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Inside RAAM – The Race Itself

by on July 23, 2015

RAAM, The Race Across America, isn’t just a bike ride.  It is a race.  There are a variety of race categories.  There are Solo and Team (2, 4, & 8 person) Categories.  There are age categories (under 50, 50-59, 60-69, 70-75, 75+).  There are gender categories (male, female, mixed). Combine them all together and one has quite a few different options.  We raced in the 4-person, mixed gender 60-69 category.  In the history of RAAM team events (since 1992), there have been a total of 6 teams in this category.  This year, there were two teams in the category.  Additionally, we saw ourselves competing against all the 4-person teams.

Our goal was to set the record for the category.  Since each year the race covers a slightly different route and will have a total mileage distance different from year to year, the average speed over the course determines the record.  The total time simply gives a rough estimate of the performance.

So how did we do?

There is a short and long answer to that question.  First the short answer … and if you want the long answer, you can read through to the end of the post.

Short Answer

  1. We came in first in our category with an average speed of 17.5 mph.  Team Laughing Dog came in just over 14 hours after us with an average speed of 16.18 mph.
  2. Against all 27 4-person teams, we ranked 15th.  We were faster than: 2 of the 3 under 50 female teams, the one 50-59 female team, 2 of the 10 under 50 male teams, 2 of the 3 50-59 male teams, the one 60-69 male team, and 3 of the 7 under 50 mixed teams.
  3. In a very proud moment, we also were faster than 1 of the 11 8-person teams!
  4. We did not set a record.  The record speed was 17.63 mph.

This was a very respectable time and effort.

The Long Answer

A race lasting a full week, covering 3004 miles, 55 time stations, and where the clock never stops is a very complicated thing to analyze or evaluate.  Additionally, our race covered 41 more miles than the record-setting ride so it is not simply an easy thing to compare one ride to another based on time to each of the time stations.  No “official” records were set during this year’s race due to road construction, detours, wind conditions, and weather, including desert temperatures 5-10 degrees higher than usual.  (Bike Like a Girl did set a record for an 8-person female team although at least prior to this year, all 8-person teams exist in only one category.) For instance, this year there was a bridge under construction necessitating a detour on loose gravel.  While our rider made some good time on this section of gravel, it does not compare favorably to riding the same distance on smooth paved roads.  We had several sections where we were completely stopped due to road construction, waiting for the flagger to send us in single file across the construction zone.  A fire stopped us once as the road was closed.  As I spoke to the police officer, we discussed alternative routes around the closed road.  Flooding necessitated detours.  One section between time stations was completely re-routed.  Wind speed and direction was highly related to the time one passed certain sections of the route.  These seem to some like excuses.  I simply look at them as variable factors over which we have no control but that affect the speed of the race and the challenges in comparing race results.

And still I compare.

Compared to the record-setting team (Team GOALED in 2013) our average speed was as much as 2.55 mph average slower at one point early in the race, and as little as 0.08 mph average slower late in the race.  We were clearly faster near the end of the race.

Compared to the record-setting team our speeds between time stations ranged from 4.95 mph slower to 5.75 mph faster.

Compared to the record-setting pace, we were as much as 3 hours 24 minutes behind and as close as 45 minutes behind.  We ended up 1 hour 16 minutes behind the record.  In western Colorado we were the furthest behind.  We were the closest to the record in Hanover, Pennsylvania.  We were never ahead of the record pace (even though as I remember it, our crew told us we were).

We slipped behind most significantly between these time stations:

  • Lake Henshaw, CA to Blythe, CA (losing 1 hour 8 minutes in 180 miles )
  • Flagstaff, AZ to Mexican Hat, UT (losing 1 hour 8 minutes in 190 miles)
  • Camdenton, MO to Washington, MO (losing 2 hours 4 minutes in 129 miles)
  • Chillicothe, OH to Athens, OH (losing 30 minutes in 60 miles)
  • West Union, WV to Hancock, MD (losing 1 hour 6 minutes in 200 miles)

We gained the most significantly between these time stations:

  • Walsh, CO to Montezuma, KS (gaining 36 minutes in 104 miles)
  • Pratt, KS to Yates Center, KS (gaining 38 minutes in 175 miles)
  • Washington, MO to Oxford, OH (gaining just over 1 hour in 420 miles)
  • Athens, OH to West Union, WV (gaining 30 minutes in 85 miles)
  • Hancock, MD to Hanover, PA (gaining nearly an hour in 90 miles)

It would be interesting to note the weather conditions and rider dynamics during these stretches, but my memory isn’t good enough to do that very accurately.  I know we had heavy rain in West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.  I know that the heat in eastern California was a factor.  I remember struggling a lot in Missouri.  Sleep deprivation caught up with us in West Virginia and western Maryland.  It is interesting for me to see that we clawed back over 2 hours of the time we lost early in the race.  By the time we hit the 5th time station (342 miles, 18 hours 24 minutes), we were far enough behind the record pace (1 hour 26 minutes) that we never recovered.

Having said that, I looked at our time to Durango, CO and compared it to the 2015 Race Across the West (RAW) team results.  There were 2 2-person teams and 8 4-person teams. They rode the same route and started 4 days ahead of us.  Conditions were similar, with very high heat in the desert.  Our time was 2 days, 51 minutes.  We came in faster than 8 of the teams.  We were 1 hour 56 minutes slower than the 1st place team and 12 minutes slower than the 2nd place team.  The team that finished 3rd was more than 2 hours behind our time.  Not too shabby!  And we had another 2150 miles to go!

So, having said all that, and crunched the numbers, ours was a very respectable showing and with no other teams setting records this year, our missing the mark by 1:15 is a tremendous witness to a strong team.

Nice job RAAM Team Beau, Babe, & Buds

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From → Cycling, RAAM

One Comment
  1. Olivia Riley permalink

    I really enjoy reading these updates and details of your race! This post in particular has impacted me because I can’t imagine the amount of self talk you must have had to do to stay focused, energized and motivated. I am so proud of each and everyone of the members of your team! You all should be very proud of yourselves!

    Good luck to you on your upcoming race!

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