My first attempt at DK200 in 2016 was wildly successful even though I did everything wrong and suffered like a dog most of the race. I didn’t drink enough water – didn’t have the capacity to carry enough water – went way too hard the first 100 miles and didn’t carry the right food. I was nauseous and cramping badly the last 100 miles. Somehow in spite of my idiocy and agony, I beat the sun and captured the top spot on the 60+ podium.
And then it went South from there. In 2017 I crashed out 60 miles in – still don’t know why.
This year, with the help of Mrs. K-Dogg we mapped out a much more scientific strategy involving realistic pacing, proper hydration, doubling water carrying capacity, doubling electrolyte consumption and packing plenty of food that I would actually be able to keep down.
Luckily, the initial pace was amazingly mellow for the first ten or so miles. Perhaps this was due to the presence of world-class racers like Sven Nys, Ted King, Jens Voigt, Geoff Kabush, Kaitlin Keough, Amanda Nauman and Alison Tetrick. Nobody wanted to annoy those guys too soon I heard.
The huge pack stayed together until suddenly half made a panicked U-turn, due to a last-minute course re-route (due to the storm that rolled in at 6:00am), and briefly rode in the wrong direction. The front half with the superstars kept going straight. Somebody in control of the front had tribal knowledge. By the time things were sorted out, the gap to the front group was too huge for most people to bridge.
This was just fine with me. A cheery sun came up and my race settled down to series of small groups at a more civilized pace. At some point, I rolled up upon JOM who was also happy to set a survivable “team pace.” After years of racing and training together in all kinds of terrain and weather, JOM and I have a pretty good idea what each is capable of and more importantly, what we are not. We spent the next several hours sharing the winds and hills at speeds just a little too uncomfortable to keep up a chatter.
It should be noted that trying to understand an excitable Aussie accent with the wind in your ears is exhausting. I just nod a lot and pretend I understand whatever the heck he is blathering about. I mostly concentrated on not flatting and stuffing my face with at least 250 calories every hour on the hour as Mrs K-Dogg advised me. I drank equally of Scratch Lab electrolyte powder and plain water, plus a nice variety pack of gels containing a little caffeine and additional electrolytes.
At the first checkpoint, I refilled a big bottle of electrolyte fluid and a big bottle of water. My two liter Camelbak was untouched. Heading towards checkpoint two, we still had a huge tailwind of 20-30 mph and conditions were still cool (for a Floridian) so I pushed the pace a little and drank lots of water. Somewhere half-way to checkpoint two, I tore a 2″ hole in the sidewall of my rear tire. I didn’t think that was possible with my 600-gram Travail Cannonball tires but think “Titanic.” JOM and I worked as a team, threw in my patented duct tape boot, and were back spinning South in just a few moments.
During this section, we passed dozens of people hunched over their bikes fixing flats. A discernable pattern emerged. Most of the problems occurred right after every rocky descent and bumpy stream crossings. It was apparent people were taking too many chances at high speed. Mrs K-Dogg recalls being behind a sonic boom tandem that fishtailed dangerously fast through a vicious rock garden. “I can’t believe the husband was able to muscle that beast back to safety,” she said. “I would divorce you if you did that to me!” she warned me later. We don’t own a tandem. Never will. Too many trust issues.
My advice is to take it easy through the dangerous stuff. It’s a 206-mile race… bonehead decisions will lose a race every time… and this ain’t really a race for most people. Just finishing is a victory.
The second checkpoint arrived. JOM went to his private feed station while I plopped down at the Chamois Butt’r crew-for-hire tent to change my rear tire. It took a while. The new tube had glued itself to the inside of the old tire and was a bitch to tear off. Then it took a while to throw in the slimy tube, reseat the new tire to the rim and inflate to 70 lbs until it snapped evenly into place on the bead (I dropped the tire pressure to something more realistic once this had happened). I really just wanted to lie in the grass and take a nap instead of wrestling a sticky Boa Constrictor. I felt bad for the wasted dude lying in the grass next to me. He was hoping my inflating tire didn’t explode inches away from his head. He flinched at each loud snapping noise but was too tired to move.
At some point, I saw JOM slowly riding by staring at his Garmin. “Oi!” I yelled. “Over here JOM!” I yelled standing up and running after him with stiff legs. Two lady volunteers took up the chase and ran after him whistling and yelling. He didn’t hear any of us* and assumed I had ridden off alone. “Damn it!” I thought, realizing I faced 60 hilly miles alone with a 20-30 mph headwind. Time to find someone to tow me… (I mean WORK with me) through the next and longest section. Luckily there were hundreds of nice people behind me to help. Eventually, I settled on a nice couple from Seattle, Kat and Kevin (?), who pulled and chatted for hours while I mostly sat-on shamelessly but necessarily. Guilt is for those with something left. My get up and go had got up left and hours ago.
* JOM doesn’t talk about it, he has a minor case of permanent hearing loss in his right ear.
After what seemed like an eternity, I rolled into the last checkpoint not sure if I could go on. Getting off my bike I managed to immediately trip and fall over a railroad tie like an old feeble guy – and with a mildly bruised ego. Checkpoint three is the best rest spot of the whole race. There was plenty of shade and a field of soft cool grass. It was a great relief just to peel off the helmet and shoes and sit there peacefully… staring out into space somewhere between Zen Satori and a lobotomy.
“Need anything?” asked a cheerful volunteer. “Can you fill my bottles?” I asked weakly, stupidly trying to remove my Camelbak while lying down. “Here, let me help.” said the face looking down at me. “Be right back,” he said.
Within seconds, JOM’s face appeared above me. “There you are mate!” he said way too loudly. “Sorry we got separated. Ready to roll? Just one more short section and we’re done.” he said way too cheerfully. “How long have you been here?” I queried, suddenly wanting to punch him in the face but wondering how that would affect my Chakra level. “Oh about 20 minutes” he admitted. “Ok… give me 15 minutes” I insisted.
A few minutes later, JOM and I were straddling our bikes about to lurch onto the last section. “You boys need anything else?” said another cheerful volunteer, “Maybe a taxi, “I said kinda seriously. “No problem,” he said, pointing to a transport van idling nearby. “Just hop in!” he offered.
JOM felt his pooped teammate melting away. “Come on mate, I have like 300 people ahead of me in my age group but you still have a chance at a podium spot which also looks good for GravelCyclist.com,” he pleaded. “I’ll even tow you the whole freakin’ way,” he further offered. “OK JOM. No worries but I am totally cracked. I have to go REALLY slowly.” I said. “REALLY, REALLY slowly. I’m not kidding,” I emphasized.
“No worries mate”, I’m a bit cracked myself” he lied as we kicked into our cleats. “Hopefully I’ll start to feel much better towards the end like I did in 2016.” I lied to myself.
But I never did feel better… and then the hallucinations began.
Fifty feet down the road I noticed something really weird about my front wheel. It appeared to be tilted 45 degrees right as if turning hard into a right turn. Was my front wheel about to come off? Did my right fork arm suddenly telescope 6″ into itself, I thought. To JOM’s dismay, I started to zig and zag behind him to analyze what was wrong. “Oi mate!” Does my front wheel look a little wonky?” I asked tentatively.
“What the eff are you talking about? Why are you swerving? Just stay on my bloody wheel!” he said a little unnerved.
I let the subject drop. Apparently, the bike was fine. It was me that was wonky. But I kept going… just 44 miles to go. How long could it take? Four hours as it turned out. That’s an average of 11 miles an hour. I had to stop a lot.
Just as the sun sank beneath the horizon, my hallucinations were not helped by an eerily lit up blood red chaise floating at hill crest and testing my ability to filter reality adequately. JOM managed to coax me briefly onto the very real chaise for a quick photo op. “Give me a throw pillow and an hour!” my whole body begged – but to no avail. “Suck it up K-Dogg. Only 30 miles to go.” he said.
And then it got dark and things got worse. I felt stupid drunk. My front wheel seemed even more wonky. My body started overcompensating by hunching left like a hunchback which caused a leg cramp. I was certain my saddle was pointed 45 degrees to the right. I even stopped and made JOM correct it. I could barely stand without falling down. But back on the bike, I found I could cope by focusing my whole being on staying on JOM’s rear wheel. I thought about quitting but the last section was isolated and pitch black with no place to safely stop. Phone reception was non-existent and I didn’t feel like hallucinating alone in a dark ditch.
JOM was on the verge of calling an ambulance. I think he was freaking out more than me but I convinced him that rolling on was the fastest, most convenient way to get this over with. I really wanted the both of us to finish especially since he stuck with me like the great friend he is. It was the least I could do.
As the miles rolled on, it became harder to stay on JOM’s wheel. I had to really concentrate to not swerve around. I had to be careful because bright psychedelic lights began to pass us frequently with mysterious magnetic fields pulling my bike across the road. I began to imagine I was Richard Dreyfuss in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, when all those little baby flying saucers swooped around him trying to communicate with flashing lights. “Hey K-Dogg, why are you all hunched over? Are you alright?” said otherworldly voices from the saucers. “Not really” I replied, “but thanks for asking,” I said to the nice aliens.
So what DID I have? Was it Exercise Induced Alzheimer’s? Is there brain damage? Was it Hyponatremia? Did I mention I’m 63? Am I off to the farm already with Old McDonald E I E I O? I need to do some serious reading. Surely other Endurance athletes have had a similar experience. I never thought you could drink too much plain water in a race like this.
Finally, the dirt ended and we rode through the tunnel as if it were the gates of Camelot! Clompity clomp! Clompity clomp! Up the last hill rode the night knights! Mrs. K-Dogg ran to us from across the Emporia State University dormitory parking lot, concerned why we were hours late. She palpated me and noted that I was exhausted, crooked and drooling but good enough to finish.
One mile later, we rode down the finish shute side by with JOM holding me steady, making sure I didn’t slalom into the cheering crowds. Slowly easing off the bike my sense of balance recovered enough to not drop my precious beer glass and official “Midnight Finisher” patch the organizers shoved at me.
Mrs K-Dogg soon joined me sitting down in the recovery area, happy for at least finishing this beast of a ride. I noted several other riders who were unconscious or attached to a drip bag, or both, and wished them well.
I still don’t understand why ultra endurance rides like this are so popular and why we keep coming back to such self-inflicted misery, but then most gravel cyclists I know are just plain nuts. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
PS JOM has a video coming out shortly, all about the hydration and nutrition that worked for him at the 2018 Dirty Kanza 200.