Starting in Oceanside, California under one of the longest piers in the state, the Race Across America (RAAM) spans 3,000 miles, climbs 175,000 feet and crosses 12 states, finishing in Annapolis, Maryland, the east coast sailing capital. The route travels across some of the most varied terrain and climate imaginable: traversing the Sierra, Rocky, and Appalachian mountain ranges, crossing the Colorado, Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio rivers, and passing through the Great Plains and other iconic American landmarks such as the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, Monument Valley, and Gettysburg. In June 2017, Guy Manning, a partner at Campbells, and Craig Noble, head trainer at Anytime Fitness, set off from Grand Cayman to undertake this feat, meeting their two teammates and crew in California. All in the name of charity, these riders were to face unimaginable challenges, hopefully ending up safely in Annapolis within the allotted qualifying time of nine days.
RAAM and Team 3K4 were the brainchild of Piers Dryden, one of Guy’s close friends, with whom he had completed the 930-mile Race Across the West three years earlier. Ultimately, Piers had to drop out of RAAM, leaving Guy the responsibility of putting a team together. In addition to his friend Craig, he enlisted Russell Crumpler from the B.V.I. and Sudarshan (“Sid”) Ratnavelu from the U.K. to join 3K4.
With the team spread out across the world, Craig devised a grueling training schedule and shift system for the race to prepare them for the adventure ahead. He describes the plan as: “Low heart rate and shed-loads of mileage.” It meant cycling six days a week for nine months.
As a bank full of mileage accumulated, it was time to fine tune. Lacking any high ground or hilly terrain to train on in Cayman, he created a weekly “power hour” which involved setting a spin bike on a physical incline to prepare for the mountain ranges. “Hours on the bike! There’s no escaping it!” – this was the formula, according to Craig.
When it comes to endurance, however, mental strength is just as significant, if not more so, than physical strength. Both Guy and Craig were familiar with these types of endurance challenges, which stood them in good stead for the psychological obstacles they would inevitably encounter. The consistent and unrelenting training schedule aimed to prepare for this, too. “Waking up on a Sunday morning knowing you have to ride, back-to-back, hour-on hour-off for 12 hours incorporates the mental aspect. You are under no illusions of what is going to be asked of you on the day,” says Craig.
The team fulfilled the schedule, but not without struggles. Ten weeks before the race, Guy was suffering from tendonitis in his knee which forced him to rest.
Reluctant to let the team, sponsors and charities down, he underwent intensive physio and massage in the hope he could still make it to California. A fortnight before the race, Guy received the go-ahead to get back in the saddle and resume training. “It goes to show, if you put the mileage in, you will get the reward, regardless of whether you get an injury or not,” Craig says of his teammate.
As if that wasn’t enough for Team 3K4, Craig was knocked off his bike by a hit-and-run driver in East End, just three weeks before the race. Although the incident left him with a fractured foot, he wasn’t put off: “Staring at that white line, just concentrating on pushing each foot down, that’s how I got through the tough days. You just get on with it – it’s part of the game, part of the goal. I mean you can whine but no one’s listening. Spit and grit it I guess.”
It seemed like nothing was going to hold these men back. Meeting for the first time as a team and crew a couple of days before the race, there were concerns about how this group of near strangers would get on during the long week ahead. Luckily, any potential clashes did not materialize. “We became such a great team. It was a unit,” Craig reflects proudly. “Which is amazing to say with 10 people together, there was no chink in the armor.”
Against the elements
June 17 saw Team 3K4 line up together on the start line in Oceanside, California, ready to begin their 3,000-mile journey across America. With excitement and emotion electrifying the atmosphere, the moment they had been building up to for the past nine months had arrived. Guy’s pre-race nerves were apparent. “I was standing at the start line, and I have a resting heart rate in the 40s usually, but it was up to 120. That wore off after the first day.”
Before they knew it, they were off. The shift system worked by splitting the team into two sub-teams. Guy and Craig would cycle six-hour stints at a time, with one hour on, one hour off; Russell and Sid took the alternative shift.
Resting in the back of the support vehicle while the other team was riding, hopes of sleep were quickly diminished, and this was the precursor to the biggest struggles they encountered. Even though both men had been involved in high-level endurance sport, the sleep deprivation was a dark place to be when there was no option except to keep going. “If you didn’t get sleep then the fallout from that – it didn’t matter, the terrain or conditions. The sleep deprivation would affect your mental state. It’s so detrimental,” says Craig.
“I knew the sleep deprivation would be a big thing,” agrees Guy. “Just to know you’re going into a week where you’re not really going to sleep. Over seven days you don’t know how you’re going to respond to that.”
One aspect they could never have prepared for was the reality of the terrain and the weather. “You name it, we experienced it,” says Craig. From sandstorms, golf ball-sized hailstones, powerful side winds and battering rain, every extreme was encountered. Luckily for Guy and Craig, they were off shift and managed to escape the hail storm, leaving Russell and Sid to battle it out, at one stage even retreating to the support vehicle for shelter.
Conditions hit a particular low for Guy on night six. A tropical storm had just come in as he and Craig were taking up the night shift. Piling on every bit of kit, they braved the torrential rain. “Even with all my kit on, I could not stop my teeth chattering. My arms were shaking so the bike was just wobbling down the road – I was almost hypothermic. I was hoping for a big hill to climb so I could warm up. The descents were freezing,” he says.
The blistering heat of Arizona was even more testing. Day two took them straight into the desert, and at 120 degrees Fahrenheit not even the airport was open, with planes unable to fly in such temperatures. The road they were traveling along was so hot it was melting and exploding the tires of the bikes. “I’ve never experienced heat like that – bouncing off the tarmac, my eyeballs were drying out. You would think you would be sweating profusely but after an hour riding, you would be bone dry, it was just evaporating. That heat – there’s no escape from it,” Guy recalls.
It was not all bad, though. Beautiful weather, good tailwinds, and spectacular scenery gave them the relief they needed from these punishing conditions. But not even this trumped the boost they got from sideline support.
Guy remembers one incident in Fort Scott, Kansas, where a group of cheering supporters were waving a Cayman Islands flag and high fiving him as he rode past. He had no idea who they were but it spurred him on. Another surprise supporter came out at 5 a.m. in freezing cold driving rain. Dressed in shorts and T-shirt with his iPad, he was standing on a corner cheering them on. “Those little things would give you such a massive boost for another 12 hours,” says Guy.
After seven days, seven hours and 35 minutes, 3,000 miles and practically no sleep, Team 3K4 crossed the finish line together in Annapolis Harbor. A college town, the bars in the harbor were full of jovial, tipsy punters spilling out onto the streets as they pulled in, shouting: “Hey biker guys, what are you doing?”
Blurred by exhaustion and adrenaline, the team did a quick interview they don’t remember much of and grabbed a slice of pizza and a beer. With no desire to celebrate that night, the hotel beds weighed heavy on their minds. Celebrations were reserved for the following day and celebrate they did.
Why put themselves through these challenges and how did they keep going?
Clearly, the charities they chose to support through RAAM were the main driving force. Guy first started fundraising for the Cayman Islands Cancer Society (CICS) when he took on an expedition to Mount Everest in 2013. This led him to complete The Seven Summits Challenge, where he climbed the highest mountains on each of the seven continents, all in aid of CICS.
This passion for CICS stems from his mother’s diagnosis of breast cancer in 2011. She is five years clear now, and Guy has transitioned from fundraiser to currently sitting as Chairman of the Board of Directors for CICS. He oversees the Financial Aid program that helps cancer sufferers in Cayman with all sorts of financial issues, from trips to the U.S. or Jamaica for radiotherapy treatment, to rent, bills, and medication.
The crucial work that CICS does here in Cayman is completely funded by generous donations and fundraising from the public. With no support from the government, CICS leads and funds a vaccination program for the HPV virus (which can lead to cervical, mouth and throat cancer) that has been rolled out throughout public health providers in Cayman. It also funded the new chemotherapy unit at the Cayman Islands Hospital and spearheads important cancer prevention and awareness programs.
Craig’s passion for the Children’s Tumor Foundation (CTF) is also close to home. The green band he wears constantly around his wrist makes that clear, and it is support like this that enables CTF’s goal of revolutionizing the field of neurofibromatosis. The charity aims to drive research, expand knowledge and advance care for the NF community, and ultimately find a cure.
At time of press, more than $56,000 had been raised for the Cayman Islands Cancer Society and more than $100,000 in total across all four charities the participants chose (the others being Macmillan Cancer Support and Ellie’s Wish).
After spending three days catching up on sleep, Guy was back in Cayman and back in the saddle for a morning ride before work. Craig, on the other hand is taking a longer, well-deserved rest from cycling. “I’m not going to be on it, not for another couple of days at least.”
What does the future hold for these two adrenaline junkies? Guy has started thinking about an expedition for next year but is keeping it tightly under wraps. Craig gave a resounding “No” to any future challenges, and who could blame him?