Diary of a RAAM widow

Some people call themselves football widows, when they lose countless weekends and evenings to their partners obsession with watching a bunch of blokes run around a field. Well for the past 18 months I’ve been a RAAM widow!

As I type this, I’m lying on our comfy sofa under a blanket, I’ve just had some ice cream and watched an episode of Greys Anatomy, and Tom… well, poor Tom has been (and still is) outside the window on his turbo, p***ing with sweat, as he would say, looking like he may throw up at any second. (See picture evidence) Oh, and it’s the start of Easter weekend too, when everyone in their right mind should be indulging at least a little bit right now.

For the past 18 months, Tom has lived and breathed RAAM, which means I’ve been living and breathing it too. Whether it’s lending a supportive ear, helping to plan logistics, trying to watch TV in our old 1 bedroom flat while Tom powers away on his turbo literally right next to me, waking up to the floor shaking from a maximum effort in a pre-work turbo session in the dining room, or not seeing many weekend mornings where the alarm doesn’t go off at 6/7am for his training rides to the Peaks.

I’ve seen Tom come home in bits, and I mean a proper mess, while he was learning how to handle this level and type of training in preparation for the main event. He’s come home freezing cold after a winter ride, standing shivering in front of a radiator and in a hot bath, trying to get warm after hours outside in -6… so cold that their water bottles froze!! He’s come home from fasted rides feeling great, only to go downhill later on and spend the rest of the day feeling generally grim. Even some of his turbo sessions are so tough, that he ends efforts hunched over his bike, while I ponder how fast I can run and get a sick bucket.

With RAAM less than two months away, and given that I’ve volunteered to be part of the support crew, it’s getting VERY real now.

Last weekend we did a practice follow and rider changeover day. We (the support crew) went over our strengths and weaknesses, so we can utilise those to form the best support possible for Tom and James in America. I’ve supported bike rides before, but nothing on this level. Nothing where you (as a crew member) may not get to sleep in a bed for 3 days straight, catching z’s in the van as and when you can, driving through the night behind Tom or James on their bike – ultimately keeping them safe, fed and watered 24 hours a day, for 8 days.

I won’t lie, I can be pretty rubbish when I’m tired. Picture a drunk person, or a toddler… or a drunk toddler, not that I’m endorsing that…. moving on. Anyway my point is, that’s a big worry – being exhausted. I’ll have no right to be saying I’m really tired, when Tom and James are spending 12 hours a day each on their bikes, and going up hills my little car would struggle getting up, but I know I will be. Needless to say I’m excited to get reacquainted with my old pals the Sour Patch Kids, to keep me awake when I need a sugar high. Sometimes I curse myself for my hatred of coffee…

Another thing that plays on my mind is seeing Tom in a state while we’re out there. RAAM as a two person team is incredibly physically demanding, and I know I’ll hate seeing him in any pain, or suffering through any rough patches.

The countdown is really on now. The annual leave is approved, the flights are booked, and I’m doing some super important prep like making playlists to keep us going! There’s even a singalong playlist that’s looking brilliant… Try and contain your excitement support crew.

In all seriousness, I’m so proud of Tom for taking on this mad challenge, and pushing himself to the limit to smash it, even though I think he’s an absolute nutter. I’m excited I get to be part of this, and share in his experience. Saying that though, I’m also looking forward to July, and Sunday’s without alarms set!

I’m now crap at all other exercise

When I write this we are 67 days, 6 hours, 5 minutes and 14 seconds out from RAAM and believe me that’s terrifying.

I’ve just got back from Budapest, the last break I’m allowing myself in training until RAAM – it’s now full steam ahead with training, no distractions just get your head down and get to the States in the best physical shape possible.

Budapest and the break itself was amazing and anyone training for a big event I would whole heartedly recommend that you take a step back from it to refocus the mind and body. When over there I didn’t think about riding my bike. The closest thing I go to training was sitting inside an 85 degree sauna for “heat acclimatisation” – that’s the story and i’m sticking with it. However, I did realise that I am now useless at all other forms of exercise. So, when on a city break we (Me and Fiona) did what most people do and walked ourselves into the ground, going from ice cream parlour to the next recommended tourist attraction and it was after about four-hours of walking round I started to notice some niggles; a sore back, sore hip, tired legs. The dickhead part of my brain springs into action

“aren’t you supposed to be riding a bike around America and you can’t even go for a gentle walk”

I was ruined. How is this possible?! I am the fittest I have ever been and probably ever will be but I’ve been broken in the space of a few hours walking gently around a city. I suddenly feel old and realise that training for an event like RAAM has turned me into a finely tuned athlete, finely tuned for one thing and one thing only. Obviously, I wanted to share my new found atrophy with James which amused him.

A few days later James texts me after walking around London all day.

I couldn’t be happier; solidarity.

There a few lessons I’ve learnt and would like to share with fellow competitors or people thinking about their next challenge. First, take a break and enjoy the break. If your life is just training you will fail. There needs to be some balance in your life and this is especially true if you have a family. Second, you’re going to be crap at any other sport but that’s fine.

A Day in the Life of a Crew Chief

I have known James for about 8 years through work at Wythenshawe Hospital, he was aware I liked cycling and when I told him I was retiring in July 2018 he responded by asking me to do this RAAM event with him. At first I thought, are you joking, I cannot cycle across America, he reassured me it was as part of the support crew so I was relieved and also honoured to be asked.

So…. I retired from the NHS and then spent the next four months in France and Spain, travelling and cycling with my own support crew, Pat (my wife and fellow retiree). Didn’t think much about the event until we were on a beach in Torremolinos when I was contacted by James to ask if we would be prepared to drive an RV back from Annapolis (Near Washington DC) back to San Diego. Pat agreed, eventually, as long as we didn’t sleep in the RV on the way back and had chance to see some of America.

When we got back to England James contacted me to see if I knew anyone else who might want to join the crew. I thought … I know someone who would be ideal, my good lady – Pat. I managed to persuade her (I am not sure she would agree that I persuaded her – lol) to join the crew.

It is currently the 8 April 2018 and I am wondering what the heck I have let myself in for. James and Tom asked me to be their Crew Chief for their Race Across America – sure why not guys I said – and then it hit me after the London RAAM seminar. This is going to be something of a ‘challenge’ as they say in the NHS! Temperatures as high as 125 degrees Fahrenheit, roads with desert to each side or grass that can catch fire if you park over it, potential for Tornado’s and severe thunderstorms or torrential rain along the way sounds wonderful doesn’t it.

I have read and re-read the rules, I have read the gear book too, 55 pages approx.. in each. However I could not get my head around the magnitude of the event from a cyclist point of view. I hatched a plan to map out the whole route on lining wallpaper which I had a spare roll of in the garage. This took me the best part of 6 hours one Sunday afternoon and I have now plotted out the whole route over the 3100 miles of the race, I can now see where the mountains are and where the flatlands will be. I did have to buy another roll to complete the route, it is stretched out over about 30 feet of lining paper showing all the climbs, the Walmart’s the gas stations and all the Time Stations along the way.

James and Tom are aiming to complete the ride in 8 days, we set off on 15 June and will aim to complete on Sunday 23 June, eight days and nights of cycling at an average speed of 16-18 mph. We will have two vans, equipped with bike accessories, food and fluids, washing equipment etc… but when do we rest?

This is really difficult to plan and will need the whole team to consider what would be the best approach. The race will not succeed unless we have a great team who are all working towards James and Tom’s objective. The race crew consist of Darren and Maggie Weatherall, Eddie Allen, Fiona Comley and Gan and ourselves

The crew and racers are meeting this week on 13 April to plan our strategy. We will be talking through the roles and responsibilities of the crew members. Driving, navigating, bike maintenance, nutrition, shopping, washing and most importantly keeping James and Tom entertained and motivated during those difficult times when they would just like to give up and go for a well-earned beer! After our strategy meeting we will practice handing bidons to James and Tom, both at the roadside and from the window of the car. This is not as easy as it sounds. Then we are off into the Peak district practising leapfrog handover of riders and a small amount of direct following which we will have to do each night for 12 hours during the race – 8 long long nights driving at 16-18 mph keeping the riders at a distance of 30 feet in front of us. Easier said than done.

So……. Pat and I continue to discuss tactics, what resources we are likely to need – how many bananas can they eat in 8 days? Where will we get James’ Spaghetti Bolognese (we will get you one somewhere James)? How much water can we actually carry in the van when they will be drinking 1-2 litres per hour. The whole thing is scary but we are determined to get this done and to make sure that James and Tom’s goal is achieved.

What a party we will have when we finish, roll on Annapolis!

Pete, Crew Chief

Race Across America Seminar

Late February saw us driving down to Wembley for a day’s seminar on Race Across America. The day was run by father and son who run the Race, not only do they have huge experience of organising the race, but Dad has raced as both a Solo and a Team of Two. 

We’d hoped to get many things from the seminar; mainly, how the race worked in terms of logistics, we also wanted to find out whether it was best for our support team to drive cars and stay in motels, or whether we should have a Mobile Camper. Oh, and Tom and I wanted either Toms dad Eddie or our mutual friend Pete to be so enthused that they agreed to be Crew Chief 😉. 

It quickly became clear that having a mobile camper was not necessary and a large expense. The camper has some plusses; a toilet, cooking facilities. But other riders experiences told us they are difficult to sleep in when moving, and due to their size they can’t follow the whole race route. Oh and they are ridiculously expensive. Chatting to other racers we decided upon having the team in two cars following the riders. This would mean one car with the riders at all times and the other car is free for logistics, stopping at a motel for a quick sleep or shower, filling up with fuel, shopping, washing, etc etc etc. 

The day was mind blowing. Eight hours to cover every aspect of RAAM, the most amazing thing was that this was just bullet points, highlights, not the details!!! Suddenly like a sledgehammer over the head you begin to realise what a massive logistical challenge this is to organise.  Follow two bike riders across the US, sounds easy right. Er no apparently!! 

During the desert crossing, it’s too hot to leave a rider on the road in 50 degree heat for too long. So 15 minutes turns on the bike are recommended otherwise your rider cooks. So while the rider is cycling away, the support car has to drive up the road, find somewhere safe to pull right off the road, get James’s bike out, Tom arrives, bike in back of car, overtake James, repeat. This is complex. During that 15 min period the navigator will be checking the maps and turns on the road, bottles need to be filled, food allocated, rider wet wiped etc. It is constant. 

Every aspect of daily living becomes that little bit more complex when you have limited space and are moving across country. Where to have a number one? Or god forbid a number two in the middle of nowhere, and US police are not keen on nudity of any sort. Washing – Tom and I will change bib shorts every four hours, and shirts, this alone is 12 pairs of bib shirts that need washing every day. 

And so the day went on, we talked about kit we needed, preparations before the race, food, washing, sleep, navigation, communication between rider and team, dealing with emergencies, following at night ……..An awesome day. Really good for letting us know what the previous Unknowns were. Nothing to fear now, ha ha ha . 

Oh, and most importantly, Pete is gonna be our Crew Chief. Thanks Pete. You are gonna smash it.

Pete is everything Tom and I wanted in a Crew Chief, keen, a doer, organised and calm in a storm. BRING IT ON