Just Keep Spinning
Whether she is swimming with sharks, racing around the Nürburgring, or testing bike components to their limits, Jaime Kelleher is always fully committed. This same commitment and intensity is driving this SRAM Test Development Engineer to attempt to break the female North-South Race Across Germany record beginning June 30th. We asked Jaime to tell us about her preparations for the race and how she hatched the idea to go after the record.
What can you tell us about your athletic background and cycling in particular?
Growing up, I was okay at a handful of sports and downright terrible at many others. I enjoyed playing softball/baseball for several years, but never at a highly competitive level. I stumbled upon cycling when I started college. On a whim, I signed up to ride across the USA to raise money for cancer research with a student group called the Illini 4000. I fell in love with cycling, and the rest is history!
What inspired you to compete in the Race Across Germany?
Having dabbled in road racing when I was in grad school, I found myself always wishing the races were longer. I'm not the fastest rider out there, but I can sit on a bike a heck of a lot longer than most! I did my first 24 hour race last year on the famous Nürburgring (and won!), and this seemed like a cool next step.
Jaime training in Mallorca. Photo by MallorcaCyclingPhotos.com
You are racing to support World Bicycle Relief (WBR). How does WBR tie into this race effort?
WBR provides bicycles to students, healthcare workers and entrepreneurs, empowering them to better their communities, which is ultimately a benefit for everyone. Throughout my years of cycling, I have surpassed so many limits and broken so many barriers that I thought were in my way, and I can only imagine how much power a bicycle can give to someone when it allows them to break down barriers standing in the way of education, healthcare, or economic opportunities. Bicycles have had such an enormous impact on my life, and I hope to use my platform as an ultra-endurance cyclist to help get more people on bikes that need them. [Click here to donate in support of Jaime and WBR]
What preparations have you made for the race? What can you tell us about your training and any support you’ll use during the race?
My coach, Carson Christen, has been instrumental in designing and monitoring my training plan. It’s a fine balance of getting in good, hard training without burning out. In the fall/winter, we focused mainly on strength training both in the gym as well as on the bike with generally short but hard rides. As spring came around, we slowly increased volume and then really kicked things off with a week-long training camp on Mallorca in early April. Since then, the build has continued, and I’ve put in a lot of 8-11 hour rides. During this high-volume training phase, the key has really been to train under fatigue. Many people are surprised when I tell them my longest training ride was just over 13 hours, but training much longer than that adds more risk than reward – getting sick or totally burnt out would be no good. So, during the training period, I make sure to get lots of sleep, but follow long ride days with… more long rides! For example, I had a four day block where I rode 900km. I’ve also done a handful of 5-6 hour rides where one hour toward the end is ridden hard. As far as functioning with little to no sleep – I spent six years in engineering school training for that!
During the race, I will have a follow car with Carson, my boss, and another coworker. They will take turns driving, handing me food/water, and generally motivating me to keep chugging along. I definitely wouldn’t be able to do it without them!Photo by MallorcaCyclingPhotos.com
Tell us about your bike. Have you made any special preparations or added any special bits for the race?
For ultra-distance racing, it’s all about what will allow you to sit comfortably on your bike for the longest amount of time, while also hopefully providing a reasonably efficient position. For this race, I will have two bikes. I’m riding a Felt AR1 set up as a TT bike for the flatter portions and a Trek Silque SLX road bike for the hilly parts. Step one is a good bike fit – I can’t stress the importance of this enough. Next would be looking at the points of the bike that meet your body: feet, butt, and hands/arms. I’m still on the search for my perfect cycling shoe, but after trying many over the years, I have found saddles that work well for both my road and TT positions. In addition to gloves, bar tape, and handlebar size, riding with eTap has been an enormous benefit for keeping my hands comfortable. After that many hours of riding, it can get tiring for your hands to shift on a mechanical system (especially when you have small hands like I do). eTap means no sacrifices.
You’re confident that you can break the existing record. How do you plan to achieve this?
If I can paraphrase Dory from Finding Nemo, “Just keep spinning.” Any time on the bike, no matter how slow I am riding, is faster than not moving at all. When it gets really tough, I remind myself, “If you can still force yourself to smile, you can still ride your bike.” Of course, anything can happen on race day(s), but based on my training, the record should be within reach.
Jaime racing at the Nürburgring. Photo by Sportograph.com
Any advice you’d give to riders that want to take on a similar challenge?
Make sure you adequately prepare. Consistency is key. Don’t just go out one day and ride 12 hours when the longest ride you’ve recently done was three hours. Don’t build your training so fast that you blow yourself up and end up with an injury. If something hurts when it shouldn’t, stop. And, of course, plan your race and race your plan! While there are others racing as well, it’s really not the kind of event where you want to change your race based on how others are performing (until maybe the last few hours). Finally, always find a way to have fun.
What’s your next challenge after the Race Across Germany?
Probably the next attempt at my five-kilometer work commute! In all honesty, I don’t know yet. I figure I’ll probably cross the finish line saying “never again”, but once my body has had a few weeks to recover, I’ll very likely be singing a different tune. I don’t have my heart set on anything, but I will say it is no coincidence that this race is a RAAM (Race Across America) qualifier.
Tell us about your job at SRAM as a Test Development Engineer. What drew you to this line of work?
As I began seriously thinking about what I planned to do with my engineering degrees after finishing school, I decided I really didn’t want a job that felt like “just a job”. I wanted to work doing something I was passionate about with people I enjoyed spending time with. As one of my biggest personal interests, the bicycle industry was high on my radar. When the opportunity arose to become a Test Development Engineer at SRAM’s European Development Center in Schweinfurt, Germany, it was like everything fell right into place. As an added bonus, I get to be one of the very few people ever who actually uses their college minor (German)! I love that I get to go to work every day alongside people I consider to be friends and tackle challenging problems all with the goal of making cycling even cooler than it already is.Photo by Sportograph.com
What are your interests outside of cycling?
Although I’ve never lived in a place where I can do it as much as I’d like to, I love SCUBA diving and am a certified professional Divemaster. I especially enjoy diving with sharks. My other big hobby, which is a little easier to fit in to my normal life, is baking. In an effort to cure “The Mondays” I bring in baked goods to the office every Monday morning. You can ask around, but I’d say it’s working!
Main photo by Sportograph.com