Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Go Time - 6/16/12 Oceanside CA

Race day started out like a typical June day in San Diego.  Grey at the coast, sunny and (thankfully) not too warm inland.  It was going to get plenty warm soon enough, no need to add insult to injury by having to spend a couple of hours baking in the sun with a few hundred of our closest friends down at the Oceanside Pier.

Milling around at the start

Peg and I had loaded Truck 4 as much as we could Fri night after the interminable MANDATORY racer meeting in Oceanside.  But with a 12:00 noon start, the Sat AM to-do list was a major distraction.  Peg drives over and we meet at my house, load up food, pick up crew member Pat Gillespie, head over to Wildebeest’s place and load his stuff, say hi to Mr. and Mrs. Wildebeest, head to the pier, find parking, yada yada… Doesn’t seem like a big deal, but after almost a year of logging countless training hours, thousands of miles in the saddle, hundreds of repeats, I was ready to chew nails.  To say I had a bit of nervous energy would be like saying Sandy was a bit breezy, showery “weather event.”  Despite this being my third RAAM, I had never drawn the TT to Old Castle leg. This was going to be a very different start for me compared to those in 2008 and 2010 where I was in Truck 4 and Truck 3 respectively.  In 2008 we hadn’t adopted the practice of Truck 4 doing the TT to Old Castle so riders from Truck 1 were on shift right at the start. In 2010, Larry (aka the Godfather) and I drew Truck 3 so we had 10 hours to chill and get out to the desert for our first shift.  So in both 2008 and 2010 the start was kind of a don’t care because after riding the bike path parade in both cases I jumped into the Truck and had 10-15 hours to put the distractions from the start behind me and get mentally ready to race.  Funny thing, as we were milling about down at the start watching all of the 2-man and 4-man crews head out, the entire race ahead was almost secondary to this next pull.  I knew full well what was coming.  After the 8-mile parade, Wildebeest and I had a 16-mile long TT that was going to flat out hurt. A lot!  Yet, I couldn’t wait!  It was go time!

RAAM start is kind of an interesting experience.  Lots of racers standing around, trying to get a read on the competition.  What kind of rig is he rolling?  I wonder if this guy is their stud or one of the domestiques?  The only thing I’ve now concluded after 3 RAAMs is that you can’t determine anything at the start.

4 Mil's Wayne Dowd - Getting Ready To TT His Face Off

So after what seems like an eternity, finally we’re in the queue and ready to roll.  Animal and Hammer are going to roll the parade with us and peel off at River Rd. when racing begins.  George Thomas is standing out front with a microphone trying to get sound bites from racers as we roll up to the line on our 1 minute spacing.  I’m thinking “Dude don’t stick that microphone in my face” as I’m not sure my comments would be appropriate for the audience. Fortunately, Hammer took one for the team and answered some mundane question like “What’s it like to work for a Company like ViaSat?” or “Why do you guys keep coming back every year?” which were both a bit tough for Hammer to give a reply to as he doesn’t work for ViaSat and this was his first RAAM.  Nonetheless, he covered for us, we got a chuckle, and the crowd gave us the perfunctory applause as we rolled down the Strand.  We get to our first turn at Surf Rider Way which is a short, punchy little climb and immediately Hammer is out of the saddle sprinting for the top.  Strava sniffing… there was probably a new little segment created later that week.  Very funny and at this point I’m laughing out loud.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the first 8 miles is a parade zone down the San Luis Rey River Trail bike path.  No racing, no passing 18 MPH.  Our two top competitors Strategic Lions and 4 Mil started 5 minutes and 7 minutes ahead of us respectively.  So while the clock at the start would be corrected by the offsets, any gaps that opened or closed on the bike path would count. We pretty quickly caught up with the next two teams ahead of us and settled in for a spin the rest of the way down the bike path.  The team that started two places ahead of us was a team of complete studs from the UK named Team Battle Back.  All 8 racers were wounded servicemen with 4 of the 8 double amputees who were racing with hand bikes.  I can’t even fathom the mental and physical strength it would take to complete RAAM that way.  Like I said, studs…  One of the two guys parading was on a hand bike so 18 MPH was a pretty good clip for them.  But as we were spinning down the bike path, there was no sign of any of the teams ahead of them despite having pretty good and long views down the path.  Looks like we were going to be a few minutes back when we hit the race start at College.

As we rolled up to the College Blvd exit, we said our goodbyes to Hammer and Animal as they peeled off into Mance Buchanan Park.  As they were Truck 2 and we were Truck 4, the next time we’d see them was Maryland.  So as Wildebeest and I navigate the tricky little exit from the bike path to College with a RAAM official standing right in the middle saying “be careful…” (Duh… get out of the road dude…) there was a slight hesitation.  We had the two teams of two riders each right in front of us, a RAAM official in the mix, and cars rolling down College towards the intersection at N River Rd. After 1-2 seconds of hesitation, I turned to Wildebeest and simply said… “Go.”

If you’ve ever seen video of a submarine launched ICBM, the Wildebeest did a good impression.  The slight hesitation mimics the slight pause when the missile pops out of the water and the rockets fire.  The moment I said go, the Beest was off like I’ve never seen before.  By the time we made the 2nd right turn onto River Rd and started heading east, Wildebeest was riding away and laying waste to any/all ahead of him.

At this point now I’m in a new situation for me and RAAM.  For the first time in all of my countless pulls over more than a dozen of shifts, in all probability my effort will not mean anything.  Assuming Adam makes it out to Truck 1 without issue, my time will mean nothing.  I’m the insurance policy.  Back up for flat/mechanical issues…  Do I burn a match knowing full well it might be for nothing?  Damn right!  My motivations were two-fold.  First, I had 7 brothers counting on me.  In the small chance that Adam did flat or have a mechanical, my teammates were counting on me for a big effort and to put us in the position to hand the lead off to our flagship, Truck 1. Second, we were out there to make a statement.  Team ViaSat was back this year with one objective to win the race.  And not only to win, but to crush the competition.  I knew there were a bunch of teams out ahead of me that would soon see the Wildebeest flying (and I mean effing flying) by.  I wanted nothing more than to roll up a couple minutes behind and come around them again.  “Damn, another Team ViaSat racer dropping me???  Who are these guys???”

So as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, next up was Sleeping Indian.  A 2.9 mile climb with the last 0.5 miles a bitch of a climb at >15%.  So as I’m pushing up the rolling bottom section, I start picking off riders ahead of me.  I start to make a game out of it.  Get this guy before the telephone pole.  Pick these two off before the steep part starts.  All the while I’m watching my HR keeping it in the mid-160s (>170 – 172 I think I’m dead.)  All-in-all I must’ve gotten 8-10 guys on Sleeping Indian.  This while climbing on my TT bike.  I can’t tell you how fired up I was when I got over the top and without giving up much time. (I went back after the race and looked at my previous times.  I set a PR by >1 minute over the full 2.9 miles and was within seconds of my previous PRs on the steep climbs which I did on my roadie.)

So now, the rest of the course is fast and rolling.  I’m feeling pretty good but I still have a ways to go with one more big obstacle… a traffic light at Olive Hill Rd and the 76.  At this point I’m flying down Olive Hill Rd with a few more riders ahead and I see the red light up ahead.  Damn! Fortunately, I probably only had to wait 30-45 seconds, but it allowed a bit of company to join up behind.  Oh well, the good news was I was feeling good and no sign of the Wildebeest which meant he was in good shape to get to Old Castle.

The rest of the segment is a 5-mile stretch on Camino Del Rey that climbs about 200 ft.  At this point I was starting to feel a bit gassed but I still was able to maintain a 23 MPH pace out to 395.  From there 0.7 miles to Old Castle where Peg would pick me up so we could drive out to Ranchita to pick up the Beest.  It was only after I turned onto 395 and saw that the Beest was nowhere in sight that I let myself sit up a little. I was completely gassed but I felt good knowing I had held my own.

Wildbeest Handing Off To Metal After a Monster TT From Start
It was only after we finished RAAM that I let myself look back and assess how I did.  The Wildebeest had put 6 minutes into me on the race out from College including 2.5 minutes on the Sleeping Indian leg.  At first I thought damn… not good.  But then I realized that Wildebeest had all but caught the Lions by the light at Old castle and had he not missed the left turn light he may have had them before handing off to Metal. Yet they had a 5 minute head start and who knows how much more they picked up on the parade route.  So that meant I made it out there within a minute of the Lions.  No telling where 4 Mil was but as they were 20 minutes behind us at TS1 I can’t imagine they were any faster.  So all-in-all, I guess mission accomplished.  Had the Beest had an issue, I would’ve kept us to within a minute of the lead.  And we did send a message that day.  They still are asking “Who are those guys???”

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Sat, April 21st – 7:30 AM.  The day started out like every other Sat for like the past… oh, I don’t know effing forever number of previous Saturdays.  Roll out of bed between 6:00 – 6:30.  Grab some breakfast, wheat toast w/PB&J, coffee, maybe some fruit.  Mix up a bottle of Cytomax, bag up a few scoops of Cytomax powder, make a sandwich, get kitted and ready to roll by 7:00 – 7:30.  At this point, the entire team was in full on training mode.  300+ mile weeks were the norm.  Commute to work 4-5 days per week (both to/from) with at least one hill repeat session and maybe tempo or TT work mixed in.  Saturday long ride, sometimes solo, sometimes with a teammate or 3.  When I say long, we’re talking a hundo with 4k – 6k of climbing would probably be a middle of the road, typical day.  I know Metal, Hammer, and the Wildebeast all went over a buck-fifty on at least a couple of training rides.  My biggest ride was a 127 mile/8400 ft of climbing/7 hour solo gem that took me from the home out to the desert and back

Scissors Crossing after a killer descent down Banner Grade
Which required an emergency refuel stop at mile 110

Yes, V8.  Animal's call and he was dead right!

And a major replenish of stores that night.


But lest you think that this meant group rides with a couple of teammates which offered a break from long hours alone was therefore welcome relief, guess again boys and girls.  When we went out together it was almost always GO TIME.  Sure… often the rides would start with a “my legs aren’t great today… let’s spin for a while.”  Invariably, this would transition into “tempo” riding.  And almost always tempo was shortly followed with numerous full on attacks where the attacking rider looking to do nothing more than inflict pain and suffering on his brothers.  Mercy was rarely shown… Quarter was never given…  But that was what we did.  We were two months away from RAAM and at this point to a man we were committed to being as ready and strong as we could be, and perhaps more importantly we were committed to each other.

Well on this Saturday in April, Animal and I were up for a 5-6 hour ride to get some miles in and to get Animal (Ryan) back out after being off the bike sick for a few days. Why did Ryan earn the nickname Animal you ask?  

Intense? Nah...


Nothing remarkable planned.  We’d ride the coast north through Pendleton and see where we ended up.  At some point we decided to ride the RAAM start from Oceanside out to Old Castle.  As discussed previously, Wildebeest and I were slated to ride the parade and unsupported section out to meet Truck 1 at Old Castle and I wanted to ride the route a few times to make sure I was familiar with it.
So we’re about 50 miles into our ride and are just heading out from Oceanside on the 76 bike path when a rider on a black Orbea TT blasts past us going absolutely FULL GAS.  Animal turns to me and says very matter-of-fact tone “Look at that douche… Strava sniffing for sure… and he’s rolling 808s no less… really???”
Didn’t think more of it until a few miles down the path we see the rider coming back towards us.  As he rolls up we see it’s Wildebeest (Adam). 

Mommy... make that bad man go away...

So the Beest rolls up looking like he had been in a “spot of bother” during that effort, sweat pouring off his face, snot hanging from his nose down to his aerobars, and he breaks into a huge grin and says something like “That was awesome.” (We heard that phrase from the Beest more than a few times over the course of the next few months.)  He had in fact bagged the crown with a 350W, 28 MPH effort over the 6.7 mile run and was lamenting the fact that his Ora’s frame was cracked.  Fortunately, he had a new P4 frame on the way (the Beest rocks some pretty awesome bikes BTW.) 

Anyway after a few minutes of debate as to whether the frame will hold up for the rest of his ride, the Beest decides to tag along with us. Well, this certainly introduces a new twist into what was slated as a fairly civil ride.  As we roll down River Rd and are ready to make the turn onto Sleeping Indian (a 2.9 mile long little gem that rolls at the start before kicking up to an 11%avg/16% peak for the last 0.5 mile) Adam starts contemplating going for the crown.  As this is a fairly hotly contested prize that the average weekend warrior will avoid like the plague, I’m thinking “the man is nuts… he’s going to tackle this bad boy on his TT?  No chance.”   Sure enough, Wildebeest pops a u-turn and rolls back down to the start of the rd (we were several hundred yards up the hill) so he could take a proper run.  What did I do?  Attack Animal of course!  He’s a stronger rider than I am and fat chance I’m going to lose the opportunity to take him on the climb while he’s recovering from being sick.  So as I’m going into the red and putting a bit of time into Animal I hear something coming up from behind that sounds like something not of this world.  As I look over my shoulder I see the Beest coming around, flying, out of the saddle, doing things to that Orbea that are illegal in 26 states (I still have trouble sleeping sometimes.)  But, as I’m watching him ride away from me squeezing out what little life that Ora frame had left in it I had an “aha” moment… If I can get my TT up and over this hill in reasonable shape during the RAAM start, then the rest of the run up to Old Castle will be lethal. At that moment, my whole approach to RAAM 2012 had changed.  Rather than leave the TT loaded on the back of Truck 4 for everything except for the flat and fast of the middle of the country, it was going to be my weapon of choice with the roadie relegated to the big climbing pulls in AZ, CO, and WVA.  This was a sharp contrast to my RAAM 2008 and 2010 approach where I spent easily >60% of my time on a roadie.  If it wasn’t for that chance April AM meet-up with the Beest my approach may have been very different… And almost assuredly I would have been much slower.

Lethal Weapon 7.8 

The rest of the ride was relatively uneventful.  Pretty easy spin out to Old 395.  Then, a water stop after which I had a pretty good turn on the front starting up the climb.  The Wildebeest and Animal starting mixing it up with a guy who was a spitting image of Buffalo Bill.  Got gapped (yes Animal, payback is a bitch), later reeled Animal back in, and watched the Beest and Bill going toe-to-toe to Deer Springs.
All-in-all a good day.  102 miles, 4600 ft and a new approach that would pay dividends in a couple of months.

Next up, the start (I promise.)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

RAAM Start Nonsense

Let me preface this next entry with an acknowledgement that orchestrating an event that involves monitoring hundreds of racers/crew spread across 3000 miles and 12 states is certainly a huge logistics challenge.  The fact that RAAM management is able to pull off a race of this magnitude each year with so few issues is remarkable.  BUT… (here it comes…)  There are a few things that RAAM does that are L-A-M-E!  At the top of my “Lame Things About RAAM” is the start.  The start procedure has changed several times over the years but the current cluster goes something like this (sorry this will be a bit long and slow but we need context to understand what went down and what was going through our heads as we left Oceanside)…

1)    First we have a mandatory racer meeting where all racers must show up the night before the race and sit around in an auditorium while RAAM flips a handful of PowerPoint slides that were created in, oh, 1987. Snappy graphics. There is absolutely ZERO useful information that wasn’t already communicated at the crew chief meeting earlier in the week.  I can tell you that I can’t find anything else I’d rather be doing before a huge effort bike race than sit around with a few hundred of my closest friends.  Boy howdy…

Tynee and Animal on the edge of their seats
2)    Next let’s have all the teams drag themselves down to the Oceanside Pier before the start to stand around for an hour or two while we interview current and former racers over a garbled PA system that no one can hear.  Guys this is RAAM, not the Super Bowl.
Oh, the humanity...
3)    Racers start off on one minute spacing in reverse order with 2-man first, next 4-man, then 8-man teams.  Now, as you can imagine, racing RAAM as a 2-man squad is a completely different race than going off as a 4-man unit which likewise is a totally different race than that of an 8-man team.  Racers on the 2-man teams are each settling in for a 1500 mile grind on little rest and lousy food.  Let’s drop into a nice rhythm and start to bang out some miles. Most 8-man teams race with a rotation scheme that has their racers complete a series of almost full gas sprints while they leapfrog across the country. So let’s put the long and slow(er) guys out in front of the teams so we can make our first few hours of racing unnecessarily chaotic as the trailing 8-man racers/crew vehicles overtake the 4-man racers/crew vehicles who are overtaking the 2-man racers/vehicles. 
4)    Here’s the best part… The official clock starts as the teams roll out from the pier.  Each team’s start time is adjusted based on their start position so every team is measured based on the time they start rolling. Makes perfect sense, right? But wait… there’s more.  The first 8 miles (most of which follow the San Luis Rey bike path) of the “race” are called the “parade zone.” Teams are not allowed to pass and are supposed to ride at no more than 18 MPH (OK, sure…) The only thing this does is ensure teams bunch up on the bike path thereby skewing the spacing time adjustments.  Or worse, some teams get stuck behind teams doing the “Ride Across America” and spinning the bike path at 12-15 MPH while those ahead are banging out tempo and potentially opening up big gaps.

Wildebeest and Slayer "parading"
It's going to get ugly soon-

5)    After the first 8 mile parade zone, things get interesting as “racing” begins.  (This implies that there hasn’t been any racing on the bike path... OK sure…) The fact that RAAM doesn’t queue up teams at the end of the parade zone and start the clock/spacing at that point is a true mystery.  The next 12.5 miles comprise a stretch known as the unsupported zone.  What this means is that racers are on their own and mechanicals, flats, missed turns, etc… are completely the responsibility of each racer.  This drives a key start strategy that we have employed for the past few years. In order to keep Truck 1 (traditionally the flagship of the Team ViaSat fleet) clear of the start shenanigans, Truck 4 generally gets the honor of taking the first 20 mile “shift.”  As our first official shift isn’t slated to start for 15 hours after the start, we have the best chance of rolling the start, hand off to a locked and loaded Truck 1 at the end of the unsupported zone, and then get out to AZ to get some rest and ready to roll Sun AM.  The Wildebeest and I were given the honor of taking that first 20 and firing the first shot… More on this next post.
So in summary (finally), what we have is the possibility of gaining or losing many minutes in the first 8 miles of parade with the next 12.5 miles of high risk unsupported racing.  What’s the big deal?  Well… RAAM is as much mental as it is physical.  We knew we were fast… really fast… but (as evidenced by comments we picked up from competitors during and after the race) no one outside of our team knew what we were bringing to the party.  And we had been training for the better part of a year working our asses off and were primed to send a message. 
Next up, unleash the Beest…

Saturday, January 12, 2013


Slayer… That’s the moniker that was bestowed on me by the Metal Council last spring as we were killing ourselves with 300+ mile, 15+ hour training weeks the last few months before the 2012 edition of Race Across America (RAAM.)  Those of you who know me only in a public, work setting might be puzzled by the choice.  I tend to be a fairly conservative, not a big risk taker, jeans and polo shirts guy.  However, those that have ridden and trained with me know that some sort of transformation takes place any time I clip in.  Like a rabid dog, there isn’t a wheel I won’t chase, a Strava segment I won’t sniff, a car (or teammate) I won’t go “all Yosemite Sam” on if I feel I’ve been unjustly treated in any way.  I tend to be a bit competitive as well (Ryan aka Animal can attest to this I’m sure…)  I’ll try to put the hurt on you early and often if I get a chance.  I get my ass handed to me at times, but it won’t be for lack of effort.  So Slayer it is.  This is an attempted accounting of the 2012 RAAM where we (Team ViaSat – Metal, Toro, Animal, Hammer, Crossfire, Hazard, Wildebeest and I) laid waste to our competition and blew up the 8-man team course record finishing the 3000 mile race in 5 days, 5 hours and 5 minutes at a fraction under 24 MPH.

Let me start by going on record to say this might be a bad idea.  I tend to articulate my thoughts best when they’re unscripted and I have to think on my feet. The notion of sitting down and chronicling my experiences from last summer’s RAAM feels like a daunting task.  However, inspired by several of my 2012 teammates who have done a brilliant job (so far) of telling their stories, I’ve decided to take a shot at sharing some of Truck 4’s trip across the country. 

Wait… inspired??  That’s crap…  The real story is that I decided to document some of our story because Metal and Animal have been talking about all the cool shit that went on in their trucks and during their race and I figure remaining radio-silent would imply we had a mellow, pedestrian, RIDE Across America.  Quite the contrary… In stark contrast to the way Truck 1 (hereafter referred to as Metal 1) orchestrated their attacks like silent, precise, deadly, assassins (as described by Metal) and Truck 2 with Animal’s description of a combination of raw speed and power, we in Truck 4 traversed the country with far less precision and attention to detail.  With Jeff (aka PegLeg) at the wheel (I’m convinced he was a stunt driver in Death Race 2000), the Wildebeest set up mid-cabin and me cramped (wait… I meant camped… sorry WB) out in the way back (more about this later), Truck 4 careened its way across the country going airborne no fewer than 3 times and only having 2 near death experiences driving in the dark and fog of West VA.

So… Let’s get started.