Did you get a chance to see us on ITV talking about RAAM, our highlights and the storm that stopped us in our tracks.
So what’s life like after preparing for and taking on the world’s biggest and toughest cycling ultra?
Over the past few weeks and months people have been asking me:
“what scares you the most when thinking about a challenge like RAAM?”
and honestly it’s a difficult question to answer. To begin with it was the ultra-endurance aspect of the race, that was set aside after taking on my first 24-hour race. Next, it was the heat and altitude, those fears have been set to one side after spending the past six-weeks training in an environmental chamber at MIHP.
I fly out to America and when I think about the race I am pretty calm. I don’t feel nervous and I’m just going through the motions of packing, picking equipment up and checking things off a list.
In true Coach Carter style I’m asking myself the question.
What is your deepest fear?
And honestly, right now; it’s the flight. I hate flying. The thought of flying gives me anxiety. Flying for two hours to somewhere in Europe is normally enough for me. The idea of being on a plane for 15 hours is purgatory and belongs in the bad place.
The sudden realisation that I’m riding a bike across America in a week might kick in soon or like my mate Lew said your either completely prepared or have no idea what you’re doing which might be true.
When your son tells you that he has signed up to cycle 3,000 miles across America, taking on 175,000 feet of elevation in 8 to 9 days as part of a team of two in often hostile conditions facing extreme temperatures, sleep deprived and physically pushed to his maximum effort level, it’s easy to worry.
But I’m not. I’m not worried. In fact, I actually think he’ll win.
The thing is, Tom has been winning since the day he was born. He arrived in this world two and a half months premature. He weighed 3lb 5oz. Babies born at 30 weeks are unable to breathe without support, and Tom and his twin brother Sam were no exception. I wasn’t allowed to hold him at first. I watched him in an incubator as he took his first breath supported by oxygen. Too much oxygen, or too little could have a detrimental and life-long impact on him. I was all too aware of how vulnerable my boys were – and yet I overwhelmingly and instinctively knew that they would be OK.
I watched his little wins day by day. The oxygen being taken away, him now able to breathe without support. Holding him for the first time. Less and less heel pricks and blood tests taking place. His feeding tube being taken away, removal from his incubator into a cot. And finally, home. Content, happy, thriving, strong, determined.
Competition in our home has always been a thing. In the funniest, happiest and supportive way. Monopoly, a dance off, a spontaneous ‘Friends TV special quiz’, sprinting on the beach or a bollard jumping competition in the street – our little gang would find the competition in most things. And in most cases, (Tom throwing his brother’s Monopoly hotel estate off the board after being caught embezzling funds from the bank is an exception) we would be on the floor laughing our heads off.
I have watched Tom learn about himself in competition. From the losses and the gains.
He has learnt how do deal with major accidents on the bike, extreme conditions, mental and physical exhaustion. He has also developed the most insightful understanding of his body – its strengths and weakness. How the lungs, heart, muscles, bones, ligaments, fibres, brain deal with the ‘push’. He understands his own pain thresholds like nobody else and the feeling of utter euphoria following a breath-taking descent or the completion of an endurance goal.
He also knows what it is to see somebody you love deal with the devastating impact of a cancer diagnosis. He knows that research, improved treatments and education has the power to change lives and to keep loved ones together. Tom and James’ fundraising has been phenomenal and will make a significant difference to the lives of others.
You can support them here:
My pride and love for Tom is boundless.
He is ready. He is prepared. They are a formidable team. The hard work is done. They have everything in place to succeed. They understand when to push and when to hold back.
I have every confidence in them.
I also know that the crew who will be holding a comfort blanket out to them every day in the form of physical and mental support.
As for me. I’ll be here. In Liverpool. Tracking them every single minute. And calling his brother Sam. At 5.34-ish. Every day.
Sarah (Tom’s mum)
I would like to start this blog thanking everyone who made this event possible. Paula and the team at Chartered Wealth Management, thank you for taking on the challenge! To the charity and all of the riders who joined us giving us the best send off that we could hope for, thank you. I am completely overwhelmed by the level of support you’ve shown.
So, back to the sportive.
Riders had started trickling in to the car park, riders from all over the North West. Team Glow had brought 24 people along and probably won the prize for the best kit. After a few photos with sponsors, our crew chief, some friends who had come out to support the ride and the rest of the sportive riders (I would like to add a woman from Team Glow did threaten to chop my legs off because I stole her position at the front of the photo – you know who you are), we rolled out into the Cheshire lanes.
Within about 10 minutes we were out into the Cheshire countryside. The route was beautiful and followed quiet and traditional cheshire lanes, lined with high hedgerows. There were one or two punchy little climbs out of Goostrey on our way to the half way point, the Old Barn Cafe. When we reached the Old Barn Cafe we were greeted by the PBC support team.
A quick coffee and a big natter with friends and other riders who are all incredibly supportive about the challenge and are genuinely just interested in how we’ve trained, how we will be supported state-side and what has possessed us to do a challenge this big and we’re back into lovely Cheshire lanes.
We’re now on the return route, diving through the Cheshire lanes around Goostrey and Mobberley and the finish line is in sight. We go through the lovely market town of Knutsford, around Tatton Park and the last final test, Park Road, a steep 800 metre climb out of Hale.
46 miles later and we are back the Nightingale Centre, greeted by bacon butties and cups of tea! There’s not much better in life than a bacon butty after a bike ride and takes me back to my racing days of Tuesday night Time Trials in Cramlington were you’re given the best brew in the world after turning yourself inside out.
I still completely overwhelmed by the level of support we’ve received – thank you.
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)
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? 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.
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.
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.