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1000 miles in 4 days!

Earlier today Tom and James passed this incredible milestone. The crew on the road were suffering from a lack of phone signal, so reports were coming through in fits and starts.

Tom not feeling too clever

Word had come through on Sunday morning that Tom wasn’t feeling too good – the guys had been battering through the desert and hadn’t been putting in as much calories as they were burning off – however, we had only started to worry when this shot came through of him back on the bike

back on the road

As the miles piled up and the tiredness started to take its toll it was quickly apparent that even the humungous truck’s two back seats folded down didn’t give enough room for a knackered cyclist to stretch out, so the crew improvised, with Fi sitting on the folded up front seat like a kid at the Christmas dinner table

I’m sure you’re wearing a seatbelt Fi.

Monday morning broke with the boys still in the desert, grinding out a steady pace as can be seen here from the follow vehicle

Having passed from Arizona into (briefly) Utah

UTAH – blink and you’ll miss it

and Colorado, Tuesday morning broke with some epic shots coming through of monument valley

watch out for roadrunners (and huge great follow vehicles)
meep meep

As Tuesday morning drew on the Rockies could be seen looming in the distance, with both riders pushing on hard towards the major checkpoint at Durango

there they are in the distance – you’re going to ride up to them, then you’re going to ride over them.

early in the evening of Tuesday, word came through that Tom was off the bike again – it turns out he had been fighting off a viral infection for the past few days, which explained his on-and-off illness. Crew doctor Gan prescribed paracetamol and rest. Which left James out on the bike to climb WolfCreek pass…

… Which he did 🙂 AND SOME

one minute you’re climbing in blue skies (and creating EPIC photos by the way)…
…Then this happens

And for those of you who think he must’ve just jumped straight into the follow vehicle like a sensible person – oh no. Not James Harvey.

the man is a machine.
RAAAAAAGH

12 hours in on day 1

SO! they’re off then! After a calm couple of hours hanging round a parking lot and dipping their toes in the pacific the boys started the race at roughly 8:06pm (UK) time Saturday night. Fiona was there to capture the start on Facebook live – check out the video here if you haven’t seen it (the quality is better than when it was live!)

Lovely idea dipping your toes in the Pacific lads – but now go change your socks – you’ve got a race to do
Looking strong at the start
the start from the support vehicle

After the 23mile unsupported section out of Oceanside, they took 1 hour pulls each up the coastal range with James taking the infamous glass elevator calmly in his stride

Tom getting comfy up the coastal range
James calmly smashes the glass elevator.

Once into the desert, the boys switched to taking short 15 minute pulls each to minimize the effects of the heat and were looking strong as night drew in and the temperature began to fall.

a quiet morning warmup for the boys before heading off to the start

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Team PBC and the great glass elevator

Tom & James in the desert on the glass elevator recce

One of the first major challenges for Tom and James is the descent into the desert at Borrego Springs on day 1 – just 70 miles or so into the event. Known as the “glass elevator” teams drop 3600 feet in 9.5 miles reaching speeds of over 50mph as the temperature soars to 45 degrees on the desert floor. Coming so early in the race there is a saying amongst racers that while you “wont win RAAM on the glass elevator, you can sure as hell lose it there” as Stefan Schlegel famously nearly found out in 2014 when a puncture sent him hurtling into the guardrail.

Tom and James went out to recce the route yesterday and sent back some truly amazing footage.

Gratuitous lens flare

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The boys discuss their test ride down the mountain here.

want to hear what a carbon race bike doing 47mph on the flat sounds like?

crank it up

So, guess what the boys brought back from the military surplus store…

Stocking up on final last minute supplies for RAAM, Tom and James visited a military surplus store (which I have to say kinda reminds me of a certain store in a certain movie)

Is it just me or does this place kinda remind you of a movie…

– so what did they bring back? Camo gear? Karabiners? Shock cord? All of these are important for survival on the road, but I’ll let the guys tell you themselves…

Indoor training for Race Across America

We needed a means of raising £125,000 for our chosen charity Prevent Breast Cancer. We needed a big project, something we weren’t sure we could achieve, something to inspire charity supporters; we landed on Race Across America.
It’s been 18 months in the making, a long time to organise, feels even longer when I think about all the training miles we’ve knocked off. It scared us from the beginning, training as a two-man team to cross America, coast to coast, 3081 miles in a maximum of 9 days. Normally you might get the “fear” that drives your training four to six months before an event, but with this race being so big, we’ve had it for 18 months . This poses a couple of problems, staying motivated and consistently managing to maintain 5-6 days on the bike.
Race Across America is a challenge in many ways for those that don’t know a great deal about the race; it’s super long but also the first 36 hours is spent predominantly in the desert. So two training challenges; getting the miles done, and training for the heat intensity.
Living and training in the Peak District and Cheshire is awesome for fitness and power but kinda limits your training in the winter. We’ve trained over two winters, so indoor training with Watt Bikes and Zwift has been a complete essential in getting us to where we are. I love my indoor trainer and hate it in equal measure.

It has been awesome for increasing my FTP over the winter, for being able to do interval sessions at controlled levels and appropriate power to your own FTP and needs. Being indoors and too hot has also been good for our acclimatisation for desert heats. Cold rainy days are pretty much the norm so on those dark days where it’s too wet/ icy to ride outside, the indoor trainer set-up comes into its own. I’ve heard it said that indoors trainers don’t get you fit in the same way as riding on the road, I disagree. It just depends how you use it. I’ve used it for interval training, to increase my FTP so that my cruising pace for RAAM is higher. Using this, my FTP has increased from 211W to 285W , 4.7 watts/kg. This is a big difference, believe me. This would not happen without indoor training to give that consistency of training. It’s easy to lead a busy life at work, get home, see the family, put the kids to bed and then get on the trainer no matter what the skies are doing outside.

There’s no doubt that indoor training is mentally tough, no distraction, nothing except your legs telling you they are tired. Every training session that I couldn’t finish was a small knock, bu the bigger picture is that you can SEE your training progress week by week. FTP getting higher, holding wattage numbers easily that you could only hold for seconds a few months before. That knowledge that the training is working and the confidence that comes with KNOWING that the training is paying off. It’s a great motivator to see that reward. Strava is good, but we all know how much every segment time varies with the weather, so as a training tool I don’t use it. Once you’ve got a pretty good Strava segment around your regular rides it’s difficult to improve until you either get super fit or the wind is super strong and in the same direction as your previous PB. Generally I stay away from it now, as for me, it’s more likely to be demotivating rather than a motivator.
Environmental training
We have had the complete and utter pleasure of being able to train in an Environmental Chamber at Manchester Institute of Health and Performance in Manchester under the guidance of Ross Mizen. This essentially means we can train on our super smooth Watt Bikes at altitude and at the type of temperatures we will face in the Nevada desert. So we’ve been training at increasing temperatures, starting at 28 degrees and our final session last week was at 42 degrees and 2500m altitude. The chamber is such an invaluable resource if you are planning a race anywhere hot. The Peak District is never hot, our last big training ride was May Bank Holiday and we had to abandon due to the cold, 2 degrees and soaked through, we couldn’t feel our hands and feet. The watt bikes in the chamber allow us to use all the benefits of indoor training; instant power updates, left right pedal power distribution, average power. Data, there on the phone screen in front of you and even those miles can be downloaded to Strava to add to the annual total of training miles, which is important to show our supporters how hard we are training. The bikes are super smooth and we can adjust everything in our position to match our race bikes.
Indoor training, it hurts, mental torture that will prepare us for mind games of RAAM, but the quality of the training and the sheer amount of geeky information it gives you to track your progress makes it an essential for any training programme.

What is your deepest fear?

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?

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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.

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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.

But aren’t you worried?

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:

https://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/preventbreastcancer/raam

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)