Going Mental. Racing in a bubble. Virtual Race Across the West 2020 report

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About VRAW

This is not your typical race. Its a bit more mental & created for the hardcore and brave enough to race their bike Indoors non stop for days. The race that I was actually training for was Transcontinental #8. It was cancelled but I kept training as if it was still going to happen. My goal was to stay motivated & focused and reduce the stress while gaining fitness for whatever might be coming next.

The Training before the race

My training started on March 1st under the supervision from one of the best in the game – World Champ Andy Jackson from Peaks Sports Consulting. We met briefly during his monster performance at the 24h World Championship in Borrego Springs , CA last fall. He ended up with 528 miles in 24h. The only person to win all 3 events at the World TT. After Injury during the same event, my FTP sinked to 3.5 W/Kg but Andy was able to get me back to slightly above 4 W/Kg by mid June. Numbers are not everything but good to have in your arsenal. The key to success was zero junk miles and hard training sessions mainly in upper Zone 2 and Zone 3. Even the warmups didn’t feel easy 🙂 I was typically training from 500 to 750 TSS a week. Heavy miles on the weekend. Few weeks before VRAW I went on assault of the highest point in WV – Spruce Knob and did 15 000 feet of climbing in about 9 hours. So happy i did. You will find out later on why.

The Challenges before the race

All the testing I was doing was on Windows and Android. Honestly , I was not impressed. The ride will freeze and the app was just closing on me in the middle of the ride. I decided to go ahead and purchase Apple TV. The race was conducted on the Fulgaz app and it is more stable on Apple. The other issue was that my new Cycleops Direct Drive trainer ordered 3 weeks before the race was still not here. Jeffrey Boltz saved the day by letting me use his Wahoo Snap. The trainer was working flawlessly.

Race Plan

The plan was pretty simple – Try to hold around 60% of FTP and avoid surging close to it while climbing. I was also to consume 25 oz water per hour, 60 to 90 grams of carbs, 140 grams of protein per day (2g per kilo) and take two sleep breaks of 2h each. I was using my Spiegel Diablo bike, Infinity Seat and mostly running on Ensure + GU Roctane. The other adjustment I made was to raise the bars so I can be more comfortable. Three fans were also installed to keep me cool and I was relying on three extra monitors outside of the Apple TV for entertainment. Additionally , I installed camera and a microphone in order to regularly call people when things get tough.

The goal was top 10 finish. Most importantly to ride a steady pace ,be smart about my tactics and power output. The big goal was raising funds for breast caner foundation in my country of birth – Bulgaria called “One of 8”. It is not too late to help. Just smash this LINK

Time to Race

The start was fast but not crazy fast. I was able to hold between 6th at 12th position for some time. Almost immediately we were faced by some steep climbs and the progress was slow. Grinding up with 3 to 5 mph on some stages was tough & pure hell for my mental state and race plans. Perhaps I was sustaining 10% more power compared to the plan and my body soon felt it. Even with the windows open and fans running on full blast, I was soon overheating. This was combined with very nasty digestive issue. Even though I switched to Ensure four days before the race, my stomach was not having it. I probably lost close to 30 minutes begging for my life while sitting on the toilet bowl. So much for a great start 😦

Changing my bibs 3 times a day after taking shower and dusting them with plenty of baby powder was great for my comfort. No cream but the Infinity seat proved a winner once again. Plus, the wide & thin chamois on my Endura Pro SL bibs. If you need Infinity seat, use my first name as a discount code and save some $$$.

At the front of the race the battle was on – Marko Baloh had to work really hard to grab the first spot and hold it. Simon Potter was having phenomenal race and Joana Sharp was kicking a## and representing well for all the women in unltracyling. She was sitting in third place. But even Marko was complaining about the hills. It felt like they never ended. They just keep emerging like a bad dream one after another. Many stages started with a climb and ended with a climb. What a disaster for our body and success for our mental breakdown.

Later on, I had to remind myself that what I was facing , everyone else was as well. Marko was closing in on the current leader. I actually told him that my expectations were for him to blow up eventually due to this fast start. Well, that wasn’t to be the case. Simon was a man on a mission and proved to the world to be exceptional rider.

At this point I was sitting in 9th place and passing Borrego Springs , CA on the virtual map. All I can think was to watch my heart rate , power and keep pushing on. Additionally I was looking of ways to stay entertained since now I was officially beyond my longest time sitting on a trainer.

After 12h of racing it was finally night time. I was so looking forward to it as the temperature was dropping. Honestly, the temperature was constantly 78 to 82 degrees and never fell below 75 during the entire race. The humidity in the DC area is also out of control. My goal was to just cool down, spin easier and attempt to eat and drink. Well, forget eating for a moment since I wasnt able to hold food down.

Twelve hours in and Marko had 300 km (usually 400 km around this time). This race already proved tougher than most of us anticipated. Flagstaff stage for example was two hour climb and no down. Afterwards,we climbed some more during the Cheaha Challenge stage – 7562 feet climbed in a little over 50 miles. My knees were hating me at this time and screaming for help.

I started to slowly loose my mind. There was a lady on the summit trying to hand me a bottle (virtually). Kind of crazy but this race is crazy anyways!

On the very first evening I started receiving video calls and they were really helpful. Laurel Darren called twice. We crewed together for Marko at RAAM 2019. She is always super entertaining and pulled some crazy cartoon faces during the call. This sure kept me up 🙂 Thank you. I also talked to my sister and this helped tremendously.

After 18 hours my odometer clocked 338 km and still respectful 10th Place Overall. I dropped to 15th at one point and then made up some ground. Still nagging issues with overheating and my stomach but more manageable & I was slowly getting back to feeling normal. Lost were another 25 min while I recovered with slow pedaling, eating and drinking. It was the middle of the night and we were still pedaling.

At this point my coach just confirmed I might have went a little too hard in the begining. The plan was to slow down and try to eat. My new Whoop Strap also decided to crap up on me. It was blinking red light and not working so I had no idea what my heart rate was. Additionally, my Cadence sensor was not syncing with Fulgaz. We were never able to solve this after numerous tickets with their team. So I went for plan B – fire up my Wahoo Bolt and look at my hr strap data, cadence and power there instead of Fulgaz. This was also helpful in keeping my head down to prevent any neck issues.

At some point I managed to get injured. Yea, i know, how do you get injured riding indoors? Well, I was rushing to get back on the bike after short break and had difficulties clipping to my pedals. As a result, they smashed into my leg shin and left two bloody dots. It swell so bad and I quickly stuffed my compression socks with ice to help reduce the pain and swelling.

It was a bit too early to sleep but after about 21h of racing I felt like sleeping and went down. About one hour of recharging.

Soon thereafter I received encouraging massage from Roman who I crewed with for Marko during RAAM 2019. He was sending me picture of Marko and regards from him and Irma. I needed anything to stay motivated and this massage was much appreciated.

It was time for another sleep break , about 1.5 hrs or a total of 2.5h during day one. Luckily, my pace increase a bit and this helped to hold onto the 9th place before I stopped. Upon opening my eyes I was already down to 14th place. Was I the only one sleeping so early? The goal was to sleep and still stay close to the top 10. It was raining outside so the temperature was finally dropping and allowing me to settle into my own pace. Sooner or later the racers around me would have to also sleep. Or not 🙂

The awesome video calls continued with my cousin Peter. He is the person behind the scenes creating some of my artwork and responsible for making my Logo. Be sure to check his 3D printing goodies on Etsy.

In the morning of day two I had first in a series of video chats with Srinivas Gokulnath. He has been very supportive of me and we would check on one another from time to time. Srinvas is the first Indian Solo Finisher in RAAM. In 2017 the battle between him and Amit was on until the finish. Srinvas was the man on a mission and crossed the finish line 3 hours ahead. I was the official at the finish line and witnessed the emotions from him and his team first hand. Never to be forgotten !

Later on during my second day I attempted to take few short naps but was unsuccessful. I was successful in wasting additional 25 minutes 🙂

It was night time again and I was attempting on playing it smart. Cheaha Challenge stage was on yet again – 7562 feet of climbing in 55 miles . Took almost 12 hours to do Cheaha Challenge twice. Some coasting was nice as few of the stages even provided downhill. I was able to take a shower during that time, do laundry and lift my tired legs up.

My kids were checking on me in the morning. They were really happy to try some Ensure after realizing that it tasted like chocolate milk 🙂 I ended up moving up from 12th to 9th place. It was 6 of us bundled around the 10th spot and now down to 3. I did manage to establish good separation of 60 km between me and the racer in 13th place.

All was going well until the nose bleed and subsequently difficulties to breath. Time to play mind games. Whos going to stay on the bike? Whos going to sleep ? Should I pass somebody and then sleep? Should I stay on their tail to mentally drain them? All of these questions were circling inside my head.

Around 9 pm I had great chat with Marko Baloh. Honestly, I was suffering and moving like a snail. He also looked pretty beat up. Mind you it was after 2 am in Slovenia. We chatted for a bit and he told me that he suffered injury. At least no tear so he was cleared to keep on going. Towards the end of our chat he looked so much better and so did I. Little did i know he would quit soon thereafter. I decided to go down again and sleep. Refreshed legs are fast legs !

The hills were completely destroying me, both physically and emotionally. But my goal was bigger than this. We are raising money for breast cancer and I had to remind myself:

” Whats better, riding a bicycle or having cancer” Lets go cupcake !

Around noon on that day was my 2nd live Interview on the RAAM Facebook page with George and Rick. What an awesome opportunity. And I felt surprisingly good to speak in front of camera. I guess talking to big groups at work helps a bit.

During this time i slipped few positions down to 13 but quickly got back to 11th place. Not much sleeping during this time. There were few unsuccessful attempts and I might have gotten 15 minutes of snooze out of it. It was so hot again that I kept taking freezing showers. A lot of friends were calling me and keeping me motivated.

I was 10km behind a racer on a hilly stage and decided i can afford to sleep 45 min. As soon as I was up I put my head down again and was sleeping like a baby. Four hours later I woke up disoriented. Wow, overslept by 4 hours. My body must have needed it. Good thing is that my lead was massive and I did not really loose much ground but top 10 finish was getting harder to reach. 580 km to go.

I just now found out Marko had to quit. Not realizing he was out of the race already , I sent him a massage. The massage was something along the lines : ##explicit## Marko, we both lost ground. I overslept. ##explicit##. Lets do some work. Plenty of time. Lets find out who has any energy left. After reading his post about quitting I promised to go strong and fight for the top 10 position.

One of my biggest supporters Andrea Matney joined me for another video call. Very uplifting as always. Helping me get away from this bubble and not to go crazy.

330 km to go and finally a little cooler but still very humid. Moving a bit slower but making progress.

Few moments later I passed by Marko Baloh dot on the map and it gave me a bunch of mixed emotions but definitely motivated me to finish this thing.

Last 15 hours

In the early hours of the last day I was comfortably sitting in 11th place but sadly 10th place was slowly slipping away. The time remaining to make up some ground was not on my side either. Somehow, I was now in 12th place. This was really messing with my head on the last morning as I never got back off the bike but I kept loosing ground. Someone’s data was added manually as he had technical difficulties and he passed by me. Such an emotional roller coaster that from listening to AC/DC I switched to Vivaldi 🙂 My body shut down completely and my mood changed.

The goal was to hold my position like a bag of gold. Everything was looking pretty good and I was less worried about the person ahead of me and rather focusing on the person behind me. The worst I can do now is stop or slow down and get caught at the end.

Well, that did happened. Miguel Rola gave me a run for my money (and that bag of gold nuggets). With less than 4 hours left to race he started attacking. My constant lead of 22 km or more slowly shrinked to 16 km. After recovering slowly I had to put the hammer down and use my last energy to contain him. One hour of strong riding and the lead extended above 20 km, 30km and then he suddenly stopped. This was very close. I just kept extending the lead and once it was above 30 km, I felt comfortable to take my last break.

A day after the race I was moved to 13th place. I guess i missed the info about staggered start time and had no clue that someone was actually this close to me.

Thank you Spiegel Bikes, Infinity Seat, Amp Human, Marque Cycling, Pactimo, GU Energy, Northern Virginia Randonneurs.

And dont forget that it is not too late to help the Breast Cancer foundation by pressing on the following link

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