I needed to get this out before Ironman Wisconsin and it is so late because of trainig for Ironman Wisconsin.. so there.

The theme for this years Dirty Kanza race which was written on the race t-shirt was “find your limit”.   Dirty Kanza is where you go to find this… or not. (skip down to race day for the exciting part)



If you were to measure proximity to my limit in distance I can honestly say that at one point I was a millimeter away from my limit.  I was as close to quitting this race than I have ever been at any other race.  For this reason my nutrition and blood sugar tracking was not stellar.  I was purely in survival mode.

This was my third DK200.  I didn’t really say to myself when I was thinking about my races for 2016 “Hey, lets do DK again!”  However, VQ ( was doing a camp around it.  I couldn’t NOT do it.  Having my teammates there and seeing them experience what I know and love about Dirty Kanza would be too much to miss.  So there I was doing it again.  I had already signed up for Ironman Wisconsin later in the year before I knew it I was having a repeat of 2015. Seriously what is wrong with me. Nothing, I love long races apparently.



My two big training blocks for DK included a camp in California with XXX racing a team here in Chicago.  I knew a few members and heard great things about the group and the camp. So in March I took a week off work and flew to San Luis Obispo and rode 547 miles with 34K ft of climbing in 7 days. It was glorious.  I certainly wasn’t of the caliber of the other riders but I held my own (literally) as I rode a lot on my own… there is a theme here!

Then I did VQ base camp at the end of April.  We didn’t do as much riding as we normally would at base camp because of the weather.  Still, I rode with a strong group of guys and felt like I rode harder than I normally do on longer rides.  The camp takes place in Lake Geneva, WI which has some decent hills.

Aside from a few other long rides, computrainer during the week I did a 300K (186 mile) ride with a few VQ’ers also doing DK.  It was part of this event

I felt ready for DK and though just maybe I could PR.  2014 my first year were great conditions, last year was the death mud march (4 mile hike a bike in thick gooey cement like mud) year due to a bad rainy season in the area.

Pre-race and race prep:

We arrived in Emporia Kansas on Thursday and we all had lunch together before heading back to the university where we were staying.  Yeah we stayed in the dorms.  They were actually great everyone was together they were clean my only concern was not having my own bathroom but it really wasn’t a problem.  I think we only had 3 women on our floor sharing 2 showers.  Even the no tv didn’t bother me.  There really wasn’t time for any tv watching.  If we weren’t out eating/registering or checking our bikes we were probably sleeping.

Heading to course talk

Heading to course talk


On Friday morning against everything I believe in when it comes to “course recon” we did a pre-race ride of the start and the finish about 25 miles.  I typically don’t want to be anywhere near my bike the day before or see any part of the any course I plan on riding.  But I had just gotten a bike computer (Garmin 520) some might say it finally made me a real cyclist because I no longer had to use my triathlon watch as my bike computer J.  I needed to practice using the course feature and I just had bearings replaced in my headset so wanted to make sure everything was working a-ok.   Our group was spoiled with having our own mechanic at the camp.  He was awesome and checked over ALL our bikes pre-race and lubed up and checked our bikes at each aid station.

The night before the race Robbie (Ventura owner of VQ) gave his normal race speech which included some great advice that helped when times got tough and believe me they got tough.

  1. When you feel like you are bonking slow down and eat something
  2. Take time to stretch your back, neck, change your hand position
  3. Smile
  4. Don’t stop pedaling
  5. Have your mantra ready or your switch
  6. Encourage and support other riders
  7. Look around and enjoy the scenery
  8. Dial in your nutrition
  9. Do everything you have to do properly don’t take short cuts.

I admit I am not the best “race” planner around and when I saw some of the others in action planning everything to a T I started to jot down some notes and thoughts on my nutrition.  I planned on sticking with my goto which I have been mostly using – marguerita shot bloks, scratch in my two water bottles and water in my hydration bag.

I used my same hydration pack as I have for the last several years.  The osprey Synchro 10.  I did consider something smaller and lighter but didn’t’ get around to trying it out.

In my bag I carried:

  • Tube
  • 3 co2 cartridges
  • A small kit including – wipes/bug repellant/sun tan lotion/anti-chafing cream
  • A light wind jacket
  • Small pump
  • Blood glucose tester
  • Spare battery pack
  • A bar / and peanut butter GU packet
  • A small repair kit – including gearing wire/chain link/ small amt of duct tape / zip ties and a how too book
  • 5 litres of water
  • Syringe and insulin
  • Chain lube

In my bento box was:

  • Small battery pack attached to my bike computer
  • Packet of blocks
  • My iphone (mainly for photos but I don’t think I actually took any)

In my seat back I had:

  • Tube
  • 2 co2 cartridges
  • Tire levers
  • Multi-tool
  • Hand cleaner wipe
  • Chain cleaner wipe

That is a lot of weight!

Each checkpoint this year was approximately 50 miles apart.  This is similar to 2014, while 2015 there was only 2 checkpoints which were as much as 70 miles apart. That made a huge difference from a mental standpoint.  50 miles is much easier to take than 70 or 75 miles.

In my check point bags 1&2 I had:

  • Extra nutrition
  • Snickers
  • Bottles with scratch powder
  • Tube and co2

In my checkpoint 3 bag including the above

  • Extra shoes
  • Extra sox
  • Arm warmers
  • Spare shorts

The weather this year was to start in the 60’s and get up to about 80 which made planning that much easier.  No cold or rain to worry about.  Which made packing much easier.

After our course recon ride we grabbed lunch and headed to the course talk.  This year they had one of the ranch owners who allow the race to ride through their property spoke of the history of the land and how it was one of the few grasslands left in the country.  Apparently as settlers travelled across the country they passed right over this section due to the rocky terrain… who can blame them they didn’t have gravel bikes!

We then grabbed an early dinner.  The talk was light and airy and for not normally being a “social bug”:  I had a blast and don’t remember the last time I laughed so much.

With that we all turned into our dorm rooms early.  I sorted out my bags for the morning and finally turned in around 9:30.

Race Day:

I woke at 4:30 and finished up with my bags and dropped them off with the SAG support (the Dave’s and Travis the mechanic).  I walked to the university cafeteria where I grabbed some toast with my justins almond butter and a banana and some much needed coffee. I would guess I had about 50 g of carbs where normally I would have bolused about 5 units, I bolused half that at 2.5 units.  Looking back I probably could have done a little more since I had 1.5 hrs to start.  I reduced my basal to 30% of normal.

I headed back to the dorm and changed into my VQ kit.  No arm/leg warmers necessary.  I used arm coolers to protect my arms from the sun (I wear these on all long rides) and short-fingered gloves.  I still wore my wool socks which are tried and true in all conditions.  I love wool, especially when your feet get wet. I filled my hydration pack with water and headed to meet the group.  We all rolled out together at 5:30am.

race start

race start

Start to CP1 – 48 miles

The start came soon enough and we were off!  The race always starts with a neutral roll out for a couple of miles to the first gravel turn off.

We were not a few miles in when we encountered our first water / muddy section.   The first section was rideable because it was more rocks than mud.  Apparently it had poured rain during the night and had created a few new muddy/water hazards.  Again very soon we reached another muddy section.  By the time I got to it, it was pretty much all packed down. Nothing like 2015 where the mud went on for miles.  I rode through it, within a few minutes I saw some of my teammates on the side of the road.  I slowed and asked if they were ok.  They assured me yes and told me to keep going. Well, as it turns out because they were first through the mud had caused some issues and a few of them had their derreullers sheared off with the mud.  That was the last I saw of that group until checkpoint 3.


As I continued on I felt the all too familiar lower back pain and tightness in my right hip.  I had to sit up in my seat and twist and stretch every 10 minutes or so.  Eventually the pain subsided or I just got used to it.

Once the field thinned out I started to get into a groove and rode an easy pace to CP1 the water crossing at mile 39 was strong but non-eventful.

River Crossing #1

River Crossing #1

I arrived at CP1 in 3 hours 30 minutes.

CP1 – CP2 – 55 miles

At CP1 I was told I was the third rider of our group to arrive.  How could that be?  Out of all of us I was the slowest.  The others had been detained and were dealing with their mechanical issues. One of the riders, Kris’ bike was completely trashed and her race was over. It turns out the group made the CP1 cut-off by minutes only.

During the first leg I had consumed only a few hundred calories, not nearly enough for the 3.5 hours I was out there for.  I scarfed down a PBJ half and a small bar.  I made the mistake of doing this before testing my sugar.  It was a whopping 392.  I couldn’t believe it.  Where did I go wrong?  Probably my basal was too low for all the adrenalin and changing heart rate from the climbs.  So I promptly took a correction of 1.5 units – more than I probably should have but with all the carbs I just inhaled and with a BG of 392 I didn’t think I needed to worry.  I increased my basal to 70% of normal. I also took in 3 salt tab tablets.

As I started leg 2 I felt good considering the high blood sugars but was worried about my calorie intake.  I didn’t want to take in too much while I was still high.  Finally I heard the familiar descending alarm my phone makes when my blood sugars are dropping.  Phew!  I can eat!  I immediately popped several marguerita cliff blocks.  My insulin had kicked in and I was able to finally eat again although I think I was still running a deficit in calories overall.  I continued to drink water out of my hydration pack and sipped on the skratch labs hydration in my water bottles.  I also managed to eat about a packet of blocks in the next 3 + hours it took me to get to CP2.  At this point we had a tail wind and I was still in the enjoying the scenery and looking at baby cows mode.

Still smiling and enjoying the scenery!

Still smiling and enjoying the scenery!

Arrived at CP2 7 hours 53 minutes

CP2 – CP3 – 59 miles

I rolled in and was greeted by the crew, I felt like an Elite athlete, my bike was whisked away for mechanical check and I was able to sit down enjoy a coke and have another sandwich.  They had only seen 3 of our riders come though including me!

My blood sugar was on the high end still low 200’s.  I took a mini bolus for the food.  I still felt my spirits high and felt great.   One other rider Dan Johns was at the aid station also.  I left the aid station and stopped at the porta potty and didn’t see Dan again.

Me and Dan at CP2

About 20 miles later everything fell off the rails.  The course headed back into a 20 MPH headwind and it was getting very hot.  I had been very good at staying hydrated and felt that my nutrition was falling behind.  But the wind, the wind was absolutely relentless.  I pushed on wondering when Robbie and the crew would catch up.  I started feeling very nauseous and had trouble swallowing. It was hotter than hades.  I have never wanted to stop riding as much as I did then.  Knowing I had 70 more miles to ride –was difficult to fathom.  How could I possibly keep going while feeling this way.  My legs hurt, I wanted to throw up,  there was no break from the wind, it was hot and my feet were burning. I eventually ran out of water. The water crossing at mile 140 ish was a god send the cool water felt great on my painful feet and legs.  It was such a relief, I stopped there and tested my blood sugar. Again, not perfect but manageable, I was concerned about the impact of the heat combined with not eating much on my blood sugar levels. I wasn’t the only one who was suffering.  Scattered along the road were various individuals who sought shade under a tree and were hardly moving.  It was a sight for sore eyes, like carnage waiting to be picked up by a hungry vulture.  Through sheer grit and determination and remembering #4 and 5 from Robbie’s list … “just keep pedaling” and your mantra which for me is remember Katie my best friend who passed away from cancer.  All the other points had gone to hell in a hand basket.  I barely squeeked out another 20 miles before I had a complete melt down.  I really really tried.  Painfully, I got within just a few miles of CP3 and I just could not keep pedaling any longer.  My mind failed me it was weak.   I got off my bike I walked across the dirt road to try and find some shade and to pee.  I threw up partly due to being nauseous and partly due to the fact that I think the spot I stopped was a giant pile of manure.  I saw a few people ride by who asked if I was ok. I was out of water, my head felt like it was going to explode but I lied and said yes I was fine.  I still hadn’t see any other VQ riders.  The loneliness was getting to me.

Although every fiber of my being wanted to quit that day I somehow persevered and made it to CP3.

Arrived at CP3 13 hours and 21 minutes

I was now the first rider into CP3 of our group anyone else had either quit or were still behind me.  I sat a good long time at CP3.  I cried. One of the girls who’s race ended early due to a mechanical tried to encourage me.  I was very greatful to her.  I managed to drink part of a coke and eat some potato chips but I knew it wasn’t enough.  I was riding on less than fumes into the wind and in blistering heat.  As I was getting ready to leave Robbie’s team finally arrived.  Nan who is an amazing rider was in tears also.  We consoled each other.  For them it wasn’t their bodies that failed them it was their bikes and the mud.

Robbie's group and CP3

Robbie’s group and CP3

CP3 – finish – 45 miles

The only bright side was that it was less than 50 more miles to go it was a short leg.  I thought after a long rest I was ready to finish this thing.  Within 15-20 minutes I arrived at a giant hill or what seemed giant at the time.  I didn’t have the legs to push up it.  I had to get off of my bike and walk, this was seriously not a good sign. I kicked myself for not changing out my cassette to a 32 as my friend Steve had suggested. Although it might not have helped, I probably needed a motor at that point.  I got back on the bike and probably could walk faster than I was riding.  It was a death march.  Soon enough Robbie’s team caught up .

I will never forget what happened next and owe a debt of gratitude both to Robbie and his group.  As they were riding by Robbie looked at me and in his usual up beat way said “G, how are you doing girl?!”  I just looked at him and he must have seen it in my eyes.. I said not good.  And after dealing with everything he had that day he slowed down to ride with me.  He managed to pick me up from the gutter and give me the tiniest of spark to keep going.  I told him that I couldn’t eat or drink. I only had had a handful of chips and a coke in about 3 hours.  I had filled up a water bottle with Gatorade at CP3.  He just said just take small sips.  And he would remind me every so often.  As we rode together he chatted to me trying to get my mind out of the dark place.  The 5 other VQ riders he was riding with had stopped up ahead to wait for him and miraculously with conversation and camaraderie that will stay with me forever the 7 of us rode together I even felt like I got a second wind.  I was able to hang on to their tail and was energized by their company.  Had they not picked me up I seriously doubt that I would have made it that day.  We were one team and we were in it together.  After close to 15 hours on my own it was nice to have a team to ride with.

Finally, at about 10 miles to go, we could all feel the finish line close by.  We approached a wooden bridge and saw that someone had crashed and was lying in a heap on the bridge.  Luckily we had a doctor and an EMT on the team and within seconds they were off their bikes dealing with the situation.  We called 911 and waited for the emergency unit to arrive.  In that time the guy had come to and was able to talk to us and say his name which was a good sign.  Meanwhile I like to think I was able to pay the team back in a small way.  It was approximately 10pm we were being bitten alive by mosquitos.  I pulled out 3 mosquito wipes I had carried with me since DK #1 where I learned my lesson about stopping in the dark.  I was a hero for a few small moments as we shared the 3 wipes between the 7 of us.

The day was an emotional roller coaster and after 17 and a half hours of riding, 206 miles at 11:30 pm  we crossed the finish line finish line together and finished as a team.  I was never more proud to be a member of this team than I was at that moment.  With all the trials and tribulations of the day behind us we were able to smile and celebrate with each other.

Finish line. Nan with me right behind her and Carlos in the front Robbie and the rest are behind.

Finish line. Nan with me right behind her and Carlos in the front Robbie and the rest are behind.

I literally sat in a chair and could not move.  I was toast.  Who would have thought that anything could have been worse than last year with the mudathon… but it was.  You can be as prepared as the best riders but you can never predict what Dirty Kanza will throw your way.  With a 52% finishers rate I was proud to be part of the finisher group.

I poked around the interwebs and found some cool links.  The first is a video of the highlights of the course and the second is a great blog on the women of DK.

Women Racing Gravel



About Gillian

I am a type 1 diabetic diagnosed at the age of 30. I run marathons, participate in bike races , ironman triathlons and everything in between.
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1 Response to FINDING YOUR LIMIT – DK200 2016

  1. Pingback: IRONMAN #5 IN THE BOOKS | Endurance Diabetic

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