Phone Calls; Late Nights; Train Home

Normally for me the phone rings at 5:34-ish everyday, an eerily accurate time I know, but this must be how long it takes for my Brother to leave work and get into his car. Most of the chitchat, is ramblings and nonsense but we manage to catch up like this each and every day. Over the next two weeks, the time may change but I will anticipate and look forward to each and every call. I’m not naïve, this journey could be dangerous and with each passing day the phone calls will prove to be little sighs of relief for me- I will become less scared and more proud with each passing phone call. If I can, I want to distract from the pain, toil and at times pull my brother out of dark and desperate holes.

We laugh and joke that my ears are being used for these 15 minute car journeys , but in reality it has allowed Tom to laugh, joke, ask about kit choices (I’m a bit of a cycling nerd) and finally, it allows him to brag about endorsements from big kit companies and a level of fitness that I can only dream of. Which nicely leads me to why I wont go on a bike ride with Tom anymore.

I bravely on a beautiful sunny day in March, decided to pluck up the courage and finally go on a bike ride with Tom. Ridiculously I thought I had a chance (I was two weeks out from placing 14th at the Liverpool ½ Marathon- so was no slob), but the reality of the situation quickly caught up with me. Within 45 minutes, I was rocking, rolling and the wheels were starting to fall off. 30 minutes later, the situation had worsened. I was physically finished, trapped in the middle of the Peak District, asking my brother if it would be smarter if we just went for a nice beer and got the train home. He declined, I threw my bike on the floor and begged. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but also inspires confidence. He will be fine at RAAM. Since then, this level of confidence I have in him has only been consolidated; practicing hypoxia and the effects of heat exhaustion, with a smile and an attitude that is much better than my bike throwing antics and tantrums. He will be fine.

So I’m clearly not a useful training partner, but I do think I can bring happiness and distraction from what may seem impossible. That’s my job, I’ll be the clown, the ears and the excited squeaky voice at the end of the phone.

Sam (Tom’s Twin Brother)

“There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired”

Gatsby, RAAM and me: a crew member’s thoughts two weeks out.

There’s a quote from F Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ where narrator Nick says “There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.”

For me this sums up my thoughts about RAAM as well as it did Nick’s view of the USA in the roaring twenties. I’m just a few weeks away from my first RAAM experience, crewing for Tom and James, and the enormity of the challenge is well and truly upon me, bringing with it excitement and fear in large and equal measure.

I’m excited about the thought of being part of an event that lies on the very fringes of human existence. It’s the cyclist’s Everest, an unparalleled challenge on two wheels. RAAM, from all I’ve watched and heard and read, is a crazy cycling carnival spanning 3000 miles and 12 states. It’s a roadtrip of a lifetime. It’s not a holiday. It’s a somnophile’s nightmare, it’s a massive test of resilience for everyone involved.

I explain the concept, the incessant rhythm of the race to friends. Their jaws drop and my heart races. The fact I’m about to be part of this is very special. The fact I’m about to watch my eldest son Tom attempt to beat ‘the machine’ leaves me fumbling for words.

But back to Gatsby. Everyone involved in RAAM is a pursuer. Even winners like Strasser are chasing something. He’s chasing a better time than last year, the perfect ride. Crew members like me are also chasing something elusive, craving an experience that’s beyond the norm. Everyone who attempts RAAM is chasing something, a category record, a cutoff time, a finish. On the flip side everyone is also being chased. I’m excited about the race within the race. Trying the catch the next team. Trying not to be caught.

The busy? That’s everyone. We’re looking at 12 hour crew shifts. 4 hours driving, 4 navigating and 4 doing everything else. And everything else for me includes mechanicals, feeds, water, ice, social media, videography. And very occasionally, sleep. But spare a thought for the riders. Busy doesn’t even come close.

And the tired? From what we’ve heard daily sleep averages hover around two hours out of 24, snatched upright in moving cars, roadside camp beds and if you’re lucky, the nirvana of a motel bed. This is my biggest fear. Functioning as part of a team and doing my level best for Tom and James, who have spent their last two years preparing for what is to come. They’ve become exceptional athletes and I hope to honour their hard work and help them exceed their own expectations.

What are my other fears? The risks are there and we need to be vigilant, focussed and calm amid the chaos. Keep our guys safe and rubber side down. Other minor fears circle around maintaining decent levels of personal hygiene and not putting on 5kgs on a diet of trucker food.

So yes. Excitement and fear. Two sides of the same coin. Just like effort and reward, a coin that we hope lands reward side up in Annapolis around 23 June.

This piece was written by crew member, Eddie Allen, my Dad (Tom’s Dad).

Did you catch us on ITV?

Did you catch us on ITV? Last week me and James were joined by ITV who took a closer look at our training, the challenge and why we’re taking on RAAM.

The crew even joined us inside the chamber at 3,000 metres and 36 degrees which is pretty bloody impressive.

We’d like to say a massive thank you to ITV and the performance team at MIHP for taking time out of their day to accomodate filming and helping us raise awareness of the challenge.

If you’ve missed us the programme check out the interview on the ITV website.

Striking the balance

There might be a few of you out there thinking about taking on RAAM or something similar but like me and James have full time Jobs and you’re thinking how do you fit everything in?   

I’m not going to lie it has been really difficult to try and find a RAAM/Life Balance over the past 18 months. I’ve just bought a house, in the process of doing it up, got a promotion in work and started acting as a consultant. I’m not even going to try and explain what James does everyday because it hurts my head! I only just found out that he doesn’t use a scalpel to operate which kind of shows I might not be best placed to try and go into the complexities of his work life. What I do know is that he’s busy (he does enjoy being busy though ‘cos he’s weird like that). Trying to strike up this balance is very hard but it is possible. People ask you can you train for sleep deprivation but working full-time and training for an event like this is exhausting and  gets your mind ready for an exhausting 9 day cycle across America.  

In terms of training, I think a lot of it is just trying to ride your bike everyday. I’m lucky that my commute to work is an hour each way, so even on an easy day I’m riding for two hours. If you live in the UK you will need to buy a turbo and you’ll hate nearly every minute of it but it is a necessary evil and key to squeezing in quality training in a short space of time.  

There have been moments where my motivation has waned and that is normal. You will have the odd weekend where you think I don’t want to ride my bike and again that’s fine. For instance, it was my Birthday a month out from RAAM, I could have said no I’m not doing anything but I would have resented every moment of it. 

Just to give you an idea of what the our lives have looked like three weeks out from the start of RAAM, me and James have both been in work from 9-6, we both commute in everyday, we have then been going to MIHP to see Ross and have our weekly torture session in the environmental chamber and then we have been fulfilling media commitments with Cycling Weekly, Social Chain and ITV and then coming home and trying to fit all the other stuff in like cooking tea and being normal.  

I’m sure if you ask my partner, Fiona, she’ll tell you that the RAAM/Life balance is more like 80% RAAM and 20% Life which is probably a fair assessment. Other people do end up making sacrifices and you need to be prepared for that – it could be friends who I haven’t seen a lot, partners who become widowed in the evening when you’re dying on the turbo or family who don’t see you as often as they’d like.  

If you get the chance to take on a big event like RAAM do it! It’s hard but the satisfaction of finding that balance between training and day-to-day life is amazing.  

My date with a physio

Over the past few weeks I’ve been struggling with a few niggles and super tight legs and thought it was about time to see a physio. I normally go and get a quite frankly agonising sports massage with me normally tapping out after whenever they go near the side of my quad. James recommended I go see his Physio, Howard at Wilmslow Physio; I think the words he changed my life were banded about.

Two weeks later I’m sitting on Howard’s treatment table.

After doing a quick assessment of my flexibility and movement I’m back on the table and hear the words

Lets stick some pins in you and see what happens

I should mention that as well as being an MSK physio Howard specialises in sport acupuncture and chiropractory.

The first set of pins go into my calves and hamstrings. The pins are about 4cm in length and they’re put straight into the knots in my legs. They’re slightly painful and oddly satisfying – the sensation is really hard to explain but it’s almost as if my these spots were tingling.

Whilst he’s working on my legs on goes an electrical impulse pad (well that’s I’m calling it because I don’t know the fancy word for it) and my back goes into spasm. In Howard’s words “there’s something there and I want to try and break it down”. Pins in, back machine doing its thing off Howard pops for a coffee leaving me with my own thoughts, mainly about how different this is when compared to traditional sports physio.

He comes back, sticks a pin my back where the machine has been working. He still isn’t satisfied and I’m greeted with the words

I’m just gonna have to smack it then.

A few seconds later he rings me out like a sponge and theres a chorus of cracks. He’s satisfied and I’m baffled. I’ve never had chiropractory before and it doesn’t feel natural. The sensation after is deeply satisfying.

A few more pins in my quads and we are done.

An hour on the table and I’ve gained an extra 20 degrees of movement. I’ve gone from not being able to touch my toes to being able to touch the floor.

The man is a genius.

As an athlete everyone has a Eureka moment when they find something that just works and this was it.

I’m scheduled to see him again in two weeks and I cannot wait.

Manchester Institute of Health and Performance

One of the strangest days of our lives! Tom stayed at mine in the Peak District so that cycling weekly could photograph our daily commute into Manchester. 6:45 two journalists knocked on the door and photographed Tom eating his breakfast, well part of his breakfast, he was too slow and we had to leave! On the ride to BMI they got some shots of us riding around the Peak and going in and out of the hospital.
Private clinic done it was time to get my legs waxed. No idea why I volunteered for this, a totally surreal experience, which seemed to give all the women in outpatients a great deal of pleasure, I think it was just the pleasure of watching a man in pain! Having your legs shaved as a man is so weird for many reasons; one – your legs look like someone else’s, two – women give you beauty tips on how to keep your legs in good condition (wtf), three – it’s bloody freezing ha ha and four – I keep running my hands up and down my bald calves ha ha ha

After another ride to the Nightingale centre and a meeting I was running late so I had to pedal hard to MIHP. I want worried. How hard could an hour be in the environmental chamber. Oh dear. We had no idea, lambs to the slaughter.
Mihp have always been so welcoming. They have offered their services for free to support the charity. Having ridden to MIHP in rain at four degrees we knew this is the only way we can prepare for 40-50 degrees in the desert in 40 days time.

The chamber was set at 26 degrees and 2200 metres altitude. A few photos done, Tom and I feeling good we settle in on the bikes at our normal power levels. I immediately feeling really shit and over tired. Cycling weekly interview us for the first 20 mins and it’s super hard to speak, so.. short….of breath. I keep passing them over to Tom to ask him about something so I can breathe between questions. The temp gradually cranks up to 32 degrees. And zero humidity. Tom and I are sweating, I mean really sweating. Ross who’s looking after us in the chamber tells us we are losing 1500ml of water per hour, we cannot drink that fast, we try but after even 25 mins I am grateful when Ross tells us to back off and have a break. Shirts are off. Chat has stopped. This is hard. Drink. Sweat. Drop head and pedal. 30 minute session to go, not sure I can do it. My oxygen sats are 84 % no wonder I feel out of breath. When I see a patient with sats that low I would be seriously 😧 worried. 25 minutes to go, seriously? Not sure I can keep this up, got to. All good training. Twenty minutes to go. Ross asks us repetitive questions about our level of exertion and how hot we feel. I feel “very hot”, top of the scale. Sweat is running off us, not dripping, running.

Ten minutes to go, can’t keep this up, I’m backing off. 3 minutes to go. Thanks god. I can do this. Never been so happy for a workout to end.

Tom and I walk out. Slowly, broken, really tired. 25 mile ride home to go. In the freezing rain . Hungry. Time for an afternoon snack that every athlete needs, McDonalds. Salty fries and mayonnaise never tasted so good, cold milkshake dropping our core temperatures. Sooo good.

See you at MIHP, same time next week.