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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Pop quiz, hotshot (ICCP "9" hour race report)

On the podium with my friends Kate and Judy, who actually earned their trophies
So let's get this out of the way early: I took third place in the women's solo 9 hour division of the Indian Camp Creek mountain bike race this weekend, and it was pretty embarrassing.  Not because I came in third, because both of those ladies are worlds better on a bike than me; not even because I came in third out of three, because a big part of winning sometimes is just showing up and being willing to do something that other people aren't.

No, it was embarrassing because this race was more of a DNF for me than any other race I've done, saved only by the fact that you couldn't DNF this division.  I like to think of myself as, if not always mentally tough, at least foolishly stubborn, and this race disproved that.  Plenty of bad decision led to my lousy showing, though, so in lieu of a full-fledged race report, I'll just test you to see if you'd do any better.

1. There's an upcoming mountain bike race. How do you train for it?

a) Rest on the 200 mile gravel ride you did three weeks ago.
b) Ride 5 miles of singletrack with your ten year old.
c) Occasionally consider taking your mountain bike out on the trails.
d) Actually log some quality miles.

Answer (if you're me): a, b, and c.  Since Dirty Kanza, I've had one double-digit bike ride and a few short rides with Jacob.  I wanted to get out on the trails, but between weather and having Jacob home with me and kind of being a wimp about going out mountain biking alone, I never really managed to.  I definitely hoped that my DK training would at least leave me with some decent bike endurance.

2. The mountain bike race has three solo options (3/6/9 hour) as well as a team format.  You haven't really ridden your mountain bike on singletrack since April. What do you do?

a) 3 hour solo. That'll be plenty.
b) Find some sucker and form a team. Alternating laps might help make up for your lack of fitness.
c) Stay home and nap.
d) 9 hour solo!

Answer: d. I knew it would suck.  I expected to enjoy it for about 5 hours and suffer for the next 4.  Even so, I typically like the longer races and the fact that the last few hours feature few passes because so many fewer riders are left on the trails.  I went into the race looking at it as a good chance for me to build confidence by riding the same loop over and over again.

3. The saddle on your mountain bike has caused serious chafing and discomfort every time you've ridden on it. What do you do?

a) Replace it with the much better saddle on your old mountain bike.
b) Adjust the position in the hopes that it'll help.
c) Stay home and nap.
d) Make no changes, assuming that this time it'll magically be comfortable.

Answer: d. I'm so stupid...why would I not change the saddle??

4. After an unseasonably cool beginning to summer, the heat has kicked in.  What do you do to cope?

a) Stuff your sports bra with ice.
b) Fill your camelbak with ice.
c) Go home and nap in the air conditioning.
d) Realize that everybody else is dealing with the same heat and suck it up.

Answer: a, b, d.  Oh that ice felt so good, but I only did that after the second loop. Would have been much smarter to keep doing it or to have made some ice-filled socks to put in the back of my jersey like the Cyclery team.  The heat was no fun, especially during the exposed sections of the course, but the shaded sections were better and at least on a bike you make your own breeze.  

5. Midway through your third lap your chafing reaches a new level of discomfort.  What now?

a) Try adjusting the saddle. Hey, better late than never!
b) Call your husband and ask him to bring the good saddle. It's only a 70-minute drive.
c) HTFU. It's just skin.  Well, it was; now it's more like raw hamburger.
d) Stay off the saddle as much as possible and then let your imaginary teammate take the next lap while you move your car to a closer spot, walk around, and talk about how stupid you were to sign up for a 9 hour race.

Coming in from my third lap and only smiling for the camera. Thanks to Jim and Michelle for coming out to spectate! Photo credit: Jim Woodson.
Answer: d.  In all seriousness, I was more uncomfortable 16 miles into Indian Camp Creek than I was 150 miles into Dirty Kanza.  In my last-minute arrival at the race I'd left my tube of Chamois Butt'r in my car (luckily I had one "single serving" pack in my bag, so after my third lap I grabbed a margarita out of my cooler and walked the quarter mile or so to my car to get the chamois cream. Then, seeing a closer spot, I moved my car and spent the next 40 minutes or so drinking and talking to people.  I got a lot of "What race did you do?", to which I answered, "Oh, I'm still racing, can't you tell?"  I also noted that, while I'd expected to have a rough time towards the end of the 9 hours, this was more like 2 hours of fun and 7 hours of regret, a satisfaction ratio similar to that of my first marriage.

6. You've been sitting around the race HQ for over an hour. Your nine hour race still has about 5 hours left. What do you do?

a) Take this one lap at a time.
b) Make yourself ride at least one more lap, then you can quit.
c) Give away your bike. Mountain biking is stupid anyway.
d) Go home and take a nap.

Answer: b. It may have been slightly (a) when I started riding, but it quickly became (b). My saddle was killing me, and the way I had to sit on it made my back hurt, too.  Every downhill section, when I could get off my saddle, I'd reconsider quitting ("This is fun! I can do this more!!")...until I had to sit down again.

7. You're on your fourth lap and it feels like your chamois has been replaced by sandpaper. What do you do?

a) Spend 8 miles contemplating how long it'll be before your husband can touch you below the waist.
b) Try adjusting the saddle now. You know that whole "definition of insanity" thing?
c) Stop halfway through and hang out with the volunteers.
d) Cut the lap short and ride back to the start/finish on the road.

Answer: a and c. I considered d more than once, but it wouldn't have saved me all that much riding and would have been way less fun and pretty darn lame.  I did stop for a nice long time at the volunteer table and complain about my saddle, prompting Cory to observe, "The nose is too high, and you need some ventilation." Ventilation wasn't going to happen with that saddle, but it's too bad you can't adjust the saddle angle...oh wait, you can.  Well, too bad I didn't have the right tool in my pack to make the adjustment...oh wait, I did.  Sigh. I think at that point I figured the damage was done and just wanted to get back to the start/finish and off my bike.

8.  You rode two good laps followed by two pretty miserable ones, and the 6 hour race isn't even over yet. What do you do?

a) Alternate long breaks with painful loops.
b) Accept that this just wasn't your day and go home.
c) Keep going...you rode 19 hours in Kansas, you can ride 9 here!
d) Spend the next few hours sitting in the shade, talking with friends, and contemplating going back out.

Answer: d. What I should have done was a and c, but maybe this was just God's way of telling me, "Hey dummy, a 9 hour mountain bike race is a pretty lousy taper for next weekend's 30 hour adventure race...oh, and maybe switch saddles!"  I did thoroughly enjoy hanging out with the Momentum crew, who were nice enough to take me in when I showed up at the race start feeling like a little lost lamb with no idea where to set up (I'm used to finding Chuck and Lori's tent, but they weren't there).

9. Your "fun training ride" turned out to be pretty disappointing. What's the consolation?

a) All that misery was probably enough to make sure that you finally change out saddles before next weekend's Stubborn Mule adventure race.
b) You still rode 32 mile of singletrack, and you felt more confident and comfortable than ever before.
c) Hey, no crashes!
d) You spent an afternoon hanging out with a really nice, fun group of people.

Answer: E, all of the above. Sorry, that was a trick question. Indian Camp Creek is rated beginner/intermediate, which doesn't mean I can't still struggle there.  I crashed pretty hard (twice) during my last outing there. This year I had no crashes, and I only had to put a foot down once on something that made me nervous because a couple of people were stopped there. The next time I passed that spot, I'd ridden over it before I even realized it was the "scary" spot. Overall, I felt much more comfortable and confident on the singletrack than ever before. That's awesome, and it's also one of the most disappointing things about the day: I was riding better than I have in the past and was derailed by dumb mistakes.  But hey, I seem to learn best by learning the hard way, so those lessons should be well cemented now.

Extra credit: Name the movie my title references.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Goomna guest race report

Despite the fact that it takes place less than a half hour from my house, I've never managed to do the Goomna adventure race in Highland, Illinois.  This year was going to be no different until I got a message from my friend Brian Friday morning: "Our female racer dropped out for the Goomna. Are you interested?" 

I'm always interested in adventure racing, and after a quick phone call to my husband I was in, with one caveat. See, Brian also did the Frozen Feet half marathon when I did, and thanks to the out and back nature of the course I had numerous opportunities to see just how much faster he is than I am...and that was when I was running more.  Not wanting to slow them down, I warned him how little I've been running and offered to be on standby if he couldn't find someone faster.

He declined my offer, and just like that I was a temporary member of Epic Machinery.  The 24 hours before race time left me plenty of time to vacillate between excitement about racing and anxiety over racing with a different team.  When you're a regular part of a team, there's a camaraderie built on shared experience and a comfort in knowing that your teammates have your back no matter what kind of day you're having.  Guest racing is a little like dating again after being married for a long time; you're not sure what to expect or what team dynamics are like. I'm pretty much a go-with-the-flow type of girl, though, and Brian assured me that they were just in it for a good time, which sounds an awful lot like my own team.

We met up at race HQ, the Korte Recreation Center, almost 2 hours before the race start.  That gave us plenty of time to check in, pick up our race shirts (nice, though a long-sleeved shirt is an interesting choice for a summer race), transfer the checkpoints from a master map, get our race stuff together, and strategize.

Brian marks the map while Al supervises
If you look at the map above, you might notice the four orange flags. Those mark the four checkpoints we were given.  The checkpoints could be found in any order, and once we'd completed those, we had to return to race HQ for more information.

Pre-race team pic: Al, me, Brian

Knowing that previous years' races had included some special challenges at checkpoints and assuming that the southern points would have these challenges and wanting to avoid a bottleneck at these, we opted to start with the northernmost checkpoint.  Because you could attack the course in any direction, the start line was pretty funny with some teams facing one way and some facing the opposite.

Getting ready to start

And they're off (in all directions)! Photo credit: Carrie Sona
We had one slight navigational bobble on our way to CP1 (the points had no numbers, so I'm assigning them one in order that we hit them) but quickly corrected and found the volunteers at a shelter at Silver Lake  park.  They told us to drop our bikes follow a 260* compass heading for .4 miles.  Easy, right? Shoot a bearing and go, so that's what we did.  Brian and I were wearing bike shoes, but with such a short run we opted not to change into our running shoes.

We shot off in hot pursuit of the Mich Ultra team who'd reached CP1 just ahead of us, but soon several teams were wandering around looking for our next CP.  You couldn't just follow the bearing straight ahead because it crossed a finger of the lake.  As we neared it, I realized, "Oh, I guess in retrospect we should have lined up the bearing on our map and plotted it so we knew our end destination, huh?"

No matter, we got there, and since Brian got there first he got to start doing the 60 team box jumps we had to complete before punching that CP.  You haven't lived until you've tried doing box jumps on a concrete box while wearing bike shoes, let me tell you.  Luckily Brian was a box-jumping machine, and Al and I provided a little supplemental assistance (and moral support).

From there we had to run back to CP1, where we were now directed to follow a new heading on our bikes. After the mile or so we'd just run in bike shoes, riding my bike felt pretty awesome.  Pulling into the next checkpoint, we were told our team had to catch a fish in order to punch cp3.  I've fished plenty, but I won't touch worms. Luckily my teammates and the volunteers took pity on me.

This is what playing the girl card looks like. Photo credit: Carrie Sona
Brian trying his luck...
I started off with the first fishing pole and quickly lost my bait to a fish and sent my line (and hook) flying through the air with my overeager yank.  Oops.  Thankfully, the awesome volunteer (this race had a ton of volunteers, and every single one of them was really positive and friendly) re-baited my hook, after which I found a spot where I was less likely to put out someone's eye.  In almost no time, I had a fish on my line.  Yes! I contributed!

We next had to run (more running...not the happiest news for a girl whose long run in the past two months is 3.5 miles) to a CP .6 miles due north.  This heading took us to the singletrack trails by the lake.  Once again we'd left our bike shoes on ("just .6 mi"), and no one thought to remove our helmets or hydration packs.  Recent rain had left the trails muddy in spots, but it was easier to just step through the mud than to try and avoid it.  The guys were clearly better runners than I was, slowing down so that I could keep up/catch up.  All we had to do to punch this fourth CP was to find the volunteer waiting down the trail, and then we turned around and ran back to where we'd left our bikes.

With all of the challenges at the Silver Lake area CPs completed, we rode off to the next mapped CP, at Highland Middle School.  From there we had to run (that word again) .3 miles to the hospital.  Still in bike shoes -- but having finally remembered to lose the packs and helmets -- we crossed the street and ran over to the hospital parking lot.  Even though it was a short run, it brought back memories of when I started training with faster people...I'd fall behind, the guys would slow down to a walk so I could catch up; I'd catch up and start to walk, they'd start running again.  It's a great way to build endurance.

Ah, yes....that could explain my poor running fitness.
In the hospital parking lot, we completed a relay of sorts.  While one teammate wheeled a weighted wheelchair a distance (100 feet? 200 feet?), the other two had to do burpees and a plank for the entire time.  I volunteered to drive the wheelchair, leaving Al to plank and Brian to do the burpees. It turns out that one high school wheelchair basketball experience 20 years ago was not sufficient practice to be wheelchair proficient.  It was hard keeping that thing going, especially because the parking lot had a gentle slope to it.

Once I got to the stopping point, the guys had to run up and then one teammate (me again) had to be carried on a spine board (at which point I'm sure they were both wondering why they hadn't picked up some tiny girl for their substitute).  Incidentally, being carried like that is a little scary.  Next we had to cross a balance beam while holding a length of pvc pipe with water sloshing around in it, and finally we had to unscramble a word.  The letters were written on soup and vegetable cans of varying sizes.  We made quick work of the puzzle (the word was REVERSE), and then we had to spell reverse upside down by stacking the cans.  

This was a bit harder, but we eventually got them to stay for a moment, and then we had to do the whole relay in reverse.  Back across the balance beam, back on the stretcher, and this time Al took a turn in the wheelchair while I planked (much easier!) and Brian burpeed.  When Al got to the end, Brian and I ran to join him, and then we all ran back to our bikes and rode towards our next mapped checkpoint, Merwin Park, where we were directed to run to Highland Primary school.

Having seen Mich Ultra heading back as we rode to the park, we had a pretty good idea of how far our next run was going to be, and this time we did change shoes.  I had to untie my shoes from my pack and was the last one ready, giving Brian an early lead in the race within a race.  Though this was our longest run so far ( ~1 mile each way), wearing running shoes instead of bike shoes felt like running on clouds. So much better! At the school, we were given the very unwelcome news that we had to do 45 chin-ups.  If it had been up to me and my noodle arms, we'd still be sitting there.  Instead, Brian knocked out a ton of them really fast, Al did most of the rest, and I struggled/jumped to do 4 of the saddest approximation of a chin-up ever.  You could barely even call them a scalp-up.

Chin-ups finished, we ran back to our bikes, where Brian got his shoes changed first again and went up 2-0 in our race, and then we rode to our last mapped checkpoint at Spindler Park.  There, while Brian got our passport marked, I hurried up and smashed him in the shoes-on-first competition.  We ran .7 miles to the Weinheimer athletic center, where we had to each shoot three free throws.  For each missed free throw, you had to jump up on the stage and do five push-ups and five sit-ups.

I was pretty stoked about this. I mean, I played 8 years of organized basketball; this is something I can do! My stoke lasted through about the first total miss. Basically, while Brian and Al knocked their free throws out in no time, mine took me forever.  It was a little humiliating: it's one thing to suck at things like box jumps or chin-ups that I never do; it's much worse to completely fail at something you used to be good at.  On the plus side, I got a lot of push-ups and sit-ups done.  I had one free throw done and kept missing on the others until Brian came up and did a little coaching: "Bend your knees and look at the back of the rim."  I sank the next two and we were FINALLY out of there, running back to our bikes and riding to race HQ.

Riding back to race HQ...with one quick stop.  Al ("You don't have a last name like 'Beers' without liking beer") had discovered through his pre-race research that Highland has a brewery, one which was conveniently located near our last checkpoint (a fact which may have factored into the way we opted to attack the course). Of course we had to stop!

Bike parking! How cute is this place?
The Railshake Brewery had a great patio), and as we parked our bikes and found a seat the waitress asked, "Is this a Goomna stop??" Unfortunately we couldn't convince her that free drinks were part of the race, but they were very understanding of the fact that we were on a tight schedule.  According to Brian's timer, our entire stop was 6 minutes...possibly our most efficient transition of the day!

"We don't always stop at bars, but when we do it's during a race."
Back at race HQ we had three new checkpoints to add to our map, making a 21-mile bike loop to finish out the race.  The nav wasn't complicated here, just a matter of grinding out the time on the chip and seal roads.  We saw Alpine Shop finishing up the course not long after we headed out and got a chance to cheer for them, and we were able to pass a few teams on the bike leg, which was a good feeling.

Since my running this year suffered at the hands of Dirty Kanza training, the bike leg should have been a piece of cake.  It wasn't great, but I just focused on trying to hang onto the guys' wheels.  About halfway through, Al started struggling a little.  The day was warming up quite a bit, and he had the opposite training issue from me: all running, no bike.  It was his turn to hang on like I had to during the running portions, and he did so while also handling the nav.  Pretty tough.

We had one team slip away from us, but we stayed ahead of all the others we'd passed and came into the finish in 4 hours 43 minutes for tenth place.  Without our 6 minute brewery checkpoint we'd have been in 8th place, but the memory of a beer stop during a race is totally worth a couple places in the standings.  Plus it's a way better reason than my slow running or inability to shoot free throws!

All in all, it was an awesome guest racing experience. Al and Brian were great, and Goomna was a lot of fun. It was definitely a lot different than the adventure races I'm used to, but it's good to try new things...and if I was in danger of getting cocky, now I have a whole list of areas where I need to improve.

Big thanks to the race director, the city of Highland, and especially the volunteers.  I think it was the most volunteers I've ever seen in a race, and every single one of them was friendly, helpful, and enthusiastic. I would definitely go back and race again, especially with a year to work on upper body strength!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Redemption (Dirty Kanza 2014)

No one heard the glass break.  It probably happened on the trip to Emporia, but there was no telltale leak to warn me.  The first indication of a problem came at 4:40 a.m. on race morning, when I reached into my bag for my carefully packed kit and found it soaking wet...with cinnamon whiskey.  The unopened bottle that has lived in my bag since the MLK Berryman weekend, when we did more riding than drinking, had shattered during the drive.

Every item of clothing I'd packed was drenched, which was actually kind of funny, but my bike clothes were lying on tiny shards of glass. The only idea less pleasant that the antiseptic burn of whiskey on my lady parts was the thought of literally sitting on glass, but I'd only brought one chamois.  I was nervously rinsing my shorts in the tub when Bob proposed a solution: "I think I have an extra chamois in the truck."

He did, and though they fit quite comfortably, there was one more detail to check.  You see, these shorts are so comfortable that Bob has worn them a lot, and when fabric gets a lot of use it can thin, as Luke and Adam realized to their great chagrin on a pre-Kate team trip to Augusta.

I'm sorry about that, but context is important for this next part of my report.
Being Team Virtus's number one fan a la Kathy Bates in Misery, I was well acquainted with that report and picture, and that's why, at 4:50 a.m. on Saturday morning, I was bending over in front of the sink while Bob shined a flashlight on my butt so he and Crystal could check to make sure no one could see through my shorts in the sunlight. Hardly an auspicious start to the day.

"Third time's a charm."

I've heard that from friends since the moment I registered for attempt number 3 on Dirty Kanza and fervently hoped they were right.  At the same time, another numerical quote has lurked in the back of my mind: "Bad things come in threes."

Two shorter May gravel races (Cedar Cross and Hairy Hundred) had left me feeling uncharacteristically confident in my chances of a DK finish, and though obsessive weather stalking revealed increasing chances of rain, I was strangely at peace with the forecast and what it would bring, choosing to channel Bob's perspective of "It'll all work itself out."  Even so, my anxiety grew as race week progressed.  All of my blogging and incessant facebook posting about this race became a double-edged sword: I had an incredible amount of support and encouragement, so many people pulling for me, and the thought of letting them down again was terrible.

Leg 1: Emporia to Madison (mile 50.8)

Quality start line photography
We were short a few teammates and crew members thanks to work/life commitments, but it was a gift to have any of my teammates there.  Nobody else really wanted to go back to Kansas because they'd all finished the race, but somehow there they were with me.  In addition to my teammates, we had a ton of friends lining up in the field, including Chuck, Jim, and Justin, who joined us at the back of the 16 hour group.

Though I hoped to ride with the guys that wasn't my focus. This year Dirty Kanza wasn't a fun adventure with friends; it was a mission.  I knew my best chance of finishing was to ride my own pace, and I pulled slightly ahead on the paved roads that led out of Emporia.

There was already mechanical carnage as we turned onto the first piece of gravel, and I felt for the people who were changing flats in the early 5 minutes of a 200 mile race.  No matter how much training you do, you're still at the mercy of weather, other riders, and luck.

For the first time in my DK career, the front pack was still visible in the distance as we turned onto the gravel.  That was pretty cool.  So was my feeling of comfort early on.  Instead of taking awhile to get confident on the gravel, I sailed along with the pack, and rather than watch rider after rider zoom past me, I was the one making moves to latch on to faster groups.  The gravel was much smoother than a lot of what we've ridden this year, and the weather during the first leg was amazing: cool and overcast.

One of the early gravel roads
Jim and I rode together for long enough to laugh again about how hard we'd tried to tell Chuck a joke during our last race and intrigue another racer, who later got to hear it (he laughed, eventually).  At some point I lost track of Jim, and I never saw the guys on the course again.  Of course I wasn't alone, surrounded by so many other potential conversational partners racers -- my pink argyle socks, tossed into my bag on a whim, got much attention, and I spent the day being called "argyle", "pinkie", and "happy socks" -- and by my memories from the previous two years.

Not the most beautiful picture, but you can see how big it is and how huge the cloud cover was. Taken around 7:30 a.m.

Following along on my Garmin track, I had no idea what my pace was, but I felt fantastic.  The flats felt great, and once we got into the first of the hills, they were fine too.

Going up...
I rode briefly with a guy from Florida and was stunned when he told me this was his second time on gravel, the first being Thursday; he, in turn, was appalled that my longest ride this year was 113 miles.  His superior mileage trumped my gravel experience, as both Florida boys finished before 10:30. I worked hard to stay on top of my eating and drinking, alternating sips of Perpetuem with bites of banana bread/chia seed/chocolate chip mini muffins.  The cool weather made it hard to remember to keep drinking, which I guess is why I had no need to stop at the top of the hill where last year the guys had made me a man-wall to pee behind.

Pretty sure this is it. Photo credit: Chuck Vohsen
The recent rain in the Emporia area hadn't had much effect on the roads, but it had left this one slightly greasy, and I picked my way up carefully.  A man behind me asked, "Are you from this area, ma'am?" I, of course, am not, and it turned out he was from Tennessee.  In the course of our conversation I made some remark about my crappy bike handling (as in I can barely take a hand off of the handlebars without swerving off the road) and he told me, "Your lines are really good; you must do a lot of mountain biking." I think it's more a case of having to ride carefully to make up for a lack of any kind of technical skill, but any time someone compliments you it's nice to hear.

He rode on ahead, and then the route turned down through the cattle pens and a very fun downhill.  DK downhills are the best, long and fun, almost all of them straight ahead and none of the curvy nonsense that scares me and makes me slow way down.  Eventually I hit the river crossing I remembered from last year, and though it's a really cool picture spot I didn't take the time to stop for a picture. This was the only time I was off my bike during the first 50 miles, something that might be nothing for other people but is a big deal for me.

Photo credit: Chuck Vohsen
There was a family sitting in a van there cheering for racers, and they were super enthusiastic about seeing a girl come past. Last year I pushed my bike the whole way up the hill after the river; this year I got past the muddy part and hopped back on.  It wasn't much further from there until I was on the pavement leading into CP 1 in Madison, zooming downhill and across the timing mat at 9:40 a.m., just over 3.5 hours and an average of 13.87 mph for the first 50 miles.

One of my main goals for the race (other than finish) was to minimize my time at CPs.  Crystal and Michelle were all ready with the things I'd asked for.  I hadn't eaten much food on the first leg, so I just took a few things out of the food bag, got two fresh bottles of Perpetuem, and took off after what I'm told was 4 minutes.  Though last year I'd had to walk the steep climb out of Madison, this year I rode the whole thing.

Leg 2: Madison to Cassoday (mile 99.5)

I'd ridden a couple blocks and halfway up that climb when I realized I'd forgotten to ask the girls to refill my Camelbak.  I briefly considered turning around, but I was really happy with my fast transition and didn't want to backtrack.  The day had been cool so far, and I probably had half of my 100 oz bladder remaining; in addition, I had two 24 oz bottles of Perpetuem.  It wasn't ideal, but I should be OK.  I kept riding, smiling big at the sight of the Adventure Monkey at the top of the hill.  

This leg last year had been a nightmare of headwinds, an incredibly demoralizing 50 miles.  This was much different.  The cloud cover had dissipated, and the day was warming up, so any breeze was actually very welcome.  The pack had spread out so much that there were often few or no bikes in sight, and I spent a lot of time riding down memory lane.  Here's mile 60 where Bob and I convinced Austin to keep riding...here's mile 65 where I wanted to quit...here's the turn that finally gave us a tailwind...here's where Adam and Austin caught up with me...here's where I caught up with Adam and we saw that big snake...

This picture, which was has nothing to do with what I just wrote, was taken about an hour into leg 2.
I rode the big hill in this leg, but there was some hill -- and not even a big one -- that I ended up walking for some reason, I think maybe because I was so stinking hot at that point.  As I walked my bike, I caught up with a man who was standing on the road, and he decided walking was a better plan than standing still.  Forward motion, baby!  Bent was here from Norway just for the race and was maybe rethinking that plan as he baked on the gravel (but went on to finish at 12:35 a.m. Way to go!).  We got to the peak of the very slight hill, saddled up, and rode on.

I'd just finished my first bottle of Perpetuem and switched the full one to the front when I hit a downhill.  I don't think this one was any worse than the others on the course, but I hit a rough patch and -- the only time in the entire race it happened -- one of my bottles ejected.  Of course, it was the full time.  Cursing the bad luck of having to stop on a downhill, I trudged back uphill and looked in dismay at the puddle soaking into the gravel.  The lid had popped off my bottle, spilling everything.  With over 20 miles to go on an increasingly hot day, I'd gone from maybe 40 oz of liquid to at best 15.  My failure to get my Camelbak refilled at the CP had proved to be a big mistake. Huge.

I replaced my now empty bottle, climbed back on my bike, and was coasting sadly to the bottom of the hill when Wendy flew past me and then slowed for me to catch up.  We rode together talking about whatever, and I told her about losing my water and being a little bit worried about it.  She reassured me that she had some extra and could help me out if necessary. That made me feel a lot better, but I was still actively looking for full bottles that anyone else had dropped.

We were climbing another hill when my Camelbak went dry.  Still 20 miles out, I definitely was going to need something to drink and asked Wendy if she had some spare water.  She was stopping to get some when the guy riding the hill at the same time said, "You need water? I can give you some," and proceeded to fill my entire water bottle. To call this guy my hero would be an understatement.  I was incredibly grateful at the time, and in retrospect I think that he saved my race.  So thank you, Matt, so very much.

Not only was he my hero, he was pretty darn good company too.  We were riding pretty close to the same pace and ended up riding a big chunk of the last 20 miles together.  We ran into Derrick during this stretch too; he'd gotten a strong start but was struggling in the heat. We all rode in a loose group until Wendy had to stop with a cramp.  Matt was a much stronger rider than I am, but when I dropped back towards the end he slowed down so I could latch back on and draft, and he was unfailingly positive.  We pulled into CP2 at 2:01, 8 hours into the race.  In my previous 2 Kanza attempts, I made it to CP 2 with 3 and 8 minutes to spare before the cutoff.  This year, I didn't actually know what the cutoff was, but I knew I was way ahead of it.

So happy (and filthy) at CP2. You can see Bob, in the background, wearing Michelle's shorts since I had his.  There's no "mine" in Team Virtus.
I can't even tell you the difference between how I felt at this point in the race this year compared with the previous years...but I can show you.

Same socks, very different feeling.
Bob, Travis, and Justin were all at CP2, having dropped earlier in the race, so while Michelle and Crystal refilled my bottles and Camelbak and got me food, Bob cleaned and lubed my bike chain and Travis got my cue sheets situated for the next leg.  Our group now included Justin's girlfriend and parents, who were sticking around to see how things played out (so awesome to have them there as well!), Janie, and Lori.  In addition, Emma was nearby crewing for Derrick and the Davises.

Party at CP2 while they waited for me.
I had planned to take a slightly longer break here for lunch, but after eating a few bites of my sandwich, a couple pickle spears, and some strawberries, I was ready to go.  My crew was awesome about getting me everything I asked for, but I was less good about figuring out just what I needed, particularly foodwise. I definitely didn't eat enough at this stop, and I paid for it on the next leg.  One thing I did make sure of was getting my Camelbak filled and, having been pretty scared by my water situation during leg 2, taking an extra bottle filled with Gatorade.  I was not running out of water again.

Leg 3: Cassoday to Cottonwood falls (151.4 miles)

I'd needed major convincing to leave this CP last year, but I remembered it as fun and rolling (until we quit, 8 miles in).  I did all right on the first paved section out of town and at first on the flat gravel, but I quickly started feeling pretty terrible.  I was panting with exertion as I rode things that should not have been a problem.  I've been pretty lucky this year in that all of my rides have been in either cold or lovely weather, and the heat was taking its toll.   

Unable to catch my breath, I climbed off my bike and started walking until I could breathe again, then rode as long as I could.  During one of these walking breaks, a man rode by and told me, "Jump on my wheel and ride my draft." I got back on my bike and tried, but after a while I had to drop off.  Remembering another ride when I hadn't been able to breathe and Chuck told me, "You just need to eat something," Realizing I was bonking, I stopped along the side of the road to go to the bathroom (for the first time all day, not a good thing to be able to wait 8 hours to pee) and nibble at a pop tart while I watched rider after rider pass me by.

Wendy was one of the ones who passed me, riding strong, and I didn't see her again until the finish line.  I got back on my bike and rode until I couldn't, then walked and ate until I could.  My average pace for the first 20 miles of leg 3 was a 8.8 mph, and there was a ten mile stretch where it was a whopping 7.2 mph.  It was frustrating, but I never got down on myself or thought about giving up.  I knew I just needed to be patient and eat until I was back to feeling good, and thankfully I had plenty of time to do so.  There were high points as well, most notably any downhill, passing the spot where we'd quit last year, and turning off that long 13 mile stretch.

17 miles into leg 3 I started feeling good. The difference was remarkable, and I felt like I was flying down the roads.  It was a huge relief to feel human again, but the sun was beating down and it was miserably hot.  The only relief was occasional shade from a cloud

Taken at 4:08. Big sky, no shade.
I tried drinking water from my Camelbak and spitting it on myself, but that wasn't very effective.  Crossing over running water, I remembered Derrick telling me how he'd soaked his do-rag in water to cool himself off and wished I had my buff.  I thought about lying down in the water and then realized I could soak my shirt in it.

Ahhhhh.  That wet shirt was glorious, and I was quickly back to what felt like flying down the roads, though my Garmin data assures me it was only 11 or 12 mph over the next 15 miles.  Derrick and Matt caught me somewhere during this happy stretch of leg 3, and we rolled near each other for quite a while.  There were some fantastic downhills, and I was feeling super confident on them.  At one point, Matt told me, "Kate, I don't ride with many women, but you can rip a downhill better than most men!"

That was awesome to hear, especially coming from where I started...creeping downhill with my brakes locked.  Finally losing a lot of my fear (though I'll admit there were a couple times when I was pretty scared flying downhill) has been a huge benefit: I used to get dropped on the downhills while everyone else flew down, and then my lack of momentum killed me on the subsequent uphills.  Being able to carry speed back uphill has helped a lot.

Derrick had pulled ahead, and we caught up with him stopped by Sheldon, who couldn't keep any food or drink down and had had to call for a ride.  Matt rode on while I stopped to talk to the guys, and then after Sheldon's ride showed up I left.  With Derrick behind me and Matt somewhere ahead, I was free to talk to the cows grazing alongside and standing in the road.  I was only a little embarrassed when another guy rode up and caught me mid-conversation.

The cows were udderly (ha ha) unimpressed that I wanted through. Taken at 5:30.
I never got the guy's name, but he was from New Mexico (and really enjoying the unfamiliar humidity).  This was his fourth DK, and last year had been his first year to finish.  Being in that position this year, I could well imagine what an awesome feeling it had been.  New Mexico was full of helpful intel on the course, particularly about a long paved downhill into CP3 and the fact that the last 20 miles or so of leg 4 were flat.

I caught up with Matt in the front yard of a house a little further down the road (or a road).  A woman and her granddaughter were sitting in the yard calling out that they had a hose we could use to fill up or cool off.  I chose C) All of the above. I probably would have been fine, but after my earlier scare I wasn't passing a chance to fill up with water, and soaking all of my clothes and hair felt wonderful since the sun wasn't giving us any breaks yet.

Though I still felt pretty good, I did a lot of "strategic" hill walking in the last half of leg 3.  It felt good to get off my bike and use different muscles, and since I made sure to eat while I walked I was taking in food pretty regularly.  At one point Matt stopped to stretch, and when I (taking every opportunity to stop that arose) did as well, he told me not to feel like I had to stop because he did.  I asked, "Are you saying that to be nice or because I'm getting annoying?" (Because as we all know from Tour of Hermann, some people just "like it quiet", and I'm not so quiet.)  

In retrospect, I should have phrased it "Are you saying that to be nice or because you want to do your own thing?" because he's way too nice of a person to tell me I'm annoying. Regardless, he was stuck with me for the remainder of leg 3 and I think was almost as happy for me as I was that I was finally going to make it to the third CP.  Which, after turning onto that long awaited pavement, we rode into at 7:25 p.m.

Chillin' at CP3 and sooo happy knowing that a) I have plenty of time in the bank and b) the sun has finally started to sink and let the day cool off. #dk200 #gravel #gravelgrinder In my 3 years in this race, I've never made it to CP3, so pulling in was a
Relaxing at CP3, so happy to be there and to have a huge time cushion to get to the finish.

I didn't feel great, but I felt remarkably good for having just ridden 151 miles.  None of the things I was expecting to be miserable were bad.  My MawMaw hip was behaving, I didn't feel too chafed, my toes were OK in my bike shoes.  I couldn't really complain about anything.  Best of all, despite falling apart for that 17 miles after CP2, I had such a cushion built up that it was virtually impossible for me to not finish.  With 3:00 being the cut-off, I had 7 hours to ride the final 51 miles. Short of a crash or catastrophic mechanical, I had this thing in the bag.

Once again the guys took care of my bike while the girls got me fed.  I had so many people helping me it was almost overwhelming since, once again, I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted.  I'd borrowed my friend Patrick's lights, but since Travis wasn't using his he put them on my bike.  Just in case, I also packed along the Dorcy light I just tested (and some extra batteries). Having ridden in the dark with almost no light 2 years ago, I was taking NO chances of that again.

After eating a bunch (and making sure to include carbs this time), it was about time to go.  The only things I'd asked at the beginning of the race was for them to not let me quit and not let me hang around CPs too long, and Crystal was taking me at my word (and I was glad for it).  She convinced me to change into my team jersey so I could finish in it, and around 8:00 I rolled out of CP3 with my friend Renee from Hairy Hundred.

Team jersey on and ready to finish this thing.

Jim and Adam had pulled into the CP shortly after I did, having dropped at mile 115, and Chuck had just sent Lori a text that he was stopping at CP3, so I was officially the last of our crew going.  Looking back at the group I was leaving, I felt a little jealous that I was going to miss hanging out with such a fun bunch of people.  Of course, I also knew they'd tie me to my bike and make me leave, so it wasn't like staying was an option, even if I'd wanted to quit.

Lori, Bob, Jim's knees, Crystal, Travis, Janie, and Adam hanging out at CP3
Leg 4: Cottonwood Falls to Emporia (total miles 202.5)

Rather than switch Garmins at the CP (Bob had lent me his so that I'd be able to follow the GPS route all day), I'd brilliantly opted to wait until mine died to switch them.  Mine died maybe 3 miles out of town, so that was a pretty stupid plan.  I got them switched over and then spent the next couple miles trying to get the map up and running.  We made one slight navigational bobble during this point, but Renee caught it almost immediately and set us right. It might have cost us 300 feet if that.

It was nice riding with Renee and hearing a little about her day, but it was obvious that she was feeling much stronger than I was. When she mentioned that she would like to finish before midnight, I looked at my watch. 8:39.  "If you want to finish before midnight, you need to drop me now," I told her, "I'm not going to be able to ride that fast."

"Well," she replied, "Let's see how it goes."  I tried hanging on for a little bit, but I was getting back to that can't catch my breath thing, and I knew I was going to be unhappy killing myself to hang on.  "Go ahead," I told her, "I'm going to need to go slow and do my own thing."  I was disappointed not to be able to ride together, and I probably would have finished stronger if I'd stayed with Renee, but I didn't want to hold her back and didn't feel like I could hang with her.

Renee rode off, and I stopped to take some pictures of the sunset.

 Gone (9:37)

Riding alone was no hardship.  Sometimes people would pass and we'd talk briefly, sometimes it was just me and my thoughts.  I thought about getting out my ipod, but I didn't really need it for the company.

Riding itself was another story.  All those things I thought didn't bother me at CP3 had decided to kick in.  I was chafed and stinging, my lower back hurt, I had a pebble in my shoe, my Camelbak was killing my shoulders, my neck hurt from looking up...you know, all the things that are going to bother you when you've been on your bike for over 14 hours.  So it wasn't particularly pleasant, but it was nothing I couldn't get through, and every pedal stroke (or step uphill) got me that much closer to the finish.

The road ahead.
Travis's lights were phenomenal.  I could see everything I needed to.  There were plenty of hills in the first 30 miles of this leg, and while I did a lot of walking uphill I flew downhill.  Approaching the top of a hill, it would look like the world just disappeared, but once the lights hit the road I felt completely confident shooting down.  I don't have my Garmin data from the last leg, but I'd be really interested to see how my top speed on these hills compared with my top speed for the first 3/4 (40 mph).

My friend Carrie passed me out here, crushing a hill that I walked, and I was so happy to see her going strong because I knew she'd worried about the time cutoffs.  As time went by, I had a harder and harder time making myself keep going.  I'd ride 3 miles and then stop briefly to change cue cards or to eat a bite. Several other people out there were doing the same thing, so there was much leapfrogging in the dark.

During one of my uphill hikes, my facebook friend Michael passed me and, recognizing my socks, asked if I was OK.  I told him I was walking a lot of hills and he told me to jump on his wheel.  Not feeling up to spending the next 25? 30? (No idea at this point) hanging on, I told him I wouldn't be able to keep up and then soon afterwards flew past them on a downhill.  Seriously, those lights made me feel invincible, though in the back of my mind was always the thought of how bad it would suck to crash on gravel at that speed.

Not wanting to look like an asshole, when Michael and the guy he was riding with caught up on the flats, I explained, "I wasn't trying to not ride with you, I'm just good on the downhills and struggling on everything else," an assertion I quickly proved as the road leveled out and the guys pulled far ahead of me.

With about 20 miles to go, I passed a house with a bunch of people in the yard. "Free pop! Water! Beer?" they called out.  Ooooh, yes please.  They gave me a can of Coke, and I stood there and talked to them and their kids until the can was empty.  The amount of support, from people lining the streets cheering at the 6 a.m. start to Good Samaritans along the way, was really touching, especially when it came at a relatively dark time in the race.  That break was just what I needed.

The next ten miles I alternated pedaling fast with coasting, but I got more consistent as the miles ticked away and I could almost smell my destination.  At mile 198, I briefly made a wrong turn following a group ahead of me, but my Garmin chirped "off course" and a quick look at my cue sheets confirmed the mistake.  I called to the people ahead of me, warned the ones who'd followed me, and corrected.  4 more miles.

I hit the highway and the sign for Emporia.  I turned onto campus and rode through, reading the signs written in chalk on the ground.  I rolled up to the stoplight before Commercial Street and had to wait for a couple of cars before crossing.  I flew down the street towards the finish line, tears threatening, under the banner at 1:03 a.m after 19 hours of racing.  Race director Jim Cummins handed me my finisher's glass and 200 sticker, and there was no crying, just a smile that wouldn't stop.

Looking uber-hot in my clear glasses, but all that matters in this picture is the huge smile and the finisher's glass in my hand. #dk200 #gravel #goalachieved
It was, weirdly, the exact opposite of 2012, when all of my teammates except me who raced finished, and though I'd have preferred for all of us to be standing there with finisher's glasses I guess there's a kind of symmetry to it.  I walked out from under the finish, and there were so many friends waiting: Bob, Adam, Michelle, Andrew, Travis and Crystal, Chuck and Lori, Jim and Janie, Justin, Audrey, and his parents, Jeff and Carrie, David, Mickey and Andrea, Derrick and Emma, and Wendy.  Even Matt was there to give congratulations, having finished around 15 minutes before I did.  I can't imagine that any finisher had a bigger, more supportive group of friends there or wishing they could be there.

They say third time's a charm, but I disagree.  The charm is hard work, and favorable weather, and meeting the exact right person when you run out of water. It's good luck and no flats. It's the best group of friends a girl could ask for and goals that are finally -- finally! -- achieved.