Last year, Andrew Willis slid off his bicycle 130 miles into the Race Across the West, overheated, dehydrated and 11 pounds lighter than when he started the grueling race from California to Colorado.

Emergency room nurses pumped three bags of IV fluids into his veins, and as he slowly revived, he realized he hadnt properly prepared for the intensity of the heat, which had climbed to 126 degrees.

This year, he thinks hes ready.

I spoke to Willis yesterday as he drove from Texas to Oceanside, California, where the race will begin at noon next Tuesday. If all goes as planned, hell ride 928 miles (thats 80 miles longer than last years route) to Durango, Colorado, crossing deserts and mountains along the way.

Last year, I was worried about what place I was in in relation to everyone else. I dropped into the desert and went charging off full speed, he says. I had some success later in the year, and realized that you have to slow down when its hot and youve got to take your time with nutrition and drinking. It pays huge dividends later.

Willis is president of Holland Racing, which puts on the weekly Driveway Race Series.

Andrew Willis dropped out of the 2015 Race Across the West, overheated and dehydrated. Photo by Holly Ammerman

Hed approached the event, put on by the creators of the famous Race Across America, like a road racer, when he needed to train like an endurance athlete.

These are really races against yourself, and your best is either enough to win, or just finish, or get fifth place. Outside of that, theres really not a lot you can do about it, Willis says.

This year Willis adjusted the way he trains. He spends more time riding indoors, on a stationary trainer. Hell ride seven or eight hours straight, without pause, sometimes saying goodnight to his wife and hopping on the trainer to spin through the night, purposely depriving himself of sleep and acclimating to warm temperatures.

Ill crank the heat up to 90 degrees, he says. Even though its not 100 or 105, you dont have the air flow youd have outside. So 90 degrees indoors is a lot hotter than 90 degrees outside, when youre moving through the air.

Unlike riding on the road, where cyclists can coast, a stationary trainer requires constant pedaling.

It has a really good effect on these ultra endurance events, and its allowed me to focus on how much Im eating and drinking, he says.
He does longer outdoor rides, too, parking his van, stocked with an ice chest full of water and electrolytes, and logging 20-mile laps all day long.

Willis changed his training regime this year. Photo by Holly Ammerman.

Its the only way I can ride outside and practice drinking enough, he says. If youre out in the desert you have to be able to absorb three to four bottles an hour. If I was relying on convenience stores, Id be spending a ton of time refilling bottles.

Hes taught his body to take in 60 to 85 ounces of water an hour. (He pees while hes on the bike, if you must know.)

Last years winning time was 65 hours. Willis says hes trying not to set a goal time, because he doesnt want to feel like hes ever behind pace, but race organizers have said hes a favorite to win.

Stay tuned. Well be tracking Willis along the way.

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