Furnace Creek 508: Observations on How to Avoid Problems

By Steve Beaver Born, crew for 1996 solo entrant Jeff Blue Jay Born, as well as the 1994 solo champion

This was my fifth time at the Furnace Creek race (four crewing, one racing). In my experiences in RAAM qualifiers, RAAM itself, and other supported rides both as crew member and rider I have (I would hope!) figured out a few things that kept my sanity (as well as my crew). The things I've learned can be traced way back in my father's book about our adventures in RAAM '88. Boy, have we learned a lot since then! If you've ever read that book and want to be successful, do everything damn near the opposite of what we did! Oh sure, I finished RAAM officially that year and had a good race but there are times I still wonder how the hell we made it!

The reason for this post is because I saw a few people who seemingly made their effort at the 508 a lot more difficult than it had to be. I'm not saying I'm an authority on doing or crewing supported ultra races but these few things caught my attention and I wanted to pass them on to anyone considering doing a race as difficult as the 508 or any other ultra. This is by no means a complete list but simply some of the things I saw.

Bring more clothing than you'll think you need. The weather can be anything and is usually unpredictable. Remember TNT a few years ago? Hell, it was snowing! Some years that race has blazing hot weather, some years it snows. The point is that even though you may not think you'll use it, bring it. Rain gear for a race that goes through Death Valley may seem pretty ridiculous, but as a friend of mine is apt to say, "it's better to be looking at it than looking for it".

The same logic applies to equipment. Better to bring an extra bike and some extra wheels than to have problems with equipment and have no spares. We were fortunate that I had brought some extra wheels to go along with my brothers' set. His Spinergy's didn't fare too well in those nasty crosswinds in the Lancaster area. If it's possible, I like to have a climbing bike as well as a "regular" bike. When I raced the 508 it was sure nice to get onto a lighter bike with easier gearing and no aero bars than to try and tough it out on a bike that I found better suited for less severe climbs or flatter terrain. My brother struggled up Townes Pass on one of those steel frame Allsop bikes. It's a sweet bike, but it must weigh quite a few pounds more than a bike set up for climbing. Also, having extra bike computers, bike lights, batteries...anything like that is nice to have. You can never have enough tubes or spare tires!

Have your nutrition intake dialed in well before the ride. I got a phone call from an entrant in the race who had never used any kind of sports drink other than Gatorade. He wanted to know what I recommended for the 508. I gave him a few suggestions but practically begged him to stick with what he was accustomed to. Right before the race is not the time to start experimenting with these very nutrient-dense drinks. Also, what tastes good in a shorter training ride may not be at all edible after 20+ hours on the bike. The majority of these sports drinks are very nutrient dense. They're made that way for convenience but if you're not used to it, man are you going to suffer during a long race. I also like to eat soda crackers, bread, and bagels during a race as they seem to "soak up" any stomach acid that comes as a result of long, intense exercise. My feeling is that we have all lived most of our lives on solid food. Unless we train with liquid foods at regular intervals why should our bodies suddenly adjust to an all liquid diet during a race? Asking that of your body is a stretch. Use any liquid food or supplement well before the race and make it easier on the body. Eating regular, solid food along with these hi-tech (hate that phrase) liquid foods isn't going to hurt your performance.

Make sure the crew keeps a log of your food/water intake. Without sufficient supplies of fuel for the engine, the engine quits! It's their job to do everything but ride the bike and the main job, IMHO, is to keep the rider fed and hydrated.

Have your support vehicle set up a long time before the race. The day before the race isn't the time to figure out if the rear flashing lights work or not. Even worse, the day before the race is not the best time to try and find equipment that makes the support vehicle legal. We learned our lesson a long time ago and make sure that we have the slow moving vehicle triangle and "Caution Bicycles Ahead" signs packed in the van first thing. We check our lighting, PA, and sound systems well before the race. We carry extra fuses, spare light bulbs, and wire; anything that could go wrong with the system, we have a backup for.

If possible, carry extra dark and clear glasses. I remember having only one pair of clear glasses in RAAM '91. Somehow they were left in a motel room in Texas and I had to ride over 1000 miles without nighttime eye protection. That year's route went through the Deep South and there was absolutely nothing in the way of clear glasses to be found or purchased. As mentioned, better to have too many than too little!

A couple of canisters of Fix-A-Flat sure come in handy when you're out in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire on your support van. Same goes for a filled, spare gas can.

Anyway, I know there's a lot more than this to ensure a hassle-free race. These are just some of the things I noticed. I always get teased by Muffy for having things lined up, set out, inventoried, packed, etc. weeks before a race. Perhaps it's a little anal but it really has saved a lot of headaches!

For an excellent interview / profile article of Steve Born, click here.