Inside RAAM: Michael Conti Tackles 3,000 Mile Race Across America

Many bike racers get nervous before an event. Perhaps you are a first-time competitor who has never toed the line before. Perhaps you are a veteran elite who feels the pressure of wanting to perform well at a target competition. Or perhaps you are one of the 154 people who will, over the course of the coming week, set out on the 36th edition of one of the longest organized ultra-endurance races in the world: Race Across America (RAAM).

RAAM is like any other time trial: there is a set course; the clock doesn’t stop until the rider crosses the finish line; and the person to complete the course in the fastest time wins.

Photo: Rick Kent

Only this time trial is a little bit longer than most. Traversing twelve states and ascending a cumulative 175,000 vertical feet while crossing over three of the country’s major mountain ranges, competitors face 3,000 grueling miles on their journey from the Oceanside Pier in Southern California to City Dock at Annapolis, Maryland.

This year, 93 of the 154 registered participants will undertake the event in a relay-fashion, composing teams of between two to eight riders, each of whom will take shifts on the bike as they attempt to complete the course within the allowed 216-hour (9-day) time limit. The other 61 will try and conquer the distance solo in a more lenient 288-hour (12-day) time limit, but for these lone riders, the dynamics of the race prove as much about mental resilience as they do about physical capability.

An extreme event calls for extreme preparation. PR Lotion user and former Race Across the West Champion, Michael Conti, who returns to RAAM this year more motivated than ever after a collision between a semi-truck and his follow vehicle derailed his efforts in 2017, gave us a rundown on his training and logistical preparation leading up to the race, his nutrition plan, and his race-strategy just before he was to begin his journey.

Alongside Mike will be up to 10 crew members at a time throughout the course of the race, consisting of a crew chief, head mechanic, and 8 crew members. The crew members will work in groups of 3-4 during alternating 12-hour shifts, one during the daytime and one for when Mike, as he puts it, “settles in for the night,” a phrase that here means constant midnight pedaling rather than tucking into bed.

For Mike, training days to ready himself would regularly consist of 100-mile rides, a “medium day” in his own words, with his longer days reaching up to 250 miles over the course of 12 hours or more. “More focused efforts” would include repeats up a 500-foot climb near his home in St. George, Utah over the course of hours to help simulate the more punchy terrain of the Appalachian mountains in the latter part of the race.

In the two days before the race began, Mike zeroed in on a focused diet of lighter foods (i.e. lots of veggies, fruits, and lean meats and proteins) to ease his stomach into adapting to more efficient digestion. In the first 36 hours, his calorie-intake will be exclusively through liquid nutrition mostly in the form of smoothies in large part to help aid in hydration as he passes through the deserts east of the California coastline. Later on in the race, he will transition to solid foods, which will consist of treats such as cookies and brownies to help replenish glycogen stores that he will constantly be burning through during his steady-state effort.

Mike’s expedition represents an experimental trial of sorts in real-world conditions, however extreme they may be, of the extent of the benefits of PR Lotion. Mike will be applying it to his legs every 5-6 hours during each of his riding shifts, and will also be using it while he sleeps for added recovery. The goal is to see the bodily response to the extensive use of the lotion, and whether there is, in fact, a limit to the recovery benefits of PR Lotion.

His first rest-break won’t come until he hits Flagstaff, Arizona, nearly 500 miles into the trip, where he will strip down, shower, quickly change into another clean kit, and sleep for approximately 90-minutes before it’s back on the bike for another day-long ride. And then it’s bike, rinse, rest, repeat, all the way to the Atlantic ocean.

On the start line to the race, no more than five minutes before the beginning of his event, Mike confirmed, “I’ve got some Topical Edge on my legs right now, so regardless of my nerves, I’m feeling confident and good.” He made it clear before he was called up, “This is the culmination of a dream and tons of support, from both sponsors and family.”

You can follow Mike Conti and his team using the hashtag “#RAAM548” on Twitter and Instagram, and you can follow Mike on Instagram under his handle @utahclimber. Live Tracking of the race is also provided through the official RAAM website.

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