Why two Wattbikers are taking on Race Across America, and how they trained for it

James Harvey and Tom Allen are two amateur cyclists taking on Race Across America to raise £125,000 for the charity, Prevent Breast Cancer. They are fitting their training regimen around full-time jobs; James is a Consultant Breast Surgeon and Tom is a Charity Manager for a brain charity. The money they raise will pay for a research study of a new form of breast screening, which will include women’s breast density and genetic information as well as mammograms. They expect this form of personalised breast screening to become standard care if they can fund this research study.

Here, James talks us through how indoor training with Wattbikes has helped them to prepare for the notoriously tough race.

“We needed a means of raising £125,000 for our chosen charity, Prevent Breast Cancer. We needed a big project - something we weren’t sure we could achieve, something to inspire charity supporters. We landed on Race Across America,” James says.

But at a distance of more than 3,000 miles, with no rest days, the ‘world’s toughest bicycle race’ is no mean feat. “It’s been 18 months in the making,” says James. “It took a long time to organise. It feels even longer when I think about all the training miles we’ve knocked off. It scared us from the beginning, training as a two-man team to cross America, coast to coast, 3,081 miles in a maximum of nine days.

 “Normally you might get ‘the fear’ that drives your training four to six months before an event, but with this race being so big, we’ve had it for 18 months. This poses a couple of problems, such as staying motivated and consistently managing to maintain five to six  days on the bike.”

Race Across America is a challenge in many ways. The ultra-endurance event is often seen as the pinnacle of athletic ability, riding a distance 30% farther than the Tour de France and climb more than 170,000ft. James says: “Not only is the race super long, but the first 36 hours are spent predominantly in the desert. So there are two training challenges: getting the miles done, and training for the heat intensity.”

“Living and training in the Peak District and Cheshire is awesome for fitness and power but limits your training in the winter,” says James. “We’ve trained over two winters, so indoor training with the Wattbikes and Zwift has been essential in getting us to where we are. I love and hate my indoor trainer in equal measure.” 

“It has been great for increasing my FTP over the winter, for being able to do interval sessions at controlled levels and appropriate power to your own FTP and needs. Being indoors at a high body temperature has also been good for our acclimatisation for desert heats, says James. “Cold, rainy days are pretty much the norm, so on those dark days where it’s too wet or icy to ride outside, the Wattbike indoor trainer set-up comes into its own.” 

As relative newcomers to the world of indoor training, the duo have found time efficiency and fitness the biggest wins. James adds: “I’ve heard it said that indoors trainers don’t get you fit in the same way as riding on the road, I disagree. It just depends on how you use it. I’ve used it for interval training, to increase my FTP so that my cruising pace for RAAM is higher. My FTP has increased from 211W to 285W; 4.7 watts/kg. This is a big difference, believe me! 

“This would not happen without the consistency of training that indoor training can. It’s easy to maintain a busy life at work, get home, see the family, put the kids to bed and then get on the trainer, no matter what the skies are doing outside.” 

“There’s no doubt that indoor training is mentally tough,” says James. “There is no distraction, nothing except your legs telling you they are tired. Every training session that I couldn’t finish was a small knock, but the bigger picture is that you can see your training progress week by week: your FTP gets higher, you can easily hold a higher wattage that you could only hold for seconds a few months before.”

Under the guidance of Ross Mizen at the Manchester Institute of Health & Performance, James and Tom have also trained on Wattbikes in an environmental chamber, to allow the pair to experience a range of altitudes and temperatures. James says: “We’ve been training at increasing temperatures, starting at 28 degrees and, during our final session last week, 42 degrees and 2,500m altitude. The chamber is such an invaluable resource if you are planning a race anywhere hot.”

It’s a stark contrast from home in the Peak District which, as James says, is “never hot”. “Our last big training ride was May Bank Holiday and we had to abandon it due to the cold, 2 degrees and soaked through, we couldn’t feel our hands and feet.”

Aside from all-weather sessions, James and Tom have found the Wattbikes more than just training equipment: “Using the app we can see instant power updates, left/right pedal power distribution and average power. It’s all there on the phone screen in front of you. Those miles can be downloaded to Strava to add to the annual total of training miles, which is important to show our supporters how hard we are training.

“Indoor training hurts. It’s mental torture that will prepare us for mind games of RAAM, but the quality of the training and the sheer amount of information it gives you to track your progress makes it an essential for any training programme.” 

James and Tom will be Racing Across America on 15th June 2019. To follow their progress and read their training and preparation blogs and videos please go to www.raceacrossamericachallenge.com, follow James @nwbreastsurgeon on Twitter and keep up to date with the boys on facebook