I began this blog several weeks ago, creating the framework of a short diary by jotting notes about training for the Dirty Kanza 100. I envisioned something funny and cheeky, ending in victory with photos of Brian and I crossing the finishing line, standing on the ladder and adding our signatures to the huge finisher's poster.
I have this human habit of putting the cart before the horse. This was one of those times.
I did enjoy chronicling tales of my tried and true bike path, the one that at least allowed for as much saddle time as I could fit in while still being close to home in case of mechanical failure and the one I could get to quickly when able to squeeze in rides between full time work and family activities. The one that included several short hills with an 18% grade, that at least worked my legs. I was recording stories of walkers who took up the entire path , slowing me down RIGHT when starting to try and CLIMB those 18% grade hills, and of silly groups of teen girls taking selfies and sexy photos of themselves outside offset by reliable places where I could smell fresh wildflowers. The purple ones always reminded me of my co-worker Carol. Those wonderful smells would be offset by other places where the smell of dog waste predictably assailed my nostrils on every ride. During particular times the swarms of gnats drawn to my mouth were ever so entertaining, at least for the gnats.
The path was two miles from my house and just under 14 miles from the northern most point (the Kansas River) to the southern most point in Olathe. I could multiply my loops as many times as needed when increasing miles.
I love this path. I started to meet the same bikers and the same couples walking. I'd see various critters, including many snakes and once a magnificent turtle. On some occasions calves and their maternal guardians would be playing along the fence where a portion of their ranch buttressed up to the path. Close to this area I could always count on seeing red birds, chasing each other.
My path lacked one vital necessity, something made clear to me on Saturday during the Dirty Kanza. The path lacked gravel.
There are a few other things made painfully clear to me.
I wanted so badly to complete this race and kept telling myself it didn't matter how long it took. I turned 49 less than a week ago...I've felt a lack of control at work...and I'm completely too tuned into the political climate in the nation. This was an outlet and a challenge that has taken my mind off of those things or, at least, allowed me to work through some of them. I wanted to prove that I could push myself and my goal was to do it in 10 hours, max. That would've been slow by most of the riders' standards, extremely slow. But having ridden 50 miles of this course twice I thought I knew what I was getting into.
I logged roughly 450 training miles from April 1st and my longest ride was only 70 miles. I know, 70 is nothing to sniff at, but the Dirty Kanza riders aren't normal riders. And almost all of those miles were on pavement.
I do believe that if I were tasked with riding 100 miles on MY path I could do it. Although my body would become uncomfortable in varying places during training (it always moved around, kind of like a growing rash), I mentally figured out how to ignore those pains for the most part, or at least wait until the soreness kicked in somewhere else to take my mind off the last part of my body that had been complaining.
Alas, I was unable to finish the Dirty Kanza 100. I would ultimately bonk in a very quiet and predictable manner.
The day began with a raging rain storm that we had to drive through in order to get to the race start in downtown Emporia. Lightening lit up the horizon like a massive swarm of lightening bugs in a beautiful display of power. My first thoughts were that there would be no way I'd even begin the race if there was still lightening. Then fear of mud and water began to creep in.
Brian, my faithful 28 year long partner and committed riding companion for today's race, pulled our bikes off the rack and grabbed an old windbreaker he keeps in the jeep so I could quit shaking in the now cool misty rain. Then we headed towards the starting line.
The start times were all pushed back 30 minutes and by the time the 200 mile racers took off at 7:30 we could already tell that the clouds would eventually recede. It was then that I finally got excited about the race again.
My brother and sister in law, Scott and Sarah, had driven from Golden, Colorado, to participate in their first DK100. They are younger than us, avid bikers, and they have competed before. They also have multiple bikes to choose from, like Brian, and had chosen their cross bikes. As I looked around at over 600 bikers I keenly felt the difference in my bike from the other bikes. Seriously, there is a REASON they were all on cross bikes. In spite of this, it was a such a blast watching Scott and Sarah experience their first DK that I put on a happy face and told myself it wouldn't matter.
The "blast"...and "happy face"... were both temporary.
Things started out great as Brian and I maintained pace with the group heading out of town and onto the gravel. At one point, Scott said we were averaging 14+ miles an hour. This isn't fast for typical road bikers but, holy HELL, it IS a fast pace for me to maintain on gravel for miles at a stretch.
I was pushing myself and that wasn't the plan. Slow and steady, keeping my usual pace: THAT was the plan. I took solace when the group was re-routed because of the rain, allowing us to avoid the first big hill. This was the hill on which I had witnessed a man die last year.
I tried to eat. At about mile 20 it occurred to me that I hadn't eaten anything yet so I pulled out a Cliff bar and took a few bites. It tasted like cardboard. So I tucked it back in my bag and kept riding.
I did drink water and managed to finish one water bottle by the 50 mile cutoff. I knew I was in trouble, though, when 1/3 of the Cliff bar glared at me from my bag.
That was the only food I had eaten since two eggs at 5:00 am.
I don't KNOW where the time went. I don't KNOW why I didn't keep eating as I had trained to do. I only know that at around mile 38 I started to slow down. My pace dipped until it reached just under 11 miles an hour at the cutoff. Brian expressed concern, alerting me that our pace was dipping. I was starting to feel the weight of my hybrid bike, hating the fact that I wasn't on a cross bike. I also don't clip in. Yes, crazy, I know. I just never seemed to find the time to buys shoes, switch out my pedals, or practice getting comfortable clipping in and out. I just figured I could make it work this time and tackle that issue after the race.
Bad decision, particularly when going through mud puddles. My bike shoes were sopping wet and as I chugged up the never ending hills I found my feet sliding off the pedals.
In spite of all this, I was relieved when we finally rolled into Madison, beating the cutoff time by 30 minutes. Our SAG Team Duo, Barb and Jeff, were eagerly waiting, offering support and aid as they cleaned off our bikes, grabbed food out of the cooler and as Barb handed me a Coke. I wanted to slam the entire can but was aware enough to only drink a small amount. I grabbed a protein drink and forced myself to chug it instead.
My stomach started to knot up and I realized I hadn't had a bowel movement in over 24 hours...not for lack of trying, but I struggle in this area whenever I'm anywhere away from home and my gut was starting to get uncomfortable. TMI, of course, but in endurance races this is a reality. Ever use the port-a-potty before a marathon? Yep.
We forgot to take into account the 30 minute rain delay and Brian began pushing me to get moving, fearful that we'd miss the departure cutoff which was also mandatory if we didn't want to be disqualified. I hit the port-a-potty but it was a waste of a trip. I'd have to start the second 50 with an achy gut. In hindsight, I could've used those extra 30 minutes.
As we headed out of town the north wind was blasting us in the face. The ride to Madison had been pleasant with the north wind at our backs in places. Now we'd be headed back towards Emporia and would have to face the increasing wind head on. The sun was starting to blister as well, although it never did get as hot as it had been the previous day. Upper 80's was far more bearable than 90+ temperatures.
I knew in my heart that these conditions were actually quite good for this area, considering. Three years before there had been a horrible rain that resulted in bikers having to carry their bikes through 3-4 miles of mud. Success in this race is often dependent upon the weather and I had been given a gift...I just couldn't take advantage of it.
I knew I was failing, and even though I was still moving, still adding on miles, my pace had become agonizingly slow. I yelled over my shoulder to Brian "I'm not going to be able to finish this...I can't do 100 miles." He told me to stop, take a drink. He suggested we make it a few more miles.
I started biking again, head down, grinding forward. It was then that I tried to dig deep and pull from a reservoir I had prepared to use. I began thinking of physical ailments and disabilities that I'm blessed to not suffer from. I thought of persecuted populations and the atrocities heaped upon them. I thought of POW's.
And I am deeply ashamed because it wasn't enough. I felt that I couldn't go on. And I felt awful because I didn't HAVE to go on, even though I had told myself...convinced myself...that I wanted this badly enough that I would walk across the finish line if that's what it took.
I've been spoiled, accustomed to success sometimes without working as hard as some. And in those moments I considered that maybe this was the lesson I needed from the Dirty Kanza. A lesson in humility.
We called Barb and Jeff and waited with two other younger men who had also given up. They chatted with Brian while I attempted to push out of my mind the disappointment and anger I was feeling with myself. I wanted to cry but knew that tears over something like this would be, quite honestly, ridiculous. I mean that. I had done well, I had tried, I had trained and I had done something most people I know have never attempted, but quitting hurt.
A week has passed and I'm not certain if I'll try again next year. I will need a new bike and I will need to train using clips, of course. And I'll need to start training earlier. And eat enough...of the right food...before and during my training rides. I don't have to decide today but it will remain in the back of my mind until I come to some sort of resolution. Something feels unfulfilled.
In the meantime, I've registered for my first triathlon scheduled for late July. Barb is my motivator and my mentor - she talked me into it. Well, she suggested it, and before I could stop myself I had registered. I don't swim but I guess I'll have to learn.
I've got eight weeks. And as I sit here typing, watching Brian Williams talk about Anthony Bourdain's dark struggles, I've decided I'm going to embrace this new challenge. Regardless of how it turns out and regardless of how slow I do it. Because I am healthy...and happy...and because I am able.
In the end, that is the gift of the Dirty Kanza. Standing along the fence cheering the finishers on as they crossed the mat and watching Scott and Sarah sign the finisher's poster I felt alive. Tired and disappointed, but alive and happy for their accomplishments. And really, that is what is most important about an event like this. Joy for each other and the need to embrace an opportunity given to a body willing to try.
Friends, I tried. And you know what? I think I'll keep trying.