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Inside RAAM – The Mental Game

When I describe participating in the team RAAM event, the discussion usually goes immediately to the perceived physical challenges of such a long race.  Common comments:  “Three thousand miles?!?”  “Seven days?!?”  “How far did you ride?”  “I couldn’t ride 20 miles!”

The thing is, I trained for the physical challenges.  I worked hard at cardiovascular health so that I could go as fast as possible.  I rode long distances so that physiologically this was not a terribly demanding challenge.  (I’m more worried about an upcoming 1,200k ride than was about RAAM.)  I had learned to manage both nutrition and hydration for the kind of racing RAAM required.  The physical game wasn’t the largest challenge.

It was the mental game.

In the lead up to the race, our constantly stated goal was to set a record for the age/gender/number category of which we were a part.  It wasn’t very far into the race that I discovered that we were well off the pace necessary to set a record.  That knowledge at times motivated me to work harder and at times was very discouraging.  I recall asking a crew member to not share that race status information unless I specifically asked for it.  I asked on occasion, but only when I was feeling particularly strong and well-rested.  When I was tired, discouraged, and otherwise off my game, I didn’t want to know the status of our attempt at the record.

There were people I specifically asked for encouraging words, and many who provided those without my requesting it.  Those text messages and Facebook posts were all a source of strength, especially when they were received at those times of discouragement.  There were several times when I climbed off the bike on a particularly challenging section of the ride when scrolling through some of the messages my eyes would well up and slow breaths were necessary.

Affirmation from the crew was important and unfortunately it often appeared as if it was ignored.  Most of the crew consistently complemented the effort of each of the times on the bike.  I tried to acknowledge the affirmation with a “thanks” each time, but I know that I didn’t always do that.  You see, I was busy evaluating my own performance each and every time.  Did I finish that ride with anything left in reserve?  Had I pushed hard enough?  Did I cause us to advance toward our goal or was I dead weight slowing the entire team down?  I’m typically not one to be negative, but I’ll confess that for that week there was a whole lot more negative self-doubting mental statements than I usually engage in during an entire month.  The more fatigued I was the worse it was.

And when I was pressing ahead in situations that were not my strength area, the negativity was hard to control.  I don’t see myself as a great climber.  There was a lot of climbing.  I tend not to do well in the heat.  There was a fair amount of heat.  Some of that was balanced by my strength areas.  I don’t mind busy highways, cities, dark, or inclement weather (rain).  Wind I’m generally neutral about … I don’t like headwinds but I can press through pretty well.  But as we all know, a negative is so much more powerful than a positive in terms of performance.

The real challenging part of the mental game is that I do it in isolation.  I don’t often reveal much about my inner life, and this was true during this race as one might expect.

My frustration and negativity erupted in Clarksburg, WV.  We were starting to gain ground on the record.  Clarksburg was a congested city that we were not successful in riding very quickly through and so it felt like we were losing hard-earned time.  I was sensitive to what seemed to me a lackadaisical attitude of crew members.  I was tired.  I was feeling quite slow and useless.  Crew members were not reading my mind about what I wanted or needed.  I didn’t know where I was going.   I just wanted to be done.  (This was also just hours before I collapsed due to sleep deprivation.)  I pulled into a parking lot, waved the follow van over, signaled the navigator to roll down his window, and then proceeded to scream at the top of my lungs about his incompetence.

I apologized with hat in hand later.  I’d like to say that the blow up aided my performance, but it didn’t.  I had long been focused on issues other than the race itself.  The mental game is challenging.  It is often a distraction.

Texts from Lori were quite helpful.  I don’t remember them all, and she is disappointed in that.  But I read them all.  Sometimes they hit home.  Sometimes they didn’t.  It wasn’t about the message itself but more about how receptive I was to them when I read them.  You see, words of encouragement need fertile ground in order to grow.  My ground wasn’t always fertile.

One of the best timed words of encouragement came from a friend at church.  She called us as a team and me in particular a “bad ass”.  She then went on to share an urban dictionary definition.

Unspoken Rules of Being Badass

  1. First rule of being a badass. A badass does not talk about being a badass. Period.
  2. Second rule of being a badass, a badass does not try to be a badass or look tough. A badass simply is a badass.
  3. A badass stays true to themselves, always. This means being themselves for themselves, and not being fake to impress others.
  4. A badass does not give up. Badasses will always push themselves for the better, no matter how hard it gets.
  5. A badass is not a jerk. A badass does not prey on the weak, and shows kindness in return to those who are kind.
  6. A badass knows his/her limits. Don’t be stupid, you’re not Superman, you’ll die if you jump off a building.
  7. A badass does not make enemies or go looking for fights. They do not fights that aren’t worth fighting either.

Why this was helpful I’m not sure.  I do know I gravitated toward #4.  I simply found it highly encouraging.  I embraced it. It came at the right time. Others picked up on the theme and when we hit the finish line, there was a sign:

badass

Thank you to all who sent words of encouragement and affirmation.  I imagine the race would have been much more difficult if your words weren’t contradicting some of the things rattling around in my head.

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Inside RAAM – Home Away From Home

During RAAM, perhaps the most comfortable place of the trip was on the saddle of the bicycle.  Of the 171.75 hours of the race, only about 43 hours were spent on the bike.  The rest of the time was spent in the cramped quarters of the rear of a minivan.  I can see the elements of a “How I spent my summer vacation” paper writing about 129 hours confined to a 2 1/2′ X 5′ space.  That’s right, about 12 1/2 square feet, unless you count the one seat which was shared.

Chip and I fretted over the arrangement of our precious small space as we planned the trip.  We had a wooden bunk under which was stored our gear.  One of us could lay on this bunk while resting or sleeping.  The other option was situated behind the seat.  Both of these spaces included a foam “eggcrate” pad and an inflatable camping mattress, about 1/2-3/4 of an inch deep.  Food and first aid supplies were stored in a bin at the foot of the bunk, leaving that space unavailable for our bodies.  There was also a cooler full of ice next to the one rear single seat (that we crawled over more than we sat in).  Another ice chest had cold food (like fruit cups) in it.  There was only one way out of our living quarters.  The sliding door was opened frequently, except at gas stations.  The gas filler hole was on that side and prevented the door from opening.  In the summer heat, when the van was turned off and if the person gassing the van forgot to open windows, we were quickly pounding on windows and screaming for relief from the heat.

Those 12 1/2 square feet were first and foremost our sleeping area.  What little sleep happened during RAAM was conducted there.  We traded spots on occasion.  Once I was sound asleep on the bunk and the van driver, in a rush to get gas, turned quickly into a gas station and dropped me from the bunk onto the floor of the van.  I woke up about halfway down.  I was lucky that my helmet was tucked away elsewhere and not on my landing spot.

Those 12 1/2 square feet were our dining room.  “Meals” were eaten there, snacks were consumed, and hydration fluids and powders were mixed there.

Those 12 1/2 square feet were our bathing area.  A sponge bath in such confined quarters was not unlike trying to clean up in a small bathtub with a ceiling less than 4 feet overhead.  Note: I had the 4 feet overhead.  Chip managed with a 2 foot ceiling.  (We did get one shower in a hotel room that week.  It was heavenly … though rushed.)

Those 12 1/2 square feet were the locations of a few leg cramps.  During the first 12 – 18 hours, I suffered through 2-3 leg cramps as the intensity of the cycling efforts moved from sedentary to short racing pulls at high effort.  Let me tell you, the inability to stand to work out leg cramps is a great hindrance to efficiency!  Sometimes just the very act of fitting into this space generated the cramping.

Those 12 1/2 square feet was our changing room.  Adding or subtracting clothing was accomplished here.  Ever try to change clothes in a phone booth?  I have greater respect for Superman!

Organization was key.  Everything needed a place and needed to be returned to its place when used.  On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is complete chaos and 10 is perfect organization, I think we averaged a 4.  Cell phones were misplaced, even while charging.  Damp clothing was hung on lines overhead to dry and would inevitably smack someone in the face.  Helmets never did find a consistent landing spot, and if we attempted to put them in the same place every time, a moving vehicle suddenly stopping, starting, and turning meant they might be anywhere.  Water bottles were the worst.  While we rarely drank fluids while on the bike, we always put a bottle on the bike.  It was usually the last thing we grabbed as we jumped out of the van and onto the bike.  I ended up with the same number of bottles as I started with, but trying to find one of the three I had when it was my turn on the bike seemed to be one of the more difficult tasks of the ride.

Once it started raining on Friday night of the race, nothing in the van seemed to be dry.  I’m glad we didn’t encounter any real rain until that last day.

Why put up with all of this?  Why not use a larger vehicle?  Why not hotels to sleep in or at least an RV?  It came down to money.  Our goal was to complete this ride with a budget under $30,000.  We used two minivans owned by John & Nancy, and one larger borrowed van that was used to shuttle crew and supplies.  We accomplished the shoestring budget and managed with the vehicles.  Simply adding an RV would have added around $10,000 to the cost of the trip.

Lucky for us, one of the luxury items in the van was a flyswatter!  As the van filled with biting flies in Kansas there was a flurry of activity to kill those vile creatures each time the vehicle started moving again.  Can you imagine what that is like from our 12 1/2 square feet of space?

I don’t know how long it takes for a RAAM rider vehicle to smell right again.  I think I did hear John say that a date with a car crusher might be in order.  One shower wasn’t enough to knock the stink off of me.

Inside RAAM – The Most Fun!

In some previous posts, I wrote about sleep deprivation, overcoming fear, and the uncomfortable aftermath of this epic ride.  Those posts made this ride seem daunting.  I’ve written about the beauty of this country when viewed from the saddle of a bicycle, bringing a little balance back into the experience.

But there were times when this ride was simply a lot of fun!

Yes, I come back to the “Glass Elevator”, and the descent off Wolf Creek Pass as two of the most fun downhill stretches.  A close third were the descents toward Durango, CO.  Flying down those hills with the wind flying and the scenery changing moment to moment and watching the speed sensor drift above 45 mph for minutes at a time are simply sublime thrills.  Non-cycling friends have a hard time imagining what that speed feels like.  They think it is terrifying.  Simple fun!

Picking up a nice tailwind and watching the speed climb to 25-30 mph on flat land is also quite a thrill.  It generates a feeling of power and strength.  Most of Kansas had a “quartering” tailwind (maybe from the 4:00 position) and there were times to take that opportunity to fly down the road.

I had a lot of fun in the larger towns.  Most people I know really don’t like riding in traffic, especially 4 lane roads or wide 2 lane roads in town.  I loved it.  Going through busy streets and through intersections has the possibility of interrupting the rhythm that develops.  A light will turn red at just the wrong time.  One has to keep an eye on traffic.  Because there are more items close to the rider, the sense of speed is heightened such that a cyclist will normally slow down in these congested areas.  Noting all this, I stepped up my game in town and attempted (1) to increase my pace so I didn’t lose much time, (2) tried to flow with traffic as much as possible, and (3) time the lights so that I was stopped infrequently.  I did great with the first two.  I probably hit about half the lights red in town.  For me though, riding through the larger towns was a lot of fun.  I accelerated hard and fast.  I tried to keep the speed high and flow with the traffic.  All my senses were on high alert.  Durango, CO was a town that I took by storm.  I also had a lot of fun in Prescott, AZ, Flagstaff, AZ, St. Louis and Athens, OH.  Where all of this didn’t work very well was Clarksburg, WV.  There were other great places, but again, sometimes the location of these is just a blur.

Related to this … it was always a lot of fun whenever I could go faster than traffic.  It didn’t happen often, but when it did, it was fun.

So you are seeing a theme here.  Those places where there was some speed going were a lot of fun.

But the longer stretches were fun too.  For most of RAAM we rode in 15 minute shifts.  This is hardly fun.  But I had a lot of fun with the longer sections.  In western Colorado (or was it Arizona?) I was on the bike for an extended period of time and was interviewed while on the bike by RAAM Media.  I was tucked into the aero bars and riding at a comfortable threshold covering some good ground early in the morning.  One night, two of the riders were sleeping and John and I shared longer turns.  The world was dark and quiet and the bike was spinning perfectly.  Riding through northern Arizona between Tuba City and Kayenta in the dark was another fun place.  Come to think of it, most nights were a lot of fun.  There is something quite peaceful about riding in the dark.

It was a lot of fun meeting some people along the way.  We didn’t have many groups of people cheering us on along the route.  We were the only racers sometimes for 100 miles.  The fast teams were well ahead of us.  The slow teams were well behind us.  We were in the sparsely populated middle.  I had a conversation with a construction flagger for about 10 minutes west of Durango.  She and I chatted in the 95 degree heat while the cars piled up behind us and drivers sat in air-conditioned comfort.  I also spent some time talking with a police officer who was holding back traffic because of a restaurant fire.  The fire department was going to have to stretch a hose across the road to battle the fire.  Traffic was stopped in both directions.  After a little conversation about the race, he went and made something happen so that I could get through the area.  Sometimes drivers would slow down to talk to me, especially in town.  There were often displays of encouragement with horns, thumbs, and even a whistle or two.  For the most part we were pretty isolated from the world, so any encounter with non-racers was fun.

The last day was also a lot of fun.  Those who followed the race know that on Saturday rain was heavy and constant for most of the day.  The fun time started for me in Cumberland just before dawn.  It was pouring rain.  The streets were awash in water.  One truck rumbled by from the opposite direction, hitting a pothole full of standing water and splashed gallons of water in my lap and on my chest.  There was no staying dry and I was having a blast.  You see, when there is little chance of me keeping any part of my body dry, I embrace the rain and simply enjoy it.  Granted, it was a little chillier than I would have liked, and at 35 mph down some hills the rain stung my face, but it was a lot of fun.  I notice that drivers of cars tend to be much more gracious in passing when the rain is pouring down and the “poor cyclist” is stuck in it.  If they knew how much fun I have in the rain I doubt they would give me as wide a berth.

But the absolute most fun on the entire ride was as we got close to the finish.  We had friends out scattered over the last 130 miles.  They held signs of encouragement (in the rain).  They rang cowbells (in the rain).  They cheered (in the rain).  Sometimes it was hard to catch my breath as I passed by.  We had several people show up at Rouzersville.  We had 10-15 people cheering us on at Mt. Airy.  And at the finish line, 50 people had gathered to congratulate us on a job well-done.  They swarmed the finish line so that it was hard to even cross it.  The show of support along those last 130 miles was the most fun of all.

Inside RAAM – The Memorable Beauty

Whatever one might say about the physical and mental challenges of a Race Across America, there are some simply amazing and stunning moments that just aren’t the same from a car as they are from a bicycle.  While there were some spectacular sights from the back of the minivan, here are some of my favorite times on a bike during this race.

Every. Single. Sunrise.

Yes, the last morning we didn’t really know when the sun rose because we were in the middle of a heavy rainstorm, and the morning we crossed the Mississippi River, it was dark and overcast and blustery and damp.  But I never tire of watching the sunrise, especially the sunrise from the saddle of a bicycle.

The absolute best sunrise I recall was in Utah, the second morning.  I knew that we were running behind our planned schedule.  Monument Valley, UT should have been traversed completely in the dark if we were anywhere near record pace for the race.  As the sky started to lighten before dawn, we started to witness the rock formations against that very early morning sky.  Yes, for that I stepped out and took a photo before taking my turn riding through that early morning beauty.

MV2 MV1

The photos are very grainy, but very few people get a chance to see these rock formations at this time of day.  Spectacular!

Another memorable early morning, by then location was a blur, was as we followed a river to our right, with a meadow between us and the river.  Deer were out by the dozens and beauty of the golden hour was simply amazing.

Each sunrise brought new promise to the day.  Riding at night is quite enjoyable, but my favorite time of the day is sunrise.  Like I said, I enjoyed them all.

The Darkest Part of the Night

When I talk about crewing for RAAM 4 years ago, I often mention that most of the country looked the same to me … since my shift always included the night.  This year I stopped and gazed at the night sky often.  The moon was in the first quarter as we began the race, so we didn’t have the amazing moonlight I recall from before, but we had very dark skies and I had forgotten how much I like viewing the Milky Way.  In the desert, in Kansas, and even in the Midwest, the light pollution was so minimal as to be able to see the Milky Way clearly.  I would have liked to have been able to sit with the car lights off for an hour or so just to get the full effect.

Some of the Wildlife

I’ll admit, some of the wildlife I was not enamored with.  The biting flies of Kansas and the mosquitoes of the Midwest didn’t make any friends.  We saw way more roadkill than we needed to.  (I didn’t realize that Armadillos had made it as far north as Kansas.)  My favorite were the deer, elk, and the like.  We saw antlers in full velvet.  One particular deer ran across the road in front of us, up a steep bank on the right, then leaped over a fence at the top of the ridge.  Our angle was such that the leaping deer was completely framed by the late evening sky.  Our vehicle nearly collided with a few deer, but our drivers kept a sharp eye out.  I did not encounter any troublesome dogs.  I don’t know about the rest of the team, but I heard no stories this year.

The Vistas During Descents

Starting with the “Glass Elevator” the descents gave me the most opportunities to marvel at the beauty around us.  Not only do the descents mean that there is less “work” being done, but the views are usually quite extended, especially near the highest elevations.  I especially liked the “Glass Elevator” and the descents into the Durango, Colorado area.

And More

Those are highlights, but there certainly is more.  I think of the drought conditions of California with its own monotone beauty.  The sand dunes and blowing sand of the Imperial Sand Dunes is always amazing in the dark.  The snow capped mountains of Colorado can be seen from far off (and a great reminder that we had to cross those).  The streams and rivers often paralleling the road, especially in the mountains generates excitement or peace, depending on the power of the flow of water.  The forests of Missouri were dense.  The fields from eastern Colorado through Ohio took me back to my roots.  Even the towns and their own unique character were pleasant.  Of course, Oldenburg, IN with its street signs in German is unique and so is the terrain around town.

West Virginia and Maryland were simply wet.  We caught especially western Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania in some of the wettest weather of the summer.  Even then, there was beauty.  Forested land in the rain has a very unique aroma.

And we got to see it all at an average of 17.5 mph, meaning that we didn’t dash past it.  We felt the moisture or the dryness.  We smelled the clean air and the decaying roadkill.  We noticed the cool pockets of air and the quick warm spots along the way.  We were immersed in the climate and conditions … and it is a great way to travel.

Inside RAAM – Overcoming Fear

I’m not normally a “fearful person”.  When faced with new situations or challenging tasks, I tend not to get very anxious and instead respond with a lot of thoughtfulness and planning.  There were plenty of people who asked if I was afraid or nervous about RAAM before it began.  My answer was usually, “Not really.”  I thought I knew what to expect.

I didn’t get scared until two days before the start.  That fear was justified.

On Thursday, June 18th, Chip and I rode the first 14 miles of the route to help orient Chip who would be riding the first leg of the race solo.  There is a climb near the end of that stretch that lasts for about 2 miles and is quite the challenge.  We wanted to make sure he knew what to expect.

It was a good day for a ride.  There was a good ocean breeze.  Temperatures were comfortable.  We made quick work of the first 11 miles.  We encountered the “Bike Like a Girl” team from Maryland near the base of the climb.  I can say that I was quite embarassed to have those riders pass me on the uphill segment … even the woman who was lagging far behind.  Before the ride, I knew Chip would out-climb me, so we agreed to meet at the summit.  He went a little further, then turned around and came back about the time I was fully recovered from the effort, having found a nice cool place in the shade.

We started the descent together, and although the road surface was quite rough, a steep 2 mile descent seemed to be quite the reward for the day.

About the time I reached about 40 mph I started to get a little vibration in my handlebars.  At 45 mph there was an oscillation that started and my front wheel was starting to become uncontrollable.  I started looking at the ditch as a place to dump the bike instead of hitting the pavement at this speed.  My speed topped out at nearly 47 mph and the bike was completely out of control.  The oscillation of the front handlebar was nearly pulling the handlebars out of my hands.  I sat back, putting more weight on the rear wheel, clamped my legs across the top tube, relaxed my hands and shoulders, and gradually feathered the brakes until I started slowing, the vibration was dampened, and I could bring the bike to a stop.  My heart rate monitor shows that my heart rate increased by 20 bpm during this descent, or should I say the time bringing the bike back under control.  Chip looked back, asked if I was ok, and I replied, “No”.  It took me a full minute to calm down enough to get back on the bike and ride the rest of the way back to Oceanside.

Now I was scared.  I knew that there were some big descents ahead and I had somehow caused not only a potentially dangerous vibration on a descent, but had also just scared myself silly.  I had been that speed before on the bike.  I had hopes of breaking the 50 mph barrier on this trip.  This was not adding up to the experience I was hoping for and the race had not yet started.  Yes, fear was the emotion.

As I reviewed the events leading to this near tragedy, it was clear that my initial attempts to correct the vibration only made it worse and that my many miles in the saddle and the resulting experience pulled me back out of it.  I continued the affirmations and carefully reviewed the incident many times over the next day or two.

I was still somewhat anxious on day one of RAAM because it was possible that I would be descending the “glass elevator”, a 12 mile 8% descent in western California.  As race day began, it was determined that Chip would be doing the descent and I actually breathed a sigh of relief.  But then, adapting to circumstances as they emerged and some strange transition error, it ended up that I would be the one on the first big descent of the ride.  I gamely said I was ready, and took off.

The “glass elevator” has magnificent views, is a twisty, technical descent with gusty, variable winds and has a reputation of resulting in a crash or two every year.  Here I was hitting this descent with my most recent experience not exactly building confidence.  Still, I let the bike go as much as I could. I quickly determined that I was comfortable and enjoying the ride.  I noted that I could comfortably negotiate the turns at 10 mph faster than the posted speed limit.  I had vehicles in front of me at times that I had to slow down for.  I noted in particular that the “Bike Like a Girl” van was ahead of me at one point and they pulled off the road to allow me to go flying by.  I concentrated on relaxing my body, keeping track of my speed in the turns, and tried to occasionally glance at the amazing scenery of the desert unfolding below me.  I only maxed out at just over 47 mph, but that section restored my confidence on the bike.  No, the follow van couldn’t keep up.  I didn’t complain when I hit the valley floor and was asked if I could take a longer turn while vehicles gassed up.  I kept the speed up as much as possible in the 116° F heat to keep the wind flowing over my body.  Soon enough, I was back in the van in air conditioned comfort and thrilled at the ride.  It was a real accomplishment to have overcome the initial fear and sit back and enjoy the ride (although due to the technical part of the descent, “sit back and enjoy” really means “have every nerve fiber on alert for the constantly changing conditions and adapt quickly and if you feel yourself slowing in the least amount or think you can handle more speed … pedal hard!”).

There were only two other times I remember having fear on the ride.  The first came during a nighttime descent with small undulating rollers.  I was in the headlights of the van as required at night but because of the rollers, there were times when I crested a small hill where it was completely dark on the road ahead of me and I had no idea whether or not there was a pothole ahead.  My bike headlight wasn’t strong enough to pick out such obstacles at 40 mph.  I slowed it down a little in that section.

The other fearful time was in Missouri.  I was riding on the shoulder of a busy highway and I noticed fresh blacktop on the shoulder ahead.  It looked safe enough until I hit it.  The blacktop had not been compacted and was as loose as gravel.  I nearly fell when I hit the loose surface and while trying to stay upright on the bike wrenched my back pulling a muscle.  I tried to ride, but the pain was intense.  I signaled the follow van, stopped, and another rider replaced me.  I got into the van and thought that my ride might be over.  That was the scary part.  I popped an ice pack, laid on it and stretched the muscle.  I gave up my next turn on the bike, still nursing that muscle, and fortunately was able to get back on the bike the following turn.  It never gave me another bit of trouble the rest of the ride … although truth be told, it was a little tight for a couple of weeks.

RAAM is a physically challenging event, and most people who want to talk about it talk most about that physical challenge.  Readers of this blog will note that in addition to the physical challenges, the mental game is just as important.  Here I’ve written about the fear, but later will write about more of the mental challenges of the event.  They are huge!

My next installment however will be more “uplifting”.

Inside RAAM – Sleep Deprivation

Most of my expectations about how our RAAM Team would manage our rotations provided the opportunity to get some good sleep, even it it would be only for 2-3 hours at most.  Unfortunately, my expectations were not the same as the schedule that evolved and we implemented.  I believe we chose one of the most inefficient strategies and one that led to significant sleep deprivation issues.  Having said that, I agreed to the plan.

What developed was 15 minutes of riding and 45 minutes off for each of the team members.  We kept this up pretty much around the clock during most of the 7 days.  There were times when we would allow a teammate to skip a cycle or two to get rest, but that was actually quite rare.  It wasn’t because it wasn’t offered.  Each of us wanted to ride and believed that we needed to share the effort equally.  One of the first time I took an extra rotation to let my van partner sleep an extra cycle, I got chewed out by him for making him skip a turn riding.  As a larger team, there were two significant (2-2.5 hour sleeps) scheduled.  One happened in eastern Colorado.  The other happened (or more accurately was supposed to happen) in eastern Ohio/western West Virginia.  Mechanical issues with a bike meant this sleep stop was skipped for our van.

I took advantage of opportunities to sleep as often as I could, but what that meant was 20-30 minute naps.  I was amazed that I could be sleeping one minute, be woken up for my shift on the bike, and be riding at 20 mph in under a minute.  There were many such times along the route.

The one time the longer sleep period failed led to some significant consequences for me.  (My partner in the van got less sleep than I did and suffered similar symptoms for much longer.)

Outside of Grafton, WV my mind got very fuzzy.  I knew that I was riding a bike but my field of vision was very narrow.  It was as if I could only focus on a few key things.  I remember starting part way up a hill and continuing a significant climb for my time in the rotation.  After that, I remember my next rotation on the bike being more climbing.  There was wind.  There was rain.  It was dark.  For all I knew I was above the tree line in Colorado … at least that’s how it felt to me.  The crew expressed concern that I wasn’t thinking correctly, and I remember arguing with them.  There was an incident where my van partner started riding too soon and he was completely confused about what was happening.  I fell out of the van as it started to move, and was nearly run over by the rear wheel.  I got back in the van, and laid down for sleep.

The crew tells me that 30 minutes later they couldn’t wake me up.  They let me sleep.  Sometime later (I think about another 30 minutes) I woke up and sat up in the van.  But at this point, I didn’t know who I was, where I was, what I was doing, and what those other people were doing in a moving vehicle.  I was cold and wet and very confused.  I think I just sat there trying to work all this out.  I don’t recall asking any questions.  I remember seeing the route book and thinking that this must be some bicycle race, but I recall thinking that it was some kind of loop in West Virginia … near Grafton.  I heard people speak about Nancy, but I had no idea who that might have been.  Gradually my brain began to make sense out of what was happening.  It came back slowly.  I was back on the bike again riding before all of it made complete sense to me.  My focus was still very narrow.  I had to be told just about everything to do.  I do recall someone bringing food.  I really wasn’t clear again until I rode through Cumberland.

In the stretch between Cumberland and Hancock I still really wasn’t ready to ride.  I feel bad about that because I didn’t do any of that tough climbing.  I slept some of that stretch.  After that, I was good to go.  I could function appropriately and although I was tired, I could think reasonably clearly.

For me, the serious sleep deprivation issues lasted just a few hours.  For my partner, it was significantly longer.  But this is about my experience, not about his.  I will say that I was able to help orient him several times, mostly by moving in close so that we were face to face and explaining in simple terms what was happening.  I took advantage of his narrow focus.  Taking extra rotations so he could sleep also helped.

Inside RAAM – The Aftermath

RAAM Team Beau, Babe, & Buds crossed the finish line in 7 days, 3 hours, 41 minutes.  We didn’t set a record.  We did win the 4 person mixed gender (60-69 year old) division.  In a series of posts, I intend to take you inside this RAAM team ride, describing as much as possible what it was like and how we responded to challenging circumstances.

This first post describes the week following the race.  It was a week full of surprises.

As prelude, let me simply say that I suffered some dramatic sleep deprivation symptoms during the race, and most of the last 24 hours of the race were completed in chilly 60 degree temperatures in pouring rain.  You will be able to read about those details later.

As fatigued as I was at the end of RAAM, it took a full week for me to return to something like a normal sleep schedule.  For a full seven days, I slept no more than two hours at a time.  At night, I was constantly dreaming about rider exchanges and bicycle racing.  I would wake up when it was “my turn” to ride.  I’d get up, go to the bathroom, and head back to bed for another two hours of sleep.  On day 8 I slept 4 hours and didn’t dream of racing.  On day 9 I slept something like 6-7 hours without waking.  There were no dreams that night either.

The first night back home was the worst.  I think I had become hypodermic during the last day of racing.  In addition to sleeping only a maximum of two hours at a time I had symptoms other than the dreaming that impacted my sleep.  The first was night sweats.  I sweated heavily until the sheets were soaking wet and then became chilled to the point of shivering.  I’d throw a sheet back over me to warm up and start sweating all over again.  There was no middle ground.  In addition, sometimes the shivering seemed to be more like muscles firing uncontrollably so that my whole body shook as if I were locked in a whole body tremor.  I’d describe it like a seizure except that there was no real rigidity of the muscles.  These shaking episodes lasted only a few seconds but would leave me exhausted.  Needless to say, after that first night, naps were in order during the day.  I think I got two.  I did take my temperature the first morning after RAAM and it registered about 1 degree below normal for me.

The second night the night sweats continued, but were not as bad.  The tremors also diminished but were still there occasionally.  By the second morning, I was ready for the dreams to stop, but as I said earlier, they continued for a full week.

By the third night, there were no more night sweats or tremors.  I was still getting up every two hours.  Getting back to sleep usually wasn’t a problem.

On Wednesday (the race finished Saturday evening) I developed a bad cold.  A friend had commented on Tuesday morning that given what I had done to my immune system, he was surprised I wasn’t sick.  I blame him.  The very next morning I was ill.  I had sinus congestion, lung congestion, and simply felt miserable.  I had to sleep for 3-4 days with my head elevated in order to sleep my two hours at a time, and if I got a little too warm, I started coughing hard.  That meant that some of the time I slept in a chair with no blanket or sheet just to stay cool enough to keep from coughing.  Lori and I went away Wednesday evening for a mini vacation, and I was pretty miserable at night the whole time.  To keep from coughing I had to stay cool enough that it was uncomfortable.

When I finally did sleep for a 4 hour stretch on the 8th night, it was wonderful!

I got out on the bicycle for a ride on the Tuesday following the race.  It felt good to be out and ride a 20 mile stretch with friends.  I didn’t take the bike on the mini vacation.  I have found that even though riding the bike feels pretty good, I’m quicker with an excuse to not ride.  I’ve not ridden more days than I’ve ridden in the nearly 3 weeks since RAAM, putting in fewer than 150 miles.  I’ve enjoyed every ride.  It is just getting out the door that seem harder than it used to be.

My ability to focus on a task longer than about 10 minutes was severely compromised the first few days after RAAM.  I fully intended to begin writing about my RAAM experience on day 2 & 3 post RAAM, but I really couldn’t pull together the thoughts or organization needed to begin.  I’m really glad I didn’t go back to work immediately because I simply had trouble focusing on tasks.

I will also admit that 20 days after the race, there is not a day in which I haven’t taken at least a short 15-20 minute nap.

I started by saying that I was surprised by these post race symptoms.  I expected sore muscles, tender tissues, etc.  Even though I rode about 800 miles that week, it seems that since they were in relatively short “bursts”, the physical exertion didn’t reach the level where there would be the residual physical effects I’ve experienced after other long rides.

Thanks for reading.  More later.

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