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Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Dirty Kanza

On the eve of departure for Dirty Kanza 200, I'm as ready as I'm going to be...which is to say, not very ready.  Being as I'm not yet finished packing and need to go to bed early, I thought I'd take a little break anyway (it's all about priorities, folks) and share some wisdom for future riders...or, heck, currect racers.  There's no time like the present to plan ahead for two days from now.

1. Train right: This is a 200+ mile gravel endurance race.  Log some long miles on similar terrain.

Complete Idiot's version: Start training one month from the race.  Ride the majority of your miles on pavement.  How about a long ride of 76 miles (just over 1/3 of the total race distance, or to look at it another way, just past the first checkpoint)?

2. Dial in your gear: After registering (on April 30), I started googling Dirty Kanza advice and reading blogs of people who've been figuring out their bike set-up since early in the year...tires, bags, gearing...that sounds like a good idea.

Complete Idiot's version: I got the bike I'm racing on about 3 weeks pre-race.  I got my tires yesterday.  I haven't ridden a single mile in the saddle I'm using. 

3.  Know your enemy: If possible, training rides in the same area would be great.  If not possible, some familiarity with what to expect is a good idea.

Complete Idiot's guide: Go in blind, except for the amazing pictures you've seen on the Adventure Monkey site.  Here's an excerpt of the conversation on Monday's ride:

Robin: "So what's it like? Is it hilly?"
Kate: "Ummm...it's called the Flint Hills, so I guess so...."

At this point, my tent is pitched in the "Ignorance is Bliss" campground

4. Be smart about nutrition: Know what works for you on long rides.  Test out your nutrition on training rides. 

Complete Idiot's guide: Hit the store two days pre-race.  Grab what looks good, full of calories, and easily digestible.  I'm notoriously bad about eating during a race, especially on the bike since my handling isn't stellar, so this is likely to be an issue for me at the race unless I really stay conscious of food and drink intake.  Another excerpt from Monday:

Chuck: "So, what's your nutrition plan?"
Kate: "Well...I know I'm going to take some Ensure drinks...it's kind of a work in progress."

5.  Have a plan for checkpoints: I want to say "transition areas" here, but since we're always on the bike we're never actually transitioning.  Know what needs to be done, do it, and don't dawdle unnecessarily.  Or, make sure your crew knows what needs to be done. Maybe even make a list for them.

Complete Idiot's guide: I don't really have a plan, per se (surprise, surprise); it's hard to know what I'll want to eat after that much exertion.  I do have my on-the-bike food bagged up into packages so I don't have to do much thinking when I'm tired.  I put fresh batteries in my headlamp and bike light in the hopes that I'm still riding and will actually need them.  You know, instead of waiting until we're leaving on the bikes in the dark at LBL to fix my headlamp. 

I'm going to have to finish just so all this food gets eaten!
6. Get plenty of rest: Cutoffs are based on a 10 mph pace, which means that finishers could be on the bike for 20ish hours.  Go into this well-rested.

Complete Idiot's guide: Stay up until 4 a.m. reading (why oh why did I buy that second Fifty Shades book? Seriously, they aren't even that good) two nights before you leave.  Blog instead of packing the night before you leave.  It's ok...surely you'll sleep really well the night before the race, right?  Yeah, right.

7. Eat well and make sure you're well hydrated in the week before the race: I've actually done this.  One for seven.  I've got this!

Source: http://www.cartoonstock.com/newscartoons/cartoonists/jlv/lowres/jlvn1268l.jpg

If you're in the market for actual good advice, there's some: don't google "lamb to the slaughter" unless you want to see some unpleasant pictures. Wow, I'm glad I don't eat mutton (and will certainly not be googling pigs, chickens, cows, etc).  If you want good Dirty Kanza advice, a good place to start is  http://adventuremonkey.com/blog/dirty-kanza-200-advice.  And when I'm back from Kansas, I'm sure I'll have pages and pages of "what not to do" for prospective racers.  After all, you know what they say....

 Although in blog land it's more like...

Hoping to be back next week with lots of good stories and pictures for you!  If you want a preview on how things are going, there are a few different ways to check.  There's my facebook page and twitter page, which I'll try to update at the three checkpoints (other than that I'll probably be off my phone since it's my only way of calling for help if I get stuck somewhere).  You can also check the Team Virtus facebook and twitter pages; I know the guys are planning on updating as much as they can, and they'll be funnier than me. 

If that's not enought, you can go to http://www.dirtykanzalive.com/ to see live coverage of the start line and commentary with a focus on the final 40 miles of the race (which, if I'm still riding by then, will probably be covered in darkness).  Last, an Emporia radio station will be broadcasting live throught the race from the checkpoints, and you can listen to it live online by going to http://kiss1031.net/ (thanks to Luke at Team Virtus for getting all that info together so I didn't have to).

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bike. Repeat. Repeat. Whimper.

With Dirty Kanza looming over me like the sword of Damocles, I've been pretty focused on getting in some time on the bike.  May has shown a bit of a jump in my cycling miles, for sure.

Can you tell I registered for the race April 30?
More miles, but by no means enough, which is why Friday, I planned to go for a ride.  Since we really needed the day to get things ready for Nathan's graduation party, I checked with Jeff the night before to make sure he was ok with meriding for an hour or two.  He didn't answer, which I interpreted as "yes, I mind", which in turn made me even crabbier.  Rather than act all pissy, though, I asked, "Does that mean you mind?"

"No," he answered, "In fact, I want you to go ride.  I don't want you dying in Kansas." 

Perfect answer.  It did not, however, make it any easier for me to get going Friday morning after reading until 3:30 a.m. (damn you, Fifty Shades of Grey).  I dropped Nathan off at graduation practice and then spent an hour contemplating a return to bed.  I finally left with just enough time to get in a pretty desultory 22 miles.  Better than nothing.

Saturday was taken up by Nathan's graduation.  He made it interesting, for sure, but he graduated.


He had to put the robe back on for pictures.  Note the sock feet. :)
Hard to believe that I now have two children who've graduated from high school.  Me just being in my late 20's and all...

Sunday I was back on the bike...but on singletrack rather than roads.  My blog friend Anne came to town and needed a guide for our trails.  Even with the awesome maps GORC has online, the trails are still confusing.  It's taken me more than a year of running and riding out there to sort of know where I am out there...most of the time.

I was a little nervous since Anne and I had never ridden together and I was riding the Monster bike rather than my regular mountain bike.  It's actually a mountain frame, but it's set up with a rigid front shock.  I wasn't sure how I'd do without front suspension (seeing as the first time I tried it didn't go so well), but the trails aren't technical and I've gotten a lot more experience since my ill-fated beginner outing.

It turned out that Anne and I are fairly similar speeds (at least on new-to-her terrain), and the bike did great.  There were two spots I walked (and once where I almost ran into a tree).  I'm pretty sure the bike would have been fine, but I really don't want to chance hurting someone else's bike or myself right before Dirty Kanza.  I rode everything else, and it all just felt so much better on the Monster bike.  I'm not sure if the difference is the weight or the better components or what, but I felt like I was floating up the climbs.  I've really enjoyed the opportunity to be spoiled for a while. :)

Anne and I rode about 8 miles, getting to talk racing and blogging and friends in common. I'm pretty sure she'll be back, and I'm looking forward to riding together again!

This must be "post unflattering pictures of yourself" day.  But Anne looks cute.

We spent Sunday playing sand volleyball at my father-in-law's.  It's kind of a Memorial Day weekend tradition, though it's gotten harder and harder to get enough players.  This year, however, was fantastic.  We actually had three teams rotating for a while, and even though I'm pretty sure my team lost every single game we played, I had a blast.

By 4:00 or so, though, I was ready to head home because I was meeting friends at Klondike Park in Augusta.  My friend Patrick was on the last leg of his latest installment of the 100+ Project fundraising for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America's St. Louis chapter.  Basically, he's completing various 100+ mile journeys using different modes of transportation.  This was Bike 100+, a through-ride of the Katy Trail.  I'd have loved to take part in the whole thing, but things like graduation and traditions come first.  Still, my family was kind enough to do without me for the last day of the weekend so I could share in the victory lap.

Hanging out away from the campfire (because with temps in the 90's, who wants to be around it?) with some of my adventure friends (and their kids) was a lot of fun, and since I woke up at 5:30 a.m., I didn't have any problem being ready for our planned 7:30 departure time.  In fact, we left almost 15 minutes early.

Brian, Cheri, me, Pat, Robin, Chuck, Lori, Gary
Pat's wife was running support for him and Gary, both Robin and Chuck & Lori had kids who were picking them up, and Cheri and Brian had staged a car at each end of the ride.  I, on the other hand, had a different plan: since I needed to get in miles anyway, I'd ride an out-and-back.  This way, at least half of my miles would be with company.

Riding down the Katy towards St. Charles
The first part of the ride was great.  We had such a fun group of people.

Patrick and Chuck make like Lewis and Clark...or Clark and Lewis...
Even with the distraction of the awesome company, though, I was frustrated by my discomfort on my bike seat.  In the past few years, I've done some pretty long rides.  Several 60+ mile rides, two centuries, and though it took me some time to work up to tolerating prolonged saddle time, I was able to do so.  I'm not having that same experience this year.  In fact, on this ride I was getting uncomfortable by mile 25 or so, and by the time we hit the Eastern end of the Katy Trail at mile 38 I'd been watching for it pretty eagerly for a while.

Hello sun, hello 90 degree temperatures.
It didn't help that the 11-mile stretch between St. Charles and Machens had the least shade of any section we'd ridden.  Or that the temperature had reached into the 90's.  Or that Chuck kept warning me, "This is going to be a nasty headwind you'll have to ride into."  Or the fact that I felt like my bike shorts were lined with sandpaper rather than chamois.  Good times.

Chuck even offered me a ride back to St. Charles with him, Lori, and their boys.  That would allow me to skip the most exposed section of the ride and leave me with just 26 or so miles back to my car.  As little as I was looking forward to the heat and the wind, I'm going to be riding in just those conditions (or worse)for Dirty Kanza.  Might as well get in some tougher training miles instead of the cool weather biking I've been enjoying.

I've now ridden all of the Katy Trail (just not at the same time)
Once we got to the end, my friends were looking out for me.  Lori gave me her last Gatorade, and Gary made sure I had plenty of water and gave me all the ice out of his cooler.  For the first 38 miles, I only drank part of a water bottle with Nuun and about 1/4 of my 70 oz Camelback bladder...not enough water, even in mostly reasonable temperatures.  I'm much better with drinking when it's hot than when it isn't, so that's something I'll have to be more conscious of on Saturday.

The nicest surprise was that Chuck decided to ride back with me to St. Charles and then have Lori pick him up there.  Having company for that 11-mile stretch was huge.  The wind was pretty bad, but one nice surprise was that the headwind provided a nice distraction from my increasingly raw behind.  Maybe my positioning was different, too?  Chuck started off pulling so I could draft behind him, but before long he realized he hadn't eaten and stopped to have a bagel.  The couple bites he managed weren't kind to his stomach, and he looked miserable. 

After a few minutes we took off again at a slower pace so that Chuck's stomach could settle.  I'm sure it was awful for him, but worrying about how he was feeling was another helpful distraction for me, and it forced me to deal with the wind more instead of hiding behind a stronger rider. 

Just a little windy
As we got closer to St. Charles, the temperature seemed to drop, but the wind picked up.  Remembering the 3:30 storms in the forecast, I checked my watch and saw that they were about 3 hours away.  If I keep up a 12-13 mph pace, I should be there by 2:30...plenty of time. I stopped in St. Charles to take some food out of my camelback and stuff it into my more accessible jersey pockets, looked fruitlessly for the ibuprofen I must have left in the car, and then headed towards Augusta alone.

It was hot, but primarily shaded, so I had good conditions for the last 27 miles or so of the ride.  Good trail and weather conditions, anyway.  I know I keep saying it, but I just can't even tell you how sore I was.  It hurt so much to sit.  It was really an act of will to keep going.  I let myself stop to give my butt a break every five miles or so, so this is how the pace went for most of that time: 12 mph, 12 mph, 13 mph, 14 mph, 6 mph (stopped for a break); 15, 14, 15, 7 (break); 14, 13, 13, 13, 6 (break); etc.  My back was getting a little sore, but everything else on my body felt great.  It was really frustrating to feel so strong and yet so terrible.

I was thrilled to reach the turnoff to Klondike Park, but I waited to long to downshift and ended up walking my bike up the hill.  I reached my car at exactly 3:00 and was done.  76.3 miles, my longest and most demoralizing ride this year.  It's hard to imagine being able to gut out another 125+ miles feeling like that.

I woke up today feeling like someone had beaten me in my sleep, but after I got up and moved around (and took some Tylenol), I felt fine.  I hit the bike shop and picked up a new saddle, and I'm borrowing another from a friend to try out.  With 3 days til I'm in Kansas, it's mighty late to be making changes; on the other hand, I can't imagine finishing feeling the way I did yesterday.  Hopefully this helps.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Some gravel goodness

Most of my bike rides lately have been whatever I can fit in after work, which kind of precludes planning ahead and riding with friends.  Since I'm not familiar with any gravel roads around here and am not one to go out exploring on my own in limited time, I've stuck to our paved bike paths.  With the 200 miles of Dirty Kanza looming ahead of me, though, I knew I need to get in some training on gravel roads, so I turned to my Team Virtus friends for help.

Most of the guys had other plans, but Luke and Adam were able to ride.  Since Luke had to be finished by 11:15 to get ready for work, we planned to ride about 35 miles.  Given my choice of flat or hills, gravel or pavement, I picked gravel with some hills.  Christina from Climbing Those Hills (you can read her ride report at that link) lives in the same area as the guys, so she joined us on the ride, too. 

I've been riding the Monster bike plenty, but it's almost all been on pavement, so I was looking forward to seeing how it felt on gravel.  In order to get to Jefferson City by our planned 7 a.m. start time, I left the house at 4:15 a.m.  That pretty much sucked, especially since I hadn't made it to be until after 11:30.  Still, it was totally worth it to get to ride with my teammates and meet a new friend, and since I had gotten everything loaded the night before, so all I had to do was roll out of bed, braid my hair, and fill my water bottles. 

It was an easy drive, and I pulled into the parking lot right behind Luke.  Christina was already there, and Adam pulled in shortly afterwards.  After introductions and one last bathroom stop, we headed down the Katy Trail.  Well, Christina and I did, anyway.  Adam was having some bike issues, so the guys stopped to see if they could figure out/fix the problem.  We went on ahead, riding slowly and talking so they could catch up.  Pretty soon the guys came zooming up, and after a mile or two of Katy Trail, we turned off onto the gravel roads. 

This was not only Christina's first gravel ride, but it was also going to be her longest ride ever, on a new route, on her mountain bike, with strangers (or new friends)...but as she said, it's good to try things that scare you.  A girl after my own heart, for sure. 

Christina is all smiles as Adam gives his best "I'm a badass on a singlespeed" look
I felt pretty confident on the flat gravel, especially with the gigantic balloon tires currently on my bike, but I'm definitely needing all the practice I can get to get used to the shifting.  The Monster bike has grip shifts, which I've used for many miles on my hybrid, but the up- and downshifting is exactly opposite the way my brain works (also, it's perfectly logical--to upshift, you turn the grip...wait for it...up.  Why that's so hard for me, I don't know), so I'm forever shifting in the wrong direction.  Luckily, I made my shifting mistakes early enough to undo them on the first big hill.

The first hill always kicks my butt, and this one was no exception, but by the time I got about halfway up I was feeling better again, and by the time I got to the top I felt pretty pleased with myself.  Of course, the guys flew past me on the hill, which is what always happens.  I really need to get better at climbing.  Come to think of it, I'm not much better at descending, either, especially on gravel.  Visions of Ben Palosaari danced through my head on every gravel downhill.

I've gotten better (braver) if the downhill leads straight into another uphill.  Well, braver may not be the right word.  It's just that some of the climbs are so tough, especially towards the end of a race, that somehow the downhill terror is less scary than the thought of climbing without the aid of momentum.  I'm slightly less cautious than normal if the downhill is nice and straight with a straight expanse of road leading from it.  If there's a turn involved, though? I'm going to be holding onto my brakes.

The good news is that I've gotten pretty good at braking without skidding or flipping myself over the handlebars.  The bad news is having to listen to that scornful voice telling me what a wimp I am.  Luckily, Luke was far enough ahead that I couldn't hear him.  OK, so the guys would never say that (to my face)...it's just my own inner voice providing the commentary.

As I caught up to where Luke was waiting at the bottom of the first downhill, I took the opportunity to dash off behind some trees to pee.  Luke's "You go, girl!" followed me into treeline.  I think he was a little disappointed that I didn't whip out my Go Girl and pee right there on the side of the road, but I assured him that I won't be using it now that the testing phase is over.  That said, my bathroom spot was covered in high weeds, so my butt was itchy for the next several miles.  Maybe I need to reconsider the Go Girl.

Adam rode up as I came back to the road, adding his own "You go girl" to the chorus, and Christina mentioned it also.  Boy, you write an extensive post about a female urinary device and it's open season for the pee comments! :)  We stopped there for a little snack break before attacking the next hill.

Boys on the cross bikes, girls on the mountain bikes.  Just like Ginger Rogers, we do everything they do, just backwards and in heels...or, in this case, with knobby tires and heavy bikes.

While our first big climb was paved, the second one was gravel. Definitely more challenging.  Thanks to the gears that Monster Bicycle's Jim put onto my bike (which had previously been set up as a 1 x 9...I think), I had plenty of room to downshift and stay on my seat for the climb, which gave me good traction.  I was breathing a little harder at the top of this hill but still feeling pretty good.

Such a great morning!
I pretty much crept down the next downhill, though, between the gravel and the curve partway through it.  I'm looking forward to getting my new, thinner cross-style tires on the bike for Dirty Kanza (I went with the Continental Travel Contact tires, in case you're interested), but I'm a little nervous about losing the cushion and the reassuring bulk of my big knobby tires in addition to wondering how the handling will change on gravel. Will I have less traction? Will I be even wimpier? Stay tuned to find out.

By the bottom of the second big hill, we were closing in on Christina's previous distance PR with one cat 5 hill left to go.  She was hanging in there like a champ, though I could definitely recognize the tone in her voice as she answered Luke's question about how she was doing: "I'm still here." If I read it right, that's the "grim determination, I'm not going to complain out loud but I'm definitely wondering wtf made me think this was a good idea" mindset that I've spent many a group ride in.  It's hard to be bringing up the rear of a pack -- I know, because I've spent the last two years at the back of most groups I've ridden with -- but you get stronger by challenging yourself, and I know it's helped me improve a ton over where I started.

The third hill was a tough one, and at the top Christina mentioned that she was having a hard time catching her breath.  Remembering the light bulb moment on a ride last year with Chuck where I was struggling and frustrated with how out of shape I was halfway through the ride, only to have him tell me I needed food, I suggested she eat something.  Luke had a spare Honey Stinger waffle. Those are good enough to perk you up even if you don't need food. :)

By this time, we were creeping closer to Luke's deadline, so he got us to a main road and then took off so he could get to work on time.  I recognized where we were from the Deuce, but I never could have gotten back on my own.  Luckily, Adam and Christina knew the area.  We started on some paved rollers that looked bad but were actually a blast to ride.

The morning, which had been about perfect for a ride, was starting to warm up a bit, but I felt good as long as I was moving.  Actually, I felt great. The gravel ride was a huge confidence-builder.  I felt like I could ride all day.  Lucky for me, I pretty much had all day.  Jeff knew I needed to get in some decent mileage, so he wasn't expecting me home until evening.  Adam and Christina both had things they needed to do later, but I had plans to set out for some additional riding after we finished.

I don't remember riding the last downhill, probably because I've repressed the memory.  I'm sure it similarly as unimpressive and timid as the others.  I make light of it, but my fear is really frustrating to me.  I wish there was a quicker, easier way to push past it other than these incremental improvements in courage.  Oh, well.  We pushed on to the end, cruising back into the parking lot to a huge new distance PR for Christina.  Very cool.

Another fun blogger meet-up!
We talked for a while in the parking lot, then I sat in the shade with a diet Pepsi while I checked Facebook.  After refilling my water bottles, I set off for part 2 of my ride.  Since I'm pretty unfamiliar with the area and was now riding alone, I opted to hit the Katy Trail.  Even I can't get lost there.  Knowing Bob and Cara were riding back from a romantic B&B stay in Rocheport, I headed that way on the trail.  The thought of seeing friends gave me something to look forward to, and I definitely needed distraction since I'd left my ipod headphones at home.

Heading west on the Katy
Parts of the trail are just beautiful.  Riding past the wooded bluffs was a real highlight.  Still, riding a flat, seemingly endless trail alone gets kind of boring.  While I'd felt pretty great earlier, I was trying to push a little more here to make up for the smooth, easy terrain, and (surprise, surprise) feeling the effort a lot more.  I was also beginning to feel the effects of over 40 miles in the saddle.

I've been riding without chamois butter to try and toughen things up, but by mile 50 I was definitely questioning that strategy. Acclimating quickly to long hours in the bike saddle is just no fun.  I had set out planning to ride 15-20 miles out, but I really wanted to go 20 for a day's total of 75 miles.  The further I rode, the more negotiations ensued.  How about just 17.5 miles out?  That would still give you a total of 70 miles.  That's a good long ride.  By the time I ran into Bob and Cara, though, I was grimly holding on to get to mile 15.

We talked for a few minutes, and getting off the seat for that time did wonders for my mood.  Then they headed off towards Jeff City and I finished off the last .5 mi of my 15 and turned around.  I was really looking forward to stopping for some lunch in Hartsburg, another 5 miles back, but Bob and Cara had mentioned stopping there, and I didn't want to intrude on their couple time.  If it's anything like ours, it's a pretty rare thing.  When I caught up with them as they rode into town, though, they asked if I wanted to grab some food with them.  Very nice.

We had a nice lunch (well, they had an appetizer and I had lunch) and did a lot of talking about our upcoming race.  Then I took off ahead of them so they could ride side by side, holding hands and making googly eyes at each other in peace.  Thanks to the break, the last 10 miles wasn't nearly as bad as the first 20 had been.  It just makes a huge difference to get off your seat every once in a while.  Still, the realization at the car that my entire day's "long" ride was basically the distance to the first Dirty Kanza checkpoint was a little daunting.

Hopefully at DK the excitement, all the people around, the amazing scenery, and the need to pay attention to where I'm going will help the miles go by faster.  I'll be bringing along my grim determination (and ibuprofen) just in case, though. :)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Life...and Dirty Kanza training

Gosh, it's been almost a week since I posted anything.  Usually that's because there's nothing much to talk about, but this week it's been the opposite.  Life has been full of drama, highs and lows, and too much has been going on to do more than look at the internet from my phone.

Taken at our wedding in 2002
First, and worst, while Jeff and I were getting ready to go to my cousin's rehearsal, his sister called to tell us his grandma had passed away.  Having to turn around and spend the next two days at such a happy event while not saying anything about it was hard (we didn't want to put a shadow on my cousin's wedding).  She had been in a lot of pain and I think was ready to go, but of course none of us were ready to say goodbye.  Thankfully, Jeff's California uncles had been able to get home in time to spend time with her, and she had family with her the entire time she was in the hospital.

The funeral was held this past Tuesday, and Jacob learned a tough lesson on "family comes first" when he had to miss the "funnest day of the whole year" (the school's very cool Ocean Olympics) to be at the funeral.  It was hard to make him miss out, but it led to some good talks about being there for the people you love and honoring the people you've lost.  He was very good and attentive, and after the graveside service, he wanted to go up and get a rose from the casket spray, so I know we made the right choice in having him there.  My older boys served as pallbearers, and I was both proud and sad to see them taking on such an adult role and responsibility.

There have been good things, too, though.  That same night we got to watch Nathan's team earn a big win in his last regular-season match in high school, and he played great.  Thursday was J's last day of second grade, so I'm now the proud parent of two high school graduates (well, N graduates May 26) and a third grader.  And Friday was Jeff's and my tenth anniversary.  It truly doesn't seem like it's been that long since we got married.  Time flies when you're having fun. :)

My older boys were practically babies! D (left) graduated last year and N (right) graduates next Saturday.

B&B we spent the night at...soooo not my house!
When I signed up for Dirty Kanza at the last minute, I knew I wasn't going to have enough time to really train for it.  That's par for the course for me, though, and crunch-time cramming is about what my attention span can manage.  I have a hard time sticking with long-term training plans because so many other fun things come my way.  My ex-husband may be on his third marriage, but clearly he's not my kids' only commitment-phobe parent.

While I'm probably better suited for a long, drawn-out race than a sprint, I'm sitting on my weak spot.  200 miles on a bike seat is no joke, especially when you haven't build up a callus. :)  That mean that my priority had to be logging some serious time in the saddle.  Unfortunately, while our life is always full, May...with a volleyball tournament, a First Communion, hospital visits, a wedding, Mother's Day (which I kind of took as MY day), a funeral, our tenth anniversary and, coming up, two high school graduations, one of which is in Wisconsin...was a whole new level of busy. 

Even so, I've managed to log some miles, though not nearly the saddle time I need to feel confident in having a chance to cross the finish line on June 2.  Here's what I've got so far:

May 4: 18 miles
May 6: 19 miles
May 8: 30 minutes on the bike trainer
May 9: 21 miles
May 10: 24 miles
May 12: 28 miles
May 13: 52 miles (plus 8 mile run)
May 17: 31 miles

So...so far this month I've managed 193 miles...around 10 miles shy of what I'll face in one day in Kansas.  And all of these rides have been on paved and/or flat trails, not at all the terrain we'll be riding.  Even so, I'm feeling cautiously optimistic: 

1)It's taking longer and longer to get uncomfortable in the saddle, and eventually my butt will get to that point where it realized that protest is futile and gives in and stops complaining.  Hopefully this will happen before June 2. 

2) My rides have gotten progressively faster, and while speed isn't my focus for Dirty Kanza, I'm hoping that maintaining these speeds while riding on big puffy balloon tires is building strength that will translate into a faster than otherwise pace in the race.

3) I love the Monster bike.  LOVE it.  It's light and fast and so cool looking, too.  Riding this bike after a year on my Hardrock (an entry-level MTB that, to be fair, has done everything I asked of it) is an object lesson in "you get what you pay for".  I'm positive that this bike gives me a MUCH better chance of finishing that my own bike would.

4) The typical What the hell was I thinking????? panic hasn't set in yet.  Right now I'm excited to be taking on a new challenge and looking forward to the experience.  I love the feeling of something epic on the horizon.  I'm so glad I'm going to be there.

Now...make sure and remind me of that on June 2. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Rev. SuperKate?

My mom is one of ten kids, and when her baby brother married at age 18 (19?), he and his bride chose me to be their flower girl.

The first in a line of men I've dragged kicking and screaming down the aisle.
I guess because they were young, my uncle and especially my aunt did more than their fair share of babysitting me and my brothers.  Despite that, they still wanted to have kids.  After struggling with infertility, they adopted my cousin Christie at birth.

Whether it was because I was close to her parents or because they'd waited so long to have a baby or for some other reason altogether, Christie has always been pretty special to me.  And not just as a source of income, though being ten years older than her, I did a lot of babysitting.  She was my flower girl in my first wedding.

She's right next to me in the picture.
When that marriage didn't work out so well, Christie did a lot of babysitting for my older boys (who, of course, weren't older at the time) while I tried to put my life back together.

A few years ago, she started dating this guy, Jake.  He makes her happy.  They're great together, and he fits right in with our family: he won't shut up, and he takes abuse well. :)  Apparently I was one of the first to welcome him to the family; "welcome" apparently defined as "mercilessly tease".  Even so, when they got engaged, they asked....ME....to do the marrying.  You know, kind of like Joey did in Friends.

In the long line of scary things I've jumped into, pretty much the last terrifying role I expected to take on was wedding minister.  But my cousin asked me to...and I love my cousin...and I totally believe in them as a couple...and I couldn't figure out how to say no.

Did you know pretty much anyone can be ordained over the internet at the click of a button and legally perform wedding ceremonies (after jumping through a couple legal hoops)?  True story.

This whole thing stressed me out, but that didn't mean I couldn't have some fun with it.  I've spent the last year threatening Jake with not marrying them and making him do whatever I asked to keep me happy.  And I posted a slightly confusing status on facebook:

Of course, everyone knows me way too well to believe what I was insinuating, so most people assumed I was getting a new bike, and Bobbi and ajh figured out the truth.  All my joking around didn't change the fact that I was freaking out a little on the inside.  I planned every last detail of my second wedding, Jeff and I paid for it ourselves, and I can tell you that conducting my cousin's wedding ceremony was far more stressful.  When you get married in the church, like I did, there's a priest there to walk you through every step.  When you're the "minister", YOU are the one directing the show, so to speak.

Luckily, I had a friend to talk me down and make me laugh.

Some furious watching Princess Bride and Friends youtube clips internet research, come cutting and pasting, and then looking frantically for a printer that would actually print...and I had a ceremony outline that I was pretty happy with.  Now all I had to do was figure out what to wear get through it without throwing up or screwing up.

Pre-wedding, you can see how nervous I was.  Don't throw up...don't throw up...
Both goals, I'm happy to report, were met.

If you only knew how nervous I was standing up in front of my family and all those people I've never met before, worrying that Christie and Jake wouldn't be happy with what I'd put together, worried that all the guests were judging and finding things wanting...I was sweating bullets, and not just because it was 80 degrees in the sun.

There were only a couple of mistakes, neither of which can be heard on video.  In having them repeat their vows after me, I coached Jake: "I, Jake, take you, Christie, to be my husba--WIFE!! wife!" and tried to give him HIS ring to put on her.  We all laughed and moved on.

In the end, people were very complimentary.  Once it was over, it was a pretty cool thing to have been a part of.   Jake's mom said she'd recommend me to anyone, and Christie's aunt even told me I'd missed my calling.  I'm not so sure about that, but maybe if this teacher gig doesn't work out I'll have something to fall back on. :)

Once my part was over, I could kick back, relax, visit, and dance the night away.  Jeff doesn't do anything but slow dance, but I had a blast dancing with my brothers and aunts and all three of my boys.  It doesn't get much better than that.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The kindness of strangers

When I signed up for Dirty Kanza, I knew that I didn't have the proper training for the race, but that's kind of what I do...jump headlong into things that are way bigger than I am, regardless of my ability to actually do said things. Of course, in addition to lacking the bike miles that might give me a chance of completing a 200-mile endurance gravel bike race, I also come up way short in the gear department, as well as the money-to-buy-the-gear department.
Granted, these aren't small problems, but I've always held that if I waited until I had all the "right" stuff to do something cool, I might never get around to the doing part. Kind of like waiting til you lose weight before you go to the gym. Or worrying about what other people think. I figured I had things that would do, and I'd just do the best I could with what I had and live with the results. One suggestion was that I beg, borrow, or steal a cross bike, but there were a couple problems with that (besides the obvious legal ones).

It's a pretty big thing to ask someone if you can take their beloved bike and ride it 200 miles around Kansas. Also, I wanted to be able to train on what I was going to ride; it's a really big thing to ask if you can borrow someone's bike for a few weeks. Finally, it's hard for me to ask people for things (unless I'm asking for a place to stay. I'm pretty good at inviting myself to stay with friends. :D). I reached out in one direction that I thought was a possiblity for a borrowed cross bike, and when I didn't get a response I accepted that I was going to ride my mountain bike.

Even making use of what I already have was going to require some expense. My mountain bike tires are way more aggressive than necessary for the race and a cross-style tire would be better. Other suggestions were to run bigger wheels and switch out my front suspension fork with a rigid front fork to save some weight and energy loss. Potentially riding 200 miles is epic enough without adding on another level of effort, so the tire thing was definitely going to happen, but I didn't want to have to fork out (see what I did there?) the money for the other stuff if I could avoid it. I turned, as usual, to Facebook.

And then the strangers stepped in. Well, let me back up on that term "strangers". The most I've met any of them in person is maybe 5 times. Two of them I've never met, and two I've met on one occasion; however, thanks primarily to facebook and also through common interests, friends, and blogging, I've formed very real friendships with these people who I likely never would have met without the ability to connect that the internet affords us.

Almost immediately after I registered for the race, Wendy-Living Out Loud stepped in to be a sponsor. I first met Wendy through the Team Virtus website, and have followed her blog and facebook page since. Though we've only met in person a handful of times, she's been a huge supporter of my mountain bike dreams, having travelled a similar path herself. She raced Dirty Kanza 2011 (and will be back again this year for revenge), so she has a much better idea than I of what it will require. I can't tell you how cool it is to have someone believe in me and support me like that.

And she wasn't alone.

I met Kube at the crit last August, and besides being FB friends we've been part of the same rides/races another 4-5 times. And she was volunteering to let me use her bike! This was actually a great solution to my problems until we realized that there was a conflict between my race date and hers. Still, it was so awesome that she was willing to let me take her bike for 200 miles of Kansas gravel.

And it didn't end there.

Though we were at the same race and they met the Team Virtus guys there, I've never actually met Bethany OR her husband (granted, judging from our mountain bike feelings, Bethany and I might just be the same person, but my husband would consider us strangers), yet again they were offering his bike if it would make my race better. Too cool.

I met Sarah's husband at the Berryman ride, and she and I rode together at Middlefork. That is, she rode circles around me at Middlefork. And while she probably knows me well enough to know I wouldn't be jumping at any bike that's a single speed, the offer was still on the table. After we'd met once in person.

Um, hello...bike people are completely awesome! But wait, there's more!

I knew that Jim owns Monster Bicycle Co., which specializes in custom titanium frames. Having already checked out the website and Monster facebook page, and knowing that titanium = light, something my mountain bike is NOT, I was very interested. Things worked out, and look what I got to bring home today:

Pretty sweet, huh?
 Titanium is super strong, and light, and those qualities don't come at Wal-Mart prices. Despite that, Jim was willing to let me use a bike that's vastly better than anything I have to use...even though he's met me once. And in return? I'll wear this sweet jersey.

Pretty sure I'm getting the better end of the deal.

The bike and I (I'm trying not to name it so I don't get too attached :D) went out for a 50-mile shakedown cruise today, and I'm in love. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to ride something that'll make my race that much better.

All of this is in addition to the people who've offered me spots in their hotel rooms in Kansas, advice/encouragement about the race, and who are letting me sponge off of their support crews. I'm truly humbled by the generosity of my friends, and while I've spent little enough time with most of them that we could almost be considered strangers, I count all of them as friends.

Friends, and an integral part of whatever Dirty Kanza holds for me. I've made no secret of the fact that I'm ridiculously undertrained for this race and that I fully expect to DNF; however, I'll let you in on something that is a bit of a secret: I would really, really like to finish. And whatever I do accomplish, well, all these people will be a part of it.

Thanks for believing in me...or for supporting me even if you don't believe in me, which is pretty cool, too.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The very busy weekend

This was my weekend to be a mom rather than an athlete. Often the pendulum swings more to MY stuff, so despite the fact that I did a little mental foot stomping and pouting, it was nice to have a weekend where I wasn't feeling mommy guilt. As I was reminded more than once by my Facebook friends who've been there and know it all too well, your kids are only young for a short time and before I know it they'll be grown up and out of the house living their own lives.

I rode 20 miles on Thursday, then on Friday I watched N and his team kick butt in their pool at a volleyball tournament and then came home to finish baking the cookies I'd promised to send for my friend Bob's race. Yeah, I'm sure they didn't really need dessert, but it was killing me to miss it, and at least this way I felt like I was a part of things.  Un/Fortunately, he had such an amazing turnout (200ish registered racers) that the 13+ dozen cookies I baked didn't even work out to one per racer...and the late finishers arrived to find themselves cookie-less.

I had planned to skip the second day of the tournament so I could get in a big long ride before dropping off the cookies and cleaning and cooking for Sunday's festivities, but I just couldn't do it. I really do love being at the volleyball games, and N had a good chance of making the all-tournament team...didn't want to miss that.

The hours spent waiting between matches killed me a little since I'd hoped to get home early enough to ride for an hour or two (only a drop in my gigantic, empty Dirty Kanza bucket, but one more drop than I was starting with), but I stayed productive and assembled and addressed graduation announcements (and I'm proud/relieved to report that the boy will, indeed, graduate).

Soooo glad I don't have to white-out the date on the inside!!
When the tournament was finally over (they came in fourth with two disappointing back-to-back losses, but he did, indeed, make the all-tournament team), I hightailed it to St. Louis to drop off cookies with my lucky friend Dave, who because his kids are little and not little weekend-sucks like mine, was racing at Cedar Cross the next day. Since I didn't get home until 4ish, there was no way I was getting away with a bike ride.  There was too much cleaning to do, plus we had to go to my niece's 14th birthday party.

Sunday morning I got up at 7 and rode another 18 miles before showering and making the 1.5 hour round trip to pick up N, who'd gone to an out-of-town prom and stayed at his girlfriend's house at the invitation and under the supervision of her parents.  We got home and spent the rest of the morning cleaning for J's First Communion party.  And then of course the event, itself, where he acquitted himself well despite the fact that we made a wrong turn after the altar (I'm so screwed at Dirty Kanza...I'm going to end up in the wrong state, I just know it).

With my handsome boy
We had a bunch of food for the family coming over after First Communion, and everyone who came had plenty to eat because one of the many balls I dropped this week was the "inviting my side of the family" ball.  A hasty facebook invitation (high class) the night before/morning of garnered us a couple extra relatives who were kind enough to overlook my oversight and come spend the afternoon with us.  Having spent my week going to volleyball games and baking race cookies and cleaning and registering for races I have no hope of ever finishing, I didn't manage to make dessert for my own party, but my momma came to my rescue and made up a big tray of the best cookies in the world.

My chocolate chip cookies are at least as good as hers, but nothing compares to mom's sugar cookies!

Unfortunately, we had an early end to the day because Jeff's grandma is in the hospital and took a bad turn.  She's 91 and an amazing lady.  She was one of the first people to welcome me to the family and is just such a neat, wonderful, positive person.  I really love her and would appreciate it if you kept her in your prayers. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A series of (un?) fortunate events

Back in January of 2011, when I had just recently discovered Team Virtus and commenced reading through their archives like the crazed groupie I was, Bob Jenkins posted a race report from his summer attempt at the Dirty Kanza 200.  His account of the bicycle journey across 102 miles of Kansas in 100+ degree heat was a great read, which is typical of the Virtus blog, but unlike most of their posts, I was perfectly content to live this one vicariously:

That’s a great report and the first race report you guys have posted that made me think hell no (oops, second, bc I read about Leadville, too, and almost peed my pants at the thought of that downhill to beat the time cut-off). What’s scary is how quickly “hell no” turns into “hmmm…could I?” I think for the time being I’ll just look forward to reading your 2011 race report. (Jan. 8, 2011)
Fast forward a year, and now not only Bob, but Luke, Robby, Travis, WendyJim, Derrick, and Kyle were all going to Kansas for the race.  I wished them well...sort of...I think my good luck message went something like "I hope you have a great time and kick butt, but that the race is just grueling enough that I still have no desire to do it."

The 2011 Dirty Kanza featured the normal heat and wind, then torrential storms and hail, and then ridiculously (unridably) muddy roads.  Heck, Luke's report was titled "Ride Together, Die Alone".  Good times, right?  And yet, as awful as it sounded, I wanted to do it.  As I commented then, "I am not looking forward to next years report…bc this one was even worse than Bob’s last year and yet I feel myself being sucked into the madness. I’m afraid one more report might have me packing for Kansas."

By this past winter I had decided to do it.  But when registration rolled around, I owed a friend some money and had long ago committed to LBL and just didn't feel right about signing up for another race without having repaid her.  So when I woke up at 5 a.m. in the guest bedroom of Luke's grandmas's house the morning that registration opened, I laid in bed gritting my teeth and being fiscally conservative while the guys signed up for the race in the other room.  And then we went and had one of the best group rides ever and the pain subsided.

The race sold out in just a few hours, but I didn't stop thinking about it.  Man, I wished I was going.  I hate missing out.  Bob's suggestion that I sign up as both riders in the two-person relay didn't work out since it too was sold out, so I settled on riding in the DK Lite, a 50-mile option, and then helping crew for my friends who were riding the full thing.  I was even looking forward to it.  I'd be finished and relaxing (drinking) while they were riding an extra 150 miles in the summer heat.  Plus, hanging around with the guys' wives and girlfriends was a guaranteed good time and gave me the additional bonus of hearing some new stories.  I definitely had the better end of the deal.

And then, just a few days ago, Luke emailed me.  Casey was having trouble with leg cramps again and might not be able to do the race.  If he couldn't go, did I want to buy his entry?  I started to reply maybe, and deleted it. Team Virtus's Kage is not a "maybe" kind of girl.  Yes, I was interested.  Actually, I was terrified, but I knew I'd regret it if I passed on the opportunity to do the full thing.  After all, where's the excitement in doing something you know you can do?  I can ride 50 miles, but to attempt 200?  What an adventure!

Let's briefly review all the reasons that, in this case, "adventure" is code for "crazy":
  • The last time I rode 100 miles was in 2010.
  • My longest ride this year was February's Super (metric)Century
  • I only have one other ride this year over 50 miles.
  • If I've ridden 200 miles in all of 2012, it's just barely.
  • While you can ride whatever bike on this course, a cross bike (which I don't have) seems to be the best option.
  • Literally every weekend until the race is filled with at least one BIG family event (First Communion, wedding/Mother's Day, our 10th anniversary, Nathan's (hopeful) high school graduation, leaving me little time to fit in long rides on the weekends.
I knew all this when I agreed to buy Casey's entry if he couldn't use it.  I was a little excited but mostly hoping for his sake that I'd be relegated to the Lite.  It stinks to train for something and not be able to do it when all of your friends are there; I'd have hated that for him.  Plus, if I "couldn't" do the big race, well, I'd "tried" to get in.  No regrets necessary.

The day before the transfer deadline, I heard that Casey had a good 110 mile ride and was going to keep his entry.  The disappointment and relief hadn't sunk in before I read the next sentence: "If you still want to do the full 200, there are transfers available on the DK facebook page.  You still have a decision to make, don't you?"

Crap. These boys know I can't resist a gauntlet.

By lunchtime, I was emailing the couple people who were offering transfers.  I'd let the fates decide: if I was "supposed" to go, I'd be able to; if not, I wouldn't be able to get an entry.  And I realize that's a little akin to saying "I'm just going to jump off this ledge, and if I'm supposed to fall I will," but that's how my brain works.

Unfortunately (or was that fortunately?) I struck out with the first person, and the second person wanted $75 for her entry.  Knowing that the race only cost $50*, I emailed back saying I'd be willing to spend $50 and if that wasn't OK I totally understood and good luck.  I never heard anything back.  Bummer.  I tried one more offer and got no response.  Obviously fate was stepping in to make up for my absentee sense of self preservation.

And then I guess fate decided to throw me to the wolves after all, because when I got home I had an email from the $75 girl accepting my offer.  I was in!! I was in!!  

Holy shit...I was in for it...

So.  The race is exactly a month from yesterday and I have virtually no training.  At this point, 29 days out, it's not even worth stressing about.  I'll do what I can and focus on getting my food/hydration needs figured out.  Since it's a very remote area and you're only allowed support from your support crew at widely (50+ miles) spaced checkpoints, making sure you can carry enough fluid and nutrition are super important.

Yeah, I know it's stupid to jump into a race like this at virtually the last moment and with very little preparation.  My goal is to ride farther than 105 miles (my previous longest ride); anything after that is gravy.  I have no expectations of finishing the race.  It's pretty freeing, really.  With absolutely nothing to live up to, anything I accomplish will be a happy surprise.

And lest you think that I'm truly certifiable, here are some reasons "crazy" isn't necessarily "wrong":
  • I get to attempt something big
  • With some of my favorite people
  • And not be stuck at home reading the race reports and wishing I'd been there
  • A gravel road race (or "race" for me) is probably much better suited to my strengths than a mountain bike race; I have more endurance (or stubbornness, whatever) than speed or courage.
  • And no matter how I do I'm pretty much guaranteed a good story.
Kansas gravel...here I come.

Photo credit (and registration blame): Luke Lamb

*reading the Dirty Kanza information page after agreeing to buy the entry, I saw that race registration was actually $75. I have no idea where that $50 price I had in my head came from, but I probably wouldn't have done it for more, so the misunderstanding was one more fortunate/unfortunate event leading me to the gravel.