Going into this year’s 200-mile Dirty Kanza, I felt reasonably prepared. I had numerous tubes, CO2, and a hand pump for the inevitable flat. I had my nutrition plan dialed hour by hour. I’d completed the 214-mile RAAM Texas Challenge and two other gravel grinders, and I’d read every Dirty Kanza race report and tips roundup I could get my eyes on. And yet—as most of these reports will tell you—nothing fully prepares you for the grueling experience of 13 hours in the wind, mud, and gravel of the Flint Hills. (Or, you know, 15 hours and 55 minutes, when things don’t quite go as planned.)
For events as long and arduous as Dirty Kanza (and even for shorter events), it’s not just the big things that matter—the bike, your training, your mental fortitude. There are also a handful of small details that can make the difference between being able to cross the finish line or forcing you to call it quits out of pain and frustration. Here are seven tips for gravel grinders that made (or could have made) my race go a lot more smoothly (and I’ll be sure to remember for next year’s Dirty Kanza).
1. Communicate With Your Support Crew
While I outlined my nutrition plan, talked over my needs and expectations with my support “crew” (my fiancé), and did a test run of a checkpoint stop, I failed to mention a few things that I thought he’d just know to do. (Everyone wants a coke after 150 miles of bike riding, right? Right.) But I learned not to assume anything. Make sure you’ve got all the food and supplies you’ll need (or think you’ll need) ready beforehand, and double check that what your support crew plans to do aligns with what you have in mind. A smooth and effective checkpoint stop is key in setting you up for success in the next leg of the event without wasting unnecessary time.