Let’s Dirty Kanza
As you may know, athletes need to train their mind just like we train our legs. So, I’m going to walk you through a simple brain training exercise. When you read “Dirty Kanza,” think “Go!” Ready? Dirty Kanza. Go! Dirty Kanza. Go! Sound good? All right, then. Let’s Dirty Kanza.
Having traveled all over the world to race my bike, I was surprised to cross the border from Missouri to Kansas with my brand new friend and DK photographer, Jason Ebberts, and realize it was my first time in the Great Plains state. It wasn’t long until I felt perfectly at home, though, with a born-and-bred local to show me around and introduce me to Jim Cummins, LeLan Dains, and Kristi Mohn among other key players who run the show at Dirty Kanza Promotions. (Did you say “Go!” when you read Dirty Kanza? Good!). There was a welcoming spirit around the town like I’ve never experienced in cycling. By the end of the day I was in the “coral” at Gravel City Adventure and Supply Company, sipping on a limited edition Dirty Kanza Kolsch, building my bike up while chatting and laughing with the guys in the shop. Walking along Commercial Street in Emporia it was impossible not to smile as I looked at the sidewalk art chalked by “DK Kids” and the endless “Welcome Dirty Kanza Riders!” signs outside shops.
Another first for me at Dirty Kanza (Go!) was riding 200 miles. You read that correctly. My longest ride prior to DK was around 140 miles and certainly didn’t contain much gravel. What could have possibly inspired (possessed?) me to take on such a long distance on gravel roads? The off-road riding scene is exploding around the world and ever since retiring from pro road racing I have exercised my freedom to ride dirt as much as possible. Dirty Kanza has staked its claim as the preeminent gravel race and I wanted to experience it for myself. Another layer of motivation was derived from the “200 Women on 200 Miles” campaign. Dirty Kanza Promotions made it their 2017 mission to get 200 women to race DK200. As a part of the effort I was asked to moderate a star-studded panel of women who would come together to discuss gravel racing, training, and tips for thriving during any endurance gravel race. If you missed the discussion you can still catch it on the DK facebook page.
Preparation for Dirty Kanza began in January and while training was a major component, discussions about equipment with the fine folks at Mavic, Focus and my trusty mechanics at bookabikemechanic.com were perhaps even more critical as I tried to navigate unfamiliar cycling territory. My goal was to test various DK set-ups so that even when I arrived to race on roads I had never seen, I would be comfortable with my steed. Wheel choice was easy: I had been using Mavic’s Ksyrium Pro Disc Allroad wheels since their release and loved the ride and reliability on mixed surfaces. These wheels are designed as a tubeless system which is a must, in my opinion, for gravel and dirt riding. Bike choice took some trial and error: I tried and fell in love with the Focus Paralane but broke the frame when I crashed at a gravel race in February (hence the “error”). It was a blessing in disguise as I was able to go back to the drawing board with Focus and test out their famed Mares cyclocross frame. I knew immediately it was the perfect choice for DK. Equipment refinement went on… SRAM Force 1x drivetrain with 42-tooth chainring and 10-42 cassette was ideal and worked flawlessly with my new SRM power meter; Lezyne accoutrements of every kind (multi-tool, CO2, pump, lights, bottle cages); Mavic Crossmax 5L hydration packs were just the right size and incredibly comfortable; and testing out the new Mavic women’s Sequence apparel led to some brilliant design modifications that worked perfectly throughout training. Landing in Emporia, sorting through my stash of equipment, I knew I was ready for the race.
Race day started early, lasted all day, and ended too soon. I had a plan going into the race that was formed around (1) finishing, (2) soaking in the experience, and (3) having my best and fastest day. There were adjustments along the way, of course, and I was ready to make those too. I started the race with 35psi / 38psi in my front and rear tire, respectively, and about 2 hours into the race, when I let the front group go and settled into a chase group and then riding solo, I realized my rear tire was soft. I will never know if I burped air out on a big rock or if there had been a slow leak that sealant took care of, but when I got to the first checkpoint a few pumps of air from my crew had me rolling nicely for the rest of the day. Another huge component of achieving my goals was a fueling strategy that was practical (300 calories per hour) and flexible (things that I planned on eating in my pockets but many other options awaiting me at the checkpoints in case my stomach, body and brain changed what it wanted or needed).
Ultimately, great equipment, a stellar crew and a bit of good fortune were on my side as I was able to finish on the podium without any major mechanicals. There were no shortage of challenges, of course: leg cramping, heat and humidity, hills so steep that photographers on the side of the road were able to casually walk alongside me as I focused on finding traction. But with every low came a high: gorgeous views that seemed to go on forever, herds of cattle trotting across the road, cheering sections at every checkpoint that provided a glimpse of the energy and joy that awaited us at the finish.
Not sure if gravel is right for you? From one new gravel racer to another, I can assure you that diving into Dirty Kanza is worth all the planning, training and travel. Even if you don’t have a gravel bike with disc and tubeless wheels, you should start assembling the pieces so you can race Dirty Kanza (200, 100, 50, or 25-miles!) next year. There’s a reason so many cyclists are leaving the pavement behind to ride mixed surfaces: fewer cars and quiet roads; a growing community that is supportive, inclusive and diverse; events that fit every goal whether competition or completion are your inspiration; a sense of adventure. Dirt and gravel roads can be intimidating to those of us used to the security of rubber on concrete but the skills that keep you moving on your road bike create the foundation for gravel riding skills. No matter what your background, you can learn to master gravel. It just takes a whiff of curiosity and modicum of courage to try.
Convinced? Hopefully, at a minimum, your subconscious mind will lead you to mark your calendars and set your alarm clock for registration day in early January 2018. And if the brain training exercise worked at all, I’ll see you in Kansas next June!
Janel’s Full Dirty Kanza 200 Equipment List
Focus Mares with custom bookabikemechanic.com machined headset to get the stem slammed
Mavic Ksyrium Pro Disc Allroad UST Wheels
SRM Power Meter
Wahoo ELEMNT computer for navigation
SRAM Force 1 (42 chainring, 10-42 cassette)
Lezyne Flow Cage SL bottle cages w/ Lezyne Pressure Drive pump
Lezyne CO2 mounted on downtube
Lezyne Strip Drive rear light, KTV front light, and Macro Drive front light (waiting in the wings in case of a late night finish)
JET Roll MTB - Wild Weasel JOKER 2.0
Maxxis Rambler 38c tires
Shimano XTR pedals
Mavic Crossmax Shoes
Mavic Sequence helmet, bib shorts, jersey, short-fingered gloves
Mavic Cosmic High Sock
4 x Mavic Crossmax 5L Hydration pack with 2L water bladder
8 Enduro Bites bars
7 Untapped Maple Syrup packs
4 bottles with Enduro Bites’ Beta Red, maltodextrin & salt
4 bottles with Skratch Labs mix, maltodextrin & salt
4 Skratch Labs packet of drops
4 sandwiches (2 x chocolate hazelnut butter with banana; 2 x cream cheese, pickle & turkey)
3 Red Vines
1 bottle Coke