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Red Bull Trans-Siberian Race report

When my cousin Cris Lobaton posted the 2016 Red Bull Trans-Siberian Extreme video on my FB timeline last year, I never imagined I would be racing it this year. Never. First, the money was out of my reach. Seconds, the distance of cycling 5,700 miles was just crazy to me. Hence, I felt like one of those athletes who was taken from reality to this lala land of Siberia, just thinking about participating. It was a dream came true when things became possible and I was able to make it to the start line of Red Bull Trans Siberian race on July 19, 2017.

I was one of the first 2 females who entered as solo participant in the Red Bull Trans-Siberian race. I became the only female left after the second half of Stage 3. I lasted up to Stage 6 as an official participant. I continued to cycle more with the group up to Stage 7 as an unofficial participant in order to raise more funds for a non-profit foundation aiming to help prevent child abuse. On Stage 8, four out of the total of eight guys pulled out =/. Then, after 24 days and 5,700 miles of cycling, 3 strong men remained all the way to the finish line: Alexey, Pierre and Marcelo. Amazing everyone!

With the love, support and care of Feisty Fox team and sponsors, I cycled about 1,300 miles in 1 week. I experienced cycling in hail, rain, horrible road conditions, shared road with massive trucks, adjusted to the different climatic conditions from very cold at night, humid, extreme heat in the middle of the day, no sleep, endured menstruation cramps and saddle sores for several days. I don’t think I’ve ever been in so much pain from sores while trying to take a shower after each stage. It was a great unique experience and I’m very glad that God kept me safe, free of injury or accidents. Most of all, I’ve made friends and also raised a total of $1,730.00 which will be donated to a reliable non-profit organization in the Philippines with a goal to help abused children.

Thank you very much to those who have supported, donated money and helped me during this journey.

Thank you Paul Bruck, Katharina Bruck and to the rest of Red Bull Team.

Thank you to my fellow Red Bull Trans-Siberian athletes who made my experience much memorable. I am very blessed to have met and cycled with you: Pierre Bischoff, Alexey Shchebelin Marcelo Florentinosoares Soares, Peter Sandholt, Adrian O'Sullivan, Michael Knudsen Thursday Gervais Dubina Egor Kovalchuk Aske Søby

I honestly did not think that it would be possible for me to race Red Bull Trans-Siberian Extreme due to financial constraint. There were many times that I hesitated and wanted to pull out. Then suddenly, things just gradually started falling into place, including being able to race with a great cause. Thank you so much for believing in me and supporting me to race Red Bull Trans-Siberia Extreme in which I was one of the first 2 female solo participants.

Preparing for the 2017 Red Bull Trans-Siberian Extreme took a lot of my energy and time. Everyday I got up at 2 am to lift weights and ride my bike. I did my best to strengthen my body including my neck and grip. I knew that there was a high tendency my body would break down if I missed something essential during preparation. The last thing I wanted to happen was injury.

The race took a lot of space in my head. Every day and night, I thought of the race. How will I race? Where will I get the money? Should I take out a loan? Is this the right thing to do? Am I training enough? How else can I get stronger? How about my visa? How about my support crews' visa? I need to get the sponsors' logos? Do I have all the gear I need for the race? How much nutrition do I need for 24 days? How about my athletes? I need to hire assistant coaches. This athlete and this athlete have upcoming races too. I need to get them ready. How about the house? Who will take care of my pug, Julie and cat, Bumblebee? How about parking the car? And so on.. Of course, I can't stop the days from running. I have to go on with what I have. I have to do my best to make things work. Despite of all the different things going on, one thing that I am sure, "I am moving forward" with the race and I will make things happen.

Before the race started and in every interview, I was asked several times, “why are you racing Red Bull Trans-Siberia?” And my answers were 1) To raise funds for a non-profit, with a goal to help abused children 2) To show that no matter what one had gone through in the past, he/she still has the power to change things and make a positive impact 3) I have the inclination to do big things because aiming for big things motivates me to be the best person I can be and it also allows me to reach and inspire more people worldwide. It gives me satisfaction that I am able to touch peoples' hearts and help them achieve their own goals and find their purposes in life.

Stage 1

On Stage 1, I was able to hang on with the 8 men participants for at least 50 miles despite that they were already holding 24-28 mph average speed then. It was the first stage so everyone had fresh legs including me. However, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hold this speed for the entire 230 miles of Stage 1. I decided to let them go. Note that there were only 2 females in the race. For the most part, the other female and I were not cycling at the same speed. While the guys drafted onto each other, unfortunately I was left cycling solo for the entire 180 miles.

As I was very much aware that sufficient recovery time before each Stage was critical, I did my best to reach the finish line as fast s I could. I didn’t take breaks only stopping to pee, eat lunch and get a quick 10 minute muscle massage. It even rained on me during a 10k hilly 1-way road. I didn’t complain, and to me, that was okay. I expected the worst in the race. On Stage 1, I averaged 17 mph (Garmin time) which included all the breaks, traffic etc and came in within 4 hours of the fastest male finisher. I was cycling at my best effort during the entire time. I was exhausted. With quick recovery, dinner and consideration of next stage’s preparation time, I only had 4 hours sleep before Stage 2 (about 230 miles ride.)

Stage 2

Stage 2 continued to expose me to the dangers of all the big trucks, bumper-to-bumper traffic, construction and undeveloped roads. Again, I expected these risks and dangers. 2016 Red Bull Trans-Siberian Extreme video didn’t hide that the race could be dangerous in some areas. This was one of the risks that I took. In order to overcome this, I constantly communicated to my support crew team whenever I was scared or needed help. Though our drivers mostly spoke Russian, we tried our best to strategize and protect my safety. They really did a phenomenal job and I appreciate them so much.

The roads of Stage 2 had a lot of potholes. Unlike riding in groups (e.g. the other 8 men participants), I had to depend with only myself in ensuring that I didn’t miss any potholes. Also, I rode at least 200 miles of Stage 2 solo again. The roads were very bad and uneven putting a lot of pressure on both of my hands as I held my handle bars tightly to prevent from falling. Unfortunately, I ended up not changing to different cycling positions during Stage 2 so my left calf was very sore and tight. It was hard for me to climb hills since I couldn’t stand up and use my left leg efficiently. This caused me to slow down to a finish time of 17 hours and 20 minutes. I reached the finish line at sunrise. I only had 5 hours sleep before Stage 3 (420 miles ride).

Stage 3

With only 5 hours of sleep, I was once again at start line. Stage 3 had 420 miles. I knew it was going to be a long day. After only first 20 miles, I was surprised that Adrian had to pull out already. He shared to me that he was having trouble sitting on his saddle and needed some time off. I was feeling good and minimized the stops and break times. My Infinit nutrition was just awesome! I was up all night from 11 am and was in the zone. I made sure that I was eating something every hour to ensure that I won’t be feeling sleepy. I enjoyed it whenever the Media van was around as it motivated me to ride well. Then, suddenly I saw Thursday’s support van just pass by. Uff.. bummer. “Does that mean, she’s out?” I asked myself. Later, my support team confirmed that I was the only female left in the race.

I continued to cycle that evening, caught up with Egor and didn’t stop riding for 17 hours. There was a lot of road construction along the route but I got used to it. I kind of felt bad whenever I was causing traffic in the middle of nowhere past midnight. Oh well. I slept for 1 hour at around 5 am. I hated it when I had to warm my up my body again after sleeping. I was wearing ski pants, winter jacket while my head was covered with the hood. ugh. I could barely move until I finally got warmed up. Unfortunately, my saddle sores were unbearable. Around 6 am, I had to adjust my seat and added a cushion. I think that I may have worsen my sitting position then (I learned it later on). I had to stop many times to take care of my saddle sores. I was really bummed that my estimated time kept on being pushed. With only 90 miles left to finish stage 3 (420 miles to complete) at around 6 pm, my support team warned me of possible rain coming up soon. 90 miles didn’t sound a lot but I knew that as soon as it started raining, I’d slow down to prevent any possible accidents while riding on slippery roads. “I’ve cycled over 300 miles now. There’s no way that I’m gonna stop,” I told myself.

About 30 minutes later, unfortunately, it rained again. The rain didn’t slow any trucks down even though there was only 1 lane and whether they were driving uphill or downhill. In fact, some of them even furiously honked at me. The rain got stronger while it was already getting dark. As soon as it hailed again, I started shivering and the calculated 16-17 mph in order to reach the finish line by 2 am and have sufficient recovery for stage 4, become impossible. The rain slowed me down and I was riding an average of 12-13 mph. I pulled out at 9 pm =/. I was exhausted.

I only had a total of 1.5 hours sleep during the 22 hours of cycling on Stage 3. I prioritized sleep but ended up not hydrating well that night, which cost me badly next day.

Stage 4

After not sleeping well for the past nights and with an exhausted body, my system was off next day. Unfortunately, I also started period that day. The medical doctor gave me some cramp medicine but it didn’t really help during the entire stage. After about 20 miles in, it started raining hard. It felt like chaos all over. The wind was blowing so hard. I saw one of the bikes just got blown over when it was left outside the van. All the other athletes and vans were stopped. My support team pulled me into the van to help me change my cycling gears. I could hear the hail just dropping onto the windshield and roof of the van loudly. I was cold and wet. Uff.. great. I had to go deal with period cramps, cycle in hail and endure saddle sores. It rained so hard that the highways were flooded. I had to strategize where to ride as there was road constructions every now and then. It just couldn't get any better. During the ride, it rained 3x on us. I realized later on that I was also constipated. This was due to not hydrating well the other day.

It was very cold while the ground was warm. I saw steam coming off the asphalt road and thought it looked pretty cool. Around 7 pm, I was still feeling strong and determined to finish the stage even without drafting help. My team informed officials that my best estimate finish time was 2 am. We were advised to pull out because I’d be coming in late and no one would be up.

Stage 5

I was able to get more sleep after Stage 4. Unfortunately, my saddle sores didn’t improve at all. I was riding 5 days straight for continuous long hours with only about 4-5 hours break in between stages. Riding in rain or hail didn’t help either. I was definitely not gonna pull myself out from the race. I aimed to stay as long as I could.

In the morning, doctor checked my saddle sored and said that it was not infected. It was just very very very bad; I was again taped. The problem was that every time I had to pee, the tape wouldn’t hold. Hence, the effort was almost useless. I rode through the full stage sucking up all the pain while I sat on the saddle. Marina also treated the cuts on my hands and taped them. I had cuts due to holding the handle bars so tightly and extended periods of time as I maneuvered through the bad roads. The roads were so bad that if I didn’t hold my handle bars, I swear I would fall. And the bad road areas were not something that you could just get away from either as they would go on for several miles. In the parts that were under construction, there were really no lines separating the cars coming from the other directions.

Hence, cars didn’t really care which lane they were on; Everyone was basically driving through where they wouldn’t have to hit all the bad potholes on the road. I don’t know how I was able to handle all the pain from saddle sore, fatigued body, legs, etc., but I did. Riding solo was also something that I got used to from Day 1. Every stage, I was determined to finish unless I truly believed that I was not safe or the race officials asked me to pull out.

Stage 6

I honestly had no idea what day it was. I knew the days by stages. After every stage which was past midnight, it would take me about 15 minutes to remove all the tape on me. Then, I screamed as the shower water ran past my raw skin. It was excruciating. After shower, I went to the Doctor’s room for recovery. Then, Marina the team’s massage therapist would give me a “painful” but very good massage. I remember that I’d carload at around 3 am just before going to bed. That way, I had time to digest while I slept.

At around 7 or 8 am, I was awake and getting ready again for another stage. After all the hard and long days, I cannot thank enough my support crew, especially Margarette and Vineta for taking care of everything. There was a time that I saw Vineta sleeping right beside the washer as she waited the dryer to be done; that was around 2 am then. Similarly, Margarette would always wake up and help Vineta with all the things needed for the race. I knew that they had sacrificed a lot during the past days.

At the start, everyone was in awe seeing that I was still in the race; the only female left. If everyone only knew how much pain I was in behind all the smiles I had in front of a camera. At the start, I gave my support crew a big hug. I loved them so much for taking care of me. Peter also told me that the group was gonna take it easy. “Great” I responded to him. Well, “easy” really meant riding around 22-23 mph. I heard that they would be attacking each other especially at the end going to 27 - 31 mph. After hundreds and hundreds of miles of riding, I’d take the easy 22-23 mph drafting on them rather than riding solo once again. It was a good 80 miles riding with them until my saddle sores started acting up again. This time, it was the worst ever. I had to stop and wait for the other van who had medical equipment. I looked at Vineta. With a very sad face, I said, “love, it’s not working. it’s really painful.” Vineta said, “let’s just try another time. Let’s do this. At least we know that we’ve tried everything. Let’s go. Spin one thing at a time.” So, I did. I knew that I had about 400 miles on Stage 6. It will be long but fairly flat. I said, “This should be easy. Let me just do this.” About 120 miles in.. I had to pull out. That was it. I was very sad.

My crew and I did our best. We didn’t give up without a fight. The race was very hard and almost impossible from the start. In fact, we are even happy that we made it to Stage 6. Stage 6 was my last stage.

Stage 7

The race director allowed me to ride with the group but as an unofficial participant. I thought that that was very nice. Though I was not officially in the race anymore, I wanted to raise more funds for my non-profit to help abused children and continue to inspire more people. Before the race started and in every interview, I was asked several times, “why are you racing Red Bull Trans-Siberia?” And my answers were 1) To raise funds for non-profit with a goal to help abused children 2) To show that no matter what one had gone through in the past, he/she still has the power to change things and make a positive impact 3) I have the inclination to do big things because aiming for big things motivate me to be the best person I can be and it also allows me to reach and inspire more people.

Stage 7 started at 10 pm. One of the things that the race taught me was to be braver than I already was. The first miles were almost pitch dark. We only had our front lights leading the way, while the road was full of potholes in different directions. There were even a couple of rail road crossings which we could have missed if we were not paying attention. It was drizzling a bit but I did my best to hang on with the group so that I could share some of their lights. If they could be aggressive in the dark and tough it out as they maneuvered past all the potholes, so could I. Considering that I was not officially in the race anymore, I didn’t really need to ride. I wasn’t getting credit, so why ride? I could have pulled out also after feeling some hesitancy about riding through the bad roads at night. I continued to ride because I knew that I was allowing myself to learn by experience. Braving the dark, rain and riding through those roads had taught me to make more calculated risk and moves.

Around midnight, it rained hard again. Vineta had gotten used to giving me what I needed. She was fast in handing me the clear eyeglasses and waterproof jacket. I was actually following Peter at the front while the others hurried to catch up. I was drafting and keeping up with the pace of the peloton until my front light died. I raised my hand to communicate what I needed to the support vans behind us. It took some time until Vineta, handed me a 2nd front light. I did my best to hold the light as I rode through the bumpy road and continued to draft with the group. I definitely didn’t want to stop in order to remove the light that died and replace it with a new one. If I did that, I’d lose the group and it would cause me to surge for a sprint just to catch up. When we finally had a smooth road, I did my best to install the 2nd light. God that was tough putting the light on while ensuring that I didn’t get droped by the peloton. But I made it. I checked the speedometer. The peloton was going from 20-23 mph. As much as I hoped that the group’s peloton would stay that range, I knew that they would start speeding up at some point. Around 5 am, as soon as we passed 100th mile of the Stage, I saw my Garmin showing 25-27 mph. Uff. Again, I cycled hard and tried to continue to draft. Unfortunately, I couldn’t last the 25-27 mph speed for long. Around 105 miles, I was on my own again. It was still drizzling a bit. Sun was coming out. I continued to cycle at my more comfortable pace of 21-23 mph. After a bathroom break and cycling for bit more, saddle sore started bothering me again. I wasn’t able to go farther. At around mile 130th mile, I had to pull out.

The race director asked me to take care of my saddle sores and do not ride anymore if I wouldn’t be able to complete the next stages.

With the love, support and care of my team, I cycled about 1300 miles in 1 week. I had experienced cycling in hail, rain, horrible road conditions, shared roads with massive trucks, adjusted to the different climatic conditions from very cold at night, humid, extreme heat in the middle of the day, no sleep, endured period cramps and saddle sores for days. It was a great unique experience and I’m very glad that God kept me safe, free of injury or accidents.

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