Cardiff Met Staff and Students Celebrate Race Across America Cycling Success

Eight wounded, injured and sick ex-servicemen have beaten their own target of completing 3,081 miles across America in six and a half days in a gruelling 35-year-old endurance race.

The four upright cyclists, three hand cyclists and a single recumbent cyclist had an initial goal of less than seven days to conquer the Race Across America (RAAM) route from the West to East coast of America, but completed the task in 6 days 12 hours 36 minutes, which is a little over six and a half days. They have raised £30,721 to date for Help for Heroes.

The route covered the States of California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland – elements of the support crew also crossed into New Mexico for a very short time. 

The Help for Heroes (H4H) Team, which was assisted in training and supported by Dr Paul Smith, Cardiff School of Sport’s Programme Director of Sport and Exercise Science, Jonpaul Nevin and MSc Sport and Exercise Science student Alex Hunt; had to complete an additional 63 miles of a revised route, because of several late road traffic diversions.

Having initially climbed over the Sierra Nevada mountain range the Team descended the Glass Elevator and dropped into the desert, contending with temperatures of up to 112 degrees F for a couple of days. 

The Team rode 24/7 and the nightshift was much cooler but equally treacherous, although the spectacular views of the Milky Way made up for a great deal of hardship experienced. 

A highlight of the trip for Dr Paul Smith and the four riders he supported throughout the RAAM was entering Monument Valley, Utah at dawn. 

He said: “When I was part of a team that completed the RAAM in 2012, I was part of the support crew which leapfrogged 120-150 miles every few hours. We did that 27 times back in 2012, which meant we didn’t get to see much of the country. 

“This time I was given the role of direct follow support of cyclists, which required stints of 10-12 hr driving. During daylight hours it wasn’t too bad as we were able to leapfrog our riders and leave them to their own devices. However, at night, RAAM rules state that a rider must remain within your headlights – if you’re caught with the rider out of your headlights it would result in an instant disqualification of the entire Team, so absolute concentration is required, especially when one of the riders is determined to descend at 50 mph plus whenever possible. A highlight was definitely journeying through Monument Valley as the sun rose – dark, solid shapes of stone forms soon turned into spectacular, colourful edifices.”

The team climbed more than 190,000 feet as well as cycling and maintained an average velocity of a little over 20 mph, which is an incredible achievement.

Paul added: “I’ve been lucky enough to be part of RAAM, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, twice! Some of the riders are already thinking about doing the RAAM again; some as an eight man, or four man or solo format. 

“We learnt a great deal more about the physical demands and logistics of this endurance challenge, and I’m sure that if we did it for a third time, we could take another chunk off the finishing time. The best time posted by an eight man team is five days, five hours and three minutes by Team Allied forces in 2013 – it would be extremely difficult to achieve that time, but with the right Team members and adequate budget to purchase the right equipment and attract the necessary scientific support, who knows where the limits could be pushed?”

Paul and the H4HRAAM2017 Team hope challenges and achievements like this will inspire others to engage or re-engage with physical activity. 

In conjunction with colleagues from Cardiff Met’s School of Health Sciences, Paul, who is based at the School of Sport and collaborators from Help for Heroes will shortly embark on a multidimensional research project to evaluate how regular physical activity positively impacts upon mental health, physical characteristics and fitness levels in a group of veterans within the Welsh Convergence Area.

Once again, Help for Heroes provided financial support for the eight riders and 17 support crew members to compete in RAAM2017, and the team is raising money for this prominent charity. If you would like to make a donation please visit: 
www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Paul-M-Smith1