What do you ask a guy who just raced across the continent on a bicycle in less than 11 days? Lots of things. Kurt Searvogel (A.K.A. Tarzan, it’s a college nickname that we probably shouldn’t ask about.) of Sheridan, Arkansas just completed the Race Across AMerica (RAAM) finishing Seventh in the under 50 age group and the first American. RAAM sends racers almost 3000 miles from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, MD. According to the RAAM website the race is 30% longer than the Tour de France but is completed in half the time (22 days) of le Tour. Kurt took some time just days after finishing the race to let us know how it went.
AO – When did you first think you wanted to compete in RAAM?
Kurt – The first time I heard about RAAM was at PAC tours training camp in the spring of 2005. I had just started doing mountain bike racing and triathlons in the fall of 2004 and wanted to get better so I signed up for the camp to improve my cycling skills. PAC tours are run by Lon Haldeman and Susan Notorangelo – Lon was the first winner of RAAM and Susan has won the women’s division. At the camp we would go out and ride 100 miles during the day, then have class on training and nutrition in the afternoon and have speakers in the evening. During the evening sessions we watched videos about RAAM. So back as far as spring of 2005 I knew that someday I would have to do it.
AO – What is it about distance cycling that attracts you?
Kurt – I like riding my bike, I like going where I haven’t been before, and I like the time to just think. I also like doing things I’m good at.
AO – What was the longest ride you had done before RAAM?
Kurt – The longest multiday ride I did before RAAM was the Colorado High Country 1200k last summer which I did in 3 days. This was riding about 250 miles a day and being off the bike for about 6-8 hours a night – this is when I realized that I could actually complete RAAM. You have to be able to average 250 miles per day/every day for 12 days to beat the cutoffs. The longest continuous ride I’ve done was the Heart of the South 500 on March 30th of this year. It was 517 miles which I rode in 32 hours.
AO – How much time did you spend training for RAAM?
Kurt – Training for RAAM is a multi-year ordeal. It’s something you build into. In 2009 I rode 10,000 miles, in 2010 I rode just over 20,000 miles and last year I rode just over 27,000 miles. A normal training week in 2010 and 2011 I would ride a century ride on Tuesday and another on Thursday and then on Saturday I would ride a double century. My largest build month for RAAM was November 2011 when I rode 4000 miles and rode at least a century Ride every day of the month except for the day before the 12 hour world Time Trial Championships.
AO – What did you have in way of support for the race?
Kurt – RAAM requires that you build a substantial support team. My support team consisted of 8 people and 3 vehicles. The crew chief and assistant drove the command van which was responsible for coordinating the afternoon and evening crew changes and making sure that hotels were ready at night. My wife Trish was the crew chief and my daughter Katelyn was her assistant. Then we have the follow vehicle that would do leap frog support during the day and direct follow support from 7pm to 7am. The follow vehicle was a Pleasure Way RV. Its crew consisted of a driver, navigator and feeder (or door gunner). The driver and navigators function were pretty straight forward, but the door gunner was responsible for monitoring my food/fluid intake and handing me bottles/food/pills etc. We had a morning crew and an evening crew. The morning crew was Brent Findlay as Driver/Chief, Matt Belatoni as Navigator and Tom Stevenson as Door Gunner. The evening crew consisted of Mike Ridgeway as Driver, Duane Ball as Navigator and Bob Ansel as Door Gunner. On a typical day we would leave from the hotel in the morning at a 4 am with the morning crew in direct follow mode until 7am then they started leap frog support, at about 1 o’clock, Trish and the command vehicle, which also had a bed and the shuttle van would meet up with the follow RV. I would get off the bike and get into the command vehicle to be re-sunscreened, drink a recover drink and rest while the crew switched out supplies and in 30 minutes or less I was back on the bike racing. The evening crew provided leap frog support until about 7 when they move to direct follow until 11:00 when we would hit the hotel. I would go my room, shower, drink a recover drink, eat some pizza and usually be asleep in 15-20 minutes.
AO – Did you know many of the other racers before the race?
Kurt – I knew some of the team racers, a couple of solo RAAM racers and couple of the RAW (Race Across the West) racers before we started.
AO – What was your nutrition plan?
Kurt – My nutrition plan consisted mostly of alternating Spiz and water or Spiz and Pedialyte for liquids. After a couple of days I was supplementing with McDoubles, sausage biscuits, Tostitos and maybe the odd apple fritter. I also had shot blocks and honey stinger bars. In the morning for caffeine I’d drink a Starbucks double shot espresso and about 5 hours before I wanted to go to sleep I drink a 5-hour energy.
AO – Were you able to stick to the (nutrition) plan?
Kurt – It was fluid and changing – I stuck with the basic Spiz water or Spiz/Pedialyte rotation throughout the race with Muscle Milk to recover at the afternoon exchange and nightly sleep stop, but after 2 days I was craving solid foods and started eating cheeseburgers for lunch and dinner. ½ of a large pizza was always on the menu for the sleep stops. Trisha’s one request when we drove home was no pizza please.
AO – Did you have a ride plan mapped out?
Kurt – I had 4 different ride senarios mapped out for the race. The one we started with was beating the 50+ record and level 4 was just finishing the ride before the cutoff. After the first 3 time stations we were two hours ahead of the our best estimate, but by time station 6 we were 2 hours behind our best estimate and falling quickly.
AO – What part of the ride were you most worried about?
Kurt – Crossing the desert has always been my biggest fear with RAAM. My mind seems to have a build in limiter that shuts down my body when my core temperature gets to a certain level. It happened to me in XTERRA and other Races and it got to me again. I just couldn’t keep cool enough to keep moving fast. Between Congress, AZ at TS6 (Time Station) and Prescott, AZ at TS7 I was down to riding the flats at less than 10mph. My crew had to pull me off the course, ice me down, and put me to sleep for a complete REM cycle or just over 1.5 hours. Just before the did that I was thinking to myself – Damn I’m going to DNF this race, I’m going to have to delete all my Facebook friends that ride because I won’t be able to face them.
AO – Tell me about the start, did everyone go off together?
Kurt – RAAM is a time trial Start with riders going off every minute. The first 8 miles in a neutral roll out on a bike path along which they send a pacer that doesn’t let you average more than 18 mph. This was nice because I had a nice conversation with my pacer to pass the time.
AO – How long did you go before you put your foot down for the first time?
Kurt – Normally I wouldn’t stop until the first Time Station, but the first section of the RACE was a bit of pain in the ass regarding mechanical issues. The first dropped a chain. Then I hit a section of road so rough my taillight vibrated lose, so I moved it to the mount on the other seat stay, then it actually popped off.
AO – How many hours of sleep did you get throughout the race?
Kurt – My initial ride plan called for 3 hours off the bike per night, but after the heat exhaustion in the desert we moved to the back plan which called for 5 hours off the bike per night.
AO – What kind of weather did you have for the race?
Kurt – The weather was hot. When we took off from the docks in oceanside it was a nice overcast 75 degrees, but by the time we climbed the first mountains into the desert it reached about 114. It cooled off as we got to the higher elevations around flagstaff down into the lower 40 at night, but then we dropped back down into the high desert and the temps we back in the 100’s. It was mostly in the 90’s during the day in CO, but dropped down into high 50’s at night. Once we cleared colorado the weather was mostly akansas-ish lows in the 70’s high’s around 100 all the way to the finish. The most notable weather feature was in kansas was the wind. For the whole ride thru kansas we had 30 mph cross wind.
AO – Did you have any major mechanical problems?
Kurt – A lot of the road they put us on for this race was crap so we had problems with lights vibrating off. I only had one flat while riding; however they did change out tires a couple of times because of debris that was picked up. After that we were good until about the 1500 mile point when my butt started to hurt and we needed to pull the saddle off my cyclocross bike and put it on the race bike. Then we were good until about the 2250 mile mark when my hands started to go and we had to flip the stem on the bike to get me in a more upright position to take some of the pressure off them. We finally had the race bike setup perfect for climbing when at mile 2800 the bike got dropped and the derailleur hanger got bent. Next thing the derailleur was torn off and we had to go to the backup bike.
AO – What was your favorite part of the ride?
Kurt – My favorite part of the ride was the downhills. The glass elevator in California and the downhills out of monument valley and coming into Mexican hat. I’m pretty sure I hit close 60 on a couple of them. It didn’t usually matter where I was but I liked riding as the sun was going doing down and as the sun was coming up. Least favorite? I have 3 least favorite places – The desert in Arizona, the section 6-8 lane road around Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri where I was almost taken out and the last 50 miles of the race leading into Annapolis. They really need to find a better place to end this race, 50 miles of 4-6 lane traffic sucks.
AO – What’s the longest distance you rode at one time?
Kurt – The longest section I rode without sleep was supposed to be from the start to flagstaff, but that didn’t work out. I think the longest mileage day I put in was 311 miles but they all averaged around 280.
AO – What was the finish like?
Kurt – The finish to this race is kind of strange. You race to a point that is about 10 miles from the finish, which is the official end of racing. You then ride forward to a pickup point were an escort vehicle leads you onto a 6 lane highway which then turns into dock in Annapolis from there you ride thru a chute to the finish line.
AO – How much weight did you lose during the race?
Kurt – I started the race at about 208 lbs. – which is good after a night out with the crew, but by the first time station I had lost 6 lbs. which wasn’t good. Over the course of the race my weight varied from 202 down to 195 at the end.
AO – Did the race leave you with any medical issues?
Kurt – I have problems with my hands – numbness in the hands and tingling in the fingers and a loss of strength in the hands. Mark Young with Lifeletics believes that its just muscle and facia that need stretching and nothing permanent.
AO – What brand seat did you use? I started out with Adamo ISM saddles which have been great for 200 mile events. After 1500 – even using double shorts I had to switch to Serfas seat which was on my cross bike.
Kurt – What’s your next big ride? My next big ride will be race across Oregon on July 21st.
AO – Do you have any plans on doing RAAM again?
Kurt – I turn 50 next year and am thinking about trying to come back and break the 50+ record (which was my original goal this year). This year I self-funded the whole expedition. If I do it again it will be with a sponsor and big name charity behind me to help offset the cost.
AO – Is there anything else that you’d like to share about the race?
Kurt – Just need to say thanks to TBear without whom I would have never finished the race and thanks to my crew for volunteering two weeks of their life for this grand adventure. I dedicated my ride to my nephew Josh who was killed on a bike back in 1998.
(Thanks to Arkansas Outside contributor, Brent Findlay and the rest of the Tarzan crew for getting the photos of Kurt and the race.)