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:
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
5. The finish line
Sign your name on the DK Poster. This is mandatory:
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).
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.
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!