Win a lottery entry into the full monty, Dirty Kanza 200 gravel race in Emporia, Kansas for 2018? If so, I hope you’ve begun your regimen of training for the race. If not, you’d better crank out some serious miles / kms, immediately! Riding across 200 miles of pavement is a big ask, but 200 miles of gravel racing cannot be bluffed. Finishing Dirty Kanza 200, no matter your time, is a serious accomplishment. Let’s not even talk about the new option for 2018, Dirty Kanza XL… 350 miles… yikes!
Last year, I posted details of my loosely formed training plan for Dirty Kanza 200. Training is very personal, and my training is very unscientific. I don’t use a coach, I don’t use a power meter and whilst my heart rate data is recorded, I don’t analyze it. I don’t like structure but I like having fun. I’ve been riding bicycles about the place for well over 25 years, so I know my body pretty well. Additionally, I ride a lot with my mate K-Dogg, and he’s a former winner in the 60+ category, so he’s doing something right, right? Thus, I generally mimic his training.
No matter your training technique, one thing is for certain, there is no substitute for racking up the big training miles / kms. Don’t think you can knock out a 100-mile gravel ride and hope you’ll be ready for Dirty Kanza 200. Don’t skimp on your training, but do use the training rides to experiment or figure out your race nutrition… and always have a Plan B for nutrition up your sleeve. What goes well in training doesn’t always go so well on race day. Onto the three phases of a Dirty Kanza 200 training ride!
Phase One – Perky
Wake up early after a solid night’s sleep. If you indulge in the coffee, the caffeine is kicking in, and generally, you feel pretty bloody awesome. That bike you prepared the days or night before is ready to roll, and nutrition is sorted and loaded into pockets, onto the bike or wherever else you jam your food. That was the case during my 154-mile training ride on April 14, 2018 in the company of Mr and Mrs K-Dogg. Motivated, fresh and rolling a good tempo during the early miles of our ride.
The wind was coming out of the south, pushing us gently northward towards our planned stop(s) along the route. Stating the obvious, I would much rather start out with a headwind and hope for a tailwind on the homeward leg, but one must play the hand dealt. A promoter isn’t going to change course direction based on the wind to make it nice for everyone!
Phase Two – Riding Well
The first rest stop is under our belt, and our bottles (bidons) are refilled and spirits are good. My legs are feeling fantastic. K-Dogg has been on song on and off (his singing is worse than mine), but we’re having a good time. The temperatures are starting to rise towards the high of 87F / 30c, but I was well hydrated and consuming plenty of water, infused with Gu’s fantastic hydration products.
The heavy rain of four days prior left the dirt and gravel roads in absolutely perfect condition. The Oracle, my Garmin 1000 navigation device, informed me our trio was well over the half-way point of the ride. Just 75 miles / 120kms to go!
Phase Three – “Bloody hell, I am so smashed, I want this to end now”
Most of my longer gravel races and events have been about conservation. If my effort is timed just right, I’ll finish with fumes in the tank, but sans muscle cramps and totally smashed legs. On this day, I’d been tapping out a faster than usual tempo, markedly outside of my comfort zone, keen to see if I could average a higher speed than previous efforts. My tempo was displeasing to K-Dogg and his legs, but to his credit, he gave me plenty of solid turns on the front throughout the ride. Mrs K-Dogg was hiding on the back, enjoying the draft.
The headwind during the return leg was stiff, but not to the point of being debilitating. The oasis of our second planned stop for the day came at the perfect time. Another refill of water infused with Gu product, but this time around, with the added satisfying refreshment of a cold Coke and Ginger Ale. Coke and sugary sodas aren’t the best nutrition for training, but a cold drink on a hot day brings much satisfaction, along with the caffeine-infused sugar rush that comes later. The extra helping of sugar in the Ginger Ale is a bit edgy, but the goodness of the ginger brings a smile to my stomach.
But, your ride can go wrong, and oh so quickly.
Trudge along into the headwind, head down, the town of High Springs draws near. We’re taking a pounding over the washboarded dirt and gravel road surface of Fry Avenue. K-Dogg remarked, “we should rename this road to Fry(d), we’re always fried whenever we ride it!” “Spot on bloke”, I thought to myself. Suspension systems do no good here, they are incapable of rebounding fast enough. This isn’t the mamby pamby groomed washboard roads you read about in marketing blurbs or see in a video playing operatic, inspirational music. This is the Arenburg Forest* of washboarded roads. It jars your wrists, ejects your bottles (King Titanium and Arundel Dave-O bottle cages for the win!), and pounds every part of the bike and one’s body, into oblivion. Riding flat out with huge tyres at low pressure, to achieve the perfect balance of speed and skipping across the top, is the only way to mitigate this unpleasantry.
An unplanned stop in the town of High Springs was a welcome break, just 23 miles / 37km left to ride. Everywhere there was salt. Mr and Mrs K-Dogg both wore the signs of sodium leakage on their shorts, whereas mine was seeping through my skull and onto my cycling cap. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Don’t ever ask to see the inside of my helmet.
With just nine miles / 15km remaining, on pavement of all places, the heat and effort finally took their toll. I was no longer feeling perky, amazing or chirpy. I was borderline cracked and wanted off the bike, now. I wasn’t to the point of calling Uber, but I thought to myself, “bloody hell, I am so smashed, I want this to end now”. K-Dogg, the man of the hour, selflessly towed me along those final miles, over the small hills that proliferate this part of Gainesville and Alachua, Florida, and back to my home. He’s good like that. To thank him, I selfishly jumped him for the non-existent sprint for Gainesville’s city limit sign. A wanker sprint if you will. A hollow victory for sure.
But it wasn’t all for naught. Ultimately, I may have been calorie deficient and felt the stinging burn of the Florida heat, but I had ridden faster over this distance than ever before, and this was with less training in my legs than in prior years. Thanks, hernia surgery, maybe that forced downtime I had was a positive after all!
The moral of this story is… experiment during your training rides, rest, and ride smart on race day. Ride perky, ride well, and avoid getting smashed… legs that is.
Thanks for reading!
*Cutesy reference to Paris Roubaix.