The Dirty Kanza 200. 200 miles through the Flint Hills of Kansas on gravel roads. This was my season’s “A” race and had been preceded earlier in the year with the Rock Cobbler, Strada Rosso and to a certain extent the Mullholland Challange and The L’etape Amgen Tour of California. The elevation was projected at around 10,000’ which over 200 miles wouldn’t be that bad. The course is broken into four uneven quarters where you can meet your crew and restock. So with all that said on with the show.
The race started at 6:00am. We had left booking the hotel until after I had signed up too late and as a result were out of town with a 40 minute drive to Emporia. No problems Becca was driving and I was scoffing down rice porridge, a race day staple washed down with coffee. We parked up on Main Street, unloaded the car and rolled up to the start.
There was a relaxed vibe as the race organizers did the call up. I managed to slot myself into the 1500 riders somewhere in the middle. The National Anthem was sung and with a blast of an air horn we were off. Becca had shot off down the street to catch me rolling out.
The first 3-4 miles were on the road as we rolled out of town. The previous night there had been a localized thunderstorm which had left the roads damp. There was a nervous sense of excitement as nobody knew what the course would be like after the rain which had followed a dry, warm week.
At the first turn riders immediately bunched up. The road went from wide two lane blacktop to a single lane waterlogged gravel road. Thick mud on each side meant that the riders were funneled down into the standing water which was 3-4” deep. I dropped down several gears and dropped back several feet. My thinking was to stay in a low gear, keep spinning, keep moving, keep my feet on the pedals.
Other riders tried to ride in bigger gears and through the mud! Within 2 miles off of the road I entered what looked like a war scene. Bikes and riders were strewn everywhere, pulling mud out of their cassettes and cranks. Others were breaking chains to resolve issues with their derailleurs and others still had shouldered their bike and were walking back to the start. I kept my pedaling light and my nose out of trouble. Riding through the water was the safest route and the only downside was that I was getting a good splash up my backside, not great but so much better than others were experiencing. After 10 miles or so we exited the wet and were onto the dry road. With the exception of the three river crossings we would be on dry roads the rest of the day.
As expected riders were already being strung out and as far as I could see ahead or behind. I slotted myself in and dialed my pace into a solid Zone2/3 effort.
While I have done long distance and long duration events before it’s always a bit of a guess as to how much effort to put it. I was not in contention, my goals, finish, daylight would be nice, not last would be nice, either way leaving Kansas with unfinished business was not an option!
Around mile 22 I felt my rear tire go squishy, not flat but definitely underinflated. I stopped to use some sealant on it and used my pump to get some more air into it. I hoped that I could get to the first Aid Station at Mile 48 and make a tube change there. Two miles later I stopped and re-pumped it up and then another three miles it was time to change it. No problem, wheel off, tire off, tube out, tube in, tire on, wheel on and I was off, less than 5 minutes in total but all the stops and starts had added up to around 20 minutes, with hindsight I should have stopped the first time and been down just the 5 minutes. With the clock ticking and knowing that there were cutoffs I made the silly mistake of going too fast and picking up pinch flat around Mile35. I rode threw a small stream hit a rock and with a bang and a hiss I was on the side of the road again! Another 5 minutes wasted and now I was out of tubes on me. One more flat and I would have a 12 mile walk or have to beg or borrow another tube to the Aid Station.
I took it steady the rest of the way to the Aid Station and met up with Becca. We had more spares in the car and in fact had purchased more tubes the day before so I reloaded my fuel and tubes and was off. Hedging my bets Becca was sent to the LBS to get more tubes as I would run out if I continued to get two flats every leg. At this point I was behind schedule but within the cutoffs.
The miles clicked by. The terrain went up and down and was predominantly the white flint and gravel roads that I had read about.
The next leg was a little longer at 54.7 miles and would get me to over the halfway point. So I have to confess having left it so long to write my report I can’t remember much! That said there was a river crossing soemwhere in there. I was very pleased to see Becca, I had no additional flats, I stopped to use the restroom and rolled out town! With hindsight and with input from Becca I was behind on food/fuel and this would come back to haunt me.
Onwards I rode. You would think Kansas was flat…yeah about that! This hill I rode up and got a cheer from those walking! In fact with the excepetion of the muddy exits from the rivers I rode every damn mile!
Much like riding a 20 minute FTP test the third quarter would always be the worst. I had mentally braced myself for it. The Garmin was rolling up from mile 102 slowly and this was the longest of the four sections at 58.8 miles. While the majority of the climbing had been in the first half of the race the second half was cursed with the wind. Due to the fact the course was navigating along the side of fields and most of our turns were 90 degree I would have a head or side wind for most of the 58.8 miles. Any cloud cover had been blown away and the sun was in full effect.
After another river crossing I was feeling particularly low. With hindsight I was under-fueled. I wasn’t bonking or anywhere close to bonking but I was definitely in the bottom quarter of my tank! I rounded a corner and there was a straightaway to a road crossing at Mile 132. Perched on the side of the road was Becca. The crossing looked like a MASH site, there were several riders sitting in the shade, another throwing up in a ditch, a couple of others in the back of a SUV and yet some more just flaked out in the grass. Becca and a few others were administer aid, water and shade. I took the opportunity to stuff my face, fruit was the order of the day.
Now to confess. The rules state that you can only take aid from your crew during the Aid Station locations and therefore technically I broke the rules. There was a bit of stink after this year’s race with someone being DQ’d for taking Aid from others outside of the Stations. That said this was from someone who was in the Top 10 not in the mid-pack like myself. Obviously I wasn’t the only one taking assistance but doing so saved my race and Becca certainly saved the race of a few others! But it’s a lesson learned!
You can see how happy I am in the photo above! After consuming All. The. Fruit! I was off again. I felt somewhat revived. Now it was the grind to get to the legitimate Aid Station #4.
The truth be told I am not sure if it was the pineapple of the perkiness that revived me but either way it worked!
Always fighting the cutoffs I hit the fourth Aid Station, made a point of eating and eating some more! I fitted the lights to my bike at this point as I knew that any chances of beating the sun were long gone. A quick turnaround and I had the last 45 or so miles left to go. So that’s 10 miles four and half times and that’s how I planned it out. As I rolled back out onto the Gravel roads it took some time to adjust my vision and I could pick out riders ahead of me. Unofficial pacelines were forming with riders wanting to get to the finish sooner rather than later. Dust in the beam of the lights, fireflies on the side or the road and some bikes with red blinkies and some without kept me focused on the road ahead. Finally I started to see the lights of Emporia in the distance, of course the road there was not straight.
I found myself with several other riders in the wrong place and heading for an onramp to a freeway! I reviewed the map on my Garmin as best I could in the dark with failing vision and a 2” square screen! I dicided we needed back track a mile or so. Back on the route I had about 5 miles to go. A left and right, a quick tour through the Kansas State Campus and then I was on Main Street in the chute and over the Finish Line.
Becca was there along with a few spectators and the race Directors! A handshake, a beer glass and a sticker, I was done!
What an experience! I had some understanding of the race from reading reports, photos and from my prior events but they really did not express what a fantastic event this is. It’s professionally run but laid back. Challenging but do-able. The scenery is very different from what I was used to, rolling grassland prairies, cattle on the side of the road and endless miles of white gravel roads. Would I do it again, you bet! Will I do it again…maybe, but Becca has the itch for sure so it’s defiantly likely although I am not sure I would fly there after our adventures getting there and it’s a long drive!
You can see my final numbers above but what you may not know is that there was a 42% DNF rate. Quite frankly this surprised me. I am not sure why this was quite this high? The distance, sure it’s a long way, the conditions, yes it was hot and windy especially during the third leg, mechanicals, for sure especially given the chaos during the first 10 miles? Like I say I am not sure why this was this high.
Other than my flats my bike and equipment held up without issues. The kit list can be found in this post. Without doubt the Lynskey is the perfect bike for type of event, it’s forgiving enough that you can roll down most hills without worrying about jarring your fillings out. It doesn’t have the chattering that a carbon bike has!
As always without Becca there is no way I can begin to undertake these events! She’s my rock, my cheerleader, my support and my motivation!
So that’s it, now onward to the next thing!