So, how about I talk about a race non-stop for 6 months and then totally bail and leave everyone hanging once it actually happens?
Well, it was best worst day of my entire life. Or maybe, the worst best day… It was an absolute total suck-fest and I have freaking blast ALMOST every single minute. Did I finish? Not even close. But I’m in love.
We arrived in Emporia on Friday afternoon and checked in, got our bags, got our bibs, and then attended the athlete meeting.
In the KC area, we only had 4 days in the month of May that were completely dry.. no rain at some point during the 24-hours. This meant it was wet. Real wet. They told us at the athlete meeting that one of the river crossings was currently 8 feet deep. Yikes.
But the show was going on rain, or shine. And they assured us that it was looking better by the moment. It’d be fine, they said. It’d be fun.
That night we ate at PIZZA RANCH (my favorite favorite place) #midwestgirlthroughandthrough
And we had a night of decent sleep considering the impending doom.
That morning it was already raining. Great. And cold. WHAT? In years past, Dirty Kanza is a mother because of the heat and wind. Now I’m contemplating a jacket.
The race starts at 6am. Paul and I line up at the very back of the 200. I can’t tell you how much I’ve grown as a cyclist since training for this race, but the start will probably always make me real panicky. So many people. 2000 racers all geared up and ready. They had the roller derby team there holding up pace signs. At the back, the last one was 18 hours. GULP.
We start and my stomach is just in KNOTS. I’m so nervous. There was no last minute re-route which I ASSUME is a good sign. It means they didn’t have to hand out maps and I can rely on my GPS to navigate me instead of trying to read a map at the same time as riding. It also must mean that the roads are all in pretty good shape (lies).
The first 10 miles are flat and fast. I’m basically crawling at the start, but I’m okay with that. I’m getting used to the insane number of people riding around me and spinning to warm myself up. It was drizzling and with a cold wind. I, reluctantly, made a last minute call to wear a yellow rain jacket and I’m now SO thankful I have it.
The 100 mile racers started 20 minutes after us. The fastest of the group catch up to me around 9 miles in. That throws me off a bit, but we soon reach the first big hill and I TOTALLY CRUISE RIGHT UP IT. I’m stoked. I’ve ridden this hill 3 times before in my life and walked every single time. I’ve made HUGE progress since training camp in March and I’m wearing the BIGGEST SMILE on my face. I’ve got this!!
I cruise down the other side of the hill, around a small bend, and HOLY PEOPLE. How did I catch so many people?
This is why.
Mud. Muck. Sticky, slurpy, mud.
A few people are turning around. A truck full of volunteers are telling it like it is: about 3 miles of this.
3 MILES? A lot of people are bailing. Well, I figure, I don’t have anything else to do today. And I pick up my bike.
Karma. A 1:1 Karma ratio. 1 step for every single time I’ve ever made fun of CrossFit. Never again. My bike is heavy.
(I actually just ran upstairs, grabbed the scale and weighed my bike: 30.6 pounds)
Not to mention I have 2 full waterbottles on it, snacks, and food. Oh, and all the mud that is now CAKED on it. And I already have a Camelbak filled with 3L water, tubes, CO2, more snacks, etc. And I’m walking in bike shoes, through really sticky mud. The deeper spots you really sink into. I saw one guy wipe out with his bike in his hands as his shoe got ripped off by the mud.
So yes, I need to work on my upper-body strength. That walk was the most miserable fun I ever had. I couldn’t carry my bike on my shoulder for long, so I switched it to my other shoulder. Then I tried carrying it in the crook my elbows. Then on my back. Then I tried to just give up and push it through mud.. but then mud cakes on the tires and builds up under the fork until the wheels don’t turn anymore. Woof. Then I cut my leg on one my pedals. Note for next year: antibacterial wipes.
By now pretty much everything is coated in mud. My hands, my feet, my legs, my entire bike, my water bottles. I need to keep fueling myself, but I don’t really have a clean place to wipe my hands or water bottle tops off on. It takes me 2.5 hours to get through those 3 miles. But I’ll admit. It was fun. I mean, EVERYONE had the same mud to get through. I wasn’t alone out there. I struggled to carry my bike and I definitely felt defeated, but it was still fun. I mean, WHAT could I do? Quit? No way. (Plus, I couldn’t. A truck couldn’t make it through the mud to get me even if I wanted to). 😀
When we finally made it through the mud, there was a series of puddles from the rain that everyone was using to wash their hands, shoes, and chain/derailleur/bike. I did my best to get enough mud off so that my wheels could roll and shoes could clip back in, but I was pretty tired of the mud. I was SO ready to ride again.
Riding felt SO good. I felt like I was flying even when I was only going 14 mph or so. I made it through the Two Towers (giants hills; and only walked one of them! win!) and then through another hill before turning onto some private property.
Once we turned onto the private property: more mud. A little more walking, but nothing major. We wind through some beautiful hills and the sun is actually starting to come out! YES. I’m still freezing and never ended up taking off the rain jacket. I am SO thankful Paul convinced me to wear it. I would have died frozen in the mud without it.
We reach a major water-crossing just in time for me to see one girl absolutely wipe out in the middle. She told me the water was so cold, it knocked the wind out of her. Woof.
I almost did the same too, but managed to unclip in time. The mud is SO cake into our cleats and pedals that clipping/unclipping is kind of a beast. I found later that I had small piece of gravel in my pedal which was preventing me from moving my foot all the way to the right and causing the issue.
I walked through the water-crossing and even though it was COLD, it was SO nice. The stream was flowing and there were a lot of people here taking the time to clean off the mud.
The course takes us over some really stunning scenery at this point. I had ridden this part of the course during Dirty Kanza Training Camp, but with all the rain, the green grass is just Midwest beauty at its finest.
Mile 33 is the first neutral aid station. You can’t meet your support crew here, but they have water, electrolytes, and the course splits the 100 mile and 200 mile riders.
I felt AWESOME at mile 33. I mean, I would hope so considering I have 175 more miles, but all things considered, I was so happy. I also found out here that they weren’t planning on extending the cut-off times. WHAT? After hearing that, I should have taken the 100 route home.. but I figured they would end up extending them. I needed to maintain a 10 mph pace to beat the race cut-off, but with the 3 mile WALK I figured times would be flexible. Plus, I felt awesome. So I kept on the 200 mile route.
Within 2 miles from the break I ate it. Hard. I hit THIS:
My tires just stopped moving and I landed on all fours in deep, sticky mud. When I pulled my hands out, it made that sucking sound. And I was covered completely in sticky mud everywhere from knees down and all the way up to my forearms. My bike also tipped over and completely covered my left shifter in mud too.
My little handkerchief at this point was totally toast. I wiped my hands in the grass, but had to clean places on me to wipe anything else. I got back on and kept going, but my hands were sliding around on my handlebars and it was hard to grip anything or brake. Probably a good sign. I also couldn’t clip in anymore. My shoes and pedals were too coated in mud.
But I kept going. I got another 10 miles or so under my belt when I hit another hill. It turned out to be steeper than I was expecting and I attempted to get off my bike, but my wheels skidded on gravel and over I went. I slid a little bit on the gravel and thankfully didn’t tear my shorts or jersey, but I cut up my leg pretty bad on the gravel and my pedal.
I laid on the ground for a few minutes. Just kinda staring up at the nice blue sky during a few moments of sunshine. Gee, sky, you look pretty cheerful today. All rained out?
I was done. I wasn’t in bad spirits (surprisingly). But with the looming threat of missing the cut-off at the first checkpoint anyway, and my line-up of 2 very unfortunate falls in the past 10 miles, I had resigned. I walked up the rest of this hill and stumbled upon someone on the phone. He had hit a huge hole that I very narrowly missed and when he tried to bunny hop it, his pedal just plain snapped off on the landing. 150 more miles with 1 pedal? Nope. He was done. I turned around and saw a Jeep headed towards us. This was fate. I, too, got in the Jeep.
The very first thing I ever heard about the Dirty Kanza is that “it will kick in the dick of any Ironman”. Well, then. I certainly had nothing to lose.
But something about the race struck a cord with me and I mentioned it to Paul. A month later, we had brand new bikes and training camp deposits paid.
… 6 months and 1,226 miles later I’m writing this post.
So, I made it 46 miles. In 7.5 hours. I run marathons faster than I went the first 26. But I’m not mad about it. DNFing the Dirty Kanza is almost a rite of passage. You have to pay your dues. And I had a blast doing it. I think I had smile on my face the ENTIRE ride (minus the falling parts). I’ll admit, I didn’t respect the distance when I signed up for this race. I got way in over my head and it was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.
I fell in my love with riding my bike in the past 6 months. I have always been so concerned with riding X miles in X hours (you know, the Ironman approach to cycling), then I never got to experience the fun of it.
Gravel cycling is the way cycling was meant to be. Wild, adventurous, and for the joy of being alive. Gravel races start with everyone paying a ridiculously small amount of money, someone shouting go (bonus if they actually have a megaphone), eating gas station pizza halfway through, and then closing out the day with a beer. People stick around until everyone finishes and no one wears ridiculous aero-helmets (not hating, I have 2). Riding my bike to work is actually fun, too! I take a trail, see puppies, scream inside bridges to hear my echo, and watch the sun rise and set.
I failed this year, but I did something that scared me and I made it out alive. It challenges me, it changes me, and it makes me braver. I’ve found my niche and I’m ready to roll with it.
See you in 2016, Dirty Kanza.