Monday, June 22, 2015


Dirty Kanza 200 

AKA Muddy Kanza 197.6

An Epic Recap on an Epic Race

Special thank you to all the photographers who spent the day out on course with us. I've posted some of my favorite images in this recap from Eric Benjamin of Adventure Monkey, Jason Ebberts of TBL Photography, Linda Guerrette Photography, and Coverage Photography. Thank you to everyone who has sent or tagged photos of me from the day, I'm grateful to be able to look back and reminisce on the event. 

Sorry for the radio silence, everyone. I caught a stomach bug in the Flint Hills and it took a serious toll on me the week following the event. I’m finally back up to speed on work, riding my bike, and chronicling the noteworthy moments that transpired on May 30th, 2015. 

My DK200 experience was a 14-hour blur. I’m going to break it down into chapters by mud bogs and checkpoints since everyone can relate to or visualize these segments on the course. I’m warning you now that this write-up ended being close to a novel. Grab a beverage and enjoy the read.

Check out the short-hand CliffsNotes version of my Race Report at Cyclocross Magazine posted this morning here. 

Start to Mud Bog 1 (11):

TBL Photography: 2015 Dirty Kanza 200 - Start and Finish &emdash; 591A0064

First of all, thank you to LeLan Dains of Dirty Kanza Promotions for graciously giving me a spot on the starting line. The first 11 miles were fast and dangerous as everyone weaved in and out of each other on the gravel to try and hang on to the front group. Being near the front from the beginning put me in a position to avoid the mishaps from some risk-takers. 

As a woman trying to do well in a sea of gaggling men, the beginning of gravel races can be very hectic. From the handful of gravel races I’ve attended with a mass start, my strategy has always been to hang on with the front group for as long as possible. This typically means I’m going well above my limit from the very beginning of the race and DK was no exception. Most people would not recommend this strategy as it burns matches at the very beginning of a long day, but I enjoy being at the front as early on as I can and working through the pain that comes from that is just part of the challenge. 

I stayed right at the tail end of the front group and narrowly avoided getting caught in a crash that I later found out was Dan Hughes’ biggest setback of the day. As we rolled up to mile 11, I was able to see the carnage of the peanut butter mud take its toll on everyone ahead of me. A lot of people tried really hard to ride through the muck and it cost them more time in the grass trying to clear the mud they collected instead. 

At dinner the night before the race, Chris Carmichael shared some of his infinite wisdom with the CTS group and one of his suggestions that stuck with me the most was to place a pointed object in the leg band of my bibs in the event that mud would have to be cleared. This seemingly trivial suggestion ended up saving me a significant amount of time. I had a Parktool tire lever in my leg band that helped me clear mud much quicker than I could have with just my bare hands. You can see the lever in my leg band throughout the photos from the day. 

I had to stop and clear mud quite a few times over the 2.5 miles of mud and it took me around 35 minutes to get through! When we started running on the grass embankments, I heard someone yell at me from behind to put my bike down and push it instead of carry it. I soon realized it was Neil Shirley having some serious setbacks as well and I’d later find out that he snapped his rear derailleur in the mud and was forced to DNF.

This fate was not unique to Shirley as the mud forced a lot of people to pull out of the event. Read Janeen McCrae's beautifully written report on the POV of a rider robbed of their opportunity to complete the event. It's a good one. I'm grateful my equipment allowed me to finish the race and my hat's off to everyone who was forced to quit for reasons outside of their control. They will no doubt come back with a vengeance. 

25-year-old Amanda Nauman of Mission Viejo, CA didn't need to look far for motivation she just needed to look at the inside of her cap brim to know what she was aiming for during the 2015 #dk200
Posted by Linda Guerrette Photography on Monday, June 1, 2015

Mud Bog 1 (11) Checkpoint 1 (77): 

The next 66 miles were the grittiest and where I made it hurt the most. Immediately after the mud bog, I wanted to put a gap on the competition early on if I could. There’s something about not being able to see your rivals ahead of you over the course of so many rolling hills that eats away at you. April Morgan had come out of the mud with me and I was hoping my fellow CTS athlete would stay nearby but alas she ended up making a wrong turn with a larger group not long after. 

It was a long part of the day but flew by the fastest as there were still quite a few people riding around me and there was always some feature on the course to pay attention to. I also saw so many unfortunate souls on the side of the road that it was impossible to zone out. Any lapse in concentration could lead to a pinched tire or other small mistake. During this segment I decided that gravel racing is one of the hardest disciplines for this reason alone. It’s easy to shut your brain off and zone out on smooth roads and skinny tires, but when there are millions of sharp opportunities just waiting to take you out the second you stop focusing on the next obstacle, you simply can’t stop thinking and focusing on your surroundings. You end up as mentally exhausted as you are physically by the end of the day.

a classic seen in the #dk200 - rolling hills, acres of open praise lines by various fencing, gravel some fine some not so fine and on race day peppered by riders
Posted by Linda Guerrette Photography on Monday, June 1, 2015

Checkpoint 1 (77) to Mud Bog 2 (87):

Big Poppi Bikes is a shop in Manhattan, Kansas that CTS hires to be the pit crew for their DK200 Bucketlist Event. Aaron Apel is owner/operator and was there waiting for me in Madison. I was so grateful for the quick bike check by Aaron.

Somewhere after I crested the red brick steep climb from hell out of Madison and glided through the next few rollers, I started tearing up a little bit. My emotions got the best of me and I couldn’t believe I was still in the lead after checkpoint one. By no means was I thinking I had this thing in the bag already, but I was overwhelmed that I was leading this far into the race. There was so much self-doubt following me to race day and in that moment it was very reassuring that I was proving myself wrong. All the hours on the bike and the dedication I had invested was paying off. I was winning the mental game thus far.

But it wouldn’t be Dirty Kanza without an emotional roller coaster of highs and lows; and miles 80-90 proved to be another stickier challenge. The only glimmer of positivity during this segment came from Dan Hughes as he rode by me in the gravel rainbow jersey. I was shocked to see him at this point in the race but he explained he had been stuck in the early crash. I don’t remember his exact words but Dan said something along the lines of “you got this” and when a 4-time DK Champion tells you that you have a chance to win, you harden the eff up and get going.

There was so much cursing going on during the one mile stretch of 87.4 to 88.4 because we didn’t know it was possible for a worse mud bog to exist than the first one, but there it was and there we were slugging through it. It was one mile of hell that lasted 30 full minutes and it was bad.

It was so bad that I couldn’t even clear all the mud with my trusty Parktool tire lever. I was schlepping through the mud with what looked like giant birds nests for feet. I was so annoyed I started questioning giving up out of pure frustration. I would try forcing the pedals to ride and crossed my fingers the mud would start to fling off. Instead, the thick mud started picking up gravel rocks like chocolate frosting collects sprinkles and the friction got worse. I picked my head up from staring at my mucky drivetrain and spotted a giant, deep puddle of water where another rider had already begun to de-gunk his bike. I’m not proud of this next move, and mechanics everywhere will cringe when they read this, but I dipped my entire bike in this body of filthy water, got my tool out and cleared the mud as fast as possible. That puddle was a saving grace and got me rolling again. But just know that move cost me a lot of money in water-damaged components after the race. Sacrifices.

Mud Bog 2 (87) to Checkpoint 2 (155): 

Finally able to ride my bike without peanut butter friction, I got rolling again. After his 4 flats, Jason Siegle finally caught back up with me after the mud bog and after a few miles we rode in a group with a handful of guys. It didn’t last very long but a shield from the wind was nice while it did last. I was forced to break off from the group and stop after a few pedal strokes started to stick in that familiar “my chain is going to snap my rear derailleur off” feeling. I found another puddle of water and tried to clean up the drivetrain as best I could. Luckily the scary almost snapping sensation stopped and I was able to push without fear of sheering off my ability to shift.

There’s not much to say about the miles after our little group imploded. At this point in the mental game I was starting to lose. Miles 100-155 were the toughest of the day for me. I got stopped by a giant herd of cattle taking over the road on private land; that was a first for me. Neutral water at 124 was a little relief. River crossings were a welcomed challenge. But this segment of the day lived up to what I thought the Dirty Kanza had in store for me: rolling hills, green grass, never-ending roads, complete isolation, and plenty of time to reflect. Finally, the crunch of gravel came up behind me and there was Clemens Kyllmann of Gurnee, IL, and another rider around mile 148. Kyllmann and I had been going back and forth all day before the second mud bog and I was grateful for the company to Cottonwood Falls.

TBL Photography: 2015 Dirty Kanza 200 - MM 116 Hill &emdash; 591A0670

Checkpoint 2 (155) to Finish (197.6): 

Head mechanic of Big Poppi Bikes was waiting for me at the second checkpoint to work his magic. My chain was creaking, my rear derailleur almost snapped a handful of times, but I rolled out of there with a fully functioning bike again and no drivetrain woes. Kyllmann headed out of Cottonwood Falls with me and we stayed together pulling for about 8 miles or so until I couldn’t match his pace on the mini climbs any longer. 

At mile 168 I stopped to pee. At 169 Matt Freeman finally caught me and I was able to stay with him for about a mile before wishing him luck and continuing on my own. I had to push myself in between miles 170-193. I had eaten two mini sandwiches back in town, but was too mental to remember to grab enough food to get me to the finish. Luckily there was a family barbequing near Lake Kahola and their cheers lifted me up for the last 90 minutes to the finish line. One particular fellow manning the barbeque asked his family, “Did you know this is the lead female of the 200 race and she is a stud?!” Mental game was coming back strong.

Photo by: Patrick P. Evenson

At this point in the event I was catching a handful of riders who were finishing up their DK 100-mile race. All of them provided words of encouragement as I came by and reciprocating their cheers was a delightful motivation for me. These guys and gals had signed up for a 100-mile day not knowing the conditions would eventually push them to ride a very long event almost as long as some of the quickest 200-ers. Kudos to all!

At 193 I knew exactly where I was. On the previous day we had ridden with the Carmichael Training Systems group for the pre-ride to check out the last few miles of the gravel. This is where the pure joy started to come around and I was so excited to roll into town. 

In the last 30 seconds of the race I got passed by bib numbers 693, 880, and 787. I yelled, “Seriously?!” as they blew by me, desperately needing to pass the girl ahead of them who was about to finish first for the day and in the top 20 of the overall. Instead I finished 21st, celebrating and high-fiving through the main street. I never saw those three guys the entire day and had been ahead of them the whole time, but they were too focused on the finish line to care. It was the only fleeting moment all day where I was a little angry but at that point it was impossible to trump the elation erupting from the crowds.

The night before the big day, riders gathered at the Emporia Granada Theatre for a quick meeting to go over any last-minute important information regarding the event. The Queen of Pain, Rebecca Rusch, stood up in front of the crowd and gave everyone her suggestions for the race with eventual winner Yuri Hauswald. What stood out to me the most was her advice on pacing and to be smarter, not faster, than everyone else. I was motivated all day by her words, her wisdom, and her presence in the race. It was an honor to be in the same event and I still can't believe I now share this title with one of the greatest female athletes in the world.

Downtown Emporia was electric as I came into the finishing straightaway and I held back my emotions when it finally hit me that I had won the premier endurance gravel race in the country. I beat the mental game, rode as hard as I could, raced the sun, and I won.

This was the moment I saw David waiting at the finish with LeLan. He had been riding with Freeman all day and after getting to Cottonwood he decided to ask for a car ride to the finish line so he could see me finish first instead of finish his race. He came home from the 2014 DK200 after finishing 10th overall and said, "You could win this event." He's been the biggest believer in me and I don't thank him enough for everything he does to support me.  His sacrifices helped get me to the line and I'd like to think we achieved that together. 

Everything I’ve raced the past couple years is typically self-supported with the goal of increasing my exposure to potential sponsors and at the very least I hope this event will continue to prove that women are capable of incredible feats. Thank you to everyone who helped me achieve my greatest result to date and especially to Carmichael and the CTS crew for their support. 

If you’ve gotten this far in my novel of a race recap, thank you for reading. I hope it gives some insight for you if you’re considering participating in the event, motivates you to enter a gravel ride/race, or inspires you to take on an epic challenge. I promise the human body and mind are capable of amazing things when you believe.

TBL Photography: 2015 Dirty Kanza 200 - Start and Finish &emdash; 591A0073

2015 Women's Champion of the #DK200