With his crew following him in a car, Andy Haaning Christensen will take to the road at 12:28 p.m. Tuesday on his bicycle and ride for 925 miles with the hope of completing the course in 60 hours.
Race Across the West starts in Oceanside, California and will end in Durango, Colorado. Enduring 100-plus degree heat and 45 degree cold, he hopes to best the time he had last year by 4 ½ hours. The Danish-born cyclist has called Mount Pleasant home for the past four years.
Not an American citizen yet, Christensen’s clothing will have an American and Danish flag on it.
“Doing this is meaningful to me because of my history,” he said. “I was living the wrong lifestyle and doing the wrong things…. I’ve been able to push myself way beyond my limits. I know myself way better than most people know themselves. I know how I can react to things so I can control myself better because I recognize them.”
Why Race Across the West…
Christensen’s commitment to becoming a better athlete started 10 years ago when he realized he was living an unhealthy lifestyle. He started bicycling his way to better health, eating better and quit smoking. But ultra cycling changed his mental outlook. And he realized just how much support he needs on this journey.
“This race has changed for me… in the meaning of it,” Christensen said. “It’s the fourth year in a row I’ve done it. In the beginning I just wanted to see if I could do it and then I realized what I could do. Now I’m looking to do what could be done, just better.”
The race is grueling, but diverse and beautiful. Pedaling across four states, Christensen will travel across California, Arizona, Utah, and parts of Colorado. He’ll see the beach in Oceanside, climb the Coastal Range, drop into the desert, and pedal up the mountains in Flagstaff, Arizona. Then he’ll travel through the Rocky Mountains and finish along the Animas River in Durango, Colorado.
Christensen will fight temperatures ranging between 45 degrees in the mountains to 100 degrees in the desert. He will allow himself to feel every emotion and acknowledge his fatigue. But he will also rely on the help of others to see himself through it.
As he has gotten older, Christensen has realized that his skill, training, proper planning and inner strength can only carry him so far. So much of what has gotten him through these races equates to shear humility and trust, he said.
The mental aspect of ultra cycling took its toll on Andy in 2015 and he didn’t finish the race. But in 2016, he placed third overall, second place in the men’s division and had the seventh fastest average in race history.
“I have a deal with my crew, they won’t let me quit. And if that little devil starts to get in my head, they will help me shut it out,” he said.
Andy’s Bicycle Crew
The connection Christensen has with his crew is strong. Birgitte Haaning Christensen, Andy’s wife, serves as his crew chief and nutritionist. She’ll monitor his food and water intake. She owns a nutrition consulting company called Happy Healthy Way. And she’ll call the shots that need to be called, she said.
“I’ll be listening to how he’s answering different questions and watching the way he is sitting on the bike,” Birgitte said. “If he’s hurting or if he needs something, we’ll address it.”
Carl “Kulli” Hauser, a firefighter from Minneapolis, will watch what happens to Andy physically and deal with any safety issues. Martin Lauridsen, who worked with Andy in Denmark, will help with navigation, changing out his bike, driving and filling up water bottles.
“We don’t just have a team in the vehicle, we have a team all around us all the time,” Birgitte said.
When Andy needs mental support, she’ll call on friends and family to help get him through the rough patches by using a bluetooth enabled intercom system in his helmet. Birgitte also plans to read him any messages he gets on his Andy Christensen Racing Facebook page.
She’ll remind Andy why he has trained so long and so hard.
“I’ll remind him why he trained for 8 hours in our basement… to be able to enjoy this, to push himself this far so that he can enjoy this beautiful country,” she said. “That’s why those hours in the basement were worth it.”
For Andy, he’s not just racing to race. He’s trying better himself. But there’s also a part of him that doesn’t want to let his crew, his family and friends, or his fans down.
“So I realized, I am my biggest competition,” he said. “I focus only on the game plan, not the competition.”
Once Andy completes Race Across the West he hopes to start training for Race Across America, a 3,000 mile race that will take him across 12 states from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland.
Want to offer Andy words of encouragement? Send him a message on his Facebook page.