The Race Across America is not for the faint of heart, legs, lungs, or mind.
It’s a non-stop bicycle race that begins in Oceanside, California, and this year finishes in Annapolis, Maryland. Approximately 3,000 miles climbing over 120,000 feet of mountains, across vast deserts, in heat, rain, and cold, through 14 states, and all in a span of nine days.
Dave Haase, owner of Attitude Sports in Fond du Lac, and Pewaukee, has done this before, several times as a matter of fact. This month he’s attempting it again.
Michael: You do this solo?
Dave: I do, but I have a support team that follows me, making sure I continue to ride my bike nonstop for what we hope is about 22 to 23 hours per day. I’ll get about an hour of sleep a day. Our game plan is to ride without stopping for the first 40 hours, sleep for an hour and a half, and then continue at about 22 hour intervals with 2 hours of off-bike time.
Michael: Isn’t sleep deprivation used as a form or torture? How do you train for how this will mess with your mind?
Dave: Working a lot of hours in the bike shop, riding before work, riding after work. Experiences from other races helps, and this is the fifth time I’ve done this particular challenge.
Michael: How did you do the first four attempts?
Dave: The first time I didn’t finish, and ended up in the hospital in West Virginia, 400 miles from the finish. The second time I did it was in 2005, I finished fourth. The third time was 2006 and again finished fourth. The last time I did it was in 2008 and I finished third, but I was always the top American finisher.
Michael: Athletes from around the world participate?
Dave: Yes. A guy from Austria has won it the last two years. There are three or four solo female racers too.
Michael: How many athletes do this every year?
Dave: This year there are forty solo racers, and there are team divisions with two, four or eight-person teams.
Michael: How many in your crew?
Dave: This year I have the most I’ve ever had, at ten. One will strictly work to move the crew up the road…he’ll be in an RV taking care of the rest of the crew. I’ll have a follow van with a driver, a navigator, a decision maker, two nurses in charge of my nutrition and hydration, checking my blood pressure and other things to ensure I’m working and performing optimally.
Michael: You live in Fond du Lac. How do you train for the drastic changes in elevation you encounter?
Dave: I just don’t worry about it. I can’t be gone from work to train in the mountains, and generally speaking I’m pretty good in the mountains. Heat is the issue for me. We bike across the deserts of California, Arizona, and into Utah. Sometimes it’ll be as hot as 120-degrees during the day, and as cold as maybe 30-degrees at night.
Michael: Having done this before, in the heat, have you ever hallucinated…seen mirages?
Dave: For sure (laugh). In the desert, you look down the road, and it’s straight and it looks as though it never ends. There’s a particular stretch in Monument Valley where the road seems to go forever. You see incredibly beautiful mountains way off in the distance.
Michael: After the start in Oceanside, is your competition ever in sight, either in front or behind you?
Dave: At certain points in the race you’re literally racing a racer, two or three hours up the road. Then they may sleep, and you might catch them. But ideally you want to race to your optimum level, because you can only go just so fast. You can’t race to beat the guy at 100 miles, you have to race to beat them at 3000 miles.
Dave: I made that mistake. I went too hard at points when I should have relaxed a bit, because you have to get all the way across the country (laugh).
Michael: What does you family think of all this?
Dave: They used to think it was crazy, but now it just normal. I do other races throughout the year, not as extreme as this, but this year I did five 500-mile, 24 to 36 hour nonstop races. My family gets a little nervous, and worries about it, but they also know I’m going to do this no matter what.
Michael: When you cross the finish line, are there people along the route going crazy and cheering?
Dave: It depends on what time of day you finish. Usually there’s nobody there. If you arrive during the day, there will be people there, but if it’s three in the morning, you’ll have your crew cheering, but that’s about it.
Michael: What does go through your mind when do you finish?
Dave: It’s kind of a weird thing. You get so fired up to do this, it’s a great accomplishment, and then you get to the finish…and it’s almost a let down. You’re so happy to be done, but then in reality…it’s just time to go back home, and back to work. It takes about a month, when it finally sinks in. That’s when I’ve had a sense of having achieved this.
Michael: Tell me about what IBM is doing for, and to you.
Dave: They host a convention called IBM Vision 2015. It’s put on by IBM and Watson Analytics. I was on a stationary bike at the convention, riding for five or six hours creating data, they had me swallow a thermometer that emits a radio frequency that charts my core body temperature. They measured data and analytics as I pedaled on the stationary, and we’ll be able to use the information they gathered and downloaded onto an iPad. We can base race-decisions upon things like my core temp, the power I’m putting out, the position my body is in on the bike which can determine whether or not I’m well rested, the affects of weather, wind direction, temperature, the amount of sleep I’ve had, my recovery.
Michael: What makes you want to do this race?
Dave: I want to do it every year, but the cost is prohibitive. I have 10 people, I have to get them across the country…I don’t expect them to volunteer. The entry fee alone is $3000, and my total cost comes to around $20,000. I’ve had some good sponsors, and sometimes local people will come into the store and give me 50 or 100 bucks to do it.
Michael: You’ll be wearing a GPS during the race so people can follow you.
Dave: That’s right. It’s kind of funny because people afterward have said, ‘I was following you as you went, and checked every couple hours, but it didn’t look like you were going very fast (laugh).’ Well, I’m on a bike, not in a Camaro…I’m not moving that fast!
Michael: But anyone can follow you on the web.
Dave: On the Race Across America website, or davehaase.com where we’ll have all the race data, and if things work the way they’re supposed to we’re going to live-stream all the data that we’re compiling from IBM. You’ll have the same dashboard my crew has, and you’ll see my speed, my heart rate, all the stats.