DK training recap:
It was January. It is the dead of winter in Chicago. The winter this year wasn’t terrible but we paid for it in the spring. The spring had seemed to be very rainy and cold.
I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do this year but I did know that I needed something to motivate me and if you are indecisive you go with what you know. What I know is Dirty Kanza. I had completed it 3 times and each time had its own uniqueness and each one brought different challenges. The race sold out in just a few minutes but I got in because this year they saved 200 slots for women as they were trying to encourage more female participation.
In the following weeks after signing up I was having a terrible time motivating myself to train. I questioned why I had signed up in the first place. I had to ask myself over and over, do I really want to do all that training? After the amazing family vacation which entailed a lot of eating and drinking I got back and felt depressed. I didn’t want to go out let alone ride my bike, I wanted to sleep constantly. I was behind in my training which perpetuated my lack of enthusiasm.
Thankfully I have a lot of awesome gravel grinding buddies who talk me into doing crazy shit which in the end got my ass out of the house and at least riding!
My “official” training started at my first long ride of the season at the 100K at the Pastry brest Pastry ride which was road/gravel mix. I was really slow. Then I DNS’d RoughRoad 100K because of a malfunctioning insulin pump. I was half way there when it happened and had to turn around and head home. Where I immediately crawled back into bed. I was really discouraged. The depression continued and I had a hard time working out at all. I would have some good days and some bad days. I tried to crank out some miles but never really got any more than 50 in. Nowhere near what I had done in previous years at that point.
I decided my big test of moving forward with the race would be at a ride called Dairy Roubaix on April 21. It was a big leap in distance from what I had been doing. It was 4.5 hours away and really hilly. The race started at Wyalusing State Park on the very tip of Wisconsin near Iowa. If I was able to pull off 107 miles on gravel and hills (harder than DK) then I was all in. Thanks to my awesome friends Chris and Steve and their patience I made it. I had some terrible blood sugars that poor Steve had to deal with. One particularly bad one was near the end where we rode up a fairly steep long hill. I was swerving in and out and was going maybe 5 MPH if that. Because it was getting late Steve and Chris stuck with me as I didn’t bring any lights. Overall I was happy though. It was a good day. Great weather and great camaraderie There were some really steep climbs that I got up and although I had options to cut the ride short I never really got to that “I just want it to be over” point. I even “GOT” to spend in the night in a bunk house with 6 dudes. Ask me how much sleep I got with all the snoring and farting.My next big training block was what I called Gillian Camp. I got a room in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin for Thurs – Sunday. I really wanted to get 3 big days in. Due to weather I ended up doing 2 days and hung out with Tom the rest of the time. Which was really fun but it wasn’t training! I rode up on Thursday about 90 miles while Tom drove. It was a long and windy ride and by the time I got to the hotel the temperatures had plummeted and I was frozen. I stood at the room and nearly cried I was so cold. The next day I did 3 -25 mile loops around the lake before the rain started again. I didn’t even bother going out on Saturday. It was just miserable.
The following weekend was a 100 mile plus ride from home on Saturday then a half marathon on Sunday. In case you wondered, I would not recommend running a half marathon on no training. Ouch! That put me out for a few days and I pretty much took that week off.
Finally, this leads me to the Great Lakes Randonneur ride “Rando” a 300k road ride… The event is self supported with stops at gas stations every 20-40 miles. I had to do it for peace of mind. So Friday after work I packed up and drove out to Wisconsin again.
It was a 7am start and the weather was spectacular. I set my temp basal for 13 hours at 0.4 units and didn’t eat breakfast. I could eat on the bike. Eating breakfast would have just f’d with my blood sugars which I didn’t need. I woke at about a BG of 200.
My plan was to try and keep to 12-14 mph pace. It was going great except for the fact that for some reason my blood sugar went through the roof. I couldn’t believe it when it said 400 and higher! I had just replaced my reservoir in the morning so I wondered if somehow it got inserted badly. I decided to take a small amount of insulin to correct for the HIGH and I turned off my temporary basal which meant that it increased it to about 0.7 units per hour. I prayed that it would work! Well not only did it work, my blood sugar plummeted. At least I knew at that point I was actually getting insulin! And from that point onwards I struggled to keep my blood sugar up. I averaged about 13.5 MPH on the road so for DK it’ll probably drop another 2 MPH at least for the gravel. It was a long day by myself but beautiful and this reminded me why I love doing this:
The following weekend I had VQ base camp where we were to ride for 4 days 60-90 miles per day with hills. Well, mother nature had different plans for us. We all rode from Highland Park to Lake Geneva about 70 miles then I did a 20 mile ride around the lake. The next two days mother nature put us to the test. We didn’t get the miles in but we tested our mental toughness! Both days we suffered through freezing cold temps and pouring/sleeting/hailing rain. I don’t think I have ever been so cold in my life. The trip home was good but again shorter than I would have liked. At this point there was nothing else I could do but hope for the best at Kanza.Getting there.
I flew to Kansas City. Which meant I couldn’t just throw stuff in a car or pack a ton of stuff. I was limited to my suitcase and my bike bag. Another love is my SCICON bike bag. As a person travelling with my own bike who knows nothing about mechanics this bag makes travelling a breeze. Very easy to pack and no disassembly required just taking off the wheels. I flew into KC and drove into Emporia on Thursday. My big faux pas was not springing for the suv, I tried to squeeze this puppy into a jetta. It wasn’t pretty. I couldn’t believe how hot it was! I checked into a brand new Hampton hotel in Emporia. Went to the Walmart to buy food for my room then went down to Commerce street where the race start would be on Saturday. I walked around a bit and bought 6 CO2 cartridges. I am always paranoid at running out of CO2 . I met my VQ crew for BBQ dinner then headed back to the room to assemble my bike and unpack etc. Friday I tested the bike out and the shifting and all seemed to work great. After my ride I went to rider check-in then back to the room to shower and sort out my check point bags.
In my bags I had:
- – 2 extra packs of blocks, Skratch, a gel and a bar. It was a very small bag
- – 1 tube, 1 new spare tire, 2 co2 cartridges, red bull and the above
- – 1 tube. 1 c02 cartridge, lights, shoes, socks, jacked, redbull, extra blocks and an extra bar.
I wore my bracelet during the race as a reminder of harder times and as a reminder to Reba’s toughness.
Once again I rode my Trek Cronus – Peters Power which I purchased off of my former coach – Mike Peters. I had thought of buying a new gravel specific bike but I figured the Cronus had got me through 2 previous DK200’s so why mess with it (I rode my mountain bike the first year). I did add some new features this year:
- I had placed the winning bid on a SRAM etap gruppo set for World Bicycle Relief charity I was hesitant to have it installed on my cross bike because I didn’t know how it would hold up to the gravel and water crossing and I was pretty afraid of the “E” of the Etap failing (i.e. the electronicness of it. After speaking to some experts I decided to go ahead and install it. Thank you to Damien at Lakeshore Bicycles Lakeshorebike for the quick installation. BEST DECISION EVER – I loved the ease of the electronic shifting, especially after 150 miles. I almost feel like a wuss because the shifting was so easy! In order to ease my mind I had bought a spare battery which I kept with me;
- I also had two new tires installed and I went with – Bontrager CXO 33’s (same as prior years). I thought about going wider for comfort but again but why mess with what works. I have not one flat so far, including this year. Thanks to Trek HP for the installation.
- Finally, my other change was installing a 32-11 cassette. Previously I had a 28-11 and not to say I couldn’t get up the hills with this but why not make it easier. It was. That cassette was the gift that kept on giving every time I went up a hill it was like magically I had all these extra gears.
- I finally was fitted properly. Jim Cooper at FFC made some adjustments. One of them was to raise my seat which I was very sceptical of but actually it make my back feel much better for longer.
For hydration pack I used my same Osprey Synchro 10 hydration pack, it has definitely seen better days.
In my pack I had a snickers, a cliff bar, glucose tablets, a kit of wipes, syringe, insulin, bug repellant wipes, a multi tool, 2 portable chargers and the cords, pump, spare tube, c02 (I also had this in my seat bag), a repair kit which included some duct tape, wire, zip ties, two packets of lube, Powerlink and tire boots. I carried much less than previous years.
Nutrition and blood sugar.
Overall I felt pretty good about my blood sugar management. Lately I have been having a lot of issues with high blood sugars in the beginning of a ride.(See above!- training) So I was ultra cautious for the race. I also tried to keep my blood sugar in check the week prior. I set a new basal pattern which had me at .775 units for the first 3 hours of the race then switching to .4 units per hour for the remainder of the race. I bolused 2 units for breakfast which I had at 4:15 am. I had eggs and some ham as well as a small portion of oatmeal. For the first few hours I was definitely high but not as high as I had been recently I hovered around 250 which was not ideal but not in the 400’s either. For the remainder of the race I did fight a few lows but it was worth it to have a blood sugar in the 80-100 range. I did get a bad low about 10 miles from the end and had to eat an entire pack of blocks – yuck.
Leg 1 I ate – 2 packs of blocks and a bottle of Skratch at the checkpoint I ate a half a PBJ sandwich and some pickles.
Leg 2 I age – 2 packs of blocks, bottle of Skratch, 1 chocolate cherry gu for the caffeine and a cliff chocolate hazelnut butter filled bar. At the checkpoint I ate a ham sandwich, pickle juice and pickles and I had a diet red bull.
Leg 3 I ate more blocks, 2 bottles of Skratch, 1 triple caffeine espresso gel another cliff bar, a snickers bar (my sugar got a bit low). At the checkpoint I ate a hot dog and some chips and a coke
It seems like I ate a lot but I was so hungry at the checkpoints. My blood sugar readings can be found here: KANZA BG FILE
I started between the 16 and 18 hour pace group. I was hoping to be closer to 16 hours this year and the conditions looked like they were going to be ideal. No mud this year! To bite off DK you need to break it down into checkpoint increments. If you think about all 206 miles at once it will be overwhelming. I had brought with me all my good luck charms – because they workk right? – I was wearing my angel necklace (a gift from Chris, Katies BF), my “find my toughness” diabetes camp coin, my kitty water bottle (a gift from a very sweet fellow gravel rider) and I was wearing my purple butterfly bracelet my family had given me for my birthday this year. When things got bad I would see the butterfly and think of Katie.
Leg 1: Miles 1- 48
I felt great, the pace was good and there was lots of people to look at and talk to. The course was dusty and not wet and there was no river crossing this time. The field was thick and busy for this leg. I did notice that my back tire had lost a bit of air. I was worried because at a previous training ride I had also lost a bit of air. By the time I got to the checkpoint I had a thick layer of dirt all over me as did everyone else. My cassette and chain were thick with dust also so I wiped them down and applied some fresh lube (I was very proud of myself for doing this). I had already stopped on the side of the road about 5 miles back to pee so had that taken care of. I had a mechanic check my tire pressure and indeed it had dropped to 25 psi from 35 psi. So he pumped it up.
Leg 2: Miles 48- 104
It was a longer one and the pace was still good and at this point the field had thinned and I found myself alone a lot of the time. My back tire seemed to be losing air again. I decided to leave it as it wasn’t terrible and didn’t seem to get any worse. It was getting really hot. I actually ran out of water in my pack and had to ration what was left of my bottles of skratch. Then, like an oasis in the desert with about 8 miles to go to Eureka a farmer was handing out ice cold bottles of water. It was heaven. I quickly gulped it down and put the rest in a bottle. A huge thank you to whoever that was!
At the second aid station, the restroom was in a school, it was so cool in there I didn’t want to leave. I rinsed my dirty face with cold water and applied more sun screen. Unfortunately the sunscreen left a bad taste in my mouth like perfume. For the next 50 miles I couldn’t get that taste out of my mouth.
I washed down my cassette and chain and re-lubed – yay me! I also had to pump up my back tire again (not sure what is going on there but it seems to be a VERY slow leak?) I also plugged my bike computer in to the portable battery back as I was down below 20%. I saw my teammate Sam and his wife. He was cramping but he seemed in good spirits. I looked for him to ride together but didn’t see him so figured he’d left.
As I set off I could see dark clouds looming in the distance, and I thought hmm, wouldn’t that be nice.. a little rain to cool us off and wash us off.
Leg 3 Miles 104-162
Without a doubt this is always the hardest leg. It is long and the body is starting be break down. The first 10 miles go by pretty fast because you are rested from the aid station (well at least my long rests!) but then the back, the shoulders , the neck and the feet start to scream again. I kept trying to stretch my neck but it hurt so much and my feet had aching hot spots. The pain at times was unbearable. When you are riding on your own in the middle of nowhere it is hard to ignore the pain and thoughts of quitting and wanting your flip flops and a cold beer and why the fuck am I out here anyway? This is nuts 206 miles in one day .. who was I kidding? A LOT of negative talk. I just kept thinking keep moving forward.Also my teammate Nan Doyle who reminded me that no matter how bad I feel it will only be temporary. The miles seem to tick by so slowly. At about mile 135 ish there had been not much rain. But we had now reached those dark clouds that were in the distance 30 miles ago. The wind also howled. I was wondering when I would see a house float by or the wicked witch of the west ! It was that crazy. Then the lightening. Lightening must have struck the ground near us because a few of us felt a shock in our hands. It was crazy, I actually saw a blue streak at my right hand and a slight buzzing sensation. This poor guy beside me was scared shitless and for good reason, his uncle had died by a lightening strike. I had never seen or heard such crazy loud thunder. Soon after it absolutely poured on us , I think at one point it was actually hail. I was soaked through and through but I had had plenty of practice riding in the rain this year and that was rain in the cold this was at least warm. The route even got diverted because of flooding. The crazy rain lasted about an hour then it died down to a light sprinkle. Without the rain distraction I was back to thinking about the pain in my body.
My neck, shoulders and feet were so sore. I practiced deep belly breathing and with every breath I imagined the oxygen circulating to the neck and shoulders. This actually worked for a while. I also started to sing to myself but unfortunately I could hardly remember any words to any songs… it was terrible – Billy Idol – white wedding, Rolling Stones – shattered, Soundgarden – black hole sun and it was only the choruses that I could remember but it helped. I spoke to everyone I could to try and pass the time. It seemed like an eternity to the 3rd checkpoint. Finally I passed the area where I got off my bike and puked last year so I knew the checkpoint was close.
I arrived at the checkpoint whimpering. I was hurting big time. The volunteers were great but it wasn’t the same as seeing a familiar face. Why did I ever think I could do this race any faster than I had in the past. I got off my bike and was starving so I ate a hot dog without even a second thought and also inhaled an ice cold coke. I went to the restroom then started to install my lights. My hands were hardly working. They were numb from the constant bumping and thudding of the gravel, not to mention the rain. I put my helmet light on and my handle bar light. It was still very light out at this point. I grabbed some more chips and restocked my hydration pack with another bar and blocks and filled my bottles with skratch. As I left the checkpoint the crowd was amazing – giving cheers and I got offered more coke ! which I took without hesitation.
Leg 4 Miles 162 – 206
Ok only 44 miles to go… crazy right? I was sore and tired and I wanted to get home. Despite all this I seemed to get a second wind. It could have been the singing or the cows who stood or sat at the fence watching the race like spectators. I seemed to be able to ignore the pain and push myself. I wouldn’t say I hammered it but I did feel strong. Had I held back to much on the other legs? I passed quite a few people on the last leg. Darkness came and the lights went on. The faces of the people I passed or rode with were not distinguishable and the fireflies (lightening bugs) twinkled like stars on the ground. Finally I got to the bridge where last year we had stopped to help a guy who had fallen. I was only 10 miles out. I knew at this point I would successfully finish my 4th dirty kanza race.
I arrived at Commerce St. shortly before 11 am and rode down the finishers chute high-fiving little kids and held up 4 fingers – representing my 4th dirty kanza finish at 16 hours and 53 minutes. I was elated. I saw the race organizer Kristi Mohn at the finish line and she gave me a great big hug. I think I asked her why I keep doing this to myself.
I walked through the finish and didn’t see any of my VQ teamates they were already showered and tucked away in bed. I did see however my friend Scott Wittoff from San Francisco who had been waiting for his friend. It was so nice to see at least 1 familiar face at the end and he was so helpful and proud! He and his friend left and I sat on my own drinking a beer. It was a little tough to swallow. I had wished Tom could have been there to greet me and take care of me. I needed to be taken care of at this point and I NEVER admit to that. I started walking my bike back to my car with just my socks and this person – Brooklyn was her name came over and asked me If I wanted her to help with my bike back to my car. Her husband was an EMT there so she was just waiting around anyway. So she walked with me all the way back to my car with my bike. I was so grateful.
I put my flip flops on and put the bike and my bags in the car. I drove back to the hotel and went to the drive through McDonalds. At this point it was after midnight. I didn’t have the energy for anything else. I got in the shower and washed the layer of dirt that was on me off and ate my McD’s in the room by myself while watching a cheesy horror movie – The Wax Museum. I finally turned the tv off at about 2.
I woke early the next day and headed to the awards banquet where I saw my superfast teammates Clemens and Drew and Scott get their awards. They are so amazing. As I sat watching, someone leaned over and said are you Gillian? I said yes. He said he had talked to me a couple of years ago at the race where he told me I had inspired him through this blog to race in the DK. He was also a diabetic. I will always remember that moment and the fact that he reached out again and thanked me meant a lot and inspired me to keep writing.
Looking at my strava file I feel like I did a pretty good job managing my pace and heartrate. I don’t have power on this bike. The first two legs are hillier while the second two are more rolling. My average speeds were 13.8, 12.5, 12.7 and 13.8, respectively with an average heartrate between 125 and 133 for each. My issue is that I don’t have the courage or the confidence to go faster or to keep a faster pace. I think of myself as slow therefore I am. I look at everyone and think oh they are fast! So, I think I have resolved to the fact that I will be a 17 hour Kanza rider.
Back at work on Monday and through the week I definitely felt tired but with the Leadville marathon only two weeks away I can’t rest yet.
I am also happy to report that I was able to raise $1,000 for Riding on Insulin for this ride. I will keep fundraising through the year as I complete each event that I have planned. Please visit my page here: