Weekend Reading: 5 Lessons from Riding 200 Miles on Gravel


Steve Wood and James Ragan finishing the 2014 Dirty Kanza 200.

Steve Wood and James Ragan finishing the 2014 Dirty Kanza 200.


The longer the event the more likely it is that you will have to fight your way through a rough patch. In 10k runs and 45-minute criteriums you may avoid them altogether. But in marathons, Ironman triathlons, 100-mile ultra marathons, and 200-mile gravel races you are all but assured of a moment where you have to fight to keep yourself moving forward. Last weekend 38 CTS Athletes and coaches joined nearly 1200 like-minded individuals on the start line of the Dirty Kanza 200. Many hours later, we all had stories to tell of battles fought and lessons learned.

After gathering responses from the athletes and coaches we had in the race are 5 lessons I’m taking away from the 2014 Dirty Kanza 200:

Be smarter than your plan

We all start with one, but races rarely go according to plan. You have to be smart enough to know when it’s time to improvise, and of course you have to know what to do once you’re off script. Weather and mechanicals led several CTS Athletes to reevaluate their plans. Andy and Cara Applegate (tandem division) had six flats, which meant they were out on course longer than anticipated and that seriously impacted their nutrition/hydration plan. Stuart Evans struggled in the heat so he jumped in creeks to cool off in the final 50 miles. It worked; he finished in just under 13 hours and was 6th in the Men 30-34 age group! Paul Dodd realized after the 100-mile aid station that the heat was getting to him, so he upped his fluid consumption and managed his nutrition to avoid overloading his gut with calories. It worked; he rolled across the finish line in just over 14 hours.

applegates DK200

CTS Coach Andy and Cara Applegate, who finished 2nd to CTS Athletes Scott and Angie Rake in the tandem division, definitely rolled through some adversity.

No matter the speed, always move forward

I think part of what draws people to ultra-endurance events is the desire to push themselves to the point where they’ll face the decision to quit. For many people the risk of real failure has been largely been removed from day to day life, and these events offer an opportunity to put yourself in a position where continuing becomes a true test of will. Eric Pierce said, “The hardest moment for me had to be at 175 miles. I had been fighting cramps since mile 115 or so, and I was sitting in the shade of a line of trees I had to hack my way into. There was a nice refreshing cattle tank back there, but it was guarded by an electric cattle fence.  Still I was contemplating how to climb under it.  I called my son to pick me up (I didn’t want to call you guys and make you come get me in a bright CTS truck!), but I called him back and got underway.”

Eric Pearce Dirty Kanza 200

Eric Pearce at the 150-mile Aid Station, getting some cramps worked out by Samuel, having his bike taken care of by Aaron, and talking hydration with CTS Coach Dean Golich.


Quitting is a split-second decision. When the going gets really tough, it becomes a tantalizing easy decision to make. To stay in the game you have to choose the hard way and work to keep that decision at bay. In ultra endurance races, always move forward. Rolling at 5mph is better than standing still. You’re getting you closer to your support crew and to the finish line while you work through the problem.


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The line matters more than the draft

This was something 4x DK200 Champion Dan Hughes told our group the night before the event, and it was great to get confirmation of something I’d suspected since last year. Drafting is great, but in gravel racing there are often 2 distinct smooth lines in the road, and once you’re off those lines you’re in rougher gravel and riding over sharper pieces of flint (at least in the Flint Hills of Kansas). You have to balance the reduced aerodynamic drag with the increased resistance from the rougher terrain, plus the increased risk of a flat tire. Draft when you can, but prioritize the smooth and safe line.

You live and die by your tires

Tire selection and air pressure are two of the most talked about subjects among DK200 riders, but the reality is there isn’t a perfect setup. Some tires may be less likely to flat, but if you hit the wrong rock at the wrong time, you better have a new tube. And there were a lot of flat tires this year. Riding a tubeless setup? Yeah, there were still plenty of them at the side of the road with flats. In the end, the best way to minimize flat tires is to pay attention and ride a good line. You have to think about where you’re putting your wheels.

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When you’re prepared, be prepared to surprise yourself

There is no substitution for preparation. The more fitness you have, the more adversity you can cope with. The lighter you are, the less you’ll struggle in the heat. Preparation enables athletes to keep it simple on race day. You can focus on riding a great line because you’re not stressed to keep up with the group. You’re not slamming the bike through rock piles because you’re overheating and preoccupied thinking about fluid intake. Preparation makes the impossible possible and the difficult much easier.

CTS Athlete Bill Dietrich sent me this: “So, I rode last year on the same bike and finished 56th overall, 24th in my age group (Men 45-49) with a time of 14:24.  This year I finished in 12:14!!!! 24th overall and 4th in my age group. Probably the funniest part of the race was when, around mile 40-45, I rode up next to my coach, Jason Siegle (he eventually finished 5th overall!) in the lead group at the very front of the race.  I wish I had a picture of his face! It pretty much said, “Bill, what the heck are you doing up here?!”  It was fantastic.”

Bill Dietrich having his bike serviced at the 150-mile Aid Station.

Bill Dietrich having his bike serviced at the 150-mile Aid Station.


I got this from CTS Athlete Angie Rake, who is the stoker of the Scott and Angie Rake tandem team: “I just started cycling 4 years ago and could barley make it through a 1 hour spin class at the gym.  I am still in shock that I can ride 202 miles and do all the things on the bike I am doing.” Scott and Angie won the tandem division for a second consecutive year.

Congratulations to everyone who finished the 2014 Dirty Kanza 200! The final tally of CTS Athlete results looks like this: 38 CTS Athletes started, 7 finished on the podium, and we had an 81% finish rate compared to the race’s overall finish rate of 64%. Rebecca Rusch won her third DK200 and set a new course record! Three CTS Coaches (Jason Siegle, Dave Sheek, Matt Freeman) finished in the top 10 overall. Here’s the full list:

Jason Siegle M 30-34 11:19:41 5 2
Matt Freeman M 40-44 12:01:43 9 3
Dave Sheek M 35-39 12:01:44 10 2
Rebecca Rusch F 40+ 12:11:15 19 1
Bill Dietrich M 45-49 12:14:03 23 4
Greg Brown M 45-49 12:20:31 28 7
Stan Prutz M 55+ 12:43:47 42 2
Chris Carmichael M 50-54 12:50:12 48 6
Stuart Evans M 30-34 12:58:28 57 6
Brad Tymchuk M 45-49 13:04:32 60 14
Michael Talbert M 55+ 13:17:46 64 4
Scott/Angie Rake Tandem 13:26:44 73 1
Andy/Cara Applegate Tandem 13:39:14 94 2
Marc Ostryniec M 35-39 13:42:55 99 17
Steve Wood M 45-49 13:48:42 108 29
James Ragan M 55+ 13:48:43 109 8
Eric Pearce M 50-54 13:54:05 114 14
Paul Dodd M 50-54 14:03:33 130 27
Douglas Tice M 50-54 14:20:04 165 20
Michael Hillenbrand M 45-49 14:21:31 168 36
Derek Wilkerson M 35-39 14:21:31 169 28
Doug Hill M 55+ 14:52:55 201 14
Joe Scully M 55+ 15:06:30 216 16
Steve Phillips M 55+ 15:11:22 221 17
Neil Shirley M 35-39 15:15:44 224 32
John Battista Jr. M 50-54 15:33:23 244 30
Bain Carpenter M 50-54 16:05:11 292 39
Jim Rutberg M 35-39 16:13:20 302 42
Heidi Dohse W 40+ 16:45:40 335 12
Josh Whitmore M 35-39 17:33:39 375 52
Jim Stob M 55+ DNF
Peter Merrick M 35-39 DNF
Eric Headrick M 50-54 DNF
Brendan Sheehan DNF
Jeremy Albrecht DNF
Fred Smith DNF
Joe Kraxner Tandem DNF

Post-finish selfie. An hour faster than last year, but still just as worked!


Looking forward to next year already!
Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS

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Comments 2

  1. Pingback: Dirty Kanza 200 Race Reports | Adventure MonkeyAdventure Monkey

  2. “Rolling at 5 mph is better than standing still”….

    Great lesson for life’s struggles as well as bike racing…
    Love it ..

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