I qualified for RAAM in the first hour of October 11, 1999. Yep. WAAAY back in the 20th century. I didn't mean to qualify for RAAM specifically - I just wanted to finish the Furnace Creek 508 - a 500 mile bike race through Death Valley, which is what I was doing because I was too slow to register for Ironman Canada. Which is probably a good thing; I always faked the swim, and 2.4 miles of breaststroke might have been a bit much. And I did finish the FC508 - it wasn't the best race ever, owing to having exactly zero experience. But we did it. My crew chief (who also had zero experience) ran into an old acquaintance at the start line. He was crewing for another, more experienced, woman; after hearing about our relative naivete, the acquaintance offered to bet him $20 that "my gal will beat yours". Tim - ever the gentleman! - told him that “women aren’t horses” and slyly negotiated down to $5. I made sure he collected.
But even though qualifying for RAAM wasn't really a top-of-mind goal, once it actually HAPPENED, it was like a switch flipped: I started thinking about it. At first it was semi-serious: "Hahahaha! I qualified for the World’s Toughest Bicycle Race! Just by riding through Death Valley for a couple days!" The thoughts intensified over time, and before I knew it I was doing more ultracycling races. And I was doing well. And after every one...."I am qualified for RAAM." The thought just wouldn't go away. It was like a drumbeat in the back of my head that helped me keep time and order and sanity in my life.
There has not been a day since October 11, 1999 that I can specifically recall NOT having some thought about RAAM - no matter how engrossing my in-the-moment life is, the drumbeat is still there. Sometimes it's a hindrance - like when I spend my off hours in June obsessively dot-watching (if I'm not racing or crewing RAAM or RAW). Sometimes it's a help - like when I know how to tap into just a little bit MORE energy when I'm on a long drive or babysitting the grandkids. Everyday happenings are measured in RAAM terms that feel like inside jokes: "Is it bad, or is it EFFINGHAM bad?"
I've tried solo RAAM twice - and I’ve failed twice. I've diagnosed those failures to death, and I believe that I understand what it takes to get to the finish line. RAAM is - and isn't - about balance. It's beautifully unbalanced - so unbalanced that it brings you to a new, different balance point that you'd never considered before.
In October of 2019, almost exactly 20 years after I first qualified for RAAM, I was the last finisher of what ended up being the last edition of Dex Tooke’s 1000-mile No Country for Old Men Ultrarace. When I signed up for that race, I figured it was going to be the longest, hardest race I’d ever finish. So I went all-out. I hired a coach, brought the best crew ever, and trained and worked and never gave up. I was sure that when I finished that one, I’d be satisfied, and the drumbeat could finally be quiet. I have never been so wrong in my life. At the finish line, as Dex was hugging and congratulating me and giving me my medal and the best trophy ever, I already knew I was going back to RAAM.
So I'm going to race RAAM again - in 2023. Anything can happen - it's a long way to go and past experience shows that plenty of people who have had all the strength and support necessary to finish have had something happen that caused a DNF. But I think that I have a good chance of finishing. And once again, I’m going all out: I’ve got the best coach, the best crew, the best research, and the best equipment I can muster. I know from experience that it matters.
When I finish RAAM - on (or hopefully before) June 26, 2023 - it will have been 8,659 days since I first qualified for RAAM. This is one hell of a macabre record: Over the 40 year history of RAAM, no one else has taken this long to get across the finish line once they initially qualified. 8,659 days is a long time: 23 years, 8 months, and 15 days. Think about that: I will have had eight thousand, six hundred and fifty nine sleeps with RAAM running around in my head. It's hard to imagine what will happen when I've finally DONE it: will the thoughts stop, or will they continue, or will they somehow change?
Let’s find out.