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How the Cisco Family helped me Race Across America


August 23, 2016 - 6 Comments

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What happens when the toughest bicycle race in the world meets Cisco and Internet of Things (IoT) technology? I needed to know for myself, and so a couple of years ago I suggested that the two worlds meet.

I got to explain my idea to the CEO of Cisco UKI in August 2014. Twenty months later, and the Project Kansas team members were on a plane headed to America with three bikes and more bags than you can easily drag through an airport for Race Across America. Which, is exactly what it sounds like, a non-stop 3,000 mile race across the United States.

So what was it like getting all this off the ground?

Working out of the Scotland office, I’d always felt like part of the Cisco family.  It’s a very close knit community here that leaves us all spending time together even outside of work.  Since coming on in 2007, I’d been part of several madcap ideas or challenges that had helped me to build a network of people with similar interests. It was with this understanding that I thought it might actually be plausible to get a group together who’d be interested in helping me race across America by bike.

Let’s just say that Cisco does not lack people who are willing to put themselves into challenging situations!  And their support showed me yet another example of how Cisco comes together and does their best to tackle difficult situations to benefit everyone.

It’s now been a few weeks since the team and I returned from Race Across America. If you want to read more about the journey then its all here. Looking back with some perspective, I believe we achieved our goals.

The “we” in this is important! All I had to do was pedal, eat and occasionally sleep. Being a good rider is one thing, having a great team, however, is crucial for success! This race is about perseverance, determination and a fighting spirit above all else (I believe I only got about 15 hours of sleep in 12 days, and I can’t say the team did much better) and I can’t thank my team enough for being alongside me with each pedal stroke.

There was no better example of this than when the team came together after I developed an incredible pain in my foot due to the relentless time riding without rest. Literally unable to walk, it took one ice bath, a blow torch, and a hacksaw to get me back on the road in just 30 minutes time. Luckily, the blow torch and hacksaw were only used to modify my expensive carbon cycling shoes! I rode the next 2,000 miles in them with a chunk of them removed from the side and put back together with gaffer tape.

The team was on constant high alert as they had to adapt to each new challenge within the race. At one point we were perilously close to being disqualified at the first time cut off. What did we do?

We rode all day and all night. We stopped for just 15 minutes, where I slept in the back of the follow car, and then got going again and rode right into the next day. When the sun came up on that day the team kept me going with pop quizzes, trivia, and discussions about films. Everyone stopped talking, however, when we got to the most visually stunning landscape I’ve ever seen – Monument Valley in Utah. Google it. It’s utterly breath-taking to be there, never mind being there after having ridden all the way through the desert and mountains from the Pacific coast.RaceAcrossAmerica3

By late evening we reached Durango and the first time cut off with 4 hours to spare. My reward was 3 hours of sleep before tackling the Rockies. This was the most sleep in one night that I’d have throughout the entire race.

As we headed over Wolf Creek Pass, to a height of 3200m and into the altitude danger zone, we had our secret weapon ready! The technology we had been developing with Dimension Data was crucial in keeping us on track and in the race.

This race does unique things to a rider. Cycling for up to 22 hours a day for days on end can do that to you, and it’s very common for riders to wind up in the hospital due to a variety of ailments not seen in shorter races. Our technology enabled the crew to keep an eye on me at all times and what I was doing on the bike. What effort was I expending? What were my averages? It kept me in the green zone, so to speak. And it did so in giving relevant, easy to understand data to a team who were all sleep deprived and couldn’t risk manually working it out.

The whole project was developed on the basis that we wanted to show that IoT and analytics can help endurance athletes perform to their maximum, and in time this technology could be used to help patients recover from surgery or illness more rapidly. This technology could also monitor people operating in dangerous environments such as deep sea divers, soldiers, or construction workers.

Getting to the finish line wasn’t easy.  But through dedicated teamwork, meticulous planning, phenomenal tech, and the team’s “must succeed” attitude – we did it.

What did we achieve during Race Across America?

  • We showed that Cisco and Dimension Data can work together to create new technology that benefits everyone. This technology was used in the Tour de France just this year!
  • We showed that a team of rookies can conquer the toughest bike race in the world on their first attempt. Statistically there was more chance of failure than success for us, but we showed that an ambitious goal can be achieved through hard work and determination – together.
  • The people we met along the journey were truly interested in what we were doing. And completely gobsmacked by how we were doing it!
  • In Race Across America’s 35 year history just 319 solo riders have completed the race. I’m the first Scotsman to do so and the 9th in the UK!

What I’ll remember daily from this experience is somewhere between the mind blowing views of Utah and knowing that I would be riding through the Rockies within hours of them first appearing on the horizon. All the ups and downs our team weathered together will be with me forever.

I think having had that experience with my team – to know that we’ve stood in the middle of nowhere, miles from the finish of a physical event, dripping wet and numb with the cold, and relying on each other to get to that finish line – really builds strong relationships with mutual respect.

There’s nothing quite like getting to know someone in these challenging circumstances, outside of the normal office environment, to really help you understand how valuable we all are to the success of each work day as well.

I’ve never felt more connected as I do now at Cisco, and it’s great to be part of the largest family I know.

 

Check out www.projectkansas.org for more information and to meet the amazing team that made this possible.

Want to ride with the best in tech? We’re hiring!

 

Further blogs you may enjoy:

Real Time Performance Metrics The Key to Success
Race Across America Crew Chief Blogs

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6 Comments

  1. So inspiring! Congrats to you and the team!

  2. Congrats James! I was a crew member for RAAM 2011. Bike mechanic, RV driver, navigator and all around support. We had an eight person team to support. It was a great experience for all, both riders and support. I've been on the roads you traveled and what a great route to see the US. How about all those sunrises?

    • Brady, yes we saw lots of sunrises and since we were travelling due east the mornings were spectacular - watching the sun rise ahead of us.

  3. What a fantastic achievement ! Congratulations I'm planning for an IRONMAN, any idea if Cisco support or fund this type of activities ?

    • Ronen, I guess you would have to ask locally to see if there is any scope for that. Good luck with your event!

  4. What an achievement, congratulations on this!