PEZ Talk: The Veloroos!
Who are The Veloroos? Well they are the first Australian, all female team, to take part in the brutal Race Across America the 3000 mile (4828km) non-stop race from the west to east coast of the U.S.A. With the big race starting on 20th June we thought we’d check in now with the girls to hear about their preparation, hopes and fears as their date with destiny approaches…
The Veloroos consist of 3 RAAM Newbies, Julie-Anne Hazlett, Natasha Horne, Nicole Stanners and the only former RAAM’er Sarah Matthews who competed in last year’s event in a mixed team and finished 2nd in her category.
PEZ: Thanks for taking the time for a chat Veloroos. How did the four of you get together?
JA: We all met through triathlon. Sarah and I are in the same tri club in Sydney, the Coogee Triathlon Club. Tash and I met last year after Cairns 70.3 and trained together for the Ironman 70.3 World Champs in Mont Tremblant, Canada and Nic and I have raced head to head in a few triathlons as we’re in the same age group so we’d gotten to know each other from that.
SM: Yep, I know Julie-Anne through the Coogee Triathlon club so I initially approached her with the RAAM idea. She then knew Natasha and Nicole so she reached out to them.
PEZ: Why did you choose to do RAAM together?
SM: Last year the women’s team event was the most hotly contested with the leading 2 teams switching leads right across America! I thought it would be an amazing opportunity to throw an Australian team into the mix – especially being the first ever Australian female team to do the race. Last year JA had expressed an interest and not only is she a super strong rider but she also has a wide circle of cycling friends which is how she knew Natasha and Nicole.
I approached her and she found the other two – perfect! We are all triathletes and all live locally in Eastern Sydney which has made things easier from a logistical view point. It has been great to meet regularly for interviews, training and team meetings
NS: Julie-Anne asked so I said yes! Seriously, I had never heard of it before. Julie-Anne asked me, telling me one of the girls had done it before, so I thought I can do that too and what an experience of a lifetime it will be!
PEZ: Sarah I know that you did it last year in a mixed team – how did you convince the other girls to join you this year – or was it a case of them convincing you?
SM: Ha ha it was definitely a case of me having the initial idea but they weren’t hard to convince. We all see it as a great opportunity.
NH: In my case it was JA who convinced me to join this year….. I didn’t know what I was in for when I said yes but I’m glad I did!
PEZ: Hearing Sarah’s stories, watching documentaries of the event on the internet and reading up about the race – are you getting more excited, nervous or both as the event approaches?
SM: I’m getting more nervous as the time approaches as we have invested so much time, energy and money into this so we all want to do our best.
NH: There’s a mixture of emotions but I think excitement takes first place. It’s an experience not many can talk about and I think the preparation and race will be something we’ll talk about for years.
NS: Well I’d never actually heard of RAAM before, but I thought I can do that…I’ve done an ironman or two, I will be fine. It wasn’t until I started reading books, articles and watching film clips that I started to understand what a massive undertaking it is. More recently I have used the same method I do in other endurance races. I have broken down each day to think about how much riding that is and what I do in training, so it makes it seem much more achievable. So now with 6 weeks to go I am just excited.
I have to say, I am happy I am doing it in a team and not the solo event. Solo would be tough. A team is not only less taxing, but will also be so much fun with 4 riders and 12 crew!
JA: I definitely have a mixture of emotions. I’m super excited about the experience and what I’ll learn about myself during the race however I’m also nervous about the lack of sleep and some of the other challenges that we will have to face.
PEZ: Between work schedules, family & social lives – and terrible weather in Sydney of late how is your training going? Do you get together often to train as a team or is it more individually based?
JA: It is really tough managing work, family, friends etc. We do a mixture of individual training and training together. As we move in to the last 6 weeks, we will spend a lot more time together working on team dynamics and getting to know each other even better. This is just as important as the physical preparation as 6 days in with not enough sleep will bring out the worst in people, so we need to know each other well.
Thankfully Indoor trainer software has come a long way and with all the bad weather we’ve had in Sydney recently we’ve been doing quite a bit of that. Luckily we’re able to ride courses, do interval sessions and race each other so we can also make it fun.
PEZ: What sort of miles are you pumping out in an average week? Are you mixing in any other long distance events and/or nocturnal events before the RAAM?
NH: We’re riding approximately 500-600km (300-400 miles) per week mixing it up between endurance rides, interval training, hills, night rides and indoor training sessions at Turbo Studio. As we’re all triathletes we also try to do some swimming and running if we can. We’ve also done a number of different long distance events in the last 6 months – Sarah did an ironman and Nic and JA both did half ironman races.
Some of us have also done some recent cycling events like the 3 Peaks Challenge (235km and 4.4km of climbing), The Alpine classic (200k and 5.5km climbing) and the Sea to Summit to sea (450k over 2 days and 9km climbing).
PEZ: Our ToolBox contributor John Howard was a racer in the inaugural RAAM back in ’82 when there was only 4 competitors but now in 2015 you’re racing as a 4 woman team. How do the rules work for the team’s race? How many of you must ride at the same time? Are there any distance or time restrictions for each team competitor?
JA: The rules state that there must be at least one rider on the road at any given time. There is no limit to distance or time but we want to maximise our efforts so it will be short, sharp bursts for us unless something happens and we need to change our rotation plan.
PEZ: What is your expected schedule? Any average speed goals that you would like to achieve?
JA: We’ll be riding 24/7 with the 24 hours split into 6 hour blocks and we’re hoping to cover the distance in 7 days. The weather conditions will have a huge impact on this though as storms or strong head winds could delay us significantly. We will be open to mixing riders and lengths up depending on terrain, individual strengths, how each of us is feeling. This will be decided by ourselves and the crew chief.
PEZ: You all have a solid background in endurance and competitive sports but surely this will be the pinnacle of your athletic careers – a good finish at RAAM?
SM: Yes absolutely- though I’ve done it before in a mixed team it will be great to complete it on the first all-female team from Australia.
JA: Yes absolutely. I’ve raced in the ITU and Ironman 70.3 World Championships over the last few years but this will be something very different and as cycling is my strongest leg in triathlon this will be the ultimate challenge.
NS: The pinnacle for me so far has been finishing the Hawaiian Ironman for the first time. I expect this to be on par with that, but for entirely different reasons. I had to pinch myself the whole time in Hawaii to believe I was actually competing in something that I had watched since I was a small child and always seemed so unattainable. I think RAAM will be a pinnacle because I don’t think I will ever test my body like this ever again.
NH: I started my endurance sport career with adventure racing in 2008 but soon switched to road running and ran 7 marathons between 2010 and 2014. It was only after the 2012 NYC marathon was cancelled that I bought a road bike and started triathlon where I qualified for both the sprint and 70.3 World Championships. RAAM will certainly be the pinnacle of my cycling career.
PEZ: Putting together a team and travelling 1/2 way around the world to compete in any event is difficult but I can only imagine the logistics involved for the RAAM as you travel across the world first and then across an entire foreign country on bike. What’s involved in your effort – Four riders but how many crew members to support you?
JA: Ideally we’d like to have 12 crew members but currently we have 11; 8 of whom are in Australia (6 in Sydney, 1 in Brisbane and 1 in Bathurst), 2 in the USA and 1 in Brazil – it is a massive logistical process that involves getting all the gear over to the USA, hiring the RV and 2 support vehicles, fitting them out, sourcing things we need during the trip along the way and then getting everything back. We have an amazing team and for a group of individuals to donate their time to support us on our quest is truly fabulous.
The organisation, the cost and the commitment involved are not to be underestimated. We have fallen into a rhythm of taking on responsibilities on behalf of the team that we are either naturally good at or passionate about. Every rider and crew member is giving 110% to make this happen. It would be great if we could get some financial sponsorship to help with the costs but at the moment the 4 riders are funding most of it.
PEZ: What bikes will you be riding? Any modifications from a standard rig?
NS: We will all have two bikes in fact, a Cervelo road bike for the hills and uneven terrain and a Time Trial Bike for flats. We all have Cervelo S5 Road bikes and I have a Cervelo P3 Time Trial bike.
NH: I’m on a Cervelo P3 Time Trial bike and a Cervelo S5 road bike. No real changes, just trying to find a saddle that will get me all the way across the USA without causing too many pains in the backside.
PEZ: RAAM has grown into not just an incredible athletic achievement race but is also a huge driver for charity. Who are the Veloroos supporting and how can readers get behind your cause?
JA: The ability to use this platform for two great causes is really important to us so we’ve chosen Tour De Cure, the ride to cure cancer through prevention, research and support, and the Amy Gillett Foundation, which aims to improve cycling safety and awareness. As we all have been touched by cancer and spend a lot of time out in the sun and on the roads both charities have significant meaning for us all.
People push themselves to the limits every day, most because they have no other choice. We’re hoping to inspire others to be part of the solution for those people. Whether it’s supporting from the sidelines, a few coins in a bucket, or sharing our message we hope to raise enough money for these charities to help make a difference.
PEZ: I saw that you recently hosted an evening with Jens Voigt to raise some funds. He’s a pretty crazy guy but I’m betting he thought you guys were even crazier?
NH: Jens Voigt is the most down to earth pro cyclist I have ever met. He treated us like fellow riders and was in awe of the effort we have put into our preparation. And yes, he thinks we are crazy… but in a good crazy kind of way!
JA: He was amazing. Such a down to earth, charismatic and truly talented cyclist. It was great having him over here in Sydney and getting to chat to him about his experiences.
NS: Jens is not only an amazing athlete, but such a charismatic, down to earth person that is so giving of his time. He did think we were pretty amazing for tackling the race, but what we found really useful were some of his insights into how he pushed through the pain. He looks at other people and says things to himself like “they have to be hurting as much as me”, “if that person can do this, I can”. I thought that reframe was a really nice technique for me to take away anyway.
PEZ: Did he give you any tips or famous one liners to repeat during the race?
JA: His well-known phrase, Shut up legs! We might need to say that once or twice during the race. He also suggested we think of loved ones and the reason why we are doing RAAM when things get tough…. And they will get tough. Listen to our bodies and have fun on this incredible adventure!
PEZ: Any final words to PEZ fans that might live somewhere on the route or who would like to follow you online?
NH: The Veloroos will be reporting on their progress through social media. The best way to follow our journey will be on our Facebook page. The RAAM website will also have live tracking so there is a way to see how we are doing versus the other female teams. To those who live close by, come and say Hi. We’d love to catch up with as many people as possible. We also have a couple of limited edition, signed posters of Jens Voigt that we are selling to help with our fundraising so get in touch if you are interested.
SM: We would love any support from PEZ fans so please come and like us on facebook or better still get out on the road, wave a blow up kangaroo or a sign: last year my brother and dad popped up in the Rockies to cheer us on for a day and it was amazing to have that support.
NS: Check us out on www.theveloroos.com to find out more about us, track us or help the cause. We’re pretty sure the tracking part will be very entertaining!
So there you have it, the Veloroos. Four ladies who will be making history this June as the first all Australian, all female team to tackle the RAAM. Make sure you get behind them on their facebook page and more as they pedal for a worthy cause – and maybe a podium spot at the finishline? We’ll be following them closely here at PEZ.