Most people don’t decide to take on the Dirty Kanza 200 as their first race ever. 200 miles of Flint Hills gravel in one day is a little crazy. But there is something about this race, as brutal and extreme as it is, that has newbies wanting to give it a go. And I have no room to talk, it was my first race too.
I did finish on my first try, but took a beating to get it done. My second year I was going to finish better than my first year, but the infamous storm did me in as I decided I was not going to carry my bike through the six or eight miles of mud that had replaced the dirt road that was there just a few hours before. I decided to reroute to get to Council Grove which disqualifies a rider. I wanted to finish with a better time than the year before so walking for hours didn’t sound like a good plan to me. I still got in 172 miles for the day and felt great so it was a win for me.
I have learned quite a bit about gravel grinding these past few years and love the sport. The only thing that kept me out of this year’s race was open heart surgery. I have the scar to prove it too. But I will see you all out on the course next year. Hopefully with my heart fixed up I will finally make it to the finish line before the beer garden is closed down. That’s the goal anyway. But I will be at this year’s race so be sure to say hi!
Adventure Monkey DK200 Advice
- Recover on the bike. This is a simple yet very effective piece of advice I got from Jim Cummings, the DK200 race director himself. It worked well for me last year and is a great game plan. What is means is this:
Instead of taking time at the checkpoint to rest and recover, recover on the bike. Ride slow and don’t push it. It keeps the muscles warm and keeps you moving instead of letting your muscles get cold and stiff and losing time by resting at the stops. This got me in front of a lot of people. I took about 10-15 minutes at my first checkpoint to refuel and get going again. That is one of the great things about cycling. You can ride at a pace that doesn’t stress the muscles and you can eat and drink while riding until you feel good enough to kick some butt again. KEEP MOVING
- Have a plan for each stop. Write it down for your support crew.
Next year I will have a laminated game plan for my crew at each of the three checkpoints. I want to get in and out quickly making the midway checkpoint my longest stop to eat some real food, but keep it to only 30 minutes max. The other checkpoints I would like to make 10 minute stops so a plan must be made. Everyone is different but here’s the gist of my checkpoint plan:
-change out the bladder in my Tangle bag with a fresh one with ice (these are made pre-race and kept in a cooler).
-change out my water bottles
-wipe off and lube my chain (I hate a squeaky chain that doesn’t want to shift smoothly)
-change out my food bag with pre-made baggies of food
-eat pickle and drink some pickle juice
-drink juice made especially for endurance events from a juicer (new to me this year)
-clean off sweaty sunglasses
-stretch with some Yoga poses while my crew takes care of the bike (maybe only at midway checkpoint)
-change into a fresh new kit (midway checkpoint)
-If hot pour cold water on head but try not to soak chamois (wet chamois is not comfortable to wear for 10 hours)
-make ice sock to put in my jersey on my back as I ride off
-have someone video me and see how things are going (good for blog posts)
-have someone record my time just so I will know after the race how I did
Both years I had my man Adam and his boys as my support. It can be done with one person especially if you have the list made for them.
- Figure out your nutrition plan. This may be the most important item for the day. Since you are the motor you have to make sure you fuel yourself correctly. My body is pretty touchy as to what I feed it to keep it going. The only way I figured this out was to do my long Sunday gravel centuries and experiment with different foods, drinks and all the scientifically formulated endurance products. Don’t bring something to race day that you haven’t tried out.
Some products are great but after a long, hot day on the bike I can no longer drink them. If I don’t eat I won’t pedal. I also sweat a lot leaving salt on my jersey and body. I need to replenish with water and sufficient electrolytes. Everyone is different but here is my plan:
-Eat a good breakfast! I like oatmeal with fruit and eggs. Next year I may add a fresh juice too.
-2 21 oz water bottles with one nuun in each (tastes like pure water compared to the mix in the bladder)
-In my jersey pockets you will find the perfect cyclist’s energy food – a banana or two.
-I will eat a pickle spear or two and drink pickle juice at each stop. It works.
-I will make juice with my juicer the night before to drink at the stops, but especially at the midway checkpoint. Juicing puts the vitamins, minerals and macronutrients of a shopping bag full of fruits and veggies into a glass of juice. Nothing beats it.
-I eat a full meal at the midway checkpoint usually consisting of a sandwich, fruit (especially dark berries) and/or whatever sounds good. Listen to your body’s cravings – even junk food.
- Stay cool on a hot day. The heat knocks out many riders and can be very dangerous. There’s only so much you can do in the middle of nowhere with no shade but there’s a few things I do.
-make ice socks at each stop (read more here)
-add ice to all your fluids when refilling to cool your core
-if overheated find water and pour over your head – this has brought farmers and cyclists together during these races
-know the signs of heat stoke and pay attention to your body – this can be deadly – know when to pull the plug
- Tire choice - this could be the most important thing you do to assure a good day on the bike. There are a thousand different opinions on tires out there but be certain that the Flint Hills gravel will shred a tire. I am always looking for a tire that has good durability along with low rolling resistance and weight. There are no perfect tires but one thing is for sure – use new ones on race day. I like to put mine on a few weeks before the race to ride them a bit to make sure everything is good to go. I don’t like to put new tires on the day before just in case.
I used a Bontrager XR-1 on the front and a Kenda Kwest on the rear for two years in a row with one flat. Not bad. I liked the comfort of the bigger tire on the front and the XR-1 is a fast rolling, fairly durable tire. The Kwest has Kenda’s protective layer for commuters in it and handled the sharp gravel well. I have also used:
- a Kenda Karma on the front in training and loved the comfort and float it provided and never flatted with it
-Kenda Kommandos for 100′s of miles with no flats and was going to run those in this year’s race. I was going to try 35c’s on the front and back for more speed (but less comfort).
The Schwable Marathons are proven reliable but a little expensive. I was turned off when more than one reliable person told me their rolling resistance wasn’t that great. But many a great rider relies on these tires.
Use good tires, bring tubes and patch kits. I am always surprised at the number of flats I see at the DK200. KNOW HOW TO CHANGE A FLAT AND PATCH A TUBE! practice in the field when training.
- Learn how to handle bike repairs with your multi-tool. It would suck to be out of the race because of a mechanical that can be fixed.
- Train your body and MIND for this race. I think the first hundred can be done with good training but the second hundred takes a will of steel. You won’t want to continue. You may break down and cry on the side of the road. Cramps may attack your muscles. You may decide this is stupid. You may throw up. Your body won’t want to keep going. That’s when people like us tell our body to shut the eff up and keep going. This takes a will of steel to pedal through the pain and doubt. I think training in the wind and on the trainer with only a boring wall to look at helps build discipline. But there is something about the people that do finish. They have a mind that can make it through things mere mortals cannot. Don’t give up.
As to the physical training, I recommend making sure you can ride a gravel century, but people have finished strong doing 60-80 mile training rides. Train hard. Ride in the wind. Ride gravel. Focus on interval training. Ride with people faster than you. Have fun but train hard. 200 miles of Flint Hills gravel will bring you to your limits.
- Find your pace and stick to it – If you are a slower rider people will be passing you right and left. Let them. If you stick to your pace you will pass them when they give up. There’s like a 20% finishing average (something like that). You won’t finish if you start too fast. Personally, I try to keep my average speed around 13.5 mph. I don’t sweat it too much. If it feels easy to go faster I do, keeping in mind I will be pedaling all day. I go slower up the hills and faster down them but all in all I think my average for both years was 13.3 mph. Not too bad. Next year I am hoping ot average 14 mph, but I will make the final decision after I train with a fully functioning heart . . who knows how fast I’ll be next year?
- Stick on a wheel - my first year I didn’t do this. I felt like it was cheating. It’s not. Take turns pulling for each other. When you are small like me they usually don’t want you to pull for them so . . .Anyway my good friend Scott told me to ride someone’s wheel as much as possible and that’s what I did last year. I went from pack to pack riding my way towards the front of the middle, saving as much energy as possible by drafting. Make sure to return the favor though. If you are riding with a team, this is a great strategy especially in the Kansas wind. Although this is a self supported race . . . rule #23 in the DK200 Rider’s bible allows drafting on another race participant.
- Help other riders - See a rider changing a flat or in any kind of pickle? Make sure they are OK and don’t need help before riding past. I gave away my tube to a guy in dire straits somewhere near Little Egypt in 2010. Karma is a bitch – respect it.
- Have a support crew you can trust – They need to be there and have all your stuff. Also choose a person or people that will keep you motivated and not baby you. My wife is not allowed on my support team. She’s too nice. When I made it to the midway checkpoint in 2010 I later learned that Brooke, Adam’s wife was quiet because I looked so bad she didn’t know what to say. Adam is a badass and just kept saying “You can do this” type of things even though I looked like a pile of dogsh*t. That year I cramped so bad from mile 32 to 103 that I was sore and beat in Council Grove with the hardest part of the course ahead of me. I was saved by pickle juice – no joke. Also they should have your supplies and food spread out and ready for you. They need to act like a Nascar pit stop crew and take care of everything for you. Make that list. You will be tired and maybe delirious.
- The week before the event eat and drink as healthy as possible. I would add nuun or sports drink to my daily regimen of water drinking. Maybe on Wednesday do an all out but short workout (20-30 mile ride as fast as possible) to use up your glycogen stores and then eat good healthy carbs to replenish your glycogen stores. Here’s other advice I have heard the week before the race:
-carbo load by eating lots of good healthy carbs
-eat lots of protein the week before
-take the week off from hard training
-do lots of stretching every night (yoga)
-don’t do anything different from the usual
This sort of thing is different for everyone. Work out the kinks during training. The more of these races you do the better you will get.
- Bring a camera if you are into pictures (who isn’t?) I have two mountain feed bags on my bars with one dedicated to a point and shoot camera. Trust me you will want to remember this experience.
- Invite everyone to the finish line. The love of your family and friends at the finish line is the best thing you will ever hear in your life after 200 miles of grueling gravel. I will never forget my 2010 finish at 1:50 in the morning
Well, I’m out of coffee and can’t think of any more good advice. All I can say is the DK200 is a special race in a beautiful expanse of untouched grassland. Enjoy it. Take in the experience. Be ready to hurt, to doubt, to fall apart and see what you are really made of as you put yourself back together. I’ve been asked what you win if you are the winner of the DK200. Respect, that’s what. If you finish this race, there’s not much you can’t do.
Anything you can think of that I forgot? Leave a comment for all to see.
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