Friday, July 2, 2010

A nice tribute to the crew

There's always a ton of great stories on RAAM. One of the best this year was the fantastic 3rd place RAW finish by Terry Lansdell. To finish on the podium was a pretty great accomplishment, but Terry managed to do this without the benefit of a derailleur. In other words, he did it on a fixed gear bike. I don't know who keeps track of records like this, but it should go down as the fastest 860 mile time trial ever on a fixed gear bike. After all, there's only a few of us guys crazy enough to try something like this (especially on what I consider the toughest 3rd of RAAM).

To add drama to the story, Terry's bikes were destroyed on the way to Oceanside. Surfing the net I found a couple really cool videos that tell just how difficult this actually was.!

Congrats to Terry on a great finish, and also to his crew (only 3 people for 860 miles) for an outstanding performance. By the way, I've often contemplated doing RAAM (or RAW) on a fixed gear bike. I think I'd have a good chance of finishing, but I don't believe that I could match Terry's speed. I did 750 miles fixed at PBP in just under 64 hours, but RAW has more challenges. It still might be fun to try (one day).

One final note: Terry could have got replacements bikes pretty easily (they were everywhere), but it was much more of a challenge for them to find fixed gear bikes (in his size). His whole purpose for doing this race was to set a fixed gear record, and I doubt he would have got nearly as much satisfaction from a geared RAW finish. Also, it must have been quite an adventure to race that far on bikes that he'd never ridden before.

Kevin Kaiser

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hail to the Crew

So you think you're a pretty tough ultra endurance bicycle racer and you want to try your hand at the Race Across America? Perhaps you've got your budget in line and can afford all the expenses? Well, now you've got to find 7-9 other people who believe in you enough to drop their lives and family for 2 weeks to follow you across the country. Even if you wanted to drive 14mph behind a bicycle for 3,000 miles, how many bosses/wives would let you get away for that long?

Every crew (and racer) that finds a way to persevere through RAAM deserves a lot of credit. I've been lucky to have some great friends crew for me each of the last 3 years on RAAM. It's never been easy to assemble a complete crew, but I've been blessed to always come up with exceptional people. Anyhow, on this year's RAAM my crew has been awarded the highest honor a crew can achieve. It's the Lee "Fuzzy" Mitchell award for the best crew on RAAM 2010.

I want to congratulate all of them for this great honor, and then list a few reason why I believe that they deserve this recognition:

1. For three years running we have had zero penalties on RAAM. We run clean, safe races and don't cut corners. The precedent was set in RAAM 2008 with zero penalties, and the newer crews work hard to make sure that they don't break the trend.

2. We may have played a large role in saving Terry Lansdell's 3rd place fixed gear RAW finish. Phil Cohen on our crew is not only a fun guy, but he knows a thing or two about the bicycle business. Terry's bikes were destroyed on route to Oceanside and Phil helped him get replacements in time for the race.

3. It ultimately did not help, but my crew chief tried to help Mark Pattinson get through Shermer's neck by lending him our neck brace. Mark is probably the most gifted American ultra cyclist of this decade, but he lost control of his neck muscles half way through RAAM. Gator Cochran had fashioned a neck brace for me similar to the one that Allen Larsen used in his 2003 RAAM victory. It was easily adjustable, but not field tested, and in the end Mark didn't feel safe continuing.

4. The biggest accomplishment of my crew was getting me to the finish line successfully and in a very respectable time. I'm a very average rider with average speed, so how can I finish 6th at RAAM amongst all these guys that would kill me on a 24 hour race? It's all about efficiency, and that's all about the crew.

5. My crew was very resourceful when I ran into difficulty in Ohio. I encountered muscle issues I'd never been through before. When the answers weren't apparent, they consulted my coach, cycling friends, and medical doctors to get us back on track.

6. Before ever entering, I followed RAAM for many years by computer and always longed for greater coverage. I had a vision this year of a running blog that actually kept people informed of what was going on behind the time splits. Bejan Abtahi, along with other crew members, kept the best blog in my opinion of any crew on RAAM 2010. There was no sugar coating, and if I was suffering the people following us knew it.

7. This is not uncommon, but my crew was always supportive of the other racers and their teams. I love the camaraderie at RAAM.

I want to thank my fantastic crew for all their hard effort, and also thank the members of my previous crews. I think back, in particular, to a time on RAAM 2009 when I wanted to quit and Chuck convinced me to "just ride a few more miles." If not for that speech I doubt I would have ever finished my first solo RAAM.

Here are the much deserved recipients of the Lee "Fuzzy" Mitchell best crew award: Gator Cochran (crew chief), David Bundrick, Bejan Abtahi, Roger Swanson, Danny Comer, John Weekley, Troy Willard, Phil Cohen, and Erin Cohen. Thank you!


Monday, June 28, 2010

Reflections on RAAM 2010

First and foremost, I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to compete in the Race Across America. If it were easy there would certainly be a lot more than 30 solo riders each year. There are several very imposing obstacles, not the least of which is financial. The $15-$20,000 price tag is a huge burden. I would like to thank my parents for leaving me financially stable enough to pursue my dreams, and my wife for letting me tap into those family resources. Over the last few years I've often asked her to curb her spending so I can enter RAAM, and though it seems to be a selfish request, I've met very little resistance.

Another obstacle is obtaining crew support. I ride my bike a lot and love it, but often times long distance cycling is a solitary sport. Also, I'm somewhat reclusive outside of work, so I don't have a million friends. Even if I did have a ton of friends, how many of them would be able to donate 2 weeks of their time to see me across the country? I've been lucky in this regard and have now completed 3 RAAM's with great crew support. A small testament to the quality of my teams is that we've been penalty free 3 years running. I'll look at statistics later, but I think it's safe to say that this is very unusual.

A final obstacle to doing well at RAAM is being in good shape, and I've been very lucky in this regard as well. I can't think of a single injury I've had over the last 10 years that has been significant enough to keep me off the bike. It's possible to train all year for a big race like RAAM and then end up with a cold or flu just before the start, but (knock on wood) I've been lucky.

Solo RAAM in 2010 went very well for me - 6th place overall and top American. It was only a few years ago that I would have been ecstatic to have been the last placed RAAM finisher. To me, everything else is gravy because there is no greater accomplishment (in my mind) than finishing RAAM. For an average guy like myself, it's beyond comprehension that I've been able to finish in the top 20% of the RAAM field over the last two years.

One of my goals for 2010 was to break the 10 day barrier. I trained very hard for this and hoped that experience would make the difference. For 8+ days on RAAM I raced above 300 mile/day pace and had an excellent shot at it, but I did hit a wall in Ohio that ultimately put me behind schedule. Whether it was lack of sleep, lack of protein in my diet, or a caffeine meltdown, my muscles pretty much crashed and told me "no more." With the help of my solid crew, I was able to persevere despite my "muscle mutiny."

1,830 miles into RAAM I was in 3rd place. I was feeling good and even started thinking a little about Gulewicz ahead of me (who was within 90 miles). It was unfamiliar territory for me and somewhat scary to think that I was doing so well this far into the biggest race in the world. I'm certainly not disappointed that I lost a few places after Ohio, but rather excited that I was challenging these guys at all. I understand that this wasn't a race to Camdenton MO, but by the same token I don't believe that you can accidentally appear in 3rd place after 1,800 miles of any race. I think my coaching through John Hughes has paid plenty of dividends through the years, and this is a prime example.

After recovering slightly from my difficulty in Ohio, I decided that a good alternate goal would be to try and beat my time from RAAM 2009. I raced with all that I had left for the finish line, though I didn't cut any corners with sleep. In the end I finished 35 minutes slower than I did the previous year. Perhaps I should be disappointed that I finished slightly slower despite a year of training, but I feel like the 2010 course was a little more difficult. There were 700 miles of different route this year, not the least of which included Wolf Creek Pass, La Veta Pass, and Cuchara Pass. The best way I know to compare is to match same rider results from the previous year:

Jure Robic - about 8d 6h from 2009 and 9d 1h from 2010
Gerhard Gulewicz - 8d 23h from 2009 and 9d 13h from 2010

Another small goal for 2009 might have been to improve on a 5th place finish from 2009. This would have been nice (in particular for Phil Cohen of Chain Reaction, who was supplying me with the absolute best biking technology of our time). However, the high talent level of the other 29 solo entrants makes this extremely difficult. After reading the resumes of these great riders, it's really hard to imagine that I could have finished within the top 20%. I feel fortunate that I had another great finish, and even more fortunate that I probably had some of these top riders looking over their shoulder for awhile.

One of the things I love about RAAM is being mixed in with some of the greatest long distance cyclists of my generation. About 20 miles into RAAM I was passed on a long hill by Jure Robic, and then about 30 seconds later by Mark Pattinson, and then another 30 seconds later by Gerhard Gulewicz. It was pretty cool to see these three guys marking each other on a 3,000 mile race that I was a part of. While these guys would qualify as the best ultra riders in the world, I was also surrounded by those that I would consider the "toughest." This would include riders like Mark Metcalfe and Dex Tooke (both from Texas). These guys dealt with plenty of adversity on their RAAM's but would never give up, at least not until the clock officially ruled them out. For each, this translated to about 2,800 miles. It's interesting, but there's a ton of athletes who DNF long before they reach the minimum cutoff speed. Not these guys.

Another observation I have about RAAM concerns those that man the time stations along the route. Riders get spread out as much as 700 miles throughout the U.S., so having someone available to greet us on our journey can be quite difficult. Many time stations might have a person waiting on a rider for 3-4 hours only to have that rider continue on without stopping. I know because I quite often rode 2-4 time stations without stopping. Anyhow, the reception we get at these time stations is still very well appreciated and is always a highlight after travelling 50-60 miles without seeing anyone. Thanks!

What does the future hold for me? I think I'm due for a 1 year break from RAAM. I would love to race again next year, but financially I need a little downtime to recover from the past couple races. Also, I'm sure my wife might enjoy a little break from racing. As it stands right now, I hope to complete a 3rd Paris-Brest-Paris in 2011, and then if all works well I'll be back at RAAM in 2012.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

RAAM Day 10 Photos (click on photo)

10days 17hours 52minutes! First America Finisher!!! Congratulations Kevin!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Taking a nap at Gettysburg.