When I posted my last post I realized that I had never posted this!!!! It was sitting in draft mode (no wonder no-one commented!) so I re-read it and tweaked it and am posting now.. if you want to get to the meaty part skip to the “last 25 miles”.
First of all I want to say that I am so happy that I decided to do this race and yes I am saying this after it is over and knowing that it took me 18.5 hours to finish! I was on again off again with the decision because I am actually training for ironman Wisconsin. Throwing a 200 gravel race into the training mix certainly isn’t ideal and I knew I couldn’t convince Tom to support me again this year. I wanted to do it for two reasons 1. I knew it would take the better part of 14-16 hours a good mental prep for ironman. Also, the race has a draw to it that makes you want to do it. It’s the scenery, the route, the people and the town. Walking around Emporia the day before the race and attending the course talk it feels like a familiar place.
This year I was racing on a CX bike vs last year when I used my mountain bike. I got the Cronus all ready for the race and had Bontrager 33 XO tires installed tubeless. Kanza is notorious for flats due to pinched tires or puncture from flint. It is really quite rough in sections and if you don’t choose the right line you could get yourself into some serious mechanical issues. Knock on wood I have been lucky so far. The tires were a huge decision up until this point I have been riding 38’s on the CX bike. I felt very vulnerable using 33’s. I tried them out at the gravel grovel which has a various types of terrain – single track mud, grass, gravel rocky. They seemed fine here. As Kanza approached I kept looking at the forecasts, they were predicting thunderstorms and flash flooding. I would be lying if I didn’t say I was nervous. Not nervous about a little rain but nervous about the course conditions. There were several river crossings and spending 16 hours in wet and possible cold conditions was not appealing to say the least. The whole week I spent worrying about gear and tires. It seemed like everyone I asked were going with a 35 or even 40’s for the race and here I was with my 33’s. After speaking with my coach he set me straight and said to not question my decision and just go with it. He was right.
The Cronus – dubbed Peters Power after my coach who sold it to me was set up with a bento box for my blocks and blood glucose monitor and a bar. I had a rear seat bag with 2 tubes 3 co2’s and two connectors. I also had two water bottle holders. I put some purple and black zebra duct tape on the top tube to remind me of Katie when times got tough.
I’m trying to work on simplifying my nutrition. For this ride I planned on using Skratch as my electrolyte drink and cliff blocks as my main source of carbs. I also packed a couple of gels and bars for variety. The aid stations were to have chips, subway sandwiches and a ton of other stuff so I was quite sure I would get what I craved at each of the 2 aid stations which were located at approximately 75 and 150. This year I paid for support vs. last year where Tom supported me and I had the luxury of having everything I could possible want in the car. We did have aid station bags. I had extra blocks, skratch and tubes in the first one in the second I also had my helmet light and believe it or not my old bike shoes and socks. I had gotten new racing shoes with a hard sole and I was deathly afraid that I would suffer from hot feet or some other pain in my feet. I had worn them before but for 60 miles not 200 miles. For me comfort is so important on a race like this. If you are not comfortable for any reason it will make it all that much harder to mentally pull through. I also stuck with my Osprey hydration pack that I used the year prior. I had extra tubes, extra nutrition and a thin wind jacket packed in the pack.
|Early Thursday morning I packed up the bug and started the 10 hour journey to Emporia, Kansas. I had plenty of car snacks, pre-made lunch and lots of energy drinks! My friend Steve (VQ) was also leaving downtown Chicago around the same time, although he was ahead of me because I didn’t actually leave until 7:30 am a bit later than planned (of course). We kept in contact though which was nice. I didn’t feel so alone. I arrived at the hotel and checked in. I unpacked and sorted all my stuff. This hotel was new and about a million times better than the gross one from last year!
The next day we had talked about doing a pre-ride however it was pouring rain. Also I am not crazy about riding at all the day before. Both Steve and Clemmens (3rd place last year – other VQ’er) decided to do a viewing by car. They got about 5 miles in before they couldn’t even drive in their suburu or SUV! Clemmens showed us pictures of his mucked up SUV it was crazy. If this was what it was doing to cars what would it do to us. There was lots of talk about re-routing etc. They shared pictures and we talked more about tire choice although we couldn’t really do much at that point. My other big worry was getting the course loaded onto my garmin 920xt which seemed an impossible task. I was trying to follow some threads I’d googled and apparently it was a mystery to a lot of people. Finally after many hours and many tries I finally got it to work. (Note I have since figured out a good method to do this albeit hard still!) This course was marked to a point but was not to be relied upon.We went to the early course talk which is held at the movie theatre in town. We heard Rebecca Rusch the Queen of Pain talk about what keeps her going in tough times. She was looking for her third win the next day. The organizers who you can tell are very passionate about this race gave a very emotional tribute to a loved one that passed away which madae me think of Katie. They make every racer feel like they matter. I wandered around the town afterwards and checked out the art galleries which had some great framed photos from prior year’s races. Then had pasta dinner at the church. Back at the hotel the alarm was set for 4am with a 6am race start.
The start line was about 3.5 miles away and I was driving there because I knew that I would NOT want to ride from the race back to the hotel. The hotel had breakfast so I had some oatmeal with peanut butter and a banana as well as some eggs. I loaded up the car and head towards the race start. I felt good and had actually been able to use the bathroom :). I reduced my basal insulin to 65%. I parked the car and rode to the main street where the race started. I wore my VQ kit with arm warmers and toe covers on my shoes full finger gloves and a headband which covered my ears. Nothing is more painful to me than being cold on a ride. It was damp out, not raining but misty. I saw Steve at the 16 hour pace mark and although I aimed for better than that I lined up there.
I really would like to break the race up into the first 175 miles and then the last 25 miles.
For some context here is a great article written about the race.
The first 175:
The race started with a neutral roll out of town. We stopped a couple of times for an ambulance I hoped it wasn’t a racer. Once we got going the mist in the air caused a lot of fogging so I took off my glasses and stuffed them in my shirt. It was a really damp day. On the third 5 miles we hit the mud. The mud was thick and sticky like peanut butter it stuck to everything it stuck to our shoes our tires everything. We had no choice but to carry our bikes from about mile 10 to about mile 14. That took an hour and ten minutes. That section I averaged 3.4 miles per hour. What was worse is that you didn’t know how long the walking would last, there was a long line of bikers carrying bikes for as far as the eye could see. We would turn corners and people were still walking. Some tried to ride only to clog up there gears and components with thick clay mud which was impossible to remove. I carried the bike to my side, I hooked in on my arms in front, I tried to carry it like a purse over my shoulder and I carried it on my back. There was no comfortable position. My toe covers had peeled off of the bottom of my shoes and found their way on top of my shoes and I looked like I had a tongue coming out of each shoe.
Here are some pictures:
The following 50 miles were uneventful, although I couldn’t help but notice the number of people who were dropping out at this point, either done in by the walking or broken bike parts from the mud. I reached the one river crossing from last year I prayed that it was not cold. With the cloud cover and the cooler temp I wasn’t exactly warm. As I plunged my feet into the water I found it surprisingly warm but now I was completely soaked. I had worn my favorite wool giro socks which had never failed me before no matter what weather. Please don’t fail me now. There were several river crossings throughout the day and several detours from the original route. One in particular had a small 2 foot water fall attached to it. I remember it was quite a strong flow and the edge was close to where we walked. You couldn’t see the bottom of the river needless to say I walked very gingerly.
Back on the bike I settled in again and headed towards aid station #1. I had planned on making my stops nice and short and efficient. As I arrived through the timing arch the cheers were loud. I can only describe it as tour de france like. People lining the street just yelling and cheering. It felt so good. I got to the paid support area which was at the other end of the aid stop due to the re-route. I ate a half a peanut butter sandwich and a few chips and a couple of pickles. I refilled my water and hydration pack and restocked my food supply. Since my dex was beeping low all the time I lowered my basal again to 20% had I also had to use the bathroom and instead of going back to the port-a-potty I went to the gas station where I waited in line. All in I think I took about 15 minutes. Not terrible.
I rolled out feeling good despite the slower time. I was pretty excited. Somehow at about mile 80 while carrying my bike again a button was pressed on my watch. I am not sure what happened but I thought it had turned off. At this point I started my watch again but somehow lost some miles and didn’t exactly know where I was for a while. Finally at some point I figured it out and was able to add up where I was. Still it was a royal pain.
The course wound its way through some private lands where we passed groups of cows hanging out by the edge of the road we were riding on. I slowed down and started yelling as we were told to do. One particular big black cow made a quick move but luckily bolted the other way. It’s all part of the Kanza fun. People sometimes ask me how I can ride so long by myself. Although the ride is beautiful sometimes I do get bored, at those times when I’m out there just me, the gravel, the grass and the sky I talk to Katie. I have full on conversations with her. I think out there she can hear me better because there are no distraction. I know I usually hear her loud and clear.
As I rode I saw the same people over and over again. I passed them they passed me. There were two particular guys that I came upon over and over again. I recognized a thick Canadian accent and asked them where they were from. They were from Kitchener, Waterloo the one guy had started the race the prior year but had not finished so then dragged his friend with him this year. I told them that I was grew up in Richmond Hill, Ontario (a few hours from Kitchener) so from that point onwards I was dubbed “Richmond Hill”. We were laughing about how I would keep sneaking up on them. I had already ridden most of the race by myself (non-drafting) and this next section on the way to aid station 2 was particularly difficult because you were riding into the wind a good part of it. I struggled a great deal. They had caught up to me and told me to hop on… so I managed to get a few free miles out of them which was nice. There was also a guy on a fat bike. Now that was nuts! He would fall back then catch up many times over during the race. I am pretty sure he ended up finishing ahead of me.
To this point everything was humming along pretty nicely. I kept my heartrate down as much as possible and I was staying well hydrated eating my blocks. I dealt with the mud/water crossing hazards, dodging dead armadillo shells and stopping multiple times trying to figure out which direction to go in. At this point following the people in front of you was not a good answer. The cue sheets were not updated for the last minute detours and my Garmin 920XT certainly was not updated.. more often than not it was telling me that I was off course. I still didn’t think my time was going to be way off at this point. I would have expected it to be slightly longer than last year. Little did I know!
Somewhere on the way to aid station 2 one of my lenses popped out of my rudy sunglasses. I wasn’t worried from a sun standpoint since they were polarized and it was overcast. I thought I had caught it in my arm but when I stopped to look it wasn’t there. From then on I was the one lensed bandit. I figured if anything flew up and hit my eye at least one would be protected.
Finally at about 7:30 pm I rolled into the 2nd aid station at about mile 155. I WAS starving and I was so hoping that this aid station would have the subway sandwiches I was promised… I needed something non-sweet asap. I rode through the aid station looking for the purple chamois butt’r tents and soaked in the cheers. At this point people had been out there for a very long time and they knew a lot of people had dropped out so the few riders they got they really cheered for! It was freaking awesome. I asked about the paid support and I had actually passed it so had to roll back to the start of the aid station. I found it and quickly dug into an Italian sub and some chips. I got my special needs bag and stood by the fire pit. It was starting to get chilly. I took my red bull and refilled my nutrition and hydration. I dug into another sandwich and ate more trail mix that I had packed (peanuts, raisins and m&m’s = super sweet). If you are a diabetic you may figure out what happened later (think lots of food and only 20% of insulin) I looked at my clean dry shoes I had packed and made a decision to change out of my wet ones. I was told that the rest of the course would be flatter and dryer. Note to self, do not believe everything you hear! I figured I had the dry shoes and socks why not use them, it was worth it to take the time. Also because I felt chilled I put on my light wind jacket over top my hydration pack. I also put my serta light on my helmet. Just to throw something else on to your already tired body the light is super heavy. I thought to myself I only (yes I thought only) had 45 miles to go. The math in my head thought even if it took me four more hours that is a total of 17.5 hours only an hour more than last year. I was ok with that given the conditions this year.
I rolled out again. The last leg out of aid station 2 starts with a fairly steep hill (at least it felt steep to me). After muscles stiffening at the aid station and low energy it was a struggle. Once I got past the hill and warmed up again I felt pretty good ( as good as can be expected). I took the light jacket off. I fiddled around with the light to try and get the setting to medium or low vs. the bright. The brighter the setting the quicker the battery drains. I couldn’t get it but I thought sure it would last until the end. I was under this false sense of having “only” 45 miles left. In this case my math was not good.
Within ten miles of aid station 2 my feet got soaked again, so much for the dry shoes. I should have known better. At 25 miles to it felt like 5. I was happy. At least until things just started to go very wrong.
The last 25 miles – what could go wrong?
I was riding on my own again. I had been feeling good having past a few people and still had energy. It was of course pitch black and I was trying to follow the cue sheets although I didn’t have the exact mileage and I had trouble seeing the small print due to my old eyes and my recent need for readers. Well, I didn’t have my readers so I had to stop and pull my one lensed glasses off to try and read where I was to go.
I overshot a turn and slowed to do a U turn. As I was doing the U turn my brake cables got caught on my head tube which caused my brake to engage involuntarily which then caused me to crash. So after 16 hours or so on the bike negotiating river crossings, rocks and mud I crash and land on my elbow and hip. With the body being so tired I may as well have been run over by a mac truck. That is how I felt. In addition my rear wheel seemed to come out of true or something and my brake was continuously rubbing so I had to disengage the back brake. I also noticed that my rear red blinker had fallen off somewhere.
Then because I had eaten so much at the aid station #2 I felt bloated, also because I had reduced my insulin so much my blood sugar sky rocketed with all the food. Doh! Bloated and high bg = sluggish.
Sluggish and bruised I carried on.
To add fuel to the fire my headlamp went out. It was pitch black out. I stopped took off my pack to get to the battery. I fiddled with the connection thinking it came loose due to my fall. Sure enough it came back on. I put everything back on only for it to go out with in seconds of starting again… arg! Why hadn’t I taken the time to put the light on the correct setting!!!! Lesson learned – take the time!!! Luckily the day before I had bought a “spare” at Walgreens. So I pulled out the cheap headlamp I had bought the day before. I pulled the elastic on top of my helmet and off I went. Unfortunately the lamp kept slipping off so I pulled it off and wrapped it around my handlebars. At this point all the people I had passed were now passing me. When I say all it was really only about 20 or so over all the stops… there were not a lot of people out there at this point. Unfortunately the lamp then fell off its elastic band so I was left holding the lamp in my hand. At this point.., high blood sugar, bruised body, no rear brake and no real light and time ticking I felt discouraged and I just wanted to be done. As I crawled along barely able to see my hands were so sore that I actually used the clip part of the light and held it in my mouth. With each movement of my head a shadow would cross me causing my heart to palpitate and jump into my throat thinking something was coming at me.
The final “straw” was that my garmin shut down within the last 13 miles. I had truly no gauge as to where I was. The last person that passed me was off in the distance and all I could see was a brief glimmer of his red flashing light. I tried to keep up enough just too at least follow it so I didn’t need to stop as much to read the instructions. At some points however I lost him and would need to try and figure out where I was by reading the cue sheets in the dark.
That 25 miles felt like an eternity and it did take an eternity. Finally I hit town and I knew I was done. Finally there was human interaction. People cheering and actual lights! I rolled down the main street and saw the finish line and broke down. I was sort of sad because I didn’t have anyone waiting for me at the finish line. Last year I had Mike and a few other VQ riders and of course Tom. This year there would be no-one. A weird feeling.
I came across the finish line not expecting anything where I was greeted with a bit hug from Kristi Mohn one of the race organizers who I had met the previous year and at Rebecca’s Private Idaho. This is why I love this race I was alone but I wasn’t alone. She greeted me not as a stranger but as family, I whimpered in her arms. Then as I walked away I saw Clemmens. The guy had gone home showered and came back to help me. I felt so incredibly grateful for his help, he took my bike and walked me to my car and stood there while I pulled everything out of every bag I had while I looked for my car key. He already had a long day and he had come in 15th overall and 2nd in his age group. He will forever hold a special place in my heart because of this. Not to mention that his son has T1 and has been to riding on insulin camps (my fundraiser for IM)
My results – 9th out of 18 in my AG and 23rd out of 37 women finishers. I don’t feel bad about this. The overall finisher rate was just over 40% so just finishing this race was an accomplishment in and of itself.
Nutrition Summary and BG Summary
Wow! This was fascinating to me. I love the determination and honesty within it. I appreciate you sharing your strategies and insights. Good for you for doing it!! Sounds like a crazy day!!