The Crew’s The Thing - Newbie Ultracyclists Learns Dependence Upon Others a Necessary Evil

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Shanna Armstrong’s Journal Entry January 21, 2005 - The Race Across America

The Furnace 508

Next to Ultraman, this was one of the hardest events I have done.  Furnace 508, which took place on October 16, (the same day as Hawaii’s Ultraman and Ironman), was the first race that Guy and I raced in together as Team Endorphins.  With my new goal of fundraising with Race Across America (RAAM) for 2005 in mind, it seemed that Furnace 508, a 39-hour cycle race through the California desert, was a better choice for me. The point of doing Furnace 508 was to see if Team Endorphins had what it takes for RAAM and to learn more about endurance racing. 

Furnace 508, was challenging! Not so much physically but also emotionally. It was rewarding too, as Team Endorphins won the co-ed division and learned a ton about ultracycling. This race was done in eight stages of 80 to 100 miles.  As a co-ed team, we alternated stages between the two of us. This meant that we needed two crew vehicles – one to be with the rider and the other to meet us at the beginning of the next stage. 


When it comes to the world of endurance sports, former Ultraman champion, Shanna Armstrong has done it. She’s competed in 11 Ironmans and more than 80 triathlons in just three years. Still before her prime, 30-year-old Shanna was looking for another life’s challenge. Bored with the prospect of doing Kona (AGAIN) she decided to take on an even more grueling race – Race Across America. It’s a 10-day,-3,000 mile cycling event across the US of A.

If that wasn’t enough, Shanna agreed to be a guinea pig for science. During the race, scientist will study her electrolytes trying to discern what causes gastrointestinal distress athletes feel during such long endurance races. The goal is to measure blood electrolyte levels throughout the race, replace those losses with IV fluids and ultimately determine an ideal oral replacement recipe to decrease the number of people who dropout of endurance races. In addition, she’s hoping to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club of Lubbock, TX. Shanna, along with her racing teammate Guy Wells, agreed to keep an online diary through periodically giving us updates on her quest to reign cycling supreme.

Triathlons are solitary races. Yeah, you race with others, you even compete against them but at the end of the day how well you do depends largely on yourself. How hard YOU train, how prepared YOU are, how willing YOU are to go the distance is what makes a difference in your win or loss. But in ultracycling that’s not so. You have to depend upon a crew — a group of people, friends or strangers who must do all the work while you get the glory. It can be a difficult job. But what is even more difficult is transitioning from depending just upon you to depending upon someone else. In endurance racing, your success depends on the crew. Ultraracing is about teamwork, rather than how fit the racer is, because if the crew fails to do its job, the athlete will fail to see the finish line.  Lance, certainly didn’t win six TDF’s on his own!

During an ultracycling event the crew handles, nutrition, food and drink, navigation, medical needs, massages, preparation for sleep, lodging etc., for the athlete. A good crew won’t make up for lack of fitness or physical ability but it could certainly make the ride a lot easier.


Furnace 508 was a short enough race that we were able to make mistakes and still do well. Our crew consisted of five people.  Two crew members weren’t up to the task but the others made up for it.  One example of a serious mistake was the crew’s neglect in setting up the recovery vehicle for me when I got off my bike at midnight after riding 180 miles up Towns Pass (a category four climb).  The last thing I wanted to do was to clean up the recovery van and make a place for myself to sleep. Did I sleep?  No, I was worried about my teammate.  He was riding at night through Death Valley in a sandstorm that was blowing everyone off the road.  This stage, where we made up all of our time, was 70 miles. It took Guy 7.5 hours.  It was also the stage on which most of the riders quit.  My main concern, however, was if Guy’s crew was looking after him and his nutrition.  Were they?  NO!  This crew failed to supply him with the things he needed.  We were not even half way finished, so something needed to be said.  The crew chief didn’t take it very well when I voiced my concerns. The whole scene threw me out of whack.  I spent the rest of the race having feelings of regret, anger, and anxiety (not to mention I was sleep deprived and tired.)


Things did get better after I spoke out, but not much.  Guy’s crew did start monitoring his nutrition better and supplying him with recovery shakes.  He was the rider for stage eighth and last stage and he finished strong despite the mistakes his crew made.  I did finish with him – during the last stage I got in his crew vehicle and helped crew for him.  We were able to ride together for the last mile, so I got my bike out and put my sore butt on the seat and peddled to the finish line.  Together, we finished Furnace 508 and made it through Death Valley as a great team! Guy and I learned that we do have what it takes to compete in RAAM and have learned what it takes to make up a good crew who will help us to accomplish our goal – to finish RAAM. Wish us luck!

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date: January 24, 2005

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