As I sat down to write my dirty kanza race report I noticed the familiar shake in my hands. I looked at my Dexcom and saw 65 with a down arrow. I don’t recall giving myself too much insulin but that’s the way the diabetes ball bounces sometimes there is no explanation. I often say that diabetes calls for a lot of on the spot doses and last minute fixes. I dose and eat according to historical references that are filed away in my brain. I know that my correction factor and my basil rate (the constant base rate) are good because I have days and nights where the line on my dexcom is straight. I’ve also had long rides with great blood sugar levels. I love those days, when I nail it. I’m often more worried about nailing my blood sugar than nailing a race. Keep in mind this is just me, I know plenty of diabetics who seem to race very well without issues. However not so many are doing 200 mile gravel races that last well over 12 hours.
If you’ve been reading my blog you will know that I signed up for and had been training for the Dirty Kanza 200, a world premier gravel race in the flint hills of Kansas. I trained and raced with my wonderful coach and now mentor and friend Mike Peters. I had, what I thought was a sketchy start to the training. Work was crazy and I suffered the loss of my best friend Katie to cancer. I was physically and emotionally exhausted at times. 200 miles seemed daunting and I often thought about throwing in the towel. There were days where I would be riding for 5-6 hours by myself, just thinking about life and Katie the emotions were physically draining. This is where the mentoring part of Mike kicked in. It wasn’t just a calendar filled with miles and watts, he had this way of just saying exactly what I needed to hear to continue towards my Kanza goal. For that I owe him a debt of gratitude. I know he will be reading this so, Mike, thanks from the bottom of my heart for your words of wisdom, your encouragement and for believing in me. Thanks to him and the support of Tom, I got to feel what you can see in this picture.
I can’t even write anything that would come close to what you see here, as the saying goes this picture IS truly worth a thousand words. In the few minutes following all I could see was Mike beaming at me and coming to greet me, it was a moment that brought tears to my eyes and a moment that I will never forget .
The other person that I owe a debt of gratitude to is Tom. Without his support through my training I might have completely folded. I usually introduce my zaney race ideas casually to him then secretly sign up and pretend that we talked about it and he knew that I was doing it. Before he bats an eye we are planning a “vacation” to Emporia, Kansas. Seriously, his patience with me is never ending. He half joked “ so we are driving 500 miles so that you can ride 200 miles then driving 500 miles home.” Yes, honey, that is correct.
He meticulously packed up the car with his coolers, displaying tremendous ice managing skills second to none. We started the drive Thursday before the race and arrived in Lawrence about an hour and a half outside of Emporia where the race was. I had sprung on him that I wanted to stop here to see Rebecca Rusch “the Queen of Pain” do a course talk and iterated that there would be prizes and free stuff. So we arrived in Lawrence at 5 pm ate a big burger with my teammate and T1 diabetic Eric then went to the course talk. Tom patiently endured the heat of the 2nd floor in the bike store as I listened to Reba talk about her addiction to finish lines. It all paid off as I gleaned some great tips which I used during my ride (see my post here https://endurancediabetic.com/2014/05/30/bib-681-kanza-is-here/ ) and I won a beautiful pair of Smith sunglasses with 3 interchangeable lenses. I had a feeling that things were going to go well that weekend. After the talk we continued to Emporia where we checked in to the hotel. We got the room key and entered a smelly dank room. I’m not even sure this hotel was a 1 star. This was supposed to be “Americas best” Inn. We immediately heard the familiar chirping of the smoke detector, you know the one when the battery is dead or dying. So we picked up the phone to call the front desk. No dial tone. The phone didn’t work. So at 10:30 at night after 15 hours being on the road I went back to the front desk and told them. She offered to take the battery out. I said that didn’t sound very safe. So we got another room, still no phone but at least no chirping, which could either be a sign of a good battery or no battery.
We unload the car and had a wee drink then hit the hay. Friday I washed my bike and started preparing for the race. One of Reba’s tips was to be prepared and have your bike ready, tuned and cleaned. I figured I should wash the dirt off of it from the prior week’s race.
I rode my Trek Superfly mainly because I don’t have a decent CX bike (oh woe is me) and I had been training with it. Overall I don’t feel like I was at too much of a disadvantage. I could certain scream down the rocky sections like there was no tomorrow much to the envy of most of the cx bikers I passed and I easily navigated up the loose rocky sections. I will say that I was fairly impressed with how some of the people negotiated these sections on their CX bike, I’m not sure I would have been so brave.
Friday, we picked up the race packet, went to Walmart for some provisions, picked up spare wheel set from Mike, headed to lunch then hit the course talk and the pre-race meal. We arrived back at the hotel at 7pm and I got ready to make my sandwiches for the next day. As I was making the sandwiches I gave Tom his instructions for his important role of being my support vehicle. This was important because it would be my only source of refueling, water and extra tubes if needed. Bike racing, all day events and such are so out of Tom’s element so he made careful notes of instructions for each checkpoint. I’m pretty sure that when I told him about this race I hadn’t really articulated that he would be spending ALL day in the car waiting at each of the 3 checkpoints. Well, bless his heart he did such a great job. He was at each check point on time, he had the blackhawks flag (prior to them losing game 7 to LA) way up in the sky on a flagpole so I could see where he was parked and as I arrived I could see that he had taped his instructions for that checkpoint to his old green cooler. I was so touched by this. Like I said previously I couldn’t have done this without him.
My nutrition included the following a more detailed view of my intake is included below:
On the bike on each leg I had:
a full 3 L hydration pack with Skratch
dark chocolate and almond kind bar
4 packs of blocks
1 bottle with sustained energy and espresso hammer gel
1 spare water bottle for emergencies and/or cooling off
At the checkpoints I had:
Coke/diet coke/red bull and one coconut water
Jason’s chocolate hazelnut and banana on whole wheat low carb soft bread in halves.
Ham and cheese and mustard on whole wheat low carb bread in halves
Peanut M&M’s and other chocolate treats
I carried 2 spare tubes and 4 c02 cartritdges and some tools that I probably wouldn’t know what to do with even if something did happen but you never know. I just kept praying to the flat god’s and funnily enough to Katie to have me not flat, I am sure she was saying gills (that is what she called me) there’s nothing I can do about that! It wasn’t so much the racing or riding I was worried about I was more worried about mechanical issues. It’s not that I don’t know how to change a flat it’s just that I hadn’t done it on my MTN bike before and I was running tubeless which just freaked me out a bit. But hey, it’s not like I’m the only rider who doesn’t like flats, Lance Armstrong rode the last 10 miles or so of Leadville with a flat so I don’t feel so bad about admitting that. I ended up using the same tires I rode Leadville in, Racing Ralph 2.1 tubeless.
I had worked out my insulin requirements and set up a new pattern on my pump rather than using a temporary basil set up. I also placed my pump in a frio pack to keep cool and had placed a spare vial and syringe in another frio pack in my hydration pack. My basils were set up as the following:
5am-7pm 0.8 units per hour compared to 0.5-0.7 on regular days.
7pm+ 0.6 units per hour
I reduced my basil in the later hours because typically at an Ironman I will go low later on in the race. Not so much this race.
I had set my alarm for 3am the morning of the race, not to get up but to check my blood sugar. I figured If anything was wrong it would give me 3 hours to fix it. Sure enough I woke up and saw that I was at 200 so gave myself a correction bolus.
I woke up at 4:30 am and ate breakfast and bolused about 80% (about 3 units). I had 2 pieces of low carb whole wheat bread with banana and chocolate hazelnut butter my go to race day breakfast. Tom drove me to the start line . I felt great, my blood sugar was in the 170’s when I left I had all my supplies I had my VQ kit and arm coolers I was all set. I started back with the 18 hour crew but inched forward a bit since there was space and I didn’t want to get caught up with any bad riders. I didn’t see Eric or any of the others prior to the start. The temperature was pleasant and there was still a morning haze which kept the heat off.
We were led out 3 miles by the police then it turned to gravel. I made my way through a crowd of people and settled in. I sipped on my skratch and my hammer bottle and ate blocks here and there. I probably should have had a more timed eating strategy but I felt like I was spacing out the intake nicely. Well, wouldn’t you know at about 7:30 heard the familiar beep of the dexcom, I was over 300. I hadn’t felt overly excited or nervous so I didn’t think adrenaline would have factored in but apparently it must have since nothing else I was doing or eating was out of the ordinary. I quickly gave myself a mini-bolus of half a unit. I also increased my basil rates to 1 unit from 0.8 units for 2 hours. Within the hour I had double arrows down which was ok because I had just been sipping and nibbling. I took the opportunity to eat my gel which was a salty caramel gu. The next hour I spent enjoying the scenery and looking at the beautiful haze over the land. I felt like I was in a different country, beautiful expansive rolling hills as far as the eye could see. Near the end of the leg was the water crossing (pictured below) where most of us got off our bikes and walked through knee high water. It wasn’t worth thinking about, so I just plunged right in, water soaking through my shoes and socks, I came out the other side feeling like I picked up several pound in water weight in my wool socks. The first checkpoint arrived really quickly, honestly I had barely even noticed that I had already ridden 50 miles. I looked around and sure enough there was the blackhawks flag flapping in the wind high above all other things, it was perfect. I rolled over to the spot and was surprised to see Eric. Tom was busy helping him and saw me standing there and jokingly yelled at me for being early. I had told him approx. 4.5 hours for CP1 but arrived about an hour early! He had not even had a chance to fill my other hydration pack yet. I wanted to make the stop quick so I hopped off my bike and ran around trying to find a port a potty, I had been dying to go for quite sometime and refused to stop on the course. I didn’t see any so ran over to a park and went behind a sign… I’m all class. I ran back and Eric was getting ready to leave, he said he would see if the others would wait, I told him to go on but sure enough Eric, Brett and Steve waited. The time pressure was on. I replaced the hydration pack and all my bottles which I had pre-made, grabbed another pack of blocks and a gu and tested ( I was 160 yay!!!). I grabbed a half banana and jason’s chocolate hazelnut sandwich which Eric decided to hold on to for me and we rode off. I couldn’t help but notice the thick layer of reddish/brown dust that had blanketed my legs. Pictured below, those shoes ended up in the trash!
The leg 2 started off fairly bumpy and hilly. I had completely forgotten about my sandwich that Eric had. Then I realized and took it from him. Unfortunately the roads were so rough in this section that there was not a lot of opportunity to eat it. The thing was turning to liquid in my hand. So I tried to put it in my bento box. Unfortunately after another several miles I looked down and saw that it had fallen out… no sandwich for this gal. I ate some extra blocks and continued to sip on my hammer bottle as well as the skratch. After sometime the boys decided they would stop and pee. Apparently they had not done so at the checkpoint so assuming that they would catch up to me eventually I decided to pedal on. I had already resolved to pee on the bike (I know gross, but i did use my spare bottle to help wash myself off a bit.) I had to go to often, it wasn’t worth the effort to take off my jersey every time. Besides there was not a whole lot of shrubbery to go behind, it was literally all grass. The scenery got even more spectacular as the day went on. The skies turned blue and the sun came out. We truly lucked out. My heartrate maintained around 130’s. Miles later the 3 amigos (Eric, Steve and Brett) caught up to me. We rode together again. At some point Eric said he was going to eat something I think he was going a bit low so he slowed down to eat, again I said I’d just motor on at my own pace. Somehow I ended up riding with Steve for a while and Brett and Eric were behind. Steve said he was going to hang around and wait for them so I told him I’d just keep going. I figured better for me to get a few miles ahead than have to slow them down later. Besides if Eric was always behind me he would be able to help if I got a flat! Yes I had some motivation. I never saw them during the second leg again. At about 10 miles out I felt a little hungry and ate most of a kind bar. I pulled into the second checkpoint, still feeling good. I had finished the 3L bladder. The first thing I noticed was that Tom had laid out my little momentos that I brought with me for inspiration. The picture that Katie gave me of her a few months prior to her passing, a picture of my mom and dad and finally the stuffed Honeybadger and tequila bottle that my very dear friend Helen (aka H-fog) gave me with a little note on it. It made me smile from ear to ear. Then Tom told me that my niece Cassaundra had texted him to say good luck.
I inhaled two ham and cheese halves with an ice cold coke. I swear, It was the best tasting meal I’ve ever had. The rest was a bit longer than I wanted, it was quite hot. The last few miles were pretty grueling and a little windy. I had been by myself for quite some time. I tested again – 160 ! yippee! Considering the coke etc. I gave myself a mini bolus of 0.5 units. Mike had given us the idea of filling pantyhose with ice to keep me cool. So Tom got busy filling this cut stocking. It was quite humerous as the stocking got longer and longer. I tried to put the “ice pack” on my neck but the ice slipped into each side and fell to my waste under my jersey. I felt like I had two sagging boobies. I decided to keep it in since it was ice after all. I saw my blood sugar creeping up so I upped my basil again to 1 unit for 2 hours. I was just about to get started as Eric rolled up, he said that they had all run out of water, so Tom got busy helping Eric. As I was heading out I noticed that my back tire was low, oh crap. So I took the opportunity with Eric there to go back and check it out. He pumped it up but it still worried me… was this the beginning of a flat? Please god no. Pray to the flat gods, pray.
I decided again to keep moving. I had already been at the CP for 20 minutes and I didn’t want to risk hanging around for much longer. I headed on my way and at this point recognized some jersey’s from past miles. There was the guy with the yellow “don’t run me over” jersey and the guy with my favorite jersey of the day “energy circle” with a donut pictured below. I kept a close eye on my back tire… sure enough it started creeping down. It didn’t go flat but was pretty low. Do I put a tube in now or keep riding it knowing it was soft? I decided to fill it with some co2 to try and make it last. I checked the entire tire for a tear or hole, there was nothing, I did see some moisture where it looked like some of the Stan’s was leaking out. The seal appeared to have been broken. I knew that I was losing some efficiency by riding on a softer tire but I also knew that changing it would take a long time for me. Isn’t that just crazy? I also thought at some point Eric and the gang would catch up. I kept looking back but no such luck. I continued on rolling through the fields cringing on the rough parts and the cow grates. The sky was blue the sun was hot, the grass was greener than I ever thought possible. We literally went miles without seeing one building. There were several sections where the cows were actually on our path. I took my time so as not to startle them and start a stampede. I did NOT want to be run over by a big ass cow. Between the cows, turtles crossing the road, armadillo shells, snakes (yes I saw a slithery snake), green green grass, blue blue sky and gravel my rear tire continued to be soft but not flat. I kept thinking about when my nickname “the honeybadger” was coined. It was during a Madison loop ride where I rode on a soft tire for several miles until the bike shop aid station where I had a new tube and tire put on. Lyndsay (teamWILD) started killing herself laughing that night and saying “Gillian doesn’t give a shit if she has a flat, she just keeps on riding”. I laughed to myself with that memory. I also looked up at the blue sky often to speak to Katie and pictured her up there looking down at me.
I topped up the air in the tire several times with the same co2 cartridge. Then at about mile 25 I was tearing down a hill and heard the unmistakable hiss of the back tire, it was truly flat this time. I look again and didn’t see a hole, I spun the tire around.. even put the bike upside down and stood there. As I stood I was passed by two girls… ugh. 25 miles to go … I can do this. I had lots of cartridges I filled up the tire again.. maybe the seal would re-seal itself. I continued to ride. This is where I met “big Dave” He started talking to him and we exchanged names. I told him about my tire woes and he said he would help if I wanted to put a tube in and thought that I should. I was so stubborn and this point I only had 20 miles to go, surely I would make it to checkpoint 3?! We actually stopped and he actually got out his hand pump and started pumping….It only lasted a mile. I got off and took the tire off feeling like a numbskull for not listening to him. Luckily he was behind and stopped again to help. I was so unbelievably greatful for him. As we started to take the tire off, up road Eric, Brett and Steve. Eric was not doing very well and was cramping up like crazy. He was suffering from dehydration big time. He hopped off his bike and started to help. I said good-bye to big Dave and thanked him profusely. Eric finished changing my flat for me, we still didn’t see any damage to the tire which was a good thing. Brett and Steve had circled back to the house about ¼ mile back with the hose to get some cold water. Eric tried to get back on his bike and cramped. He said he wanted to go back to the house as well. So knowing how much he was hurting we wanted to make sure he was ok. So we all walked back together. We found some shade for him and told the house owner that he was going to rest. Brett and Steve thought about waiting but Eric insisted on staying and said that he would have Tom pick him up. So after a little deliberation we decided to march on. We knew Eric was safe anyway.
Brett, Steve and I rode the last 20 miles to checkpoint 3. It felt like 200 miles. It was hot and a bit windy at this section and we were 130 miles in. I honestly thought CP3 would never arrive. Finally we turned the corner to the road and saw it like an oasis in the dessert. I asked how long they planned on being Brett said about 10 minutes, so I said I thought I’d probably take a bit longer than that. Their support vehicle was at the front of the CP and mine was down the road further at the back end.
I felt slightly dehydrated during that last stretch and I had started to feel a little woozy during the last few miles and was getting goosebumps, so I downed the cold coconut water. Tom had his CP3 list taped to the cooler and went through it with me. I got my lights and decided that since I’d still have a couple of hours of day light I would put it on down the road rather than ride with the weight on my head. I put the light in my pack. I tested at about 160 again, honestly the same # practically every time. I ate a sandwich had a coke and some m&m’s . I’m not sure why but I didn’t mini-bolus for this, I paid for this later. Again, I didn’t sit down. I changed my sunglasses to my clear ones, replaced some blocks and a bar. I also put on my old Garmin that I had loaded with the course, I knew my 910 xt was supposed to last 20 hours but would it? I had the back up just in case. I did NOT want to get stranded in the dark! Eric had gotten in touch with Tom and said that he was getting a ride to CP 3 with someone. I waited for a bit. Finally he arrived in bad shape. His heart rate was elevated and he was cramping big time. We told them to get an EMT . An ambulance pulled up and cranked him full of fluids and checked out his vitals. The paramedic came over to me and told me that they wanted to take him to the hospital but he refused to go in the ambulance. So I went over to talk to him. He was pretty clear that he didn’t want the ambulance so I said that Tom would take him. I was finished with all I needed to do so Tom started to unpack the car to put Eric’s bike in and repack it up. Again, Tom was just an angel throughout this ordeal. Once I knew everyone was in good hands I said my good-byes assuming that Brett and Steve were long gone.
I really didn’t feel bad. Yes, it was daunting to think I had another 50 miles but I just kept pedalling. One of the things that Reba said on Thursday night was “I think how great it is that I get to just ride my bike all day”. It was true, no computers, no cell phones, no texts etc. just you, the bike, and nature. I just rode, fairly easy. Eventually I started catching up and passing some people. I also passed the two girls that had pass me earlier during the flat incident. I was feeling good. Enjoying the ride. Then at around 7:30pm I hear “beep beep” … Dexcom was telling me something. I looked and it just said “high” with a line going straight up practically. I guess this isn’t like ironman, no lows after 12 hours, I should have mini-bolused at cp3. Given the “high” I bolused a full unit. For the next hour or so I sipped very slowly on my Skratch, knowing that I would still need to keep hydrated. Eventually I came down and was able to munch on my blocks again. I was happy with my pace and was surprised that I met up with big Dave again. He said he was not doing well so I offered him a block which seemed to do the trick as he picked up the pace again. We rode in most of the way together with a few others. However I was losing light fast. I was riding with 4 or 5 others with lights which helped but eventually I was going to need to put mine on. This was a dumb move on my part. As I looked at the map I decided I’d ride with them to the next turn which put me approximately 10 miles from the finish. We finally made the turn and I had to stop. I was worried that I couldn’t see where I was going and I was worried that I was going to get in trouble for not having a proper light. I had a small one that barely let off a glow but I think it was fading. So I stopped and I watched the trail of glowing lights ride off in the distance. At this point it was so dark I could barely see my hand in front of me. I took the light out then realized I needed to align the plug into the battery so I had to get my cell phone flashlight out to see. So, trying to hold my pack, my phone and my light I finally got it turned on. It felt like everyone was passing me at this point, then I saw the one woman pass me again. I threaded the strap through the helmet which proved to be very difficult in the dark with the Velcro sticking to itself etc….. it was the most frustrating 10 minutes. The whole time the mosquito’s were buzzing around my ears and I was having to shoo them off. I finally got it on put my pack on and took off.. I didn’t even do up my straps, the battery cord was in front of my face but I didn’t care. I pedaled like mad to catch up to glowing lights in the distance. I finally was able to catch up to everyone again, including the one female. I rode with her and her crew for the last 6 miles. They were from the area and had been training hard. I wanted to break away from them but they knew the way turn by turn and it got a little confusing towards the end as we got closer to town and the university campus so rather than trying to muddle my way through I rode with them. We got to the top of commerce drive which was about ¼ mile from the finish so 201.75 miles in we both laid down the hammer. We were neck in neck sprinting to the end. We finally got to a barricade with a fairly narrow entrance, I bowed out and let her go in. I then slowed down a bit and drank in the cheers and the crowd, high fiving people as I rode in. I saw Clemens first who said how proud he was of me. He has a son with type 1 diabetes. Then I saw Mike running over to the biker exit with a huge smile which is where I almost lost it. I had done it and I felt great! I was sorry Tom just missed me at the finish line as he was coming back from seeing Eric at the hospital, he literally missed me by minutes.
All in all aside from a few glitches my blood sugar was relatively good. Here is a general run down of my intake: NUTRITION 1
These and more awesome shots can be found here:
My Strava file:
727 registered and 465 finished which was a record.
From what I can tell 28 women finished. I finished 13th overall at just under 16 1/2 hours and 10th in my age group (40+), 3 seconds behind “my friend” and about 20 minutes behind the 8th place finisher. So needless to say I was pretty pleased!
Mike, although finished in time that I could never fathom did not have such a good day, with 5 flats and a couple of spills it just wasn’t his race but was in great spirits nonetheless. He has vowed revenge on Kanza and said he’d be back. I think I would actually do this one again!
I also raised over $2,000 by selling my Kanza miles for the American Diabetes Association! It’s not too late to donate if you care to. (I promise I will stop doing this after this month !) But have to do it just in case. Click the link!