Interview with Jill Gass, Team Kalyra RAAM Team


We caught up with Jill Gass who recently competed in the Race Across America (RAAM) for Team Kalyra. The four women team (Jill Gass, Avalon Jenkins-Balker, Lisa Tonello, and Sonia Ross) raced across the country from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland with help from an incredible 16-member support crew. Team Kalyra competed the RAAM in just 7 days and set a new Master’s Women’s Transcontinental Record in the process. It takes a special kind of rider who is willing to race across the country with very little sleep for a week. Jill gives us some insight on what the RAAM experience is like.

SoCalCycling.com:  First off, congratulations on setting a new Master’s Women’s Transcontinental Record! What were the the highlights of competing in this years RAAM for Team Kalyra?

Jill Gass: The highlight would have to be setting a new Master’s Women’s Transcontinental Record. After 7 amazing days, rolling into Annapolis and seeing our entire crew and family members is one of the most overwhelming experiences of a lifetime.  And then there is the experience of really seeing our beautiful country in a most intimate way.

SoCalCycling.com:  Did everything run smoothly or did you run into any unforeseen circumstances along the way?

Jill Gass: I think you have to expect the unexpected in an epic event like RAAM.  We spent many hours planning the logistics, studying the course, discussing what we would do “if____happens” and there are still some surprises along the way.  We ended up having to deal with some mechanical issues with the vans (can you say electrical overload?), a wicked storm (another electrical overload) in Kansas that had us hunkered down for about an hour, and some last minute detour and route changes that probably cost a few hours.  The crew rose to every occasion to keep the wheels rolling.

SoCalCycling.com:  Did anyone (riders or crew) ever have a moment where they just wanted to quit and how do you push through that?

Jill Gass: In the beginning we warn that at some point everyone, riders and crew, has a meltdown.  As long as it doesn’t happen simultaneously we are good.  Three of the riders and nine of the crew had RAAM experience and so had an idea of what to expect and that ultimately gives confidence to the rookies.  Everyone is required to bring a personal credit card in case they need to make an early exit-so far no takers.

SoCalCycling.com:  What was your favorite part of the country to ride through? And conversely, what was the worst part of the country to ride through?

Jill Gass: My personal favorites this year was sunrise in Monument Valley Utah and riding the “rollers” of West Virginia.  It is hard to describe our morning in Utah-the intensity of the colors, the beauty of the rock formations-felt like a spiritual experience.  West Virginia offers up some of the most challenging climbing of the race along densely green back roads-I think this is where we saw the most wildlife (or I was hallucinating??).  Kansas is tough…..17 hrs of headwinds before the storm.  That is one wide state.

SoCalCycling.com:  How did you keep yourselves entertained over the week when you weren’t riding?

Jill Gass: Not sure if it is entertaining, but eating, and sleeping were our primary activities when we were not on the bike.  And of course our crew kept us mostly laughing.

SoCalCycling.com:  What was a typical day was like during RAAM?

Jill Gass: A typical day can be described as “NASCAR on bikes”.  Imagine a rider and equipment change every 15 minutes 24/7, for 7 days.  The riders split into two teams of two with one team racing in a leapfrog relay style exchanging every 15 min.  The other two riders are resting while being driven 1.5-2 hrs up the road to a team transition spot. The crew meanwhile is driving, navigating, jumping in and out of the vans to prepare for exchanges, buying food, doing laundry, getting gas, troubleshooting, etc, etc.  I guess there is no real “typical” day.

SoCalCycling.com:  What types of food do you eat on and off the bike and how many calories were you burning per day?

Jill Gass: Individually the riders burned about 6-8,000 cal/day.  It might sound like fun to replace, but is actually a major challenge as eating becomes a real effort after the first 24-48 hrs.  This year we combined solid and liquid nutrition and that seemed to work well.  Edie, our local pro chef prepared coolers full of egg/bean burritos, mashed sweet potatoes, shepherds pie, and flavored rice-everything with plenty of salt and butter (the AHA would NOT give stamp of approval).  We also ate plenty of PBJ, turkey and cheese, cups of soup, mac and cheese.  Generally high calorie, easy to swallow.  We used electrolyte and recovery products from Generation UCAN on and off the bike. Oh yea, then of course there was the caffeine…….good thing we were sponsored by Green Star Coffee.

SoCalCycling.com:  It’s really important to have a great crew in RAAM, what are some of the duties or helpful things that your crew did that helped Team Kalyra achieve success during RAAM?

Jill Gass: Our crew was amazing!  They are the true heroes of our effort.  After all, the riders only had to ride their bikes.  We had sixteen crew members, all volunteers, who joined us in this crazy adventure. They were involved in the logistics, communication, and fundraising planning for months prior to the event.  During the race they drove the follow vehicle just feet behind the rider. They navigated using the route book and computer mapping.  They took care of the riders every need with smiles.  They got us to Annapolis safely, in record time, and without a single penalty.

SoCalCycling.com:  How did you train for RAAM?

Jill Gass: Bike training is not so different than normal training for a typical racing season. Dotsie Bausch helped us develop our training plan-she raced the 24 hr event in 2008 and knew from experience what we needed.  We added longer endurance riding during the winter, and of course, did plenty of 15 min TT intervals during the spring. The biggest difference this year was consistent off the bike strengthening prep-twice a week at Platinum Fitness with Coach Frazer.  We also incorporated a program called Foundation Roots, that focuses on postural stability-made that aero position comfortable for days.

SoCalCycling.com:  How many hours of sleep did you average per day during RAAM?

Jill Gass: Not sure our total hours but would be the sum of many 10-45 minute naps. We only had about 1.5-2 hrs between our team transitions and some of that time was spent changing clothes, cleaning up, eating, etc. leaving only minutes to get some shut eye. Interestingly, after a couple days a 15 min nap would feel like 5 hrs.  The crew were able to get longer sleep shifts of 2-6 hrs.

SoCalCycling.com:  How long does it take to recover from doing the RAAM?

Jill Gass: Not there yet……..but a month is a good estimate-for our team anyway.  The solo riders probably have a different story!

SoCalCycling.com:  Will Team Kalyra do the RAAM in 2011? If so, what will you do different and what are your goals?

Jill Gass: 2011 is not on the calendar, although I have heard some rumblings of racing interest from some of our crew.  Maybe my turn to crew…..

SoCalCycling.com:  You rode to raise earn funds for Girls, Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara, who inspires girls. How did your fundraising efforts go and how can people still donate if they’d like?

Jill Gass: Our community has been extremely generous and we are still taking donations on behalf of our effort at teamkalyra.com.  The funds will go towards programs that inspire girls to be strong, smart, and bold.  We are also compiling our thousands of pictures and video for future presentation-really tells the whole story!

SoCalCycling.com: Thanks for your time Jill and congrats to Team Kalyra on an awesome ride! Check out teamkalyra.com for more great photos and RAAM updates from this inspiring journey.

Interview by Christy Nicholson, SoCalCycling.com