That is the number hours I spent on the bike since late February preparing for this year's Dirty Kanza 200. Time on the trainer, time riding my workout while my friends rode off in the distance, and a lot of time riding with nothing but my thoughts to keep me company. I had decided very early in the year that I wanted to go back to the Flint Hills to race, and not just finish the DK 200. Workload and projects at work curtailed any thoughts of racing in 2011. My complete physical collapse at mile 85 in 2010 left me wanting to settle a grudge with the Flint Hills, especially after persevering through the heat and humidity for a 9th place finish in 2009.
In mid-February I partnered with JJ Bailey of Zoom Performance as my coach. Zoom has coached a number of locals to successful Ironman finishes, and JJ is a former ITU World and USAT National triathlete and knows what it takes to succeed in an endurance event. The next three months would find me attending yoga classes, and adjusting my sleep and social schedules to make sure that I was as prepared as I could be for this year's race. I have to really thank my wife and son for allowing me the time and space to prepare for this event. There were a number of times I saw my wife for about an hour or less before or after a long ride post work ride.
Dennis Grelk and Adam Blake came over from eastern Iowa Thursday night to make the trek to Emporia with me on Friday. Both of them were racing too; Dennis in the Open class and Adam in Single Speed. Adam headed down the street to his sister's house and crashed. After some lengthy bike and gear talk while I prepped my bottles and gear for the weekend, Dennis and I hit the bed as well. We loaded the rest of the bikes and gear up Friday morning and headed out to Emporia. A lunch time stop at the Olathe, KS Oklahoma Joe's filled our bellies with tasty barbeque and made sure we were in good spirits for the remainder of the trip. Adam and I dropped Dennis at his hotel and went to the other side of town to where we were staying. We checked in and made our way to the Granada Theater for the check-in and the meeting.
The check in was quick and efficient. I had a chance to talk with Eric Benjamin about his surgery and recovery status. It was good to see the Adventure Monkey up and moving again. Adam and I had a beer and I headed across the street for a local church pasta feed. After the food, we headed back to the theater for the meeting. Jim kept the meeting moving along and we were out of the theater in 30 minutes. Adam and I drove to the hotel to grab my cooler and backpack so we could load it into the Rafal and Megan Doloto's car so I had support on race day. After some conversation with Matt Wills, Lance Andre and Rafal and we went back to the hotel, where I loaded up my bike for the next AM and got ready for our 4:45 AM alarm.
Up at 4:30 and quickly went about the morning's business. I got dressed and fed and Adam and I headed out the door. After a quick stop for some juice at the hotel lobby we were up the road and on our way. The temperature was in the low 50s so I opted to use my arm warmers to provide a bit of extra warmth at the start. A nice easy 3 mile spin to the start with a couple of sprints helped warm me and the legs up a bit. At the start I spent some time saying hi to people I hadn't seen in a while, and whom I figured I wouldn't see again after the start of the race. Matt Gersib and Troy Krause from Lincoln, Mike Johnson from Cedar Falls, and Michael Beck from Colorado to name just a few. Jim Cummins was standing on top of the theater sign, keeping everyone informed and giving a some shout outs to riders. I appreciated having my name called out, despite not being one of the front runners. :) Jim and crew do a great job of making everyone feel welcome. Girls from the local roller derby team held signs with finish group times up high in the air so riders could spread themselves into like paced groups at the start. Knowing how the start can be, I opted to line up at the start of the 14 hour group so I could stay up front where the pace would be high and where I might be able to sit in with a faster group for the first leg.
At 6 PM, the race was off and 400+ riders streamed through downtown Emporia through a crowd of clapping and cowbell ringing support crew and local spectators. As was normal, we had a police escort for the first two miles until we hit gravel and then the real race was on. I spent the first few miless getting warmed up, working my way around riders that were a bit over their head at the front, and trying to find a good group to settle in with for the first leg. Since the route was a bit different than in past years, I wasn't sure what to expect for road surface or elevation. With the previous days rain, there was a lot of sandy gravel getting thrown up in my face and mouth, which made breathing a bit difficult, but for the first 20 miles, the roads were mostly flat to gently rolling and not particularly bad. I settled in with a good sized group that had Matt Wills, Aaron Gammel and some guys from Chamois Butter in it. We rolled along together for a while, but I just wasn't comfortable with the pace for some reason. I was trying to fight going out too hard too soon, but the temps were cool, I was feeling good and I could see another large group up the road. I moved to the front, bumped the pace a bit and soon I was by myself in the no-man's land between both groups. I wondered if I'd made a big mistake and thought about sitting up, but one other rider bridged up and then passed me, so I drove on until I joined the next group about 3/4 of a mile up the road. Looking around, I once again started second guessing my move. This group had Mike Johnson, a TransIowa finisher, as well as Michael Beck and the rest of the Routine Leg Works crew in it. Mike is a horse and the RLW guys are all extremely strong single speeders so I felt a little out of my element. I had put a lot of work into preparing for this race, but still didn't feel I should be up with this group, this early. I sat in for a bit and then worked into the rotation and things were really good.
Soon we were turning onto a B-Road but there was a still large group of riders up ahead of us. I double checked and made sure we had turn markers and this was the right road as we made the LH turn. As I glanced at the group ahead of us, I realized that they were racing back towards us as they had missed the B road turn and gone quite a ways off course. I guess this means that for a few moments, I was in the leaders group for the DK200 ;). About 5 minutes later, our group and this other group came together and lots of fun and confusion ensued. We held our lines as the likes of Sean Mailen, Rebecca Roush, Tim Ek, and Joe Meiser carved their way through us and pushed ahead at their breakneck pace. Meanwhile, our little group of 10 suddenly swelled as a number of the lead group had burned too many matches over the 5 mile detour they had just ridden. I see Matt Gersib, Rafal Doloto and Aaron Gammel moving to the front as I glanced to my left and I quickly figured out that I was going to be in the thick of things for the first leg. After bagging Texaco Hill, and few miles of short steep hills, the route flattened out considerably. I settled down on my aero bars and cranked out good steady tempo with Rafal Doloto all the way into Cassoday and CP1. I followed Rafal to his car where my cooler and bag were at. When we got there, Rafal's wife made quick work of getting us what we needed and after a quick chat with Troy Krause, Rafal and I hit the road after just 10 minutes at the CP. I had made it through the first 61 miles in well under 4 hours, I was in great spirits, and my legs felt like I hadn't ridden a bike at all. This was starting to have the makings of a good race.