An ode to failing at not failing

You can also read my pre-DK200 post.

I’m forcing myself to write about this year’s DK200. It may not be interesting to most, I mean, there are dozens of places to read about people successfully finishing the race. Heck, flip back in time and you can read about me finishing the race. The fact that I’ve finished before and didn’t this time … there must be something of interest there, right?

After DK 2012, the thoughts in my mind when a few weeks had passed was “I can do it again, I could do it faster. I won’t say that I would never take on this race again, but it’s still not solidly in my mind to do it again.” And indeed, I opted to take off a year at least. This race doesn’t really demand too much attention on the day of the race, but it’s five-to-six months of work. Bike tweaks, long rides, riding when you’re tired, mental training, core strength, leg strength, food, weight management, packing lists, finding a crew, and more riding. When you’re on the line, it’s all done (hopefully). There’s nothing else now but to pedal and fight your demons.

For this year’s edition, I left Denver and drove to Salina, Kansas on Thursday of race week. After getting to my hotel, I quickly loaded up for a bit of riding around Salina. Since my hotel was on the southwest edge of town, I simple pointed my bike away from town and hoped I could get some gravel and I found a mecca of nice gravel roads, a few gravel pockets to test the skills and plenty of bugs. The area I was riding in here was much flatter than those on the DK course, but it felt good to cruise along at good speed without working too hard. It was very humid and hot. The sun was going down, but it was still in the 80s. Wait… I used to live and train in this weather all the time. It can’t be that bad, right? And … do I feel an allergy attack coming on from the pollen? I’ve only lived in Denver for 2 years … it can’t be that foreign to me now, right?

The next day, I made a couple stops at Walmart, registered for the race, killed some time, hung out with friends as they got into town. My support crew got into town and we went for a bit of food and went over the game plan and relaxed. Before I knew it, the months of training and thinking about the race were over and I was on the line outside of the Emporia Theater.

It was already pretty warm, in the mid 60s before 6 am, so at least I didn’t feel the need to have arm warmers or any extra layers. Remembering that the race is a bit hectic at first, I opted to pull off my gloves so I could grab food as needed. The race started and we streamed through Emporia and out onto the gravel. The beginning of the race is a bit hectic as there are two to three lines of people, riders already on the side of the road with flats or mechanicals, bottles in the track (already), and my favorite: the disappearing tire tread. I was on the left side of the road, following a line of several riders through one of the tire tracks on the road when it suddenly dumped us into a gravel well. Which is interesting when you’re riding 20 mph in a line of riders and suddenly are going 5 miles an hour.

After about 20 miles, the groups had split apart as we got into the first rollers. I was feeling pretty good, pushing down pain in back and the start of some pain in my right knee. If these were starting in segment 1, it either meant trouble or just a constant companion for the day. Part way through this segment I realized I had left the map for this section in the hotel. But this is also a busy section where I put in more than 30 miles before even moving my cue sheet to the correct page. At CP1, things went really smooth. I got some food and water, lubed my chain, since there was plenty of dust and a few splashes of water and a hike across the river. My buddy told me there was a big hill just around the corner, but I couldn’t really see it, so I thought he must be crazy. Then I saw the big cobblestone slab and just drug myself over it.

Segment 2, I remember feeling pretty good. My back was hurting, I was more alone, but there were riders around. I remember a sketchy gravel descent before hitting the open area before Texaco Hill. Texaco Hill was a bit different than I remembered because the hard punch was at the beginning and the rest of the hill was pretty good. And then we hit my favorite road cruising into Cassoday, one that seemingly always has a tailwind and is just smooth little riser. I felt good. That first hundred went by in a little over seven hours.

Feeling good, ate some food, rested, our bike mechanic support neighbor adjusted my wheel a bit but everything was running pretty smooth. I knew that was going to change a bit, but I wasn’t really prepared.

The whole day I had been using ice socks to keep cool and they were working great. They would last for about an hour or so, but that helped. Leaving Cassoday the course went due east and straight into a headwind for about 13 miles. It wasn’t the worst headwind in the world, but it started to put a kink in my armor. It’s ok, we just gotta get to mile 113, then we’ll turn north and get out of this wind. And it did. We turned north on this rough bit of track, mostly hidden from the wind, and extremely hot. Completely exposed to the sun this section just snaked through very rock-heavy area of Kansas. The rocks seemed to be cooking me. I reached a hill and just couldn’t pedal, my stomach was locking up, I was burning alive. I was downing some water, trying to get a bit cooler and to unlock my stomach. Push the bike up the hill. Stand in the shade. Feeling slightly better. Pedal the bike.

I got out of that little valley, that I deemed the “hell hole”. I pedal on and rest as I can. This section featured an amazing ridge where you can see riders ahead of you, but not really where the road is. A reminder again of how special the riding really is out here in this part of the world. A while later I was suffering but trying to pedal. Eventually I hit another open range and had to battle cows along with feeling sick. A truck, the first vehicle I had seen out on the roads I think, came by and made a bit of a hole through the cattle for me to follow through. Then as I reached a small town, about 20 odd miles from the checkpoint, I spotted a buddy of mine who had dropped out and was waiting on his wife to come through. I grabbed some cold water from him and chatted for awhile. The cold cold water made my stomach feel worse, but I still tried to drink some.

Pedaled on a bit and found a guy standing in some shade and I joined him. Eventually he pushed on and a bit later I followed. Finally I got to the paved road to Cottonwood Falls, but it wasn’t the nice road I remember from 2012, but another rolling affair into the city. I found by support and sat in the shade. I tried eating and getting some more fluids. I wanted to go on, but it wasn’t happening. The first 100 happened in about 7 and change hours. The last 50 had taken me 4-5 hours.

With only 50 in the race to go, I worried that the next 50 would take another 4-5 hours. I worried that the heat exhaustion would bloom into full on illness and I’d be out in the countryside laying on the side of the road. The food and drink were helping, but I could feel it all sinking in and opted just to take the day out. A 150 mile day is good. It’s not what I wanted. Seeing people finish that I’d see earlier in the day was difficult. In the end, I believe I made the right choice, things would have good sideways out there on the final section. I could have finished, but it wasn’t worth the risks.

Onward and upward. I’m taking on a new challenge this year, the OT100 MTB race (my first try at 100 miles of trail, although I was close in the Burnin’ 12 hour years back) back in Missouri. It should be a blast.