If you are an endurance sports enthusiast, the Race Across America has to be near the top of your favorite cycling events list. It may not have the glamour, worldwide media coverage and big budget of the Tour de France, but RAAM is embraced so dearly because it is as All-American as apple pie. The race started in 1982 and it has been held continuously since, with the starting line at the Pacific Ocean and the finish line at the Atlantic. This year, the race will begin on June 14th in Oceanside, just north of San Diego and end in Annapolis, Maryland. Originally, the race was exclusively for solo riders. You saddled up and rode continuously for until you reached the finish. The first race had only four riders and was won by Lon Haldeman in a time of 9:20:02. Eventually a separate team division was added cutting the finishing time down to as little as 5 days. The general race format is for the solo riders to start four days in advance of the teams so the majority of the participants will finish close to the same day. Top finishing solo riders will usually average about 20 hours of riding per day with only four hours of rest. There have been numerous situations which have seen riders stay in the saddle for up to 30 consecutive hours. Now that’s endurance! Average speed is obviously of huge importance in a race like this. Solo riders who ride the approximate 3,000 mile race course in 10 days average about 12 miles per hour over all. If you factor in their down time of around 40 hours then their average speed on the bike is approximately 15 miles per hour.
To get a good idea of how it would feel to be a solo rider in RAAM, lay out a 15 mile course in your neighborhood. Make sure it is on traveled roads open to traffic with street lights and stop signs. Ride this route twice nonstop, and then assess your time and physical state. Imagine continuing for another 9.9 days. Keep in mind that you will be riding across a dessert with 100 degree heat index, over the Rocky and Appalachian mountains, getting rained on and likely facing a stiff head wind a time or two. You will ride at night and be chased by dogs while dodging road kill and other threatening roadside debris. You will burn fifty calories per mile, eat your weight in energy bars and drink enough water to float a canoe. If you make it to the finish line, you will be a changed person. If you finish first, you will be ecstatic and if you’re Rob Kish, you may get hooked to the point where you ride the race every year thereafter for the next twelve straight years. After crossing the finish line, you will get a quick once over by a sports medical specialist. You may very well be bloated and dehydrated at the same time. You will probably have a sunburn, saddle sores, bulging discs, sore knees, swollen feet, numb hands and possibly, partial vision loss. Your short term memory may be shot for a while and you will most likely sleep Rip Van Winkle style for a couple of days, if you do not awake every few hours in a state of panic about over-sleeping and the whereabouts of your bike. After you have rested up enough to regain your memory, you will find your bank account drained from the amount of cash you had to shell out to pay for it all.
This race is not for the meek. It is billed as “The World’s Toughest Bicycle Race” for obvious reasons and the participants seem to like it that way. Keep track of this year’s race as it unfolds on race across america and don’t forget about all of the above extreme conditions as you watch the race data unfold on your computer screen.