Guest blog post from Matt Hoffmann RAAM Crew Chief, Robert Panzera from CCSD.
Over the years, I’ve seen tenacity and commitment in athletes ranging from “all-in” to absolutely possessed, but I have never witnessed an effort more consuming than watching Matt Hoffmann complete 2015 Race Across America (RAAM) solo at his first attempt over the past 11 days. When Matt asked me to crew chief for him for his 2014 attempt at Race Across the West (RAW), I signed on after thinking about it for a bit, because he seemed very interested and committed. It was a step away from his usual racing style of criteriums and track racing, but he had that look in his eye that said, “I really want to give this a go!” For me, that is enough to put my backing behind someone. If someone really wants to try something out of bounds, and they are really committed, then it’s my feeling that as a colleague and/or a friend that you have to step up and be committed to help.
His RAW 2014 went off really well. He finished his first attempt at an ultra-cycling race covering the 880+ miles in 73 odd hours, which was well within the 92-hour cutoff. A tremendous effort considering that Matt’s training miles barely topped 250 miles for his longest ride. He completed it on sheer will and tenacity, as I later found out that he was “suffering” even between the first two time stations and barely out past Brawley into the Sonoran Desert. I though to myself, “Wow!” Even though it was not the training and preparation path that I would take, he was able to make it work and work very well.
When Matt was offered a full sponsorship and thus an opportunity to go for 2015 RAAM solo, via title sponsor Equal Earth, he asked me to join ranks with him again in the same crew chief role. I figured again, if he is really committed and we have a sponsor that wants to do it right, then how can I say no? It seemed destined to be, so we set out in making the 3000+ mile trans-continental solo crossing a reality. Luckily San Diego is ripe with ultra-distance cycling gurus in the form of former and current crew chiefs, racers, crew, and ultra-endurance illuminati. I did my best to tap into those resources and hone my game from previous experiences either being on crew, crew chiefing, or watching other crews during races. This would be no easy feat at the first run—and likely only run—so we had to bring our A-game. Matt set out to prepare his body and mind for the feat, while I worked on the nuts and bolts of logistics.
As RAAM approached, Matt’s goal of finishing in 10 days (out of the allotted 12 day cutoff) seemed a bit daunting, but we were committed. We focused on breaking the race into chunks. Making the first time cut in Durango at 81 hours without having to press the pace. Making the second time cut at the Mississippi in 192 hours being that it would be longest Matt has ever raced. Making it through the Appalachians unscathed. Then, if things were going very well, thinking about Matt’s overall place and time, and giving true racing a go. Someone mentioned to me that the real racing actually begins after the Appalachians for all but the Top 5 contenders.
While all of us around Matt were truly invested in the buildup, the sense of adventure, the journey, and also the cause he was championing, San Diego VeloYouth, we knew deep inside that anything short of finishing would be a major disappointment for him personally. This pressure was tremendous for Matt, as he felt that he would be letting everyone down if he did not make it to the finish in Annapolis. I think anyone reading this blog will probably agree that it wasn’t important for us, as spectators, that Matt make Annapolis as long as he gave it his best. We just wanted to be part of his adventure, and that was more than enough.
Things were going swimmingly through most of RAAM. Based on what I was told and read though, no RAAM racer makes it through on a song and unscathed. Somewhere in Indiana the wheels started to come off the truck a bit. Maybe it was the realization that the 10 day goal was probably out of reach, or the thought that “some guys can race this and I can’t right now,” or maybe it was the realization that if he didn’t finish no one would really be upset so it was up to him and him alone to make the decision to continue, but Matt definitely had a few hard moments. A rough day went by at the end of which we provided Matt with a few more hours rest than the normal allotted two hours (30 minutes to eat and wind-down and 1.5 hours to sleep). We hoped a longer 4-hour break would give him some breathing room, a chance to regroup, and hopefully a bit of clarity for his sleep deprived mind.
When Matt awoke to get on his bike and after some introspection, I saw the true hard man come out; another level of hard man. It was no longer about how much physical pain he could endure, and I’m here writing to express that Matt can withstand a tremendous amount of physical pain. I won’t go into the gory details, but you must trust me when I write that the things happening physically to Matt would leave most of us quitting and checking into urgent care. The race for Matt became more about how much psychological pain and emotional pain Matt could withstand. It became apparent to me over the last 3 days that Matt’s capacity for that even more severe, cutting, and scarring pain is even more tremendous. Matt knew that to get to the finish that all those things that carried him over the 9-month buildup to the start of RAAM and through the first 2500 miles, were no longer foundations he could rely on. The Equal Earth sponsorship, the cheers from the kids of SD VeloYouth, the old and new friendships, the industry colleagues in his corner, the hoorays from social media, and his dedicated crew could no longer help him carry the load that was finishing RAAM. It came down to Matt and Matt’s desire alone to finish that would drag him through those sleep-deprived, emotionally charged, and psychologically painful turns of the pedal. It was truly a personal battle and a battle that only he could fight and win.
Matt dug deep and finished strong. He maintained his excellent rookie position in a field where 50% dropped out. He pushed himself, dragged himself, and willed himself though torrential rain, detours around flooded bridges, crashes on slick descents, and up and over steep pitches of the Appalachian chain to be one of the few who attempted solo RAAM on the first go and completed it.
Chapeau, Mr Matt Hoffmann. You impressed me from the gun at solo RAW 2014 and you impressed me right until you were being interviewed on that finisher’s stage at the end of solo RAAM 2015. SD VeloYouth is lucky to have you as a mentor and a coach, and those kids will look back on your tenacity to achieve great things that would not have been possible. You could have caved on the road to Annapolis, but you didn’t. You truly are one of the hardest men of the sport of cycling and you achieved status as LEGEND.
Many thanks to the on-the-road crew:
Special thanks to the Mission Control crew, who helped us from afar:
Big thanks to:
Tanya Landry and Maryclare Boyle for enduring support and organizing the finish line.
Andrew Duggan, who without his interest, backing, and financial support, Matt Hoffmann RAAM would not have been a reality.
Plus, thanks to all of you along the way who pitched in time, advice, equipment, etc. to keep the wheels turning to Annapolis.