Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Recapping a Remarkable Race

I'm starting this post with a celebratory shot: me wearing my brand-spanking new Dirty Kanza 200 jersey that I purchased the day after finishing the race. Such a sweet reward!
Editor’s Note: This blog post details my trip to the 2014 edition of Dirty Kanza 200 and the race itself. If you’re interested in the gear I used, my training plan and my race fuel, read Dirty Kanza 200: The Gear, Training and Fuel That Got Me Through 203 Miles.

Two years ago, I had no idea what a gravel grinder was. My riding was limited to smooth roads and mountain bike trails. Cyclocross was on my radar, but I’d never lined up for a CX race. But racing on gravel roads? No one had told me it existed let alone why someone would choose to ride low- to no-maintenance dirt and gravel roads in far-flung, nowhere-near-civilization dots on a map that require riders to be self-sufficient. 

My foray into the scene is just this simple: I stumbled into gravel grinding when I sought endurance races to train for the 2013 edition of 24 Hours in the Canyon. It all started with the Texas Chainring Massacre. Several races later, I might even prefer gravel grinding to any other form of cycling. Seriously. It’s a blissful ride. I enjoy the sound of tires rolling across the gravel. The skills required for riding these routes are equal parts MTB and road; to ride gravel well you need to pick good lines, avoid rough spots, ride smart, “burn your matches” wisely, share the effort with fellow racers, alternate drafting and pulling. And, often, the scenery is beyond compare. These races are typically no-frills and camaraderie runs high.

Never content with doing the same races over and over again, I turned my sights toward finding the biggest, baddest gravel grinders in the country. There are two, clear top dogs — Trans Iowa and Dirty Kanza 200. The former covers 310-340 miles, and the latter is 200 miles. DK 200 seemed like the most reasonable next goal. So I signed up. And then I trained hard and assembled the necessary gear  (reminder: you can read all about that here).


First things first: I must thank TPG for serving as a fantastic driver, cook, motivator, crew and all-purpose, kick-ass girlfriend. The trip and the race would have been a lot harder without her. 

I’m going to be entirely honest here: driving to Dirty Kanza 200 might be the least enjoyable aspect of the entire experience. It’s about a 7-hour drive on Interstate 35 from Dallas. There is very little to see or do en route to the northeast corner of Kansas. The stretch through Oklahoma is the most mind-numbing.

But there is one decent spot worth visiting: POPS’ Soda Ranch in Arcadia, Okla. Every good road trip needs a side-trip detour, and this was our best option. Neither TPG or I picked up a soda, but it’s not for a lack of options — more than 600 sodas. That’s probably too many options, really. There’s also a diner and gas station. We spent our afternoon at POPS making our lunch at a picnic table and making pictures.

At night, this 66-foot soda sculpture is a multicolored, LED tribute to fizzy drinks.


If you’re interested in racing Dirty Kanza 200 (or the 100-mile Half Pint), you’ve got to be quick: registration fills up in a matter of days. Hotel rooms fill up even quicker. I searched high and low, and only the sketchiest hotels still had vacancies. I considered reserving a camping space at a nearby state park and searched for spots near Emporia. Neither option was ideal, mainly because they weren’t convenient to the race site.

Enter Emporia State University! For the second year in a row, the home of the Hornets opened its dorms for Dirty Kanza riders. Our dorm room in the North Tower was a steal. A three-night stay (we actually arrived Friday) included a Friday brunch, Saturday breakfast and plenty of space for all the stuff we brought. It cost $245. Best of all, the campus is within easy walking distance of downtown Emporia, which is filled with nice shops, good food and drink (ate some dynamite pizza at Wheat State Pizza with TPG and Datmaybe the best pizza we’ve ever had) and charm aplenty.


Speaking of charm, there’s nothing more impressive in Emporia (save the verdant fields) than the Granada Theatre, the site of packet pickup and the Dirty Kanza start/finish line. The theater was dedicated in 1929 by Emporia’s most famous native son, journalist/author William Allen White (his name is all over the city). Fast-forward a half-century or so, and the movie palace had fallen into disrepair. The good people of Emporia saved the theater from the wrecking ball and restored it into a pure gem.

Emporia is a charmer. The city’s downtown was lined with about a dozen decorated pianos to promote Symphony in the Flint Hills.

In a perfect world, every rejuvenated downtown would have a bluegrass band playing outside its landmark theater.  And get a load of that upright bass. It’s aluminum, something I had never seen before; so I chatted with the bassist, who told me he found the Pfretschner. Apparently, that brand and Alcoa are the most common aluminum uprights. I love learning new things!


Race day started early — 4:15 a.m., plenty of time to eat a proper breakfast (coffee and oatmeal with peanut butter), check my gear and get focused before the race began at 6 a.m.  

TPG and I walked to the start/finish; again, another benefit of staying in the dorm.

Racers get to choose their chutes based on how long they think it will take them to finish the race — 12, 14, 16 or 18 hours. Entering the race, I had a good feeling I could finish in less than 16 hours. I also thought it was very possible I could Race the Sun — finish the race in 14 hours and 41 minutes, before sunset at 8:42 p.m. I also knew that the race would be nuts for the first dozen or so miles — crashes and flat tires happen when hundreds of people jockey for position, take bad lines and make bad decisions to get an advantage early in a long-ass race. I wanted none of that. In fact, I wanted to start slowly. So I chose the 16-hour chute, opting to hang back and thinking I’d pass my fair share of racers throughout the day (this was a good idea).

A 16-hour race would be a very good showing, especially if I encountered a mechanical problem or a few flats.

MILES 1-50ish

Racing 200 miles isn’t impossible; the trick is fooling yourself into believing that you’re only racing 50 miles.  So I started the race with the goal of finishing just a 50-mile race strong. Then I would finish just another 50-mile race strong. And then I would race another 50-mile race before racing a fourth 50-mile race. Breaking it up into four races makes 200 miles totally digestible and possible.

The 2014 edition of Dirty Kanza 200 began on a few paved roads, but we were on dirt within minutes. The beginning of the race wasn’t incredibly frantic, and the first sections of gravel weren’t entirely treacherous. That being said, there were plenty of frustrated riders repairing flat tires in the first 10 miles. Many of these riders were making their repairs shortly after turns on the course; my best guess is that they took the turns too quickly and/or sharply, pinch flatting tubes or worse, slashing their tires’ sidewalls.

As the morning sun continued to rise, the plains were shrouded by a mix of fog and dust (peep this Adventure Monkey photo). It was eerie and difficult to determine where the fog ended and the dust began. Prerace, TPG wisely advised me to wear a bandanna over my mouth and nose to filter the amount of dust I would inhale. On the course, I looked like a Western movie-style bank-robbing bandit. But I was able to breathe OK.

The first 50 miles went by quickly. I chatted with a couple of riders, kept a good cadence and did my best to not race too hard, too fast.

Highlight of the first 50: The low-water crossing was just as awesome as I expected (another Adventure Monkey shot worth perusing).  The water was deep, and the stream was moving at a decent pace. Some riders rode through it, but I did not. My main reasons: I didn’t know what was at the bottom of the calf-high water and the hill coming out of the water was a slick, muddy mess. So I walked for a few hundred feet. It was the right call.

I reached the first checkpoint — Madison — in 3 hours 27 minutes and 10 seconds (14.7 mph). I promptly found TPG, talked with her about what I needed for the next leg of the race (more water, alligatorade, bananas, bars, gels, Endurolytes, etc.) and got off the bike to hit the restroom in a convenience store. I must thank the young woman who insisted I cut in front of her in the five-person deep line for the unisex toilet; she said, “You’re in more of a hurry than I am.” Yes, yes I was.

As planned, I spent 15 minutes at the first checkpoint. I told TPG I’d see her at the next checkpoint soon and confirmed that I’d want to follow the plan we discussed earlier — I would want lunch and a longer break, probably 30 minutes.

MILES 50-100ish

The second 50-mile segment started with an incredibly rude hill — Sandpipe Hill. It looks much steeper in this picture. I felt good. I knew I’d have no trouble keeping my pace. I stayed on top of my hydration and food.

The large packs of riders were starting to thin out, and there were fewer times where I had to maneuver to pass riders as we climbed up the rolling hills. About those beautiful, green hills — I didn’t spend much time at all taking them in during the race. My eyes were focused on the road 90 percent of the time, evaluating the conditions, selecting good lines. Success at Dirty Kanza requires a rider to ride smart; if you stop thinking, you’re opening yourself up to something bad happening — rolling over a sharp rock, dropping into a pothole, falling into a cattle guard with a tire-wide gap. The amount of mental energy needed to ride this course isn’t as great as a twisty, technical MTB trail. But you can’t just pedal carefree.

On the second leg, I saw one unlucky racer — bloody face and scraped to hell, he was being tended to by his crew who had come to rescue him. This scene on the side of the road was a reminder that riding gravel wasn’t a piece of cake, walk in the park or whichever cliché you prefer. The “roads” were capable of inflicting major damage.  Respect them.

Miles 50-100ish were uneventful for me. I rode smart and strong, working in pacelines to conserve energy on flats and breaking away on most ascents. The descents were long, fast rewards. I pedaled down a few, but I mostly dipped into my drops and got as low as possible so I could coast at 25-30 mph. Not every hill afforded me this luxury. Some were pockmarked with potholes and large, sharp sections of rock. I took my times on those descents. On several occasions I saw a racer changing a flat at the bottom of these hills; that was my sign to take it slow. It makes no sense to bomb a sketchy hill if it’ll cost you 10 minutes when you have to fix a flat.

I reached Cassoday, the second checkpoint, in 3 hours 32 minutes and 48 seconds (14.22 mph). The parking lot situation was … well, not a parking lot. It was an overgrown field. TPG flagged me down at the checkpoint and led me to our piece of this haphazard plot of land. Several teams, who probably have done this race before, had large flags (countries, sports teams, bike company logos) flying high in the air at their sites, which made their spots easy to find. That’s a smart move that I highly recommend for anyone who plans to race Kanza.

Again, TPG was a champ. Her crewing skills are elite. She knew where everything was and got everything I needed as soon as I asked. At each checkpoint, she had the Comfiest Camping Chair in the World set for me to sit. I, however, didn’t use it. I was wary of getting too comfortable. Just getting off the saddle, standing and stretching my legs was good enough for me.

At this checkpoint, I ate more, drank iced coffee, visited the Porta-Potty and re-upped on chamois cream (critical to do this at every checkpoint). All told, I spent almost 30 minutes here.

MILES 100-150ish

The third leg of Dirty Kanza 200 would be a milestone for me — the longest distance I’ve ridden on my Salsa Vaya. I wasn’t sure what 150 miles would feel like; my previous maximum distance — 133 miles of the Red River Riot route — felt tough. I started feeling very fatigued in the final 10 miles of that training ride. But the big difference then was that I was riding solo. At Kanza, I had hundreds of riders joining me, albeit even farther spread out at this juncture.

The first few miles of this section of the race was paved — a blessing (smooth!) and a curse (it was heating up!). Within this first few miles, I realized my bike’s front derailleur was misfiring; I couldn’t shift to the large chainring. I tried twice and dropped the chain. Not good because, for better or worse, I ride hard — always trying to mash the largest gear I can.

With 10 fewer gears, I knew this leg would be a challenge.  To stay on pace, I had to spin at a higher cadence — an unnatural motion that led to slight pain in my right knee. To make matters worse, I was starting to cramp up — my right quad and hamstring taking turns griping about the effort. I never had to get off the bike to work out the muscles or give them a break. Instead, I growled through the pain, making inhuman noises that diminished the pain and made me feel stronger (and probably made nearby riders assume I had gone rabid).

Despite these setbacks, I kept riding as strong as I could. I continued to press forward, working in pacelines for a bit before zooming forward to the next rider or group of riders on the horizon.

I can’t recall if this was the section of the race where free-range cattle were in-play. Regardless, you’ve never lived until you’ve ridden past unimpressed bovine that are a) not impressed with your kit or bike and b) at a moment's notice could stampede your ass into the dirt.

My slowest stage, I reached Cottonwood Falls, the third checkpoint, in 4 hours 4 minutes and 4 seconds (13.68 mph). I have to give it up for this town — the locals were super friendly and accommodating. TPG said that a town councilwoman used her power to keep the county courthouse open for riders after it was briefly closed. I greatly appreciated being able to wash up in the clean, spacious bathroom — a huge improvement over a convenience store john or a Porta-Potty.

During this checkpoint, I worked on my chain and derailleur as TPG refilled all of my stuff — more of everything! She was so encouraging, which I really needed. I was starting to have less fun, and doubt was seeping into my brain. I was pretty sure I could finish; but she was posi-friggin-lutely certain I would finish the race. Her enthusiasm was just what I needed. She reminded me that what I was doing was a major accomplishment and that there were just 50 miles remaining. I ride 50 miles all the time. No sweat.

MILES 150-200ish

After logging my slowest stage, I was fairly certain I couldn’t finish the race before sunset. Fatigue was increasing — my legs were tired and my lower back was sore — and the wind was picking up, making every mile just that much more difficult. Also, there were fewer racers in front of me, so there were fewer opportunities to draft.

Corky the Hornet
As I pedaled, there were signs that I was returning toward civilization. There were highway crossings and houses, glorious houses with families outside cheering on racers and offering cold water and “fat” Coke (none of that Diet Coke crap). I saluted each as I passed, declined offers of beverages and mustered a couple of howdys as my throat constricted — I was getting emotional.

The sun dropped lower and lower and 8:42 p.m. was getting closer. I managed to pull two other racers for a few miles at a 16 mph clip, when it was their turn to pull, I was exhausted. I couldn’t keep pace and stay behind their wheels. I lost my final opportunity to draft.

And just like that, the sun had set and I flicked on my front and rear lights. I wasn’t disappointed. It would have been nice to finish before sunset. But I was still very much thrilled that with every passing second I was approaching my goal — finishing the race. I could have a dozen flats and need to walk the bike for the remaining 6 miles. It wouldn’t matter; I had plenty of time to finish.

Twenty-eight hours after this photo was snapped, I 
rolled past this sign toward the finish line.
The final couple of miles were paved. I pedaled up a city street and turned onto a familiar road leading back to the Emporia State campus. I passed the dorm (and briefly daydreamed how sweet it would be to shower soon), rolled over the words of encouragement that students wrote on the sidewalks with chalk and passed clapping Emporia State staff and faculty as I approached the intersection leading to downtown.

The light turned green just as I approached the intersection. Volunteers on the other side cheered and yelled “just four blocks to go!”

I slammed my gear shifter to my biggest gear, stood on my pedals and mashed them as hard as I possibly could. I was flying inside and out. This long damn day — a fun one, to be sure — was almost over. On each side of the road, there were cars loaded up with bikes, cyclists and their crew hanging out, some cheering.

Three more blocks.

I blasted past familiar storefronts that line Commercial Street and avoided drivers that were haphazardly searching for parking spaces.

Two more blocks.

I could hear the cowbells. I could see the finishing chute. I could taste the sweet satisfaction of accomplishment bubbling up inside me. I could feel tears that were threatening to escape. I gave them permission to roll from my eyes as I rolled toward the finish.

One more block.

I entered the finisher’s chute. The crowd clanged their cowbells and I threw my hands into the air, yelling “Yeah! … Yeah! … Yeah! …” It was an incredible feeling.

“Aaaaand … from Dallas, Texas … Rrrrroberrrrt Traaaaay-seeee!” the announcer said as I made it to the finish line. It. Was. Sweet.

I reached the finish line in Emporia in 3 hours 44 minutes and 8 seconds (13.54 mph). Total time for my first Dirty Kanza 200: I covered 203 miles in 14 hours 58 minutes and 54 seconds (13.54 mph), good for 210th of 469 finishers (31st of 66 in men ages 35-39).

Jim Cummins, executive director of Dirty Kanza, hands me the coveted Dirty Kanza 200 finisher’s pint glass and details how to procure a free beer. I shook his hand, thanked him for one helluva race and smiled for the first time as a Dirty Kanza finisher.

TPG was quick to find me in the mess of bikes and bodies filling downtown Emporia. It was great to be off the bike but even better to hold her and kiss her. I could not have asked for a better partner in this adventure. Her support made it possible for me to finish. There’s no doubt in my mind.

We soaked up the scene unfolding downtown. It was a party, but I was most enjoying the opportunity to sit down and relax. I wanted nothing to do with that free beer (TPG would tell you that’s the first thing I told her when I saw her after finishing).

It was tempting to spend more time downtown, but I really wanted to be clean. I was gross, totally filthy — dirty, sweaty and stinky. Just like my bike.

That’s a hardworking machine right there. I couldn’t be happier with how my Salsa performed. It’s going to be very difficult for me to choose another bike brand for the remainder of my years as a cyclist.

Proud of my feat and thrilled to be off that dirty bike, we drove back to the dorm, got clean and recapped our Dirty Kanza experiences before passing out from exhaustion.


We woke up in time to walk to the awards ceremony at White Auditorium. It was packed and the ceremony was great, even if the gushingly apologetic Kiwanis ran out of biscuits they served for breakfast. It was wonderful seeing all of the top riders accept their awards. The top riders shattered the course records; former pro racer Brian Jensen smashed the men’s record (just under 12 hours) by finishing in 10 hours and 42 minutes. Remarkable!


Kansans’ support for the race is INCREDIBLE. They realize they have something special; the Dirty Kanza is a premier cycling event that more and more cyclists add to their bucket lists each year. Emporia and the Flint Hills region are on the map. And these locals are proud, as well they should be.  Thank you, volunteers, organizers, Emporia State University, local business owners and residents of the Emporia region. You made quite an impression. You have a charming city and a challenging race. I wouldn’t hesitate to make the trip again to race Dirty Kanza again. And, for anyone on the fence about racing Kanza: Do it! You won’t regret it. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Gear, Training and Fuel That Got Me Through 203 Miles

Last weekend, I raced the Dirty Kanza 200 in Emporia, Kansas. The 203-mile gravel grinder in the Flint Hills of the Sunflower State attracted 727 riders to test their endurance against what’s billed as one of the toughest gravel races in the country.

This post isn’t a race recap. That will come later; I need more time to process the experience and detail how I managed to complete the race in 14:58:54. (Update: Read my recap — "Dirty Kanza 200: Recapping a Remarkable Race.")

Instead, this post is a gear, training and fuel post — tidbits that I hope will be beneficial for future Dirty Kanza racers. Upon signing up for the race, I sought every story, blog post, video, photo gallery and forum I could find. I wanted to have the right gear, train accordingly and know what to expect.  So I’m adding my 2 cents to the debate on tire size, tubes vs. tubeless, etc. If I forgot to cover something, please leave a comment below.

THE BIKE  l  2013 Salsa Vaya 2

Last summer, I bought this steel-frame adventure bike for two reasons. I wanted a bike for commuting to work (rack and fender mounts), and I wanted a bike for racing in Spinistry gravel grinders (relaxed geometry, disc brakes, bombproof construction and clearance for 40mm tires). This bike fit the bill.

The bike is mostly stock, including the drivetrain and wheelset. I did make specific changes for Dirty Kanza:

1. Tires/tubes: The stock Clement X’Plor MSO tires didn’t work out for me at all. I had multiple flats during a training ride, Ride the NETT and MonsterCross for Meals.  I know several cyclists that swear by these tires, but they failed me. So I replaced them with 34mm Vittoria Cross XG Pro tires, which were great during my training.

These tires were going to be my Dirty Kanza tires until a rock slashed my sidewall during a training ride. It was time to replace them. I decided I needed to roll the largest tire I could muster, something that would have a larger contact area and hopefully decrease the chance of flats on the Flint Hills. I landed on WTB’s newest tire — the NANO 40c. This was a good choice.  After a couple of weeks of riding them, I haven’t had a single flat, and that includes Dirty Kanza.

I didn’t run tubeless for Kanza for a couple of reasons. I switch out my tires regularly for commuting and gravel grinding. A tubeless setup makes swapping road tires for gravel tires a hassle. Also, if you slash a sidewall in the Flint Hills, you’re going to need to use a tube anyway.  I kept my tire pressure high — 55 psi — another calculated risk. Sure, it made for a bumpier ride, but I figured it was another way to prevent flats.

How’d that work out? Not a single flat during Dirty Kanza.

2. Saddle and bartape: I replaced the super-cushiony WTB saddle with a firmer, familiar friend — Fizik Arione. I also replaced the stock Salsa cork bar tape with Fizik Performance Bar Tape and Bar Gel.


1. Garmin Edge 500: This was the first year that Dirty Kanza provided turn-by-turn GPS files for racers. You can still download those files here. During training, I was impressed with the performance of the Edge 500, and its battery life was very good. It’s rated to last 18 hours, but I had my doubts leading up to Kanza; so I also wore a Garmin Forerunner 220 for a backup GPS. Fortunately, I didn’t need to use it. I finished the race with 27 percent battery to spare.

2. Gemini Duo front light and Serfas Thunderbolt tail light: I had hoped I’d finish Kanza before the sunset, but I was about 11 minutes too slow. I was prepared though, with a super strong beam on my handlebars and also a Petzl headlamp for reading my Garmin and cue sheets — definitely a good idea to go this route if you’re navigating at night.

3. Cue sheet holder: I’ve seen all manner of ways to hold cue sheets. I opted for an old-school pencil holder ziptied to my bars — wind and waterproof. I saw several cue sheets on the Kanza course that may have been blown off by lesser holders (or, perhaps, tossed by littering racers). I trimmed the 12 sheets and taped them into two sets — three cue sheets on each side of two sheets with left turns highlighted yellow (when you’re exhausted on the bike on a bumpy road, a splash of color makes reading much easier).

4. Topeak Road Master Blaster frame pump and Topeak Tri DryBag: A quick confession — I do not trust CO2 pumps. More accurately, I don’t trust myself to use them correctly. So I opt for a pump that always works and fills the tire as much as I need. And Topeak’s waterproof bento is perfect for holding food and iPhone.

5. Nuclear Sunrise Stitchworks Frame Bag: I saved the best for last. This is my favorite piece of equipment. Custom made in El Paso to fit my frame, this bag is such a smart investment. It easily held bananas and a 3 liter Camelbak bladder in the top pocket, and six tubes, a multitool, tire levers and chain links. And there was ample room left for extra stuff.  I can’t overstate how nice it was to know I had plenty of water that wasn’t going to pop out of bottle cages (saw several bottles pop out of saddle-mounted cages) and that I didn’t have to carry on my back.


I live in Dallas — a paved paradise for motor vehicles. My biggest source of training was my commute to work — 20- and 28-mile roundtrip options three to four times a week. I rode with a rack and loaded panniers (see photo above). I credit the additional weight of my gear in the panniers for making my rides tougher and me stronger.

On days when I didn’t ride to work, I often ran in the morning or afternoon, typically 5 to 8 miles.

On weekends, I rode as much gravel as I could. In particular, I rode Spinistry race routes — Red River Riot and Texas Chainring Massacre — and Dallas’ Trinity River Levees. I also mountain biked and hit the roads around Mesquite/Sunnyvale to keep things interesting.  

The longest ride I did before Kanza was 133 miles. I also logged a few more centuries. Most weeks, I tallied 180 miles total.


Every 15 minutes of racing, I either ate or drank calories/electrolytes. The food I opted for on the bike:

• Several flavors of Clif Bars (ate eight) and gels/goo (probably eight of these, too). 

• Eight tortillas and four 20-ounce bottles of Gatorade: I started eating tortillas when I trained for a 12-hour race about two years ago. They don’t offer much in terms of nutrition; I should consider a better option. Also, I need to make the transition to Perpetuem for my drink choice. While I appreciate its calorie count, I just can’t appreciate the chalky taste.

• Maybe 80 Endurolyte tablets: I started the race taking four to five every hour. And then my right thigh started to cramp around mile 110. So I upped the dose to four to five every half hour.

• I also ate other things at the checkpoint locations, including more bananas, iced coffee and a chickpea-avocado salad sandwich. If I had to make a change, I’d probably have another sandwich and throw some peanut butter on a couple of slices of bread throughout the day, too.


These things worked for me, but there's not a single perfect plan, bike and/or food that will guarantee success at Dirty Kanza. There's skill (and luck) involved, too. I'll write about those aspects of the race and the entire fabulous Dirty Kanza weekend shortly.  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Triple Threat not met

Sunrise from inside our tent. If you are even remotely outdoorsy, I highly recommend camping alongside the river during the Hotter 'N Hell weekend. The small village atmosphere is right by the trail races and very near the expo area and start line for the rally.

Last year, I rode the Hotter 'N Hell 100 for the first time. The annual all-things-bike event held in Wichita Falls (near the border of Texas and Oklahoma) draws tens of thousands of cyclists for criterium races, mountain bike races, trail running and the ultimate — the Hotter 'N Hell 100, a 100-mile rally that can sap anyone's enjoyment of cycling.

That's one crowded bike rack. Poor TPG's superlight tribike, sandwiched between my roadie and MTB bikes. Saris Bones 3-Bike is a capable rack.

I applaud the Times Record News for delivering the newspaper right to the tent-steps of those camping on Friday morning. As a former employee of a Scripps sister paper (San Angelo Standard-Times), this touch made me proud.
Held in August, the temperatures can easily scale past the 100 degree mark. Last year, the race wasn't nearly that hot; but, what it lacked in heat, it more than made up for with wind. This year, the weather seemed to be on our side again. When TPG and I rolled into Wichita Falls on Thursday night, the weather forecast for the weekend was favorable — highs in the 90s and scant chance of rain.

This year, I signed up for the Triple Threat — racing the 22-mile cat 2 mountain bike race on Friday, riding Saturday's 100-mile road rally and finishing with a half-marathon trail run on Sunday. Because why not?!

As soon as I awoke Friday morning, I knew the weekend wasn't going to be easy. I felt the first symptoms of getting sick in my throat — scratchy — and felt a little "out of it." I remarked that I might be getting sick. I hoped it was just an effect of dust blowing into the tent.

The cat 2 MTB race was set to begin at 10 a.m. — a perfect time. Not too early as to need to rise at a ridiculous hour, nor was it too late when the heat would be searing (the poor cat 3 racers had to contend with that when they rolled out for their single loop race at 4 p.m.).

Breakfast consumed, paper read and geared up, I approached the ag barn for the beginning of the first race of the Triple Threat.

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More than 200 people signed up to race the Triple Threat this year. My best guesstimate, 80 of those were cat 2 racers. To put it simply, I raced poorly. I felt gross — hot from the oncoming sickness compounded by the actual heat of the day. My skills were not with me. I pedaled slower than normal, I took fewer risks than normal and I decided I was just going to try to have a good time, which wasn't a hard thing to do. Any day on a bike beats any day not on a bike!

Note the tents in the background. I wasn't joking. You've got a great view of the trail races if you put down stakes here. One warning: The band playing the night before the big rally might keep you up later than you'd like.
Most of the course is not out in the open; this is just the best spot for taking pictures. The twisty singletrack that dominates the trail is some of the best-designed and fun to ride in the state. 
This was my first time on the Wee-Chi-Tah Trail (maps), and all things considered, I had a lot of fun. The folks who work on that singletrack have put in a lot of time clearing brush and creating all manner of obstacles. You snake through tight sections where trees reach out to grab ya. There are decent climbs — nothing too long, but the trail conditions (sand) can make some of them challenging. Some descents are tougher than you'd expect — a couple of dropoffs and rocky downhills proved challenging. The highlights of the trail are the obstacles — the biggest teeter-totter I've ever ridden and the Highway to Heaven, an elevated wooden section that was recently rebuilt and maxes out at 9 feet above the ground (see the old Highway here).

My first lap was 1:06:01. All Triple Threat contenders' first lap is what is used to rank the racers regardless of category. My slow time ranked me 117th, at least 50 spots lower than I thought I could race. Alas, it wasn't my day. But I still had a great time. Now that I am more familiar with the trail, I hope to ride it again, whether for a race or just for fun.

That's all dirt, sand and sweaty mud, folks. This is easily the dirtiest I've been after just two hours of racing.
Immediately after the race, I needed to rest. I was burning up and having a hard time breathing. (As it turns out, I was suffering the beginning stages of an upper respiratory infection). A cold water, Coke and shower in the cattle stalls made me feel somewhat better. Being clean and sugary drinks can work wonders. Our friends Brian and Heidi arrived shortly after to set up their campground next to ours. This fun pair was in town to ride the 100-mile rally, which at this point, I was about 50 percent sure I wouldn't be well enough to do. No matter, I was content to spend Saturday chilling out in the expo, getting more rest, maybe catching a movie as TPG, the Luebs and tens of thousands of cyclists rode across North Texas.  

No matter how bad I felt, I still needed to eat. The last time TPG and I drove through Wichita Falls, we hoped to try Gidget's Sandwich Shack, a local cafe that specializes in sandwiches, including a good veggie option; but it was closed. This time, we made it happen. In addition to the food, the decor is straight-up garage sale treasures. It's a unique spot that we were happy to frequent; anytime we can shop "local," we do.

This might look like a sad setup, but don't get it twisted. Above these super-comfy chairs is a Big Ass Fan that provided much-needed cooling. Oh, and in addition to a break from the heat, we charged up our phones and noshed on our homemade sandwiches. Even one of the barn's maintenance workers commended us for finding the best spot to relax in the area. It was a blissful escape from crowds and the sun. 
We spent the remainder of Friday picking up supplies and hanging out at the expo. It's a crowded mess, that expo. But the air-conditioned environment can't be beat. We perused the vendors and chatted with the good gals at ReGeared, a Grapevine-based studio that turns old bike parts into frames, clocks, wallets, keychains, artwork, trophies ... you name it. It's great to see a company like ReGeared growing and doing good things with materials that otherwise would be thrown out with the trash.

Now, I wish that I could blog further about how kick-ass I felt on Saturday morning and how I cut some serious time off my century PR en route to a fast trail half marathon. Well, that's going to have to wait until next year. I woke up Saturday morning feeling even worse, and TPG felt pretty lousy, too. So we decided to pack up the campsite and head home once the rally started and the streets were open. I must admit, it was disappointing. I hadn't necessarily trained hard for Triple Threat. I maintained my fitness with regular running and riding. IT was something I signed up to do in February, and I felt like I could meet the challenge. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. These things happen. We made the right decision to return early. Riding 100 miles in near-100-degree heat when you feel puny would have been a recipe for disaster.

So, this recap ends with a whimper. But as I type this, I'm feeling strong again, and more adventures are on the horizon. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The hardest, most humid race yet

Photo courtesy of Anne
Here's a great shot of some awesome Frunners at El Scorcho. Many ran ES, too, and others were there for the fun. The scene at Trinity Park is beyond compare. It's a party. Consider adding El Scorcho to your race schedule. You won't regret it.
Approximately two years ago, when I started this whole endurance athlete journey, I had no idea what an ultramarathon was. A marathon was the farthest thing I knew about, and I was training for the 2011 MetroPCS White Rock Marathon (now named the Dallas Marathon). To me, 26.2 miles was the ultimate. Just as ancient man thought the world was flat, I accepted that no one ran farther than 26.2 miles. It was a fact.

The running community on Twitter quickly introduced me to people with "ultra" in their names (whaddup, UltraDrum and UltraNinjaRunnr!!!). I had no clue what the "ultra" meant. I didn't know that it signified some major mileage — anything over 26.2 miles, often 50K (31 miles), 60K (37 miles) 50 miles and 100 miles. These impressive athletes dispelled my notions that no one ran longer than 26.2. Even though I knew it was possible, it didn't interest me at all. A marathon was tough enough for me. Why add another 5 miles?

Photo courtesy of That Pink Girl
That's my sister, Anne, rockin' the Frunner-brand jingle skirt. She signed up to volunteer and to be a spectathlete. Prerace, everyone is all smiles!
Well, as it turns out, the more you do anything, the more you yearn for a new challenge. And after running three marathons, I figured why not run a 50K. But not just any 50K. No, my first would be the wildly unorthodox El Scorcho. Now in its seventh year, ES started as Ryan Valdez's birthday celebration — run 30 miles on his 30th birthday. The only problem, as this Fort Worth Star-Telegram story notes, was that his birthday is in the middle of July, when temperatures burst well above 100 degrees. So, to up the ante, the race would be held at midnight on the he 5K course of crushed limestone, asphalt and concrete at Trinity Park in Fort Worth.

The annual race is now a legend in the running community. The wild race atmosphere, unorthodox start time and 25K and 50K distances attract 500 racers. This year's race sold out in two days, so I felt fortunate that I would get to compete in this race, which raises funds for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  

TPG and I headed to Funkytown on Saturday afternoon to pick up the packets from Fort Worth Running Company, hit up the Pearl Izumi Factory Store, spend quality time at the park during daylight and check into our hotel room and SLEEP! This, we thought, was the best way to approach ES — have a place to bank some sleep before the race and have a place to clean up and rest after the race. It proved to be a genius move.

We woke up around 9 p.m. and performed normal, morning routines — getting dressed, having breakfast. One of us (guess who?) sprayed pink stripes into his/her hair.

See the pink stripes? They lasted all night, too!
We headed to the race site about a mile from our hotel room. The car was loaded with stuff — rolling cooler with refreshments, shopping bag of food and supplies, extra gear in bags and the most comfortable camp chairs. I know what you're thinking: that's a lot of stuff for a race. Yeah, but remember, it's 50K (10 loops) and 25K (5 loops), so you never know what you might need during after completing a lap. And friends huddle at the campsites prerace, during the race and postrace, so creature comforts are key. It also doesn't hurt if you have a "powah monkey" hanging around, too.

Photo courtesy TPG
The dapper dude with Mama C? His name's Joaquin, and he's the badass Frunner mascot. 
It was so much fun hanging out with friends prerace — laid-back, chill, no pressure or nervousness, that I pretty much forgot about the race. Then the race director called over the speaker for 50K racers. I rushed to the start line, received some last-minute encouragement and advice, and at 12:01 a.m., we were off.

The course was mostly flat, but the mix of terrain, especially the crushed limestone, presented me with a tough shoe choice: the wear lighter, springy, less-supportive Adidas Energy Boost, or go with the tried-and-true, supportive, cushioned Asics GT-2160. While the Adidas have treated me well (massive half-marathon PR at Irving Marathon) and I've used them as my primary shoe for the past few months, I opted for the support of the Asics, which I realized was the right choice just one mile into the race.

The loop was really nice — flat (only one significant hill) and not too treacherous (some holes and cracks here and there, which the ES team marked with red glow sticks). For the first couple of laps, I ran alongside and behind a few fellow 50Kers. Then the speedy 25Kers zoomed by and the trail became more congested for the next two laps. It was fun seeing these fellow runners having a great time late at night — some wearing costumes, many with glow-stick necklaces and bracelets. I didn't wear anything fun. I used a Petzl headlamp (very helpful for the darkest sections of the course) and wore my cycling sunglasses with the clear lenses (another good choice with the dust being kicked up and bugs flying around).

The first five laps were solid. I ran those 5Ks at an 8:40 to 9:15 pace. I did 25K in 2:24, which I thought I could maintain for the next three laps and possibly run a negative split for the last two laps. I stopped to reload on Endurolytes and water (my friends did an awesome job helping me with all night). But then my stomach became a problem. Considering most races and my training occur in the morning, I wasn’t used to running with a full day of food in my stomach. My stomach wasn't used to having my typical breakfast — oatmeal and coffee — at 9 p.m. I had a feeling nature would call at some point during the race. But it was worse than that. Let's just say I didn't expect her to call often or be so mean.

The back half of the race wasn’t pretty. I had to relieve myself in the woods and sacrifice my shirt for toilet paper on the seventh or eighth lap. Before the final lap, I stopped to chat with friends and refill my water bottle and put some bland food in my stomach. I collapsed with the worst cramp in my inner thigh. Fortunately, my friend Erin, a skilled massage therapist who owns her own company (Massage by Erin) and is training for the Texas Time Trials in Glen Rose, was on hand and offered to help me. I was a pathetic mess — cramping hard, increasingly dehydrated from my bout with stomach distress and having TPG feed me pretzels. Fortunately, the cramping was quelled and I started to feel capable of running just as Smashmouth's "All Star" came on over the loud speaker. Just so you know, this might be one of my least favorite songs in the history of ever (there's a story, but it's too long for this post).

Anyway, I hopped up, cracked wise about not wanting to listen to another second of the tune, and started my final lap with the best company — TPG. She had finished her 25K and insisted on seeing me through what proved to be a tough final lap. I had to make two pit stops in the woods, using my race bib and leaves en lieu of Charmin. It effin’ sucked, and I wasn't in the best mood. Fortunately TPG's company helped. I turned off my iPod and just focused on running as she motivated me to push forward with her encouraging words and frame of mind. We passed landmarks on the loop and she would say, "Last time you have to see that ______ tonight).

That half-naked blur is me, relieved to be finished: 5:37:20, 19th out of 50 male 50Kers.
Back at the hotel: Feeling accomplished and stoked about taking a shower and going to sleep!
It took me more than 40 minutes to run/walk/crap that last 5K. It was a good experience, and I’m stronger for finishing. There were several times when my mind told me I wanted to quit. And even though I felt like crap, I knew I didn't need to quit. So I didn't. I pushed through. And I'm pleased with that.

We are all stronger than we think we are. El Scorcho reminded me just how true that is. I look forward to racing it again. Maybe next time I'll do the 25K so I can wear a jingle skirt and have fun being a rowdy Frunner and supporting others as they find out just how strong they are.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Team Refuel destiny, Pancake machine, 'Things That Used to Be,' strange place for a tree, shiny new trophy

I don't know anyone who loves milk quite as much as That Pink Girl. It's impressive, really. In particular, she's all about chocolate milk as a recovery drink. Annnnnd, she's now in the running for a spot on Got Chocolate Milk's Team Refuel — a legit sponsorship! The top two vote recipients will earn a spot on the team. Sooooooo, VOTE daily for TPG and let's make this happen! Bonus: For every vote, $1 will go to the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

The morning after 24 Hours in the Canyon, I wasn't incredibly hungry at breakfast. The night before's dinner — pizza at Eddie's Napolis (yes, it's the same Napolis that has two restaurants in Garland) — filled me up. But I had room for breakfast and was fascinated with this gadget. It's practically a laminating machine that produces pancakes. Has anyone else tried an instant pancake from a hotel breakfast buffet? Not the best pancake, not the worst pancake. Syrup can solve any breakfast food's shortcomings.

Things That Used to Be: I can't explain my fascination with stores/restaurants/churches/whatnot that move into buildings that have the hallmarks of a Burger King, Blockbuster or other failed franchise. What we have here is PDQ Cleaners inside the shell of 7-Eleven. This is pretty generic, and not that interesting. I'll keep my eyes peeled for TTUB examples to share that are more unique.

Some people shouldn't be allowed to decorate.

The races in the Texas Ultra Cup Series are outstanding — great challenges and well-organized. The icing on the cake are the trophies. Kudos to 24:00 organizer Ryan Parnell for mailing the trophies to everyone. The next race is a first-timer — the Tonkawa Ultra Cup. It's a 12-hour and 6-hour race July 13 in McGregor, just outside of Waco. I won't be there, nor will I race the 2013 Texas Time Trials on Sept. 19-21 in Glen Rose. But I can't over-endorse Ultra Cup races. They're outstanding. Getya some!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Pedaling for hours on end in Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro Canyon State Park: Home to the second-largest canyon in the United States and 24 Hours in the Canyon — the most kickass race I've ever participated in ... so far.
Darn near every photo courtesy of That Pink Girl, who,
after a PDC weekend, also answers to the name "The Deer
I apologize in advance y'all; this is a really long blog post. I can completely appreciate not having the time or endurance to make it through the entirety of a lengthy, recap-ish blog post. I assure those who will take on the challenge will find most of it worthwhile. I appreciate every single reader's time, support and interest in my recent challenge — racing my mountain bike from noon Saturday, June 1 to noon Sunday, June 2 at 24 Hours in the Canyon — that I will start by answering the questions that most people will have.

1. Did you race the full 24 hours? No, I didn't. But I did manage to race 16 hours.

2. How far did you ride? 
136 miles — 16 loops of an 8.5-mile course — finishing fifth in my age group.

3. Did you crash? How many flats did you have?
I had three big crashes (others were minor) and sustained scrapes, bruises and cuts, but nothing that irreparably damaged me or my bike. Despite running a high tire pressure (55-60 psi) I had two pinch flats in the first 10 hours. Fortunately both occurred in spots where shade made the 10 minute process of replacing and pumping a tube less disheartening.

4. Would you do it again? Would you recommend 24 Hours in the Canyon?
Yes, but I probably will not race it next year. I enjoyed the challenge; but, I want to pursue other challenges first. Someday, it would be nice to say "I raced 24 hours straight." If you're seeking an ultra-endurance bike race, definitely circle 24 Hours in the Canyon. It's well-run, benefits the Harrington Cancer Center and has plenty of race options (road or MTB; non-competitive or competitive; 6- 12- 24-hours; etc.).

Any questions I didn't answer above will most likely be addressed in the following narrative. If not, leave a question in the comment section below. Now, strap on your helmets and gloves, and apply your preferred brand of chamois cream — it's time to go for a long ride!

Picking up my race packet couldn't have been easier or quicker on Friday afternoon. The 24:00 volunteers were top-notch. Take note how clean my legs are in this shot.

Have you ever traveled to Palo Duro Canyon State Park? For those who haven't, it's quite the hike — 390 miles northwest of Dallas. It'll take you approximately six-and-a-half hours to arrive in Canyon, about 20 miles south of Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle. But don't let those figures dissuade you; it's totally worth it, especially if you have a seasoned crew member/race Sherpa like That Pink Girl handling the driving.

For starters, one thing you'll want to do prior to making this trek (or any long drive) is double check that you have packed all of your stuff. I didn't. I realized about 90 minutes into the trip that I left all my dry food (including my on-bike fuel) in the trunk of my car. Fortunately, we were able to load up with all the same stuff at The Bike Stop and Target in Wichita Falls.

Also, if you are traveling from DFW, you must stop in Chillicothe to pick up some Dang Good Candy at Valley Pecans. What West's Czech Stop is to kolaches, Chillicothe's Valley Pecans is to pecans. (Editor's note: Better yet, stop there on the return trip, because all the chocolate-covered pecans will melt in the blazing-hot canyon.) Other than that, there's practically nothing to look at the entire trip. The shift from grass plains to red dirt plains breaks up the monotonous view, but the real reward is arriving at the canyon — a majestic place that has to be seen in person to appreciate.

Upon arrival to the canyon, I promptly picked up my race packet, paid TPG's park entry fee ($5 per day is an outrageous bargain) and got to the business of putting together our campground for the weekend — a QuickShade canopy, cooler and food-prep station, and 6-person tent with inflatable mattress (fancy car camping, y'all). The plan for the evening — prepare a nice dinner, hike a bit of the trail, watch the pre-race race (Hill Climb Challenge up the steep 10 percent grade road leading out of the canyon) and watch a screening of the documentary "24 Solo" at another campsite.

I love her. A lot. Here we are during our hike of 2 miles of the race course.

The first three things went pretty well. Sort of. When you enter the wild, you must be prepared for all things that call the wild "home." TPG and I are fond of animals; but animals that imperil our lives are not our favorites. Well, guess what surprised us a few feet to our left in the brush beside the trail ...

Forgive the blurriness, my hand was shaking for
obvious reasons.
If you guessed "a 5-foot-long, fat, hissing and rattling western diamondback rattlesnake," you guessed correctly. We respected the heck out of this P.O.'d, venomous pit viper as he puffed up in his about-to-pounce posture. He startled us both. With hearts pounding and the sound of his rattle reverberating in our ears, we pressed on, hoping he would be long gone when we returned 20 minutes later.

Sure enough, the rattler was gone, and we were relieved and ready to see some racers take on the annual Hill Climb Challenge. All registered racers (road, MTB, single-speeders) are invited to take on the hill. While I love climbing hills, taking this beast on the night before my biggest cycling endeavor didn't sound appealing. My finally healed knee and mostly healed shoulder also provided another excuse to sit on the sidelines and cheer for those who were brave enough to ascend and descend the steep, curvy hill. It was an awesome sight. What made it even cooler was chatting with some fellow racers and watching fireworks that were set off by the crew rehearsing "TEXAS," an outdoor musical drama at PDC.

After watching the Hill Climb Challenge racers speed down the hill, we headed to the Mesquite campground to watch the film at 11 p.m.. To our surprise, we were the only people there to watch the 2008 Trek-sponsored documentary on Chris Eatough, one of the greatest endurance athletes ever, about his march toward a seventh 24-hour world title. Long story short: The film was disrupted when some serious wind gusts slammed the canyon. The movie screening tent started to fall apart, and volunteers stopped the video as TPG and I simultaneously decided we needed to get back to the campsite.

Back at Hackberry around midnight, we found part of our campsite destroyed. In particular, our canopy was no match for the 30-plus mph winds — three of its four aluminum legs snapped. Lesson learned: Always lower the canopy when it's not being used.

Assessing the pitiful state of the canopy the morning after some badass wind whipped it hard. It served us well at the rainy Texas Time Trial in September.  

We removed the canvas top so it wouldn't float away, cut our losses, zipped up our tent and slept quite well. That's one of the beautiful things about 24:00. The race begins at noon, so there's ample time to sleep and get prepared.

The is the 8.5-mile race route. I rode it 16 times last Saturday/Sunday. Fortunately, more times than not, the laps were uneventful; so I won't recap each lap. Instead, I'll sprinkle details about the events/places on the course that those red dots represent.

The race started at Juniper campground (dot no. 1). Twenty-eight riders lined up for the competitive mountain bike race. Shortly after noon, we were off an racing down the asphalt road toward the beginning of Capitol Peak MTB trail.

Tense, locked arms: Gotta work on adopting a more relaxed form. Being amped for the race probably has plenty to do with my posture. Also, I couldn't be happier with Pearl Izumi Sun Sleeves — kept my arms cool, protected me from a sunburn and minimized cuts/scrapes. Note the pristine white color. They didn't stay pristine for long.

First and foremost, the race course offered a mix of challenges — climbs, descents, rocky spots, sandy sections, switchbacks and sections with significant falls for those who don't respect the trail's difficulty. All that being said, most of it was not terrible difficult. What it lacked in technical sections, it more than made up with fast spots and unrivaled scenery.

One of the more challenging climbs was early (dot no. 2) on Capitol Peak. During my training ride in April at PDC, I tackled this one and the other toughies. But on race day, I knew I couldn't blast up these sections and waste valuable energy. So I walked them or at least a portion of them every lap, conserving for the long haul.

Speaking of energy, a quick note on fuel: Besides slurping water from a 100-ounce Camelbak, I drank Lemon Lime Gatorade (TPG taped encouraging words from friends and family on the bottles), popped 4-8 Edurolytes every hour (depending on heat), chewed Apple Pie Larabars, Clif Mojo Bars and PowerBars; Honey Stinger Organic Energy Gels and PowerGels

The first lap included my first crash (dot no. 4) at consecutive step-downs on a narrow, high section on Givens Spicer Lowery trail. I have no idea how it happened, but I kissed the side of a large boulder and slammed to the ground without falling off the edge. I picked myself up quickly and got back on track. This section of the trail wasn't a problem on any of the other laps.

I humbly walked the toughest climb (near dot no. 5) every lap, as did most every racer for the first portion of the hill. This section was a popular lookout where hikers and recreational cyclists hung out.

Speaking of non-racers, June 1 also happened to be the American Hiking Society's National Trails Day. There were dozens of hikers, runners and recreational cyclists on the bi-directional trail. That could have made for a nightmare race scenario. Fortunately, I didn't experience any problems. Everyone was courteous, and I announced myself and intentions to pass early and clearly.

Returning to the campground for a break. After 8 laps, I had crashed at least twice, fixed a flat and was a dirt-red mess. I needed real food — TPG's awesome veggie sandwiches — and a clean kit.
I don't recall ever being this dirty in my life.
The first seven or so hours went pretty well. The afternoon sun wasn't too bad. The day before, the high temperature reached into the 90s. On race day, we were treated to mid-80s (in 2011, the high exceeded 100 in the canyon). I felt pretty good on the bike — just a little numbness in my right hand. I found a rhythm of drinking water (awesome refill stations around dot no. 3 and at the timing chip exchange zone), eating my bars and had the trail pretty much wired. Caked in red dirt, with sand in my shoes, sweat coating my kit and satisfied with my effort, I was ready for a quick break.

I ate real food, slipped into a clean kit and hooked up my Gemini Duo light kit,. I was ready to ride the trails at night. There was about an hour of daylight left when I rolled out for my eighth hour. My body was fine, but my bike was cranky — a second pinch flat, this time the rear tire. A relay rider who had passed me during my first flat passed me as I made the repair and said, "Aw, man, again???" I acknowledged that, yep, I had another flat and that it might be a sign that I need to reconsider going tubeless.

As the sun disappeared and racers flipped on their lights, the trail looked entirely different. One difference: The high-powered lights spotlight the sand in the air. At first I thought there were bugs in the air. Nope, that's sand, which I had been inhaling all day. TPG had recommended a bandana to minimize the effect of breathing that stuff, but I passed. (Considering how much fun it was blowing red-dirt snot, I would reconsider that choice next time.)

There was a particularly sandy spot that worsened as the race grew long (dot no. 7). This is where my most embarrassing crash occurred. This section of the trail was simple, nothing challenging at all ... if you're not wading through ankle-deep sand. Well, my high-pressure tires were having no luck in this spot, and I finally slipped. Every subsequent loop, I planted a foot at this spot and pushed my way through the turn. I'd be surprised if anyone could effectively pedal through this portion near the end of the race.

It was dark by the time I started the 10th loop. Racers were treated to another display of "Texas" rehearsal fireworks. It was awesome seeing the colorful display while riding! But not even pyrotechnics could keep me going strong. I was getting pretty tired. My riding was suffering — I couldn't hold simple lines and my confidence in my ability to ride solidly was waning. I debated taking a break. A few more slips and close calls, and I decided I needed to rest. I finished my 11th loop and notified the time keeper that I was going to take an extended break. I wasn't going to ride a full 24 hours.

That was a tough choice to make, but it was the right call. The fresh, ready-to-ride 12-hour racers were going to start at midnight, and I was concerned that my poor riding could be a danger to them as well as myself.

As I tried to get comfortable in the tent, my right quad cramped something fierce. That pain reinforced that I made the right choice. TPG hooked me up with a banana (potassium) to help relieve the cramp, which did the trick. As we fell asleep, I enjoyed the last sights of the first night — beautiful, bright stars above our tent.

The alarm chirped before 5 a.m., and as soon as you could blink, TPG had coffee and oatmeal ready for me. I was well-rested. filled with a good breakfast and ready to tackle the rest of the challenge. I was happy that I would ride my bike for another six hours. I knew I could do it. It was all downhill from here.

The 6-hour racers hit the trails shortly before I returned to tackle my 12th loop. I rode slow, and, for the first time, slipped down to my smallest chainring, aka, the granny gear. It was starting to be about preservation at that point. I needed to take advantage of every gear available to me. As I had during the fir

Dawn turned to full-blown morning quickly during that first loop. The highlight: Seeing TPG at the GSL trailhead, where she shot some more awesome pictures.

I handed off my headlight and battery and headed toward one of my least-favorite sections of the trail — a descent that was sandy and had been a popular spot for cheering spectators and photographers.

Dot no. 6 was the scene of my most dramatic falls. My front tire plunged into a sandy spot at the top of this drop. My body flipped forward and my head crashed into the dirt. My bike followed above me, barely missing me as it slammed below me on the trail. No one was there to witness the wreck, but I'm pretty sure it looked awesome. Fortunately the crash only shook me up. It also stole my sunglasses. The fall must have knocked them off. I couldn't find them when I walked my bike the next time I reached this descent. TPG noted that there were tarantula dens in this area, so we figured these eight-leggers walked off with my Uvex specs. (I'm sure they look good on them). The wreck also damaged my bike's saddle (bent the left wing down), which I didn't notice until after the race.

As much fun as it looks. Thank you, TPG, for documenting everything!

At first, I thought I might take a break every two loops. But I felt about as good as one could hope, so I pressed on and prayed that I wouldn't have another flat (I didn't) and focused on those who were cheering me on — friends and loved ones across the country — thought about those affected by cancer, pictured everyone who helped me exceed my fundraising goal, and pressed on. I thought I could ride six hours straight, possible ride another six laps. My right knee had another idea. It started to hurt on the fourth lap; but I paid it little mind and focused on shifting my effort to the left side of my body. After completing the fourth lap, I rolled down a small hill and, as I pedaled up the uphill, my knee screamed. I knew I was in trouble. I thought about pressing on, but I knew it would struggle to block out the pain. I wanted to finish strong. I wanted to roll across the finish line near the 24:00 mark. I had two hours left but only one loop left in my legs. So I took another break.

I returned to the campsite. TPG was at the top of the canyon to update friends and my sister with my status (no shock, there's not much cell reception at the bottom of the canyon), something she did throughout the race (yes, she's the best). I took out my pocket allen wrench kit and disassembled the canopy frame so it would fit in the dumpster. TPG returned and was surprised to see me. I filled her in on my knee situation, and she set me up with a cold pack and a comfortable seat. We chatted and enjoyed or time together before 10:45 rolled around. I got up, jumped on the bike and rolled off for the final loop.

I soaked up the scenery. I had grown tired of the trail, but it felt bittersweet knowing I wouldn't see the rocks that scraped my flesh or the hills that humbled me. I said sayonara to them and even started to tear up as it hit me that the journey was almost over. The course was mostly bare. There weren't many racers still on the trail. I traded congratulations and words of encouragement to those who passed me and those I passed. We were a fellowship of folks who loved riding and found something magical in the canyon. I can't put words to it; you just need to go there to understand. PDC is something special.

And then it was done! I stretched out my hand so my timing chip would beep for the final time as TPG and volunteers cheered for me. It felt awesome!

I was ready to be off the bike. My butt was literally tired (serious saddle sores, y'all), and I wanted to hold my greatest supporter and love of my life. TPG held stinky-old me tight and exclaimed, "You did it! I'm so proud." And waves of emotions flooded over me. I kept my composure, but it seemed like it couldn't be true. Was I really done? Had I really just ridden for 16 hours out of 24 hours?

As we walked back toward the campsite, the realization that I had ridden hard and long sank in. I couldn't help smiling. I finished something substantial; sure, I raced, but more importantly I did it for a greater reason than a personal challenge. I raced and fundraised for a worthy cause.

It has been five days since the race. My sore back, banged up legs/knee and scraped arms feel fine. I am still on a high from the race. It's taken me three nights of typing to put together this blog post. I could probably write twice as much, but it's time to move on. There are new challenges in front of me (El Scorcho — my first 50K) and non-endurance things I'd like to do. Until then, I will wrap this up by thanking y'all for believing in me and for the overwhelming interest and support in this goal. I cannot thank you enough really. But I will try. Whatever your goals are, reach for them. Don't stop dreaming about the seemingly impossible. You can make those dreams come true. You believed in me, and I believe in you.