Friday, June 23, 2017

Dirty Kanza 200 Race Report - 2017

Dirty Kanza 200 - 2017 - David WestAre you considering taking on Dirty Kanza? You'll find all the dirty details of my 2017 Dirty Kanza 200 race here.

Let me start by saying that Dirty Kanza 200 should only be attempted if you're serious about pushing yourself. I would consider Dirty Kanza to be the Super Bowl of gravel racing, so prepare yourself accordingly.

Rise and Ride!
Dirty Kanza 200 - 2017 - David WestRace day requires an early wake up, especially for those coming from any location west of Central Time. While in Emporia I stayed at the ESU dorms, 1/4 mile from the start line, and being from eastern time the wake up wasn't bad. After eating a good breakfast, giving the bike setup one last check, and squeezing into my kit, I was off to join 1000 racers for the 200mile category of the race.

Dirty Kanza 200 - 2017 - David West - Emporia, KSAt the start line racers are asked to "self seed" by expected completion time (ex 12hrs, 14hrs, 16hrs, etc.) I estimated I would finish somewhere in the 16hr range considering the historically rough conditions of the route. I was trying to be reasonable with myself, assuming I would encounter flat tires, muddy conditions, inclement weather, and maybe some cramping. I had considered racing for the sunset (14:45 total time) but was concerned it would put me into the red too early in the race so I had decided to take a more conservative approach in my first endurance race.

As of race day there had been about 48 hours of mostly dry conditions with only a few scattered showers in the region so I inched my way up to the 14 hour group. One can dream right?

But regardless of where riders were corralled, the environment was electric. We were all ready to put our training to work.

Dirty Kanza 200 - 2017 - David West - Emporia, KSLeg 1 - Lets Roll!
Roll out in Emporia must be carefully orchestrated due to train schedules and tracks to cross in the first 1/2 mile. As we got moving under police escort I used the wide paved roads to pass hundreds of riders, maybe 300, which likely put me in the 12 hour group by the first turn on to gravel roads south of town.

The lead riders had already stretched the group for 1/2 mile ahead and soon over the rolling hills and out of sight. It was evident that the route was going to put my gear to the test. The road was littered with bottles and riders changing flats, some within the first mile of gravel.

For the next hour or so I could see endless lines of riders extending from horizon to horizon. It was a sort of other-worldly experience, being more than 1000 miles from home,  and part of a mass raging exodus from civilization. It was epic in every sense of the word.

Flint Hills
Dirty Kanza 200 - 2017 - David West - Emporia, KSThe Flint Hills hold legendary status in eastern Kansas, containing the only true remaining tallgrass prairies in the United States and providing ideal terrain for an event such as Dirty Kanza. The landscape transforms from mostly flat, to rolling hills, and then into short punchy climbs that put your heart rate and on-bike recovery to the test. I routinely saw upwards of 30mph on the descents while trying to pick the best lines across creeks and washouts sections of minimum maintenance roads. I encountered many cattle guards and sometimes cattle themselves. On multiple occasions I chose to hop cattle guards and creeks at high speed rather than hit the brakes and attempt to cross something that was even sketchy at lower speed.

Brick Road Climb - Strava SegmentJust before checkpoint 1 (CP1) in Madison, KS (48.4mi) the organizers took us up the demoralizing Brick Road Climb. We had experienced a couple of steep climbs but at this point I was ready to take a break, not burn more matches. Many riders chose to walk this climb and save that effort for the long road ahead.

Dirty Kanza 200 - 2017 - David West - Emporia, KS
Leaving Checkpoint 1

Leg 2 - The Climbs Continue
Texaco Hill - Strava Segment
After a quick refill on supplies and a shifting tune up from my brother Caleb I mounted up for leg 2, which included similar terrain to the previous 48 miles. The longest and toughest climb of the day (by the numbers) was also on this leg, Texaco Hill. I had no idea there could be a 5.6mi climb anywhere in the state of Kansas.

Dirty Kanza 200 - 2017 - David West - Emporia, KSWith an extra layer of dirt caked on my legs and running dry on water for the last 10+ miles I rolled into Eureka, KS for CP2 (104.2mi) with a better idea of what to expect. I found my brother quicker and grabbed a seat as he performed another once-over of my machine. 

Support Crew
I should point out that taking your own support crew is really important, but if you don't have one I highly recommend the support crew offered through the race organization. At two of the checkpoints I did stop at the support tent to grab a sandwich. Each time my bag was brought to me before I had come to a complete stop. I didn't need my bag either time but it was good to know they were on their game.

Leg 3 - Pushing Through
Dirty Kanza 200 - 2017 - David West - Emporia, KS
The first half of the race had taken 6:23:25 and I was still felt strong, though I expected leg 3 to be the most intense, and it did not disappoint. This section offered many high speed descents over the most dangerous gravel of the day, all of which seemed to be much larger and more unstable than before. We also encountered many deep washouts from recent rains and a few short but steep climbs, usually right after low water crossings.
Despite the rough terrain I managed to maintain a good pace throughout leg 3 and surprised myself with how good I felt after rolling past 125mi, making this now my longest ride ever.

Then I encountered my first mechanical issue of the day. On a series of three sizeable rolling hills with fast descents my right shift/break lever became lose, and it was clear this couldn't wait until the next check point to be repaired. After the 2nd descent I decided to go a bit further before stopping, but on the 3rd descent riding on the hoods nearly ripped the lever clean off. Stopping wasn't an option at that speed with an inoperable rear brake so I leaned down into the drops hoping for no major obstacles. At the top of the next hill I dismounted, made the repair, and moved on. 

Dirty Kanza 200 - 2017 - David West - Emporia, KSLeg 4 - Finishing Stretch
I had expected to hit the proverbial "wall" sometime before reaching CP3, again in Madison (162mi), but was optimistic after 10:42:21 of rolling time. I felt I still had enough in the tank to aggressively take on the last 44mi. This section would be predominantly flat, but still with more elevation gain than northeast Florida.

I had spent the majority of my day alone, in the sense that I was either not following someone's wheel, could only see riders in the distance, or was in fact completely alone. I left CP3 by myself and anticipated that would be the case most of the final stretch. I was happy to encounter a couple different groups of 4-6 riders each, who were moving at a solid pace. One group had three teammates who shared the majority of the effort for about 15 minutes. But when they sat up with 13 miles to go I knew I would regret leaving anything in the tank at the finish line, so I chose to go on alone. At this point it became my goal to pass every rider I saw on the horizon, so I did what flat land riders do best, I put my head down and hammered.

Dirty Kanza 200 - 2017 - David West - Emporia, KSOf the whole race I believe this was the most enjoyable time for me. Maybe it was the flatter terrain, the strength I still had in my legs, or the culmination of months of training, much of which was spent alone. 

On leg 4 I had the same average speed as leg 1, and spent much more of that time solo. I would attribute my strength in the final leg to the training program (which I purchased through Dirty Kanza), eating a lot of food in the race, determination, and surely some adrenaline.

The Finish!!
Dirty Kanza 200 - 2017 - David West - Emporia, KS
Thanks to my brother Caleb for his support!
After 10,877ft of climbing and a total of 13:11:43 (12:37:06 rolling) I crossed the finish line 117th overall, and 14th in my age group (35-39). The good weather and racing conditions the Race the Sun easy, beating that by more than an hour, which I was super happy about.

All in all, this race was the achievement of a goal that had been brewing in my mind for a couple of years. Every pedal stroke and every ounce of sweat was worth it. I stuck to my plan and I out performed my expectations, so I'm extremely pleased with my experience.

If you're considering doing this race I highly recommend it. If you have any questions please reach out to me via email or in the comments and I'd love to help you understand what you're getting into. 

Now go train!

Dirty Kanza 200 - 2017 - David West - Strava Ride Summary
Strava Evidence That I Raced Dirty Kanza 200 - 2017

Dirty Kanza 200 - 2017 - David West - Emporia, KS
Amber Waves of Grain

Dirty Kanza 200 - 2017 - David West - Emporia, KS - Bianchi Zolder DiscDirty Kanza 200 - 2017 - David West - Emporia, KS - Bianchi Zolder DiscDirty Kanza 200 - 2017 - David West - Emporia, KS - Bianchi Zolder Disc

Dirty Kanza 200 - 2017 - David West - Emporia, KS
Dirty Kanza 200 - 2017 - David West - Emporia, KS
Finishing Stretch

Dirty Kanza 200 - 2017 - David West - Emporia, KS
Crossing the Finish Line

Dirty Kanza 200 - 2017 - David West - Emporia, KS
Thanks for this great pic

- David West

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