RAAM 2015 Data Analysis

"Oh, the places you'll go..."“Oh, the places you’ll go…”

2015 Race Across America county elevations - 12 states, 88 counties - click to download huge image, click again to zoom in your browser.2015 Race Across America county elevations – 12 states, 88 counties – click to download huge image, click again to zoom in your browser.

Sleep and Stop Data
There is a reason why every RAAM racer’s advice is to “stay on the bike” and “just keep riding”. I could have knocked a day and a half off my time if my only stops were for sleeping. While this is somewhat unrealistic as you do have to use the bathroom and make other stops throughout the day, my average of 16.2 stops per day riding an average of only 17.6 miles between stops is somewhat ridiculous. Altogether, I stopped 170 times with an average stop duration of 24 minutes. This is entirely my own fault as I struggled not only with sleep, but also with pain in my hands and feet.

My sleep and stop data is summarized in the graph below, which has all the major sleep stops labeled. All the smaller stops are time off the bike either trying to give my feet a rest or taking a small sleep break or going to the bathroom. I totaled all of these up in a spreadsheet and took my best guess at remembering what each stop was for and whether or not it included any sleep. In addition to the major sleep stops, I calculated 30.7 hours (1.3 days) of total sleep and 68.1 hours (2.8 days) of total time stopped.

Sleep analysis - 30.7 hours (1.3 days) of sleep total, 68.1 hours (2.8 days) of time off the bike total - click to enlarge.Sleep analysis – 30.7 hours (1.3 days) of sleep total, 68.1 hours (2.8 days) of time off the bike total – click to enlarge.

Sleep and Stop Analysis
The successful RAAM racer has found the sweet spot between a minimal amount of time stopped while still getting enough sleep to remain cognizant to pedal the bike at the desired pace. Stopping too long or too often can hurt your average speed, but not sleeping enough can also hurt your average speed in a few different ways.

One way you can lose time, as I discovered, is that you simply stop pedaling and catch micro-sleeps on downhill or flat sections of the course where you should be going fast. You may still be moving, but you are losing tons of time if your average speed is low enough – especially if you get to the point where you have to stop anyway because you are about to fall asleep completely and fall off the bike. A good example of this was the plains of Colorado between Del Norte, Monte Vista, and Alamosa. I was so sleepy through sections of this that I had to stop three times for sleep breaks even though I had already had an extended 3 hour sleep break just a few hours before in South Fork. This section was almost entirely downhill/flat with a very nice tailwind, but instead of averaging 22+ mph through here not including stops, I averaged 17mph with an average power of 82 watts (pitiful). If I had been awake, I could have easily averaged 120-150 watts and ridden the 4 hour section without stopping. Instead, I stopped three times and my average speed including stops was 13 mph. So I conservatively lost 36 miles here over this four hour section of the course that should have been very fast.

The picture above is an example of an unplanned sleep stop much later in the race in West Virginia. I was climbing on Hwy 50 and nearly fallen completely asleep again and decided to hop in the follow van to sleep for a few minutes on the side of the road. This picture (one of my favorites from the race) shows Kristine trying to put warmer clothes on me in preparation for me to start riding again. I kept falling asleep on her as she tried to put my jacket on and was intentionally making it difficult for her so I could sleep a little while longer, which is part of the reason for the mischievous smile (the other part being sleep drunk and madly in love).

The final way of losing time because of sleep deprivation is actually crashing. I crashed on the first night, but I don’t think it was related to sleep deprivation (more on this below). I was fortunate the only time I fell completely asleep while riding was later in the race in Western Maryland on climbs. I’m pretty sure I was completely asleep because I was having somewhat vivid dreams of riding on a dirt road in a mountain bike race and reaching a checkpoint manned by my friends Jacob Tubbs and Philip Thompson. At this point in my dream, I would stop both in my dream and in reality, get off my bike, and turn around to my follow vehicle and ask them if this is where I was supposed to stop for the checkpoint.

About the crash on the first night, my sleep plan was completely nullified within the first 12 hours of the race when a crash in the middle of the night delayed my progress through the desert. The crash itself only cost me 16.5 minutes at the time of the crash, but about an hour later I would stop at the RV for 34 minutes to take a shower and clean out all the road rash.

Also, my father-in-law who was in the follow vehicle before and after the crash indicated that my speed dropped a great deal after the crash. I didn’t notice this during the race because I think I took a pretty good knock to the head. Looking back at the data, my average speed for the 2 hours prior to the crash was 19.4 mph. My average speed for the 2 hours after the crash was 16.1 mph. This combined with the crash and clean-up delays put me at least an hour behind where I wanted to be by the time the sun rose the next day, meaning that I had an extra hour in the daytime fighting my way through the “death zone” of the Southeastern California and Southwestern Arizona deserts.

The desert won the battle, and I was forced to stop and cool off by sleeping for 3.5 hours on a cot in the corner of the gas station in Hope, Arizona. That stop was a total of 5 hours long. When we felt I had cooled off enough, we decided to get started again even though it was still the middle of the afternoon and extremely hot. The timing turned out to be perfect, though, because my friend and fellow solo racer Erik Newsholme from Georgia happened to pull up to the stop sign in Hope exactly at the same time I was leaving the gas station. Racers are allowed to ride together for up to 15 minutes a day, so we decided to ride together. Riding and chatting with him was a huge motivational boost for me.

I was still struggling with the heat and had to stop a couple more times and cool off on the side of the road in the air conditioning of the follow van. So Erik rode on ahead, and I eventually limped into Congress, Arizona at about the time I was hoping to make it to Flagstaff 150 miles farther up the road. I knew I shouldn’t go any farther, though, as I was already riding so slow and might as well sleep again to let the temps cool off. Because of my earlier sleep, we decided to make this one an hour and a half sleep break instead of my original plan of 3 hours of sleep per day at the beginning and less sleep towards the end.

When I woke up from this sleep, I was completely refreshed. I attacked the Yarnell grade and averaged close to 200 watts up it … not bad considering I was already 400 miles into the race and still recovering from heat exhaustion. I passed several people on the climbs and descents between here and Cottonwood. To give you an idea of how good I was feeling and how hard I was pushing, I passed one racer who was barely moving up the climb and wearing full winter clothing shortly before the picture above was taken where I am climbing without a shirt on at all! I still had my tights on from an earlier descent, but I got so hot while climbing I had to take my jersey off! I’m going to save more examples related to sleep in the state-by-state details at the end of this post.

A majority of my non-sleep related stops were because of my hands or feet. There got to be a point in the middle of Colorado where I could no longer hold onto the handlebars. Thanks to the ingenuity of crew members Pete Foret and Lou Pfau, they came up with a solution to stuff padding from backpack straps underneath the handlebar tape. Even before this, I had problems with my feet – eventually cutting holes at the front of each shoe to allow my feet to expand. Even this was not enough, though, as the bottom of my toes hurt so much to push down on the bottom of my shoe that I had to spend an inordinate amount of time coasting, soft pedaling, or taking a break off the bike with my feet immersed in a bucket filled with ice. I climbed part of Wolf Creek Pass using my gel padded sandals simply pushing down on top of the speedplay pedals. More on my equipment in the Equipment Analysis section.

I did also have problems with saddle sores despite my plan of stopping frequently to change kits. The problem was that the kits I got were too small as I had put on weight both before and during the race. So there was a specific spot in the kit where it was pulling my skin together with each pedal stroke. At the point of the race where my saddle sores were at their worst, which was still early in the race before my hands started hurting really bad, I rode standing up for miles at a time – which probably contributed to my hand pain as that places extra weight on your hands. We finally figured out the saddle sores were being caused by a specific kit, so I stopped wearing that kit and switched over to regular bibs and jerseys for the rest of the race. If my saddle sores had been even the slightest bit worse, I can see how that could easily have derailed my race.

Cycling Data and Analysis
One of my goals for the race was to collect as much data as possible during the race. For that reason, I used two Garmins throughout the race to make sure that every mile was covered. This worked well as I was able to record everything. One interesting statistic that has probably never been recorded before is shifting data. With the exception of the portions of the course that I rode on my cross bike (less than 30 miles) and on my tt bike (196.2 miles), I was able to record every shift from the remainder of the route. The time spent on my cross bike and tt bike was recorded as time spent in my 39×11 gear (which I never use) so all percentages are off by roughly 0.28% (just over one quarter of one percent). This is an interesting way of looking at the magnitude of the race – excluding shifts from 225 miles of the race course only impacted the overall percentages for each gear by barely more than a quarter of one percent. The map below is a screenshot of that, click to enlarge, or click this link to view an interactive version.

Map showing 31,153 shifts (2,305 front and 28,848 rear) during the 2015 Race Across America. Click to enlarge and see some interesting statistics such as 13.3 hours total time spent in the 53x11 and 12.3 hours spent in the 39x28 gear. Or click the link above the map to view an interactive version.Map showing 31,153 shifts (2,305 front and 28,848 rear) during the 2015 Race Across America. Click to enlarge and see some interesting statistics such as 13.3 hours total time spent in the 53×11 and 12.3 hours spent in the 39×28 gear. Or click the link above the map to view an interactive version.

Let’s start with overall distance, time, and speed data in the table below:

Distance 2989.63 miles
Elapsed time 254:20 (10d 14h 20m)
Moving time 183:58 (7d 15h 58m)
Average speed 11.81 mph
Moving avg spd 16.2 mph

Note that the distance is not 3005 miles because I’m not including the two short sections where the officials had us ride in a car to detour onto interstates to avoid flooding or construction. The 2,989.63 mile figure is actual miles ridden. Elapsed time and average speed includes stops. Moving time and moving avg spd does not.

One of the lowest points of the race for me was on some good hills in Missouri on Day 7 where I got so frustrated because I was going so slow even though I still had a lot left in my legs and coming nowhere close to tapping out my aerobic capacity. Instead, I was barely pushing on the pedals at all because the bottom and tips of my toes hurt so bad. Plus, I couldn’t stand up because my the soft tissue on the palms of my hands hurt and couldn’t support any weight. All of that led to the following power and heartrate figures, including a somewhat rapid downward progression from Day 1. Towards the end, though, when it became more of a race because of the proximity of other racers I decided that I could ignore the pain and started riding hard again, thus the increase in power and heartrate.

Overall power average 153 watts
Overall heartrate average 109 bpm
Overall cadence average 66 rpm
Day Power HR RPM MPH Climbing Distance
Day 1 160 w 128 77 17.94 22,129 ft 396.8 mi
Day 2 141 w 124 71 15.68 17,201 ft 252.2 mi
Day 3 125 w 115 63 14.96 20,984 ft 320.4 mi
Day 4 133 w 113 64 16.44 12,090 ft 310.9 mi
Day 5 129 w 97 60 17.60 11,001 ft 350.3 mi
Day 6 155 w 109 68 17.21 10,230 ft 207.4 mi
Day 7 144 w 99 66 15.04 11,122 ft 211.2 mi
Day 8 165 w 102 68 16.18 11,755 ft 306.4 mi
Day 9 179 w 85 68 16.18 13,743 ft 265.0 mi
Day 10 193 w 105 66 14.73 29,573 ft 369.2 mi

Nutrition Analysis
Skip this section if you are grossed out by the word “poop”.

My plan ahead of time was to mix a lot of clif bars and gu’s with regular food, particularly breakfast food which I was used to eating on my long training rides. I was nauseous for most of the first 1000 miles of the race with the insane heat hitting the Western US. This caught me by surprise, and even though I was used to drinking smoothies and milkshakes on rides, I don’t think I was prepared for that to be pretty much my entire diet for the first 1000 miles. About the only solid food I could eat through this early section was the awesome pasta and rice that crew chief Wes Bates would make for me at the end of a day’s riding. Wes also made countless smoothies and sent them off with the follow vehicle.

Eventually, though, it cooled off and I had a particular craving for McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches (McGriddles and Egg McMuffins) so my crew would buy a bunch of them during breakfast, and I would eat them all day. This led to a lot of poop stops (2x-3x a day). The problem with a poop stop is saddle sores. It may only take a few minutes to poop, but it took 10-15 minutes to get everything cleaned back up and then get dressed to ride again.

Eventually I got tired of McDonald’s sandwiches and started eating the Clif bars and Gu’s again. Also, perfect timing was the introduction earlier this year of a Starbucks canned drink that has 20g of protein in it. My crew bought lots of those and would give them to me in water bottles periodically throughout the day. I don’t have exact numbers for my nutrition because I probably did not take it seriously enough. On my 300+ mile training rides, I would start out by loading my camelbak with 4-5 clif bars (1000 calories) plus 5-6 gu’s (500 calories). Then, later in the ride when I ran out of food/water, I would eat whatever gas station or fast food I could find. I would ride strong and feel great throughout the ride.

What I discovered during the Race Across America is that many things that are fine for a 300 mile ride simply do not work for a ride that is 10 times longer. In some ways my nutrition was fine as I put on several pounds of weight during the race. But in other ways, it was bad because I had to poop at least 20 times during the entire race. That takes a lot of time, probably close to 5 hours total by the time you factor in getting undressed, clean-up, and getting dressed again. The reason why I put on weight (I think) is because I was eating and drinking constantly and yet putting out very little aerobic effort (my average heartrate most days was just over 100 bpm) because my hands and feet hurt so much that I couldn’t really dig into the pedals or put out any real effort on the bike past the first day.

2015 Race Across America county elevations - 12 states, 88 counties - click to download huge image, click again to zoom in your browser.2015 Race Across America county elevations – 12 states, 88 counties – click to download huge image, click again to zoom in your browser.

Geographical Analysis – 12 states, 88 counties
Visiting as many counties as possible in Alabama became important to me during my training – so somewhere in the middle of the country I came up with the idea for the map above, which shows the elevation data only for those counties near the route. I excluded any counties from a state that wasn’t entered regardless of the distance to those counties. Click the map to zoom in to a larger version, or you can download a 22MB super detailed version by clicking this link to the ultra high resolution version of the map.

The county count below includes only those counties that were actually entered. The route came within a few hundred feet of two counties, San Bernardino county in California and Callaway county in Missouri, separated only by the Colorado and Missouri rivers, respectively. All other counties in the table below were actually entered – for a grand total of 88 counties. I’ve also given a short description of each state and the highlights and low points of each state.

California – 3 counties – “the best of times and the worst of times”
San Diego

Leaving beautiful, cloudy temperate Oceanside, California you were immediately climbing up towards Mt Palomar in the hot desert sun. I passed lots of people through here and fortunately only had to pass two people (carefully) on the long Glass Elevator descent. You were descending down into an oven. The temperature was unreal by the bottom still in the 100s at nearly 6pm by the time I made it down. I wasn’t planning on stopping at all, but I ended up stopping outside of Borrego Springs so that Kristine could stuff some wet towels down my jersey and under my helmet to try to help cool me off.

The next few hours was a very fast, gradual downhill with a huge tailwind. I spun out my 53×11 several times averaging in the low 30mph range for tens of minutes at a time. When we turned onto the main highway to Brawley, though, the wind had started to die down and turned into more of a crosswind. It was during this stretch that first Christoph Strasser passed me followed within just a minute or two by David Haase.

After Brawley, it was dark and the animal night life came alive with rats and scorpions and snakes running and or slithering across the road in front of you as you crossed the hills. I really liked these hills despite the low spot I was motivationally after my race was starting to slow way down.

The end of California saw me crashing in the construction zone.

Arizona – 5 counties – “jekyll and hyde”
La Paz

The beginning of Arizona saw me getting caught by Rob White and then riding with him through Parker, Arizona. Rob went onto leave me shortly after that as I started to slow down even more struggling with the Arizona heat as early as 7 in the morning. Rob had raced the Heart of the South 500 mile race as part of a two-man team earlier this year. I led the race from the start, but never by much more than an hour. By the end of the race, he and his teammate were closing in on me but I was able to keep it together just long enough to finish about 30 minutes ahead of them. Rob was doing absolutely phenomenally in the Race Across America moving all the way up to 4th or 5th place until breaking his collarbone with less than 200 miles to go. He ended up finishing the race with the broken collarbone, which is absolutely amazing.

Heat exhaustion saw me getting off the bike in Hope, Arizona by 9AM in the morning with temps well into the 100s by then. I spent 5 hours in the RV and in the gas station sleeping and trying to cool off. When I left at about 2 in the afternoon, it was crazy hot, but my body had cooled off enough to ride again. Erik Newsholme was coming into Hope right as I was leaving – and it was super motivating to ride with him for a little while commiserating over how crazy hot it was.

Even though it was only 58 miles farther up the road, I decided to stop and sleep again in Congress as my pace had slowed again to a crawl from the heat. This pretty much concluded the first “Mr Hyde” part of Arizona (i.e., awful). Upon waking up in Congress and flying up the Yarnell grade, I entered the first “Dr. Jekyll” portion (i.e., awesome). This lasted all the way up and over the Yarnell climbs and the awesome descent through the mountain town of Jerome down to Cottonwood. It continued on through to Flagstaff.

But on the other side of Flagstaff, which was already in the 90s by mid-morning (record heat for the high desert 7000′ altitudes of Flagstaff), we began a long descent back down into the lower desert and extreme heat. I lasted as long as I could in this heat, but ended up stopping several times to try to cool off and eventually sleep away the afternoon heat between Tuba City and Kayenta. Thus began the next “Mr Hyde” portion of Arizona which would last the rest of Arizona into Utah.

Even at night past Kayenta, the roads were awful and frequently under construction with somewhat steady fast moving traffic. So while the temps had cooled off, the riding only got harder.

Utah – 1 county – “dark misery”
San Juan

What was supposed to be beautiful, ended up being really dark. I couldn’t see any of Monument Valley as my eyes were adjusted to the brightness of the headlights of the car. I got so sleepy through one section that we stopped and slept in a really rural part of this area. There was no light pollution, and you could see so many stars. Also, through here, there was some great climbs and descents. I was really sleepy, though, and didn’t enjoy them as much as I normally would have.

Colorado – 10 counties – “beautiful misery”
La Plata
Rio Grande
Las Animas

Entering Colorado saw my spirits start to rise even if my pace really didn’t. Also, it was still crazy hot with temps reaching the upper 90s again in the sun with no shade on the blacktop outside of Durango. At least it took until later in the day to reach these astonishing temps. No worries, though, the temperature would plummet 54 degrees from a high of 97 degF down to 43 degF by the top of Wolf Creek pass. Still, much of this portion of the course was familiar to me as I had driven it 15 years earlier on a fun drive from California to Texas, even if my pace was really slow and it was still really hot.

The next day through the Rio Grande and central Colorado plains, I was struggling more with being sleepy than the temp until later in the day when the temps spiked again reaching a ridiculous 95 degF near the top of La Veta pass at an elevation of close to 9,500 feet above sea level. This would be close to the end of the heat for the entire race, though, as temps dove on the other side of this pass. The scenery leading up to La Veta was spectacular with long sweeping views of huge snow covered peaks. This was easily the most scenic portion of the race for me.

It was still hot going into Trinidad, home of the singing waiters and waitresses at Rino’s Italian restaurant, where Kristine and I had happened upon at the end of another epic adventure on the way to Leadville to race the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. Once we made it past Trinidad, the temp started to come down and it was long, gradual climbs and descents down in the eastern plains of Colorado. The headwind was pretty strong, which partly motivated the switch to the TT bike.

Kansas – 14 counties – “windy, sunny, hot corn”

I was struggling with sleep and stopped just short of the Kansas border on Day 4. On Day 5, we crossed over into Kansas with an absolutely phenomenal tailwind. This helped me average 20mph for the first 75 miles of Kansas. After switching to the TT bike, I still averaged almost 19 mph for the next 160 miles, but the winds had turned and started hitting much more as a cross wind. It also started to get hot one last time, making it all the way back up to 97 degF by Dodge City, Kansas.

I really don’t remember much about the middle of Kansas other than it having more hills than I thought it would, and it being pretty hot. Some sections were pretty rural with no paved roads ever intersecting the main highway we were on. Some of these dirt roads looked pretty gnarly, kinda like the ones I would expect are in the Dirty Kanza 200 mile gravel/dirt race.

I do remember US 54 towards the end of Kansas close to Eureka as being hilly and fun to ride. In general my memory starts to fade the farther east in the race I got as I was struggling more and more with staying awake. Outside Yates Center, KS we had an extended 3 mile dirt/gravel detour which was great for a change of pace. Plus, it was a morale boost to imagine other racers possibly struggling through here as I flew over the gravel on my road bike having tons of experience riding rough gravel roads.

I had my only hold-up due to a train near the end of Kansas. We were stopped for exactly 10 minutes in Fort Scott when we came across a train crossing where the train was blocking the road and not even moving. Fortunately, I just hopped in the car and rested with the AC blowing until the train finally started to move and cleared the tracks. By this point in the race, I was looking for any reason to stop and give my hands and feet a break.

Missouri – 13 counties – “highs and lows”
St. Clair
St. Charles
St. Louis

Missouri was the first state that started to look more like Alabama. Lots of rolling hills, trees, shade, and humidity, and temps that weren’t a million degrees. Unfortunately, there was also a 73 mile detour because of flooding that took us onto a bad, rough, heavily traveled section of US-50.

The main highlight through here was a surprise visit by Tom Robertshaw (former HOS director and fellow Mid-Atlantic 24 hour racer) who I saw up ahead on one of the US-50 exit ramps cheering me on. I remember the spot well because it was only a mile or two later that the road went from a four-lane divided highway, which wasn’t too bad, to a narrow two-lane highway carrying the same amount of traffic. In addition to the bad traffic, my hands and feet were hurting so much through here that I was getting frustrated that I had spent so much time training my body for the race building up a huge aerobic base as well as lots of leg and core muscles, but I was unable to tap into that fitness because it hurt too much to hold onto the handlebars and press down on the pedals. This was probably the lowest spot of the race emotionally for me and I believe I rode several miles of the race through here openly crying.

A big highlight was that first night in Missouri though was when Craig Tamburello called, and I recapped how things were going for him. We talked for probably an hour or more through some really fun hills. I would tell him to hold on a sec and then fly down a 45 mph descent before resuming talking on the next hill. This was all leading into Camdenton, Missouri where there was an awesome time station and much needed pool in the parking lot. This took me out of the low point I had been feeling earlier to a good high point, which I needed because Illinois was about to get awful.

Illinois – 6 counties – “awful”

The roads in Illinois had these awful cracks in them. You would go from perfect pavement to a two inch crack every 15 meters or so. Riding this at speed meant you were hitting a bone-jarring crack every 1-2 seconds. Unfortunately, we didn’t think to switch over to my cross bike until later through this section. At one point, it was so bad that I stopped before one of the cracks, got off my bike, and hopped over the crack as some sort of symbolic gesture of defiance. It was shortly after this that we got down the cross bike and resumed riding for a number of miles. Illinois wasn’t all bad, though, as the picture farther down in this post of Kristine running beside me at the Tour de France distance spot happened in Illinois. That is the only positive thing I remember about Illinois although I’m sure there were other things that I wasn’t coherent enough to remember.

Indiana – 9 counties – “favorite state”

Indiana was my favorite state as a whole for the race. I think part of the reason for this was that the roads immediately improved as soon as we hit the Indiana border. Another reason was the addition of Kirstin to the crew in Bloomington along with people who came out to cheer me on there. Also, the familiarity of certain places and things as well as making it to I-65, which is the main North/South interstate that runs through Birmingham made me realize that I had left the major hurdles behind and was all “downhill” to the finish – even though there was a lot of climbing still left.

Ohio – 8 counties – “thunderstorms and hills”

It rained a lot in Ohio, and I broke my front derailleur. The end of Indiana and the beginning of Ohio is also where the race started to be more of a race because four of us fighting for 6th place started to come together. Matt Hoffman had been closing the distance to me through Illinois, but he would be passed by Adam Bickett who would eventually catch and pass me while I slept in Indiana. I would catch back up to him and pass him again early in Ohio in the rain. But he would pass me again later that day before the end of Ohio.

West Virginia – 6 counties – “hilly craziness”

Having finally reached some really good hills, I started to get into more of a rhythm. Even though I still had to stop to sleep for a few minutes a couple times on US-50, I caught and passed Adam again while he slept. He returned the favor, though, while I slept and it was amazing the similarities to Nascar racing and stopping to “pit”. Most of West Virginia was good although it was dangerous riding even in the middle of the night on the shoulder of US-50. Cars were driving so fast. The most dangerous part was the exit ramps where you would have to cross the exit ramp. One of the top racers from Denmark, Anders Tesgaard, got hit through here by a pickup truck traveling at an estimated 60 mph. Anders is still in a coma.

Pennsylvania – 4 counties – “the battle at Gettysburg”

<Note: Pennsylvania was entered twice and Maryland three times> – PA is where the race for 6th really came to a head as Adam, Fatboy, and I were probably all within just a few miles of each other at one point. By Gettysburg, I had passed Fatboy once, but he had passed me back and pulled away from me when I had to stop to sleep. I would start closing the distance again to him before the end, but he still ended up beating me by about 30 minutes for 6th place with me taking 7th place. Adam would fall farther behind for 8th place because he really hit a sleep wall and had to stop to sleep. Still, Adam’s finish is impressive because he had pulmonary edema (altitude sickness) early in the race and was off the bike for more than a day.

Maryland – 9 counties – “most bicycle friendly, surprisingly beautiful and steep”
Prince George’s
Anne Arundel

Maryland was probably my second favorite state. It rained a lot by the end. The western part of Maryland was phenomenally beautiful. There were some long, cat 2 climbs followed by steep, straight-as-an-arrow 50+ mph descents with sweeping views of the valleys and ridges ahead. I could write much more, but I am out of time!

Grand total: 12 states and 88 counties

The Race Across America route also crosses most of the major rivers in the United States – the Colorado, Rio Grande, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, and Ohio as shown in the map below.

2015 Race Across America route with major river crossings labeled (click to enlarge)2015 Race Across America route with major river crossings labeled (click to enlarge)

Equipment Analysis

Holes cut in my Sidi shoes. Note that the wire straps are also as loose as possible.Holes cut in my Sidi shoes. Note that the wire straps are also as loose as possible. I was warned to bring a pair of shoes at least one size larger, so I brought my mountain bike shoes. Unfortunately, this had its own set of problems so we ended up with this solution.

The bike I used for most of the race was my Trek Madone road bike equipped with Ultegra Di2 11 speed components. I had to charge the Di2 pretty much every day, but the one day we forgot to charge it I was able to recharge it from a portable battery pack while riding. Everybody seems to worry about the Di2 battery, but it charges super fast and the battery can last for well over 500 miles. I broke the front derailleur during the race in Ohio. This doesn’t surprise me as the derailleur had close to 20,000 miles on it before the start of the race – the metal cage had fatigued and during a shift from the small chainring to the big chainring the cage snapped in two places. Crew Chief and Head Mechanic Wes Bates installed a new front derailleur while I slept in Chillicothe, Ohio.

My friend Philip Martindale gave me three sets of wheels to use for the race, and they were fantastic. For most of the race, I used the carbon clincher 8.0s (shown in the picture above), but for some of the hillier sections I would either use the carbon clincher 5.0s by themselves or pair a 5.0 up front with the 8.0 in the rear. I had absolutely no problems with the wheels during the race and only three flats, which is not a lot given some of the rough debris filled shoulders I ended up riding on when traffic was bad.

I was wanting to do the whole race Merckx style (no TT bars), but less than halfway through the race I couldn’t hold onto the bars any more. So my crew rigged up some padding from backpack straps that they stuffed under the handlebar tape. That helped for another few hundred miles, but eventually we bought some short clip-on TT bars at a bike shop in Indiana. These bars were awesome and really helped me power through the last sections because I could put more weight on my forearms and still dig into the pedals. The picture above is the best one I have showing the TT bars.

In eastern Colorado, I got an encouraging message from Mike Olheiser so I decided to ride the TT bike I had brought with me (Mike’s old cervelo) just so I could send him a picture of me riding it. But what I found is that the change of position was very helpful, and the bike was fast into the headwind, especially with a gently downward sloping grade across Eastern Colorado and Kansas.

I also had my Ventana cross bike, which I used for a couple of the rougher road sections in Illinois complete with Martindale 2.8s mounted with cross tires. Crew member Mike Herring rode this bike several times on our drive across the country to get to the start line, including the complete climb of the Glass Elevator (HC climb). In this pic in West Texas, you can see Mike riding the cross bike.

Crew shout-outs and thanks

I said it at the finish line, and I’ll say it again – no matter how strong you are, this race is impossible without an amazing crew. I’ve tried to find instagram pics of everyone on the crew and included them below.

This pic was right before the start when none of us really knew what was about to hit us like a fastball to the head. Left to right in this pic – Lou Pfau, Jonathan Cunningham, Wes Bates, Louis Fagelson, and Pete Foret.

Lou Pfau – Lou drove the RV for pretty much the entire race. This was not a small RV, and he did an absolutely amazing job. Lou was also cameraman and handyman extraordinaire. Every time I came anywhere near the RV during the race, Lou would be awake and ready with his camera. His positive attitude and encouraging comments to me in those short moments helped me keep going.

Jonathan Cunningham – Jonathan joined our crew as Wes’s friend from Colorado. As an EMT, Jonathan oversaw my medical condition and was able to give me an IV of fluids on that first day when I was heat exhausted in the desert in Hope, Arizona. Beyond that, Jonathan also performed the domestique roll sitting in the back of the follow vehicle and handing me whatever food or drink I needed during direct follow support.

Wes Bates – Crew Chief Wes Bates was amazing. Wes is a student at Indiana University and was a key part of making this race a success. I thought I was all calm and collected, but as soon as anything went wrong I would unleash this fury of pent-up emotion and stress. My crew had to repeatedly deal with this, and fearless crew chief Wes Bates took the brunt of it. Still, he soldiered on and coordinated every imaginable logistic from where the RV should stop to laundry for the crew. He made numerous contacts along the route and coordinated much needed rest and shower breaks for the crew. In addition to being crew chief, Wes was also had the most bike mechanic skills of anyone on our crew and was able to swap out the broken Di2 front derailleur while I slept in Ohio.

Louis Fagelson – Media guru Louis was responsible for the huge following of support that I had during the race. Louis’s live videos throughout the race through Periscope were watched by so many people. Facebook posts and tweets received lots of response, which Kristine would read to me as I was riding. This was a huge motivational boost for me, and it also led to us raising well over $12,000 for Nuevas Esperanzas.

Pete Foret – Pete was primary follow vehicle driver for Crew #2 (our night crew). He came up with some creative solutions to tricky problems during the race, including my sore feet (holes in the shoes) and painful hands (backpack padding under the handlebar tape). Pete was always first out of the car whenever I had to stop, which led to me accidentally peeing all over him at one stop. Unfazed, Pete was amazing in his enthusiasm and creative ways to keep me riding – including rigging up a waterproof system for the bullhorn to continue playing music in the pouring rain that seemed to hit us a bunch in Ohio and Maryland. Pete also was the head driver on our drive out west from Alabama to California. We rode three times during that trip, and Pete would follow behind us during those rides as well – so it’s like he did three extra days of follow-vehicle support before the race even started!

Luke Caldwell and Mike Herring in Durango, Colorado at TS 15, finish of the Race Across the West.Luke Caldwell and Mike Herring in Durango, Colorado at TS 15, finish of the Race Across the West.

Luke Caldwell – Luke started out as navigator on Crew #1 for the first 2,000 miles of the race. In Indiana, he switched over to the driver roll during a crew reshuffling when my father-in-law left to go on ahead to the finish and Kirstin Scott joined us. Luke also did a lot of the follow-vehicle bike related work including swapping out pedals, swapping bikes, swapping wheels in addition to the side of the road water bottle and nutrition hand-ups during leapfrog support. I’m sure I took more hand-ups from Luke and Mike than anyone else in the race. Luke was also easily the “sleep-master”. He always had lots of energy because he could sleep through anything in the RV when he was not on crew duty. There were some sleep stops that I had where I’d shower, change, eat, and talk right next to his bed – then sleep, wake up and go and he would sleep through the whole thing!

Mike Herring – Mike started out as driver on Crew #1 for the first 2,000 miles of the race and then swapped to driver for Crew #2 during the crew re-shuffling in Indiana. Mike handled some of the craziest leapfrog sections early in the race with the early traffic in California, tourist traffic in Arizona, and later the awful 73 mile detour on a very busy narrow section of US-50 in Missouri. Mike helped out tremendously with the bikes, too, and helped bring sanity and wisdom to the chaos of racing across the country with as little sleep as possible.

Kirstin Scott – My friend and fellow board member of Nuevas Esperanzas, Kirstin, joined us in Bloomington, Indiana for the last 1000 miles of the race. Kirstin has done many ultra endurance running events including the Vermont 100 miler race today (7/18). She has also crewed for her brother on races like the Western States 100 and the Badwater ultra marathon. She stepped into the middle of a tired crew, sleep-deprived me, and brought lots of much needed energy. Her primary role on the crew was navigator during some of the trickiest sections of the course. She arrived on Sunday in Bloomington, but I was so far behind schedule by this point I didn’t even make it to Bloomington until two days later!

Dale Cardwell – My father-in-law, Dale, and my wife Kristine were the only members of the crew who had experience crewing for me before (in the 2014 Heart of the South 500 mile race). Dale’s role was navigator for the night crew, which also meant that he helped out with nutrition (direct-follow handouts from the car). While navigating is tricky during the daytime, it’s extremely difficult at night, but Dale did an amazing job and I don’t think we missed any turns at all. Dale was also there when I crashed in the construction zone and helped put me and the bike back together to get riding again. In Bloomington, he left to join my mother-in-law Sandy so they could drive together the rest of the course to be at the finish. They came back onto the course a few times and waited for me and cheered for me. That was a big motivational boost.

Lastly, here is my amazing wife Kristine running alongside me up a short steep hill in Illinois at the spot where we crossed the total distance of the Tour de France – in just 7 days as opposed to 3 weeks ;-). My phone is only setup to call a single person via voice dial, so during the race she got many, many phone calls from me and ended up coordinating from there to other people on the crew. She was domestique on crew #1 (daytime crew). She also took care of me whenever I stopped at the RV, helped me shower, change, go to the bathroom. She was also the person who woke me up after any RV sleep having to deal with my sleep antics, including asking her to get things I really didn’t need so that I could sleep for another minute or two sitting on the side of the RV bed. One time I ran out of things to ask her to get for me, and I said “can you get me something/anything that will take you at least 15 minutes to get?” She was absolutely selfless and amazing.

Also, here is our two littlest crew members who crewed remotely as I called them throughout the race. They were a big help to me by following the race and cheering me on over the phone.

While he wasn’t officially part of the crew, he might as well have been – my friend Craig Tamburello at Brick Alley Bikes who sponsored his time, equipment, and expertise to get me ready for the race. Also, I talked to him for over an hour late one night while riding through Missouri. I was about ready to fall asleep before he called, and then after he called I was wide awake and able to make it all the way to Camdenton, Missouri without stopping. He was also on call when I broke the front derailleur and had sent me off with a spare di2 front derailleur just in case. He stepped Wes through installing and adjusting the new derailleur, and everything was perfect!

Michael Staley wasn’t officially on the crew that went with us on the race, but just like Craig he might as well have been because without him I would not have had nearly as much support for this race. Michael joined me on some crazy epic Cheaha adventures early in the year as well as the 300 mile epic of riding to the Old Howard century, riding the century, and then riding home. Some of my longest rides this year were with Michael. On top of that, he helped connect me with TV and news crews to get a lot of coverage in the media about my attempt to win the Race Across America. While I didn’t win this time, I gained a lot of experience to have a much better chance at winning it next time! And on top of all of that, he and Payne Griffin crewed for me at the Heart of the South 500 mile race this year where I just missed setting the course record by about 30 minutes.

Dex Tooke with most of the crewDex Tooke with most of the crew (missing are Mike and Dale who were parking the follow car, Kristine who took the picture, and Kirstin). Dex’s book “Unfinished Business” was required reading for our crew. Kristine also exchanged messages with him a few times before the race to get advice. He crewed this year for second place finisher David Haase and both of them came back out to watch me come in at the finish.

Sponsor shout-outs
Our biggest sponsor for the race was Raymond James Birmingham via my friend Kyle Martin. My friend Philip Martindale has been a huge supporter and sponsor via the wheelsets he has given me for training and racing. Check them out, the Martindale Wheelsets are some of the best, most reliable, fastest wheels I’ve ever ridden. My friend Justin Lowe at 1st Choice Collision in Dover, TN arranged the follow vehicle for us. My wife’s company compose.io donated money and also allowed Kristine to be out-of-pocket for a very busy two weeks at the company while she was with me for the race.

In addition to Raymond James, other local Birmingham businesses that stepped up to sponsor the race included Junk King Birmingham, my friend Danny Feldman’s law office at Lewis, Feldman & Lehane, my friend Jeffrey J. Fuller, M.D., P.C. who rode with me on one of my epic training rides that went over towards Tuscaloosa, and PMG Marketing who made all of our magnetic signs for the follow cars and the RV. Red Bike Coffee made us a killer cold brew coffee that I drank throughout the race. They also gave us ground coffee which helped keep the crew going.

My friend Travis Werts helped us out tremendously at Castelli, in addition to connecting me with fi’zi:k which supplied me with awesome bars, tape, and saddles for the race. And Friends of the Great Smokies cycling teammate Kurt Page hooked me up with support from the GE Veteran Network.

Swiftwick was our sock supplier, and Mace Brand contacted us the week before I was leaving for the race and rush delivered all kinds of awesome reflective and lighted gear (headbands, safety vests, arm bands, wrist bands) that were super important for our crew. They even have a cool setup which would be more helpful for teams doing RAAM where they have two different colors of lights. You could then coordinate exchanges at night and know who is who by wearing different colors. This would be super valuable for teams attempting RAAM.

Connected through Craig at Brick Alley and a chance meeting at a Fred’s store in Columbiana on my way back from a 310 mile training ride through Selma, Alabama, Tom Johnson helped organize an awesome fundraiser at Brick Alley that also connected me with Lloyd Maisonville who connected me with additional sponsorship from Nemak.

Everyone else
There are so many people who commented on Facebook and Instagram that were inspiring and motivating to me that I cannot mention everyone by name, but I wanted to thank a few people here that were especially helpful during the race – first, my friend Jared Carlson came and visited me in Hope, Arizona when I was laying in the RV contemplating whether I would be able to finish the race. His visit along with a lot of other things helped inspire me to keep going. Other friends and family that came to visit – my two sister-in-laws Anna Delarosby and Katie Cardwell as well as my father-in-law’s brother, Bruce Cardwell, all came and hung out with us out at the start in California which was encouraging. The Lunceford family were in town in Oceanside and came out to see and hang out with us at the start. The Lunceford’s always opened up their home to Kristine, the kids, and I whenever we would come to race Athens Twilight until they moved to California last year. I think we stayed with them four or five years in a row, so how cool that they would fortuitously be there at the start of another bike race! Scott Silvers and his wife visited in Greensburg, Indiana where Scott loaned me his zipp disc wheel since I had flatted my tubular. Lloyd and his wife came out to cheer in Bloomington, Indiana. Also, Wes’s coach for the Cutters cycling team, Jim Kirkham, who hosted Kirstin while she was waiting an extra couple days for us to make it to Bloomington so she could join the crew there gave me some encouraging words and advice while we were stopped in Bloomington. Kristine’s cousin Kim brought her daughters to the finish in Annapolis and cheered us on and helped pack everything up after the race. Luke’s friends in eastern Colorado were helpful although I was really delirious when I met them! Somebody awesome passed us at the state border of West Virginia and then hung out for a minute when I needed to stop for some reason on the side of US 50. All of that is really hazy so I cannot remember who it was. It was really encouraging, though. My parents, Tom and Beverly, kept our kids for two weeks and drove them up to the finish and then helped us recover after the race.

Also, there were people like Matthew Clark an old school friend who tweeted and sent encouraging Facebook messages. Also, a big shout-out to Ed Merrit who kept sending math problems that I would attempt to work out in my head while riding to try to stay awake. Those were good problems, Ed, I think I almost got the answer to one of them but gave up on most of the others after trying to work out the numerator or denominator. It was too hard to remember the intermediate answers. They served their purpose, though, and kept me awake for just a few minutes longer each time. Soooo many facebook posts that Kristine read to me during the race. I was mostly asleep whenever she started reading to me so that would help wake me up, too. It is only now going back through them all that I realize I really cannot thank everyone by name so if I missed you, know that your encouraging words, tweets, and facebook messages were NOT missed during the race.

People also I talked to on the phone or left me awesome messages – Ken Gunnells, Boris Simmonds, and Craig Tamburello. Other people I may have talked to and completely forgotten the phone call / conversation. Chime in the comments and help remind me!

And bad-ass racers like Mark Fisher, Kenny Bellau, Gordon Wadsworth, Adam Myerson, Mike Olheiser, and Jeremiah Bishop sent me encouraging notes at some point or the other – super helpful and awesome.

Finally, here is my favorite picture from the race, at the finish surrounded by my family, job well done –

Family at the finish - second favorite photo ever!Family at the finish – second favorite photo ever – crew member Kirstin took this pic within seconds of me crossing the finish line at the City Dock in Annapolis, Maryland having ridden my bike nearly 3000 miles from the Oceanside Pier in California!

If you are wondering what my favorite photo is, it’s this one that friend Corrie Haffly took at our wedding reception in 2003. Who could have known that twelve amazing years later we’d be embarking on this adventure of the Race Across America … “oh, the places you’ll go”.

13 thoughts on “RAAM 2015 Data Analysis”

  1. Congratulations Brian. Wow, what a journey. By the way I interpret the data you are already thinking of ways to return and improve on an awesome performance.

    Definitely a sign of a true champion

  2. Absolutely loved following you during the race. My daughter and I stayed up the whole night at the end of the race to see the finish. Did not want to miss it after all that time!! Looking forward to next year(hopefully)!!

  3. What a great write-up! As part of Team E, I am sure you heard my cowbell on more than one occasion. Oh, the places you’ll go… number one or number 2? lol, only reading that attached to a RAAM post have I ever interpreted it like that! Thanks for an interesting read.

  4. Brian, you are an absolute inspiration. I would have been at the finish line were it not for the broken femur. Looking forward to some rides, hopefully 4-6 weeks from now I will be able to start pedaling. Already ordered a spin bike for my garage to get me ready for the road. Next year, Bates and I are thinking we will do Ride4Gabe 2016 from Maine to Mobile in about 12 days in August.

  5. Brian, congratulations on a fine job of crossing this awesome country and finishing the race off in style-with family in hand! Loved the data narrative..what an adventure indeed. All those long rides in Alabama paid off. Next task: RAAM Solo Winner! Thanks for sharing the adventure.

  6. Absolutely Amazing.. thanks for sharing this great adventure. Enjoyed reading the details of your journey, the humor was great even the low points. I’m amazed at how you guys pushed your bodies through such pain.The thing that really surprised me was the weight gain after so many miles on the bike. Congrats!

  7. Great stuff Brian! I love all the detail. I thought you prepared incredibly well for this race so I was interesting that even you were troubled by sore feet, hands etc… The nutrition and sleep information is excellent, I didn’t realise that you fell into REM sleep on the bike! I though crashes were a result of a micro sleep. Whether you decide to do this race again or not, it doesn’t matter. You have achieved more than most people can imagine. When I tell most people about the race across America they cannot even begin to comprehend how difficult it is. Respect!

  8. Thanks so much for sharing so much detail of this adventure! I found myself laughing and crying with the brutally honest presentation of events as they transpired. What a wonderful group surrounded Brian, and what a great family and team memory.

  9. Wow. You are amazing. Even being alongside you firsthand, I still can’t believe you did this. I mean, I CAN believe it because I know how much training went into it, but experiencing every mile almost makes it less believable because it was so excruciating at times in terms of heat, sleep deprivation, pain and mental struggle. I love you. So very proud of you. And though it was so very very hard for me, I’m so glad I was there.

  10. Amazing effort! Great write up and inspirational.
    I was on team FelixRAAM 8 person team this year and you were brilliant.
    Thank you so much for the after action review which will help so many people.
    All the best for the next one…

    Cliff & FelixRAAM

  11. Brian, I’m an old man who has had his heart set on riding RAAM “some day.” Well that day will happen in 2018, hopefully. Currently I’m in the process of training and trying to dial in everything I’ll need. Although I’m just starting I want to say thank you for everything you’ve posted. You’ve been a great help so fr as I’ve studied your data and comments.

    My wife and I live in southern Indiana (the RAAM route passes within 4 miles of our home and we usually have Strasser’s team in for food, showers, and more food). If you don’t mind, over the next two years I would like to pick your brain as I encounter different “obstacles” in my training and planning.

    Take care and thanks again for the inspiration.


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