Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ultracycling Words of Wisdom from Race Across Oregon's Terri Gooch

If you’re looking into doing your first ultracycling race, there’s no doubt you have questions. Lots of questions. Some of them, you might even be afraid to ask. When races go over 24 hours, things chaffe, pop, swell, and do other ungodly things that would make anyone who’s naturally introverted wince at sharing his or her issues.

Lucky for you, Terri Gooch, two-time RAAM finisher, and co-race director with her husband George Thomas (6-time RAAM finisher), of RAAM qualifier, Race Across Oregon, is full of useful information. Whatever your ultracycling goal, she’s been there, done that, and is happy to share her knowledge.

Let’s say for argument's sake that your ‘A’ race this year is Race Across Oregon, a 48-hour, 527-mile extravaganza now entering its 12th year. Unlike the first 9 years, when RAO was held in the beginning of June, actually went across Oregon, and was plagued with snowstorms and terrible weather, RAO will begin on July 11th this year. The route has been redone for 2009 to keep cyclists off of busy throughways, and the weather, goodness willing, will be more favorable. Maybe even hot.

Do you sleep? How do you fuel? How should you pick your crew? What gearing should you have on your bike?

You (and I) have questions. Terri has answers.

Me: RAO is 48 hours. So, about sleeping--
Terri: No sleep.

Me: And the crew?
Terri: Good planning by the crew is essential.

Make sure your crew knows what you want. Make sure that they’re nice but not too nice. Really nice crews can waste a lot of time just trying to make you comfortable instead of just saying, come on, just suck it up! You wanted to do this.

[Your crew must] make you be responsible for it. This is your dream, this is what you wanted to do. Because everyone’s gonna hurt during the race. Everyone’s gonna have a down time, everyone’s gonna have an upset stomach. Everyone’s gonna have a sore knee. Everyone’s crotch is gonna hurt. It’s gonna happen to everybody. It’s hard to ride 500 and something miles and not feel bad. You just don’t want to give up. You know, everyone’s going to throw up, so throw up and get back on.

Maybe that’s the most frustrating thing is when the crew just doesn’t have it together. They could effectively loose the race for the rider.

Terri: It’s helpful to have an Excel spreadsheet wiz. Look at your training data, and try to have this person or you or both of you look at the terrain and how you’re riding and extrapolate the information to make time goals for all of your time stations.

That will help you too to stay motivated—making time goals for check stations.

Me: We’ve all read about ultracyclists sticking to an all-liquid diet in an effort to promote intestinal flow, and keep the cyclists system from backing up. So is that true? No solids? I love to chew.

Terri: [re: all liquids] If it works for you.

I think it totally depends on your constitution and what you do well with and how much it slows you down.

Whatever you choose, you have to have a pretty good variety in the car, because you never know what’s going to happen. You love Gatorade, for example, and after 12 hours, maybe you’ve never gone on a training ride longer than 12 hours, so then after 12 hours you have total stomach mess and it’s not working. Now what?

The main thing is to try to find those foods that work for you that don’t make you slow down, don’t make you tired, and are easy to digest.

You gotta figure, it’s going to take you 36-48 hours, and you have to get in 250 [calories] an hour and if it’s really hot, and it’s pretty dry here, so what’s that turkey sandwich gonna taste like? Like sandpaper with some little slimy thing in there?

Me: My bikes both have a double and a 12-25. Am I gonna die?

Terri: I don’t think anything’s wrong with a double—I did RAAM with a double, but I had probably a 12-27 on it. Are you a masher or a spinner?

Me: Mashed potatoes.

Terri: This course does, off the top of my head, have three 8-12 mile 6-8% climbs and those are all gonna be on the second day. So think about it that way. If you’re happy doing that…

(I shield my quads from listening to this conversation. I don’t think they’ll be happy climbing anything after having already ridden 300 miles. Then again, maybe they would. I’ve never done it before.)

On RAAM when we were climbing through the Appalachian mountains, there were sections I knew that had five million feet of climbing and it totally freaked me out. So I got a compact crank and I put on a mountain bike derailleur on the back and I got a 12-32 or something like that. I was probably going like 5 miles an hour, but it was nice to be able to spin sometimes, and go slow, and not crush myself.

So do I think you could do the whole thing with a 12-27? Yeah, I do. Or even a 12-25. Some people do it with compacts, some with triples.

(My quads heard. They now want me to buy a new cassette. Or two or three.)

Me: I have an 18-hour ride planned. How should I maximize that training time?

Terri: Set up your van exactly like you’re gonna have at RAO. What I’ve found is really good is I get those little four drawer pull tub things and put all shorts in one and its marked and all jerseys in one and all of your arm warmers leg warmers and hats and whatever in another.

And have your nighttime sunglasses and have your cooler and have everything set up so [your crew] can get used to getting you stuff in the dark, giving you handoffs. Keeping track of the food that you eat and stuff like that on a spreadsheet or however you want to do it because that is really really great.

Work your light system and make sure all of that stuff is set up.

Test whether eating solid at night makes you sleepy. You might not want to have any caffeine all day long, start your ride at noon, and ride all night and see how the caffeine works.

Me: What’s the best thing about being a RAO race director?
Terri: It’s really fun to meet everyone along the way. It’s really cool to see people not give up.

Me: What’s the worst part about being race director?
Terri: What’s the hardest is people that you know should just finish, and you want to help them and give them some positive words of encouragement, and they don’t finish. It’s such a drag. It really is.

It’s also frustrating when I see people who brought crews who want to go for a ride or go for a run and I’m like, “You’re just here for 48 hours to help this person finish, so just focus. Don’t leave ‘em for an hour with no water!
TriDiva's final thoughts:
If you think, like I did, that someone who can complete RAAM as a 2-person mixed tandem with her husband, and again as a 2-person team with her husband, is superhuman and has superhuman focus, you’re right. She is, and she does.

But even Terri has her moments, which is encouraging for the rest of us ultrawoman wannabes.

Says Terri about her first RAAM, “I remember riding the tandem somewhere in Colorado and I was just like, why did I want to do this? And George was like, 'This is way too early to start having existential crises about why we’re here.'”

Of course, by the time she was in Colorado, she had to already have ridden 770 miles.

For more on Terri and George, click here.


  1. Diva - You're officially nuts!

  2. Ha! Call me nuts when I finish. I haven't done anything yet!