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For competitive cyclists, Race Across America (RAAM) is a cross-country race that separates the boys from the men. Our city’s paved trails and greater Sacramento’s hilly rural routes have served as a training ground for two local teams representing Sacramento, Team Sac PD and for first time, an all youth team, “Believe and Achieve.” On June 16, 2012, these local teams will compete in RAAM against 95 other teams from around the nation and world.
RAAM is the toughest bicycle race in the world. It is incomparable to the Tour de France; RAAM is a non-stop, 24 hours a day relay race. This 3,000 mile cross-country bike race starts at Oceanside, Calif. and ends in Annapolis, Md.
In the history of RAAM, Team Believe and Achieve is the first ever all-youth team to compete in the week-long race. Team members Alex Benton, Adam Sevy, Troy Knox, Michael Hahn, Savannah Ellison, Colin Cook, Scot Benton, Jasper Hodgson and Connor Ellison are fundraising for Team Donate Life (TDL), a non-profit organization promoting organ donation and transplantation.
Jared Ellison, their coach, has competed for the past three years; he now shares his training regimen with the youth team.
“My goal and my belief in training is to put them through every type of element possible so they’re not surprised or shocked. In RAAM you are going to experience all kinds of weather, fatigue and sleep deprivation, which are going to make most people want to quit. I have challenged them through everything.”
Two years ago Connor Ellison competed in RAAM with his father on a team dedicated to him, Connor’s Journey. He was the youngest to race then and is still the youngest now on a team of eight ranging from 14 to 17 years old.
Connor races for awareness. He was diagnosed at a young age with liver disease, and competes in RAAM to challenge himself and raise awareness for Team Donate Life. Now in his second year competing, 14-year-old Connor will take his experience and well-earned wisdom on the road with the other youth cyclists.
When asked about his fears, Connor spoke of experience. He speaks highly of the training technique from his father, 3 a.m. wake ups and riding in cold weather. Connor sounds confident about his conditioning for RAAM and is enthusiastic about the upcoming race.
“The first year I was nervous. Now that I know what I am getting myself into, it’s a lot easier. I know what can happen out there,” Connor said.
Connor also spoke about his race-time habits, citing his favorite racing snacks as Clif bars and honey stinger waffles, the latter of which he was only recently introduced to.
As one would expect, Connor said that his training has affected his social life.
“When I am training it’s hard to have a social life. Usually over the weekends I just train. But it’s nice with this junior’s team I am always with kids my age now.”
When asked if he had advice for other youth cyclists, Connor advised them to “Push through the pain, it will be an awesome experience and they will never forget it.”
Team Sac PD, another RAAM competitor, races for awareness too - every 50 hours somewhere in the United States a Law Enforcement Officer dies in the line of duty protecting his or her community.
This is the second year Sac PD will be competing in this race representing all of Law Enforcement. Team Sac PD was formed to support the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Wash., D.C. where those fallen are memorialized. The eight members on the Sac PD team are Chief Rick Braziel, Capt. Neil Schneider, Lt. Don Davis, Sgt. Brian Ellis, Sgt. Dan Nutley, Officers Mathew McPhail, Orlando Morales and Skyler Baldock.
Since August Sergeant Brian Ellis has logged close to 7,000 miles on the bike to prepare for RAAM. He now shares his personal training regimen, as well as the struggles preparing for RAAM.
The Sacramento Press: What is your training regimen like?
Sgt. Brian Ellis: Currently I ride anywhere from 200-275 miles per week. I try to consistently ride six days per week. Two long rides (+3 hours), two hard rides (sprint or hill repeats for 2-3 hours) and two active recovery days of about 30-35 miles each.
SP: Do you ever go faster than the driving speed while on a bicycle? By the way, is that legal?
BE: Well, I would like to take the fifth on that one, lol. All kidding aside, you have to make sure that you stay alert on the bike at all times. There have been plenty of times that a car pulls out in front of you thinking that you can’t be going that fast. There have been some close calls. Safety over speed every time.
SP: Favorite snacks for fueling during your ride?
BE: Tough question. I am sort of a billy goat. If it has calories, I usually don’t discriminate. Bananas, gel blocks, etc.
SP: How do you mentally prepare for a long distance race like this?
BE: Mental toughness or “Mettle” is something that is definitely a you-against-you sport. Focus on the positive and push the negative out of the mind, repeatedly telling yourself that you are prepared, that it might hurt, but it does for everyone.
Extensive training will prepare each team for this cross-country bicycle sprint. Each team will likely endure physical exhaustion, accompanied by little shuteye; the race will measure each athlete’s endurance and strength to continually race. The adrenaline rush of the open road and no limits is reason enough for these cyclist junkies to compete in RAAM.
“Every finisher gets a medal. First place obviously gets some bragging rights,” Ellis said.
Both teams are ramping up efforts for fundraising. If you choose to donate, visit their websites.
Team Believe and Achieve- https://www.teamdonatelife.com/donate_fundraiser.asp?ifid=225
Team Sac PD- http://www.sacpd.org/teamsacpd/raam/donate.html