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RAAM DAY 2,

JANET CHRISTIANSEN SETS A FASHION TREND

Prescott, Arizona, 23:51EST

This afternoon as I drove up behind current women’s solo leader Janet Christiansen on a steep climb outside of Prescott, I first thought that she was wearing some new type of cycling shorts with an external seat pad. I pulled ahead of her and her follow car and waited at a turnout to shoot some photos of her. As she passed me she looked over and said with a chuckle, “I’m setting a new fashion trend. Inside-out shorts are gonna go big!”

Actually, it’s not so new. It’s an old ultra-endurance racers trick to wear two pairs of shorts, with the outer ones worn inside out. Another obscure but effective tactic she’s using is a dust mask to help moisten her breathe and avoid drying out her lungs. This may be her first solo RAAM, but so far her legs and racing savvy have carried her to an impressive start.

Here we are in the early evening of day two of RAAM 2008 and neither of the two solo women in this year’s race have taken a sleep break. Christiansen has led Caroline Van den Bulk since early Saturday. Today lead has shrunk to perhaps fifteen minutes after being up to an hour yesterday and earlier today.

While this is Christiansen’s first solo RAAM, she’s no newcomer, having been on a record setting 2-rider team last in ’07, having completed that slightly different course in 8 days, 18 hours, 57 minutes. Van den Bulk is attempting her second RAAM after having to pull out of last year’s race before the mid-way point when she fell behind the time minimums.

No one would have guessed at the start of last year’s RAAM that that Christiansen would even be soloing this year, much less leading, “Before our 2-rider RAAM last year when mention of doing solo came up, I just thought ‘no way’” she explained., but somewhere between Oceanside, California and last year’s finish in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the RAAM solo but bit and by the end of her race, she was already making plans for ’08.

So here she is, armed with a deep base of training miles, and the experience of having been on a 2-rider team. She also has a crack support crew, which includes Tom Miller, himself an experienced endurance racer. Before the start Christiansen revealed that her biggest fear is to go the route of many RAAM riders who have gone out strong, only to fizzle out by day three. Tomorrow will be a telling day.


THE LATEST STYLE?
No, those aren’t super-secret prototype externally padded shorts. Just an inside out pair worn over another pair to help reduce chafing.


WHO IS THAT MASKED RIDER?
No it wasn’t dusty. Janet Christiansen uses a dust mask to help keep her lungs from drying out in the desert heat.


UP SHE GOES
Janet Christiansen has led most of the miles so far, but Caroline Van den bulk has closed in to striking distance.
 

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looong rides

I think the shorts issue illustrates a point about long rides. While I've done rides only as far as 508 miles, and RAAM is six times that long, I've found a few important observations.

The difference between your typical road race or time trial, and ultra races from 200 miles and up is like the difference between marksmanship in target shooting, and going to war. Shorter events, the overwhelming emphasis is turning the pedals, much like hitting the target in shooting. However, in much longer events, it is much less about just turning the pedals, like in going to war, it is much less about hitting the target. The primary issues become more about the simple things like eating, drinking, sunburn, irritations that become debilitating, keeping your crew happy and focused. Wars are lost when you can't supply the troops, when trucks break down, when the weather is misjudged. In ultra events, riders fail when they feel so sick from all the crap they have to eat that they stop eating, when crews abandon them (yes, it has actually happened), when they can't hold their head up or can't sit on a bike seat any more. It's rarely about their level of fitness.

Ultra events are a much more severe test of preparation, of team work (rider and crew), and the mental fortitude to keep going even when you constantly feel like you are going to puke, explode, and in pain from all the points of contact between you and the bike. Things can be going perfectly for half the race, and then something totally unexpected blindsides you and brings you to a halt. You hit rock bottom, and then have to decide to overcome the problem somehow and keep going. I think the riders who do these things, particularly the women, should be extremely respected for what they have to go through and survive. Congrats to them.
 
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