Stacey Eccles is one half of the dynamic duo, "Just Sweat No Tears" with co-cyclist Brian Welsh, that has chosen to participate in this year's Race Across America (RAAM). It's an annual bike ride that you can participate in solo or with a team.
The cyclists start in Oceanside, California, and end it in Annapolis, Maryland. One has to bike through extreme heat, rain, snow, sleet, hail and whatever else mother nature chooses to throw at them on any given day. "Just Sweat No Tears" is RAAM's first British Mixed pair to participate. They are both extremely active individuals, who hold titles and impressive records in the cycling events they enter.
Stacey EcclesBrian Welsh and Stacey Eccles
It was an honor to interview Stacey. She is a remarkable woman for taking on a challenge of this magnitude.
Q / How long have the two of you been training together?
Just a couple of years. I contacted Brian as I wanted a coach because I was tired of planning my own sessions and it seemed I was spending more time planning them than doing them, especially the bike rides and planning where to go. I didn't understand the structure of the club sessions so I wanted to know what I was doing, how it all built up and have something I was aiming at.
I had moved from no sport, to getting fitter, to building my mileage up and now needed to take the next step of improving. I was living in Denmark so Brian coached me from afar. He would see me when I came back to the UK to train or race.
I chose Brian as his CV read well and had an amazing emphasis on cycling. I LOVE cycling and just want to be good at it. No, I have no definition of what "good" is, as the boundaries keep moving.
We then did more and more together and the boundaries started being pushed. Brian was planning an Ironman (Lanzerote) and I asked if I could do one. "Sure", he said, but tried to find an easier one for me. Thankfully they were sold out and when he said I could watch him, it was a case of "No, can I do it?", so, we began training for that.
Going from an Olympic distance to Ironman was an incredible journey and had lots of tears and learning about how far the body can go, yet, how fragile it is and how much it needs looking after, from nutrition to rest to fitness and so much more.
Brian wanted to do PBP too and asked if I wanted to do it. "Yes, sounds good," was the answer. I knew nothing about it but trusted Brian implicitly. We then started doing the Audax and learned so much about each other on those rides and once the distances went up.
We went through times when one was down the other would be the strong one, and then we would switch when necessary. Again, it was an incredible and very special journey.
We encountered the infamous "sleep monsters" on Black Mountain, late at night on the 400km Audax and that was a new experience. We were tired, I was on my knees and we had the last checkpoint to get through. We had pints of coke/lemonade, tea, coffee; Brian had cheese on toast and I had jam sandwiches.
A bit later, once all of that was wolfed down, we refilled our water bottles, I got on my bike and fell over the other side. I don't remember if Brian laughed or not but there were tears, I just got on my bike and carried on for the rest of the journey uphill.
Brian kept 5 minutes behind me, leaving me to have my space, deal with it and get through it. We then had horses cantering across the road at the top by moonlight and sleep monsters. It was a magical experience. Brian is an amazing man. We have been through so much together, there may be more if people are interested in it.
Brian Welsh and Stacey Eccles
Q / What is it like to ride at night? How do you feel? What is a "sleep monster"?
Riding at night can be amazing, when things are going right. It is quiet, surreal and can feel like you are the only one in the world. The best experiences are my first night ride and also the one going over Black Mountain in Wales on a 400km bike ride. We had moonlight, clear sky, no civilization for miles, nobody else around and then wild horses ran across the road in front of us. Amazing.
When things go wrong it can be quite hair raising. Example: having insufficient light, puncturing on a wet, muddy descent and the back wheel coming out. Not funny.
Sleep monsters are just hallucinations or tricks that your brain plays on you. The Black Mountain ride was my first experience of this - the stones on the side of the road were faces. Other people reported seeing trees as horses and riders.
Q / What prompted you to decide to "Race Across America?
Brian has done this race twice before and to me it sounded like an awesome race. I honestly never even contemplated it. I considered it well outside my league and just was in awe of him having done it. Many of the races Brian does just because they are there; unusual and hard. I don't think he knows the meaning of easy.
Q / What kind of preparation is involved in this kind of event - in terms of training, nutrition, supplementation, mentally, etc?
Aye, this is a good question. I trust this and my life to Brian. He is an incredibly experienced and unique coach who coaches around life and recognizes that life happens. Brian sets the training, I do it and hey, presto, results come out the other side, like magic.
Doing endurance events has so much about it and each of them needs to be trained mentally, physically and physiological.
The body reacts in such a different way under different conditions. Cycling 40km in an Olympic distance triathlon is a very different animal than cycling a 600km Audax in Wales or racing RAAM.
It is a different attitude, muscle and approach. We use different systems (steady and long vs. short and quick), put our bodies through different things ... Making sure your body is moisturized is so much more important for long events as is having equipment to cope with body swelling, and have different mental attitudes and belief.
Mentally learn to deal with those barriers; be selfish as the event gets nearer, do what one needs to get in the zone for the event. The best preparation is being able to be in these situations beforehand so you know what it is like but still recognize that there may be more to come.
Until you have done an event I don't think anything can fully prepare you for the event itself. Even once you achieve it: the next time you do it, it changes from "doing it" to "I have done it and my goal this time is ..." but visualization and research helps loads, as does memory recall of when things have been conquered. When we did Lanza, Brian kept saying, "There is no hill on this course that you have not done somewhere else" and, "You have done worse".
Having family and friends around you, believing in you and supporting you helps loads too. Surrounding yourself with these people and those that display the attributes you want to copy really helps. A mate at 220 Magazine helped me out the first few months - having the mate around with a focused, honest attitude helped tackle the first hurdle and event which was a charity bike from London to Paris. He was an instrumental part of my development.
There are some definite key figures that stand out in my own development to where I am now. It has all built, and built and built. A potential crew member of ours wants to do RAAM and he is preparing for it by crewing for us first so he can get an idea of what is involved.
Nutritionally it is vital that the body can take on what it needs. Cycling burns, I think 400 calories an hour, and goes through liquid very fast, so, from a nutritional point of view our bodies need to learn how to take on and deal with the calories needed each day and drink enough.
On the bike we need to be drinking a liter an hour, on average. The first time we did this we spent a lot of time going to the loo. We need to learn what our bodies like and don't like, where we need to address issues etc. (e.g. I need to eat something every hour otherwise my stomach doesn't want solid food which then becomes a problem and is horrible having to force food down my throat).
We also need to understand what our bodies need at different intensities (e.g. long and slow burns fat), but we need carbs to burn the fat, whereas speed work need carbs and very little fat. I don't understand it all but know the consequences of running low on carbs and water.
Food is more temporary for the body to recover from but it takes ages to recover from any level of dehydration. So, we have learned and are learning when our bodies need carbs in the form of energy drinks, gels and solids. We are recognizing the signals our bodies give out.
It sounds a bit complicated but we are just learning and it is becoming normal. I know that if I get a surge of energy, typically it is a spike before a fall so, I take a gel NOW! If I get emotional it is typically because my sugars are down so it's time for another gel. Gels are carbs that are absorbed super fast.
We also need to train on equipment - what is it like cycling with lights? Which shorts do the trick when cycling distance? Which cycling jerseys, what do our shoes feel like after what mileage and how do we deal with it? How do our bodies respond to being in padded shorts for hours on end, and have it repeated. It is amazing how different a helmet feels after 600 miles.
Q / How long have you been preparing?
Officially since late last year but, if you considered the training bit only, in a way, we have been building to this ever since the Ironman. The Ironman, Paris-Brest-Paris and all of its qualifiers have built a base that we have built on. Brian never stops really :-)
Q / Is this the toughest thing you've had to do physically?
No idea, haven't got there yet. I think Brian found cycling around Australia as part of breaking the World Record for cycling around the country was the toughest thing he has done. When he has done RAAM before he has cycled in a team of 4, he has not yet done a pairs and aims to do solo by 2011. This will be the ultimate of ultimates.
For me, so far, Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) is the toughest thing physically. Mentally, for me, it was in training, having to carry on despite my body crying out to stop. I can think of more than one occasion of breaking through this. Crying helps.
Q / What kind of supplementation are you currently using? When do you take what products?
- 6 x fish oil per day - Taken on an empty stomach where possible?
- 6 x joint formula per day - Taken on an empty stomach where possible?
- 2 x antioxidant tablets
- 1 x magnesium tablet
Starting the 1st of June '08 through the 30th of June '08
On The Bike:
- 1.2 litres per hour, either 4:1 or Energy Source Plus (1.5 Sachets make 750ml).
- For each 250ml not consumed, then one energy gel (normal with 4:1, + Energy Source Plus).
- Each bottle should have 1mg of table salt added, to keep the thirst drive operating.
Off The Bike:
- 2 hour break: 750ml of Protein Recovery water with half a stick of creatine in each one.
- Sandwiches: enough for 2 x 2 hour breaks per person in the cool boxes.
- 4 hour break: 750ml of Protein Recovery with milk, NO CREATINE.
- 1st 4 hour break: hot food (pasta, etc.) as they get off the bike, then cereal before they get back on the bike.
- 2nd 4 hour break: hot food as they get off the bike, then porridge before they get on to do 2 hour stints.
Coming up to a 2 x 2 hour shift; each rider should have 5 bottles of the preferred drink in the bottle carriers, 1 bottle on the bike, and 2 bottles of protein recovery water in the carrier.
Every 45 minutes should be a bottle change over.
Q / What does your diet consist of in terms of food choices, meal timing and amounts of carbs vs. fats. Protein? Can you please give us a typical day's diet?
See above for information.
I do also make use of the rule that if I am going to cheat I am "allowed" or "more allowed" to do it in the first 20 minutes after exercise, up to 2 hours is negotiable but after that, NO CHEATING (chocolate, sweeties) etc. I am no saint but I try to stick to this.
Q / How do you train during the day for this ride? How much cardio and resistance training do you do? Can you please give us a typical day's training regimen?
The training session Brian sets depends on time of year and what race we are peaking for.
He does not have us doing much resistance at the moment but this was done in the winter months to get some strength up and was at least one session a week and included core. Resistance training this time of year can take the form of spin sessions where we are pushing harder gears.
Typically I ride to and from work and will do either a spin session (or double if I can get it in) during the week. Things that differ are doing turbo sessions (back wheel is fixed to a contraption which means you peddle but go nowhere).
Thursdays are time trials.
Weekends are 4-6 hour bike rides or events like races. This Saturday we did a "lumpy" 180km ride in Yorkshire Dales with quite a few hills. Due to the weather on Sunday and the closeness of RAAM we did not go out on Sunday and "recovered".
The session I am most scared of is 20s, hard as you can on a turbo; 40s rest, x 60 with 15 min. warm-up and 15 min. warm-down. It hurts like a stink and usually involves tears!
Q / What kind of support will you have along the way (medical, moral, nutritional, etc.
We will have a crew of 7, one follow vehicle and one RV.
Morale is provided by ourselves, each other and the crew. Without the crew this race doesn't happen. We have an international team so there will be plenty of interest among the team.
Everyone needs to help, whether they are specialists or not. Specialists include one person being trained up by his wife as a medical officer and a bike mechanic. We may also have a masseur on board and then we have two crew plus Brian who have all done this before.
Our crew chief is busy at the moment doing crew schedules to make sure everyone is clear about their responsibilities and when.
Q / How long do you expect it to take?
We have 9 days to do it in but the record stands at 7 days and 18 hours for a mixed pair, set in 2004.
This translates to 335 miles a day, between us, to finish, 390 to get the record.
Q / How come you chose "Parents for Children" as the charity you wanted to ride in support of? How did you get involved with it?
One of the other teams has the Director of this charity as one of its riders and she is a very close friend of Brian's. She is an incredibly motivated, driven lady. Their team has an average age just shy of 60. The Parents for Children was selected for two reasons:
- Because of Eddie and who she is.
- Because they don't just do, they invest in prevention: What are the facts behind the effects of alcohol and drugs on unborn children? What happens, when?
Q / Could this become an annual event for the two of you?
It would be very special if JSNT was involved in RAAM in some capacity every year. Our crew chief, Sally, wants to do the race next year and Brian has already committed to crewing for her. JSNT stands for "Just Sweat No Tears."
Q / What kind of advice would you give someone in regards to motivation, inspiration and breaking limits?
Wow, there are a few things:
Brian has two sayings: "Better live a day as a tiger than a lifetime as a sheep," and also, "Air your courage every day." This can be in sport, life or anywhere. Get used to pushing the boundaries, then, it is just normal. Life is for living, go and do it.
Sometimes we fly, sometimes it is an absolute effort and sometimes we just don't want to be there at all. I would say be honest with yourself when evaluating how you feel - are you tired and should you rest or do you need to accomplish something? The only person you are cheating is yourself.
Believe in yourself and give things a go. I started cycling to work in 2004 when I found 5 miles into work hard. Now look! If I can do this ... breaking limits ... well, those are only going to happen when you try. When setting yourself up for a big event, have something after it and know how to deal with success.
The first time I qualified for representing GB in Age Group World Championships for Triathlon I had my heart set on qualifying and bust a gut to do it. I made the last place and then didn't know what to do with it. I think I fluffed the race nicely. I finished, but, not as well as I was capable, only because I hadn't had a plan with what to do with success and once I got there. No "then what" plans.
Break goals down into attainable chunks but still BE BRAVE AND GO FOR IT!