Hey everyone! Wow I still haven’t come down off the high of this past weekend and the Dirty Kanza 200. Finishing this preeminent race for the second time was amazing and I’d love to share with you some of my training and nutrition plans along with a report about the race itself.
Let’s start with training for Dirty Kanza. When it comes to training for lengthy endurance races I like to focus on two things, my ability to endure and my mental strength. I want to get out and ride long grueling stretches of gravel roads. Distances between 60-100 miles as often as I can, usually by my lonesome over the most difficult roads I can find. This year I rode three 100-mile rides near the area of Eskridge, Kansas.
I rode in this area for two reasons. First, for the miles, but second for the terrain. The area around Eskridge, Kansas is a little different then some other parts of the Flint Hills. The climbs are steeper and longer, and the gravel is chunkier. Plus when you are riding around Eskridge you have to be prepared for anything. One moment you can be riding down a typical gravel road and the next moment you can be trapped in 5 miles of torturous roads that don’t appear to have any end. This helped train my legs to keep moving over the long haul, but also train my mind.
I heard a rider once say that mental training was just as important if not more important then the physical. I strive to work the mind during my rides. I love riding in the cold… did I say love, ok I despise it. But this last winter when it was -6 degrees I rode my bike. An ice storm on the way, ride. Why? Because it horrible, its no fun, your uncomfortable from the moment you get on the bike. It’s raining, lets ride. The wind is blowing at 30 mph, ride. In Kansas you never know what you are going to get with the weather, so I’ve learned to take what I get, ride it, get through it and come out stronger both physically and mentally on the other side.
So June 4th 2017 was my 1-year anniversary of using Tailwind Nutrition. I discovered it while dealing with a gut that felt like a washing machine was tumbling inside of me. It changed my day, changed my race and got me through Dirty Kanza 200 in 2016. Since then I’ve really had to experiment with calorie intake and how much Tailwind I needed. I’ve tried a variety of dosage mixtures, calories per hour, buzz vs. non-caffeinated After the three centuries I had ridden this year I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do for Dirty Kanza. I sat down and evaluated the entire Dirty Kanza 200 course, and how long I expected it to take me to get from checkpoint to checkpoint based on elevation climbs, fatigue, and est. wind. I settled on 200 calories per hour as the ideal amount of calories I needed per hour. I also decided I wanted some ICE cold water in some bottles while riding, especially in the afternoon hours. I froze 3 bottles before the race All in all during the race I consumed around 3300 calories of Tailwind. I’ve included the spreadsheet of my nutrition plan for Dirty Kanza along with a picture of my bottle plan. This is how you make life easy on your support crew and get in and out of checkpoints fast.
My goal was to do all 200 miles on only Tailwind this year. Food doesn’t even sound good during races anymore. I hadn’t done 200 miles yet only using Tailwind so I was nervous, but did not plan for anything else. This was the REAL test and Tailwind passed with flying colors. It was so cool visiting with other friends at the end of the day after our race was over that had also used Tailwind. Each of them sang the praises of how well Tailwind nutrition worked for them. Lyn Blubaugh even did a Tailwind dance in excitement when I saw her after my finished. I want to say this because I think it is important, Tailwind didn’t just work for me this year at the Dirty Kanza 200, it worked for so many of my friends who I have shared it with in the past year.
The simplicity of being able to know my calories to a T along with the simplicity of just swapping bottles at the checkpoints and not having to open anything on the bike to get my nutrition was a key to finishing quicker by almost 3 ½ hours this year. I was in and out of each checkpoints in under 5 minutes because of this. The crew got the old bottles off, the new bottles on and I was back on the road. I recovered while riding and never wasted a moment hassling with a wrapper or a sticky gel. It was fantastic.
June 22, 2011 – Rode the bike to work for the second day in a row. My legs are dead. That Facebook post pops up as a reminder each year. By the way, my ride to work was less then 2 miles. I sold that cheep bike after those two rides. It was horrible. Who does this? Why in the world would I want to ride my bike to work those almost 2 sadistic miles??
April 28, 2013 – 20 mile gravel road bike ride today with the Alpers boys. What a beautiful day.
What possessed me to ride 20 miles that day on gravel roads I will never know. I had never ridden on a gravel road and had never rode my bike more that 4 miles, but there was something special about gravel, I just don’t know what.
Fast-forward to June 3, 2017. I’ve finished the Dirty Kanza 200 once. It was a struggle. Today I line up around the middle of the 16 hour pack looking to come in before midnight. The crowd is electric. Commercial Street in downtown Emporia is filled with anticipation by both riders and fans. A group of young local fans is standing on the right side of the road as we roll out looking to slap hands with every rider. The atmosphere catches first time riders off guard. Most are in amazement that this many people would start lining the street at 5 AM to cheer on a bunch of people they don’t know.
For the first 50ish miles to Madison the roads aren’t bad, but the race is difficult. The crowd is thick. Part of the reason I started at the 16 hour pace even though I thought I would finish between 17-18 was that I wanted to get out with faster riders. However, as soon as we hit the first bunch of short punchy climbs I realized some folks were riding around the wrong time slot. Slower riders were making it difficult for those of us who were ready to climb. A few close calls happened during that time.
A few miles later there was some mud and water. As a local I know both of the spots are 100% ride-able. I rode through them the week before and the week after the race, but when 50 people in front of you dismounted and walk through the mud/water you really don’t have a choice.
The rest of the first leg was calm. I had the chance to ride with some friends as well as some individuals I knew from social media. I rolled into the first checkpoint on schedule. I could have gone a lot faster then the 14.2 mph I was averaging at the time, there was still 158 miles left to this race and I knew what was ahead in leg two.
Leg two was where I got sick last year using my previous nutrition. It’s a brutal leg. Leg two is about 54 miles long and has some gnarly climbs. This year I felt great on leg two. Part of what made it great was running into a familiar face. At Land Run 100 in March I had met Lauren, one of the extraordinary single-speed racers from Chicago that helped form the group of 11 single-speed women that were racing in the first single-speed class for women at Dirty Kanza. What helped so much is that Lauren is a great conversation buddy. There were times she told me to just go and leave her, but having someone to pass the miles with is a blessing. We talked about jobs, life, my daughter and just about any thing else that came to mind. We rode a large portion of mile 60-130 together. I probably don’t feel as good or ride as well without Lauren being there especially during that second leg.
I rolled into Eureka HOT. It was a humid day and the sun had found some breaks in the clouds. I did two things at the checkpoint. I changed the cycling hat I was wearing to a mesh squishy hat that I picked up from Orange Mud at the All Things Gravel Expo the day before (Thanks, Kevin). That allowed my head to breath. I also got some pantyhose… let me explain. I had my crew stuff ice in the legs of the panty hose, put it hanging over my neck, stuffed the ice filled legs down the front of my jersey and zipped it up. REFRESHING.
Leg three starts off relaxed, but being the longest leg of the race, those first miles can lull you into a false sense of thinking things are getting better. The roads turn rough, climbs start to appear and on this day so did rain. I caught back up with Lauren and we were rolling south when we noticed that there were some scary clouds appearing. We turned north and shortly after we received some relief from the cold wind in front of the storm and then the lightning started hitting. BOOM, CRASH, EEK. The lightning was close and the skies opened.
To be honest, it didn’t bother me (mental training, plus the rain felt great). However, it did add a concern. When rain gets on our gravel roads the little rocks fling up and get stuck in rear derailleur’s, and they break. Around mile 145 I was soft peddling waiting for another rider to finish his climb. During that soft pedal my chain locked and I was sure I was going to hear a snap. I back pedaled once, tried a soft pedal forward, stuck. I tried a little longer backwards pedal then I heard the rock drop. It knocked around and I was in the clear. Catastrophe avoided. I won’t lie that made my gut drop.
Shortly later I was in and out of Madison. I was sure that unless I had a major breakdown I would roll into Emporia ahead of my midnight goal.
Leg 4 was all about moving forward. I didn’t push hard these final miles. I maybe could have and finished 30-40 minutes faster, but when it comes to 200 miles, finishing is my goal. I enjoyed the conversational company of other riders who were struggling through these miles. Being a local I became the cue sheet/GPS/tour guide for most of remaining miles. I assured riders where we were going and of the mileage left until that glorious moment when they would ride down Commercial Street.
Mile 204. I intentionally tried to put a gap between those in front of and behind me. Knowing my wife and friends were waiting at the finish was special. Knowing my daughter was going to be able to see daddy finish this year, priceless. I wanted to make sure that I had that chance to ride in by myself, hear my name called and enjoy the chute.
Mile 206. 12th avenue and Commercial. The crowd was huge. Coming in before midnight is special, getting in around 11 PM was awesome. There were thousands of people still there. For three blocks I rode slowly slapping hands with each fan as I crossed 10th street, 9th street and came to the finish line. Goosebumps… tears wanting to come out, all while I had the energy of a 9 year old who was tweaked out on sugar and caffeine. I felt like I could ride 200 more miles while wanting to collapse at the same time. I grabbed my wife and hugged her. I hugged my friends Denisha and Blair who were with Brandi all day helping get me in and out of the checkpoints fast (I spent less that 15 minutes combined in the 3 checkpoints.)
Then there was Abby, my daughter. She was tired, fighting sleep, but I lifted her up and hugged her. I didn’t want to let go. Then I looked her in the eyes and reminded her that some day her and I were going to cross that line together. At 7 years old that is all she talks about. She can hardly ride more that 8 miles at a time right now, but she has her eyes set on 200. The day it happens these eyes will definitely filled with tears.
I finished in 17 hours 4 minutes and 58 seconds. Almost 3 ½ hours earlier then last year!! However, for the next 3 ½ hours I stayed right there. Never walking more then a block away from that finish line. I watched fellow riders come through, cheering them all on with every ounce of energy I had left. I got to see Lauren destroy 206 miles on a single-speed bike finishing just after midnight, HECK YEAH!!! (I’m still a little jealous of that breakfast club egg patch). I got to see Jeremy Hutsell the Sexy T-Rex (don’t ask) FINISH, YEAH BUDDY!!! SO HAPPY FOR YOU. I got to see Shelli Shipps finish, she and I started near each other at the beginning of the day and I hadn’t seen her since. These are the folks that make Dirty Kanza so awesome. Grinding 18,19,20 hours on a bike, determined to slay the beast that is the Dirty Kanza 200. Their success that day brought me the same emotions as when I finished. Goosebumps, tears, excitement, completely uncontrollable joy.
Now I know, this is what is so special about gravel.