Going farther than you have ever gone before.
Warning this post is pretty long, but it is hard to condense over 19 hrs of pure awesomeness down.
After only completing the first half of DK200 last year, I knew I would be back this year. I just had to be, and the only thing I really wanted was to finish the race. Last year served as a good introduction as to what I was in for and what I needed to work on to achieve my goal. Leading up to and since this race I have encountered more than one individual that said: " Two hundred miles? In one day? Are you crazy? Why?" To that I say, yes, yes, yes, and because everyone needs to push themselves and see what you can do, but mostly just because yes I am crazy!
As anyone who has ever done this race before, it sneaks up on you. You start out signing up in January with plenty of time to train and the next thing you know it is the end of May and race day is upon you. We ( Crystal, Chris, and myself) drove into Emporia on Friday afternoon under cloudy skies, cool temps and afternoon showers. We found our hotel, Best Western, which was less than impressive and headed downtown to get checked in. We ran into several friends before we could even make it to the Granada for sign in, but soon made our way inside and received our pre-race packet. My plan had been to hook up with the Team Virtus guys for dinner but they were not into town yet so we made a quick Walmart run for last minute necessities and then found our way to The Pizza Ranch for dinner. Now Chris was slightly apprehensive about loading up on pizza the night before a big race, but I was really hungry and ready to take that chance. After dinner and feeling stuffed to the gills we headed back downtown to the theater for the pre-race meeting, found our seats and settled in to shortly be joined by Team Virtus and Jim and Wendy Davis. The meeting was short and to the point with very little to be covered and soon we were headed back to our hotel. We made a few last minute preparations, laid out our gear, and were in bed by around 10:30 I believe.
4 a.m. came early after a night of poor sleep due to the pre-race anxiety. Race start wasn't until 6a.m. but I don't like to be rushed and wanted to have plenty of time to take care of business before the start. We had not really planned well for our breakfast and had opted for frozen breakfast stuff that we could cook in the microwave. I opted for breakfast burritos, Chris had chimichangas I believe. This was a big risk, but it turned out fine with no adverse effects, i.e. upset stomachs. I managed to eat two of my burritos, washed them down with about half of a mr. pibb, followed by some powerade and felt great and ready to go. Chris could only take a couple bites of his, and I am not sure if he ate anything else, but this was nothing new as he rarely eats before a race anyways. With everything loaded we headed downtown for the race start. As luck would have it we parked right across the street from Team Virtus which made it pretty easy to find them before the race started. Soon we were all lined up in the 18hr finish time group and ready to go. We had four rookies and four previous DK participants and the adventure was set to begin.
Leg 1: Emporia to Cassoday 62 miles
We all rolled out together near the very back of the 400 plus participants and settled in for what would be our longest rides ever. The beginning of this race is kinda funny because it is really easy to get caught up in the atmosphere and be pushing way harder and faster than you want, but we managed to stay around our intended speed. Robby Brown was the first one to peel off of the front after a few miles and we never really saw him again until the end of the race. I don't know for sure but I think we all had the same kind of agreement, we wanted to ride together at all costs short of causing someone to miss a checkpoint. Chris appeared strong and rode out front of the group for a while and the miles ticked by, 5, 10, 15, 20. We all leap frogged back and forth and every time I would see him I would ask if he was ok. Around the 25 mile mark I passed Chris, asked if he was ok, reminded him to eat and drink, he said he was ok and I went on. I didn't think he was looking like he was really feeling it, but I also knew he had one goal and that wasn't necessarily finishing. Chris just wanted to ride as far as he could and try to get a grasp on the Dirty Kanza experience. About a month or so before the race Chris had came down with pneumonia and this put a big damper on his training. I continued pedaling along with Team Virtus and Justin Nemeth and taking in the beautiful scenery along the first leg. I was feeling good and remebering to eat and drink and things seemed to be rolling right along. Somewhere around 10 miles out of Cassoday we were all stopped regrouping and probably taking a leak, it seemed someone was stopping every five miles to pee, when we looked at the time. We had been taking it easy conserving energy and enjoying the ride and now we had about an hour or so to make the cutoff, we were unsure of exactly how far it was to the checkpoint but we knew somewhere between 8-12 miles. It was then that Bob,Luke, Justin and I grouped up to make up some time. We knocked out those last miles pretty quick and made the checkpoint with about thirty minutes to spare. We got our maps and headed over to our transition that our wonderful support crews had set up for us. Team Virtus had a nice ez-up canopy and all of our chairs were set up under it. Crystal quickly came to my side to see what I needed. I was pretty sure that I had explained what I would want ready for me, but that is up for discussion, so I am sure I was a little bit snappy with her, but she took it well and soon was getting me a sandwich and switching out my bottles and camelbak bladder. I received a small scolding for still having well over half of the camelbak full and that I needed to drink more. It had been all of our intentions to try to have around a 15 minute transition and to recover on the bike but it didn't happen. Kate came in a little while after us and that only left Chris on the first leg. A few minutes before the 12 o clock cut off he came riding up, it seemed he had barely made it, but he was quick to inform us he had gotten a ride in, his ride ended just past 50 miles, still his longest ride to date, but not as far as he intended. He would now be joining the ranks of our support crew. We were ready to roll out at right around noon, we were restocked, our bikes had been lubed and tires checked by Casey and it was time for the second leg.
Leg 2: Cassoday to Florence 44 miles
Once again we all rolled out together and I was feeling great. We quickly came to the place where my race fell apart last year and I was glad to roll right on past it. A lot of this leg seemed familiar to Bob and I probably cause we both spent a lot of time sulking along it last year in our own peronal pain caves. The second leg of the race is definetly less scenic than the first and for us would be riding in the heat of the day. The second leg of the race also contains the most " Low maintenance, enter at your own risk" roads. It was last year on this leg that I had my only flat of the race. Around halfway through this leg shortly after hitting the rough part of the road Bob got a flat tire. We all stopped to try and assist him and it was a good opportunity for a bathroom break. Kate quickly decided she would ride on since she felt like her pace was slower than ours. I am pretty sure we had to have stopped in the hottest, most humid place and soon everyone was sweating it out while Bob worked on the tire. He soon had a new tube in and was ready to inflate it, I saw him pull out his pump and start to pump. I don't know if he didn't had his co2 or what but I quickly got mine out for him to use. It was too hot to exert energy pumping up a tire. Tire fixed we headed on down the road and within a couple miles we caught up with Kate. I'll never know, but I don't think she was feeling the greatest right then, and she never let on any different. Within a few more miles Bob and Kate had both dropped back and our group was down to Luke, Justin, Adam and I. We were all a little worried about Bob and Kate but the clock was ticking and the sun was beating down on us so we pedaled on. With about 8 miles to the checkpoint we heard a loud pop followed by a rush of air and Justin had a flat. It sounded like his tire had exploded, this was not good, not good at all. We all stopped and Luke went back to help him. His tire had not exploded, just a fast flat. Thank goodness. Adam rolled on to keep his legs loose and Luke soon suggested that I continue on as well. Knowing that the cutoff time would be looming we all needed to keep moving in case of any further mechanicals. Adam and I leap frogged back and forth all the way into town and came into the checkpoint only a minute or two apart. We beat the 4:30 cutoff, I am not sure exactly what time but we had made it. Our crews were ready for us and we were soon being pampered. I had made sure Crystal knew what food I would want and she was ready and waiting. Luke and Justin were not too far behind us, shortly followed by Bob and the Kate. We had all made it to the halfway point. I still felt pretty good and everyone else seemed to be doing alright. Everyone had a sore but and could feel the effects of over one hundred miles, but everyone was going to head back out. I was resupplied, changed shorts, re applied my chamois butter and ready to head out for the third leg. I was in better shape than I had been last year and I knew I was going farther than I had ever gone before.
Leg 3: Florence to Council Grove 59 miles
We had seen people all day that we knew but this race spreads everyone out so you never know who you will see, but Jim Davis and Derrick Boos had been at the checkpoint when we arrived and rolled out right before us. So that made two more people that were going farther than they had last year. They were both looking good and were soon out of our sight. Adam was the first to roll out in an attempt to keep loose, shortly followed by Luke, Justin, and myself. Bob and Kate hung back wanting to rest a little longer, assuring us they would be right behind us. This leg was the same as last year, but Luke was the only one that had seen it before, totally new territory for me and I was looking forward to it. The three of us pedaled along at a decent pace knowing that we had just over 5 hours to complete the 59 miles to the next checkpoint. We looked back a lot to see if we could see Bob and Kate and forward for Adam for a while, but it was just the three of us. Somewhere in the first 10-15 miles I think, Luke and I were pedaling along and realized Justin had fallen back. We hadn't heard anything, he just was gone. We briefly stopped to ponder waiting, but knowing we had a long ways to go we continued on. Time ticked on and we eventually came upon a large group gathered on a bridge. Adam, Jim, and Derrick were all stopped to assist a rider. It was Derrick's brother Kyle, he had been riding strong ( we hadn't seen him since the first few miles of the race) and had been struck with debilitating spasms in his back. His day was over, Derrick and Jim had made some calls and left messages to get Emma to come and get him and everyone headed on down the road. It was around this time that something lit a fire under Jim Davis and he was off like lightning, Luke and I quickly realized we didn't want to try his pace and settled back into our own grind. I am not sure what happened with Adam at this point, heck he may not have even been there, I am not really sure. Derrick came around us in an attempt to catch Jim and was soon out of sight, but not for long. A couple miles down the road we passed him up and he didn't look so great. I think the little sprint to try and catch Jim kinda zapped him, hopefully not too much though. Luke and I pedaled on knocking the miles down one after another. It was around this point Luke had put in his earphones and was entering his own dark period. He never said anything but he started to fall a little bit behind me and I assumed he was not feeling well and before long he was gone. I rounded a corner, stopped to pee and he was nowhere to be found. I contemplated going back but knew that we all needed to keep moving. A couple miles up the road I caught up with Jim and started riding with him, we talked and watched the sun disappear behind the horizon. He was looking pretty good and said I looked strong, we were going to make it to the next checkpoint. I told him then that I wasn't sure if I was going back out once we reached Council Grove. We bantered back and forth and he made it clear he was going all the way. So was I, I had already been on the bike for 15+ hrs what was a couple more. We soon linked up with another rider and picked up the pace to get where we were going. I don't know how fast we were going cause it was dark and I didn't want to turn on my headlamp, but it was the closest I had been to redlining all day. We hit some low maintenance roads, rough patches and a bridge that was closed. Soon the lights of Council Grove came into view and I knew I was going to make it. We rolled into the checkpoint together and got the maps for our final leg. Everyone looked very suprised to see me by myself and was very curious as to everyone elses whereabouts. Crystal quickly came to get me ready for the final leg. I knew I wasn't feeling very good at this point, but Crystal told me I looked strong still ( she later told me I looked terrible, but she was under strict instruction not to take it easy on me at any point during the race, my own weakness was enough, I needed a strong support crew). Jim was rearing to go and wanted me to go with him. I instructed Crystal to take my camelback/ bag off my bike and just fill some bottles with water and a couple with Gatorade to put in my jersey. We had came in at 9:45 and were preparing to roll out at 10:00. Luke and Adam rolled in as I was preparing to roll out, so even without Jim there would not have been anyway I could have quit, not with those guys there. I told them I would see them at the finish and headed out.
Leg 4: Council Grove to Emporia 37 miles
I had made it 3/4 of the way, 37 miles to my goal, surely I could do that right? The fourth leg of the race picked up a rail-trail right outside of town and we picked up three or four more riders. The pace seemed a little fast but it was definelty nice having everyone together with all of our lights to illuminate everything. After 6 or 7 miles of rail-trail we hit the gravel again and everyone started to spread out a little. Jim had told me to holler at him if I felt like I needed to slow down, but I figured as long as other people were around I wasn't going to hold him back. Someone in our group claimed to have a good knowlege of the course and claimed there were two big hills then a couple small ones and then the last 10+ miles would be flat. He wasn't entirely accurate as I am pretty sure there were three big hills, one of them seemed to take us about 10 minutes to walk up it. Yes I said walk, I think I had walked up one or two hills earlier in the day just to stretch, but at this point I wanted to avoid cramping at all costs. The only good thing about riding in the dark is that you can't see the hills coming up, but you can see the other riders lights seemingly floating up into the sky.
Another thing about this leg of the race, with 30 miles left I could plainly see the glow in the sky of Emporia and periodically for the rest of the race as well. There were numerous times that it seemed like it should be just a little farther, and then we turned away from the lights. The hills came and went, Jim soon was long gone and I was left in between a couple groups of riders. I continued to ride at my own pace, keeping a watchful eye for the course markers, not wanting to end up off course. I felt decent during this leg, but I didn't feel like eating anything so I just tried to get as much fluids down as I could. I tried not to look at my computer to see how many miles I had left, but rather just keeping an eye on the time, and just kept my head down and kept pedaling. I kept waiting to reach Americus cause I knew that would mean only 10-12 miles left, and hopefully flat at that. Slowly and surely I found my way into Americus, I stopped at the major intersection to review my map and to have a Honey Stinger Gel to tide me over to the finish. A group of 6 riders came up behind me shortly after I stopped. A couple of them looked kinda rough, I tried to reassure them telling them there were only about 11 miles left, but I am not sure they believed me. I downed my gel and a little water and headed out by myself. I could see another rider in the distance and just tried to focus on keeping that tail light in sight. I knew after town that the next big thing would be crossing over I-35, it seemed to take forever to get to the interstate. I thought I was almost there several times, only to discover I had only gone a mile since last checking. The interstate finally came into sight and I rode across the overpass knowing that I was near the finish. I wondered how everyone behind me was doing, were they all together, were they having any problems. Only time would tell. Shortly after the overpass I came to an intersection and stopped to check the map, another came by and didn't even stop, but it seemed that he went the wrong way. Soon three other riders were there with me and they wanted to go the other way too, until I looked down at the ground and saw the orange paint on the ground. There were about 4 miles to go and I felt sick, real sick. I wondered, Am I going to puke after 198 miles? Surely not, I made it this far, no getting sick now. I downed some Gatorade and headed towards town. The last few miles slowly ticked by and soon we were riding through the university and turning onto Commercial street towards the finish line. Once our headlights came into view the crow began to ring their bells and cheer. It felt so good, I had done it. I rode across the finish line at 1:18 a.m. 19 hrs 18mins, 202 miles. There were lots of people ( maybe a hundred or so) still there cheering us on. Crystal met me right across the line, I got my finisher glass and quickly handed it off, afraid that I would drop it, and headed up the street where everyone was waiting. The Virtus support crew was there along with Robby who had finished a couple hours earlier. I felt so many emotions run thorugh my body, I hurt all over, I was stiff, I was happy and I felt like I could cry. Jim and Wendy Davis were on the sidewalk and were quick to congratulate me, as was everyone else. I found a chair and settled in to wait for everyone else. Kate and Emma showed up shortly after that, Kate had wrecked around 160 miles in injuring her knee and Emma picked her up and brought her on in. We nervously watched the clock hoping that the rest of the guys would get in and beat the clock. The crowd dispersed right around two o clock only leaving a few people and us plus the race staff. Bob, Luke, and Adam rolled in about 2:15 a.m., fifteen minutes before the 2:30 cutoff, I was really stiff and tired, but I was so glad to be there to see those guys finish. We watched the minutes count down, there was one rider we knew for sure still out, Derrick, and at 2:27 a.m. he crossed the finish line.
Congratulations to everyone that finished the race but also everyone that even started the race. This race is a huge undertaking and it takes a lot to even consider doing it. Special thanks to Crystal, Chris, Casey, Austin, Becca, and Michelle for the awesome support, and anyone else I forgot. Huge thanks to Jim Davis for keeping me going. Thanks to all of Team Virtus, I may not be an official team member, but you guys always make me feel like I am.
Soon to come will be a post about equipment and nutrition. I will tell you all about what I think I did right and how I could have improved.