Luckily, I tripped over the finish line.

Important note: I didn't actually participate in the race. In fact, I had absolutely no idea what Race Across America (RAAM) was until I happened across the finish line in downtown Annapolis on Sunday, June 23. I'll explain.

Geared toward ultra cyclists (people who are really hardcore about bike riding), RAAM is a cross-country race that has started in California and ended at City Dock in Annapolis for the past 36 years. According to the website, the race "spans 3,000 miles, climbs 175,000 feet, [and] crosses 12 states" and has participants from around the world. 

I was on a leisurely walk from Eastport over to City Dock — if you haven't walked it, you should. Heading over the Eastport bridge into downtown Annapolis is just beautiful. The weather on Sunday was perfect, so we packed up our nearly-1-year old in our little hiking backpack and took the 1.2-mile leisurely stroll into town just as Martin Bergmeister of Italy pedaled across the finish line. After 11 days, 18 hours, and 12 minutes, Bergmeister dismounted his bike on City Dock and hugged the team that had helped him cross the country. They were waiting for him with open arms and Italian flags. He hoisted his bicycle over his head in victory, celebrating a job well done and a feat of mental and physical endurance. And I was tired just from the mile I had just walked.

But the race isn't just about the glory. Each racer can raise money through sponsors and donations for the causes and the charities of their choice. The race itself becomes a platform to raise awareness for various organizations. For example, Jeff Boltz, a racer from Pennsylvania who has been following the race since he was a child, biked for the sake of Water for People and Cycling for Water, organizations that work to enable people to have access to clean water. According to the RAAM website, racers raise over $2 million collectively for various charities each year. Exercising for a good cause!

You don't even need to be a pro to participate. Just about anyone can form a team to race together. It's a little more complicated if you want to be a solo racer, though. You'll have either had to complete RAAM with a team in a previous year, or complete a qualifying race or RAAM time trial. If you haven't done any of those things, you can petition to be allowed to race. However, I think I'd want to meet some of their predetermined standards before signing up for something so challenging. But that's just me. I heard Bergmeister say (via a translator) at his postrace interview that actually having participated in the race previously made it harder this time because he knew what kind of challenges he would be up against. *Shudder!*

Events like this amaze me. Physical fitness is all around us. While keeping up with my low-key exercise routine, I ran into something way more intense. But it's all worthwhile. And we all have something in common: getting the blood flowing (no matter how hard your heart is pumping) makes us feel good and brings us together. I don't even know Martin Bergmeister, but seeing him cross the finish line made me feel super proud of him. And if you were in downtown Annapolis this weekend, most likely you got a secondhand drink of their energy and dedication.

Congrats, cyclists!

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The Run-Around is a weekly feature, focusing on fitness in and around Annapolis, MD.