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.



  1. Thanks for the recap, Kevin. I'm glad you and your crew are back safely. And I know that Lisa is especially glad that you're safe at home.

    Congrats again to a superb race and to your crew for keeping all the blog posts and videos coming. I know it's hard for them to stay focused on getting updates out since being a crew member can be chaotic.

    And one thing I especially liked about the updates, besides the stunning photos, was showing some of the challenging scenes of RAAM...the pics of you on the ground, unshaven, probably very sore and you were talking on the phone. I'm guessing you were either talking to Lisa or to John Hughes. It was when you were really being challenged nutritionally, so I know you had to summon everything you had inside to keep going.

    I really enjoyed seeing the human element and human drama associated with RAAM. It's still my dream...even after seeing those not-so-pleasant pics of you. :)

    I hope the healing process has begun and that your future training and success will be as awesome as this year's was.


  2. Amazing recap of an amazing race. I was thinking about you as I leisurely climbed Wolf Creek last week. Enjoy the time off!


  3. As a member of your crew this past year, all I can say is that "You are the man!!!!". Thanks for letting me be a part of this amazing race, and thank you for letting me experience what I consider the greatest athletic achievement that I will ever witness first hand.

    John W.

  4. Kevin, Enjoy your break and we hope to see you in 2012 in Blanchester, We will miss you alot!