by Tom Seabourne.
RACE ACROSS AMERICA (RAAM)
It all started while I was pedaling an exercise bicycle alongside a buddy of mine at a local health club. He suggested I attempt an ultra-distance cycling event. I had no idea what an ultra-distance cycling event was. The longest bike race I had ever heard of was the Tour de France. He informed me the most grueling single-stage bike race in the world took place right here in the United States and it was called the RAAM. I became obsessed with this race after Outside magazine declared it the “toughest sporting event in the world.” That’s where I placed all my training energy. In this bicycle race, solo or team riders with a supporting crew ride 3,000 miles from the West Coast to the East Coast. There are no time-outs. You can sleep as much or as little as you like.
I was a long way from the RAAM. I enjoyed riding an exercise bike for three hours at a time because it was the only activity that didn’t bother my feet. But to pedal a bicycle across America in less than two weeks seemed awesome. The farthest I had ever ridden on two wheels was one hundred miles, and that was on a bet. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on whether you spoke to me or my ex-wife), I spotted an advertisement about a bicycle race in Waco, Texas, called the Spenco 500. I phoned the race director and pleaded with her to allow me. to enter. She said the event was limited to professionals but if I sent her a resume, she would look it over.
My resume had no cycling experience listed but did have information about my international karate and tennis competitions. I mailed it with a desperate cover page, and to my surprise, one week later I received my acceptance. At the pre-race meeting I was the only rider wearing tennis shoes and using a flashlight taped to my handlebars in place of a bike light. My inexperience did not bother me until the end of the first 25-mile lap when I over-shifted, lost my chain, the pack, and my futile chance to win. Luckily for me, several pros dropped out of the race because of saddle sores, nutrition problems, and sleep deprivation.
We pedaled throughout the night. Drafting was allowed, which I wasn’t used to. I had only raced in a few Century rides where drafting was allowed. I caught up to the Schwinn Team and drafted off them, reaching speeds of up to a consistent 30 miles per hour. When it was my turn to lead the pack, they waved me off. I was wearing tennis shoes instead of cycling shoes. I wouldn’t have trusted me, either.
While I was drafting the Schwinn Team, a female Olympian from the New Zealand cycling team caught up to us. I looked down at my speedometer and we were clocking in at 28 miles per hour. She was pedaling effortlessly while screaming at one of the Schwinn Team members. Seconds later she pedaled away from us, while we tried to follow, maintaining our 28 miles per hour speed. Not surprisingly she won the women’s division and a $5,000 check.
I plugged along and finished the race, feeling overjoyed. By default, I placed fourteenth out of the original fifty riders and was presented with “The Rattlesnake” award for the cyclist who showed the most courage.
I was ecstatic. It was a peak experience for me. I told my wife I had finally found another passion to replace martial arts. She was not excited. She had seen me floundering off-course when I lost my chain in the initial stages of the race. She realized the amount of training time ultra-distance cycling would take. She knew with our three small children their dad might not be around very much on weekends. She was right. I was hooked!