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Taking on the Race Across America: Talking With Team4HIVHope 2011, Part Two

December 22, 2011

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Steven Berveling: The whole race was just one continuous period of that high speed, high chaos, high energy, lots of adrenaline -- from both racers and crew -- to just keep going, day and night, 24 hours a day. And that was the very major significant thing that we all suddenly realized very quickly: This was effectively one day with six sunrises and six sunsets. And it didn't matter whether it was light or dark, or whether the moon shone, or whether the sun shone. The race just kept going, with all the energy that everybody has described.

Francisco Liuzzi: I don't know about the others, but I'd be doing all my shifts, all day long, dreading that fact that I knew I had that night shift coming.

It was so hard because you're lying in this bed in the back of an RV. You're basically on this slingshot, because you are 35 feet behind the driver. So you hit that bump, being ricocheted up. There are times when you're launched off of the mattress. You have maybe an hour and 45 minutes to sleep . . . maybe. You've just ridden three hours, as hard as you can. And you know that you're going to be woken up pretty soon and have to do it again.

And the night shift: You'd hear the people in the crew, saying, "The other two riders are 10 miles away." And you'd be woken up, like, Oh, crap. I've got to get my clothes on. I've got to get ready. It's the middle of the night and there's nothing you can do. You can't get out of it. You can't call in sick. That was the worst part for me, by far -- those night shifts.

Jim Williams: I actually didn't even know where we were most of the time. I took the race as just going from one time station to the next. All I really knew was how many miles I had to do. I didn't know whether the time station was in Arizona or Colorado. The only part of the country I knew we were in when we were in it was Kansas.

Carol Hyman (crew member, team publicist): Because it was so awful!


Steven Berveling: It was funny because a number of people ask me what I'd seen of the countryside. And my response is, "I saw a lot of asphalt with a white line."

And people said, "Well what did you see? The Rockies?"

And I'd say, "Well, you know, it was mountains and so forth." And one particular aspect was that towards the end of the race, when we went through Pennsylvania, the question was, "But you went through all the battlefield sites of the Civil War."

And I said, "Oh, did we?" I had absolutely no idea that we'd gone through those, and that there had been memorials along the side of the road, because we were so focused on racing as hard as we could down the road.

Patrick Burns: But there was also, beyond just the racing; at any given moment there seemed to be 20 other things going on that could potentially capture your attention and distract you -- whether it's an accident with one of the other teams, or one of our own; someone not quite sure where the time station is, or someone else making a wrong turn. There was always something else happening at the same time that you couldn't ever keep separate from the racers, because everyone was crammed together.

There were times where these guys not only had to worry about riding and their meds, and eating, as Cisco said, and sleeping, and all that stuff; but also, you know, is the van going to be where it's supposed to be? Is the RV at the time station or not? Are we ahead or behind these other teams? Are we on schedule? It was just a constant barrage of things that had to be monitored and dealt with and thought about. So that, mentally, is draining, as well.

Don Smith: I thought it Sandra got asked another question, she was just going to blow up.

Sandra Smith: I challenged myself at the beginning not to lose it, you know? I'm glad I did, because I could have easily lost it. There was so much going on at one time. There was nothing, nothing easy about this race.

Don had a bear run out in front of him one night while he was riding. We nearly took out a cow with the RV. We had two flat tires at one time. We had a toxic sewage incident.

Patrick Burns: Don't talk about that.

Sandra Smith: And Cisco had a crash. We had meltdowns. Everything that happened, we had to get around it. We had to get back to racing.

Sometimes we knew the RV wouldn't be at the next time station on time, because there was an issue of some sort. And it took us probably, I would say, I don't know; three, three and a half days, before I ever felt we had a reasonable rhythm.

Patrick Burns: Another thing to bear in mind is that almost no one, both team and crew, had spent any significant time with each other, beyond maybe one or two people in their immediate circle. It was 16 or 18 people of varying backgrounds and ideologies, thrown together under these circumstances, and all having to come together to work toward one goal, with people that they've only just met.

Martin Berveling: It would have been great to have recorded the inside of the RV with some hidden cameras. I think we all handled ourselves well; whilst there were disagreements, and minor meltdowns, we actually got through them all and managed to stay focused on the job and thus managed to succeed in our ultimate aim: to finish the race and to as well as we could. I think we managed that.

Olivia Ford: Going back to preparing for the race: What's a typical day in training as an ultra-endurance cyclist? How does your training change in anticipation of a race of this kind?

Jim Williams: I don't think there's such thing as a "typical day" in training, because each day is different. I think for a lot of us racers, we have to get a lot of base miles, or endurance miles, in. There's also a lot of intensity because, as Cisco said, when you're out there racing, you're racing as hard as you can for those 15 minutes. But you've got to do that over and over and over and over again.

We were covering about 500 miles a day as a team. And we broke that up between the four of us, but we were doing that as hard as we could. I think RAAM estimates that you've got to get in between 800 and 1,000 miles a month as your base, in order to prepare for this race. So you're either inside on your rollers for hours, or on your trainer for hours, or you're bundled up as best you can when it's 19 degrees and you're out there riding for hours and hours and hours, just to get the base in. I think I did 1,100 miles one month, in either January or February; but it was just getting a lot of miles under the belt to get ready for this.

Steven Berveling: For me, it was ensuring that we could do those short pulls throughout the race, and do lots and lots and lots of them -- which meant that, during the training program that I had done here in Sydney, we did lots and lots of time-trial intervals -- whether we did them early in the morning, at lunchtime, late in the afternoon, in the evening, we just kept on doing those.

I had to try to simulate some of the race -- over the Easter holiday period, for instance, I rode day and night -- a few hours on, a few hours off. But although I found that experience very, very useful, it was so unlike what the race was actually like; the training was laughable, in truth. But I'm glad that I did it nevertheless.

Jim Williams: In a way it was like blind ignorance. We really didn't know as racers what we were getting into. I think, had we really known what it was going to be like, maybe we would have thought twice about it. So that actually probably helped us a little bit.

Olivia Ford: What health considerations, if any, do HIV-positive racers have to take into account in training for and competing in this kind of race? What have your doctors said about your being involved in this race?

Steven Berveling: I believe that with the appropriate medications, we can do things like the Race Across America. We've just proven that. So therefore, the mere fact that a person is HIV positive does not stop them from doing a very, very tough endurance race, nor will it stop them from doing anything else that they want to do.

But -- and there is a but -- there are obviously some issues surrounding both having HIV and taking medications. From my perspective, one of the medications I use, which is Sustiva [efavirenz, Stocrin], created a significant central nervous system side effect on the first night, in which I could not distinguish between the taillights and the headlights of motor cars in front of me, or see where they were, relative to themselves, or relative to me.

That then meant that we had to accommodate and compromise how I took my medication, compared to how I did the racing. It did not stop any of my racing, or any of the pulls that I did; but we did have to take that into consideration.

Mainly what I'm saying there is that having HIV, just like having any other medical condition, might require some further management when doing some major thing -- like the Race Across America -- but nevertheless, it is definitely something that can be done.

Subsequent to the race, though, of course, one needs to ensure that one maintains one's health.

Don Smith: I want to add a bit from my experience post-RAAM, and following up with my medical team here. One thing that's become clearer that I learned is that I would definitely change the way I took my medication. It was intended to be taken once a day. But what both Steven and I found was that under intense exercise, the medications were absorbed into the system far too quickly, and then were eliminated from the body far too quickly. As a result, one; we experienced extreme side effects, but two; a therapeutic level of the drug was not maintained throughout the 24 hours.

If I was going to do RAAM again I would certainly divide my dosage into half so that I could more easily maintain that therapeutic level. That's something that my medical team has advised me to do.

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This article was provided by TheBody.
See Also
Taking on the Race Across America: Talking With Team4HIVHope 2011, Part One
More Personal Accounts of Bike Rides to Raise Funds for HIV/AIDS

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