Sunday, January 22, 2012

Do Not Call Us, We Will Not Come Rescue You

I had actually chosen what I wanted this year's big challenge to be a long time ago, in my head, but there was still the chance of not getting in, due to it selling out quickly, and as always, I wasn't sure if I wanted to put it out there for everyone where I will now feel a need to live up to the commitment. But now the money is paid, the plan is in motion, and there is no hiding from it.

For the last couple years, big runs have been the focus of most of my workouts. Cycling was something that gave me a lot of my fitness, but I only really considered it my way to work. I was a runner at heart and being a cyclist was a distant second. Don’t get me wrong, I loved riding the bike but I was just a commuter, after spending five hours a week riding in rush hour traffic, it didn’t leave me wanting for more time on the bike, so I never went out for long “fun“ rides on the weekends. Over the past summer, however, I had built up a fast road bike which made me want to try some rides longer than my commute. I started to enjoy the feeling of heading out for rides on distant country roads, where there are rarely any cars, and you can just put your head down and hammer for a couple hours. With a couple other endurance friends I have written about in the blog before, Collin and Jamie, I started doing regular 30 to 40 mile rides on the weekends.

It was on one of these long weekend rides where this year’s plan began to evolve. As we rolled along one morning talking about different endurance events we would like to experience, Jamie described the challenges of a race he was thinking about, and the more I heard about it, the more I knew it was a challenge I would love to toe the line of. It was a 200 mile bike race, held in the hot and rainy month of June, on the gravel roads in eastern Kansas. There is no race support so you are responsible for your own food and water, and whatever else you might need when riding a bike for 15 to 20 hours through rugged countryside. As I understood it, they pretty much give you a starting line, a finish line, and a few maps showing you the route, the rest is up to you.

I went home and began the research. He had called it the Dirty Kansan. Well, through the wind of riding, I thought that is what he had said, and if you Google "Dirty Kansan" looking for race information like I did, you won’t get any links to bicycle races. I eventually discerned the event is actually named the Dirty Kanza. It begins and ends on the eastern edge of the Flint Hills in Emporia, Kansas. They describe the race on the website as an "extremely challenging ultra-endurance gravel road bicycling event.” In 2011, nearly 300 people started the race, only 68 crossed the finish line, that sounded like good odds to me. The website is also replete with warnings like:

…remote, rugged, and often unforgiving area…
…totally on their own, and responsible for themselves…
...If you do not feel you are prepared...please stay home...

Now I don’t know if you’re anything like I am, but my first thought after reading all the warnings was, “Sign me up!” As Jamie and I talked more about the event while out on rides, Collin decided it would be a good race for him as well, so all three of us decided we should give it a go.

One might think it would be pretty difficult to find 300 souls who would pay good money to subject themselves to an entire hot summer day on hilly gravel roads, but the truth is, more people want in than are allowed. This year they had raised the limit to 350 and they fully expected it to sell out within a day. After researching the event, we planned for this and all three of us were sitting at our computers at 5:00 am on a cold January morning waiting for the registration to open to a race that wouldn‘t take place for another five months. I hadn’t realized you needed to have an account set up on the registration site until I tried to register. By the time I had done so, which I would guess took a whole two minutes, there were already over a hundred confirmed participants. I saw Collin’s name on the list and began to refresh and scan for Jamie’s. When Jamie’s name finally appeared on the list fifteen minutes later, there were almost 200 confirmed. Collin and Jamie will be in the young whipper snapper Open Class, and I, being an old man of 41 now, will be in the Veteran Class. Secure in the knowledge we had all three gotten in, we went out for a long ride. When we got back we learned the entire field of 350 competitors had sold out in less than three hours. It's a good thing we had been ready.

Now is the time for my favorite part, and this is why I always like to have some large challenge looming in my future. For me it’s not the race itself, or the even the feeling of crossing the finish line, that I enjoy the most. Those parts are exquisite and I do relish them, but the best part for me are the months of preparation beforehand. I once heard it described as the race being just a celebration or a party at the end of a long road. The true meat of the experience, where personal development really happens, and where most of our life is truly spent, is in the hours and hours of training, studying, selecting gear, and mentally preparing myself for the challenge.

Week of January 9 - run 0, bike 145
Week of January 16 - run 2, bike 165


  1. That was a phrase I said aloud and laughed

  2. Hi,
    I have a quick question about your blog, do you think you could email me?