Sarah Cooper is an Iowan mother of four with an amazing talent for and dedication to ultracycling. This past summer she won Race Across the West (RAW), beating all female and male competitors with her time of 2 days, 11 hours, and 59 minutes on the 928-mile course.
Here at Kyle's Bikes, we are proud to support Sarah and are excited about what she is working on next. Most notably, she is preparing for next summer's Race Across America (RAAM)—a race of approximately 3000 miles from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland—and we can't wait to see how she does. She is also getting ready for her first race as a race director—the Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra.
Race Across America
RAAM is one of, if not *the* toughest endurance event in the world, offering long-distance cyclists the opportunity to challenge themselves to the height of their abilities. Only a few hundred cyclists have completed solo RAAM since its first edition in 1982.
Although the race is frequently compared to the Tour de France, the clock runs continuously from start to finish rather than the race being divided into daily stages. And it's approximately 30% longer. Solo winners complete the course in about 9 days, and winning teams complete the journey in less than 6 days.
The men's record was set in 2014 by Christoph Strasser, who averaged 16.42 mph over that year's 3,020-mile course. The women's record has not been beaten since 1995 when Seana Hogan averaged 13.23 mph over 2,912 miles. Sarah's goals in 2017 will include chasing the women's record.
During RAAM we will maintain a post on our blog with frequent updates on Sarah's progress. We hope you follow along!
Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra
In addition to road ultracycling, Sarah races gravel ultracycling events. And she is organizing a gravel race this fall.
The Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra will be Saturday, October 29, 2016 on the hilly gravel and dirt roads southwest of Des Moines, Iowa. The headline race is 200 miles, and the race Sarah refers to as a "sprint" is 150 miles. Both races are self-supported. Riders will need to carry what they need or be prepared to stop at convenience stores.
UPDATE: The first Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra was a success (You can read Katherine's race report), and the second is scheduled for Saturday, October 7, 2017!
How Sarah Got Her Start
Before discovering ultracycling, Sarah Cooper was a triathlete. She began competing in local sprint and Olympic-distance triathlons, and earned numerous age-group podiums and two overall female wins. Sarah is a four-time Ironman, and seven-time half-Ironman, finisher. And she was named an Ironman All World Athlete in 2013.
It was during her Ironman training that she fell in love with long distance cycling. She set her sights on the Furnace Creek 508. In the fall of 2011, she competed in the Death Valley Ultra Century (144 miles). She was 9th overall and the first woman finisher. Then she returned to Death Valley for the Death Valley Fall Double Century in 2013, where she was the first finisher overall with a time of 10h 59m. Her 2013 season also included Hawaii 70.3 in June and Ironman Canada in August.
In 2014 the Furnace Creek 508 moved from Death Valley to Nevada and changed name to the Silver State 508. "Training for this event was relentless. I loved almost every minute of it," Sarah wrote in her race report. Balancing training with kids, dog, house, and life got chaotic, but when she got there in October, she won the women's race and tied for seventh overall. Her time was 32h 32m.
Sarah Cooper's Cycling Accomplishments
The Silver State 508 wasn't her only race that year; 2014 was a big year for Sarah Cooper.
In February, she did the Bike Sebring 24 Hours Non-drafting RAAM-Qualifying Event. She was the first woman and third finisher overall, setting a new women’s upright course record of 433.8 miles.
She did her first gravel race in April—Trans Iowa v10. After spending some of the race time holed up in a barn sheltering from a severe Iowa thunderstorm, Sarah tied for first woman and was one of only 19 riders to finish the 300+ mile course within the time limit.
A few months later, she entered Odin's Revenge in Nebraska. The weather was better, but the gravel and dirt road course was mostly mud. Only six racers finished out of the 33 who started, and Sarah won overall.
In August, 24 Hours of Cumming was her third and final gravel event of the season. It's a 200K race using some of the very roads that Sarah covers in her training rides. She won the women's race and finished only seconds behind the men's winner.
To prepare for the Silver State 508, she did the White Mountain Double Double in September. Held in Bishop, California, this event gave her a chance to race at altitude. On Saturday she won the women's race and set a new women's course record for the highland double century, and on Sunday she won the women's race for the lowland double century.
As mentioned above, she was the first woman finisher at Silver State 508 in October and tied for seventh overall with a time of 32h 32m.
Sarah's 2015 began like 2014, with a trip to Sebring, Florida in February for the Bike Sebring 24 Hours Non-drafting RAAM-Qualifying Event. She again set a new women's upright course record, this time 460.6 miles, and she finished fifth overall.
In early April she raced her second 500+ mile road race, the Heart of the South. She set a women's course record of 33h 47m.
In late April she wanted to improve her Trans Iowa result, but the conditions this year were even worse than 2014. Even though she was in the top ten when she reached the first checkpoint, only one rider made to that checkpoint before the cutoff time, and no riders finished the course.
The Alexander is a self-supported, 380-mile gravel race through Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin in May. Sarah was the first woman finisher and second overall.
In August she again did the 24 Hours of Cumming. Despite a crash on the second 100K loop, she finished as the first woman and second overall.
For her fourth gravel race of the season, Sarah Cooper traveled to the Colorado front range for Idirtirod. She was the first woman and second overall finisher of the 200 mile race.
She finished 2015 with another 500+ mile road race and this time came in sub-30 hours. Tejas 500 is part of The Texas Time Trials. Even in September, "Texas feels like being trapped in a hot car on the face of the sun," according to Sarah. That must not have hurt her too badly, as she set a women's course record of 29h 21m and was the second overall finisher.
For the third year in a row, Sarah Cooper went to the Bike Sebring 24 Hours Non-drafting RAAM-Qualifying Event in February. And for the third year in a row, she set a women's upright course record. This time it was 479.4 miles. She was first woman, and third place overall.
In April, Sarah had the successful Trans Iowa she had been looking for. Not only were there no thunderstorms, but with two full years gravel experience, she said, "I was a more confident rider, confident in my decisions, able to move beyond my mistakes, and not dwell on my demons in the dark of the night." She was the first woman and the seventh person overall across the line.
At Race Across the West in June, Sarah proved that she could build upon her success at 24-hour and 500+ mile events, and do well at multi-day events. We set up a live blog (just like we plan to do for RAAM next year) and tracked her every move. In the end, she won the women's solo division, beat the men's solo leader, and set a new women's course record! Her time was 2d 11h 59m, and she averaged 15.48 mph over 928.4 miles.
Sarah's fans are used to her setting women's course records and are never surprised when she beats most or all of the men in a race, but the 24-Hour Iron Butt at The Texas Time Trials (September 23rd) is the first time Sarah has broken a men's course record. She completed 16 laps of 26.5 miles each, for a total of 424 miles. The previous women’s record was 344.5 miles, and the previous men’s was 397.5. This year’s men’s winner got 397.5.
UPDATE: Sarah finished 2016 with the 383-mile No Country for Old Men in October. She won the women's race and the overall, and set a new women's course record of 21h 54m.
Find all of our articles about Sarah Cooper, including RAAM updates, by using the Sarah Cooper tag.
You can also follow her on her personal blog.