First Timer Preparations for the Trans Am Bike Race

Alaina Beacall is training for her first attempt at the Trans Am Bike Race

Each year we try to come up with new and exciting cycling challenges to set ourselves as a means of both motivation and accomplishment. For Alaina Beacall, it’s the Trans Am Bike Race.

This isn’t just any race though, it’s a self-supported ultra distance event that takes each rider right across America, through ten states covering over 4,300 miles. Each year only a handful of women register, but that doesn’t mean to say they don’t fair well. In 2016, Lael Wilcox beat everyone in the Trans Am Bike Race and made a two-hour lead on Steffen Streich who came in second.

Another woman to not shy away from racking up some epic miles is Emily Chappell of the Adventure Syndicate who famously smashed everyone in the Transcontinental Bike Race also back in 2016.

Following in their tyre tracks is Alaina who started commuting by bicycle back in 2015. Soon after, her daily commute became a hobby as she became more involved with cycling challenges, the first of which was cycling LEJOG in 14 days back in 2016. It was this journey that would ignite her passion for endurance cycling.

Alaina’s passion for endurance cycling took her to Norway

Upon returning [from LEJOG], I just had to plan something else, but bigger. Seven months later I found myself in Nordkapp in the Norwegian Arctic (the most northern point of Europe), with a plan to ride 100 miles per day until I hit the Croatian coast. I did this self-supported and solo, camping along the way. 5,137 miles later my trip was complete, and I managed to raise over £5,500 for a Syrian aid charity.”

With both LEJOG and her European adventure safely tucked under her belt, Alaina turned her focus on the next challenge as she says; “My crazy best friend actually suggested that I enter the Trans Am Bike Race, and after initially dismissing it, I realised it would be the next natural step up.”

“Long distance riding has taught me, and hopefully shown others that our predefined limits are nonsense: it is amazing what our bodies and minds can achieve, if we just believe it, and give it a go!”

Now, it’s not just the race aspect or the distance aspect that makes the Trans Am Bike Race so daunting, it’s the long and lonesome hours spent pedalling whilst knowing there’s no service or support vehicles to act as a safety net. So how’s Alaina preparing mentally for that? – “Fortunately, I think my mental resilience is my strongest attribute, and so for me, the key in this will be training my body to physically match up to what my mind expects of it.”

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And the physical preparation…

I’m now getting used to my plan of at least two 100+ mile rides per week, and interspersing this with excuses to do long multi-day trips.

For example, I had some time in the Highlands with my mountaineering club last week, so I cycled the 450 miles there in 4 days. My main concern is my lack of speed and power, and so I have started speaking to James Roberts coaching in Warrington, and have been given a structured plan of interval and even weight sessions. The quicker I can cover my intended mileage per day, the more time I will get to sleep and recover. Hopefully, I can get faster, fast!

But most importantly, the bike…

I will be riding a beautiful bespoke titanium bike called the ‘MPA’ by Vaaru Cycles, based in Bognor Regis.

I’ve chosen titanium for its lightweight yet durable qualities, and have gone with hydraulic disc brakes. On my Arctic-to-the-Med trip, I used calliper brakes and suffered swollen painful thumb joints from the more forceful braking required over thousands of miles with weight. The bike will also have a dynamo hub so that I will have continuous access to electricity: this will be necessary if I end up sleeping in a bivvy bag wherever I can, and cannot charge up my lights, phone and satnav.”

“It is not just the physical challenge of the miles in these events, it’s the psychological game of keeping going in difficult weather, terrain, through the night, and relentless hours alone.”

With the Trans Am Bike Race being what it is, I wondered what Alaina hopes to achieve from taking part…

To stretch my mental fortitude even further, and again realise what is capable of being achieved.

It is not just the physical challenge of the miles in these events, it’s the psychological game of keeping going in difficult weather, terrain, through the night, and relentless hours alone. It is also the survival instinct required when faced with problems, such as mechanical issues, refuelling, and health complaints.

It really is an all-encompassing sport and challenge. I hope to achieve an average of 160-170 miles a day, hitting the coast of Virginia around 26 days later: stretched to my limit, but having learned more lessons than ever before in my life.

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Another facet is that I have chosen to support a local charity for asylum seekers and refugees. Asylum Link not only provides daily food and clothing but offer social activities, friendship and the chance for community integration. I hope that with what I am doing, I can raise their profile and help support their amazing work. My blog and donation link can be accessed here.

Alaina all set with her custom titanium bicycle

What’s Alaina most excited for?

Nothing beats the feeling of being alone on the road, seeing the sunrise and set, across ever changing stunning landscapes. It is an inexplicable feeling of freedom. I cannot wait to experience this again, and particularly through Yellowstone and the Grand Teton National Parks, but with the added adrenalin-edge of racing.”

And what is Alaina most nervous about?

Probably covering the daily distance in enough time, as I don’t function well on minimal sleep: so this could be a potential issue. Hence why I really need to work on my speed. I also fear the time it will take if I have any major mechanical issues, as the clock never stops.”

The 2018 Trans Am Bike Race route

And if you’re thinking of getting into ultra-distance cycling, here’s some helpful pieces of advice from Alaina…

You have to love riding your bike for extremely long periods of time, in all weather conditions. But also listen to your body, as serious distance can take its toll in terms of physical exhaustion and calorie depletion, but also injuries.

In general, just get out there and do regular long rides, interspersed with some speed-work, and try to ride with more experienced people as you can learn a lot. Join these with the belief that you can achieve whatever you want, and I feel anyone can do ultra-distance events

TWC wishes Alaina the very best of luck in this year’s Trans Am Bike Race. To follow her progress and donate to her chosen charity, head over to her website here

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