P1: Trans Am Bike Race 2018 complete!

Trans Am Bike Race 2018 complete!


A finish in time for Independence Day celebrations (or maybe they were just welcoming my arrival)


Part 1

  • Immediate Afterthoughts
  • Strategy
  • The Route
  • Emotions


The finish line

So, here I am, in Yorktown Virginia; the site where America's independence was secured in 1781. I have just crossed 4,200 miles of the USA to finish the Trans America Bike Race. I placed 37th out of 116 starters, & took 27 days - 25 of which were full cycle days & 2 were lost to bike mechanical issues: this means I cycled an average of 167 miles every day that I rode.


Considering that I tore the meniscus in my right knee seven weeks to the race start date, meaning a lot of immobility, no training, & almost giving it all up - I cannot believe I've managed to do it.


Immediate Afterthoughts

A feeling of calm, emptiness has overcome myself & my fellow finishers. We have spent a whole month enduring constant physical, emotional battles & relentless stimulation. This was obviously after months or even years of planning, training, & sacrifices: whether financial, or time with family & friends.

As we reached the Victory Monument, the symbol of the end of this mammoth challenge, to the quiet applause & anti-climactic back-patting from a handful of avid followers & other finishers, there was the immediate 'what do we do now?'.

York river sunrise: end of one chapter, but the beginning of another 

This escape from reality, & chasing or living something 'bigger' is often accompanied by the post-event blues, or even true depression. I am not surprised. Often the only way to combat this feeling, this urge for more, & craving for pushing oneself to the extreme, is to immediately plan the next more difficult thing. I, myself, was supposed to put to bed this new two year-long sport of distance cycling, & return to my usual physical passions of climbing & running, whilst re-entering the vigorous career of Medicine. Unsurprisingly I have actually found myself feeding the inner beast by pondering about other upcoming ultradistance bike events. Dammit, I've been sucked in, too.

Long periods alone on mountains sparked my creative side


How was it?

What a question. I will summarise a few main themes, then also aim to blog about the race in sections: for personal reflection, to entertain anyone interested & for helping future racers/inspiring others to give it a go.

Salmon River Gorge, Idaho: the wonderful calm after the storm


Are you physically exhausted?

Interestingly, no. If I hadn't injured myself at the end (see below), I feel I could have easily done another 180 miles the next day.

The fact that I rarely felt exhausted, makes me feel as though I could have done a lot more: cycled more miles per day, & slept less. This is always the balance: you have a finite number of hours within which to squeeze your daily miles, time for breaks or refuelling, & time to sleep. The way in which you make this choice, & depending on where you can find to sleep/how you want to do it (e.g. in shelter in a town or rough, anywhere) becomes a major part of your strategy.
As it was my first ever event, & I was starting with a serious knee injury - therefore only fitting in a handful of 'test/rehab rides' before starting, my strategy was cautious consistency.
Feeling cautious... many miles & mountains lie ahead! 


The Strategy

I'm a planner. I guess having a logistical outline & daily goal makes me feel more secure, & in control. Yes, this can be difficult in these events, but excluding serious mechanical issues or injuries, if you are strong-willed or pig-headed enough (yep, I am), you can stick to it. So whatever winds, storms, hills or humidity arise to try to break you: crack on & stick to your plan. It's that simple. Ha

This is the consistency part: keeping a steady daily mileage going & sticking to some sort of routine will see you to success. Keep it steady sister!

Consistent miles, lotsa food, sleep & singing = happy racer :D

The cautious part:

  1. Torn meniscus: starting with an existing injury meant I would need to begin with 'sensible' daily miles so as to not re-tear my knee & ruin everything!
  2. Injury avoidance: again, a sensible daily target would help prevent an acute over-use injury which would spell an early ending to the race. This is the long game: a marathon, not a sprint.
  3. Down time: dedicating enough time to sleep/recovery would allow me to be healthy & strong enough to continue day after day: maintaining as much mental & physical strength as possible.

Storm ahoy!

Another point to consider when deciding daily mileage is keeping enough miles 'in hand', to act as a buffer in case anything unforeseen occurs & you have to take time out. This will avoid you manically chasing miles & cutting sleep to catch up.

A finish of 30 days requires a 143 daily mileage; very aware of balancing my knee injury with getting miles in hand, I aimed to do 150 miles minimum every day. On day 3 a mechanical issue saw me lose 1.5 days (damn!), but still sticking to this modest daily target consistently saw me climb from near the back of the race to be around the 40s in position...within only a few days to a week! Once I realised I was getting fitter & wasn't too tired physically, I upped the target to 170-180 daily miles.

Naw, look at that naive optimistic little one...as yet unblemished by the trials which lie ahead

In the East, the smaller mountains are short, sharp & relentless. Doing this mileage here, including a 194 mile day meant an average daily ascent/total amount of climbing of 3,000m! Three days before finishing my right achilles tendon began to ache (unsurprising with that amount of 'climbing'); it wasn't serious until the final 20-30 miles of the whole race, where the end was in sight yet the burning & shooting pains had me crying out & trying to ride one-legged. What a palava!

Sub-tropical eastern hills

Another bike issue in the eastern mountains forced a half day, meaning the 26 day finish I was on target for was now unlikely. Still totally chuffed with 27, though! And thankfully the injury happened at the very end: it's over now, so who cares if I can ride/walk!


Breaks: refuelling

Time for ride breaks, how & what you eat/drink is also important. I'm a 15 year long vegan & chose to stay 100% vegan if possible. I will post about this major theme in part 2.

The bi-daily gas station treat. Gawd, what our lives had become...



The Route 

The West was, in my opinion, the most beautiful section. I almost feel as though I lacked appreciation of this at the time. The long climbs of the Rockies were very manageable, & there were only a few occasions of sub-zero temperatures & snowstorms.
A windy sprint through Yellowstone National Park 

From Colorado onwards, things got brutally tough. Humidity rapidly increased (constantly dripping with sweat, feeling nauseas, & running out of your boiling hot water are not fun experiences doing this many miles!); the lack of changing scenery, particularly the mind-numbing straight flat roads & dessert-like fields of energy-sucking windy Kansas, & the relentless 'rollers' & sharp hills of the East (which didn't cut you slack until the FINAL DAY) were hard.
Oh Kansas. You, your humidity, & tormenting winds are enough to drive the most stable of people clinically insane

We all laugh at fellow racers muttering "can't wait to make up miles after the Rockies" earlier. Ha!!! I must reveal this to the world, before you all sign up & start racing with total ignorance about the beast which is the east!

 38°C & 3L of water gone in 50 miles..I could have cried with joy. 


Emotional trauma: fellow racers

It's fair to say that in this sleep-deprived & drained state, one is quite emotionally fragile. The apparent separation from the 'real world' & struggles you face, which are only currently understood by fellow racers means you are part of an intense community on the road. If you choose not to ride with someone else (which is allowed, as long as you don't 'draught' one another), you still often see your road companions, or at least leap-frog each other. This is moreso in the early days, as all 116 of you are racing through the same miles, & less so from week 2 onwards, where you've all spread out & end up riding in a little cocoon of a few hundred miles: likely leap frogging the same few riders who are similar to you in daily strategy or mileage. The next nearest riders are either a few hundred ahead or behind, which means you're unlikely to shift cocoons, unless/until one suffers a mechanical issue or injury, forcing you to lose miles & fall back one cocoon. Around 50% of racers quit or have to stop, meaning only 60ish riders total are on the roads eventually anyway.

Caught up to fellow riders in week one, yay! Enjoyed a fun downhill together into Montana

The few exchanges you utter, minutes you ride side-by-side, or simply seeing a familiar racing companion's face can result in a strong bond in this environment.

Heya Lech! Lovely to catch this dude on the way into Colorado

This is a risky game: apart from inevitable riding-related injuries, & the risk posed from wildlife (particularly the roaming bike-chasing dogs of the east), the major risk to life is that posed by collision with a vehicle.

As it stands, there are four known major incidents this year: fortunately no mortalities, but two seriously injured riders. One of these was my leap-frog & cocoon buddy in Colorado.

I met him on day one, & was instantly struck & inspired by his tenacity. Having struggled with injuries through one of the most difficult mountain bike races in the world (which he still completed), he accepted he was physically slow & may have similar injuries in this race, yet would truck on, never breaking, & cutting sleep to ensure he completed his goal. Mid-way through the race, I caught up to join his cocoon, & he indeed stuck to his strategy: up at 2am most days, often caught by riders starting 4 hours later, yet still trucking on, doing his daily 170/180 miles nomatter what. An absolutely incredible man.

Riding part of a day with fellow racer Bo:)

After stopping to chat briefly at the roadside, including to his lovely wife on the phone (who uttered "i love your transam songs Alaina!" - yes, I wrote parodies to famous songs to help the miles tick by); i heard later that his tracker was at a police station.
He got hit.
He was intubated in critical care, with a shattered pelvis & at least bleeding to the spinal cord causing some paralysis.
I couldn't believe it. Tears, a feeling of misjustice & pain for him & his family are still with me.

Update: he is now conscious, has some memory returning, & is soon to be moved to a rehab unit in their home state. I continue to wish him & his family the quickest & fullest of recoveries.

This is a serious game.

One stunning descent: down into Ennis, Montana, in view of the Madison Mountains


Thank you for your interest & support. 
Please help me in my campaign to raise funds to feed, clothe & integrate local asylum seekers & refugees into the community: I am supporting Asylum Link Merseyside & would be over the moon if you could help! www.justgiving.com/alainastransam

PART TWO of post-race themes in the next post!

Comments

  1. What a wonderful report! Congratulations on such a challenging ride you accomplished!

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  2. Loved reading your blog after talking with you in Y'town. So very sad about John Egbers.

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  3. Well writen. I have no words to express the sorrow of the loss of your fellow rider. Thank you for sharing this experance.

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