Women’s HAMR 2017 (age group 50 – 59)
Alicia Searvogel

Had a female ever cycled over a hundred miles a day for a year? Could it be done and more so, could I do it? I had no idea. I just remember wondering this every time I threw on my backpack and went out for a long ride.

I didn’t even know what ultra cycling was until I saw the documentary Bicycle Dreams. I was in total awe of those who could push themselves to such an extreme in every aspect of their being. It was like climbing the Mount Everest of cycling! I didn’t know if I had what it would take to do something like that, but to strive for something like it was brewing. As luck would have it, the doors were opening and I was asked to crew for Kurt Searvogel and Joel Sothern’s two person RAAM (Race Across America) team in 2014.

When I first met Kurt, we had a conversation about cycling everyday for a year. Knowing a century was a piece of cake for someone of his caliber, I remember asking him, “Could you ride over 200 miles a day for a year?” He said, “Yea, if somebody paid me!” Well, nobody paid him, yet “someone” did persuade him to ride over 200 miles a day for a year — and what an epic adventure we had!

After Kurt’s HAMR (Highest Annual Mileage Record) year, I knew I was going to write the book about our amazing journey. But, I had this relentless nagging, gnawing feeling that I needed to do the women’s HAMR too. Since the thought wouldn’t let up, I realized I needed to do it even though Kurt was less than enthusiastic about the idea. After all, he was still decompressing from his year in the saddle. Convincing Kurt took a little time and some stubborn foot stomping on my part, but he eventually relented.

We then had to consider, could we actually switch places? Was it possible for Kurt to crew without killing me or going absolutely bonkers? I was dying for him to get a taste of what I had to go through when I supported him during his year, although, I did’t want it to be the teeth-grinding-hair-loss challenge I endured. I wasn’t that cruel and we did just get married.

When I think of ‘why’ I would take on this cockamamie endeavor, the first reason that comes to mind is that I wanted a better understanding of what Kurt experienced before I started writing the book. Also, I thought I could at least do a hundred miles a day and that would break the previous record set by Billey Dovey in 1938. And then, this was a great way to recover from a broken ankle; and here was a chance to train for a year with Kurt as my coach — I could build endurance and speed! (Endurance, yes, that happened gradually. Speed, not so much since I had to pace myself to recover and ride the next day.)

As a mother, I wanted to dedicate this to my two sons, Cole and Dane. I knew there were many lessons we would all learn during this challenge. I also wanted to teach them that you don’t have to be the best in the world to do what you love. Above all, honestly, maybe I just needed to do this for myself and for my sons to be proud of me.

Now, I’m not a competitive athlete and not to sound disingenuous, but I never even considered myself an athlete. I have no special talent when it comes to sports (unless throwing darts is an athletic gift), although I am highly active and always have been. I’ve invariably seen myself as an underdog.

Having said that, when I crewed for Kurt’s year I found that when I had days he needed less support, I had time to ride. For example: when we were in Flatwoods Park, Florida I would ride 40 miles in the morning… 20 miles in the afternoon… and then another 20 miles in the evening or more. I would support and run errands in-between rides. I found that the affects of an 80 mile day was hardly noticeable in my body. I didn’t really feel it the next day. I could do it again. Soon I was doing centuries the same way. I realized then that the women’s HAMR was actually possible for me.

After we decided to do this, we then had to figure out how we were going to do this? We had to structure the year differently from Kurt’s HAMR year. From our previous experience, we learned that setting up our strategy in advance was necessary, although we had to be flexible because we also knew that in an instant our plans could and would change. Kurt had a business to run and he needed to get back to work. We had to manage the year around our life because it wasn’t going to be all about riding. Little did we know we would also have the added bonus of buying a new house, moving and remodeling it too.

Then there were the mishaps and glitches that were going to happen, which they did. Like the bikes falling off the racks. Even with the ‘idiot lock policy’ and how expensively comical it all has become, there were some pretty hard blows that we struggled with. These were heart breaking tragedies that could have derailed our pursuits which had nothing to do with cycling. We both lost close family members during our individual year. This was a tough emotional challenge to ride through, at least it was for me.

Originally, the majority of my riding was planned to be here in Little Rock, Arkansas doing loops on the River Trail. And then, when the weather suited him, Kurt would come out and kick my butt riding, pushing me hard before heading off to work. I occasionally rode with a handful of friends I trusted, but not very often. I rode solo for the most part which worked out very well for me since I could control my speed and prevent burning out.

The Little Rock River Trail is made up of your common streets with regular vehicle traffic and some bike lanes. There is about an eight mile section which involves climbing the Big Dam Bridge (remember this is all about miles not elevation gain, so I avoided if I could) that is strictly park trail and highly used by runners, dog walkers and families with little kids. There are sections Kurt and I dubbed “the gauntlet” because trying to maneuver in, out and around the living obstacles was a potential hazard on some days. We were always hearing about someone hitting someone, getting caught up on a dog leash or almost nailing a little kid. Let alone the parks natural wildlife. The suicidal squirrels, rabbits, turtles, snakes and then the darting deer which Kurt actually clipped on one foggy morning ride.

Then there were the routes in and out of the city leading to the rural country roads. This is where I tried to do most of my riding at first, but the more dogs I came across the less I rode them. A dog had taken me out and I broke my collar bone a month before I started the HAMR, so I tried to avoid dogs at all cost even though I was armed with pepper spray and a Dazer.

Kurt was a big fan of highway miles. I was scared to death of them. Speeding cars and semi trucks — I could die! But, he finally talked me into riding the highways (of course, not the interstate). This soon became my preference. Adjusting to riding the four lane highways was ideal. They were lengthy stretches of road, with few stops, a three to five foot shoulder with a rumble strip, desirable pavement  and the hills were rolling. I could plug into an audio book or music and the day would fly — especially with a tailwind.

We also planned to take off whenever we could to ride to other states searching for better weather and new routes. Kurt did take a week off here and there so that he could support me as I rode down to northern Florida or up to Wisconsin. I ended up making more highway runs down and back to Louisiana with the wind and a few times to the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi. I did fly out to California for a few days to see my boys and with a borrowed bike, obtained some miles on the American River Bike trail.

My primary bike was a Specialized Roubaix with Reynolds wheels. I had the option of going tubeless and after trying both I’m still on the fence about it. Then in addition, Kurt had a cyclocross bike we had rebuilt as my backup bike with disk brakes for wet days. It was heavier and a bit larger than my Specialized, yet the change in fit position was a good stretch and break for my body in aero. The seat, though, was everything. Even when they were trashed I wanted to keep my Forte’ saddles. I had planned on switching between the road bikes and my recumbent, but sadly the recumbent ended up causing more problems and trouble than it was worth so it sat in the garage with a “For Sale” sign on it.

People always ask me about my nutrition and I am embarrassed to say I have failed to get this right. My diet was constantly changing. Right from the start I had a stomach bug and I was on a bland diet. Slowly I was able to add more foodstuff that I could digest while on the bike. PB&J on toast (using GU as jelly) became a staple for half the year. On the bike I drank smoothies made of coconut milk, coconut water, bananas and ice. I ate an egg white spinach omelet for breakfast and fried wild rice with egg whites for lunch (see, I told you it was bland.) One good thing, Kurt was really great about making normal dinners every night.

It wasn’t until the very last month that all nutrition concerns of any kind went out the window. Kurt had signed me up for the HAMR month record for my age group and we did what was convenient. One day I asked Kurt to get me an apple fritter from this place called Donut Palace that I always rode by and then I craved one everyday (damn you Donut Palace!) We became such regular customers at Pizza Hut takeout that Kurt uploaded the App. Children’s Pedialyte seemed to always be in one of my water bottles towards the last few months. It was my placebo, it just made me feel better.

Right after I finished, a friend asked, “Did you ever think you would quit?” No, not really and when I did it was a fleeting moment. I knew I would see it through. If I compared myself to Kurt or anyone else and the massive miles they could do, the speed… sure, that would be overwhelmingly demoralizing. Unquestionably, it’s humbling if I think about it, yet I tried not to let myself go there. I had to focus on what I was doing, what I was capable of, what I set out to do. I was dedicated and determined to see this through.

What was really hard was riding through the cold. When it was below freezing and I felt like an ice cube, the thought of going back out after thawing nearly brought me to tears, “I don’t want to freeze again!” That was when Coach Kurt (who won’t ride below 50 degrees fahrenheit) implemented the HTFU rule. It was pitiful, but I endured through the winter.

In all reality, I didn’t hit my goal of a century a day for a year, but that’s OK. Getting up to the point where I could ride a double century was a major milestone for me. I’m very pleased with how I did. I gave it all I had. There were some setbacks, illnesses and my back went out for ten days. Yet, I am grateful for the opportunity that was given me and feel very blessed by all the friends I’ve made. Their immense support has meant more than they will ever know. Kurt, as many know, stepped up and beyond compare, became my champion crew chief, hardcore coach and colossal inspiration.

If I can express anything, the most important thing I did learn was that this is a team venture. All involved must want this. We have been very fortunate to have survived — we are still alive — and it’s because the support goes both ways for crew and rider. Watching out for each others safety and health is of the utmost. The encouragement, the guidance, the nurturing, the care, the respect and appreciation, etc… patiently understanding where the other person is, it’s all part of the balancing act of a partnership, our little team. I believe this is truly the secret to our two successful cycling years.

Chalk it up!
Women’s HAMR (age group 50-59) 32,415 miles
Women’s Month Record (age group 50-59) 4,021 miles

I did something I never imagined I would do.
Live in denial of your limitations!

Alicia Searvogel