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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Curses, foiled again! (Dirty Kanza 2013)


As astute readers might surmise from the title, my return to Dirty Kanza wasn't quite the triumph I'd envisioned. Quite the opposite, really.
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108 miles. Contrast that with the 160 miles I managed last year on just one month of training, and you might detect a hint of failure in the air. It's ok, I can smell it too, a scent enhanced unwittingly by a couple things I saw/heard. But I'll get to that later.

Two weeks before Dirty Kanza I started stalking the 10-day forecast for Emporia, Kansas. DK200 has a history of brutal weather conditions...temps into the hundreds, strong winds, even a scary storm one year. Last year's pleasant temperatures and light winds were a bit of a freakish aberration, one I hoped would repeat itself at this year's event. The forecast started out reasonable and then cooled further, and by race day a high in the low 70's was predicted. While the temperatures looked favorable, the precipitation threatened to be a little less so as it bounced from moderate chances of rain to dry skies and back again. In the end, while the Emporia area got pretty well soaked in the days leading up to the race, we lined up at the start line with a 0% chance of rain and winds forecast of 15-25 mph.

A couple of points before I go on...

1. The weather is part of the deal when you sign up for Dirty Kanza or, really, any race. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don't. I feel pretty confident that I could've finished the race in the weather we had last year, but that's like saying I could've gone faster if the whole course was downhill: that's not the race I was at.

2. The wind kicked my ass; however, 331 people, over half of the field, fought through the wind and did finish. It could definitely be done; I just wasn't tough enough this year.

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Lining up for the start with the Granada Theater lit up on the right.

Race start was 6:00 a.m., and though we were there in plenty of time to get everything prepped, 5:55 saw me sprinting down the block to the bathrooms in the Granada Theater. Organized as I'd been that morning, somehow I hadn't made time to take care of that all-important bathroom stop, a matter which had become urgent. As if I wasn't calling enough attention to myself with the mad dash, Luke advertised my plight by shouting, "Kate's going to POOP!! Good luck pooping Kate!!" Matters taken care of in record time, I rejoined my team amid cheers and congratulations for my successful mission. We got to see and wish luck to Team TOG, the Lederhosens, and the ROCK Racing crew before the start, which we basically missed bc we'd lined up so far back that we were behind the Half Pint (110 mi version) riders.

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That's the view behind us at the start.

Team picture: Travis, Austin, Robby, Luke, Bob, Casey, me, Adam.  Friends Justin (visible between Robby and Luke) and Robin (next to Adam) also in the picture.  Photo credit: Sarah Brown
We rolled out of town, down the pavement and onto the first stretches of gravel.  All of my training has definitely paid off, because I was far more comfortable on gravel this year than last year.  Robby had started ahead of the rest of us, and Casey shortly took off too, wanting to log miles while he was feeling good. 
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The recent rains, as well as the 600+ riders in front of us, had left the roads pretty smooth and dust-free, and the first leg of the race had a distinct lack of headwinds.

Race start was at the top of the picture, in Emporia.
Remember that the winds were out of the northwest.  You'll notice that, other than a couple of short stretches towards the beginning of the race, the first leg was primarily south and east.  This resulted in a lot of tailwind during the first 50 miles.  Luke, Bob, Adam, Travis, Austin, our friend Justin, and I rolled together for quite a while.  It was a great time.  Luke, hopped up on his first Spike energy drink in who knows how long, was displaying the manic energy of a hyperactive puppy who's just escaped the yard.  It was pretty hilarious, and we all pretty much had a blast as we rode and joked around.

All of the recent rain had been reason for concern about the condition of the B roads.  Basically dirt farm roads, they can quickly become a muddy mess once they get wet.  Luckily, there was only one muddy section on the first leg, and the previous day's dry weather and earlier riders had dried and packed this segment into something mostly rideable.  Thanks, fast people!

Photo credit: Chuck Vohsen
Last year I only made it about 25 miles with the group before dropping off.  This year was a little better and I was always at least near another teammate on the first leg, but while the guys kept remarking on the relative lack of difficulty, I wasn't finding it nearly as easy.  Much like the first half of Cedar Cross, I was having a harder time than I'd expected in keeping up.  Watching the growing calorie count on my Garmin I wondered if my struggling was partially a fueling issue and started trying to eat even more. 

Nutrition was a mixed bag for me on this race.  Early this year I'd decided to go with more of a liquid fuel strategy to accommodate for my shaky handling and difficulty in letting go of the bars to eat, but I never moved from the research to implementation stage.  Another big fail was bringing food that was difficult for me to eat on the bike; one thing I'd used successfully on training rides was a mixture of nuts and dried fruit, but without a mountain feed bag or something similar it was too hard for me to actually get them out to eat.  Luckily I also had rice cakes, almond joy bars, Slim Jims, Ensure, and sport beans.  One thing I remembered this year was to open all of my food packages before taking off so that I could easily get to them.

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Anyone who thinks Kansas is flat just hasn't been to the right parts.

We stopped at the top of this hill for a bathroom stop.  As you can see from the picture, it's just wide open.  You could see forever.  Thankfully my awesome teammates made a man wall for me so I had a little privacy to pee. 

Hills are always my nemesis.  I'm not as strong as the guys, so I fall behind going up, and I'm a huge chicken, so I really get dropped on the downhills.  While I have a long way to go, I'm slowly getting my big girl panties closer to my waist, to the point where as I rode past Bob on one hill he commented, "It's like watching a little bird leave the nest!" Of course, there are always things to remind me why I'm so timid.  At the bottom of a big hill we passed a group surrounding a woman on the ground on the side of the road.  Her face was covered in blood and it looked like she'd knocked out a couple of teeth.  Bob told me later, "I was hoping you didn't see that," but that's pretty much what I picture every time I go downhill.  Since she was already surrounded and we didn't have any skills to offer, we rode on.  Hopefully she was ok.

There were a lot of water crossings on this leg, and I was always happier when I was close enough to watch the guys go through first so I knew how deep the water was and where a safe line was.  Not all of the crossings were little, though.  Coming down one hill we saw jeeps and a lot of water.  I really appreciated the volunteers being there so that we knew it was safe to cross.  Bob rode the whole way across, but being gun-shy after listening to my screaming bike for 20 miles at Cedar Cross (and probably incapable of riding all the way across anyway) I opted to shoulder my ride.

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I was also glad to be carrying my cross bike and not my two-ton mountain bike.  Photo credit: Luke Lamb

About midway through the first leg had started to feel a little better, though looking at the elevation profile I'm thinking that's probably a function of the downhill trend of the second 25 miles.

Whatever the reason, we cruised into CP1 in Madison, KS, to the cheers of our fantastic support crew.  They updated us on Robby and Casey (doing awesome) and got us all set for the next leg.  I felt good and was trying to avoid sitting down because I hoped to minimize my stops and didn't want to get too comfortable.  I was really glad to be able to change into some dry socks while the girls refilled water bottles and made sure we had what we needed.  After 15-20 minutes we were on the move again and faced almost immediately with a big hill.  Boo.

At the top of the hill, though, were three little kids standing at the side of the street giving.  We all rode close enough for a high five, and the little girl told me, "I've only seen like one girl today!"  I told her there aren't many of us silly enough to be out there (though I think there were over 40 women registered for the full 200).  Pretty soon we were back onto the gravel and experiencing a serious drop in our ride satisfaction index.


Remember when I mentioned the winds coming from the northwest?  If you look at the map, you'll notice that the vast majority of leg 2 was due west.  The wind was brutal and nothing if not consistent. In the leadup to the race, Travis had suggested using a paceline to work together and this seemed to be the perfect time for it.  Drafting on a bike always makes me nervous (who me? Go figure), and doing so on the unpredictable gravel surface took that to a whole new level.  It ended up that my nerves didn't really come into play, though, because I only made it through the first person's pull.  On the second person, we started uphill and I was really struggling to keep up.  Not wanting to ruin it for all the people behind me, I dropped out and watched the guys ride off.

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Obligatory picture of minimum maintenance sign

Well, shit.  I'd hoped that my better training would help me keep up, but I've ridden alone in Kansas before.  I spent as much time in the drops as I could manage and kept pedaling, watching as my pace dropped down into the single digits.  Around mile 60 I came across Austin stopped in the road looking at his map.  "You ok?" I asked him.

"I think I'm going to drop out.  I can't ride into this wind for another 40 miles."

Not having actually looked at my map and ever the optimist, I told him that surely eventually we'd turn out of the wind.  Maintaining that sunny disposition was a little harder when he showed me the westward trend of the map, but I pointed out that we had a few turns ahead of us that might give us a break.  Then Bob rolled up and asked what was going on.  "I'm thinking about quitting," Austin told him.

"Well...." Bob said, "Think about it a little longer."

Shortly after this we hit the anticipated turn, which was unfortunately north into a headwind that seemed just as strong, and about two miles later we turned back to the west.  It was like being trapped in a gigantic wind tunnel no matter which way you were going.  I started telling myself to get to mile 65 and then I could walk for a minute, just so I wasn't riding into the unrelenting wind.  Just 5 miles before I'd helped convince Austin to keep going, and now I was wondering how I'd make it any further, wanting to stop but knowing there was no way I could write on my blog that I'd only made it 65 miles.

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The long-awaited turn to have the wind at our backs.  You can see the flags on the route markers blowing and my twitter friend Cody, who I met in person on the course, in front of Austin.

This turn was the beginning of a 10-mile section that gave me a new lease on life.  Having a break from the wind was a huge relief.  We hit a pretty sketchy downhill with much bigger rocks than the normal gravel, and Austin took it much faster than I did but had to stop to go back and get a water bottle he'd dropped.  I crept downhill and rather than stopping just pedaled easily waiting for him to catch up.  When he did, Adam was with him.  I fell behind on some uphills, and pretty soon the boys were out of sight and I was on my own again.

I passed Austin again around the 75 mile mark and made sure he didn't need anything.  "You'll be on your way again soon, right?" I asked, and his unenthusiastic response made me wonder if I was going to be seeing a crew car on its way before long.  Once I turned back west I was hoping not to see one of our crew out on a pickup because I was afraid I'd give in and ask for a ride too.


In a kind of cruel twist, the last 20 miles of this leg was both primarily uphill and into a strong wind.  I remembered this section from last year's race, and when I wasn't wishing for death I could appreciate the difference in how I felt.  It's hard to tell from the picture, but between 80 and 90 there are a bunch of rolling hills, and last year I did a lot of walking here.  OK, this year I did a lot of walking too, but it was more strategic.  I rode until my pace dropped down and I felt like I was struggling too much, and then I'd walk.  At the top of the hill, I'd climb back down and shoot downhill.  Of course, "shoot" is a bit of an exaggeration due to the wind; even pedaling downhill I was lucky to get above 15 mph.

I passed Kyle from Orange Lederhosen, who was feeling really nauseous and struggling.  We talked for a minute and I gave him some ibuprofen before riding on.  I kept looking at my Garmin and doing the math with grim results.  Before the turn out of the wind I'd been pretty certain there was no way I could make the cutoff, but those downhill miles with a tailwind had boosted my pace enough that there was a chance.  24 miles in 3 hours...I can do that....that's only 8 mph.  17 miles in about 2 hours...I've got a chance, that's just under 9 mph...15 miles in 1.5 hours...ummmm....is that 10 mph??  My math skills suffer along with my body as I get more tired.

Eventually I saw Adam ahead of me and caught up.  He pulled ahead of me on a hill, and as I crested the top I saw him stop and turn around.  There was a long snake crossing the road.

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You can't really tell from the picture, but this guy's at least 3 feet long.

I'd seen a ton of snakes along the course, including one huge one -- seriously, its body looked as thick as those big snakes you see in the zoo -- but this might have been the first live snake I saw.  And honestly, that's one too many for me.  We plugged away against the wind, and I felt bad that Adam had to hear the repeated sniffle - cough - spit - gasp that I'd been doing for the last 40 or so miles as my medicine wore off and my sinus infection spoke up.

The worst was the wind, though.  I know I keep mentioning it, but I had such a hard time against it, and it was so demoralizing to be constantly riding into it.  For so much of this leg I just wanted to sit down in the middle of the road and cry.  It was such a different experience from my first Kanza experience.  Last year, my body hurt so badly and everything felt so hard.  This year, it was tough and my MawMaw hip acted up at times, but overall my body felt pretty good.  I was just exhausted, even more mentally than physically, from fighting against the wind.  I hated the race and Kansas in a way I never did last year and decided I was finished with Dirty Kanza.

I'd hoped to make it to the second checkpoint before going to the bathroom again, but by mile 95 I really couldn't wait any longer.  I felt 1000% better afterwards and my pace jumped up (although now looking at the elevation profile, it seems that this improvement was probably partially a function of the downhill trend of the last 5 miles). When I caught up with Adam, he asked if I wanted to try to make the cut-off.  I did, so I jumped on his wheel and we pushed hard towards Cassaday, the site of CP2.  We'd had about 3 miles of pavement on the way into the first CP, and I was hoping for a repeat, but instead we were on gravel almost the entire way.  It's hard to complain too much about that, though, because the gravel was pretty smooth and packed.  Still, it wasn't hard to find things to complain about after 100 miles.

As we neared the town, Adam told me, "I almost want to just stop here and wait until the cut-off is over." I responded that I was pretty comfortable with making the cutoff and saying I'd had enough. Without a map showing a less windy third leg, I was finished.  I just didn't have the spirit to fight that wind any longer.  We made it into the CP with 8 minutes to spare (a full 5 minutes ahead of my previous year's 3-minutes before cut-off).  Austin and Bob were there, having been picked up around mile 78.  Robby and Casey were long gone, and the rest of the team had beaten us in by several minutes.

This time I was happy to sit down. When our crew asked what I needed, I said I didn't know. Looking at the map for leg 3, there was a 14 mile stretch with a tailwind followed by the remainder of the leg into the wind. I couldn't do it. Michelle reminded me that I'd said the same thing last year and then later was happy I'd gone out, and Luke said I could ride out with him as long as I knew he'd be slow (having trained for an ultra this year, he hadn't really been on his bike since the end of April and still rode circles --sometimes literally -- around me for the first 100 miles). Everyone on the team was going back out to at least see how they felt, though I think it was kind of a game of chicken. If one person didn't go, there might have been a lot more dropping.





Totally faked smile
Very unenthusiastic and resigned, I ate half of the sandwich Michelle had picked up for me while Austin got the light on my bike.  Having left CP 2 with only a dim headlamp and no intention of staying out on course for long enough to need it only to spend 3.5 hours alone in the dark, I wasn't taking any chances this time.  After a long break, we reluctantly rolled out with around 5 hours left to ride 52 miles and, with the majority of the leg into a headwind, little chance of actually making the third cutoff.

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Since the first 14 miles were east, we had a nice tailwind.  Even so, none of us felt great.  The rolling hills were pretty fun, though, as I was too tired to bother with braking when each downhill just fed into the next incline.  Some of the guys were making noises about quitting, and while part of me wanted to go on more of me was just waiting for someone to drop.  8 miles from the checkpoint, Luke and Adam were ready to call it.  Travis, his friend Garrett, and I stood there for a minute.

I was torn.  I didn't feel great but didn't feel terrible.  I could definitely ride a little longer.  On the other hand, I really didn't want to face that wind again and was convinced there was no way I could make the cut-off.  I knew I could eventually make it to the CP, likely far faster than I went last year, but I wasn't going to get there in time and this year CP3 was at mile 152, still 8 miles shorter than I went in 2012. I rode by myself last year in the dark.  It sucked, but I did it.  I really didn't feel like I had anything to prove or to gain by doing it again this year.  I signed on for the ride back.

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What we think of the wind.

I'm disappointed.  I'm disappointed I wasn't able to finish or at least surpass what I did last year, and frankly I'm disappointed in myself for quitting.  But it's easy to sit here in my computer chair and say that when the wind is a memory and not the reality, and it was very sweet to get to be at the finish line cheering when Emily, Casey, Robby, and Aaron crossed.  I wish I'd been there to see my other friends finish, especially Chuck who did so many training rides with me and whose DFL, I'm here to tell you, far surpasses a DNF.  And if the sting of watching the finish line and crossing it myself wasn't sharp enough, there were a couple of unwitting twists of the knife. 

First was a conversation with a friend (who is a total badass) after she finished.  I'd mentioned her hope that conditions would be terrible and someone asked why she'd want that.  "Because if it was really bad out, other people would quit, and I wouldn't."  Ouch.  And then this picture that I saw posted.

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I did quit.  I didn't want it badly enough.  Those things wouldn't hurt if they weren't true.  If you'd asked me during the race I'd have sworn this was my last attempt, but with a little distance, that's not a sure thing.  I keep thinking, Ok, I was trained to finish under favorable conditions, next year I need to be able to finish, period.  Next year?  What am I saying?  So thanks to everyone who cheered me on and encouraged me.  I really appreaciate all the support, and I'm sorry if I let you down.  Huge thanks to my awesome teammates and our fantastic support crew.  I couldn't ask for a better group of friends.  And thanks to Kansas, for another lesson in humility and my limits.

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To be continued...maybe

21 comments:

  1. You are awesome. And I know you'll be back there, and you'll keep training hard, because you have come so far with that. And you will just get better and stronger, and maybe you'll do better next time, but either way, you are awesome right now.

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  2. Well crap. I SO FEEL you on all the things you wrote in conclusion here. Med City, when I overthink it, has left a bitter taste in my mouth. Which stinks because I KNOW I did the right thing in my situation at the time by dropping at 20. I KNOW it. But here's where the curse of all the motivational crap of fb gets me (and normally I love all that stuff). It reminds me that no matter the reason, I DID quit. I quit something I KNOW I could have finished.

    I quit because I was miserable. And you know what? THAT'S OK. I wasn't having any fun and I called it a day.

    But still, I find myself a bit ashamed and embarassed by it.

    Sorry for the novel. Just here to say, I get you. I get you, and i believe in you. And you'll be back out there kicking ass again next year, or at a different race. No doubt. Rock on, Kate.

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  3. Ah, the wind, Kate. the WIND!!! There is nothing worse on a bike. What could you do. And by your report HALF the entrants didn't finish. That is definitive of the day.
    2014??? Of course you should try again!

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  4. You are totally a rock star in my book. Riding alone into the wind sucks more than just about anything. Nothing there to take your mind off the misery. ((HUGS)) and better luck on your next adventure whether it be DK or not.

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  5. You're still awesome Kate. Think of all the rides you started out with...50 miles was a HUGE ride..now it's a bump in the road. Pretty soon a windy century will be no biggy.

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  6. Check and mate. You have the greatest race reports...ever.

    I smelled that stench of DNFs this weekend also. Grrrr.

    People saying this after a DNF never makes me feel better, but it's totally true: what you accomplished is seriously amazing. Next time. Next time.

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  7. You did a great job out there, I saw you guys once right after the big hill with the cows on it, but as soon as I hit the top you where off and I didn't get to talk to you. I also said I will never do it again, but now, who knows.

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  8. Luke with his shouting poop comments would fit in with my 9 and 10 year old boys just great! Still with the bathroom theme - I love the man wall so you could pee. Although I suspect you could have just gone and no one would have cared. Boo HIss all the winds. That just plain sucks. Snakes! Thick! Long! Numerous! Forget it! I"m never riding in Kansas. I get the bathroom relief thing. When I climbed Pikes Peak I reached a point where I was just miserable. The only thing I could do to make myself more comfortable was pee. So I did it. And you talk about being out in the open. And I have to say there is no DFL in DK!

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  9. And I didn't say it but you are awesome. Don't be disappointed in yourself. You inspired that little girl you saw and so many of out here in Blog Land.

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  10. Sorry you didn't have the race you hoped for. When you talk about limits realize that those limits were for that day only, not for forever. You've had many days where your limits led to success. You'll have many more. It is a painful lesson but live and learn.

    PS: You are still officially super.

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  11. Your frustration and disappointment seep through every word of this race report. I can only imagine how awful it felt out in that horrendous wind. I'm bummed for you because I know how badly you wanted this. All in good time, my pretty, all in good time!
    PS You are amazing.

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  12. Sorry the conditions were crappy Kate. Riding into a stiff headwind for miles and miles is demoralizing. Maybe your sinus infection took more energy out of you than you realized.

    You'll get it next year and if not, there is always the year after that :-).

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  13. I know how you feel seeing those (stupid) motivational posters and feeling like you let people down (because I felt that way seeing similar posters and feeling a similar way after both CIM and Eugene)....but you haven't let anyone down. You've just proven the truth that these big goals are a journey and we don't know the end of the story for any of us. The only thing that we need to know is that we must keep trying....

    I'm very proud of you. That whole description made my saddle hurt from the distance and my ears hurt from the wind. And I know you'll be back next year!

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  14. A head wind would seem to just suck the energy right out of your legs on a race that long. I have visions of you riding a bike and a big whopper of a tornado picking you up like auntie Em. "we aren't in kansas anymore" would be the next line.

    What you said at the end is true of a lot of champions. People looking to win know that sometimes it is just a war of attrition and being more fit or mentally tougher than their competition is how they might have a chance at the podium. That doesn't negate your choice to DNF. There's a place for that. It just means that maybe YOU will be the one who is more prepared and more resolute than the others next time. Take it and make it your goal..you can do it! I see a Kate who can outlast most of us under long ordeals. You've gone on under some very TRYING situations. Next year it will be yours!

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  15. This is such a tough event. You did great Kate, well done! You will still finish this.

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  16. I really appreciate your honest assessment and think that your commenters have had great insights as well. I have been thinking alot lately, about my lack of race preparations. I train very conscientiously. However, it seems that I'm shocked each and every time when something goes wrong in the race (weather, fuel, bad mood, you name it). I've been thinking more and more about how I need an active plan for dealing with these moments in the moment. I also think that the dropping out can be contageous. When the going gets tough maybe its time to go inside oneself and separate from others.....Who knows, its all such a learning process. Good luck on your journey!

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  17. What can I say? You are the best!
    Great report with wonderful photos. I like the pic with the snake.

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  18. Great report! That wind can't be described in words, it had to be experienced. I love that brick wall quote you added near the end.

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  19. I'm finally getting a chance to read your RR....

    I hate those f*cking mantras splattered all over f*cking FB; it's a huge reason why I so rarely get on that thing. Seriously, they are stupid and if you win or lose because of a few words you saw someone post on FB, then they're seriously something wrong with everyone.

    Ok...rant off.

    I can't even tell you how freaking proud of you I am. I know you're disappointed (and I know I've been a shallow shell of a friend lately...soooo much personal crapola going on, which I know is my constant excuse, but really is for reals bad), I know it I know it I know it. And I feel so much pain for you and your pain....because I know that you had to be at your very last breaking point straw to stop. We don't do this shit so we can stop mid-way and find excuses to do so, we stop when we're reached our limits, period. I salute you, Kate - I seriously do.

    Wind sucks. You do not. The end!

    Oh and: xo

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  20. It hurt to read this race report. You trained for it, put in the hours, rode your ass off, and Mother Nature did not see fit to cooperate. I freaking hate riding into the wind and cannot imagine mile after mile on desolate gravel roads. Great job, I am proud of you!!!

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  21. Free advice follows, worth every penny:

    -Really, you gotta ride this kind of race with people who think positive thoughts. I can tell you from experience that it's much more difficult to ride with people who often make noises about dropping during the race. Drop or don't drop, but talk positively to yourself and others.

    -Regarding confidence on descents, you gotta shift the weight back, relax the arms and let come what may. Rear brakes only need apply unless you're about to hit a good-sized animal or drop into the abyss. Wanna improve your confidence and handling skillz? Ride as much as you can in the snow. Yes, snow.

    -Echeloning may not improve your time much riding into the wind, but it sure helps the spirit. Do it with someone you trust. Trade places as much as you need to. Most importantly, practice practice practice.

    Better luck next time. (I might even give DK a try next year...)

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