INTERVIEW: 2012 Race Across America Rider Joan Dietchman

You know how some people might go on a ride for a few hours and think “wow, four hours, 5000′ of climbing and 60 miles, that was a rough one!” Well, Joan Dietchman uses rides like that for recovery.


She’s slept at Robert’s Market in Woodside in the middle of the night on a training ride. She’s got a piece of the QOM for the Turkish Get Up (32kg bell) at the studio, she’s one of the toughest human beings that I know and she’s one of our Maximum Velocity Coaches.


Oh yeah, I should also probably mention she’s riding her bike from Oceanside, California to Annapolis (yes, the one in Maryland), 3050 miles, 13 days and more elevation gained than most people get flying across the country in a year.

If you’ve ever seen “Bicycle Dreams,” then you know how physically and psychologically the Race Across America (RAAM) can be. When I found out she was doing it, my first thought was “um, WHY?????” But, as the female winner of the 2011 Race Across the West (3000 miles and 170,000′ of climbing, and NO that’s NOT a typo), it was naturally the next step!


I’ve interviewed riders who have stood on the top step of the podium in UCI mountain bike racers who have won Olympic medals. But, this opportunity to get Joan’s thoughts on RAAM is by far better than all of them combined. 


In the dictionary, under “female role model bad ass,” it says “see Joan.” It is an absolute honor to train her off the bike and be a part of her race preperation!

Al: Why RAAM???

Joan: Why not? ;)  It’s difficult to put into words what draws one to ultra-endurance athletics.  Part of it is just the sheer challenge of it – finding out what my limits are.  I’ve gone through a progression of longer and longer races, and RAAM is essentially the pinnacle of ultra-cycling and the “golden orb” at the end of that progression.

It’s like what Kona is to triathletes – maybe even bigger since so very few people do it (fewer than 30 women have finished solo RAAM in the 30 year history, and only a couple hundred men).  The sense of accomplishment that one gets from completing something of this magnitude is pretty immense, and everyone I’ve spoken to who’s completed solo RAAM has said its “life changing”.  Plus just the notion of crossing the continent on bicycle is pretty cool.

Al: What are you looking forward to the most?

Joan: The bonding with my crew.  I really like the team atmosphere that ultra-cycling has with the crew and rider – everyone working together towards a common goal.  I’m also looking forward to seeing more of Colorado, and revisiting Monument Valley (hopefully in daylight!).  Seeing the Mississippi River and riding over it will also be cool.  And of course the finish line!

Al: What are you concerned about the most?

Joan: I’m probably concerned the most about the sleep deprivation that will be required.  Falling asleep on your bike is a horrible feeling, and you feel so powerless when it happens.  I know that RAAM is going to require that I push through situations like that.  Last year on Race Across the West I had my first spell of hallucinations on the bike, and it was a very disconcerting/scary experience.


I’m also concerned about what the conditions will be like – I’m hoping for mild to moderate conditions – hopefully no tornados in Kansas and no snow/hail in the Rockies!  And of course I’m concerned about what’s going to happen to my body after 3 or 4 days – my longest race was Race Across the West which took me just under 3 days, so I don’t know how my body will respond past that distance.  I know I have a great crew though who will be looking after me and trouble shooting whatever issues arise!

Al: Give us a snapshot of how one trains for this? I like the night ride stories, hint hint. On and off the bike.

Joan: There are several components to training.  Contrary to what you might expect, it’s not just about riding lots of miles.  In the year leading up to RAAM I really only did about 4-5 months of high volume training – a 2 month block last Aug/Sep where I rode 3000 miles, and then a block this Mar/Apr/May during which there was a 2 month block with another 3000 miles.  Between those high volume blocks I focused on getting stronger and leaner.  Strength training and intensity training at INTEGRATE Performance Fitness were absolutely key to that phase, and I made really big improvements by cutting back volume and focusing on strength/intensity.


Liza’s spin classes were great both for the intensity as well as form on the bike – the high cadence and single leg drills really helped me to improve my pedal stroke, as did all the single-leg and glute work we did in the morning IPF classes.  To counter the strength training, I also did Bikram yoga to work on flexibility and stretching (since I’m horrible at doing that kind of thing on my own!).

When I was on the bike doing lower volume I focused on doing really difficult rides – lots of climbing, and lots of steep climbing (think Bohlman/On Orbit, Alba, Redwood Gulch, Jamison Creek, etc.), and also not allowing myself to use my easier gears on the less steep climbs so that I got stronger.  For the high volume phase, there were a couple of different strategies – one strategy was to get back-to-back-to-back long rides in and sleep at night between the rides (riding anywhere from 100-250 miles a day), another was to practice night riding situations and simulate different types of sleep breaks.  One night I got up at 1am and went and rode through the rest of the night – with some naps on the concrete outside Roberts Market in Woodside!

I also did a ride where I started Friday evening, rode until about 2am, slept for 2hrs, rode all the next day until 2am Sunday morning, slept another 2hrs, and then went out and rode another 3-4hrs.  This basically simulated 2 nights of RAAM in terms of getting at least 1 full REM cycle of sleep and then going out and riding again.


Then the next weekend I did a 375 mile ride where I tried to ride straight through the night with no sleep but ended up having to take 2 power naps along the way – one in a post office, and another in a 24hr Safeway!  So just like any kind of event that you could train for, there are different components to the training.  Balancing it all with a full time job means you have to try and be as efficient as possible with the time that you have – no “junk” miles/workouts.

Al: How will you eat? What will you eat?

Joan: I will consume most of my calories while I’m on the bike riding.  This means food that’s somewhat easy to eat while riding – think “food-on-a-stick” and “tubular food”.  When I stop to sleep I’ll eat a fairly decent sized meal of “comfort food”.  I’ve stopped using focused sports drinks because with all of them I get sick of them after about 10-12 hours, so I mostly eat “real food/drink” on the bike.

I will eat whatever’s available and what sounds/tastes good – everything from granola bars to rice crispy squares to sandwiches to donuts to muffins to bananas to watermelon to burritos to pizza to yogurt to hamburgers to hot dogs to nuts to cookies to popsicles to corn dogs to breakfast sandwiches to chicken nuggets to soup to pasta and anything else that might sound good or be available!  I’ll drink water, fruit juices, iced tea, iced coffee/mochas, soda, chocolate milk, coffee, hot chocolate, and perhaps even a milkshake if the opportunity arises!  I will be trying to eat about 300 calories per hour, and drink about 20oz of fluid per hour.

Al: How do you get taken care of on the bike?

Joan: My crew will be tracking and monitoring everything from nutrition/fluid intake to vitals to clothing.  They will become my “brain” and I’ll become utterly and completely dependent on them – all I need to do is to pedal and do what they tell me to do.  We have 3 vehicles and 10-11 crew who will be working in 8hr shifts to take care of me.  There will be one vehicle that’s always either following directly behind me or very close by doing “leap-frog” support.  This vehicle will be taking care of me and providing nutrition, clothing, etc.

While following directly behind me, they will do moving handoffs from the window of the vehicle, and while doing leap-frog support they will do hand-offs from the side of the road (like what you’d see in a triathlon aid-station – they hold up stuff and I grab it as I ride by).  My crew also includes a bike mechanic who will keep my bikes in working order, and a physical therapist who will do things like massage, ART, etc.


The follow vehicle also has external speakers and a PA system, so the crew will be able to play music for me and give me instructions.  We’re also planning to try and use a 2-way radio system that I’ll have on me so that I can converse with the crew (this could be vital in terms of helping keep me awake when I’m sleepy).

Al: How often will you sleep and for how long?

Joan: With the exception of the first night, I’ll probably stop and sleep for 90-120mins just before dawn each day.  The first night the goal will be to not sleep at all since we’re trying to get through the hot CA/AZ desert and it’s more efficient to ride at night when it’s cooler.

Sleep plans during the race could also be impacted by things such as weather conditions (if we’re trying to take advantage of a tail wind, we might keep riding and forgo a sleep break – or conversely if there’s a massive thunder storm that’s slated to end later we might take an early sleep break to let the storm pass) and time cutoffs (there are 3 time cutoffs – one in Durango, CO, one at the Mississippi River, and of course one at the finish in Annapolis, MD).

Al: How long will it take to recover after the race?

Joan: A long time!  It really depends on what happens to me out there.  Some of the effects could take a year or more to recover from – I’ve heard of people getting nerve damage in their hands that has lasted well over a year.  I also know other people who are back on the bikes within a week or two and racing other ultras in less than a month!

Al: What’s after RAAM? MTBing?????

Joan:Yes, I would definitely like to try riding off-road.  Of course that would require buying a cyclocross or mountain bike, and since I’ll be broke (financially and physically!) it might take a while.  Definitely I plan on going back to more “normal” training/events.

For the remainder of the year the only other thing on my schedule is the Furnace Creek 508 on a 2-person team with my husband Mike.  I’m also crewing for Mike at the UltraMan World Championships in Hawaii in November.  Beyond that, after seeing how much fun LHP brings to Al’s life we’d also like to try and start a family.

Well, there you have it. This is what it will take to complete The Race Across America. If anyone can finish this race, it is Joan Dietchman! You can follow Joan’s progress during the race on her blog. I’d highly recommend it!!!!




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