Why I didn't do RAAM
People sometimes ask me if I'm ever going to ride in RAAM.
No, I'm not, as much as I'd like to (and I really would like to). Here are
the problems I ran up against. No one of them would have made me quit by
itself, but collectively, I guess it was just too much.
1. Food - This is a serious consideration. Food is energy, and energy is speed. A RAAM rider is limited in speed to how much he can eat and how efficiently he uses that energy. I found as I got older my digestion capabilities diminished. I never really found something that worked good for me. Exercise takes blood away from the digestive processes and I don't think bouncing around on the bike helps any either. I've seen a lot of good riders have to quit a marathon because of indigestion.
2. Asthma - My asthma is not serious problem, but it is exercised induced - a slow building up of congestion during exercise especially in cold dry air. By itself, this can be overcome or compensated for by wearing a mask (I invented one that works pretty good), but it was a hindrance.
3. Climate - Living in Michigan means a long winter layover because of cold and more importantly, icy roads. November, December, and January are the worst months because of short daylight hours and and cold. I learned to ride comfortably in 20-30 degree weather, but I still felt I was at a disadvantage over people living only as far south as Columbus, Ohio. Not only that, but we have very few really hot days in the summer, so when it does get up in the 90s, I'm used to it. RAAM is done in a lot hotter conditions than I could ever get used to in Michigan.
4. Heart arrhythmia - I have a condition that sometimes during training I have to stop and rest a minute because my heart rhythms get out of sync. It's a painful throbbing and the first time it happened to me, right after I had just finished riding hard up a hill, I thought I was having a heart attack. After a minute it stopped and I rode on home, slowly. I've been to doctor's about it and try as I could, it wouldn't happen while I was on a heart monitor. The doctor told me that if it did happen, my heart was fine, it wouldn't kill me, and if the arrhythmia didn't stop right away I'd live long enough to get to a hospital, so not to worry about it. I never had this happen during a marathon, probably because the intensity isn't as hard, but I've had it happen three times in one evening once when riding hard with friends. I ended up being dropped and finishing alone. It takes the fun out of racing and probably kept me from further improving in speed. When I was in my best condition it happened the most. Since then I found an enzyme, Co-Q-10, that might have helped this condition.
5. Terrain - Michigan is one of the flattest states in the US. I rate it about third behind Florida and Illinois. I live in one of the flatter parts of Michigan. I just didn't have an easy way to train on hills and it showed whenever I rode with people from out of State.
6. Speed - My goal was to ride 400 miles in a 24 hour marathon. The best I ever did was 367 miles, although I may have been in good enough shape to do 400 miles that marathon, I had problems with the seat being too high I getting saddle sore. Keep in mind that RAAM is a race. I felt that if I couldn't do 400 miles in 24 hours that I wasn't fast enough to be in RAAM. Many of the RAAM competitors have done 450 miles in 24 hours.
7. Money - I wanted to retire some day, so I thought I better stop spending all my money on exotic bike parts, entry fees, and crew and training expenses. I didn't have a sponsor, and wasn't fast enough to make it likely to get one.
8. Relationships - My marriage was suffering and I didn't want to ruin my marriage over a bike race. Those who put training first and their spouse second are likely to end up single, it almost happened to me. In addition, I missed a lot of time with my kids, they were growing up without me.
9. Health - the biggest reason. Biking started out for me to be a way to stay healthy. In 1980 I read a book by Dr. Kenneth Cooper about aerobics, so I started biking to get fit. I rode my big old heavy Schwinn single speed bike around the area I live, and five miles was a long way for me back then. As I got more fit, I started going farther, and of course, I had to get faster bikes. I remember one spring when I rode 15 miles and when I got back I was totally exhausted. All I could do was lay down, and it seemed like work just to breath. My first 50 mile ride wasn't much better. My first century was like that. As I got fitter, I went farther. In a couple of years I was going 200 miles. A friend told me about a 24 hour marathon and I thought I could do 300 miles. It took me four years to make that goal. As I got older, I discovered that instead of getting fitter, I started feeling more run down. If I rode 500 miles on a weekend, it would take me at least two weeks to recover. I wasn't really getting that much more fit for the amount of effort I put into it, and I spend a lot of time being worn out. That's not healthy. So after I decided not to do RAAM, I cut back. I seldom ride more than a hundred miles any more, and I almost always ride with friends. I discovered I'm a social rider and a tourist at heart. I do tandeming, mountain biking, and commuting; there are other ways of enjoying biking besides marathons. Three rides a week is enough to stay fit and strong without being worn out. It just makes sense.
In summary, I guess I just grew up. I think there is a pretty high percentage of people who have qualified for RAAM but have not done it. It's nothing to be ashamed of, after all, it was billed in Outdoors Magazine as the toughest race in the world.
Another way to summarize this - To ride in RAAM I would get a divorce, move to a southern state with lots of hills and mountains, take lots of Co-Q-10, and spend all my time and money on training and eating and expensive bicycles/parts.