June 9, 2012

Kickin’ back – plus a race report

While dad is slaving away in the 95 degree heat, the Bean is relaxing and contemplating the finer things in life…

Now that you’re done being impressed with how lame I have become as a parent, here’s a race report from someone less over the hill than I, specifically WW team fellow Ian Smith.

The Dirty Kanza 200: You’re doing a bike race where???

That’s what most of your (Boulder) friends will ask when you tell them you’re doing a bike race in the middle of Kansas. But, it seems the “gravel grinder” scene keeps growing, and I wasn’t the only one from Boulder (or Colorado) there either.

One of the best parts about the Dirty Kanza is the grass-roots, community feel to the race and the entire weekend as a whole. Since it’s beginnings in 2006 (?), the race has grown a lot and has gotten some great support from the local community. It just feels like there’s a lot of positive energy behind the event. Many of the local businesses put up signs that say “Welcome racers!” I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in Colorado…

On Friday morning, we were invited on a casual 1 hour spin to get the legs loosened up from the long drive. In the first 10 minutes, I started chatting with this guy who noticed my WWFD kit. Then he points down at his bike and it’s a Waltworks! Ha! Turns out the guy lives in Littleton and has some in-laws that live in Emporia. I think his name was Brian.

Later in the afternoon, we all gathered at the awesome Granada Theater right smack in the middle of Commercial Street, Emporia for the mandatory rider’s meeting. Almost a packed house this year, as numbers almost doubled from last year. In addition to the usual race-related stuff, there was a whole bunch of giving away of stuff – I got a titanium spork, nice! There were also some great charitable things that the organizers had put together this year. A little kid got a new bike to replace the one that got stolen from him, the Adventure Monkey got a big pat on the back, and we heard the story of the Pablove Foundation, a local cancer research foundation. One of the coolest things the organizers did this year was get the Pablove Foundation involved in the race. For the first time, if you couldn’t drag your significant other to Kansas for the weekend to be your support crew (like me), you could “donate” $50 to Pablove, and they would be your support crew for you. One drop bag sent to each of the 3 checkpoints, water and more food at each one, and a ride back to Emporia if you can’t finish. Excellent.

Dinner that evening was provided by the Emporia Farmers Market again, which is also pretty cool. They were really organized this year and had enough spaghetti for the whole army of us to have two plates each, plus a salad and dessert.

I had two alarms, plus a wake-up call, to get me out of bed by 4:45 am. Not my finest hour, but I got through the rituals and drove the 3 miles back to the 6 am start at the Granada Theater. Some people rode this, but since I was alone, I figured the last thing I wanted to do was ride back home at the end of the day. Some girls on roller-skates held up signs to help us self-stage ourselves. We lined up down the street based on how many hours we thought we’d finish in, with the fast people in the front (at 12 hours) and the people that were just hoping to finish (at 18 hours plus) in the back. I came into this year much more humble than last year (having DNF’d last year due to the 100 degree temps), and chose to line up back in the 16 hour area.

This year, the weather would be SO much better… highs were expected to be in the low 80s, and most of us started the race with arm and leg warmers on! Emporia’s finest gave us the roll-out at 6 am sharp. The start to a day like this is always pretty cool… 400 bikes rolling down the street and everyone’s yelling and smiling. We headed south, over the bridge, and took the first right onto the dirt. Everyone filed in to the two main tracks in the road. I caught a quick glimpse of the front of the race… they had already rounded the corner ahead. 5 minutes into the race and I was already 2 minutes behind the leaders. Ha. I guess I didn’t care about that though. My mission was just to finish… to see if I could actually ride my bike 200 miles (on dirt) in one day, and walk away with a smile (or at least a grimace).

It had rained quite a bit over night, which was nice cuz it really kept the dust down early on. But, it left the softer parts of the roads muddy, and any attempt to ride through it was not fun. So, passing people was an exercise in patience for the first 20 miles or so. I ended up getting caught behind groups of folks that were doing 12 or 13 mph. A nice casual pace, but I wanted to be up around 16 mph or so, in order to get the job done. At one point, I had just made it through a big group when my 7-year-old water bottle cage decided it was time to die and snapped in two. I got off and put the bottle in my backpack, and got passed by the same group that I had just gotten through. Doh!

The first hills hit at about mile 25, with a “big” one named Texaco Hill (there are some oil pumps in the area) a little later on. Once you get to the top of this hill, you’re surrounded by the National Grasslands and you get an amazing view in all directions of green prairie, wooded gullies, and a bunch of cows. I didn’t see any, but there’s also a group of wild horses that are “managed” on these lands. We were well spread out by this point and rolled into the first checkpoint at mile 60 (town of Cassoday) in small groups or one by one. I hear they like their parades in Kansas. Right before the checkpoint (at the convenience store), there were about 30 people sitting in the shade in their lawn chairs cheering on the bikes as they came by. I’m guessing these were some folks from Cassoday just enjoying the “parade” through their town that morning.

I made it to the 2nd checkpoint in Florence feeling way better than I had the year before. I spent a good 30 minutes drinking a Gatorade and an iced tea and eating various energy foods. I loaded myself down with extra water and set out on the second half of the ride. I had just ridden 100 miles, and it was another LONG 60 miles to the next checkpoint. I got about 10 miles under the tires and realized it had gotten a lot hotter. Even the low 80s is pretty hot with the humidity they have there. I ended up having to stop 3 times in the shade for 5 minute breaks, just to cool the body down a bit and get some fluids and food in. Those breaks helped me stay calm mentally too… and to remember to enjoy my surroundings.

Rolled into Council Grove and checkpoint 3 around 6:30 pm and was really tired. It was hard to eat much, but I got some stuff down. I was considering getting a ride back to Emporia from there. But, it was only 37 miles to the finish. Only? You mean there’s still 37 miles of the same thing left between me and my warm bed? I took a 10 minute nap in the grass. It felt so good to just close my eyes and not have to concentrate on anything for a while. I felt way better after that and actually rode out of town with a bit of thunder still left in the legs. It was about 7:30 at that point, and I made it a goal to make it as far as I could before it got dark, since riding in the dark is honestly not my favorite thing to do.

I hardly stopped at all in those final hours, passed a few people, and got passed by some others. This one guy and I had been trading places all afternoon. He passed me one last time right before dark, as I started to deal with some pretty significant knee pain. There were some stingers of some hills out there and it got really hard to push up them. We passed by the reservoir and there were a bunch of folks out on their party boat cheering us on as we rode over the dam. I could see their cold beers… mmm….

Turned the lights on, tried not to take a wrong turn, and found myself back at the Granada Theater at 10:23 pm. Not bad. Got my “DK Finisher” pint glass, sat in grass for a while to soak it up, then drove back to my room and fell into bed without even taking a shower (or eating much of anything. Not eating much before bed really made me feel awful in the morning. I was still completely exhausted. But I slowly got food in me and felt better as the day went on.

Results are here: www.dirtykanza200.com
Some good photos and other race reports can be found here: http://adventuremonkey.com/blog
Or read Cornbread’s blog report on what it was like near the sharp end of the race: http://cornbreadblog.blogspot.com/

Cheers,
Ian