All posts by Brian Toone

RAAM 2015 Data Analysis

"Oh, the places you'll go..."“Oh, the places you’ll go…”

2015 Race Across America county elevations - 12 states, 88 counties - click to download huge image, click again to zoom in your browser.2015 Race Across America county elevations – 12 states, 88 counties – click to download huge image, click again to zoom in your browser.

Sleep and Stop Data
There is a reason why every RAAM racer’s advice is to “stay on the bike” and “just keep riding”. I could have knocked a day and a half off my time if my only stops were for sleeping. While this is somewhat unrealistic as you do have to use the bathroom and make other stops throughout the day, my average of 16.2 stops per day riding an average of only 17.6 miles between stops is somewhat ridiculous. Altogether, I stopped 170 times with an average stop duration of 24 minutes. This is entirely my own fault as I struggled not only with sleep, but also with pain in my hands and feet.

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RAAM 2015 Race Report

Race Recap
I took off fast after the long neutral section and got caught up in all the excitement of passing people and trying to make it through the desert as quickly as possible. I stayed well below my lactic threshold power, but perhaps this was the beginning of my battle with heat exhaustion. That battle would play out the next day, but first during the middle of the night I crashed in the uneven lanes construction zone between Blythe, California and Parker, Arizona. My front wheel caught on the rise between the lanes and went right out from under me. I hit my head hard and slid on my face and left shoulder.

After a quick check of everything on my bike and my body, I was up and riding again. Heading into Parker, Arizona Rob White caught up with me, and we rode together for a few minutes as the sun came up and the temp started to rise (very quickly). I was struggling and told him to go on. The temperature just kept on rising and rising. It was unbelievable. I stopped at a bar/lodge that was open at 9AM to use the bathroom and change kits. It was already 100 degF outside when Kristine took the picture below:

After another hour or so struggling in the heat, I knew I needed to get out of the heat. Our RV air conditioner could only keep the temp at 20 degrees below the outside air temperature. So it was still 90+ degF in the RV. Fortunately, in Hope, Arizona there was a gas station with good air conditioning. We setup a small cot in the corner of the store, and I slept there for a couple hours. I was off the bike for about 4.5 hours before continuing.

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Weekend Adventures

Auburn Adventure
On Friday, I decided to head out on one final long 300+ mile adventure before the start of the Race Across America in just over two weeks. Having visited the University of Alabama a few times during my training I thought it was only fair that I also make the journey down to Auburn University. Plus, I would be able to add four new counties to my 2015 training tally – Chambers, Lee, Russell, and Macon counties. Check out my updated maps. The first shows elevation data only from the 50 Alabama counties I’ve ridden in this year. The second is a map of the 27 rides longer than 186 miles (~300km) I have completed this year showing the elevation data for the entire state.

Alabama map showing elevation for the counties I have entered during my 2015 training for the Race Across America (click to enlarge)Alabama map showing elevation for the counties I have entered during my 2015 training for the Race Across America. I have a one-way ride planned to pick up the rental van RAAM follow vehicle in Florence, Alabama arranged by my good buddy Justin Lowe at 1st Choice Collision in Dover, TN that will include entering Lauderdale and Colbert counties. (Click to enlarge the map)

27 rides of 300km (186 miles) or longer from 2015. Note that the primary difference is the lack of a solid mass in the Birmingham area where all my shorter rides stay. Click to enlarge.27 rides of 300km (186 miles) or longer from 2015. Note that the primary difference is the lack of a solid mass in the Birmingham area where all my shorter rides stay. Click to enlarge.

Exploring Alabama has been one of the biggest surprises of my training for the Race Across America. I knew that I would be increasing my mileage this year as training, but what I didn’t realize fully ahead of time was the freedom that a 200+ mile ride gives you to explore all parts of the state all the way out to the borders. There is something really special and hard to describe about leaving the house at 1 in the morning, riding hundreds of miles during the night, all day, and into the night again, and yet returning through the same door and parking the bike in the same spot from 20 hours earlier. There is a laughable moment of “holy crap, I just rode my bike to Tennessee and back” that cannot be described – only experienced.

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Natural Bridge, Alabama

Natural bridge #alabama #teamtoone #raam2015

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They don’t call it Alabama the Beautiful for nothing. This was an amazing find on my ride up to Northwest Alabama to ride in four new counties for 2015 – Winston, Lawrence, Franklin, and Marion. Along the way, I rode through an amazing series of roads and bridges crossing Smith Lake four different times. When I finally made it up into Bankhead National Forest, once of the first places I saw was the Natural Bridge national recreation area entrance and decided to investigate.
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Cheaha Challenge Ultra

Toughest organized century ride in the south, probably the whole country – the new Cheaha Challenge Ultra 200 km ride showcases some of the best terrain Alabama has to offer, which in my opinion is some of the best on the planet. I decided to make it “extra” ultra by riding to the start and then back home for a grand total of 293 miles and over 20,000 feet of climbing. Absolutely amazing day despite the occasional rain. I left the house at 2:30AM and rode over to meet Chris Shelton at the back of Liberty Park while Pete Foret, one of my RAAM crew followed behind to get more practice as a driver for RAAM.

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Alabama Training

One of my passions related to cycling is sharing with other people how great Alabama is for cycling. Even though Alabama recently got ranked DFL (dead last) in the country for states friendly to cycling, there is beauty to be found everywhere in the state if you are willing to brave the messiness. So as I’ve been structuring my really long training rides, I’ve been intentional in trying to explore new roads and new portions of the state. One way to keep track of that is by the number of different counties I’ve ridden in. The first map below shows all of my 2015 training rides and races.

2015 training and race in Alabama. 42 of 67 Alabama counties covered, plus nearly 11,000 miles and 1,100,000 feet of climbing. (click to enlarge)2015 training and race in Alabama. 42 of 67 Alabama counties covered, plus nearly 11,000 miles and 1,100,000 feet of climbing. (click to enlarge)

It’s a bit much to claim to be an ambassador of the entire state of Alabama when I race the Race Across America, but I think it is fairly safe to say that I’ve biked in more parts of the state than most people! Keep in mind this is just my 2015 rides – not quite four and a half months of riding. As far as lifetime riding goes, I’ve ridden in every county in the state except for the following counties – Washington, Choctaw, and Clarke in southwestern Alabama as well as Barbour, Dale, Russell, and Henry in southeastern Alabama.

I’m at nearly 11,000 miles of training and racing this year almost entirely within the state of Alabama. Those rides have covered 42 of the 67 counties in Alabama. Nearly all of these rides have started and ended at my house in Hoover, a suburb of Birmingham. The exceptions are two rides in western Alabama I did during the annual meeting of the Alabama Academy of Science, one ride in Huntsville I did in conjunction with my first race of the year – the Union Grove time trial, and one ride I did in conjunction with the first training race of the year at Camp Sumatanga near Gadsden.

Additionally, one misconception about Alabama that a lot of people from other parts of the country have is that Alabama is flat. Dispelling that notion, I’ve climbed well over 1,100,000 feet of hills and mountains since January 1st of this year with a goal to reach 3,000,000 feet by the end of the year. This elevation total doesn’t include two “everestings” where you ride the same hill over and over again in the same ride until you have accumulated 29,030 feet of climbing (i.e., the height of Mount Everest). This has to be done all in one ride, preferably within 24 hours. I everested a popular local climb here in Birmingham called Karl Daly as well as the west side of Mount Cheaha. Both of these everestings were at the end of 2014 so they aren’t included in the 1,100,000 foot total.

This next map shows four individual rides to reach Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Alabama via long 250-315 mile loops. The minimal one-way distance for me to reach Florida is 193 miles, which means a round trip of well over 400 miles if I try to make some sort of loop out of it. I still might try to do that, but I’m running out of time to work that in before RAAM.

Four rides covering 30 different Alabama counties  (click to enlarge)Four rides covering 30 different Alabama counties (click to enlarge)

I’ve posted tons of instagram pictures from these rides, but I’ve narrowed it down to my top 4 below (one from each of the four rides). What an amazing journey this has been as I’ve been discovering new places throughout this great state!

1. Monday, May 11th – South Alabama – 14 counties, 313.5 miles, 15,184 feet of climbing. The caption speaks for itself, but to emphasize the two things that I almost immediately think of when I think of riding in South Alabama is rolling hills and Spanish moss.

2. Thursday, May 7th – Tennessee loop – 8 counties, 294.5 miles, 18,373 feet of climbing. I stumbled upon this Alabama road near the border of Tennessee when I was planning out my route. I wanted to go by the state road race course and work my way north from there. As I was scanning the satellite imagery near the border, I saw a label that said “Toone Rd” and knew that I needed to include it on my route.

Toone Rd!!! I like the up arrow. Perfect. #teamtoone #raam2015

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3. Sunday, April 26th – Mississippi Fun – 9 counties, 263 miles, 20,164 feet of climbing. Rural western Alabama.

New county for my AL #raam2015 training – Fayette county.

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4. Tuesday, April 21st – (Georgia) the walking dead – 7 counties, 244 miles, 21,499 feet of climbing. I named this one the Walking Dead because I rode to western Georgia within 50 miles of where they are filming the TV series of the same name. Randolph County was an awesome discovery with sweeping views of the surrounding area and lots of farmland that reminded me of Wisconsin. I’ve chosen the pic below as my favorite in order to put the distance of the ride into perspective. I started out so far west of Cheaha that it is not visible. Then I rode for an hour or so until you can see Cheaha. Then I rode all the way over Cheaha to about the same distance away on the east side of the mountain. Then I turned around and rode all the way back home.

Cheaha in the background near Georgia border. #raam2015

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Old Howard 1,000,000

Michael Staley, Pixie Hicks, and Me after this year's Old Howard 100Michael Staley, Pixie Hicks, and Me after this year’s Old Howard.

The longer I ride bikes, the more fascinated I am with the history of the places that I ride. The Old Howard 100 has fun personal history for me as I was fortunate to start teaching at Samford University in the Spring of 2005 when the Howard College of Arts and Sciences at Samford put on the inaugural Old Howard ride. Living the dream for me means that I got to start my position mid-year as an assistant professor at probably the only university in the country that happened to be launching a 100 mile bike ride at the same time I was graduating with my PhD.

The ride is called the Old Howard because Samford University used to be named Howard College and located in Marion, Alabama in Perry County in the middle of the Black Belt – a geological feature consisting of very rich black topsoil extending from Tupelo, Mississippi all the way across to Montgomery, Alabama as annotated in the satellite picture below:

Annotated satellite view of the black belt of Mississippi and Alabama.Annotated satellite view of the black belt of Mississippi and Alabama.

I decided to ride down to the start, ride the century, and then ride back home for a grand total of 303 miles. My friend Michael Staley decided to ride from Tuscaloosa and meet me halfway to join me on the rest of the ride down to the start and then the century before heading our separate ways back to Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. We rendezvoused in Woodstock in the dark in the rain and rode a cool route that included Crystal Lake Rd and Haysap Church Rd (a 5 mile dirt road that goes by a 185 year old church I found on a 2013 adventure).

I was honored to be the ride leader leaving Judson College, and it was great to be in a large group visiting Greensboro, Alabama first. Then, as we came back through some hills towards Marion, our group shrank in size until it was about 10-15 of us taking the long flat road along the Cahaba River down to Selma. Along the way, there was beautiful farmland, rivers, and forests culminating in a ride underneath huge Live Oak trees covered in Spanish Moss in Selma.

Beautiful Spanish moss in Selma on the Old Howard century.

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Thankfully, we had a nice tail crosswind for the last stretch back to Marion and our group flew the rest of the way averaging 22.1 mph for the entire century. After some great hot dogs and lemonade, Michael and I needed to get on the road so that we could try to make it back before the storms. We rode together for a couple blocks until he turned right to go north, and I turned left to go south to hit the corner of Autauga county before turning due north to make it back to Birmingham just ahead of the storms.

In addition to everything else that was great about the Old Howard ride and my adventure getting down there and back, I added two new counties to the list of counties I’ve ridden in this year – Hale and Autauga. That brings my total up to 35 counties in 6 states since the beginning of the year. Also, from the beginning of the year I’ve increased the number of long rides that I’ve been doing. This has led to 41 rides that qualify for the Strava gran fondo distance of 130 km (81 miles) or longer. These rides together have totaled 6,596 miles with 721,000 feet of climbing for an average distance of 161 miles with 17,585 feet of climbing per ride.

I called this post the Old Howard 1,000,000 because the ride took me up to 991,000 feet of climbing for the year, and today on my commute to and from work I took that total up and over 1,000,000 feet. Including all my rides this year (not just the ones over 81 miles), I’ve ridden 8,511 miles and climbed 1,000,348 feet. Since we are only 110 days into the year, that works out to an average of 77 miles and 9,100 feet of climbing per day. But since I have been taking more days off this year to recover from some crazy epic rides, I’ve only ridden 90 times this year which takes that average up to 95 miles and 11,114 feet of climbing per ride.

The topocreator map shows my long rides (81 miles or longer) for Alabama. Missing are the Rouge Roubaix race in Louisiana and Mississippi as well as back-to-back epic days in San Francisco back in January when we were out there for the RAAM crewing seminar.

Map of my long (81+ mile) rides so far this year (click to enlarge)Map of my long (81+ mile) rides so far this year (click to enlarge)

Skyway Epic 2015

Skyway inaugural 100 mtb podium #raam, now to ride home (very slowly)

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The Skyway Epic 100 men’s podium – left to right – me, David Potter, and Eric Nelson.

The Skyway Epic 100 mountain bike race definitely lived up to its name on Saturday. I was happy to be racing again this year for the inaugural 100 mile (107.5 miles) version of the race having missed last year after crashing into the side of a car. Being in the final stages of training for the Race Across America, I need to make the most of every minute of bike-related activities. Therefore, I decided to ride my mountain bike down to the start of the race, do the race, and then ride home. This made for a very long 185 mile day on the bike that ended with Kristine driving down to Chelsea to rescue me at the base of the double oak climbs. Overall, it was excellent training for Race Across America, and the race itself was nothing short of epic and awesome.

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Heart of the South Topography

One of the things that makes the Heart of the South 500 mile race one of the most difficult 500 mile races in the country is the enormous amount of climbing over the course of the race. The major topographical features include the three main climbs – Lookout Mountain, Fort Mountain, and Mount Cheaha – as well as four crossings of the Coosa River. I’ve annotated a topocreator.com map of the course below. Click to enlarge and then click again to zoom in on your web browser to see maximum detail.

topocreator.com - annotated map of the heart of the south race (click to enlarge)topocreator.com – annotated map of the heart of the south race (click to enlarge)

I especially like that the entire course fits on the raised relief maps I have mounted on the wall next to my home office. This is the pic and overlay I made for last year’s race.

Raised relief map with overlay of the Heart of the South 500 race.Raised relief map with overlay of the Heart of the South 500 race.