Nothing like setting an alarm on your phone for 3:45am.
The nice people at Emporia State University opened both their dorms and their dining hall to Dirty Kanza racers and crew. We got in the dining hall right at 4am for a fresh breakfast burrito and a side of “I need more coffee before I can work a cereal dispenser properly” rice Chex.
As is customary for bike races, a lot of dudes woke up and chamoied up before breakfast. The stakes were raised this time with the addition “dude already wearing a hydration pack”
Once I ate and was chamoied up myself, I double checked the crew car and headed down to the start line. Thankfully, riders are asked to line up according to predicted/desired finish time. So, I found the middle-ish area between the 12 and 14 hour signs. I also found Tall Brian from the Ogre 150.
I figured it’d be good to stick with him if given the opportunity, though according to everyone I talked to, the start is pretty balls-out, so I mostly planned to just roll with whatever happened. Balls-out is a pretty accurate description that made me very happy that A)I’m very comfortable drafting/pacelining, and B)I did a fair amount of motorpacing prior to this race. The first 30 minutes of the race, which was mostly flat with a few turns, my average speed was 20.2 mph, but for very little effort, power-wise.
Once we were getting into the rollers, I immediately focused on pacing myself and staying tucked in behind whatever wheel was in front of me. I never even saw Rebecca Rusch, but I knew that at least a couple of other ladies, including a fast-looking woman and her male teammate/racing compadre from the Tokyo Joe’s team, were in the same large pack that I hung with over the next 15 miles or so. It was hard to tell who was who- the 100 mile race started a few minutes after the 200 and took a shorter route to join parts of the 200 course, so at some points, the groups were combined.
We passed a course split where the “DK Lite” course (the 50 mile version) turned off of the 200/100 course. There were several cars/course marshalls there making sure that everyone went the right way. Immediately following that, the road went to single-lane width and turned to baked-hard mud with lots of ruts in it. Someone got crossed up in a rut maybe 20-30 yards ahead of me, and suddenly, a guy was laying on the ground across the road. I saw and heard a lot of people slowing down and asking if he was OK, and he didn’t answer them. By the time I rolled up, a couple of riders stopped, and the injured guy was bleeding out from under his helmet and conscious, but not really responsive. Everyone was a little freaked out and not really sure what to do… the injured guy had apparently hit the ground like a lawn dart, smashing the crown of his helmet into a bunch of pieces and cutting his scalp open.
I stopped. I know enough first aid that, if it were a very serious injury (as it appeared it could be), that knowledge could be the difference between the guy living and dying. He seemed to come around a little once I was next to him talking. I helped him get his hydration pack off and put it under his head as a pillow, then started yelling at people passing and asking if he was OK that someone needed to ride back to the previous split (maybe a half mile back on course) and get a car out to take him to the hospital NOW. Luckily, rider #69 (didn’t get his name) turned around for help. While we waited, his bleeding was slowing down, and, other than being dizzy and lightheaded, he was thinking pretty clearly, and told me his name was Blair, he was from Canada, and he’d endoed in a rut when someone stopped suddenly in front of him. He told me I should go on, but at the same time, he was holding on to my hand pretty tight… that, combined with the potential for people with head injuries to have turns for the worse meant that I wasn’t planning on going anywhere until help arrived. It didn’t take very long before a volunteer jeep rolled up beside us, and I was on my way.
The five-or-so minute break put me back in pack a little and I went from drafting to passing for the next part of the course. It was still kinda foggy and misty, so the Flint Hills were gorgeous…
It wasn’t long before I made it to the first checkpoint. I found Gerald, swapped out bottles, had a Redbull and Snickers, then was on my way. The next section started out kinda hard. There was a little headwind, and the groups for drafting were occasionally sporadic. It wasn’t too bad, though. I had my one tire problem around mile 70… there was a length of deep/gnarly gravel that was a little downhill and didn’t have a “good” line in it. I rode through it thinking “crap, this is going to get one of my tires,” and, sure enough, my rear end started feeling squishy a few seconds later. I pulled over to check it out, and there was a really small hole with a little sealant leaking through. Since I had my new favorite frame pump with me, I decided I’d air it up and see if it’d seal before I put a tube in it. Karma was on my side, and, for the first time in my history as a mountain biker, a tire that had leaked much of its air out sealed up and held perfectly for the remainder of the race.
Soon after that, around mile 85, the course turned north, and the tailwind carried me up to the next aid station, where I repeated the Redbull/Snickers/bottle swap routine and checked the pressure in my rear tire with the floor pump before going out for the 2nd half of the course. It was 6.5 hours in, and I was feeling like I’d ridden a good 100 miles… not fresh, but not bad, either.
Right after leaving town, the course went straight east for about 13 miles. I found myself in a pack of guys who actually knew how to ride in an echelon, and stuck with them most of the way through the crosswind. It wasn’t long after there that I found myself in what was probably my favorite part of the course- miles of rolling hills/pasture, with an excellent tailwind. The cows on the open range provided me with several minutes of entertainment, as they’d be standing on the edge of the road staring at me as I rode by, and I’d swerve suddenly and yell “BOO” at them, resulting in startling/running off. Me at 130-something miles thought this to be high quality entertainment, and I did it at least 3 or 4 times. I also rode with a guy whose friends were spectating from a small plane, which, after buzzing just over our heads a couple of times, they landed in a nearby field so they could cheer/take his photo…
At the last checkpoint (around mile 152/9hrs 52 min), I mentally prepped for the last part of the course. Though the wind had been at my back for much of the previous section, I was getting hot. I’d eaten/drank as much as I’d felt like I could, which still wasn’t enough to keep impending dehydration at bay. The last 50 miles would be an exercise in how well I could tolerate pain and heat exhaustion. I knew this, and took an extra few minutes (I was there about 10 minutes, total) to sit in the shade and have an extra bottle of cold water and an electrolyte tablet.
As is expected in a 200 mile ride, everything was hurting at that point. I kept my focus on taking advantage of the last bit of tailwind before the course would turn back east then south around mile 175. I regretted not wetting myself down with ice water at the checkpoint, so, at mile 170, I found the one creek on that section of course that cows weren’t actively pooping into, and I stopped to sit in it for a few minutes.
It felt AMAZING, and I rode that buzz for the next 5 miles or so before stopping at someone’s large garden next to the road to refill a bottle with cold water and hose my head off to keep cool. I always try to stay positive and think of the good things/enjoy the scenery/ignore pain etc. However, I know the reality of heat exhaustion very well, and I knew it was at the point where I was either going to stop and take care of myself when cold water opportunities arose, or I was going to risk heat stroke. Additionally, my left foot/toe pain was coming in full-blast, and the breaks were the only thing giving me slight temporary relief from the crushing pain. I did, however, enjoy the lack of hills after about mile 187. I had a good drafting partner or two when the course went south again to make its way back in to town. Everything felt bad and torturous at that point, so I thought about how awesome it would feel when I finished.
Turns out, I felt THIS AWESOME when I finished…
My time of 13 hours and 33 seconds was good for 3rd overall out of 30 women, and 1st in my age category. I was in rough shape with severe heat exhaustion and dehydration. I laid in the grass for a few minutes before finding a couch in the recovery tent. Everyone kept trying to make me eat and drink, but my head was pounding, and I felt like all of Main Street Emporia was rotating around the axis of my brain. I sat there a loooong time before I was steady enough to get in the car and go back to my room. I got in the shower, and Gerald left to get dinner. When I went back to the room (we stayed at the ESU dorm, so the shower was across the hall), I was locked out. I laid on the couch in the common area until the lights overhead became unbearable enough to make me go downstairs to the front desk and get someone to open my door for me. I vaguely remember sending some text messages, my mom calling, and my dad waking me up with cold french fries from Sonic and telling me I should go to the hospital. However, I sort of thought I was dreaming, so I told him no.
The next morning, I was still in pretty rough shape. Between being sore everywhere, feeling like my internal organs were on fire, and sunburt, I didn’t sleep much at all.
Thankfully, my insides had settled down enough that I could drink some more water and gatorade. By the time we made it to the awards presentation, I felt up to eating a cup of yogurt and a banana with a cup of watery coffee. I didn’t realize that the results were going to be seperated into 39 & under/40+ age groups, so when they called me on stage for 1st place, I was kinda caught off-guard (unfortunately, 2nd & 3rd weren’t there for the podium, so I was up there alone).
I made two more trips on stage- once more for the overall podium with Rebecca Rusch and KT DeSantis (the aforementioned lady/teammate from the Tokyo Joe’s team), and once to get recognition for the race’s Sportsmanship Award. Apparently I received two nominations from other racers for stopping to help the guy with the head injury. Boom.
My morning’s intake of sugar and water turned my appetite around, and by the end of the awards ceremony, I was nearly about to eat the rocks out of my trophy.
We went to the diner around the corner, which, despite the nearly hour long wait for food (they were slammed with DK racers), was a welcome return to the world of “being able to eat solid food.”
We got back on the road for a pretty painful 9 hour drive back to Memphis (by way of the Chipotle in Springfield, MO, where I consumed 99% of a 4 pound burrito for lunch).
Was it a great race? Yes. The Dirty Kanza staff, volunteers, and basically the entire town of Emporia make for a great, well-run event. The course itself is awe-inspiring. If, like me, you’ve ever driven past a gravel road in the middle of nowhere and wondered where in the world it could go, this race answers your curiosity in ways that you can only understand if you get out there and ride it yourself.
I could go on all day about race tips, nutrition, tires, etc. but I would rather save that sort of stuff for reporting on Just Riding Along tonight. If you’re interested in the techy parts like that, give us a listen at 7:30 central time, or download the episode later: http://www.mountainbikeradio.com/just-riding-along/