Race Across America (RAAM)
Portland, OR to Pensecola, FL, USA, June 17-?, 2001
Updates and Reports
The Ultimate Road Trip
by Peter Marsh
Don't have any energy after a flight across the country? Can't keep your eyes open on your way home from the airport? Then consider the riders in the Race Across America they pedal from coast to coast in 8-10 days, sleeping two hours a night.
The Ultra Marathon Cycling Association proudly calls this "the toughest race in the world," and there are very few prepared to argue the point. Like other "extreme" sports, this madness began in the late 1970s when a few long-distance enthusiasts began testing themselves on the trans-continental course, both one-way and round-trip. By cutting sleep to a bare 3-4 hours a day, they pushed physical endurance to new levels and demolished the old records. Human nature being what it is, a race was bound to happen.
Race across America (RAAM) kicked off in 1982, when four men rolled out of Santa Monica bound for New York. The winner was Lon Haldeman in 9 days, 20 hours. Twenty years later, long-distance cycling occupies a small but growing niche in the fitness world with the organized century ride (100 miles) the starting point. From there the progression--should you choose to follow it--is to the double century (200 miles), the 24-hour ride (400+ miles), and finally the 500-miler. That still leaves the 3000-mile Race Across America or RAAM in a class of its own--an enormous step that requires vast mileage in training for many months.
The top competitors are reluctant to discuss their training systems, but are rumored to cover distances of up to 1000 miles per week. Until last year, learning to tolerate the heat of the desert states in mid-summer was also part of the challenge. In 2000, race director, and original RAAM winner, Lon Haldeman laid out a new route from Portland, Oregon to Pensacola, Florida, and took the RAAM start outside California for the first time. The heat of the desert was eliminated as a deciding factor, but 70% of the 101,000 feet of climbing was encountered in the first half of the race. Elevators are not an option with RAAM competitors!
The race started in pleasantly cool weather with Mount Hood and the Cascades the first obstacle. Then a strong tailwind set in for 200 miles. To take advantage of the conditions, Austrian Wolfgang Fasching went out hard and rode for 40 hours without sleep. Despite over 25,000 feet of climbing, he covered about 475 miles at almost 20 mph, in the first 24 hours, a new RAAM one-day record. Fasching reached the 1,000-mile point in under 2 days 7 hours with a four-hour lead over compatriot Herbert Meneweger. The route then went into Colorado, over Tennessee Pass (10,424'), the high point of the route, then on to the plains of Oklahoma, where lightning flashed all night like a strobe light. At the finish line in Pensacola, Florida, Fasching was still riding 6-7 hour centuries (allowing for a few hours per day for sleep breaks). "Million Mile Man" Danny Chew of the US, finished second. The races pace can be seen with even the slower riders riding about 8-hour centuries - this after 10 days of racing!
For those willing to share the pain and the glory, the RAAM also has a relay division with two and four-person teams going around the clock. The fittest have cut the time down to an amazing 5 1/2 days. Pete Lekisch competed as part of the four-man Team Alaska, average age 52, which finished in 6 days, 16 hours. "We had everything. A huge moon in Colorado, lightning flashing in New Mexico, red rocks, plains where you could see for ever, beautiful rolling hills. If I had to design a course to show off America, this would be it." Lekisch, now 60, is back this year trying to be the oldest finisher ever. He will have his own start a day early to kick off another round of sightseeing and punishment.
How do Alaskans train for ultra-cycling? Try wintering in Arizona, where Lekisch has been piling up the miles. The training has to be professional, but the race is essentially an amateur event. There is no prize money in RAAM, and competitors have to raise funds or sponsorship to meet the costs of driving a large RV, one or more smaller support vehicles, and a team of 6-12 people across country. The riders are totally dependent on their support crews to keep them racing; and good crew organization is as vital as a cast-iron constitution. The luckiest riders will have the round-the-clock services of a masseur or chiropractor, bike mechanic, coach, cook, plus several drivers and helpers. The trip is no picnic for the crew, who can experience sleep deprivation almost as badly as the riders. The crew chief is responsible for keeping not only the rider, but the entire team, motivated all the way to the finish line.
Fifteen solo male riders, have taken up the challenge in 2001, including entries from Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. The favorite among the three women is Australian Cassie Lowe. In her first attempt in 2000, Lowe was the only woman entered, yet rode like a veteran and beat 2/3 of the men to finish an amazing seventh. "My plan was to ride my own race," she explained at the finish. "I let the other riders go in the beginning and figured I'd see them again. The biggest thrill of all was to finish less than an hour behind Rob Kish. I passed him the last night, but then had to take a 15 minute nap and he passed me. I caught him again, but then had to nap again and he caught me." (Rob Kish has finished 15 RAAMs, won three, and holds the record time of 8 days, 3 hours.)
"I slept for 90 minutes the first night and then three hours every night except the last night. The last night I took a one hour sleep break, but then needed the two naps. I prefer three hours; I'd rather have more sleep and ride with focus than fall off the bike. The altitude was really hard on me. I love to climb, but we were at altitude so long and I wasn't sleeping well," Lowe said. "I ate everything. RAAM is a challenge to every cell in the body. It's hard living on the edge constantly-the imbalances are multiplied. For example, labored breathing when you usually don't struggle with climbs," she reported after her first race. "I find training to be a full-time job; I applaud anyone who can work and train," she says. Lowe used the last race to raise over $30,000 for the Giant Step School for Children with Autism in Sydney.
There will also be more women on the road this year in the two and four-person team races, with a pair of 58-year old twins from San Diego, and four professional women from Kentucky, ages 38 to 53, riding for the Brain Injury Association of Kentucky (BIAK) and encouraging the use of bicycle helmets among young riders. The male, two-person record holders, Arap/Milano from Sao Paulo, Brazil, will also be back to test themselves against the new course.
RAAM 2001 Contestants
Name Country State Age Men's Solo Division Guus Moonen Netherlands Oisterwijk 49 Keith Krombel USA Vermont 46 Peter Lekisch USA Alaska 60 Wayne Greenway USA California 42 Dan Jordan USA Missouri 35 Jeff Stephens USA Ohio 39 Rob Kish USA Florida 45 Fredi Virag Solvenia Idrija 33 Fabio Biasiolo Italy Venezia 39 Rainer Klaus Germany Lenningen-Hochwant 37 Mark Patten USA California 40 Jack Vincent USA Colorado 35 Hans-JurgenSchmidt Germany Bad Oegnhausen 53 Terry Lansdell USA North Carolina 34 Andrea Clavadetscher Liechtenstein Vaduz 40 Danny Chew USA Pennsylvania 38 Women's Solo Division Cassie Lowe Australia Sydney 37 Katie Lindquist USA Colorado 35 Two Person Teams Team eXtreme Charles Liskey USA California 44 Steve Winfrey USA California 40 Team E-Caps Jim Pitre USA Arizona 51 Peter Pop USA California 50 Team BenTom Tom Pettus USA Minnesota 51 Ben Popp USA Minnesota 26 Team Colorado Bob Baur USA Colorado 46 Don Beck USA Colorado 41 Team Matec Jose' Carlos Secco Brazil Sao Paulo 38 Ricardo Arap Brazil San Paulo 34 The Twin Team Dr. Barbara Warren USA California 58 Angelika Castaneda USA California 58 Team No Limits Thorsten Vahlf Germany Klostermarkt 33 Joey Kelly Germany Schwabach 29 Team DISCOVER CEARÁ / POWERBAR Michel Boli Brazil Sao Paulo 31 Jose Pinto Filho Brazil Fortaleza 35 Four Person Teams Team RB4/BIAK Christina Norris USA Kentucky 45 Nancy McElwain USA Kentucky 35 Della Irby USA Kentucky 38 Anne Huntington USA Kentucky 53 Janice Tower (Alt) USA Alaska 30 Team Vail Adam Palmer USA Colorado 29 Zach Bingham USA Colorado 31 Jimmy Mortenson USA Colorado 25 Brett Malin USA Colorado 28