From One RAAM Racer to Another:
Insights on Being There and Getting There

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in ULTRA Cycling, 15.3, May-June 2006

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While racing solo RAAM back in 1987 at age 20, I stayed motivated and mentally fresh by talking to my crew a lot over a little transmitter clipped to my collar that they heard through the FM radio. They responded over the roof-mounted PA speaker. I often had them write lists of things, ideas, and dreams of mine, because I wanted to keep my mind engaged and because I wanted some of my thoughts recorded for posterity and future reference. Talking about the race as it unfolds, and what lies ahead, is important, but so is talking, and thinking, about the rest of life. Keep your brain active!

  • Music can be very good and it doesn't have to be loud, head-banging music (though that's good sometimes). The main thing is to pick songs or artists that help you to be in the right mood for the moment. You can’t do RAAM on an energy surge, but you can keep a smile on your face most of the time. I still distinctly remember certain songs in association with certain moments of the race. And yes, my crew intentionally played certain songs over the roof-mounted stereo speakers as I passed other racers. I think they were tipping their hat to the Robert Duvall character in “Apocalypse Now.” (Note that proper music speakers should be used to project quality sound from the roof of the van, not a PA-type speaker. Also, headphones are a bad idea, in terms of safety and in a spiritual sense, as they disconnect the listener from the outside world.)
  • Find a few things to celebrate each day, miniature “finish lines” such as crossing state lines, each 500-mile increment, the start of each new day, major geographic points like big passes and rivers, plus lakes, towns or other features with neat names, and such. My crew held up toilet paper finish lines every 500 miles. (If I were doing RAAM again, they’d probably do that every 508 miles nowadays.)
  • Race from time station to time station, resetting your bike computer’s odometer each time you pass one. Also, key off other racers. Whether you're racing for 15th, 5th, or first, it's all racing and it's good motivation to keep someone in your sights and then put them in the rearview mirror! On a related note, when you do get passed by other racers, be sure that they don’t get in front of you and then slow down a little bit. People naturally want to “get to the front of the line,” but in a race like RAAM the endorphins will wear off and they will slow down. I remember Tally Chapman doing that in Illinois or Indiana. Finally I just got sick of it, put on a disc wheel, shoved it into high gear, then stood up and slammed on the pedals until he was long gone. (Until he passed me again, of course.)
  • Don't screw up your diet. You may need to modify what you'd planned on eating, but do NOT start eating candy, ice cream, milk shakes, soda, and the like. They will destroy your blood sugar levels and cause you to get sleepy from the inevitable sugar crash. I lost about a half a day in elapsed time due to “celebrating” my great progress towards the Mississippi River with a Dairy Queen “Blizzard” (or two). Instead of getting to the St. Louis Arch around midnight, I got there the next day some time, all because of a stupid ice cream party. Eat smart!
  • Stay aerodynamic. Riding on the aerobars makes a HUGE difference, yet over my twelve years going across with RAAM (twice racing, once crewing, three times officiating, and six years directing Team RAAM), I consistently noticed that mainly the front two or three soloists and front two or three relay teams were religious about riding on their aerobars all the time. The rest of the field just lugged them along as heavy "hood ornaments" that did no good, while sitting up on their bars catching the breeze on their chest. Stay down on those bars or you will fall behind, I gar-aaan-tee it!
  • Don't let yourself slow down when your crew or a TV truck pulls up next to you. Tell them to go your speed and stay just a hair ahead of you, so that you are turning your head to about 10 or 11 o’clock to look at them while you ride. Otherwise you will slow down a few miles per hour as you talk to them, get photographed, interviewed, etc. Don’t waste speed!
  • This one’s simple, but powerful: Don't get cold! Put on jackets for downhills, even in the middle of a nice, sunny day. Wear shoe booties even when it’s not raining. Wear sunblock consistently, as sunburn makes you feel cold. It’s just wasted energy for your body to have to work to stay warm.
  • Finally, and most importantly, have fun and enjoy the process! This is a great adventure! Soak it up, take in the sights, and enjoy the beauty and diversity of our vast country! Yes, it’s a race, but you can stay aero and stay focused on rapid eastward progress while ALSO enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of the experience AND being thankful and friendly to your crew, race officials, time station volunteers, media, and fans. Remember, even the solo division is a “team sport” – help make it fun and memorable for everyone associated with your effort, including you! That will help you remember, long into the future, what you achieved this summer.

When not riding or racing, Chris Kostman produces a series of endurance events in Death Valley each year, including centuries and double centuries, charitable events to support Challenged Athletes Foundation and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the world-famous Badwater Ultramarathon foot race, and the venerable Furnace Creek 508.

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