Friday, December 11, 2009

Race Across America

Superstar athlete Lance Armstrong has boosted cycling’s popularity through the roof. Yet I’m disappointed that when people think of the bicycle race they say the Tour de France. And while I am in no way questioning the race’s difficulty, there is another event that makes the Tour de France look like a walk in the park. Don’t believe me? Yeah, well you try bicycling 3,000 miles in 10 days!

Arguably the hardest sporting event in the world, the Race Across America (RAAM) is no picnic. It was created in 1982 originally titled the ‘Great American Bike Race’. Competitors start somewhere on the East Coast and finish on the other side of the United States a little bit over a week later. And while the Tour de France is still 2,300 miles long it is divided into daily ride segments prolonging the race for three weeks. The coolest thing about RAAM is that there are no pit stops. In order to be competitive, one has to pedal at least 22 hours a day!

Most cyclists begin with an all out surge, sometimes pedaling in access of 40 hours before taking a sleep break. And during that time riding, they are only off the bike for about 10-15 minutes. They even pedal in the night, followed by their trusty support vehicle (with flashing lights on) providing mechanical and medical assistance, as well as much needed moral.

If you’ve ever witnessed this race, you have one man to thank for its creation; John Marino. In the race’s debut, there were only four competitors (John Marino, John Howard, Michael Shermer, and Lon Haldeman). Some of these competitors would literally train by riding across the U.S. back and forth solo with no assistance whatsoever. Lon Haldeman won the first race with a time of 9 days, 20 hours, and 2 minutes with an average speed of 12.57 miles per hour (mph).

Did you know?- More than half of the starting athletes end of up having to quit.

Since then, hundreds of competitors from around the world have come to take on this challenge. There are now 23 race categories including a separate class for woman and teams of multiple riders (2,4,8).

Did you know?- The fastest nonofficial race time was completed by Michael Secrest in 1990, in 7 days and 23 hours.

In closing this post, I leave you with some inspiration. Released this year, filmmaker’s Stephen Auerback’s Bicycle Dreams is a documentary of the 2005 RAAM. But for of those who aren’t into cycling, this movie is not about a sporting event. This is a classic example, if not the best I’ve ever seen, of man vs. self. The film is more of a window into the lives of ultramarathon athletes displaying their inner victories and defeats. Below is the movies official site description.

"They are seekers, madmen, and angels hell-bent on riding across America on a bicycle in less than ten days. But what begins as the adventure of a lifetime is transformed in an instant when tragedy strikes the race. These voyagers discover what is truly at stake as they pedal on, praying for the deliverance only the finish line can bring. By journey's end, some are saved, others are lost, but all learn that the fuel that takes a soul toward its own true destiny is desire."

To find out where to buy this piece, visit

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