Race Across ‘Merica F*ck Yeah!

Preparing for Race Across America | Blog | Sigma Sports

My Love/Hate relationship with the worlds toughest race.

Taking a seat in the back bar of Beggys Pub one Friday in 2011 , waiting for the pint of plain in front of me to settle my phone rings. Now, I got my first phone roughly twenty three years ago and I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve answered it. IYKYK!

Who the f*ck is ringing me on a Friday eve……..

“Hello Graham? Pete is my name, I got your number off a colleague”

” *mumbles*……. Oh FFS”

“Would you be interested in doing physio for a 4-man Irish team heading for Race Across America all expenses paid?!”

“Thee Race Across America?” (stunned I explained to Lauren what was happening and she said “you’re going!”)

“Yup”

“‘Merica, fuck yeah”

“Sorry?”

“Oh Sorry! Yes sign me up!”

In 2007 a 4man team from my home town of Navan took part in the race. I didn’t own a bike but when I heard the challenge was to take four novice cyclists and get them ready for the worlds toughest race I was intrigued. So much so that I flew back to Oz and N.Z for another year of travel and divilment. A couple of days before I flew home from Melbourne in 2008 I promised myself I would buy a racing bike and give it a go, partly should the chance of RAAM pop up again that I could apply. It didn’t.

Crewing in 2012 for team Hunky Dory LCRC was an incredible experience. I roped my best mate Gary in with me as a driver. He’s now preparing for his third RAAM with me next year. The team performed really well and at the finish line I knew I was hooked. It had me. I mentioned to one of the cyclists Declan Brassil that I had to do it, he said he would crew for me to return the favour but I said I would rather he cycle it with me and with that the seeds were sown. A couple of chats with Declan later and we had decided to give 2man Race Around Ireland a go first in 2015 and if we could finish that then we would give RAAM a go. We came 3rd that year and still hold the third fastest time such was the speed and competition that year.

2man RAAM 2017. An eventful experience. Severe heat stroke from myself in 49.5* Celcius heat on the first night lead to hours of projectile vomiting. It was so hot in Death Valley Arizona that Phoenix Airport had shut down! Night three lead to the worst case of food poisoning for Declan that I have ever seen. I think he puked for two days and he had burst blood vessels in his eyes that were left bloodshot for weeks. A couple of days after that and a crew member reversed the camper into a wall with my very expensive tt bike and Declans two bikes smashed to pieces. We had to share my road bike for a while until we managed to buy a bike for Declan and we limped home to the finish with just under a day to spare. Surprisingly missing out on a podium place after 5000km by just 22mins! That’s the thing with RAAM. No matter how bad your race is going, no matter how battered you are. Chances are so are the majority of the others!

At that finish line I had told myself I’m packing it all in or going at it alone. I hadn’t decided yet. Then one night in Crocketts over a pint where all my brain farts happen I told the Father in Law that I wanted to do RAAM solo but I had to qualify first and what better race than arguably the worlds second toughest ultra bike race than the one on my door step. The hellishly beautiful Race Around Ireland. There are far shorter and easier qualifying races than that but from what I’ve seen, the people who do them don’t survive RAAM. If I couldn’t finish RAI then I didn’t stand a chance.

https://wordpress.com/post/grahammacken.home.blog/28

My RAI post race blog above for the gory details. Turned out I was able for it. Finishing in 3rd place and winning the Ciaran Smyth award. It was bitter sweet as going into it I didn’t think I could finish it but by then end of it after becoming the first finisher with Shermers Neck along with long lasting nerve damage I can’t help but wonder what might have been had the body have held up. As when the two in front of me were beginning to slow, myself and the crew were picking it up!

Next year is the third attempt at making the RAAM start line due to covid. Flights and Hotels have doubled and rental cars have tripled in price but I have some amazing sponsors on board. Their backing and belief are driving me on every day. While two cancellations have been a head fuck it could turn out to be a blessing. Early 2020 when we were ticking off the list to get there I was a nervous wreck, doubting my abilities, panicking for what the course and race holds. Now I’m ready. Not race ready or fitness ready, not yet anyway. But mentally ready. I have convinced myself to not look at it as getting to the finish line but to enjoy the whole process. Each state. Each mountain. Each extreme. Take it all in, soak it up as chances are I’ll never do it again.

June 14th I’ll roll off the start line on Oceanside Pier. Ready to cycle 5000km basically non-stop. 22hrs a day pushing. Hurting. Chomping at the bit for the 170,000ft of climbing that awaits. Going from 50 degrees celcius to -10. Panicking about the deadly traffic that has taken racers lives. Waiting for Shermers to kick in again and it will kick in. Waiting for the saddle sores, the hot feet, the heat stroke, the numbness in the feet and eventually losing power in the hands. I’m ready for all of that because I have dreamt, thought, lived and breathed nothing else for years now. It’s all part of the race and what makes it the worlds toughest race.

I’ll roll off the start, the first few hours is cycling along the Californian coast then over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, through wine valleys and beautiful scenery before descending down the infamous ‘Glass Elevator’ into Death Valley. A lightening quick, sketchy switchback descent before being catapulted into the literal gates of hell. There’s no turning back. Hell awaits. I imagine that will be the first of dozens of times the Shadowman/ Shoulder Demon will pop along to say hi.

“Hey Graham, you’re at it again I see”. “Bit off far more than you’re capable of this time have’t you”

“Well Dickhead! I was wondering when you’d show up”

“You know I’m on your side Graham, just say the word and we can get off the bike and make all the pain go away”

“I’m doing ok actually, thanks for asking though”

“OK Graham, but I’m right here whenever you need me. The crew are trying to bury you. I’m here to look out for you, just let me know”

“Not today aul son”

“Ok Graham, but I’ll see you again real soon”

“That you will dickhead. But not today”

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