In June this year, I will be embarking on the greatest athletic challenge I have ever attempted, the Race Across America, in the solo category. RAAM is widely acknowledged as the one of, if not the, world’s toughest bike race. Starting in Oceanside, California, the route spans 3,000 miles (4,800 km), climbs 175,000 ft (50,000 m) as it traverses 3 major mountain ranges (Sierra, Rocky, Appalachian), crosses 12 states and finishes in Annapolis, Maryland.
That’s further than the Tour de France. In half the time. Admittedly a little slower, but still…
My endurance CV is pretty robust across running, cycling and triathlon and includes a win at the Race Across the West (RAW, the first 1000 miles of RAAM) in 2017, but RAAM is another level. It’s hard to admit – and I don’t think friends believe me - but I’m seriously intimidated, anxious about finishing. There are so many things that can go wrong in a race like this, even for the most experienced professional athletes who dominate the field, let alone rookies who are trying to juggle training with a day job! The success rate in the solo race is around 50% - assuming I finish, I will be only the second British female ever to do so.
I will be riding continuously for 11-12 days, averaging 3hrs sleep every 24hrs. Hallucinations will start within the first 3 days and by the 6th day I’m unlikely to have much mental faculty. Getting enough calories will be a challenge – 250-300 per hour continuously for 12 days. Then there is the 40 degree heat of Arizona, the risk of altitude sickness in the Rockies, the boredom of 800 miles of straight road through Kansas and the middle of the country and the dreaded Shermers neck (your neck muscles collapse) which would be race ending. I have a crew of 9 generous friends donating their time and they will be doing everything for me - feeding, navigating, bike mechanics, massage, entertainment and whatever I need medically - leaving me to "just" ride.
So why am I attempting this crazy race?
I will be racing in honour of my dear friend and triathlon racing teammate Claire Danson who suffered a devastating accident in August 2019 which left her paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. Claire is now retraining as a para-athlete with the aim of competing in Paris 2024, and I’m raising money to support her on that journey.
Claire’s accident reminded me of the fragility of life and how it can all change in a heartbeat. We can’t take our health and our ability to be physical for granted. I always knew I’d attempt RAAM at some point in my life but that’s why I’m doing it now – who knows what the future holds. While life is so very different, Claire is the same slightly ditzy, funny and optimistic friend I’ve always known. She amazes me with her attitude and progress every day and as I pedal endless miles in training right now, I often hold on to thoughts of her for motivation.
Please give generously. Rest assured, I’ll be suffering to earn it! I am funding all costs so everything raised goes directly to Claire's fund.
And if you're interested in tracking me, the race starts June 16th and you'll be able to do so here: http://www.raceacrossamerica.org/live-tracking.html
- Chris Heawood
- Gareth Healy
- Giovanni Gianquitto
- Nawaz Ahmed
- Erik Ogren
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