Re-post: You wanna do the Dirty Kanza 200? Here’s how.

If you're one of the lucky ones from last winter's lottery, you're a month out from the 2018 Dirty Kanza as of today. Maybe you're nervous about preparing. Well, since I'm a completely mediocre cyclist (see: painful, sunburnt non-finishing of last weekend's Open Range 200k) and I've still managed to complete two Dirty Kanza 200s, I thought I'd share again my experience with the DK and what I think makes for a successful day. Warning: what follows is advice for people like me who perform in the vast middle of the range of abilities on a bicycle:

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Based on my performance, it is obviously not for people who expect to be on the pointy end of the race. If you're one of those, you can find good advice from folks like Ted King, Rebecca Rusch, Allison Tetrick, and Dan Hughes.

1. Prepare your body

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If you want to really enjoy the day of the DK and feel confident about finishing, I think more preparation than that is probably needed. One of the hardest things about the ride is just the act of being on a bike for 12 hours or more. Not many of us do that routinely. So my recommended routine is something like 8-10 hours a week in the months leading up to springtime. Too late for that now, I know. But you still have some time to build fitness. Since hills are hard to come by here in central Kansas (not to worry, there's a crapload of climbing in the DK itself; see the profile below), I make sure 3 hours per week are intervals. I don't do anything fancy. I don't have an interval timer. One day a week I go to my favorite road/crit loop, pictured below, and I ride laps for an hour. At three spots on the map, each one of them 1/8 to 1/4 mile long, I sprint. If you don't have a nice tidy loop like this, just pick out landmarks ahead of you 300-400 meters and sprint to them a few times an hour on your usual rides a couple days a week. After each sprint, or just pick out a landmark a few hundred meters ahead of you and sprint to it. Rest a couple minutes and do it again.

 That's the loop around Botanica in Wichita. 

That's the loop around Botanica in Wichita. 

The next best thing to do to prepare yourself is to ride a couple hard gravel races ahead of time if you can. Here in Wichita, I like the Rage Against the Chainring series. The races are short, about 50 miles each, but that's okay. The DK200 itself is really just four 50-mile races stacked up in a day.

And--this is really important--make sure you go for at least a couple of very long rides before the big day. Like, at least 3-4 hour rides. This isn't for cardiovascular or leg fitness as much as it is to see if your shoulders, back, and butt can handle long stretches on your bike. If you have trouble on these rides, be sure to get your fit checked out (see #2 below). 

Practice your hydration strategy. Again (dead horse alert), you probably go on rides without thinking much of food or water all the time. This is not one of those times. I'm a legendary sweater (I'm sweating just typing this [not really]), so I know my fluid needs are above the norm. I take that into account in my preparation. After intentionally riding long distances on some warm days, I came up with a strategy is to fill two large bidons with Skratch. I like Skratch because it doesn’t upset my stomach like more sugary drinks do. Preferably one of the bottles is insulated to stay cool. I drink it second. On top of this, I wear a one-liter hydration pack that’s just water. I found I could easily drink all three on a typical 50-60 mile ride.

Food-wise, you need mostly carbs, with a touch of protein thrown in. Don't make this complicated. Even as a physician, I get bored with talk of "nutrients." Use trial and error. My experimenting taught me that, even though I'm disgusted by gels, I needed to eat one gel every hour on long days like the DK. As they say, strawberry goo forever. Between every gel that I manage to choke down, I eat a snack-size Payday. After some experimentation with other bars, I found I liked them because they didn't melt in my jersey pocket. So if you're doing the math at home, that's eating every 30 minutes. It's not scientific. It's just what I've found my stomach can handle. 

2. Pimp your ride

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This seems obvious, but between now and the race, make sure your bike works. You'll be amazed how many clickety-clackety derailleurs you hear on the course. This advice extends from the grips or bar tape to the tires to the drivetrain. That little click or loose spoke is annoying on a commute or a two-hour ride, but it’s potentially catastrophic on a 15-hour ride over rocky gravel roads. If your bike needs tuned up, do it a week or two ahead of the race so the cables have a chance to stretch before the big day.

Do you need anything new on your bike? Well, I'd at least consider new tires if yours are more than a year old. You'll wanna replace those old, squeaky brake pads with new ones, since the descents in the DK can be fast and hairy.

Really consider a GPS. I know they're expensive, and my goal here isn't to convince everyone to spend a bunch of money on their bike. But pre-loading the route makes it soooo much easier and nicer to stay on course, especially during the times you find yourself all alone. And occasionally someone gets asked for their GPS data to prove she finished the course and can't provide it. Don't be that person. 

3. Race day

Don't overdress. Kansas can still be a little chilly early in the morning in early June, but don't let it fool you. It'll be hot later in the day. That 80 or 90 degrees later on is what you should dress for, not the 50 or 60 that morning.

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Have a plan for support during the race. If past is prologue, you'll have a color-coded spot to seek out in the parking areas of the checkpoints:

IMG_7248.jpg

But the crowds are huge, so have a plan for your support to flag you down, or have a plan for where to find them within your designated area. I like the idea of having a flag flying to look for.

 That's Colby Reynolds, past DK Half-Pint finisher and my badass 2017 Crew Chief. (other crew included wife and kids)

That's Colby Reynolds, past DK Half-Pint finisher and my badass 2017 Crew Chief. (other crew included wife and kids)

Have some other food handy with your crew. The DK is many things. For that one day, it's a license to eat. I hit the bananas and pickles at the rest stops, along with a bottle of Coke (I drink bug juice exactly one day a year, and it invariably keeps me from sleeping that night). Cut the ends off your Payday bar wrappers. They can be hard to get out of the package.

Take care of your butt. I know, I know: you ride a lot. But you don't ride 200 wet, dusty, sweaty miles in a day very often. I've used Chamois Butt'r and Deez Nutz, and I honestly can't tell them apart. They both work. I use a lot more Chamois Butt'r because they sponsor the DK along with some other local races here, and I want to reward them for their support. Use the stuff liberally. Apply a little at each checkpoint if you're unsure. This last year I forgot to re-apply at the third checkpoint, and by the time I hit Emporia, my perineum was a white-hot glowing ember.

As far as that goes, make sure you wear your best shorts for the DK. 

Ride with a goal in mind. If you have a heart rate monitor, set a goal HR and try to stick to it. Ditto power if you have a power meter. Speed is an unreliable indicator of effort in gravel races. Even former pros run lower speeds than you'd expect.

 17.9 mph ain't no joke, but it's not what World Tour guys are used to riding, either. 

17.9 mph ain't no joke, but it's not what World Tour guys are used to riding, either. 

It can be very seductive to fall in with a group going ten percent faster than you're comfortable early on in the race. But you're gonna be out there for 12 hours or more. Going faster than is comfortable early on is a recipe for suffering later.

Don't try to win the race on the descents. Every year I've done the DK I've seen people have horrendous, ass-over-teakettle crashes on rocky jeep road descents. Jim warns everyone about it every year, and it still happens. And even if you don't crash, the risk of getting a flat tire going 45 mph down a rocky path is high. Be careful. 

 This was the result of stupidity on firm, level ground, not a descent. But there were no witnesses, thank heavens.

This was the result of stupidity on firm, level ground, not a descent. But there were no witnesses, thank heavens.

5. The finish line

Sign your name on the DK Poster. This is mandatory:

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 Enjoy sitting on something--anything--that isn't a bike seat. 

Enjoy sitting on something--anything--that isn't a bike seat. 

Here's a checklist of what you may need for the DK:

1. Four to eight large water bottles (preferably half uninsulated, half insulated)

2. Hydration pack: If you're a light sweater, you may be able to get by without this, but it's risky in my opinion.

3. A dozen snack-size Payday candy bars. I eat one of these an hour (alternating with gels).

4. A dozen gels (pick your favorite flavored goo and eat one an hour). Alternate, minimally tested choice: Ted's Untapped Maple syrup.

5. Skratch. I use it in my water bottles and keep my hydration pack filled with water.

6. Three gallons of water (for refilling said hydration pack and bidons)

7. six-pack of Coca-Cola. Long races are the only time I allow myself bug juice. Old-fashioned Coke, with its caffeine buzz and high sugar content, is hard to beat at checkpoints.

8. Pickles and bananas. The data on pickles for cramp prevention is light and inconsistent, but the salt tastes great on a hot day. The bananas are bland and smooth enough to still taste good at the end of the day.

9. Sunscreen. Don't even try to go without it. Reapply at checkpoints, too. 

10. Butt lube. I like Chamois Butt'r. Have enough on hand to re-apply at every checkpoint.

11. Three extra inner tubes. This goes whether you're running tubeless or with tubes (I've done it both ways, and I can't say one is dramatically better than the other).

12. Patch kit.

13. Chain breaker. I hear stories of broken derailleurs every year, and if you can't shorten your chain your day is done. Get one that has an attached multi-tool or carry a multi-tool separately.

14. Extra chain link. Make sure you get one that matches the size of your chain, i.e., 10-, 11-, or 12-speeds.

15. Multi-tool. See above. 

16. Extra brake cable if you have cable-pull brakes. This isn't to carry with you, but it's nice to have at a pit stop if things go wrong. 

17. Extra shift cable. See above. 

18. Chain lube. When you lube your butt, lube your chain. I like wax-based lubes because they're less finicky about wet or dry conditions. 

19. Glasses cleaner and rags.

20. Extra water to clean your bike at checkpoints in case of heavy mud. 

21. Mini-pump (or a frame pump if you're old school).

22. Three CO2 cartridges (one for every spare tube).

23. Tire levers.

24. Headlight, fully charged (so bring your charger).

25. Taillight, fully charged (so bring your charger). 

26. Gloves.

27. Lawn chair.

28. Three moist towels folded inside plastic zip-loc bags. They'll be nice and warm when you take them out to wipe off your face between stages. 

29. GPS, fully charged (so bring your charger). I know this sounds like a techie ad for unnecessary doo-dads. And yes, the race organizers do a good job with cue sheets. But having the course loaded onto your GPS is so much nicer. And later, you'll have the GPS data to use to brag to friends. And you'll be able to turn off your phone. Phone reception is non-existent for much of the course, anyway, and your phone will drain its battery trying to find a signal.

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And do bring your helmet, jersey, shorts, socks and shoes. That goes without saying. 

I won't be in the DK200 this year. I'm planning on doing the 25 mile ride with my son. Look for me at the finish line. See you there!

Replacing a worn-out bike tire makes you feel thrifty and badass

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I love the way road tires wear down to a flat shape right before the rubber wears through to the casing. That flat spot tells you you've put in some time on the bike. You've covered ground that would really show up on the map. You've gone from point A to point B. Or more likely, from point A to point A many times.

 

 

The last few hundred miles before the wear finally breaks through are super-suspenseful. Kind of like waiting for a kidney stone to pass, but without the pain. And then one morning you're innocently getting the bike of the rack for a morning ride, and your fingers run over the rough of a torn blister in the tire:

 If you're in the U.K., I guess I mean "tyre."

If you're in the U.K., I guess I mean "tyre."

And then you get to replace the tire with a nice, round, new one:

 Old meets new.

Old meets new.

Then a quick pump up to 95 lbs, and you've gone from flat-top to round-top:

 I'm more of the 80 kg variety.

I'm more of the 80 kg variety.

 Ahhhh. That's better. 

Ahhhh. That's better. 

Continentals are great. They look euro-sophisticated, with the dark gumwalls that haven't changed since forever and the "Hand-Made in Germany" that you wish was true but you know probably isn't. They set onto the bead with a satisfying "pop." And the gator hardshells are almost flat-proof. It took a stray decking screw to puncture the last one that flatted out on me.

 Not that kind of goat. Side note: Awwww!

Not that kind of goat. Side note: Awwww!

I hear grumbling from people like the Velominati that they "don't corner well," and blah blah blah. Listen: south-central Kansas is goat head country.

 

 This kind of goat. Side note: Ouch!

This kind of goat. Side note: Ouch!

 

 

I'm not going out there with some lightweight, flimsy-ass tire or (gasp) tubulars just so I can walk my bike home. 

 

 

 

 

 

And you feel like you've really extracted your money's worth when you throw the old tire away, or recycle it, or turn it into a monkey habitat.

 Or is that a lemur? Could be a lemur. 

Or is that a lemur? Could be a lemur. 

I don't think you get this kind of satisfaction with many other sports. You can't really wait for running shoes to wear out like this without putting yourself at risk of injury. Ditto tires on motorcycles or gas-powered wheelchairs. (though to be fair, if I lived somewhere with hills or technical roads, I wouldn't run my tires as long as I do)

How to break up with your phone, Double Arrow Metabolism edition, days 20-23

Well. That did not go well. My Saturday was fine. I raced in the first race of the Rage Against the Chainring series, and finished 16/55 in the "B" race, about as good a result as I could have hoped for:

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I spent precious little time on my phone Saturday, but I can't prove it since I deleted Moment over the weekend. I just couldn't handle the notifications, and I couldn't justify having the app without having it remind me to stay off my phone. So it's gonzo. 

Sunday, though, was tough. I started strong and left my phone in an inconspicuous place, and I did well staying away from it through the morning and early afternoon. I did fun things with real people, per Catherine's instructions. I didn't even get any Rubicon consults. Come evening, though, the seeding for the NCAA men's basketball tournament came down the tracks like a locomotive. And I just. Couldn't. Stop. Myself. from looking to see where my beloved Kansas State Wildcats ended up. I didn't even consciously cheat. I just walked by my phone and casually picked it up and tuned into the NCAA website:

 Answer: on a collision course with a first-weekend exit. 

Answer: on a collision course with a first-weekend exit. 

And once I'd peeked to see where the 'Cats were, I couldn't resist looking to see where the rest of the Big XII ended up, and then where Wichita State was seeded, and then a bunch of posts on The Ringer and ESPN about how easy the Xavier/UNC bracket was. I killed an hour, easy. On a day I was supposed to be phone-free. Sigh. 

But yesterday (Monday) was a new day. It was the first day of My New Relationship with my phone. Catherine told me to answer a series of questions she calls "See/Think/Feel/Wonder."

What did I observe (see) about myself and my behavior and emotions during my twenty-four-hour trial separation?

When I actually managed to keep away from my phone, say before and after the hours of 4-6 pm CST, I felt great. I did meaningful work around the house, I asked my kids questions, and I did the laundry in silence (sans podcast). I was a better person than I am with my phone distracting me. 

What do these observations make me think about? When I reflect back on my experience, what thoughts come into my mind?

I feel like, even after three weeks of conscious effort and months or years of half-assed behavior modification before that, I still have work to do. 

Now that i've made it through the Trial Separation, how do i feel about my phone itself, as well as my relationship with it?

I still feel like my phone is very, very valuable for specific tasks, like my to-do list, my calendar, and podcasts. And being a phone, of course, And texting, to a smaller extent. But the rest of my phone is an elaborately designed distraction device. It is definitely expendable for large swaths of the day. 

Now that I've completed the Trial Separation and begun to deeply observe my relationship with my phone, what do I wonder? What questions do I have? What do I want to know more about? What would I like to investigate further or look into more?

I wonder if I could really go back to having just a home phone and a paper planner, or if I could at least revert to a flip phone. I know it would cause me to carry a paper planner around, which would be a drag, but I already carry a notebook and pen most places, so it wouldn't be a big deal. I'd miss being able to coordinate my calendar with my wife. I'd miss getting my kids' school calendars automatically through Google on my phone. I'd like to investigate more how I could handle those issues through my work computer. 

What was the hardest part?

Finding the results of NCAA tournament bracket seeding in a house with no cable subscription, obviously. 

What was the best part?

I had several Beyblade battles with my son without the threat of phone interruptions. 

What surprised me?

I was surprised that I fell back into phone use so easily. It really disappointed me that I was so weak.

What did I learn from the experience that I can use once my official breakup is over?

If I really want to stay away from the device, it needs to be in a different room. It's that bad.

Day 23, Tuesday, today, was to Phast. Catherine said to pick a time today to take at least a half-hour break when my phone would be either unavailable or turned off. This was easy. I knew I had a couple high-level tasks to complete this morning before going to lunch and then going to KUSM-Wichita to teach at one pm. So I silenced my phone at 10 am and stuck it in my briefcase. I used a desktop computer to order Chipotle for carry-out. Then I sat down and ground out a couple hours' work on the use of the Diabetes Prevention Program for osteoarthritic pain. It felt great to work without interruption or distraction from my phone and to have something to show for the morning. 

You wanna do the Dirty Kanza 200? Here’s how.

You may have heard that the new lottery for the Dirty Kanza opens Friday and continues from December 1st - December 16th, 2017. This replaces the old system that was in a sense a lottery of its own, run through the steaming-hot servers at bikereg.com. That's not me picking on bikereg.com. They have a great service. What I mean is that the volume of people applying to race through their site in past years overwhelmed the site, and I think a certain amount of luck went into whose ones and zeros penetrated the server to get a spot in the race.

Anyhoo, I thought today might be a good time to share some of my experience with the DK and what I think makes for a successful day. Warning: what follows is advice for people like me who perform in the vast middle of the range of abilities on a bicycle:

Screen Shot 2017-11-29 at 9.47.51 PM.png

Based on my performance, it is obviously not for people who expect to be on the pointy end of the race. If you're one of those, you can find good advice from folks like Ted King, Rebecca Rusch, Allison Tetrick, and Dan Hughes.

And I'll likely update this post as I remember more. So if you see something embarrassing here the first time you read this, hopefully it's gone by the time you come back. 

1. Prepare your body

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You're going to know whether or not you're in the race by early January. Don't wait until then to start preparing. I think it's possible to get in good enough shape in five months to complete the ride; don't get me wrong. But if you want to really enjoy the day of the DK and feel confident about finishing, I think more preparation than that is probably needed. One of the hardest things about the ride is just the act of being on a bike for 12 hours or more. Not many of us do that routinely. So my routine is something like 8-10 hours a week in the months leading up to springtime. Since hills are hard to come by here in Kansas, I make sure 3 hours per week are intervals. I don't do anything fancy. I don't have an interval timer. One day a week I go to my favorite road/crit loop, pictured below, and I ride laps for an hour. At three spots on the map, each one of them 1/8 to 1/4 mile long, I sprint. If you don't have a nice tidy loop like this, just pick out landmarks ahead of you 300-400 meters and sprint to them a few times an hour on your usual rides a couple days a week. After each sprint, or just pick out a landmark a few hundred meters ahead of you and sprint to it. Rest a couple minutes and do it again.

 That's the loop around Botanica in Wichita. 

That's the loop around Botanica in Wichita. 

The next best thing to do to prepare yourself is to ride a couple hard gravel races ahead of time if you can. Here in Wichita, I like the Rage Against the Chainring series. The races are short, about 50 miles each, but that's okay. The DK200 itself is really just four 50-mile races stacked up in a day.

And--this is really important--make sure you go for at least a couple of very long rides before the big day. Like at least 3-4 hour rides. This isn't for cardiovascular or leg fitness as much as it is to see if your shoulders, back, and butt can handle long stretches on your bike. If you have trouble on these rides, be sure to get your fit checked out (see #2 below). 

Practice your hydration strategy. Again (dead horse alert), you probably go on rides without thinking much of food or water all the time. This is not one of those times. I'm a legendary sweater (I'm sweating just typing this), so I know my fluid needs are above the norm. I take that into account in my preparation. After intentionally riding long distances on some warm days, I came up with a strategy is to fill two large bidons with Skratch. I like Skratch because it doesn’t upset my stomach like more sugary drinks do. Preferably one of the bottles is insulated to stay cool. I drink it second. On top of this, I wear a one-liter hydration pack that’s just water. I found I could easily drink all three on a typical 50-60 mile ride.

Food-wise, you need mostly carbs, with a touch of protein thrown in. Don't make this complicated. Even as a physician, I get bored with talk of "nutrients." Use trial and error. My experimenting taught me that, even though I'm disgusted by gels, I needed to eat one gel every hour on long days like the DK. As they say, strawberry goo forever. Between every gel that I manage to choke down, I eat a snack-size Payday. After some experimentation with other bars, I found I liked them because they didn't melt in my jersey pocket. So if you're doing the math at home, that's eating every 30 minutes. It's not scientific. It's just what I've found my stomach can handle. 

2. Pimp your ride

Screen Shot 2017-11-29 at 9.57.43 PM.png

This seems obvious, but in the weeks leading up to the race, make sure your bike works. You'll be amazed how many clickety-clackety derailleurs you hear on the course. This advice extends from the grips or bar tape to the tires to the drivetrain. That little click or loose spoke is annoying on a commute or a two-hour ride, but it’s potentially catastrophic on a 15-hour ride over rocky gravel roads. If your bike needs tuned up, do it a week or two ahead of the race so the cables have a chance to stretch before the big day.

Do you need anything new on your bike? Well, I'd at least consider new tires if yours are more than a year old. You'll wanna replace those old, squeaky brake pads with new ones, since the descents in the DK can be fast and hairy.

Really consider a GPS. I know they're expensive, and my goal here isn't to convince everyone to spend a bunch of money on their bike. But pre-loading the route makes it soooo much easier and nicer to stay on course, especially during the times you find yourself all alone. And occasionally someone gets asked for their GPS data to prove she finished the course and can't provide it. Don't be that person. 

3. Race day

Don't overdress. Kansas can still be a little chilly early in the morning in early June, but don't let it fool you. It'll be hot later in the day. That 80 or 90 degrees later on is what you should dress for, not the 50 or 60 that morning.

IMG_0615.jpg

Have a plan for support during the race. If past is prologue, you'll have a color-coded spot to seek out in the parking areas of the checkpoints:

IMG_7248.jpg

But the crowds are huge, so have a plan for your support to flag you down, or have a plan for where to find them within your designated area. I like the idea of having a flag flying to look for.

 That's Colby Reynolds, past DK Half-Pint finisher and my badass 2017 Crew Chief. (other crew included wife and kids)

That's Colby Reynolds, past DK Half-Pint finisher and my badass 2017 Crew Chief. (other crew included wife and kids)

Have some other food handy with your crew. The DK is many things. For that one day, it's a license to eat. I hit the bananas and pickles at the rest stops, along with a bottle of Coke (I drink bug juice exactly one day a year, and it invariably keeps me from sleeping that night). Cut the ends off your Payday bar wrappers. They can be hard to get out of the package.

Take care of your butt. I know, I know: you ride a lot. But you don't ride 200 wet, dusty, sweaty miles in a day very often. I've used Chamois Butt'r and Deez Nutz, and I honestly can't tell them apart. They both work. I use a lot more Chamois Butt'r because they sponsor the DK along with some other local races here, and I want to reward them for their support. Use the stuff liberally. Apply a little at each checkpoint if you're unsure. This last year I forgot to re-apply at the third checkpoint, and by the time I hit Emporia, my perineum was a white-hot glowing ember.

As far as that goes, make sure you wear your best shorts for the DK. 

Ride with a goal in mind. If you have a heart rate monitor, set a goal HR and try to stick to it. Ditto power if you have a power meter. Speed is an unreliable indicator of effort in gravel races. Even former pros run lower speeds than you'd expect.

 17.9 mph ain't no joke, but it's not what World Tour guys are used to riding, either. 

17.9 mph ain't no joke, but it's not what World Tour guys are used to riding, either. 

It can be very seductive to fall in with a group going ten percent faster than you're comfortable early on in the race. But you're gonna be out there for 12 hours or more. Going faster than is comfortable early on is a recipe for suffering later.

Don't try to win the race on the descents. Every year I've done the DK I've seen people have horrendous, ass-over-teakettle crashes on rocky jeep road descents. Jim warns everyone about it every year, and it still happens. And even if you don't crash, the risk of getting a flat tire going 45 mph down a rocky path is high. Be careful. 

 This was the result of stupidity on firm, level ground, not a descent. But there were no witnesses I

This was the result of stupidity on firm, level ground, not a descent. But there were no witnesses I

5. The finish line

Sign your name on the DK Poster. This is mandatory:

IMG_7260.jpg
 Enjoy sitting on something--anything--that isn't a bike seat. 

Enjoy sitting on something--anything--that isn't a bike seat. 

Feel prepared to enter the lottery? Here's a checklist of what you may need for the DK:

1. Four to eight large water bottles (preferably half uninsulated, half insulated)

2. Hydration pack: If you're a light sweater, you may be able to get by without this, but it's risky in my opinion.

3. A dozen snack-size Payday candy bars. I eat one of these an hour (alternating with gels).

4. A dozen gels (pick your favorite flavored goo and eat one an hour). Alternate, minimally tested choice: Ted's Untapped Maple syrup.

5. Skratch. I use it in my water bottles and keep my hydration pack filled with water.

6. Three gallons of water (for refilling said hydration pack and bidons)

7. six-pack of Coca-Cola. Long races are the only time I allow myself bug juice. Old-fashioned Coke, with its caffeine buzz and high sugar content, is hard to beat at checkpoints.

8. Pickles and bananas. The data on pickles for cramp prevention is light and inconsistent, but the salt tastes great on a hot day. The bananas are bland and smooth enough to still taste good at the end of the day.

9. Sunscreen. Don't even try to go without it.

10. Butt lube. I like Chamois Butt'r. Have enough on hand to re-apply at every checkpoint.

11. Three extra inner tubes. This goes whether you're running tubeless or with tubes (I've done it both ways, and I can't say one is dramatically better than the other).

12. Patch kit.

13. Chain breaker. I hear stories of broken derailleurs every year, and if you can't shorten your chain your day is done. Get one that has an attached multi-tool or carry a multi-tool separately.

14. Extra chain link. Make sure you get one that matches the size of your chain, i.e., 10-, 11-, or 12-speeds.

15. Multi-tool. See above. 

16. Extra brake cable if you have cable-pull brakes. This isn't to carry with you, but it's nice to have at a pit stop if things go wrong. 

17. Extra shift cable. See above. 

18. Chain lube. When you lube your butt, lube your chain. I like wax-based lubes because they're less finicky about wet or dry conditions. 

19. Glasses cleaner and rags.

20. Extra water to clean your bike at checkpoints in case of heavy mud. 

21. Mini-pump (or a frame pump if you're old school).

22. Three CO2 cartridges (one for every spare tube).

23. Tire levers.

24. Headlight, fully charged (so bring your charger).

25. Taillight, fully charged (so bring your charger). 

26. Gloves.

27. Lawn chair.

28. Three moist towels folded inside plastic zip-loc bags. They'll be nice and warm when you take them out to wipe off your face between stages. 

29. GPS. I know this sounds like a techie ad for unnecessary doo-dads. And yes, the race organizers do a good job with cue sheets. But having the course loaded onto your GPS is so much nicer. And later, you'll have the GPS data to use to brag to friends. And you'll be able to turn off your phone. Phone reception is non-existent for much of the course, anyway. 

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And do bring your helmet, jersey, shorts, socks and shoes. That goes without saying. 

I won't be in the DK200 this year. I'm planning on doing the 25 mile ride with the fam. Look for me on the tandem. See you there!

RIP Warner Blackburn: sadness at the Dirty Kanza

I finished the Dirty Kanza 200 yesterday, and I plan to write about the experience in detail. But for now, I want to mention Warner Blackburn, a man who died during the 50-mile race. He was given CPR on the course by a friend of mine and taken to the hospital, where he died of an apparent heart attack.

I suppose the most cyclist-y thing to say is that "Warner died doing what he loved" or some such crap. But I don't know that. I don't know that Warner even liked cycling. He left almost no trace on the internet. Maybe he was doing the DK 50 on a bet, or maybe he was trying to support a family member. My wife makes fun of me because I automatically assume that people in cycling and other outdoorsy pursuits are nice, even though I'm not the warmest cuddliest type around. So I'll say this: whether Warner liked cycling, or whether he was trying to support someone else, or whether he was trying to support a cool event for the local community, he went out on a high note. 

FWIW, for anyone thinking of starting exercising after a long period of physical inactivity, please take the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire first. It's a little too sensitive, meaning it may flag a few people who aren't that high risk, but if you have a "yes" anywhere on the form, it's worth talking to your doctor about before you go out and hit it too hard.

The 2016 Dirty Kanza 200: a look back

It's coming. The 2017 edition of the Dirty Kanza 200 is tomorrow, Saturday, June 3. I'm under-prepared. But I feel that way about every race I enter, as my notes from last year prove. Step into the time machine and travel back a year with me: 

I knew going into the 2016 Dirty Kanza 200 (my first attempt at the full distance) that I’d under-prepared. I’d done a few long-ish rides in the spring: several rides over 60 miles, a couple over 100 miles, including the local Wicked Wind 100. I’d even spent a few days at altitude, climbing hard in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, but the last day of it was complicated by a sticky bout of gastroenteritis. My vomiting wasn't from the exertion, but it might as well have been,  because climbing anything, at altitude or otherwise, has always been hard for me. I’d failed by a couple miles to summit Haleakala in February 2016. And I’d hardly started, let alone finished, Elrod’s Cirque in Winfield, thanks to an early mechanical on my coaster brake bike (I'd raced the Krazy Koasters division because of a chance of rain and a desire not to have my rear mech ripped off). So I’d given up hope on any real accomplishment at the DK other than finishing. There would be no real competition with my faster 40-something peers. I likely couldn’t sustain a pace to “beat the sun.” Finishing with a modest amount of suffering was my goal.

I felt like I needed to do some planning to make up for my lack of preparation. In the week leading up to the event, I tried to get on my bike for an easy-ish ride daily to keep my legs turned over without costing myself any rest. I strategized my food: I would eat protein at checkpoints and mostly carbs on the road. The protein would come in the form of Snickers bars and “PBJ Sushi” prepared by my daughter.

I would tear into a stockpile of stroopwafels on the road. Hydration would come in the form of water in a hydration pack and Skratch, a drink that has served me well in the past, in bottles. And even though the literature on it is sparse, I'm a fan of eating pickles at checkpoints, so I'd stocked up on those.

I intended to pack light on the road. Previous finishers had convinced me to treat the race like four 50-mile races strung back-to-back, and this seemed to make the likelihood of needing bulky provisions fairly low. So there would be no tangle bag, feed bag, or extra bottle mounts. Just my trusty, rusty steel Ritchey Swiss Cross, me, and the hydration pack. My wife, the Chief of Sunscreen Police, would tend to keeping me unburnt with ample sunscreen at each checkpoint.

I’m not a 100% glove-wearer, but for the sake of decreased hand fatigue I would wear them for the DK. I would, as a lifelong heavy sweater, wear a Halo sweat cap under my helmet to keep the sweat out of my eyes. The cap would earn me extra points from the Sunscreen Police for keeping my forehead and scalp covered.

Effort-wise, I planned to keep my heart rate around 130 beats per minute, a pace that my home experimentation showed my should 1) be sustainable for a very long time, and 2) get me to a ~14 mph average, depending on the roughness and grades of the roads.

I checked in and went to the riders' meeting, ate a huge Mexican dinner downtown, then retired to the hotel room to make sure all my gear was in order. After being awakened by a 3 am rumble of thunder and the sound of heavy rain, I slept fitfully the rest of the night and woke up early. I ate the complimentary breakfast at the hotel, then skedaddled downtown and lined up to start near the 15-hour sign. I was later getting to the starting line than I’d intended, and I’d walked my bike the three blocks from our parking spot to the start. So as the countdown began, I looked down and saw that my chain was off the front chainring. I unstraddled the bike to put the chain on and, thank God, noticed that my front cantilever brake’s (I’m old school like that) straddle cable hadn’t been re-attached after taking my bike off the rack.

 Look closely at the chain and wonder to yourself how this bonehead expects to be able to move the bike down the road. 

Look closely at the chain and wonder to yourself how this bonehead expects to be able to move the bike down the road. 

So as the leaders rolled out, I took a deep breath and re-attached the cable. I rolled out five seconds behind schedule and, relieved to find myself moving on a functioning bike, I forgot to his “start” on my Garmin until I was a half-mile or so down the road. It started without trouble, though, and the route popped right up.

South we rolled out of town, on a mixture of old-timey brick streets (“Kansas cobbles,” as they say) and pavement. The previous night’s thunderstorm had wetted the street. I was unsure how far outside town the storm had reached. As soon as the group hit the first right turn onto dirt roads south of town, order descended into chaos. Riders were charging through mud and standing water, and within two miles of town, they were already paying the price with broken derailleurs and clogged cogsets. Dozens of riders were in the ditches, working furiously on their bikes. Many of their days had ended 12 hours early.

I rode gingerly through the mud, watching my derailleur closely to try to keep from breaking it off (I've sacrificed more than one rear derailleur to the mud in my day). I had to stop pedaling at one point as a rock positioned itself perfectly between the chain and the pulleys and flipped the mechanism up behind the dropout. I was millimeters from suffering my own early abandon. But with a little caution and a lot of luck, I made it to the point outside town where the mud transitioned into gravel, and I was off. 

 Lucky socks, only partially caked in mud at this point.

Lucky socks, only partially caked in mud at this point.

The first checkpoint at Madison High School was challenging in that you had to follow a little spur road to get there, and since the riders were still fairly bunched at this point, it was hard to find my support crew. But after a quick phone call, I found her by the road. 

I used a water bottle to try to rinse the mud out of my chain and cassette. Then, after a quick refill of water bottles and pockets, a couple pickles, a Coke, and a Snickers, I was on my way.

 That's not cake batter on my face. It's sunscreen, applied by the Chief. 

That's not cake batter on my face. It's sunscreen, applied by the Chief. 

My apologies to the guy on the Open U.P. bike that passed me at about mile 85. As soon as we turned north into the headwind, I wheel-sucked him for several miles, then passed him as soon as the route turned east and out of the headwind. He didn’t seem flattered by my (sincere) compliment of his bike, and I don’t blame him.

 Not the guy on the Open U.P. But a nice guy, as I remember. 

Not the guy on the Open U.P. But a nice guy, as I remember. 

We kept a nice tailwind from the north as we rolled toward Eureka. Some of the last few miles into town were even downhill, which felt great. By Eureka, the crowd had thinned, and I found my wife-slash-support crew easily this time. My chain was in dire need of lube by this point, so after the usual refills and a quick application of lube to the drivetrain I was on my way. Very uneventful stop.

Miles 100 through 120-ish were OK. I was riding either with the same tailwind we’d had all morning, or I was riding with a brisk but tolerable left-to-right crosswind. But the heat was starting to rise; blue mirages started to appear on the roads ahead. I actually saw a vulture circling. The heat and dry wind started to take their toll on my hydration somewhere around mile 120. That was about when I peed for the last time all day. Somewhere around mile 140 I took my last drink of Skratch (from a water bottle) or water (from my hydration pack). Then I entered a dark place. A dark, cotton-mouthed place. A wrestling match with a bicycle in a field of heated talcum powder. My tires rolled over a flattened, dry snake carcass. I was temporarily relieved by a four-wheeler driving dude hanging out water bottles at about mile 143. He limited me to one bottle, which was reasonable, and I poured it into my own bottle, thanked him profusely (I may have offered him a kidney. Things get fuzzy here), and took advantage of a descent eastward.

I descended a couple hundred vertical feet and drank half my bottle in one long pull. Then a river crossing came with advice from some volunteers who suggested that I ride through the foot or so of water instead of walking. I did as they said, and the cold water splashing up against my feet and legs felt incredible. It felt so good that I briefly considered stopping and sitting in it, but I didn’t like the idea of a wet-diaper chamois for the next two hours, so I pedaled on. Foolishly, maybe, I ate a melted Snickers bar and drank the rest of my charity water in the next mile or so.

It was about here that the cramps suddenly worsened. I had felt a familiar twinge in my right calf a couple of times, but it hadn’t progressed into a full-on cramp. I can’t explain the timing, since I’d just had some water, but once my dehydration intersected at just the right place with my muscle fatigue, and once I had spent some time going into the wind, a cramp seized my right inner thigh, then the left. I’ve done enough distance cycling to know this feeling. Stopping does not help. Stopping may make the cramping worse. There is something therapeutic about the forced circular motion of your feet. I embraced the therapy and kept turning the pedals.

Somewhere in through here I passed a guy in a green Salsa kit. Having forgotten the exact location of Checkpoint Three, I asked him where to look for it, mileage-wise. He good-naturedly told me mile 161 (we were at about mile 150 at this point), and I thanked him and moved on. My cramps spread into both calves. I became sufficiently desperate for water that when I saw one of the hundreds of inadvertently jettisoned water bottles on the route, I stopped, reversed course for 100 feet, and picked it up. Finding only ~10 ml of sticky, red, backwash-laced liquid inside, I sighed, dropped the bottle, and turned back north into the wind. By the way, a big shout-out to King cages here. The ability of everyday aluminum or composite cages to hold on to bottles in such bumpy conditions is overestimated, because in races such as this you see hundreds of bottles on the road or trail in the first ten miles, let alone the remaining 195. The most dramatic places are at the bottoms of hills, where full bottles have been bounced from cages. So Kudos to King cages.

Anyway: I was tired and thirsty and crampy. I wanted a drink of water. I rode by a restored foursquare house with outbuildings, a well-maintained flower garden, and some cattle pens. I turned into the driveway, laid down the Ritchey, and knocked on the door. No answer. I walked toward the outbuildings and called out. No response. About then, the guy with the Salsa kit followed me into the yard. I told him I didn’t think anyone was home. We agreed that the homeowners surely wouldn’t mind us using an outside hydrant. But we tried two, with no luck. The water was shut off to both. I cursed, rode toward a stock tank to make sure I wasn’t missing a hydrant, and failing to find one, rode on.

The dehydration and cramping, combined with forced physical exertion, had the effect of inducing an attitude of introspection and retrospection. Introspection regarding the choices I have made. Have I spent my days meaningfully? Have I wasted them? Have I taken my days for granted, or as a gift? This is not the thought of a dying or starving person. This wasn't a Jack London short story or the Revenant; my cell phone was in my empty hydration pack, after all, on airplane mode. Even though the cell coverage in rural Kansas is spotty, I could surely have thrown down a pin and had help within an hour or so. Retrospection for past bicycle-related follies, like the time I was stuck above 11,000 feet outside Angel Fire, New Mexico, out of water, with a wrecked bike, and forced to drink from a stock tank out of desperation, my reward of moisture having outweighed my risk of diarrhea from a mountain stream pathogen. I wasn't there yet.

A couple miles up the road I came across another farmhouse, and after following the same procedure as with house, number one, with largely the same results, I found a hydrant that yielded a trickle. I filled a bottle, dropped it, and spilled ~90 percent of the water, filled it again, dropped it again and spilled ~50%, and gave up. Mi amigo en Salsa was waiting for me to finish. I rolled back onto the road, back into the dust, back into the routine of pedaling and breathing, cramping and pedaling. The solitude of the Dirty Kanza is surprising. Nine hundred riders start, and for the first 50 miles you feel like you’re part of a swarm of ants. Then the group gets spread out, and by the time you hit the third checkpoint, there are times you can’t see another rider. It’s just you and the grass and the rocks and the sun and the wind.

A word on the people of Emporia, Madison, Eureka, and the surrounding areas of Greenwood, Chase, and Lyon counties: they have embraced this event. When I started spending a reasonable amount of time on the roads on bikes in the early 1990s, cycling, even mountain biking, carried a bit of a trashy, conceited euro patina that seemed to turn outsiders off. And this was right after LeMond won the Tour de France for the third time. I can’t imagine what the atmosphere in small towns was like before “LeMan” made cycling more familiar to a mainstream audience. Maybe it’s the gravel scene itself or maybe it’s a move toward everyone, rural, urban, athlete, or otherwise, being more accepting of cyclists in general, but I encountered nothing but smiles, waves, and courtesy in my fifteen-plus hours and 200-plus miles of the DK. On two separate occasions, a diesel truck--long the natural enemy of the cyclist--passed me with an outstretched arm ringing a cowbell.

With the encouragement of the locals I rolled on into Eureka, caked in salt, feeling completely fatigued. I used the lawn chair my wife had brought for the first time all day. I aired up the tires on my trusty Ritchey and sat both of us in the shade. I plugged in the external battery to my Garmin just in time to avoid it going completely dead, and I sat. Then I sat some more. I didn't keep time, but looking at the splits on my race, I suspect I was there for at least 30 minutes. I eventually resigned myself to needing to get back on the bike. I checked my hydration pack and my two bottles. I felt through the left pocket of my jersey to confirm it was full of goo and stroopwafels, and I rolled out. Slowly. 

 Cockiness gone. Replaced by salt oozing from my skin, iguana-style.

Cockiness gone. Replaced by salt oozing from my skin, iguana-style.

I tried to concentrate on things other than the discomfort: the constant crunch of gravel, interrupted only occasionally by the soft whoosh of knobby tires on rain-softened clay or the splash of a water crossing. The chatter of grass in the first two hours had given way to the soft sway of adolescent corn stalks in the 13th and 14th hours. I concentrated on keeping my breathing low and steady.

It was a while until I was able to get on top of my cramps, but I eventually did. At about mile 170 my Garmin, with the external battery plugged in, gave me the “turn off in 15 seconds” warning. I X-ed it out, but then It did the same thing twice more until, at mile 199-ish, I missed the warning and let it shut off. I panicked al little because, 1) I didn’t want to lose the data (few classes of athletes, I suspect, are as paranoid as cyclists in regards to losing proof of their effort), and 2) I didn’t know the route from memory. I didn’t want to try to navigate home by cue sheet in the dark. The red flashing taillight I’d been following had dropped me or become otherwise invisible. I was too proud to wait for a follower to catch me. Fortunately, when I hit the power button, the Garmin lit back to life just as it had gone to sleep. I unplugged the external battery and tucked the cord away. I double-checked my headlight and taillight and put my head down.

About the time I entered Emporia city limits, a couple guys caught me, then we caught a couple more, all of which led to a nice little rotating group for a mile or two. I was able to tuck in and go fast for a while, all while getting some rest, what with the draft and the intermittent pavement. Sweet Lord, the pavement. There’s not much, but the few miles of pavement mix in give you needed relief. The feel of pavement after 200 miles of gravel, mud, grass, and water is soooo good. Think of pushing a shopping cart across rough parking-lot tarmac, then hitting the smooth linoleum of the grocery store. It was like that. Only better because, see, in the Dirty Kanza 200, you’ve earned that smooth feeling.

But then, with some complacency setting in on my part, we missed a right turn by about 100 feet. I swore at myself, turned the bike around, and made the turn. I was getting impatient at this point, so when we finally made the turn and regrouped, I abandoned the (admittedly thrilling) nocturnal paceline and went to the front. After a minute or so I realized that the paceline was intact, but was no longer rotating. I was driving. In a fit of hypoglycemic, hypoxic grandiosity, I actually thought to myself, “I’m going to drive this train home.” Those who have spent any time with me on the road know the absurdity of this thought. But on I pedaled until I saw a stop sign and approaching car lights from the south.

“Car left!” I called out in the usual cyclist parlance, and I braked for the sign. My compatriots in the paceline, maybe feeling a bit hypoglycemic/hypoxic themselves, didn’t even pause.

“I think we’re good,” I heard one of them say, and they cheerfully blasted through the stop sign as the approaching car slowed. I waved, sensed that the car was going to wait for us, and got back on the pedals.

The final couple miles of pavement up the final climb through Emporia State then downward toward the chute with cowbells in my ears made me feel like Superman.

 That guy looks so happy to be off his bike. 

That guy looks so happy to be off his bike. 

I took 20 minutes for photo ops and a beer. When I got back to the hotel, I showered and fell almost immediately into bed. Then I immediately got back up to walk off a cramp in my foot. Then I laid back down and felt the beginnings of a chill. My mind settled into sleep, but I didn’t feel the familiar, reassuring drift toward family or childhood memories. I felt the sudden, intermittent jerks of fever dreams, of heat and thirst and middle-school rejection. The jerks woke me, and I had to get out of bed from time to time to stretch a cramp or to go to the bathroom. The trips to the bathroom were welcome. I hadn’t urinated for 12 hours before, so even though urination burned a little and my bladder never felt empty, and even though I would discover the next morning that my urine was a burnt orange color, it felt reassuring to know my kidneys were back in business. After each urination I would fall back to sleep and feel the suffocating heat on my face. Adjustment of the hotel’s A/C did not help. I briefly feared that I'd picked up a bug, or contracted old-timey "dust pneumonia." (after this kind of effort, your mind may not work exactly right. But by the next morning, though, all was well. 

Why ride a bike for 15 hours? Doesn’t the law of diminishing returns start to apply? Well, no. The 14th hour on a bike is only slightly like the first hour. And to experience the change from giddy excitement to cautious anticipation to pained determination, to experience the camaraderie first with enthusiastic pace-leaders, then hopeful bike-pushers, then finally determined, steel-faced stragglers, you need to have those middle hours from two to 14. You need to feel that first tug of a cramp in your right calf progress to an annoying knot, then you need to wax nostalgic for the cramp once it’s gone.

About 48 hours after the ride, my butt was back to normal. No more numbness. The soreness in my legs reminded me of the four hours of cramps I’d had; cramps bad enough to notice, but not bad enough to limit me, really. My hands, counterintuitively, were weak enough that it was hard to write longhand. My pinkies were numb. My neck, shoulders, and back were surprisingly unaffected, considering my lower back gave me some trouble during the ride. 

Meeting these aches and pains was inevitable once I’d made the decision to do the Dirty Kanza 200. But they were a small price to pay for the rest of the experience: the view of waving, chattering grass, long vistas, natural water crossings and bridges. The comaraderie. The encouragement of the locals, with their ringing cowbells in the dark and the Emporia State students cheering us on as we rolled through campus.

People who don’t ride bikes, like people who’ve never been in love, think that the middle and the end must be the same, too. But if you last long enough, if you push through those initial bumps and slips, you find out that the middle and the end are what you were really looking for. And you know what? After the soreness was gone, I actually missed it. But I know where to find it again: tomorrow, June 3, 2017 in Emporia, Kansas.