RAAM OPEN EAST 1991
by Roger S Nelson
I didn't finish all the RAAM qualifiers I rode in. Here's an account of one with unexpected results.
After the RAAM Open Ohio in July, I decided to actually try to qualify for RAAM (Race Across AMerica). Until now I've always ridden these races not to qualify, but just to finish, simply because I felt I wasn't good enough to qualify. In Ohio, however, I felt I rode well enough even to qualify. It was the getting lost several times and inadequate lighting at night that kept me from qualifying. Since then I got stronger glasses to see better at night and a better lighting system. I just had to try to qualify and the next race was in New York.
The format of the RAAM Open East changed this year from the giant 535 mile loop of last year to twelve 42.5 miles laps. Since a car wouldn't follow me, I did not need a 4 person crew and 2 vehicles as last year. I would be on my own while my crew waited at TS 1 (time station 1). Since I would be doing laps, I was not likely to get lost, but New York had its own set of problems. First, 42.5 miles is a long time to be away from the crew. Second, in late September the nights are long and it's usually rainy and cold. Third, there is about 26,000 feet of climbing in the Adirondack Mountains. And fourth, it's hard to stay motivated to keep training that late in the season. I felt I was past my "peak". This is one tough 515 mile ride!
The race started in Johnstown at 8:00 a.m. Friday, September 28 and allowed 48 hours to finish. Along the six mile ride from Johnstown to the course there loomed a couple of long steep hills which broke up the pack immediately, but that didn't matter since we weren’t allowed to draft anyway.
The first lap took 2 hours and 30 minutes which was good, but too fast to keep up all day. I slowed to 2 hours and 45 minutes on the second lap - much better. The third lap took 3 hours to finish - the mountains were really getting to me. The next few laps all took about 3 hours each which was a little slower than the pace I thought I needed in order to qualify.
During the day, just before I got to TS 2, I passed a sheep farm. I saw a sheep standing next to the fence all by itself the first time I went by. Three hours later when I went by again it was still there and I began to wonder if something was wrong with it. The next time around it hadn't moved, so I stopped a minute to get a better look at it and found it trapped between a white board fence next to the road and a wire fence a couple of feet away from the board fence. When I arrived at TS 2 I stopped and told the officials of the sheep situation and said I would feel real bad if it was still there the next time I came around. One of the officials took care of the problem while I finished the lap. The lady who owned the sheep was very happy that we took the time to help free her male sheep (some good PR for the race) and it became know as the RAAM ram rescue. Really!
At night it got down in the 30s. The respirator I use in cold weather to warm the air I breathe was leaking just enough air when I exhaled to steam my glasses. By morning we had some rain. Between foggy glasses and being wet, I decided to go into town and buy some elastic to replace the aging elastic in my respirator. That gave me time to dry out, warm up, and chow down (breakfast). I repaired my respirator and I was going to use the elastic to adapt some vinyl rain pants to bike riding since I was having trouble keeping my legs warm. By the time I got back it stopped raining so I didn't do anything with the pants.
I had a "neat" system for keeping track of my laps. Since there were twelve laps, I named them after the months, "January", etc. (That's one way to ride through the year.) At 7:01 pm, Saturday, I finished "September" which I rode hard enough that my left leg was starting to hurt a little (I needed a lower gear than my 42x26). Although I tried to ride that lap in 3 hours, it took 3 hours and 20 minutes - the mountains were definitely taking it out of me. (The previous lap took four hours.) I had planned on being done with the race by 8 p.m. (in an hour) but instead was looking at 3 laps (about 127 miles) to do in 13 hours. It meant riding through another night and it was still threatening rain. (It sleeted on the last lap.) My leg would probably hold out if I rode easy, which meant four hour laps with only a hour to spare for sleep or any other problems. I was beginning to doubt that I could finish the ride even if I kept going. In short, I psyched myself out and dropped out of the race. It's easy to get psyched out when you're tired and are not thinking clearly.
A couple of weeks later, when I got the official race results, I found to my dismay that I had actually ridden through "October". Did I ride "September" twice? I don't know. All I know is somewhere, in spite of my "neat" system, I lost track of my laps and had only two laps left with lots of time. The average speed of the winner was only 15.2 mph, considerably slower than the 17-18mph I expected him to have. Only 7 riders finished out of 31 who started. Out of all those who dropped out, I had the most miles (430) so I was eighth. I rode very well and possibly could have finished sixth if I had kept going. If I hadn't stopped to go into town for the elastic (it was a long stop) I might have even qualified, considering the slow average speed of the winner. Instead, I'm "simmering" about going home without finishing, especially since this ride cost over 300 dollars (considering motel, gas and entry fee). That's a lot of money on my budget.
It's ironic that last year I finished but was defeated - ready to quit these races. If it hadn't been for RAAM Open Ohio I would have been through. Although I didn't finish this year I'm definitely not defeated - I'm going back! I've got all winter to "lick my wounds", "stew" and train. I still believe I can qualify, and I'm going to keep trying until I do.