Saturday, June 25, 2011

This isn't about 50-59 age group records anymore

We finished the race!

To be honest, we were being realistic and saying we would be breaking the 50-59 age group record as our goal. It is so mind blowing that we have accomplished even more, beyond any of our wildest dreams.

We didn't only break, we crushed all of the old 4-women transcontinental bicycling records in book.

Old 50-59 age group 4-women record:
7 days, 10 hours, and 35 minutes set in 2010, average speed was 16.83 mph. Route was nearly the same as 2011's.

Old 18-49 age group 4-women record (former overall):
6 days, 12 hours, and 28 minutes set in 1996. Average speed was 18.57 mph. This was on a different route and was almost 100 miles shorter than 2011's.

New overall 4-women record:
6 days, 11 hours, and 34 minutes. Average speed was 19.22 mph.

How's that for a bunch of girls about half a century old? Apparently this is another proof that age is just a number!!

What happened here is so surreal and it may take some time to digest and believe that we did race all the way across the country. (In some ways, I feel like I am still in California.)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Got lost again, but it only took a minute to get back on course. About 120 more miles to go. (A fan asked how we could get lost with GPS. This is partly because we are on backroads. Most, if not all, teams and even RAAM officials are getting lost from time to time. I think it would be helpful for RAAM organizers to mark the course with paint on the road like the former organizers used to do.)
I chatted with a RAAM official in WV and he told me how he got lost too because of bad directions. He said he sat in the wrong place for three hours the day I talked to him. He was frustrated about that, but like everybody is saying: That's RAAM.

We flew across WV in less than 10 hours and are currently about 150 miles from the finish. Cat is dancing out of the saddle a lot. Isabelle is still pedaling as fast as ever. Lori is like a diesel engine. Jeanine motors each of her legs like a rock.

Still taking wrong turns

Yikes. I was told why our average at TS 42 was 16.55 mph. We did more wrong turns than we cared to count last night. As it is, we officially got lost often. :( But we are not the only ones. Most, if not all, other teams are in the same shoes. It is somewhat frustrating, but we are pushing on.

Day 5 report

For a while, Cat’s hamstring was bothering her and we could see that while she was still holding up her speed, she was struggling a bit on the climbs. We were worried about her, but after several massaging sessions over an hour long each, her leg muscles got soft again and she felt much better. Jeanine did have a similar trouble but to a lesser degree than Cat and we hope the massaging will help Jeanine too.

Apart from knots in the muscles, our girls are still riding well. We are hard pushed to keep our speed average up, especially with the traffic lights. We however may be able to make it partly because I watched Isabelle and Cat ride between TS 38 to T39. They had to stop at 4 or 5 traffic lights, one of them being the roadwork light (where we waited for about 2 minutes.) This 4-hour block was also one of the blocks when Cat’s hamstring was talking to her and the short but steep hills weren’t helping much. Despite our disadvantages, we did 19.23 mph for this TS! A fan told me that if we compare this to the TS 39 speed of the top five 4-men teams, we are doing extremely well.

The big question is whether we can continue this. Our riders are feeling "okay" overall, which means they are starting to feel the miles. They however are still doing 30-minute or 10-mile legs, a strategy we have used for about 80% of the way across USA so far. Knowing our riders, we are confident they can hold on. But we will need to watch them carefully and pull out anybody who experiences spells of “overtiredness” early instead of having them grind it out. That way, they could recover more effectively and bounce back. For example, Isabelle did a 16.7 mile pull at 1 AM when Cat’s van got lost for an hour (along with 6 other teams at the same time.) Near the end of their block, Isabelle was tired and pulled out after she did only about 2 to 3 miles. She will most likely recover by her next 4-hour block.

We regretted not pulling one of our riders out early back in Kansas when she was going 13-15 mph instead of 18-19 mph for the given conditions of the block. This rider was appearing to be tired and we didn’t want her to grind it out like that. Even so, she appeared to recover from her “bad” block. (At the moment I am writing this in Ohio, this same rider is averaging about 20 mph and cranking up an 8% grade 1-mile climb at 16-17 mph and looking very good.)

Enjoying the break: Cat and Anne.
Cat relaxing while waiting for Isabelle.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

We have less than 700 miles to go!

We were delayed for about 4 hours at TS39 because of a rumored fatal multiple car accident. I hope we get time credit for that at the finish line!

While my internet access is spotty and almost unpredictable, I do know one thing in advance: Verizon's map of coverage shows no coverage in the WV region for some reason. So this is a heads-up as things get exciting...

Now, I will need to go and help my team with other duties now that my help is being needed. I however will try my best to update this blog, especially shortly after we finish if I have trouble getting online again!! :)
Isabelle flying past some flowers.
Lee telling Bill what to do. As Bill said, it is fun to drive around in a minivan with an old guy telling him what to do. Say, Bill is a big man! When standing straight up in the RV, his head was 2-3 inches from touching the RV's ceiling.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cat telling Doug she is feeling good.

Day 3 and 4 report

We are back online! Sorry, our hands were tied on posting updates ever since Colorado and we are now in Missouri. The reason was that our RV’s generator choked and died for good. We tried to get it fixed in Kansas (Jeanine has relatives living in the area and they helped us find somebody who may be able to fix the generator.) Unfortunately the generator was totally shot. But we eventually found a car recharger that can work with 110-120 volt plugs such as one for our media’s laptop computer. It is a 220 watt portable power inverter.

Now enough of our minor problem! We are still rolling along like a well oiled engine and I suspect that some of us are starting to think about the possibly of breaking the overall 4-women team transcontinental record. The current one is 6 days, 12 hours, and 28 minutes set in 1996 doing the route from NW to SE of USA (we have been using the route from SW to NE for nearly a decade now.) We however are trying to keep things toned down and have our riders just ride the race. The last thing we want is for them to get burned out. Furthermore, there will be steeper mountains and plenty of traffic lights in the last 1/3 of the course. Stay tuned!


Isabelle got well again at the end of the 2nd day and has been riding 100% of the planned workload with Cat as her 4-hour shift partner since then. (We basically have two riders out in 4-hour blocks while the other pair rests.)

Cat still has her climbing power and was motorizing up the Rocky Mountains. Unnecessary to say, she was kind of giving the male riders a hard time on the climbs. I noticed one male rider on a 8-person team managed to keep up with Cat on a long climb in Arizona, but he then didn’t bother to chase after Lori on the descent. Was he burnt out by Cat? I often wanted to try helping other teams by advising them to not try chasing after our girls, but I don’t think anyone will listen anyway.

A male rider on an 8-person team in Colorado told us he was scared of Cat.

Kansas was very good to us with its rolling hills and some tailwinds. I can tell you that I had quite a challenge capturing our riders on “film” (digital now) all the way across Kansas because they were sometimes going so fast I could get only 1-3 seconds of close-up videos from the roadside. I tried to tell one of them to slow down, but I don’t think she appreciated my suggestion.

We didn’t have a bicycle flat tire yet (that I know of), but we did have a leak in the Nevada Van’s rear tire. We got it fixed at a rural auto shop while the other support van did twice the crew work. Talk about hard crewing.

Our crew is eating almost as much food as the riders do! The crew may not need to train on bicycles for months before RAAM, but they surely are kept on their toes 16 hours a day. My last meal was a plain turkey and mayo sandwich because we were out of cheese and lettuce. I commented that I assumed we were out of “green stuff”, so Jeanine gave me green M&Ms for my sandwich. Good to know our riders haven’t lost their sense of humor.

As far as I could see, we are somewhat in rhythm now. A few crew members however still have trouble sleeping throughout their 8 hour shifts with the RV moving about 1-2 hours per 4 hours.

I gave up my sleep schedule and sleep whenever I need it mainly because my duty is taking pictures and I didn’t want to miss some photo opportunities such as our riders climbing Wolf Creek Pass and reaching the halfway point of RAAM. I am so glad of this decision even though I have been sleeping between 2 to 3 hours at a time in “uncomfortable” places such as RV’s dining seat or in the 24/7 rolling support van, since all beds in the RV are occupied except during my original sleeping shift.

The riders are still eating well even though I understand they are starting to get a bit sick of sandwiches and such. We just have to keep them eating and everything in between to keep them going as strong as they have the last 2,000 miles!
Al and Leslie are continuing to do an excellent job keeping all of us fed and keeping the RV reasonably clean. (I still can’t smell any body odors or mold even though the entire crew won’t be showering until the finish line.)

Cat’s special hub on the front wheel of her Titanflex slipped out of position last night and we think we may be able to fix it. If not, I have a feeling she will be riding the climbing bicycle she borrows from ActionSports most of the time. She said that using a regular front wheel on her Titanflex will be harder on the arms. This is because that special hub thing she likes puts the front closer to the ground and thus yields less torque force.

The only real major problem costing us valuable time and energy was getting lost in the darkness of Kansas. Of course, the road signs are not always visible. With Lee’s experience, the GPS, and William’s map on his iPhone, we took about 10 minutes figuring out where to go, then got there and continued the race. It wasn’t fun losing even one second in this way, but we are moving on.

We passed a few soloists today and they looked “all right”, but they still had about 1,300 miles to go. I expect to see more pain on the faces of soloists up the road.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Jeanine and William preparing for her turn to ride.

Cat riding through the cold Arizona night (Arizona may be hot in daytime, but it can get pretty cold at nighttime.)

Isabelle's bicycle waiting to tear up the course.

Monday, June 20, 2011

First two days report

It is fun to watch our ladies fly by some other teams and watch a few of them try hard to keep up with our ladies. Some teams leapfrogged with us for a while, then slowly got dropped. (Drifting or working with other teams to conserve energy is not allowed in most ultracycling races such as RAAM.)

For those not familiar with the benefits of drifting on each other’s wheels, picture rider A, B, C, and D riding “single file”. Rider A is in the very front doing what we call “pulling” and A’s bicycle and body break up the wind. The rider B behind rider A, sometimes known as “sitting on a wheel” (especially if not doing any pulling) pedals about 15% easier because the wind resistance is reduced by rider A. Rider C, who sits on rider B’s wheel, has it about 25% easier than rider A. Rider D, who is last in this imaginary single file of four, works the least at about 28% easier than rider A. In what we call a “pack” of riders not riding single file, the riders in the back of the packs are “sandbagging”, working about 35-40% less than the riders pulling at the front.

In ultracycling, we usually are not allowed this benefit, making ultracycling a “race of truth”, showing what cyclists are capable of doing entirely on their own.

We are being passed and passing teams ever since the start line, but as of this point, we are now settled in our own “groups”. Those more than 3 hours ahead or behind us will likely never be seen again until probably the finish line.

Yesterday, Isabelle got sick and it was a team of 3 for a while until she recovered enough to race again. Cat said yesterday night that it took a bit too much out of her and Jeanine and they hope they could recover their edge. As of this morning, Cat felt she got her edge back, but she is now sick of sandwiches! Most everybody is a bit tired of sandwiches, but no one is complaining (only answering my reporter’s question.)

One of my fears was the RV getting stinky after two days. However, it seems that Al and Leslie, who are the food preps, keep things clean. Hats off to them! We also seem to do a good job keeping our body odors under control because I can't smell any at all yet.

We washed the rider’s clothes moments ago, but the crew’s laundry will wait until Wednesday. We however don’t mind because we won’t be getting our shower until then anyway. This is Lee’s orders, but it is reasonable in terms of how many people (16) are living out of one RV and our need to be able to move as fast as our cyclists. We can go without worrying about luxuries such as daily showers for the crew !

Now, we are heading out of Utah into Colorado. Southern Utah is pretty, but we can’t hang around long! I am sure the riders are also looking forward to enjoying some long descents in Colorado after about 24 hours of mostly positive slopes!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rider exchanging (in daylight)

Lori comes up to Cat, who was waiting for her. Cat started moving forward.

Cat looks to be sure Lori's wheel overlaps her wheel.

Cat is off!