Bill and Debbie Albers of Healdsburg will compete in the 3000-mile Race Across America in June to raise funds for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

Relay race has to be finished in nine days

For Bill and Debbie Albers of Healdsburg, training for a 3000-mile cycling race has not only honed their athletic ability, but has also provided the ultimate opportunity to evaluate their time-management skills.

“We have a very, very tightly scheduled day,” said Debbie, who is an instructor and mathematics department chair at Santa Rosa Junior College. “You look at any time you might have space to do nothing under normal circumstances, and fill it in with workouts.”

On June 14, 2014, the couple will compete as a two-person relay team in Race Across America, a 3000-mile race from Oceanside, Calif. to Annapolis, Md. Over its 30-year history, RAAM has become recognized internationally as a true test of physical and emotional endurance, attracting athletes from five continents and over 25 countries.

The race is about 30 percent longer than the Tour de France, and participants must complete the course, which crosses 12 states, in roughly half the time allowed for the Tour, according to RAAM’s website. And unlike the Tour de France, RAAM is not a stage race; once the clock starts, it does not stop until the finish line.

The strict time limit affords racers scant opportunity to recuperate between long stretches of riding. To complete within the maximum-allotted 12 days, solo racers cannot afford to sleep more than four hours a day. Relay racers, who have the advantage of taking shifts with their teammates, are given only nine days to complete the course.

As a two-person relay team, Bill and Debbie are currently fine-tuning a riding schedule that will keep one of them on the road at all times.

“We’ll finalize our racing strategy,” said Bill, who is a Healdsburg firefighter, “but so far we’ll ride an hour and a half shifts during the day, and at night longer – three to four hours. Just so the other person can get a little bit more rest. But it’s 24/7. We don’t foresee stopping other than weather.”

Both Bill and Debbie are accomplished athletes who have an extensive history with endurance-type events. Bill began cycling at the age of sixteen and completed his first ultra-marathon event at twenty. Debbie swam the English Channel twice in 1991, once solo and once as part of a relay team. In 2009, they set a record as a two-tandem relay team in a 508-mile bicycle race called the Furnace Creek 508. The following year, they returned to the race and beat their previous record.

Currently, Bill and Debbie try to squeeze in three workout rides throughout the day, which can prove difficult when managing their respective careers and caring for two sons.

Despite tight schedules and a heightening sense of anticipation, both Bill and Debbie agreed that participating in RAAM at this stage in their lives is crucial. “You don’t want to look down the road and figure, ‘I wish I did that,’ and I could see that happening,” Bill said. “I wanted to do it before it was too late.”

“You can either go through life wondering if, or you can find out,” Debbie said. “And that’s what this is for me. Rather than go through life wondering if, let’s find out.”

In addition, when they take to the road as Team Albers Benefitting NFFF, the couple will raise money for a cause they have a personal connection to: the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), which provides financial and emotional support for the families of firefighters killed in the line of duty.

“Being a firefighter myself,” Bill said, “it would be great to know that there’s an organization out there that would take care of my family and coworkers if something were to happen to me.”

The Albers’ current fundraising goal is $100,000, 30 percent of which will underwrite race expenses, including food and lodging for a 10-person support crew and fuel for three vehicles accompanying them. The remaining 70 percent, as well as any amount raised over their $100,000 goal, will be donated to NFFF.

“We appreciate any help and no donation is too small,” Debbie said in an email. “Most of the donations we’ve received are in the $50 to $100 range, and we are really, really thankful for each and every one.”

Team Albers Benefitting NFFF is also offering businesses an opportunity to sponsor the team in return for varying levels of brand exposure. Local sponsors include Bear Republic Brewing Company in Healdsburg and the Hub Cyclery in Cotati.

Those interested in donating to Team Albers Benefitting NFFF or learning more about the sponsorship process can visit the Albers’ website at www.teamalbers.com.

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