Seana Hogan is a record-breaking long-distance cyclist. And a bona fide extremist.
On Tuesday at noon, she set off for her latest adventure, starting at Oceanside in Southern California and pointing her bike east, headed for scorching deserts, elevations as high as 10,000 feet and inevitable wind, rain and darkness on her way to the finish in Annapolis, Md.
Hogan will pedal along desolate highways in the wee hours. She’ll battle fatigue, soreness, pain. Night after night, when you’re winding down for bed, she’ll still be riding as one of five women in Race Across America.
Billed as the toughest bicycle race in the world, RAAM, as it is commonly called, is not for normal cycling enthusiasts, or even those who thrive on pushing their bodies to the limits. RAAM is harder and crazier than all that.
56Seana Hogan’s age, considered old for a champion athlete
Asked why she does it, Hogan said with a chuckle, “Why not?” She gets to be an athlete and an adventurer. She’s exceptionally good at it. She gets to see the country and marvel at the scenery. She’ll bond with her support crew. And so much more.
“RAAM is like cramming all of the emotions of a lifetime during the race. You have the highest highs and the lowest lows along the way, and it’s not all bad,” added Hogan, an IBM software engineer.
Hogan, who lives in Stockton and has a master’s degree in mathematics, has compiled all kinds of noteworthy numbers in her lengthy career. She has won the women’s division of RAAM a record six times. She once rode from Seattle to San Diego (for motorists on Interstate 5, that’s 1,255 miles) in three days, 16 hours and five minutes – a record for men and women. In 24 hours on a track, she rode 445.78 miles. RAAM is more than 3,000 miles long and takes about 10 days to complete.
But the biggest number this year is 56 – her age. That’s considered old for a champion athlete in almost any sport. But Hogan and many of her admirers believe her experience, savvy and fitness mean she is still a formidable competitor.
“She’s an amazing endurance athlete. She’s got a good, strong will, which is a big part of it,” said John Howard, her coach and one of the founders of RAAM in 1982. “Seana is a classic slow-twitch athlete. She is better at it than most of her other competitors because she can draw off her amazing level of experience.”
“She is the only six-time winner of Race Across America. During her heyday one year, she finished third overall, including the men,” said Vic Armijo, a photojournalist who has covered RAAM for years.
Hogan has a special incentive this year. She had badly injured her knee playing with her large dogs and thought her racing days were over. But last summer an unusual procedure she had done in San Ramon used her own stem cells to repair the knee and enable her to ride at full strength in no time.
Hogan says she has been aiming to tackle RAAM again for the past two years. The training for such an event can be staggering. Hogan’s long rides are 200 and 400 miles.
She rides a standard road racing bike equipped with aero bars that allow her to rest her elbows on padded supports and extend her arms forward for both comfort and aerodynamics. She uses exceptionally large gearing, including a 57-tooth chainring that lets her maintain a high speed with a relatively low pedaling revolutions-per-minute ratio.
On a typical flat road without wind, Hogan says she’ll ride about 20 mph, on and on and on. To fuel her body, she has a carefully planned liquid diet with a balance of protein and carbohydrates.
“I call it the 10-10-10 diet,” she quipped. “Lose 10 pounds in 10 days on 10,000 calories a day.”
To be competitive, riders typically sleep no more than two or three hours a day.
“There are a lot of crazy things that go through your mind when you’re riding that long and haven’t slept in a while,” she said. “My favorite part of the race is Monument Valley, Ariz. You just realize how small you are by the vastness of the desert and the intensity of the heat – just the hugeness of God and the universe. I love that feeling – things that the human mind cannot comprehend.”
Race Across America
- The race traces its origins to a 1982 ride by four athletes who went from Santa Monica to the Empire State Building. This year, it crosses 12 states and has four categories: solo, two-, four- and eight-person relay teams.
- For live coverage of the race, go to www.ridefarther.com