I’m going to be honest with you. I’m still tired. The Dirty Kanza stole a lot of my energy this year and recovery has been a little slow. Life is busy for me at this time of year and time to reflect has been sparse. I have lots of memories from not only the race itself but from the lead up to the DK. I always wonder where the line is between what I want to share and what people want to hear. I have been asked from a few what it’s like to prepare for something like the Dirty Kanza so let’s start there.
In December of 2015 I set a goal for myself. I was going to start actually training for a few cycling goals. I know I know….I’m not a pro. I’ll never stand next to the likes of Yuri Hauswald, Dan Hughes, Rebecca Rusch or Jay Petervary on a podium. All athletes I admire. So…who the heck wants to actually train?? RIDE BIKES!! DRINK BEER!! Yeah, I get it. BUT, I wanted to be able to ride in group rides easier. I wanted to be able to ride with my friends easier. I wanted to be part of the conversations that went on while everyone waited for me at the next stop sign. I just wanted cycling to be a little more “fun” and less “exhausting”. I don’t focus well without a goal so I set my sights on training with the intent of Beating the Sun at the Dirty Kanza in 2016. A lofty goal of finishing in under 15 hours when my best finish had been 18 hours.
I trained 5 days a week starting February. 60 – 90 minutes of interval training. Religiously. LeLan Dains from DK Promotions was and still is my coach. A quick few words on LeLan. Competitive but extremely caring about his friends and family. The athletes he trains are treated as and become like family. He truly cares about how the training is fitting into ones busy family and social life. My time spent training was similar to going to the gym over one’s lunch hour or hitting a spin class before work. Many commented that all I seem to do is ride bikes…well not really…I just incorporated it into my daily routine and it worked out. I can actually be pretty lazy at times! Some days were very forced but the effort was still put in. Thirty-five pounds were dropped. Can I just say how funny it is at the age of 42 to have to buy new clothes just because the ones you have fall off?? My overall diet became healthier and life became more fun and vibrant as a result. Heck I even learned how to properly pronounce “Quinoa”.
I. Made. Kale. Ice Cubes.
Well, okay, my wife Kerri did but I’m the one that used them for smoothies. Point is I really do know food groups now other than just Bacon and Bacon Flavored. I’m proud of that and see no reason to stop my routine in the near future. March through May was a lot of this. Eat “decent”. Train hard. Hit as many rides and races as I can without taking away from work and family. Family always come first.
Fast Forward to Dirty Kanza week.
Bike, gear and nutrition prep felt golden. Salsa Warbird ready to ride. I don’t necessarily believe one gravel/adventure bike is heads over tails better than another. We all have our brands or brand images that we like. I enjoy the Salsa family feel and the line of bikes they put out is geared to more of a “Lifes an Adventure” philosophy. It’s fine. You ride yours and I’ll ride mine. I do like the over all handling and feel with my Warbird though. I feel at ease and in total control bombing fast descents with narrow ride lines as well as shifting low and climbing up the Kansas hills. The bike fits me. I went with minimal storage in a seat bag, Revelate Designs Gas Tank and 2 Feed Bags. The feed bags honestly were pretty empty except for a back up phone charger and cord. I could have done without but…nice to know the storage was there and super light weight. All my food was Chia Bars, GU Gels, and Scratch Labs chews and were tucked into the gas tank bag. For legs 1, 2 and 4 I went with 3 hydration bottles full of GU Roctane. I had 4 bottles of GU Roctane for leg 3. I made a mistake here on Leg 2 hydration and nutrition wise that would set me up for a disastrous 3rd leg. I simply should have had 4 bottles and paid more attention to nutrition on leg 2 but more on that in my upcoming race day post.
My saddle was a beat up old Bontrager saddle that I’ve now finished 4 DK’s on. The same saddle I road crashed with last year it shares the same road rash scars as my right arm. I know it well and although I recently purchased a Brooks England carved C15 saddle that I’ve started to love (worked perfectly at Elrods Cirque century race), I simply wanted the confidence of a trusted old friend. I did throw on some aerobars for the first time ever and I have to say…once I figured out the quirks of riding with them on loose, rough gravel…I really enjoyed having that option there to extend out and lay down the pedal strokes. They were a great option in the 4th and final leg.
We had a guest rider stay with us for the first time for the Dirty Kanza. Paul Errington made the trip over from Newcastle, England. As a family we thoroughly enjoyed his friendship in the days leading up to the DK. My focus shifted from specific race over-analyzing thoughts to more of a DK Experience type approach. I enjoyed the lead up to race morning and all the festivities. Bike prep, gear prep, getting interviewed about my playlist of a local radio station, recording a This Is Gravel episode, Thursday nights Live in the Lot concert, Friday mornings group breakfast and ride, Friday’s expo and riders meeting and lastly Friday evenings group dinner at a friends house. WHEW! I was busy and always moving!! All took on a different feeling as usually I go from one event to the next, silent, solo and overthinking race day. With Paul along this time there more conversations about the race. Thinking out loud. Bouncing of idea’s off each other. Making sure he was prepped and ready to go. I enjoyed the change and hope he’s back next year!!
Weather was a concern as always. Three weeks out I started watching the 15 day forecast. Rain. Rain. Rain. Flooding. Crap. One week out though everything changed to Sunny. Sunny. Sunny. Little rain. Sunny. Awesome. Windy…wait what?? No worries. We’ve had a windy spring and I’ve been training in it. Most of us had hope for a nice southerly wind on race day with what felt like a predominantly North to South to North route. Coming back the 3rd and 4th leg with a tail wind would be nice. Kansas loves to surprise however so instead we had a strong northerly wind to lead us out, get us excited, build our confidence and then slap us in the face all the way home. I love you Kansas.
One other thing was different for me in 2016. I want to say will 100% honesty that I am truly humbled and feel blessed by the number of people that enjoy reading my blog, following my Facebook page and watching me co-host “This Is Gravel” on Gravel Guru’s page. Truly humbled. Truly excited!! Thank you, thank you, thank you so much!! I was approached by SO many new friends and new members of my Gravel Family! So many people wishing me well, thanking me and giving me a boost of confidence that what LeLan, Matt and I are doing…is beneficial and enjoyable. Thank you all so much and let me say…if you want more…if you want to see something added…please let us know. We want to do so much more but we need to prioritize. We know you don’t want to watch us for hours at a time so need to know what’s important to you. Love this growing Gravel Family we have!!
My last bit of pre race prep starts at about 8pm race night eve. The wind down. The calming before the storm. I give my wife a kiss and a hug, hug my kids and tell them I love them. They wish me good luck. I tell them I can’t wait to hold them at the Finish Line. This last 10 minutes of family time carries me the whole day of the race. I’m racing to get home. I’m racing to ride down that chute and into their arms. They are my base. They are my foundation. They are my safety net. Same would be true if I was ever stranded somewhere. From the moment I start pedaling I have one solitary goal…get home. Just get home. Just. Finish.
2016 proved to me my most painful race. Mentally stressful and physically painful. I’m not being overly dramatic. The whole time though I focused on images of my 3 girls and repeated over and over…
…thanks for reading…next up will be some words about the race day itself…until then please enjoy watching us attempt to be entertaining on This Is Gravel at Gravel Guru.