I got into gravel endurance cycling back in 2013.  I bought my first cx/gravel bike, a 2012 Giant TCX-W and wanted to take it further than the bike paths around my house.  I trained and did the Gravel Metric. Coming from a family of crit/road racing, gravel was brand-new and intriguing to me.   I now see it as a path to personal growth. I have had to overcome navigating, riding alone, training, pacing, eating, and riding in the dark.  

In 2018, I decided that it would be a good year to train for DK200.  Our now 3 ½ year old son was out of the 5 time-per-year ear infections and sickness phases.  My husband and I had already a couple years of solid gravel riding. He had finished a DK200 and felt that I deserved the opportunity give it a shot.  

The training plan I followed, outdoor riding, and putting forth my best attitude contributed to how I felt to reach the big day.  Every success or failure you come across is a building block for the big day (regardless of the outcome).

I used a training plan, and my sister-in-law plugged it in to the Garmin Connect calendar.one entry. at . a. time. I give her so much credit for taking the patience to help me establish my heart rate zones and manually enter the workouts.   Fitting in the workouts 2-3 times per week and logging in the long miles on the weekends was like a Tetris game, but I made it work. Some weeks I had to get creative, but I never gave up. Everything I feared in work, family, life sorted itself out because I stayed persistent and believed that I could do it. I will finish this training plan.  One important piece of advice I did get from a DK finisher, Stu Garwick, (a dad, husband, and owner of Freeport Bicycle Co. /Organizer of Ten Thousand) was if you get burned out from work, family life, and training to make sure that you step back and take a breather. Don’t be hard on yourself. Don’t get absorbed by the routine and the pressure of training.  It worked for him and he had a great Dirty Kanza.

Most people who train for DK, incorporate the Midwest gravel events such as Barry Roubaix (MI), Almanzo 100 (MN), Dairy Roubaix (WI), The Epic (MO) Hellkat Hundie (MI), or Ten Thousand (IL) . I know that gravel events take up travel time and money so I had to plan around my family life and budget.   Dirty Kanza is an expense and a trip in and of itself, so I didn’t want the family burned out by June 2. It was going to be a matter of coordinating rides with friends or signing up for the closer gravel rides here in Illinois.

In February, Brandon and I drove an hour to Pecatonica, IL and rode Frostbite 40.  Only 40 miles? It was a day where 40 miles felt like 60. It was held in the Driftless region of IL on a day barely reaching 30 degrees Fahrenheit and howling 20 mph winds.  Although Brandon was my windshield for the day, no doubt we both suffered in the wind, the sloppy and mushy gravel waking up from the winter freeze. Every climb hurt, and we were finished the ride feeling thoroughly exhausted.  

I decided to make my only “destination” gravel event outside of DK, LandRun 100.  I have heard nothing but good things about it. The gravel in the Midwest that I’ve ridden is country road gravel, and generally predictable. The term “gravel road” in Kansas and Oklahoma is loosely defined.  I signed up for LandRun100 both to hold myself accountable to ride 100 miles in March and to get myself outside of my comfort zone on their bouncy red dirt roads. LandRun 100 was exciting, and I really learned how to handle unfamiliar terrain.    The energy of the promoters and volutneers, the participants who came from near and far, Salsa’s Chase the Chaise at mile 90 kept you stoked 100% of the time.

The weekend after Easter April was Rough Road 100 (km) a local gravel /road race in Morris, IL along the Illinois River.  It was 18 degrees at the start and my original group of friends decided not to continue due to mechanicals and the uncertainty over the frigid conditions.  I already experienced the cold and wind from Frostbite 40 so I felt that I could hold out and ride the 60 miles. Since it took some time to assess my friend’s mechanical and part with one another, I was in the back of the race.  I saw Jenny Aguilar by herself and decided to be her Sherpa for the day. “I need the torture” I told her jokingly. We did pick up another woman, Leah Barry. Leah and I took turns pulling for Jenny and made sure that she was going to finish. Regardless of our fitness that day, it was cold, windy and long.  This was a day to test our mental fortitude. The three of finished together and shared the joy of completing a hard ride.

On April 22, we got a break from the cold and got the chance to bare some skin at Grumpy Grind.  This ride took us over 86 miles of the Driftless area. Some of the road names were familiar to me from Frostbite 40.  I did a good job of drafting and staying in small packs as many times as I could. No matter how hard I backed off, or ate food, used bathroom stops I felt very flat that day.  The winds were relentless and at mile 60 I took a break to have part of my ham sandwich. Once I had a few bites of prosciutto ham and part of my mini Coke I felt like a rock star. Mile 75 felt like mile 1 to me.  I was riding in a fatigue period. Knowing how that feels was a good learning experience and I didn’t see it as a failure. It’s part of the process. I finished at a decent time and got to enjoy the vibe of a free and intimate gravel event with friends.  Gravel star, Kae Takashita was already finished and we had a photo taken together.

April 28. Is it warm yet? No. I had a ride planed with friends where the high temp for the day would be 50 degrees.  Back to covered arms and legs. Jon Schratz, my StayRad Adventure teammate, mechanic, all around best bike friend helped organize a 120 mile road ride.  Since it does take a good 50 minutes to 1 hour for me to reach gravel I decided this was a day to get more bang for my buck. Jon designed a route that started in Aurora, IL took us up to Campton Hills, west to Maple Park (near Dekalb), south to Sheridan, IL (very well near Morris / Illinois River again) and back to Aurora.  We danced in the hills enjoyed the tail winds when they when the going was good. I learned what riding 8+ hours felt like and how to digest my food. The ride was the longest distance I had ever ridden in my life, and it was my first century ever in Illinois (finally!). Needless to say, I felt toasted the next day.

The middle part of May finally cut my long rides shorter because I was in the taper phase. I used the local trail systems near my house to make those 3-4 hour rides without getting too far from home base in case something happened to me.  Memorial Day weekend brought temperatures in the 90s and everyone’s outdoor rides were torturous. I took the time to ride the Tuesday before Dirty Kanza in 94 degrees. That felt toasty.

I recently read a book, “Swimming Home”, about women who competed in open water swimming, during a time that was unheard of for them.  The best swimmers know that the ocean “owns” you, and you have to ride out the currents and conditions. I approach gravel the same way. No ride is the same. No conditions are the same. You are out in the open land, wind, and nature.  You have to go for it and ride out the “waves”. Every outdoor ride I took this year had its own personality and learning lesson that I took with me to DK 200.