27 June 2013

Race Report: 2013 Plot, Pedal, & Paddle 12hr NIGHT AR

When my Alpine Shop teammates Jeff and David were racing in the IRVOC Jubilee 6hr Rogaine, they got to chatting (as they usually do, these boys are chatty kathys!) with Bushwhacker's Rachel about a race she was doing in June called Plot, Pedal, & Paddle. We'd never heard of it, but we were immediately excited when we learned it was a 12hr race beginning at 10pm. Yes, a night adventure race! Rad! We were super stoked to compete, until we learned that Jeff had family obligations and Doug had to work. Bah, humbug (but HIIII Carrie and Emma and Ellie and Big Shark)! So David and I decided to tackle the race as a 2-person coed team. I was very excited to see how we stacked up against Bushwhacker, and even more excited when I learned that Rev3 and WEDALI were also throwing their hats into the ring. This little, 2nd-year race suddenly had one of the most competitive fields in the country. 

On the drive up to Dixon, IL, I remarked to David (in between his naps) that it seemed like a bunch of musicians were getting together at a little dive bar for a good ol' jam session. We love competing against each other, but we also love just hanging out with these awesome adventure racing people. And sure enough, right when we pulled in to Race HQ at Camp Reynoldswood, we saw Biz, Andrei, and Amy of WEDALI strolling through the parking lot. Let the chatting begin! I raced with Biz and Andrei a few times last year and these guys are just awesome. It was great to see them and re-meet Amy, a new addition to the team whom I'd only briefly met at the GearJunkie Christmas party. We're gabbing away and up drives the Bushwhacker car, stuffed to the gills with Rachel, Fredrik, Scott, and gear! Let's jam!
We do a little pre-dinner gear prep, and then go up to the dining hall for some pasta and salad. David and I both (independently!) miss the memo about the cafeteria line and get our food before everyone else. Oh jeez. At least we make our mistakes as a team! After dinner, we're instructed to turn in our bike helmets to the race staff for undisclosed purposes, and then the pre-race meeting starts. It's great to hear Matt & Dawn's story (they are the Race Directors) and it's clear they've put a lot of work into the course, including last-minute negotiations with MyTopo to get our race maps here on time!
Me and David prepping race maps. Photo by John Morris.
The pre-race meeting just goes over information that we've previously received in emails, and then maps are handed out. Some of the points are pre-plotted, but we have several to mark so we get to work doing that. Time flies by as we route-plan, which is a little difficult because there is lots of unmapped information that is being distributed verbally by the RD. David and I are plotting in a room off to the side so we make lots of trips back and forth to the main room to compare notes with Bushwhacker and ask questions of the RD. It's a little crazy and stressful, but as the sun sets we've got a decent plan and we head down to our bikes to get ready. I'm always amazed at how time just disappears before an AR so I'm scrambling a little bit to get my bike ready. 

We assemble back up at the dining hall for the race start. As we're preparing to sing the national anthem, I have a sudden panic that I forgot the cluesheet. I frantically check my pack, nothing. Now, a cluesheet isn't mandatory gear, but it can be extremely helpful during the race if we think we've misplotted something. So I sprint back to the car, racking my brain to remember where I might have stashed it. I rip through my stuff and breathe a huge sigh of relief when I find the cluesheet still in my map box. Whew! Then I sprint back to the dining hall to find the herd of racers divided into two groups. Dawn, the RD, tells me to stand on the sidewalk so that's what I do. While I was gone, evidently the RDs asked each team's "fastest runner" to step forward to supposedly participate in a prologue activity. However, now they're turning the tables and picking the prologue participants from the "non-fastest runner" pool! Ha!! Actually I don't mind being picked because yes, David is faster than me, but if there's no nav involved I'm not that much slower. So our team sits in a good position with either of us running. Us runners are given instructions to "cross the parking lot to G. Scott's blinky light, turn right, follow the doubletrack making only left turns, collect your helmets, and then return the same way you came." Seems simple enough. I repeat the instructions to myself as we count down...
PROLOGUE (2mi, no CPs) 

Dawn lining us slow runners up for the start. I'm at the far left. Photo by John Morris.
GO! I sprint off towards the blinky light and almost immediately I'm in front of the field. For some reason I'm feeling aggressive and I want to take this out HARD. I start following the doubletrack and make the first of several left turns. I'm feeling like this run is taking longer than a prologue should, but a quick glance behind me shows several headlamps following so at least if I'm making a huge nav mistake, the rest of the field is making it too. All of a sudden there is a wooden footbridge on my left. I'm not sure which part of the instructions to follow "keep making left turns" or "stay on the doubletrack". Agony! And the field has caught me! We discuss it for a hot second and I decide to follow the double track. A few hundred meters later I see the helmets draped like Christmas ornaments on a downed tree. Relief! I scan the cluster of helmets once...nothing...twice...THERE they are, at the top of the cluster, too high for me to reach! I loudly ask for a tall person to help me and someone comes to my rescue. Thanks, anonymous tall person! I put one helmet under each arm and run double-football-style back to Race HQ. I'm wondering if there is a shortcut but the race instructions echo in my head "go back the same way you came" so I just re-trace my steps. When HQ is in sight, I'm unsure if I have to go all the way around the parking lot like we started or if I can just dart across the field to my waiting teammate. I'm contemplating this when all of a sudden I'm in a circle of cabins instead of on the doubletrack. Panic! I make a split-second decision to just cut across the field to David. I run breathless into the crowd and no one seems to care that I came in from a slightly different direction than we started. David instructs me to put my helmet in his pack and we run off on TREK 1.

TREK 1 (3.5k redline, CPs 1-4)

Trek 1. CPs 1-4 in order.
We're among the first teams to get back from the prologue so the woods are almost empty. We dive into the brush alongside Bushwhacker and start hunting for CP1. The thick vegetation makes nav really tricky and we end up popping out of the woods without locating the CP. Crap! But we see other teams that have overshot the CP as well so we reattack after relocating off of the houses.We find an unmapped jeep road and as it curves around, we spot the flag. I quickly and quietly punch, and we boogie to CP2. We arrive in the circle well before any other teams, but we again have trouble finding the CP in the thick vegetation. We thrash for a few minutes, but no luck. More panic! I even pull out the clue sheet to check our plot, it's correct, so we keep bashing through the briars trying to find this rootstock. More headlamps are arriving and our spirits sink. I start watching other teams and I see WEDALI quietly leaving the area. Rev3 follows them. It's not hard to tell they've found the CP, so I retrace their steps and sure enough, there's the flag hiding in the woods. Mis-hang? Who knows. We've got some teams to catch. David and I hit the gas to CP3 since we've got a nice road to follow. We pass Rev3 and a 2p male team. We cross paths with WEDALI as we leave the road to bushwhack along the river. Here, we get our first of many introductions to stinging nettle we'll experience throughout the race. There are also tons of bugs and I accidentally eat a few. We arrive at CP3 in the lead, but the punch is missing so it takes a few seconds to locate it (on the ground). Thankfully we find it quickly and hustle back through the nettles and up the hill to Race HQ, same as CP4, same as TA. As we're transitioning to the bikes, WEDALI arrives so we start BIKE 1 together.

BIKE 1 (24? mi, CPs 5-14)

Starting Bike 1. Photo by John Morris.
We leave Camp Reynoldswood and enter the town of Dixon in a mixed-up pack with WEDALI. While we were plotting a few hours earlier, we received verbal directions from the RD to go "out of camp, past the Shell Station, and then make a right turn". There was also something mentioned about tennis courts but none of us can remember what it was. So we go out of camp, past the Shell station, and turn right. Which leads to....a dead end. WTF?! Discouraged, all five of us turn around and go back to the Shell station. We make the next right turn, and that leads us to a park. Biz and David find the unmapped trailhead we need for CP5, and we follow it to the top of the hill where the CP is plotted. Everyone drops their bikes and starts searching for the flag. We finally find it, Andrei and I punch, and we all get out of there! Now we have some more weird verbal instructions to follow to get on an unmapped bike path (part of a rails-to-trails bike path). We miss the intended entrance to the trail and end up riding through a neighborhood trying to figure out a detour route. We finally do and arrive at the former Illinois Central Gulf line. As we're riding on the bike path, we have some confusion about where exactly the singletrack is (again, because it is unmapped). The RD told David and I to enter the singletrack before CP6, but WEDALI never heard that instruction. So we have some conversation about what to do, but it turns out that the RD is personally waiting on the bike path to direct us onto the singletrack before CP6. 
Started biking at CP4 (Start/Finish). Then rode 5-9.
In both the pre-race email and meeting, this singletrack was advertised as "gnarly" and "hairy". Those adjectives made me picture some of the lesser-maintained sections of the OT that we rode in last year's Berryman 24hr. So when we get onto the singletrack with WEDALI leading, we're content to sit on their wheels and watch the trail. Except...the trail is NOT gnarly. It is NOT hairy. It's a perfectly friendly, hard-pack dirt trail with a few roots thrown in here and there. This trail is faster than the Dirt Crits David and I have been racing every Thursday night. Okay, it is slick from the recent rain, but that just makes it more fun for us, and pretty soon we're itching to pass. We punch CPs 6 and 7 together and then shoot out in front. Wheeee! Singletrack at night following David's wheel!!! So fun!!! ...until the trail shoots us out onto the bike path and we get confused. The pre-race instructions said "follow the singletrack for CPs 7 and 8" but this section of the trail crosses the bike path and then turns left, doubling back in the opposite direction as CP9. Do we take the instructions literally and stay on the trail, potentially travelling in the completely wrong way? Or do we ignore the instructions and take the bike path to the right, hoping that there is more singletrack up there? With the absence of mapped information, we are clueless. WEDALI catches us and we both decide that we need to take the instructions literally, which means following the singletrack across the bike path and turning left. We ride this way for a ways, and the trail doesn't turn back, and there is a sinking feeling growing in my stomach. David speaks up that he thinks he remembers the RD saying something about "it's okay to turn right on the bike path for a short ways" and after a few more minutes of wrong-direction travel, we decide to bail. The paved bike path is right next to us so we hop onto it, pointing our front wheels northbound once again, and take off. We return to the formerly-confusing intersection, blow right past it, and then less than 100 meters later find another singletrack entrance that takes us in the correct direction. And, a few hundred meters later on that trail, we find CP8, indicating we're back on the correct route. Hooray! We shred the remaining trail and pop out onto a road.
How did WEDALI take a different route and catch us between CP11 and CP12?
While we were correcting our singletrack mistake, we passed 1 team in the woods who we believe to be Bushwhacker. That puts us on the roads in what we think is 1st place, since we can't see anyone ahead of us. The night is awesome and there are some storm clouds north east of us that are flashing with lightning, but thankfully the winds are carrying them away from our intended route. I hop on David's tow and we ride hard to CPs 9 and 10 (which is hung on a gorilla sculpture! so fun!). A few kilometers after the gorilla, we spot the lights of a team behind us. We have no idea who it is but they're getting close, so we start hustling even more. We cruise through the manned CP11 where the awesome volunteers offer us s'mores but we have no time! A few more kilometers after CP11, we spot a team crossing an intersection ahead of us on a different route choice. I have no idea how they got up there since we didn't even consider an alternate route, but anyway now we're in second and we have to GO. We catch up at CP12 and it turns out to be none other than WEDALI. Their newest team member Amy is an absolute bike stud and they are crushing these country roads! 
See the gnarly downhill after CP13? That's where I almost met my demise.
We ride together to CP13 and then it's a horse race to the paddle put-in at CP14. This leg has a huge downhill and David and I just let it rip. We love descending! However, about halfway down, the gravel starts developing serious ruts along our direction of travel. There's no time to react and all of a sudden I'm completely out of control going 30 mph, but unable to brake since that will surely cause me to catch a rut and crash. I fly past David, barely keeping the bike on the road, and just hope for the best. It seems like minutes, but after a few seconds the road levels out again and it's safe to slow down a little. I exhale deeply. That could have been disastrous, not just for our race, but for my overall health. But our crazy risk has turned into a small gap so we run with that advantage all the way to the paddle put-in.

PADDLE 1 (9mi, CPs 15-19)

I have no idea where our official race map is so here is a google maps approximation.
The volunteers at CP14 confirm that we are in 1st place and as we're digging our paddle gear out of the race trailer, WEDALI arrives and we race to get in the water first. David and I make quick work of a 20oz. bottle of Coke, throw our PFDs on, attach glowsticks to all of the required locations (2 on the boat, 1 on each person) and shove off into the swift waters of the Rock River.

On the previous biking leg, David asked me how I felt about nav-ing the paddle leg. It's a strategic move since it's less disruptive for the front person to stop paddling (to check the map) than it is for the back person. We've actually tried this strategy before at the Bonk Hard Chill, but that was in daytime. However, I've been feeling confident in my nav recently, and I know we need every advantage possible to pull out a win tonight. So I agreed and now I have the map in my hands. It takes a few minutes to figure out the best lighting strategy - the supermoon is bright but it's intermittently hidden behind clouds. But when I switch on my Stella 300, hoards of bugs attack me, and it's difficult to see the far-off treelines. So David suggests I use an extra glowstick to read the basic features of the map, and then as we get closer to the CP I use the Stella to read the fine details.

And getting closer to the first CP is a huge challenge. We're paddling upstream against a very strong current. Fortunately, we've been practicing our upstream paddling in preparation for the Hardwater 50k, but it's still a monumental task just to make 100m of progress. We just keep putting one paddle blade in front of the other and as we get closer to the mid-river islands I narrate our route so we pick the correct channel. We finally make it to the east end of our island, and David drops me off to go get CP15. However, in my excitement of nav-ing, I've attacked the island too early (on the northeast shore instead of the mid-east shore) so I have to do a lot of extra thrashing to find the flag. Meanwhile, David scans the shoreline. After what seems like hours, my headlamp finally pings the reflective tape on the flag and I wade through waist-high stinging nettle for the punch. As I emerge back out to the shoreline, I see WEDALI approaching. David picks me up and I try to make loud conversation that I didn't find the flag, but I'm sure we're not fooling anyone since we leave the area as quickly as possible.
The supermoon over Race HQ. Photo by John Morris.
The route to CP17 is even more arduous than before. It's continually upstream and when we hit the creek, the current seems to double. Plus, we're now dealing with a multitude of downed trees, limiting our access to the quieter waters near the shoreline. It is a struggle to make progress and more than once we consider dumping the canoe and running to the CP. But we're pretty certain that would mean trespassing on private property, so we stay in the boat and try to keep it upright. David does a phenomenal job maneuvering us up the treacherous creek. One mistake and the current will grab our boat, swing us sideways and flip. We do not want that. We finally see a bridge up ahead and the flag is hanging quietly on its side. We punch and then prepare for the joyride that will be the return trip on this crazy fast creek. We pass WEDALI going the opposite way and cheer them on. Later, Andrei would tell me that he thought we were a jetski because our lights were so bright (bugs be damned, we had to use lights to avoid all of the brush) and we were moving so fast. Ha! 

Once we hit the main channel, it's smooth paddling to CP16. The supermoon is out in full force so we can turn our lights back off. That's good news too, because whenever they're on it looks like we're in a blizzard with all of the bugs. Despite my best efforts, I eat several. Not yum. I also cram down about 800 calories of snacks since I started to get really bonky on the upstream paddle. We pass Bushwhacker and Rev3 here and warn them of the gnarly creek. CP16 is smooth. Then I have trouble adjusting the nav for our fast down-river pace and almost miss CP18. But thankfully the catching feature island emerges from the darkness at the last second and we punch cleanly. Then it's back up to CP19, the same as the put-in, to finish this thing off. We're pretty cold in transition, but somehow we've managed to build a 15-20min lead on WEDALI on the paddle, despite my screw-up at CP15. We're thrilled to get back on the bikes and start warming up.

BIKE 2 (2.5mi, CP20)
This is a super-short leg that we complete in a hurry. We go back up the treacherous gravel downhill from before and I'm amazed at the size of the ruts. Another wave of relief floods through me since I was extremely lucky to get out of those unharmed. As we roll into CP20, it's time for a gut-check. We're in the lead. One trek and one bike to go, then a shorty rappel at the finish. We have a lead, but when it's WEDALI in 2nd place and Bushwhacker in 3rd, that basically means nothing. So we have to crush this trek to have a chance at winning. We transition super fast and run off through the field on the start of the O-course. 
David putting shoes on, I'm marking up the map for Trek 2. Photo by John Morris.
TREK 2 (5.8k redline, CPs 21-30)

The first two CPs are typical of what's to come...some field running and some heinous 'shwhacking. At night, it's super hard to read vegetation so we are forced to take slow, but direct routes through the thick briars. And when the briars thin out, that means we're in a creek bottom so there's stinging nettle! Brilliant! But having the lead inspires us and we press onward. CP23 is especially difficult because we have a long attack on a bearing through these thick woods - David fears we've strayed too far but when we pop into the field, the control flag is almost directly in front of us. Yes. This is where the talented Mr. Frei shines his brightest (although he's pretty shiny most of the time). And speaking of shiny things, the sun has begun to rise so we're able to turn off our headlamps! On the way to CP25, we discover a network of mowed trails in the lower field sections, and happily they head towards our intended direction. We use them as an out-n-back on CP25 and as were running back, I think I spot WEDALI in the distance. My heart skips. We keep running, and I realize it was only a dark branch hanging low over the field. But the apparition keeps us moving forward and we crash through the woods to CP26. 

The "South Trails" were not on our race map, but they were really useful!
There is an unmapped trail leading in the direction of CP27 so we take that to the top of the ridgeline, follow the ridgeline around a bowl of reentrants, and then descend down the spur for the punch. Except...we keep descending, and descending, and descending, all the way down to the end of the spur and no flag. We climb back up, thinking that we missed it somehow, and we reach the top still without spotting the flag. This is BAD. WEDALI will certainly be here any minute, and probably Bushwhacker too, and now we've got to relocate and reattack. We climb another ridgeline and use the road below to find ourselves on the map, and then attack it again, nothing. To make matters worse, the label for CP27 is obscuring a potentially useful part of the map so we can only re-attack definitively from one direction. We hold a quick team conference, and as we're thinking, we hear voices above us. Yep, it's WEDALI. They can't find CP27 either and we both drop the competitive vibe for a few minutes to decide what to do. David and Biz put their heads together and agree where we are on the map. As they're chatting, I see the three jerseys of Bushwhacker march quietly by, looking strong and confident. So. Here we are, the three top teams virtually tied for the lead with only a couple hours left in this race. It's gonna be a close finish for sure. Biz decides to attack the neighboring spur, and without any better ideas, we follow. As we're descending about 20m behind them, WEDALI finds the flag and tells us too. If we'd seen Bushwhacker in the area, we'd have yelled to them, but they are nowhere to be found. We're relieved to have the punch, but now we've got to regain the gap we had before and there's not much race left to do that in. Our two teams take off to CP28 and CP29, and on the way back to the TA (same as CP30) WEDALI gains a few minutes on us. Back at the TA, we tell the volunteers that we think CP27 is mis-hung, but there really isn't anything they can do about it at the moment. We're resigned to transitioning onto bikes and starting the chase to the finish line.

BIKE 3 (20? mi, CPs 31-35)

This biking leg starts at CP30. We took the eastern route to CP32, WEDALI went west. 
Based on all the ground WEDALI gained on the first biking leg, we know they'll be ready to crush the return trip to Race HQ. There are a few CPs here that offer plausible route choices, so we decide to take whichever one WEDALI doesn't in an attempt to find an advantage. We get our first opportunity after punching CP31; WEDALI continues west and we do a quick out-n-back and then continue south. When we have CP32 in our sights, we see them just cresting the hill ahead of us so that route choice was likely a wash. We continue pushing hard through Grand Detour (ahem...John Deere historical site...ERL) and up to CP33. 
After CP32, we went through Grand Detour and then took CP33 as an out-n-back. WEDALI continued west and hit CP34 as an out-n-back.
Still no sign of WEDALI so we take CP33 as another out-n-back, expecting to see Bushwhacker catching up to us at any point. However, we find ourselves alone on the windy (that's blowy-windy, not twisty-windy) road, trying to share the draft as much as possible. We punch CP34 and CP35 without difficulty and then ride our way back to Race HQ, making the most of our mountain biking skillz by hopping several curbs. We are pretty sure we're in 2nd at this point, and that fact is confirmed by the RDs as we roll back into transition. We take the time to change shoes before grabbing our climbing gear and running off to the rappel.

ROPES (.5mi, CP36)

Me starting the rap. G. Scott supervising. Photo by John Morris.
As we're approaching the rappel location, we hear voices. With Minnesotan and Russian accents. I'm frankly surprised to learn that WEDALI is still here. This means the gap was smaller than we thought. David and I worked hard on the last biking leg, but we certainly didn't exhaust ourselves. Maybe we should have ridden just a hair harder...anyway there's no time for speculation because the race is essentially over at this point. We meet Amy at the top of the rappel and she is nervous. She's never rappelled before, so between her teammates at the base of the cliff and us at the top, we talk her through it and she rocks it. Good job, Amy! David and I get checked out by my favorite AR ropes dude G. SCOTT and then I clip in. Just as I'm easing myself over the cliff's edge, a mosquito bites me and I reflexively swat at it, lose my footing, and smash my hand into the rock. No broken fingers though, and we finish up without incident. We jog back to Race HQ (complete with one final sprint through a patch of stinging nettle) and the RDs along with WEDALI are there to greet us. We cleared the course in 10 hours and 25 minutes for 2nd place overall and 1st place 2-person coed!


The finish of this race is bittersweet. David and I are certainly proud of our result, of being able to compete with WEDALI and Bushwhacker all day, and of working together as a true team. But we are also disappointed to have had a solid lead going into the later stages of the race and then watched it slip away because of a potentially mis-hung CP (I say potentially because we didn't go back out there with the RD to verify...but when two of the top AR navigators agree it's in the wrong spot, there's a pretty good chance it is). But that's adventure racing, and every single team had to deal with that same situation. It's always an honor to race against our friends on WEDALI, Bushwhacker, and Rev3. Our teams continually beat each other up at these Midwestern races and it only makes us all better. The post-race camaraderie is pretty great; we all share stories while cleaning up gear and eating post-race pizza. There are even showers on site so we don't have to climb into cars with stinging nettle oils all over us, or still smelling like mud!

Plot, Pedal, & Paddle is a pretty small race, but I hope everyone realizes what a cool format it is. First of all, with a 12hr night race on Saturday night, there is no need for pre-race hotel costs. You are racing instead of sleeping! Secondly, you can drive to/from the race on Saturday and Sunday, eliminating any need for time off work on Friday (if you have weekends off by default). Finally, night racing is a really important skill for adventure racers in the 24+ hr races, and this event gives teams a chance to practice that skill without the exposure/risk that a 24hr race carries. I've exchanged a few emails with the RDs and they already have a whole bunch of improvements ready for 2014. So I hope to see you there!



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22 June 2013

ALIVE Magazine: Behind the Scenes

Let's be honest, I'm the last person you'd expect to see in St. Louis's ALIVE Magazine. The monthly publication is hip, trendy, and totally on-point with the local social scene. Me? Um, well, my idea of trendy is disc brakes on a gravel bike, which hardly coincides with designer fashion and society pages. But nevertheless, I found myself on the other end of an interview and a photoshoot, and this month the article was published. How did it happen? Let me share!

It all starts on a dark, cold, windy night. Seriously. It was the night of the SHITR (a 13.1 mile trail non-race in the dark) and I had just finished running with my BTB Megan. It had started raining during the race, and the temperatures were already hovering around the 30F mark, so after we finished we both huddled in the car to unthaw. Some of the non-racers were meeting at a local Mexican restaurant so we headed over there to more thoroughly dry out and warm up. At the restaurant, we sat with my new friend Colby, whom I had run some of the later miles with, and his brother Jeremy. They are super cool dudes and just two examples of the awesome people I've been able to meet through my outdoor adventures. We shared stories of how horribly cold the SHITR was over chips and salsa, and at the end of the night, we were friends. On Facebook. Official.

Then fast forward a few... weeks? months? ...anyway some period of time passed and I see Jeremy (who is a writer) posting an idea for an article. He asked for Facebook friends to nominate St. Louis endurance athletes for a potential feature in a local publication. A LOT of people replied. I saw the long list of response comments, and thought to myself "that's not me". I mean, I know I do some cool stuff, but we are lucky in St. Louis to have a very healthy endurance athlete community and there were a lot of potential stories shared. I dismissed the post, thinking "that will be a cool story to read when it's published". Maybe a day or two went by, and somehow that post showed up again on my Facebook... timeline? feed? homepage? ...whatever that's called, and something in my head clicked. You miss 100% of the shots you don't take (Wayne Gretzky). So I wrote a few sentences about my racing and hit "Submit". Who knows where that will go but, it's out there.

Another few...weeks? months?...passes and by this time I've figured that other athletes have been selected. Oh well, at least I tried. But then I get a phone call from Jeremy who wants a few more details on my adventures so he can submit my story to ALIVE Magazine. Okay, first, ALIVE Magazine?!?! Whoa! So hip! And, second, I'm in the running?!?! Cool! I give him a brief outline of my background and he put it (among several other candidates) in front of the ALIVE people. I got a call back a few days later with the news that I made the cut! I was excited but tried not to get ahead of myself. I have no idea how the magazine business works so who knows if they would even decide to run the story once its finished. I set up an interview time with Jeremy and hoped for the best.

The interview day was in early May and I ended up talking on the phone with Jeremy for more than an hour about my background, my story, what motivates me, what adventure racing is, and how I got there from my start in triathlon. It was a really fun conversation and I was immediately put at ease when Jeremy understood the difference between adventure racing and obstacle racing. They are not the same people! We hung up and I hoped I'd conveyed everything adventure racing means to me, which is a lot.
Yeah, I logged it.
Meanwhile, I'd been coordinating with noted local photographer Attilio D'Agostino (NSFW) on photoshoot details. Yeah. Me! In a photoshoot! I had absolutely NO IDEA what to expect. Would it just be the photographer? Or a whole tent city with hair/makeup people? I showed up to our location on the Huzzah River at the same time as Teri Griege. Attilio was shooting Aaron Fanetti at the time which put me completely at ease because I know Aaron and he's awesome. It was only Attilio and his assistant Pei, both of whom were completely approachable. I got to know Teri a little bit more while we waited and she was awesome too.
Pei on the left, Attilio in yellow and Teri on the right.

Attilio was great about coaching us through the shots.
We did Teri's shots first and watching Attilio work was amazing. First, he was seriously ill with some sort of chest/cough problem and honestly should have been in bed recovering. But pretty soon he was sitting in the water to get the best angle for Teri. He did several sequences with Teri emerging from the rocky Huzzah, and I watched while sitting in the river taking an "ice bath". 

Then it was my turn, and Attilio decided he'd get me running with my AR pack. He had a particular spot on the Ozark Trail in mind and we decided to drive over. But, on the way, he noticed some great light on the gravel road, so we stopped at set up camp there. I put my gear on, and just followed his instructions. First I stood on the road so he could position Pei with the reflector thingy, and get his camera settings dialed. Then I would back up about 2-3 meters, and run at the camera for about 10 meters, stop, go back to my "spot", and stand there waiting for further instructions. We probably repeated this at least 20 times. Each run I was instructed to do something slightly different, like look at the camera, look to the side of the camera, start from a slightly different spot, etc etc. About half-way though, Attilio stopped me and asked "Do you have any badass sunglasses?" Why yes, I did indeed, so I got them from my car and we repeated the whole process. 

As we were wrapping up, another car arrived at the location and I got to meet Shane Perrin! He had an awesome Jeep and Attilio asked him to drive up and down the gravel road to stir up some dust for added drama in my shot. Shane gave it his best attempt, but the recent rains kept any dust firmly locked into the gravel. Shortly after the failed dust experiment, Attilio decided he'd gotten everything he needed, and I was done. Whoop! First photoshoot complete!

I stuck around to watch Shane's shoot and Attilio was crushing it in the middle of the Huzzah. He'd never shot SUP-ing before and it sounded difficult to time the shot with Shane's paddle stroke and the light filtering through the trees on the river. He also asked Shane to paddle directly at him so each pass was a near collision. Check out the final photo though, I think it looks awesome:

Some other fun facts about the shoot - I stuffed my pack with my extra clothes to make it look like it was full of gear. Specifically, both hip pockets seen in the final photo are filled with socks...now you know. There wasn't any hair/make-up team and I was completely okay with that. I brought a whole bag full of race/training attire and Attilio said he preferred dark colors so I got to wear my Alpine Shop jersey. I didn't get to meet the fifth featured athlete, Yusuf, and that's sad because he sounds rad. I also brought my bike to the shoot, but we didn't need it since Aaron was doing a biking shot. Teri borrowed my flip-flops in her shot because the gravel was tearing up her feet. After Shane was done, he let me try his SUP board and it was so fun! You should definitely check out SUP St. Louis!

So that's the story about my first magazine article and photoshoot. Regardless of the article's focus on me as an individual athlete, there is something I want to make very, very CLEAR. I would not be anywhere without my teammates. No podiums, no prizes, no poop stories, no puppy piles, no nothing without the extraordinary people I've had the privilege to race and train with. From Andrei taking a chance on me at the Lake Adventures 10hr, to GearJunkie/WEDALI driving hours and hours to team up, to Pfoodman and HH teaching me how to really ride my mountain bike, to Alpine Shop for not forgetting to be awesome, I really cannot put into words how much I appreciate my teammates AND COMPETITORS. Thank you, thank you, no thank YOU, and here's to having fun in the woods! Pin It

18 June 2013

Race Report: 2013 Goomna 8hr AR

The Goomna 8hr Adventure Race is put on by the City of Highland Parks & Rec Department. It is actually one of the longest running adventure races in the state - I believe 2013 was its 12th or 13th year - and it's still pretty old-school: paper entries, no real website, and very basic gear list. Alpine Shop has raced in several previous editions of the Goomna and they all have a unique flavor. Over the years, the race has tried to keep all participants on an extremely level playing field, mandating tire dimensions/tread, bike frame type, and banning personal paddles. While that caused some pre-race frustrations for our team, I think overall these rules are a great idea for such a short race because it keeps less-experienced teams from being overwhelmed with gear choices. And as long as the rules are enforced, everyone is dealing with the same equipment, so it's no big deal.

Jeff and I arrive at the Korte Rec Center about 7:30am to set up and get maps. David is just behind us and we receive 1 1:24k USGS map and instructions for the first 8 CPs. There are a few roads marked off-limits and 8 CPs to plot. Normally, we get CP locations with UTM coordinates, but today we get them with distance/bearing information (sorta like plotting Cartesian vs. polar coordinates) ((nerd alert)). It takes a little bit getting used to, but the goal is still the same - plot all 8 CPs as quickly and accurately as possible, and then plan our route. We do this inside the Rec Center and then go back outside to finish setting up our bikes and TA. Our favorite teammate and fan, Carrie, has also arrived and is ready to cheer us on! The bike route is easy enough to plan, but we are really confused about the run section. Mark, the race director, has warned against trespassing on private property, and has said that there is "lots" of private subdivision land around the Rec Center, but none of that is shown on the map. Since most of the teams live in Highland, they all know where the private land is, but we do not, so we bring our map to Mark for clarification. He shows us where the private property is, and also tells about a major unmapped road (again, local teams know this road but we are clueless) that will lead directly into our CP1. And just a few minutes later, the race starts!
Getting crucial information just seconds before the race starts!
RUN 1 (CPs 1-4)
Still a little flustered from the last-minute barrage of information, we take off towards CP1 (one other funny thing, none of the CPs were numbered, so we just assigned our own on the map). The day is going to be hot and windy, but for now all we have to contend with is the wind. As we approach the park-n-ride lot, there is lots of speculation about where exactly the punch is, but pretty soon we see 2 green-shirted volunteers waving at us. It is not often that CPs wave so we run over there and the volunteers punch our passport. Then it's on to CP2, located in a cemetery. There is one team (we start calling them "The Neons") hot on our heels so we make a beeline straight through the gravestones to the back of the cemetery. The clue is "Block 15", and there are numbered signs, but they aren't exactly in order so we run around a little bit before spotting the flag. Once we do, however, Jeff sprints over to punch and we are back on our way, trying to throw The Neons off our tail by asking each other loudly if we've found it. Ha! The Neons are not deterred so we run out of the cemetery to CP3. Our route involves crossing a big highway with a traffic light, but we sprint through the intersection just in time before it turns red. Then we follow the map to a school and the confusing clue "east of hill". Well, there aren't really any hills around here, but there is a dude sitting on some bleachers, with a greenish-looking shirt flapping on the fence behind him, so we run over there to check it out. Turns out, he's CP3! Now we just have one more CP to collect before going back to the Rec Center. This one is "east of creek" so we run south along a wooded creek and through a kid's baseball games. The spectators tell us that other teams have been through this way so we think we're on the right track. After running a little farther than the map shows, we finally spot the CP and I get the honors of punching this one. Then it's a sprint back to the Rec Center and our bikes!
Back at TA after RUN 1.
BIKE 1 (CPs 5-8 with special challenges)
We ride out of TA without catching sight of The Neons. This is good news! One of the biking CPs has a cutoff of 2pm so we decide to go there first. The location turns out to be a building for Core Elite Tumble & Cheer. We go inside and learn there are is a series of challenges that we must complete before getting the punch. First, we have to complete 30 pullups as a team. I am kind of afraid of this since I'm horrible at pullups, but David jumps on the bar and knocks out 14 super fast. Jeff is next to him and knocks out 10. I jump up and barely manage 1 before falling off. Thankfully, David jumps back in and does 5 more. BOOM. Next up, we are instructed to go to a carpeted gym floor. The volunteer there tells us to get into pushup/plank position, and put our toes inside an upside-down frisbee. Then, we have to move across the room on our hands, staying in plank position and dragging our feel behind us (which slide across the carpet thanks to the frisbee). This is hard to explain, and I've looked for a video, but can't find anything. We all have various techniques for accomplishing this, but we get it done quickly. Then, we follow the next volunteer outside to a huge tractor tire. As a team we have to flip it to the edge of the parking lot, and then carry it back. We get this done quickly too and then we are rewarded with the punch! Throughout this challenge, I tried to channel some Border Collie attitude...super excited, super focused, and super positive. It's really fun and we're jazzed as we get back on our bikes.

The route to CP6 is the longest one we've had all day, and it's straight into a strong headwind. Fortunately, after Dirty Kanza, it's going to take an oncoming tornado to dampen my spirits, I shout encouragement as the boys do the majority of the pulling in front. I get super excited to take my turn and accidentally shoot off the front as we are climbing a short hill. They rein me in and we get the paceline rolling again. Pretty soon we're riding into CP6 which the clue is "lake". A volunteer stops us and says we have to swim across the pond and run back in order to get the punch. I am so excited...SWIMMING!!! I love swimming in adventure races. We knew we were going to have a swim challenge so I even brought my swim cap and goggles with me (nerd alert). The volunteer tells us that everyone has to complete the challenge so we all splash into the water and start swimming. Jeff and David each have their own.....special style...but I keep tabs on them and make sure we're all making progress in the right direction. A few minutes later we pop out of the water and run in our socks back to the volunteer. She punches our passport and we get on our bikes to head back north.

The ride north is now aided by a nice tailwind so we take time to stuff our faces with delicious calories. We almost overshoot CP7 because we plotted it about 1/4 mile off the main road, but there are volunteers who flag us down and punch our passport. We keep riding north, back through Highland, and into Silver Lake Park. There are some confusing trails/roads here and we end up taking a sorta long way into CP8. On the way we ride right through CP9, but the race staff won't let us punch until we've visited CP8. Whoops! CP8 is only a few hundred meters down the trail so we ride there and check in properly. The volunteers give us 2 more points to plot (still with distance/bearing information) so we do that hurriedly and then take off running the trails back to CP9.

TRIAD 1 (CPs 9-11 with special challenge)
It's kinda hard to fit this next leg into a single discipline category so I'll just call it a "triad" like in the old-old-school Wild Onion races (when 1 teammate scootered, 1 teammate rode a bike, and 1 teammate used rollerblades). We arrive at CP9 and the race staff tell us to put on PFDs and proceed across the cove on a metal cable "slackline". It's a fun challenge and we find that it works best to put my short self in the middle of Jeff and David as we sidestep our way across. Once on the other side of the inlet, another volunteer tells us that 2 teammates will paddle to CP10 while the third teammates runs the trail to the same location. There, we will switch out the runner with a paddler, and return back to CP9.
Start of the "slackline".

Almost there!
We decide Jeff will run first so David and I hop into an aluminum canoe and start paddling. I discover that the race paddle is complete crap - the blade has a huge crack in it and the T-shaped top of the handle is loose. But, it's such a short distance, that I just make it work. We find CP10 without any issue, and then decide David will run back so he and Jeff switch spots. Then we paddle back which is a little bit more difficult with the headwind, but we get it done and meet David back at CP9. Then we all run over to the volunteer for the punch, and decide on a route to CP11. Have I mentioned we're doing all of this in bike shoes? We didn't bother bringing running shoes with us so it's a clomp-fest to CP11 which is maybe 1km away. We've been instructed to memorize the insect featured on the poster at CP11, which we do, and then run/clomp back to our bikes at CP8 to report it to the volunteers. As we arrive at CP8, there is another team present so I whisper the password (Emerald Ash Borer) to the volunteer and he clears us to leave.

We haven't got any information about additional checkpoints, so we are pretty sure that once we return to Korte Rec Center the race will be over. We push the pace back through town and end up taking a sorta convoluted way back to the start/finish line. But it's no big deal since we roll into the finish line to claps and cheers from the race staff. We win!

David, me, and Jeff! Winner winner chicken wing dinner!
Our final time is 3:15ish which we are super happy with! We stick around for 2nd place (Off The Front) and 3rd place (Team X-treme) to finish and congratulate them on a great race. Then there are showers inside Korte Rec Center, and a terrific post-race meal! INCLUDING CHICKEN WINGS!!! It's turned out to be a pretty hot day so we are glad to be done before the sun gets too intense. We spend the rest of the afternoon just lounging on the lawn, chatting with other teams and telling Carrie all the stories from the race. Despite Goomna being a low-key, fun race atmosphere, the prizes are no joke and we each get a check for our winning effort! Thanks, City of Highland! And thanks to Alpine Shop for being such a terrific sponsor for the team and for the sport of adventure racing, we couldn't do it without you! Pin It

06 June 2013

Dirty Kanza 200 Details

This is a continuation of my experience at the Dirty Kanza 200. I wrote about the actual race here. I've found that when I read race reports, I often want to learn more nitty-gritty details about the authors' experiences and set-ups. So here are some of those details. If you have any questions, please email or post a comment and I would be happy to answer!

I rode a 2013 aluminum Salsa Warbird. I have written extensively about this bike here and here. I cannot overstate how much I love this bike!! OK, I'm sure the titanium frame is even better, but the aluminum one felt fine to me even after 200 miles. I kept the same gearing as the OGRE and only felt spun out on tailwind downhills, which didn't matter too much anyway.

Warbird after Cedar Cross. Love me some 40s!!
Seems like everyone in the gravel scene is obsessed with tires. I used two Ritchey Speedmax Cross 700c x 40mm. I'd put about 500 miles on those tires before DK and used the same ones in the race, although I had a brand-new set in my crew car just in case. These tires are middle-of-the-road weight at an advertised 483g each. I did pinch flat on the backside of Texaco Hill due to a poor line choice. I had bottomed out the rear several times before that on cattle guards and abrupt ditches/water crossings so I felt like I had it coming. The change was simple and it held for the rest of the race. I don't know if this was necessary, but at CP3 I deflated the rear and re-inflated it with a floor pump to avoid CO2 leakage. And no, I don't know what pressure I was using, I don't trust floor pump gauges so I just put my body weight on the tire and see how it responds. Another great thing, these tires are extremely affordable, less than $30 each! One thing about tubeless setups, all the cool kids in gravel are using them. I used Velocity A23 rims and I have no idea if they would even work tubeless for me with the Speedmax Cross tires. So I didn't even bother, I ran tubes the whole day and it was just fine.

Cockpit shot. The Garmin is hidden under the right side of the map.
Most of the time I had the map folded in quarters so I could see the screen too.
I used a bento box to hold my planned snacks for each leg. I mounted my normal computer, a Garmin 310XT on my handlebars (nothing fancy, just fastened the wrist strap around the bars). I mounted my map/cue-sheet holder on the stem. This is made out of a plastic clip from Home Depot, zip ties, and a little bit of pipe insulation for stability. I put each leg's map in a ziplock bag for protection, then folded it and stuck it in the clip. A few days before the race, I purchased a wireless cyclocomputer (from Alpine Shop!) to use as a back-up in case my Garmin freaked. My brother came up with a cool way to mount it on the plastic clip. So that's the front of the bike, pretty simple.

In the back of the bike I had a red blinky (the one I won at LBL in a sleepy stupor). I had a medium-sized saddlebag that fit two tubes. Each tube was snuggled inside an old sock to prevent it from getting accidentally poked, a trick I learned from Coach. One more thing, I used an ISM Adamo Racing II saddle. I started using this saddle when training for Ironman (hugely popular among triathletes) and found it to be also extremely comfortable on the Warbird. It looks like a torture device, but it works and I stuck with it.

The kit.
Normal cycling shoes (a pair from Specialized that I saw many other riders using), some Swiftwick socks, and two pairs of tri shorts were on my bottom half. I learned about double-shorts from FPC and found that it works really well for me. Bag Balm for "down there". On top was a Pfoodman Racing jersey, arm coolers/UV blockers from Specialized, and full-finger gloves. I wore a helmet, duh, and a pair of Smith PivLock sunglasses that I bought so I could look like Rebecca Rusch. In my pockets I had my cell phone (set on airport mode), 2 emergency gels, $20 cash, tools/CO2/inflator, and an iPod shuffle. RoadID on my wrist. Coat of sunscreen in the morning. I did not change kits. After I flatted, I replaced the tube and CO2 at the next CP. I changed helmets at CP3 to one that had my lights (Princeton Tec Apex Pro, same one I use for adventure racing) already mounted. Also at that CP my brother attached a handlebar light, a Stella 300.

Small bottle in my jersey and 2 Magnum bottles on my frame.
Also this pic makes my position look super weird. Is it really that awkward??
Before the race, I worked out a nutrition plan similar to this one. My plan called for about 90 ounces of fluid for each 50ish mile leg of the Dirty Kanza. I had three options for carrying this much water: a backpack, a frame pack, or bottles. If there's one thing I learned from my DK prep, it's that my ass does not like backpacks. Pansyass!! I thought it would be tougher with all of the packs I've carried in adventure racing. But on gravel, it's not. So the backpack idea was nixed (although I did have a tiny 2L CamelBak with my crew in case it was monstrously hot and I was dying). That left me with bottles or a frame pack. I have a frame pack, but as I messed with it, it seemed difficult and time-consuming to refill/replace bladders in it. I had an extremely ambitious time goal, so I couldn't afford to spend 5 minutes at each CP wrestling with the frame pack. Nixed. That leaves me with bottles. Most bottles are 20 to 24 ounces. The Warbird has spots for 3 cages, and I could carry one in my jersey, giving me 4 bottles x 24 ounces = 96 ounces. But a bottle underneath the downtube sounded gross. What to do, what to do...then I watched Jay Petervary's Tour Divide video and learned about Zefal Magnum bottles! They hold 33 ounces each and fit in normal bottle cages. And they are sold on Amazon. Score! I used two of those in my frame cages and one 24-ouncer in my jersey pocket, and that was perfect for each leg of the race.

Bottles and snacks for CP3, ready to go.
Bottles were the same for each leg: 33 ounces water, 33 ounces Skratch + 2 nuun, and 24 ounces CR333. Then about 400 calories of snacks for each leg (mix of chocolate-covered pretzels, almond butter/jelly sandwich, turkey/cheese sandwich, QT pb/chocolate rice krispie bar, Honey Stinger chews, Honey Stinger protein bar, Clif gel, and a Picky Bar). I drank a mini-Coke at two of the CPs. I also had e-caps with me but didn't need them.

Before the race, I read Kyle Peter's AWESOME article on packing for expedition adventure racing and he mentioned something about trekking foods vs. biking foods. I did not pay attention to this and instead packed chocolate covered espresso beans for one of the legs. Not only did my stomach not want them, they were really hard to eat. Normally I love chocolate espresso beans but for DK they were not a good choice. Luckily one of my emergency gels was a Clif mocha (favorite flavor!) so I got my caffeine fix. In the future I will be packing more bar-oriented foods and less small candy items (although the Honey Stinger chews were a LIFESAVER).

Example map, this is the 3rd leg. We did not get cue sheets, but these worked fine.
I am a stickler for good navigation so anytime there is a race map, you can bet I'm reading it and using it. The course was marked really well, but there were still plenty of people (me included) that took wrong turns or missed turns. What I don't understand is how many of those people weren't even looking at their maps when they made mistakes. Weren't even looking as in, the paper maps were crumpled up in their sweaty jersey pocket, never intending to be used. The race rules even state "DO NOT RELY ON COURSE MARKINGS FOR NAVIGATION.  USE THE MAP!!!" So when people refuse to use it, they are just asking for frustration and trouble. Do yourself a favor, if you are racing DK200, at least mount the map in a visible location and attempt to look at it. Just go through the motions at the very minimum.


Going up.
If you've read my race report, you'll know that there were many people that passed me that I couldn't hang on their wheel. And there were many times I was struggling to stay with the wheel I was on. For those times, I counted pedal strokes to help be bridge back up. Usually I would commit to 10 really hard revolutions and that would bring me back. Sometimes, though, it took 20. But for some reason, the simple act of counting helped motivate me to work hard and stay with the group.

Another thing that motivated me were my past races, specifically the 2013 MNOC AR Tune-Up. I raced with one of the best adventure racers in the country on some of the worst legs I've felt in my life. And I was able to survive. At DK, my legs never felt nearly as bad as they did at the Tune-Up, and that gave me courage to keep digging.

Strava "performance" graph of my ride.
I wore a HR monitor but didn't show that screen on my Garmin. I just looked at time of day, direction (N/S/E/W), and average speed. Distance and current speed were shown on my back-up computer. Rebecca Rusch wrote about using average speed as a motivator in 2012 and I tried to do that, but it didn't really work out for me. I do believe riding by feel instead of HR numbers was the correct choice for the race, however. I made a conscious decision to burn some matches early in the race and I would not have wanted to know how high my HR was at that point. Sometimes less information is better!

This is how I trained since building the Warbird.
None of this obsessive gear/nutrition prep would have meant anything if I didn't have the physical and mental fitness to finish my ride. I think that is SO IMPORTANT to keep in mind when you are preparing for something big. Sometimes you need to stop worrying about 100g differences in tires and just freakin ride your bike! I put about 1000 miles on the Warbird in the 2 months before Dirty Kanza. During that time I was also running, paddling, and adventure racing. For most people, this is overkill, but it's the way I like to live my life so that's what I do. There is no "magic gear" that will make you "faster" if you haven't put the time in. TNSTAAFL.

Hangin with the locals.
OK this is not really gear-related but I want to write about it anyway. Part of the mystique of the Dirty Kanza lies in its host city, Emporia. I think it is SO COOL that this little town has embraced and promoted DK the way it has. In a way, it reminds me of my hometown of Duluth, MN, embracing and promoting Grandma's Marathon. There are lots of people in Duluth who are not runners, but because we have this world-class event in our backyard, they are motivated to train for and enter one of the numerous running races on Grandma's weekend. I think (HOPE!!) that same thing is happening in Emporia. That is why I thought it was so important to spend time with the kids who approached me after my race was over. I hope this race and its participants can encourage them to think about biking as a fun and healthy activity. Maybe they will enter the DK Lite next year. Maybe their parents will too. It's so empowering to think about one weekend as an inspiration for an active lifestyle.

My friend Chuck, the last official finisher BEFORE THE CUTOFF. This is his finish line.
For as good a host town as Emporia is, there are just a couple things that I think the Dirty Kanza race directors could do that would make things even better. #1 - don't take down the finish line until the official finish cutoff. If that means the cutoff time is shortened, that's fine. But I think it's disrespectful to the final finishers who have to ride through the demo crews tearing everything down. #2 - 11pm last call and 11:45pm end of open containers?? We are gravel riders! We need our recovery beers! And for the people who finish after 11:45 pm, of which there are plenty, that's sad. #3 - I think the morning-after awards breakfast is a GOOD idea. I would just like to see a bigger meal than 2 biscuits and gravy. We went to IHOP before the awards at 8a because we knew the advertised menu wouldn't be enough. That's the end of my suggestions. I hope they are taken constructively because I'm not trying to bash Emporia or DK. It's just my opinion of ways things could be better.

OK I think that's it for my post-race brain dump. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions!
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05 June 2013

Race Report: 2013 Dirty Kanza 200

[Gravel] "is the mirror that shows you who you are, not who you tell people you are."
--Paul Krumich, gearjunkie.com
2011: I first learned about the Dirty Kanza 200-mile gravel race from my Pfoodman Racing teammate Stephanie. She endured severe weather, frame-gobbing mud, and scorching temps to finish 3rd female. To me, 200 miles sounded like way too much time to be on a bike.

2012: This Dirty Kanza thing popped up on many St. Louis riders' schedules and I watched my friends enjoy near-perfect weather conditions in the Flint Hills. But 200 miles still sounded like way too much time to be on a bike.

2013: Before my adventure racing schedule got filled, I needed a crazy challenge. I was signed up for the 154-mile OGRE, I figured if I was going to put in all that training, I might as well follow it up with the 200-mile Dirty Kanza 5 weeks later. So I built myself a Salsa Warbird, recruited my brother Steven to crew for me, and put in a bunch of miles. Time to get tough!

The week before DK was tough for me. I knew I had the fitness to finish 200 miles (barring uncontrollable events like mechanicals or weather), but I let the stellar women's field get to my head a little bit. Would I be competitive? I always feel at a disadvantage in single-sport events; my specialty is being decent at many things (running, biking, paddling, etc), rather than being excellent at one thing. And DK is A WHOLE LOT of one thing: saddle time. This anxiety about wanting to be competitive made me feel even worse...shouldn't a successful DK200 be defined by my personal goals, rather than subjective comparisons to other competitors, some of whom are even full-time cyclists?! Yeah...it was a vicious cycle. Fortunately the Warbird needed a thorough cleaning after Cedar Cross so I focused on that and got my head screwed back on straight. It was time to race my race, not chase others around.

Part of my anti-anxiety plan was to try and make DK into as much of a multi-sport event as possible. I know this sounds crazy because it's really "just" a bike race, but I wanted to play to my strength of being decent at many things. So I looked at the parts of DK that are not about bike riding: navigation and pit stops. I made a plan to execute these parts of the race with no mistakes, and then let the actual riding run its own course. To handle the nav, I made a map/cue-sheet-holder that was tested and tweaked at the OGRE and Cedar Cross. To handle the pit stops, I made an overly-obsessive-and-detailed plan with my brother to minimize stoppage time. With those two puzzle pieces in place, it would just be up to my legs to keep the pedals spinning.

Mom made us cookies and we ate them on the drive to Emporia.
I pick up my brother from the airport (he lives and works just outside of Detroit) and we hit the road to Emporia, Kansas. The drive is easy and includes my first-ever Panchero's experience. Yum. We slide into Emporia barely in time for the 4p rider's meeting. It's a little surreal seeing the Granada Theater for the first time - it's such a symbol of Dirty Kanza and it means I've really arrived. After the meeting I pick up my race packet/swag and catch up with a bunch of friends I've made from riding gravel all over Missouri. Rock stars, all of them. We grab dinner at Wheat State Pizza with Orange Lederhosen, Team Trail Monster, and a jerk. Wendy aka Sasha is being profiled by a rather prominent news organization so there is a cameraman too. So crazy!! Dinner finished (including 1 free screw-up pizza), we head back to the hotel to get bikes sorted. I take my sweet time getting everything organized, including plenty of chat time with Jim, the Kuat boys, Team Virtus (yes, there was prancercising), Kate, and The Other Guys. My brother gets his instructions from me and Zoll. Heads hit the pillows much later than ideal, about midnight, but hey, that's par for the course in adventure racing so I'm not worried.

Race morning, up at 0400, breakfast, coffee, pack the car, and then Zoll and I ride the 2ish miles over to the start line in front of the Granada Theater. I'm on my trusty Battlefinch, ready to put it to the ultimate gravel test. Zoll is rocking a very stylish Kona fixie. There are signs to help us stage ourselves in the big field - probably about 600 riders (630-ish people signed up, but I'm positive there were some DNS). We take some pictures, and right at 0600 on the dot we start!
The bike looks better here. Android camera.
...but I look better here. iPhone camera.
Leg 1, 51 miles, 0600 to 0921 = 3:21
In the first mile, my race is almost derailed when someone else's water bottle ejects and rolls towards me. Somehow I manage to avoid it and breathe a big sigh of relief! The opening few miles are completed in super-comfortable temperatures and clear skies. There are riders everywhere but I must have seeded myself perfectly because I never feel like it's too crowded or sketchy. When there's a wheel available I just sit on it, if it's too slow there's room to pass and if it's too fast I just let it go. Even though I'm in a group I am still checking my map every few turns - adventure racing has taught me that navigation is #1 priority and I know a wrong turn would kill my motivation. About halfway through this segment, I do a systems check and get good feedback. My goal for today is extremely ambitious, and I won't beat the sun unless I have perfect weather and a good draft for the majority of the ride. With the wind at my back, I decide to bank a few miles at a hard effort in an attempt to get ahead of schedule. This strategy is almost entirely against my previous steady-eddy HR-based training, but since I'm riding solo today, I feel liberated to take risks without penalizing any teammates.
Multiple pacelines on the tire tracks.
I give myself permission to go, and the Combatpigeon sings. This bike just loves the Flint Hills gravel, and I feel completely alive with fresh legs and fresh lungs. A strong tailwind doesn't hurt, either! I'm passing a ton of people, hoping that I don't come back to them in the later stages of the race. I match up pretty well with a Scottish dude with speakers on his bars and we fly through the miles. Not much else to report on this leg because everything went better than expected. A clear indication that easy is BORING!! I roll into Madison, KS with my friend Aaron and I am really nervous about being able to find my crew. I shouldn't have worried, though, because Steven is standing only 50 feet away from the check-in tent. Awesome. I swap bottles, get new food, and scoot out of there in 3 minutes!
CP1, all ready to go. The metallic gold umbrella was what Steven used to get my attention.
Leg 2, 49 miles, 0924 to 1341 = 4:17
I climb out of Madison with none other than my STL buddy Steve. He's crushing a SS today and we chat our way up the steep paved hill. At the top, however, something breaks on his glasses and he stops to fix them. I soft pedal, expecting him to catch up quickly and stoked to have a buddy for this next section. Except...he never shows up. I assume something went really wrong but, since we're so close to the CP, I keep going because I know he's not stranded.

Looking at the map for this next section, I realize we were going primarily west. Which is scary, because the huge tailwind I had coming into CP1 is now going to be directly in my face for several miles. I read ahead on the course and mentally divide it into 3 main sections, and in between each section are a few miles of north/south travel that will provide some relief. About 3 miles before the first nasty headwind section, a group sort of globs together. I have no idea how it happens but suddenly I am working together with about 10 other riders. There are several strong engines in the bunch that do a lot of work pulling everyone else. I put a few minutes in at the front when it's my turn, but after that I realize it would be smarter for me to draft as much as possible. So that's what I do. And after a few miles, who do I see riding next to me but...TIM EK!!! Yes, that Tim Ek. He's a Salsa-sponsored rider who lives in my hometown of Duluth, MN. I listened to his MBR podcasts while driving to Boonecrusher and was totally impressed by his approach to racing endurance events. I can't help but introduce myself. We don't chat much but the whole time I'm saying to myself "I'm in a group with Tim Ek. I'm riding Tim Ek's wheel." Total nerd alert, but very very motivating. Our group absolutely CRUSHES the first section of headwind which is about 11 miles long and ends at the start of the climb up Texaco Hill.

I'm completely jazzed to be climbing Texaco with these people (omgTimEkomg!!). On the way up we pick up Tyler and his crew! Normally they would be way in front of me but today they've got a different agenda. It's great to see them and just adds to my motivation. The hill honestly isn't that hard, but it sure is beautiful. Actually, all of the terrain so far has been stunning. Despite the challenging conditions I am having a great time. On the descent down Texaco, I let the Warbird rip. I LOVE descending on this bike - it's so stable and just charges to the bottom of each hill. However, the backside of Texaco is littered with probably the loosest and chunkiest gravel of the day. I pick a bad line and all of a sudden I have a flat. Crap. I'm not really that bummed about changing it because the Velocity A23s I have are super easy to change. I'm mostly bummed about losing my amazing group for the 2nd and 3rd headwind sections.
So I work my way through the change in about 7 minutes, being mindful of not rushing and making a stupid mistake. Tire goes back on, things are dandy, I finish up the Texaco descent and start preparing myself for the oncoming headwind. I turn right onto 270th Street and BAM. Hello, headwind! I don't normally ride with music but I decide that desperate times call for desperate measures. Music gets cranked and I start stuffing my face with QT's 630-calorie chocolate/peanut butter rice krispie bar. But the tunes and the food, surprisingly, don't really help me move any faster. I am struggling here. I see MO rider Don, but he soon passes me.  And so does anyone else; I can't hold a wheel for the life of me. This feeling continues for 5 miles. SLOGFEST. I do get some reprieve as we jog south, but it's brief and pretty soon the course returns to the 270th Street windtunnel. I start playing mental tricks on myself and my mind dredges up a race report from STL's Peat Henry (DK200 SS CHAMP!!) from the Cohutta 100 a few weeks ago:

"The thing is 
we were all stuck in the same boat 
so the thing to do 
is make the best of it 
and be the most excited person out there." 

I'm not exactly excited, but I refuse to get down on myself for going slow. This wind is hurting everyone. Sure, other people might be with groups but that's out of my control so the best thing I can do now is keep pedaling. And pedal I do. The miles slowly tick by. And much to my amazement, when a paceline rolls past, I jump on the back and am able to hold on!!! The effort is still higher than I'd like but I don't care; I have help fighting these conditions. We rotate pulls and make better progress against the wind. There is another Salsa-sponsored rider in this bunch (didn't catch his name) and for some reason this cheers me up immensely again. In the pre-race meeting, DK race director said "There is no other bike company doing more for gravel grinding than Salsa Cycles" and I completely agree. So the more Salsa kits I see today, the more joy it brings me (and the Thunderchicken too, I'm sure). I am able to hang with this group until we hit the pavement into CP2. I'm wayyyy off my projected arrival time, but I'm able to find my brother easily and we execute another lightning-fast pit!

Leg 3, 52 miles, 1345 to 1757 = 4:12
My cooler waiting for me at CP3.
Guess what's awesome about the start of Leg 3?!? 13 MILES OF TAILWIND!! I chat with another rider for a few miles but eventually settle into an all-day pace. One century down, only one to go! Towards the end of the tailwind we have a couple wide-open downhills which I enjoy immensely. Then there's a left turn back into the wind. But as I'm making the turn, I spot two riders off their bikes. I recognize them! It's Mike and Josh from Big Shark. They are seriously fast dudes and I ask them why they're not riding. "We hit the wall" they reply. Oh. OK. I guess that's a reason for stopping. I tell them I haven't found my wall yet. As I make the turn into the wind they yell "...then go find it!". And I certainly will.

The road now is sketchy but I love it. Have I mentioned how lucky I am to be riding an Attackpheasant? Seriously, I don't now how I would have gotten through this race without being completely infatuated with my bike. Back in go the headphones and I get to work, gettin er done. Same story as before - riders pass me, I can't hold a wheel, I get frustrated. I try to eat something, nothing sounds good and that worries me. The wind won't stop. I start to mentally break down and as I'm nearing the top of "Unnamed Road Climb" I just can't take it anymore. I get off my bike and walk beside it. Yes, dear readers, this is what a silkychrome temper-tantrum looks like...walking instead of riding. So dramatic, aren't I? It's the adventure racer in me.

After a few hundred meters of walking I've calmed down and am ready to ride again. The wind is still howling but I've vented and feel tiniest bit renewed. I'm still not fast but I've got enough motivation to keep the pedals turning. And here comes a pair of riders, a guy and a girl from Indiana that I met earlier in the day, and I throw myself onto their wheels to hide from the wind. Their pace is almost too fast for me, but I force myself to stay with them and the one other dude we've picked up. It's UG-LEE. I'm absolutely hating that I need to put out this much effort to manage a measly 10 mph, but if I slack off for one pedal stroke I'll be back in the wind by myself. So I suck it up and WORK.
The Indiana duo pulling on the left. Me pulling on the right. Didn't last long! Check out the next photo in the series: http://kmorris.exposuremanager.com/p/120mile/dirtykanza1484_29_14_3
I stay with the Indiana duo for a few miles until we make a right onto Thurman Creek Road. It's a downhill, and now there's a crosswind instead of a headwind. I am so relieved! I bomb down the descent and at the bottom find the 4-person San Antonio crew dealing with a mechanical, or something. They are just getting ready to roll again so I pass and pretty soon they've caught me. I stay on their wheel for a few miles until we hit some hills and I can't keep up. My motivation plummets again, but shortly after I hear some obnoxious braking behind me and it turns out to be Tyler, Turbo, and 2 other guys! I am so excited to see them and Tyler insists I jump on his wheel. I know he's super strong so I feel absolutely zero guilt about drafting. Tyler's company is exactly what I need at this moment in the race - optimistic, relaxed, funny, just downright inspiring. We all ride and chat together for the remaining miles (there are about 20 of them). I prove my worth to the group when there is a tricky, unmarked turn (Den Creek Road). I've been keeping contact with the map so I point it out and we take it with no problems. A LOT of other riders missed it. Turbo gets a flat just a mile out from CP3, but the boys tell me to ride ahead since they're planning on quitting at the CP anyway. I do and feel very, very grateful that they found me when they did. I roll into CP3 very tired, but also with the confidence that I can ride the 50 remaining miles. My brother and I get lights organized and after 4 minutes I'm ready to hit the road!

Leg 4, 50 miles, 1801 to 2153 = 3:52
Looking at the results now, I leave this CP as 5th place chica, in front of Indiana girl (Corinna) and San Antonio girl (Jenny). I have to stop and pee early and get passed by Corinna and her dude and they are GONE. I am pretty tired so for some reason, it doesn't bother me. Corinna's been riding faster than me all day, it's just my short CP stops that have kept me close to her. So I just stick to my pace and throw the headphones in again. I must be enjoying my music too much because I miss a turn and find myself on a paved road about a 1/2 mile too early. It's a fairly easy correction, however, and pretty soon I'm jamming along on a long northbound stretch of road. I pass a guy fiddling with his pack. A few miles later that same guy catches up to me and it's Mark from Kuat!! I am really happy to see a familiar face, and one as friendly and fit as Mark! We roll side-by-side, catching up on mountain bike and adventure racing stories from around the Midwest. I feel like I'm on life support at this point, but Mark seems fresh as a daisy so he does most of the talking. He soft pedals up the hills so I can keep up and then we both bomb the descents.
Mark, earlier in the day.
A few miles later, Jenny and her San Antonio crew roll past us. They were part of the group that I tackled the very first headwind section with (...oh did I not mention?? Tim Ek was in that group too!!!) and it's cool to keep seeing them. I hop on their wheel and the pace hurts, but I know it will get me done faster. We're cruising along, I hit a hidden pothole, and one of my Magnums ejects! This is the first bottle malfunction I've had all day, and these bottles are sort of special, so I circle back to retrieve it. I'm not upset, I just really want to keep my bottle. Also, littering is bad. I look up and see the group still flying down the road. Except...oh wait, there is Mark looking backwards, and then slowing down. He's waiting for me! I'm both happy and sad about this - happy to have company but sad that he's giving up this free ride into town. I tell him that when I catch back up but he insists it's not a problem. Okay dude, let's finish this thing then!
Actual footage of me with the sunset.
We roll through the remaining miles at an easy pace and keep the chatting going. My knees are sore, my right foot has PF pain, and my hands and ass are hurting too. But really everything's in great shape considering. A pair of riders goes past and a tall guy in a black kit tells us to look backwards at the sunset. We do, and it's the most magical one I've ever seen. It looks like a straight-up Lisa Frank trapper keeper, all purple and pink! Yeah! Who needs to beat the sun when you've got a show like that! As the darkness descends on us, we keep rolling steady and gradually turn our lights from blinky to bright. We miss another turn coming out of Americus but again, it's easily corrected since I'm in staying in contact with the map. The final miles are just no big deal; they're flat, the wind has died down, the pace is comfortable, and I'm just feeling really lucky to have found great company when I needed it throughout the 200 miles. We roll into Emporia and are greeted by what seems like the entire town! Everyone wants to high-five us as we ride down the finishing chute and it's a really fantastic feeling. We stop, Jim and Tim (race directors) hand us our pint glass, and then I'm an official Dirty Kanza 200 finisher!

Steven is right there to collect me at the finish line. I give Mark a huge hug and thank him for looking after me for so many miles, I think it was more than 30. Right away I see Jim and Jamie, also from Kuat, and hear they had a stellar day. Who else had a stellar day? PEAT HENRY! He's at the finish too and I hear he WON SINGLE SPEED!!! DSLITR!!! I ask Steven about Zoll and learn he rolled out of CP3 about an hour after I did, so I think that gives me time to shower at the hotel before coming back to see him finish. On the way to the car, I'm stopped by a herd of very excited kids. They must live in Emporia and they want to know all about my bike - how does it change speeds? How do your shoes attach to the pedals? Did you see any snakes? What did you eat? How bright is your light? What's in your water bottles? Can you sign my shirt? I am totally loving this - I used to be a camp counselor and that kid excitement never gets old. I chat with them for as long as possible before I have to leave to shower. Steven proves his excellent crewing skills once again by bringing THREE baked potatoes from Wendy's. I scarf down two in the car. Favorite post-race food EVER.

The kids. So awesome.

Don't even have time to take gloves off.
TOTAL: 202 miles, 15:53 total time, 15:29 moving time
After getting cleaned up, we return to the finish line to hang out and watch more friends roll in. They have a live results screen and I find out I'm the 7th girl! Turns out Corinna from Indiana held onto the 5th place spot which is super cool. I missed my time goal by more than an hour, but I knew at the start it was extremely ambitious and would have taken a 100% perfect day. I should have known that days at Dirty Kanza are never 100% perfect - this race will always find some unexpected challenge to throw your way. It's all about having a game plan and then being confident making adjustments.

What did the gravel mirror show me? That I am overly ambitious. That I am obsessively well-prepared. That I do not quit. That I am still learning. That I will be back to DK200. Long live the gravel grinder!

PS. Here is a nerdy brain-dump of gear/nutrition details.
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