The night before embarking on our 200+ mile journey through the flint hills of Kansas, defending Dirty Kanza 200 champion Rebecca Rusch addressed her fellow CTS Athletes and told us all, “Whether you’re the first or last tomorrow, you will absolutely be a changed person by the end.” The Queen of Pain knows what she’s talking about.
Two hundred miles is a long way to go on a bicycle, especially when you’re riding on sharp gravel through unrelenting wind over an unending series of rolling hills. For sure, I had some very dark moments out there. But there were also parts of the day when I felt like Superman, crushing gravel under my wheels, flattening the hills, and plowing through the wind. To me, one of the most intriguing – and revealing – parts of ultra-endurance events like the Dirty Kanza 200 is navigating through these highs and lows on the way to a successful outcome. Excellent Facebook photo gallery from AdventureMonkey!
The race has three checkpoints, roughly at 50, 100, and 150 miles. And while that breaks the event neatly into four quarters, each 50-mile segment seemed like a completely different world.
The First 50: Let’s Race!
Pulling out of Emporia, Kansas at 6AM felt like the start of any other big endurance race. There’s a lot of anticipation for what’s to come, and there are a lot of riders jostling for limited space on the road. At the head of affairs, the pack quickly formed into two long lines riding in the smoother lines worn down by trucks. I stayed near the front with Rebecca, CTS Coaches Jim Lehman and Daniel Matheny, and CTS Athletes including Stan Prutz, Scott and Angie Rake, and several others.
The lead group gradually split into smaller groups as the speed, corners, and hills took their toll. About 30 miles in I hit the deck and got a flat tire, which cost me a little time and separated me from some good wheels. Fortunately, we had a nice tailwind for most of the first 50 miles, so between drafting and a favorable wind the pace for the 50 miles was high and I pulled into the checkpoint feeling strong.
The Second 50: Into the Wind
Coming out of the first checkpoint, we rode straight up a beautiful red brick road and then turned into a headwind would continue, nearly unabated, for what seemed like eternity. But since there were still plenty of wheels to be had, I got together with groups of riders to share the work. In the gravel, though, staying on a wheel was a tricky proposition. The wind was almost never a direct headwind, but there was rarely enough room in the “smooth” line to ride diagonally behind the rider in front of you and get a good draft. You had to choose between riding in the rougher gravel – which meant working harder and risking sliced tires – or riding in the smoother line and not getting much of a draft. As time went on, I started valuing the smooth line more than the draft and began spending more time by myself.
Despite the wind I still felt strong as I rolled into the 100-mile checkpoint. I think in part it was due to a great line that CTS Coach Daniel Matheny mentioned during the CTS pre-race nutrition talk. He said, “You have to be hydrated in order for your nutrition strategy to work.” I’ve been in this game a long time and explained that concept innumerable ways, but he boiled it down to its essence. In order to digest and use the calories you consume, you have to be hydrated. If you’re dehydrated when you consume calories, they sit in your gut and you’re more likely to have a gastric distress. So, even in periods when I wasn’t eating, Daniel’s simple message prompted me to keep drinking so I’d be ready to digest and use calories the next time I consumed them.
The Third 50: Into Hell
There was a 10-mile reprieve from the wind after the 100-mile checkpoint, but as I took a left turn off the wide gravel road onto an unmaintained double-track, I knew I was in for it. According to the map, I was about to ride 40 miles straight into a headwind that was gaining speed with the afternoon sun. The terrain was beautiful, but the gravel kept you on your toes and you had to stay focused on the road ahead. I went through a few rough patches between miles 115 and 140, highlighted by missing a course marker and adding 10 miles to my day. I was on the back half of the event, but many hours and many hills still stood before me, and with the wind I half-expected to get a visit from the Wicked Witch of the West or the Flying Monkeys from the Wizard of Oz.
What I’ve learned over the years, though, is that the key is to keep moving forward. The only way out of a rough patch is to leave it behind. Eventually I turned right onto a paved road and I descended down into another town of red-bricked streets to meet the CTS Support Crew at the third checkpoint.
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The Final 50: Bat Out of Hell
At the third checkpoint, CTS Premier Coach Dean Golich told me that the course and wind direction meant the race would get easier from that point forward. I chose not to believe him. As a rule, I don’t like the idea of banking on the fact that the conditions or the terrain are going to get easier. If they do, happy days. But it’s better to go forward with the fighting mentality that got you through the rough stuff already. Athletes who look for Easy Street over every rise are usually crushed by the weight of anticipation long before they reach it.
As it turned out, I was right and Dean was only half-right. We did eventually get a tailwind, but only after another 25 miles of headwinds and big rolling hills. Finally, about 175 miles into the day I felt the comforting push and relative silence of a tailwind, and the countryside started streaming past faster and faster.
Heading back into Emporia felt a little like being a pilgrim coming in from the wilderness, and I got turned around once or twice before turning into the campus of Emporia State University. Less than a mile from the finish, CTS Athletes Scott and Angie Rake caught me on their tandem and we shared the incredible experience of streaming down Commercial Street to finish the Dirty Kanza 200 in 13:56:22! I was third place in the 50+ category, behind CTS Athlete and 50+ Champion Stan Prutz!
|Rebecca Rusch with CTS Coach Dean Golich.
|Scott and Angie Rake after winning the Da
Overall, CTS Athletes performed really well. Rebecca Rusch won the women’s race for a second time and finished with CTS Coach Daniel Matheny, who was fourth in the 30-39 Men category. Jim Lehman crossed the line with a group of four athletes, including our friend Yuri Hauswald from GU Energy Labs. And Scott and Angie Rake won the tandem division! All told, 21 of 24 CTS Athletes completed the DK200, an 88% finishing rate! In comparison, the overall finishing rate for the 200 was only about 52%. Congrats to all for digging really deep!
|Jim Lehman and Yuri Hauswald (#116 and #81) finished 5th and 6th in the 40-49 Men category, and 8th and 9th Overall.
|Me with my favorite training partner, Connor!
|5th 40-49 Men, 8th Overall
|6th 40-49 Men, 9th Overall
|4th Open Men, 10th Overall
|1st Open Women, 11th Overall
|1st Men 50+, 13th Overall
|Scott & Angie Rake
|1st Tandem, 23rd Overall
|3rd Men 50+, 24th Overall
|17th Men 50+, 40th Overall
|7th 40-49, 57th Overall
|19th Open Men, 59th Overall
|30th Open Men, 97th Overall
|42nd Men 40-49, 110th Overall
|44th Men 50+, 117th Overall
|36th Open Men, 118th Overall
|44th Open Men, 137th Overall
|34th Men 40-49, 170th Overall
|35th Men 40-49, 171st Overall
|62nd Men 50+, 182nd Overall
|51st Men 40-49, 245th Overall
|56th Men 40-49, 256th Overall
If you’re even slightly interested in riding the Dirty Kanza 200, do it! Rebecca said it right; no matter where you finish you’ll be a changed person when you get there. And the atmosphere in Emporia was sensational. On numerous occasions people stopped athletes on the street, in restaurants, or in the grocery store to thank us for coming to the race and to their town. And that’s rare, even in towns with much longer histories of hosting off-road endurance races.
Have a Great Weekend!
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