can’t accomplish anything without the possibility of failure.”
I know what you’re thinking – just another guy with an item on his bucket list to cross off. Yeah, I’ve been hearing that a lot lately and it’s time to clear the air. I have zero intention of showing up for a race to simply put in an effort just to cross the line. Although, in cases such as this, that would be a feat in itself. My team and I are capable of delivering much more. Like any other team that is entering this race, our goal is to make a difference, both in/out of the race and we are committed to doing just that. I won’t make any bold claims or predictions, but the team is committed to pushing the boundaries in order to exceed all of our expectations.
For me 2017, was mixed with bitter sweet emotions as I wanted to be on this year’ starting line, but recognize I am not ready. I tried to play it down and not pay too close attention, but it’s hard to not sneak a peek from time to time. It’s over now, so here are the highlights for this year’s RAAM event
Simply put, the Christoph Strasser is amazing! Not just for the fact that he has captured the title four (4) times now, but how easy he makes it look.
Although he did not break the record, that he set, the performance is still amazing. Chapeau Christoph to another amazing RAAM event and I hope to meet you in person at RAAM 2018. As you can see, Christoph gets a lot of fanfare from his home country, which I am not expecting during my participation of this event. Then again, perhaps I will have to win it four (4) times before I can expect to be front page news.
2017 also brought along a change in the guard, as Sarah Cooper took the title this year. It has been dominated by Seana Hogan, who has captured the title seven (7) times. Always nice to see titles transferring hands, but you always hate to see a fellow competitor go down and not able to finish the event. Perhaps in 2018, we will see a showdown between these two top competitors or maybe we will see some new participants step in/up to do the battle. In either case, the women’s field is shaping up nicely and welcomes all challengers.
If you feel I am missing some Canadian content for the 2017 RAAM race, well you would wrong. In fact, a Canadian record was broken this year by Team True Patriot Love, by completing the 3070 mile course in 5 days, 17 hours and 56 minutes. Congratulations to the team for taking on this incredible challenge and joining the record books. You can learn more about Team TPL by visiting, http://www.teamtpl.com/.
Well, that wraps up another year of RAAM, but stay tuned for more information as my team and prepare for this amazing adventure in taking on all world competitors to capture the RAAM title.
As preparations and training continue, it’s important to keep everyone game ready. A couple of weeks ago, the team and I set out on a Saturday night to complete some RAAM simulations. We were all pleased with our performance, but sometimes being game ready means mixing in a little competition. So, I decided that I wanted to participate in the 2017 Hairshirt TNT, which is a local classic and provides participants of all caliber the chance to engage and enjoy the company of fellow cyclists.
Hairshirt TNT, is where Century Racing meets Endurance Racing. Like many of my competitors, I wanted to test myself and ensure that my training is going well and demonstrating benefits. In 2015, I competed in this event for the first time and sought advice from a fellow BCC’r and top finisher of this event. Fantastic advice for 2015, but I found myself in a different situation this year. First off, I have proven to myself that I can finish 322km (and longer distances ) in a solo manner. I have demonstrated this through training and other key events, such as the Ohio Challenge. Secondly, they group dynamics, of the Hairshirt TNT participants, presented somewhat of a dilemma for me.
You see, in many instances having a large group of cyclists can provide huge benefits. You share the workload, energy, opportunity to make new friends and develop alliances that can be very useful on the turn back to Toronto from Niagara. However, a large group also has its disadvantages, such as the accelerations (burn matches) and having to follow the demands and needs of the group. In short, you need to stick with the group, take your turn at the front and maintain the pace of the group (slow or fast). The Hairshirt is also considered a social event, which means in most cases you meet a variety of cyclists and are you unaware of their style, strength and skills. People train for all kinds of races and the different styles in racing require you to train differently. There is no ‘one-way’ to train for all events, it can be extremely specialized.
In 2015, my goal was pretty simple in just trying to complete the distance – 322km was a lofty target, but two years later, my thoughts are on Race Across America (RAAM)! This year, I wanted to apply my training and knowledge, based on my work to date with Pete. It was fairly straightforward and simple; Stay within our HR range, maintain a consistent pace and stay on the bike for as many hours as I can.
The morning of Hairshirt TNT is pretty easy going, we get to start line (picture above) and everybody is set to start. I set myself in the second group to start with, knowing that I am absolutely prepared to drop behind any time. I decide to back off within 10km and go solo, while others try to latch on to the back of the group. As I continue along my path, the third group comes along and picks me up for a bit and I am good to hold pace because my HR is at Zone 1 or 2, at most. I know riding with this group will not last for long because the core is made up with teams mixed with leaders and those that will be trying to keep up with the pack at some point. Already I can sense the laboured breathing by those mid-pack, which demonstrates that some cyclists are already at their max and will need to back off the pace on the turn.
My group (20) catches up to the second group (10) and it produces a competitive reaction – a few riders comment, but I can’t decipher if it trash talk or simply over-exuberance. In any case, not my style, so I back off the throttle and let anyone through that wants to try to hold pace. This is where the fun begins, because I realize that most of these people will not hold pace or will be subject to taking a break due to ‘group’ demands. By this time, I have decided to stay on the bike for the entire distance, with the exception of grabbing food/water. I made up my mind before the race, but given the circumstances and the rider base I was dealing with, it was an easy decision. At the 100km mark, I dropped off the back and set my own pace. I get into the aero bars and concentrate on just turning the cranks over and getting into a rhythm. I take a peek back once in a while to see who is on my tail and I noticed a large pack coming up from behind. A subtle tap on my back from a rider, who was nice enough to give me a heads up that a large group is coming up behind me. I realize, it was the same group that I backed off a while back to get into my pace/rhythm – they had taken a 5 minute break. As I stated above, I had no intention of getting off the bike for any amount of time, including 5 minutes, so I just kept riding into Niagara Falls on my own. Made my way down into Niagara on the Lake, stopped for 1 minute 30 seconds to grab a sandwich, which I would eat on the bike. Before I leave though, I notice a large group at a local eatery grabbing water and food, but I simply just get on the bike and continue to pedal. I get to Seventh Louth / St. Paul and start eating my sandwich only to realize the black clouds ahead of me. I have no intention of getting off the bike and figure the best place to be is on the other side of that storm. If I was in a group, the likelihood of stopping to let the storm pass was very strong (90%). Not to mention the winds had picked up considerably and a lot of riders might be having an issue controlling the bike in a pack. As a solo rider, I only have to worry about keeping my bike upright and can flow with the wind without causing concerns for other rides. I hit about three separate storms along the way and was drenched by one of them, but I did not want to get off the bike. As I made my way across Fly / Mud Road, I found eleventh and kicked down the escarpment. I realized at that time that I was putting in a very decent personal time, regardless of the storm/winds I just encountered. This is where you have to bargain with your body because you know your legs would feel great if they got off the bike for a few minutes. The bargain was simple – keep turning the cranks over at an appropriate pace. Now, I can only imagine that most of the riders going through the wind and the last leg, probably kept it in big ring and tried to gnash their way along. I’ve learned a few things over the last two years of training and have zero issues (no ego hit) in putting it into low ring and spinning along. All the way to the finish, low ring, spinning along and keeping my HR in check.
As I got off the bike, I remember how my body felt and I have to say it was completely different. Could I go more? Absolutely.
As of this moment (1 day post-race), I have no idea of my placement and to be honest, it doesn’t really matter. My goal was to beat my 2015 time of 13 hours and 13 minutes and I did so with a finish time of 11 hour and 2 minutes (322KM). Happy with the result, let’s move on to the next challenge.
The reason I participated in the HAIRSHIRT are as follow:
- It’s a local classic that brings different cycling groups together to race/ride through the Niagara area, but without the ‘race’ feel.
- I knew I can put a much better time on the board than I did in 2015. But, I had to go about it differently. I wanted to apply my training and see how it would play out. It might have been a bit of a gamble, but I have confidence in my riding skills and in the worst case, I know I can solo the distance
- It’s important to put tests in front of you and see where your fitness is at. If things go very well, it can be a huge boost for your mental state in preparation for upcoming events.
With the HAIRSHIRT successfully behind me, time to prepare for the Saratoga Springs, NY 24 hour race. This will require some strategy adjustments, due to the duration of the event, but nothing to staggering.
As I mentioned last week, I will have a booth as Stan Wadlow in support of the East York Canada Day (July 1). Also, an update with regard to ‘Intro to RAAM’ event, as we have decided to push this until September when everyone is likely back in town from their summer vacations. Tickets will go on sale very soon, so stay tuned for that announcement.
On another note, the kids are so excited to be done school and the kid’s mother and I are working overtime to ensure they get to every bit of fun that is due to them. I am sure each and every one of you is dealing with some aspect of this, so I wish you well and a very happy summer.
With the main goal of Hairshirt TNT, Peter and I continued along with our training.
Here’s a quick note on my riding during last week:
Monday, June 19 – 30 min easy spin to loosen the legs after a weekend long ride. Nothing strenuous, but just get the blood flowing through the legs.
Tuesday, June 20 – 60 min Z2 ride in preparation for my intensity session at mindset CYCLING.
Wednesday, June 21 – Pete decided to mix it up on me and put some Z5/Z3 training in front of me. Unfortunately, I did not plan my meals well enough. Early breakfast, early lunch and at a quick snack before heading off to train at the shop. I try to stay away from eating heavily before a training session and it came back to haunt me. At the end of my 4th set, my HR shot up to 185 and it never came back down. Meaning, my recovery between the 4th and 5th set was ineffective and the 5th set was going to be a disaster. I made it through, but my HR was way too high. Which did not set me up well for the 30 minute Zone 3 ride to finish it off. Another lesson learned.
Thursday, June 22 – a nice easy outdoor late afternoon / early evening ride, keeping the HR as low as possible (Avg HR 131).
Friday, June 23 – Friday was a 45 minute ride with a Z3/Z4 15 minute interval in the middle.
Saturday, June 24 – easy low spin in preparation for the HAIRSHIRT
Sunday, June 25 – Wake up at 4:45am, head out the door to the start line. Time to take on the HAIRSHIRT again. As mentioned above, completed in 11 hours and 2 minutes. A
very acceptable time, considering my previous time. My AVG HR for this race was 151, which is really where I should not be during this distance race. However, two factors that play into that; 1) Winds coming back were incredibly strong and 2) this race had a definitive distance that was within my range to allow my HR to be raised a bit. Anything longer or multi-day in nature, I would have backed off the throttle and rode in Z2.
If there is a topic that you would like the team to cover, feel free to drop us an email at bike@shukercycles. We will do our best to investigate and cover off your topic and/or questions.
Have a great long weekend everyone!