The Race Across America [RAAM] is the antithesis to the Grand Tours featured in glossy magazines. Instead of the surging peloton and the high-intensity stages, RAAM is a meditative contest that delves deep into human psyche to push the very limits of the body and mind.
If we dissect the history of sporting it’s evident that behind strategy is an inherent honesty in the physical. Whereas modern sports are consumed by arbitrary limitations ranging from the rather onerous round-by-round judging system of martial arts to the four swim styles competing in the Olympics, there still exists an event that embodies this honesty.
The RAAM’s reason for being is to deliver one answer: how quickly can a person traverse the United States? Participants in the event cannot be described with superficial words like: fast, or good, or even strong. Their vocabulary is of a heavier – more brutal – stock: endurance, fortitude, willpower. These are the words that describe a persons character, because that is the requirement to even compete in the Race Across America. Racers are expected to race around the clock for 3000 miles, winners have slept as little as 1 hour a night and completed the course in as few as 8 days. Compare this to the 2500 mile – 3 week Tour de France and you can see why Christoph Strasser may be the greatest endurance cyclist in the world.
WPU is excited to share our interview with 2011 RAAM winner Christoph Strasser. Out of a million possible questions, here are the ones that made it through:
wpu: Is it a fight to keep going, or a fight to keep going hard?
cs: In bad times it is a fight to keep going, it is a fight to stay awake and even survive, do not even think of going fast! But in good times, which happen again and again (also on the last day of RAAM), to keep going is easy and also going fast is possible then. I think the racer, who is in the positive flow the most of the time, wins this race!
wpu: What’s harder: racing for 8 days straight, or training for it?
cs: Definitely training for it! You have to train 6 times a week, sometimes for 7 hours straight. And doing this on an indoor bike, for three days in a row – this is what I call motivation. The race hurts more, you have to suffer sometimes, but you even have a lot of fun, you conquer a whole continent and you have a support-crew and opponents, who push you.
wpu: How do you recover from the race. Are you in a stupor for the next week trying to catch up on sleep?
cs: Recovery after the race just happens, you do not have much influence on that in the first few days. Sleeping and eating is the main requirement, you feel like a baby: Get up, eat, go to the toilet, eat and sleep again. You repeat this up to four times a day! After a week you already feel like an ordinary human being again, but the shape is gone. Cycling feels like you never did that before, you are slow, weak and you simply don’t like it. Until you are strong in the saddle again, it takes at least two months of easy, short recovery training rides.
wpu: Do you get bored while you’re out there or is it more like torture mixed with enjoyment?
cs: It is a mixture of torture and enjoyment, no way to describe it better. Our genes are still the same like in the Stone Age, so if we get stressed, our brain tells us we must keep pushing in order to survive. There is unknown power in your body, which only gets activated when you struggle to survive – and this is not boring! If you also have a crew, who entertain and support you, you have a really good time while pushing yourself.
wpu: When you drive across the states, do you stop to sleep? If so, do you find it embarrassing?
cs: Sleeping is extremely important for your brain. You need at least one slow-wave-sleep-phase per night to stay a little bit concentrated. About 75 minutes of sleep do not allow your body to recover, but your body can keep going for 3000 miles if trained well. But your mind needs some sleep, so stopping for a sleep break is not embarassing. And believe me, when you are so tired like after sleeping 7 hours in a whole week, you fall into bed like a stone. This moment is what you are looking forward to the whole day… Closing your eyes for some time!
wpu: What type of training prepares you for the race? Surely sleep deprivation can’t be training… can it?
cs: Sleep deprivation can not be trained, but you can gain experience. I did a lot of races before RAAM, nearly 30 races over 24 hours up to four days. And in every competition you learn something new, how your body reacts to extreme situations, how your brain deals with sleep deprivation and so on. Experience is the only way to deal with that, everybody can do it, it is nothing special. I sleep 8 hours per night, I fall asleep in the cinema or when I try to watch a movie at home. But if I have a big goal in my mind, when I am in a race, I can go without sleep. It is a matter of motivation! The other way is doing mental training, I do this 2 times a week. A simple instruction is to close your eyes and think of the situation. How do you deal with it? Imagine yourself overcoming trouble in a very realistic way. This will help you in the race!
wpu: Time for a multiple choice – choose one:
Midnight day-7 is it more like:
- Taking mind-altering drugs
- Watching the grass grow on a 120˚ day (48C)
- Going 12 rounds with Muhammad Ali
cs: Mind-altering drugs