After completing the Ironman World Championship in 1994, one of the world’s most grueling triathlon competitions, Randy Mouri decided he hadn’t pushed himself hard enough.
“I came back from Hawaii and was reading Outside magazine and they had an article about the eight toughest endurance races in the world,” said Mouri, 51, of Fairfax, who works as a pre-press production manager at a publishing company in Bethesda. “The Hawaii Ironman was listed last. And the Race Across America was listed as the toughest, so I said, ‘I need to do that.’ ”
RAAM is a grueling, 3,000 mile ultra-cycling race. It started 30 years ago, when four cyclists raced from the Santa Monica Pier in California to the Empire State Building in New York. The race must be completed in 12 days or fewer, so riders have to cover an average of 250 miles per day to officially finish. Only about 200 cyclists have completed the solo competition race, making it an achievement that is rarer than summiting Mt. Everest.
After reading the magazine article, Mouri had his mind set on RAAM. But first he needed to raise about $60,000 to assemble a race team, and finish at least one other ultra-cycling marathon race to qualify. Years went by and Mouri moved on with his life. He married his wife, Susie, a fellow ultra-athlete, and continued to work, save and train for RAAM.
In 2007, he fell just four hours short of qualifying for RAAM after completing the 1,200-kilometer Paris-Brest-Paris race in 69 hours, rather than the required 65. Undeterred, he kept training and finally qualified by completing the Adirondack 540 in September 2009. Last year, Mouri completed the RAAM course as a “touring” rider in 19 days as a test run for the real thing in 2011.
“It took a lot longer to qualify for RAAM than I thought it would,” Mouri said. “A lot of it is finances, and work, and relationships, and assembling your support team. We have a doctor, a physical therapist, a massage therapist, a chef, a bike mechanic, a pastor, his wife, and then some friends and other cyclists too.”
Mouri felt he had a great chance to complete the race, but most successful RAAM competitors average 20 to 22 hours per day on their bikes, and there is no way to know in advance how your body will respond to that level of sleep deprivation and physical stress. Training for RAAM while holding down a full-time job was a challenge, but Mouri often commuted by bicycle from his home in Fairfax to his job in Bethesda as he prepared for the race. But as the clock ticked down to the June 15 start in Oceanside, Calif., some began to question his sanity.
“People would say, ‘Are you nuts? I wouldn’t even want to drive that far,’” Mouri said. “And my parents said, ‘When are you going to stop doing stuff like this?’ and I said, ‘Until the day I die’ because this is what I enjoy doing.”
The early stages of the race went smoothly for Mouri, who averaged about 20 hours of riding and nearly 300 miles per day with just two to three hours of sleep per night. Then, on the third day, Mouri developed a painful condition called Shermer’s Neck, a problem for ultra-cyclists who spend all day hunched over their bikes. But his crew rigged together a sort of chin shelf attached to his handlebars to relieve the pressure on his neck, and Mouri kept on riding, straight across 12 states toward the finish line in Annapolis.
Seventeen years after hatching his plot, and 11 days, 1 hour and 13 minutes after leaving the starting gate in California, Mouri finally achieved his goal of conquering the RAAM in the late afternoon on Sunday. He finished in 15th place overall, and 4th in the 50 to 59 year old division, with an average speed of 11.27 mph.
After the race, Susie whom Mouri described on his blog as someone who “makes me feel like Lance Armstrong on the bike, Eric Heiden on skates, and Mark Spitz in the pool” knew completing RAAM wouldn’t be the last extreme feat for her husband.
“Next year Randy’s going to do Badwater, which is a 135-mile marathon across the desert in Death Valley,” she said. “These are the kinds of challenges we’ve been taking on our entire lives. I don’t know what we’d do without them.”
In the meantime, Mouri planned to get back on his bike.
“I’ll probably start commuting on my bike again next week,” he said after the race. “The body heals quickly and when the pain is gone it’s, ‘Alright, what do I do next?’ ”