Preparing for the madness that is the Race Across America

©Barry Sandland/TIMB - Rider preparing for the Race Across America on hjs Look bike

©Barry Sandland/TIMB – Training to compete in ultra-endurance events has brought this rider 120k just to train on a hill. He will do about 300k today, alone. Most of us do not do that distance in a month.

“I rode out here this morning so I could train on a  hill. I want to compete in the Race Across America but have to qualify first. There is the Fire Weed qualification race in Alberta that I will race.” Photographer’s notes: Ever heard of the Race Across America (RAAM)? It is one of the most prestigious ultra-endurance bike races in the world. It starts today. When he says he rode out this morning, we were 0ver 120 kilometres from Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories (NT) and I had done most of the journey the evening before. He just got out of bed and did the distance before lunch.

I have to say, while it is a highway hill and runs a kilometre or so, it is nothing incredible. Most European countries have a hundred or more far more demanding climbs. But you have to use what you have got. And, frankly, the 200k out and back and the hill becomes a challenge after a few rides up and down.

Just getting to be able to qualify for the RAAM is an accomplishment. This rider will be doing the Fire Weed 400 this summer, a RAAM qualifier. Hopefully that will take him to RAAM in 2016. Meanwhile, he needs to train on hills. This hill is in the middle of nowhere and considered just about the only long hill in the territory. He was going to ride the hill a few times and then ride home. Basically a 300 km day. Just to ride a hill a few times…

“I think I will get home about midnight,” he told me. It was all so matter of fact that the distance and time seemed inconsequential. There are few everyday cyclists who can manage a 160k ride. Look for the committed club riders and devoted touring people. Loads of riders think they can do it, but legs tend to collapse after 140 km. I have a couple of 160k rides in this year, but I do not like further. Far fewer can do 200km.

Despite having ridden for 40 years, I have never actually done 200k in one ride, although lots of semi-decent riders could do 100k morning/evening splits if they put their minds to it. Riders who can be self-motivated to ride 300 km are an elite, rare few. Anybody who does RAAM can do this sort of ride. Qualification for RAAM states riders need to do 600km within in a 24 hour ride. RAAM is the elite of ultra endurance rides.

The elite of RAAM are unbelievable. One rider managed to ride an average speed of over 37kph for 24 hours. Unless you are a competitive rider, and I mean seriously racing, you cannot hold 40kph for more than a couple of kilometres, if that. Go find a downhill and a tailwind and you might be successful. At a competitive level, 40k in an hour is the first elite standard. Hardcore time time trialers can do 160k in under four hours. But to grind out a 37k pace on the roads, with roads and wind to battle, even when flat, and average over 37kph, well, you are a demigod. Everybody would fear you.

The total RAAM speeds are far less. Winners complete the 5,000+ kilometres at an average speed of over 20kph, including time spent resting.   Links: Fire Weed: The Race Across Alaska ultra endurance bike race website here…

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