At 58, Susan Lynch Races Across America

Dorset’s Susan Lynch isn’t just riding across America–at 58, she’s racing across it. 

On Saturday, June 17th, Susan Lynch of Dorset will head out on a bike ride with three other women. But her ride will be a bit longer than most. 58-year-old Lynch will start her ride in Oceanside, California and travel through Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania before finishing in Annapolis, Maryland. And it’s not a ride, it’s a race. In fact, it’s the race–across America.

Billed as “the world’s toughest bicycle race,” the Race Across America had a modest start in 1982, with four cyclists heading from Santa Monica to New York City. As the race became more popular, the route was changed and a relay division was added, allowing teams of two, four or eight cyclists. Open to professionals and amateurs, riders travel over 3,000 miles with 170,000 feet in elevation gain.

Lynch is a starter for Team Brigham Health. The rest of her team includes Trish Karter (61), Margaret Thompson (63) and Neil Withington (66) as well as two alternate members (Anne Marie Miller and Mary Hynes Johanson, both 62). The team’s age range is determined by the average of their ages, so they will be competing in the 60-69 division. Fewer than 20 percent of RAAM racers are female, and no women’s team in the 60+ age range has ever finished the race. Teams are given a maximum of nine days to finish, and the record for the fastest female team (ages 50-59) is 6 days, 11 hours and 34 minutes. The quartet is hoping to complete the course in seven days.

Cyclist Susan Lynch in Dorset, Vermont. Photography by Caleb Kenna
Cyclist Susan Lynch in Dorset, Vermont. Photo by Caleb Kenna

A professional spin instructor at the Manchester Gym and mother of three, Lynch has won three national championships in cross-country mountain biking. She’s also proud of her 10th place finish among women in The Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race last year with a time of 9:09. This year, on Aug. 12, she is hoping to break the nine- hour mark. In 2014, Lynch added cyclocross to her list of activities and finished second in the national championship in her age group. “I’m really bad over the barriers,” she said “so I don’t do as well when there is a lot of running, but when there is climbing, I have an advantage.”

This will be Lynch’s first big competition on a road bike. A runner who competed in triathlons and duathlons, she developed bone-on-bone arthritis at 42. That’s when she decided to try a mountain bike race. She finished second in her first race, the Vermont 50, in 2002 and began to taper off her running.

She has finished the Vermont 50 fourteen times, twice repeating her feat as the second fastest woman. Although many RAAM participants use time trial bikes, Lynch purchased a Specialized Venge from Battenkill Bikes for the race and is bringing her cyclocross bike as a back-up.

Lynch credits Karter with pulling the team together. Each of the four teammates has different skill sets. Lynch and Karter are climbers, Thompson is an eight-time USA Cycling National Champion and Withington is a triathlete.

They’re riding to raise money for the Mary Horrigon Connors Center for Women’s Health & Gender Biology. Withington and Thompson are cancer survivors and Karter suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2010.

Four-person RAAM teams are divided into sub-teams of two racers who ride for ten to twelve hours, alternating every 20 to 30 minutes. The women of Brigham Health hope to maintain an average speed of 20 mph, but Lynch thinks 19 mph is a more realistic expectation. Each group of two has a follow vehicle and a transport vehicle for the second rider. Two other vehicles are waiting at a hotel with the resting riders and other members of the 17-person support crew who prepare the meals, provide massages and maintain the bikes.

Because they are only on the bike for short periods of time, the cyclists travel light, eschewing food, water and tool kits. During the breaks, the riders have snacks and water in the car, saving their main meals for the conclusion of their 10 to 12 hour days.

Lynch and her teammates live in four different northeastern states, so they have mostly trained separately, but they have gotten together for some weekend rides and have been practicing their 20-minutes on, 20-minutes off routine.

Lynch expects that her team will do well for the first two days of the race, but is worried about the fatigue factor at the end. “Accidents happen when you’re tired,” she said. While many racers dread the steep climbs in the Appalachian Mountains, Lynch is more concerned about the cross-winds they may encounter in Kansas. The 20- to 30-minute increments are discarded on downhills, but they are adhered to on climbs with racers waiting with support people in a track start position as they get ready for their segments. “Those of us who are better at climbing may do longer stints,” Lynch said.

Lynch has been visiting her husband’s family in Dorset since they got married in 1987. In 2005, the couple built a house in town, and after gradually spending more and more of their summers in Vermont, they nally made the move from Massachusetts last spring.

In addition to cycling, Lynch takes ab classes, and does Pilates and Bikram yoga in the cooler months. She loves gardening, walking her dog, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. “I’ve always been fairly outdoorsy,” she said “and I’m fortunate to have mountain bike trails right out my back door.”

After RAAM, Lynch hopes to race again in Leadville in August and take part in the Whiteface Mountain Uphill Bike Race. She broke her collarbone a few years ago and worries that she is aging out of mountain biking, as more fast women compete. Recently she has done more gravel grinders, and two of her favorite races are the Vermont Overland and the Rasputitsa.

“I think the Race Across America is going to be an incredible experience,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to ride across the country. I was really looking for something new to do.”

Phyl Newbeck

Phyl Newbeck lives in Jericho with two spoiled orange cats. She is a skier, skater, cyclist, kayaker, and lover of virtually any sport which does not involve motors. She is the author of “Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving.”