Sunday, June 9, 2013

DK200, Stolen From the Man in 2013

To explain why this year was “stolen from the man”, I signed up in January and then spent a week trying to figure out how to get out of doing DK200 in 2013. Reason being, my schedule of 7 grad classes in 10 months of working full time and trying to be part of the family, there was no reason I should be adding something else to my plate. Unfortunately (turns out fortunately!) my training partner, Dale Pinkelman, shares a year-round commute route with me and we just happened to have a random mid-winter meeting during my period of self-doubt on the bike path home from work. He is the most positive person you will ever meet and lifted my spirits at the shared moment of laughter at a random stoplight on Superior Street. Fast forward to the end of the race, Dale had done 230 miles with a missed turn in the same time it took me to do 202, his attitude is awesome as he was STILL positive. Fortunately, within one month of our meeting Dale and I had arranged an 8 week training schedule of 4:15 a.m. rides which still lead to showing up with 2000 less miles than usual with the longest day being around 60 miles, single ride maybe around 45, and plenty of doubts creeping into my mind as I tried to get some sleep the night before the race.
Front Row--Photo Emporia Gazette, me in Rasta colors, the smirk says it all;
 there is a thief in there that doesn't belong!
  Fast forward to race morning, I find myself in the front row of around 1000 riders, something I had feared as this is where my friends were but not where I belong! Although this was not the plan, I figured it may help to avoid some pileups out of town and I was here to steal something I had not earned anyway. Dale Pinkelman would be up with the top 10 so I knew I wouldn't be racing with my training partner. I had made a last minute arrangement to pit with Scott Bigelow, which would turn out to be the difference maker this year. To explain, I rolled away from Scott on the first leg against my better judgment.
Rolling between CP1 and CP2...but slowing down.  Photo Eric Benjamin

 Soon enough, between cp2 and cp3 Scott rolls up providing the perfect (and inviting!) paceline, exclaiming, "I didn't think I'd see you again today!" I was very thankful that he did find me again. Before Scott’s crew had found me, I had a pattern of grabbing onto random pacelines and getting dropped over and over and was becoming discouraged. My speed had dropped from around 15 mph down to under 10 mph. Taking pulls with Scott and one other rider upped my pace considerably and I initially thought about letting them roll away but I realized they were my "lifeline" and with the encouragement of their 3 man group, I kept taking pulls. Within a few rotations, I had raised my speed, spirits, and felt amazingly fresh again—my first attempt at stealing DK in 2013 had been initiated! As we approached a few hills prior to the run into CP2, I have a very clear memory of seeing through one eye, vision clouded by sweat, as we crested a huge hill. I was amazed to still be with them. We picked up a few others and had a great pace going as we entered CP2 together for our first of 2 group pit stops.
My partner in crime, Biggs.
 Photo credit: Kyle Thompson

 At CP2, I really began to appreciate Scott’s family. His kids took to lubing our chains, getting us whatever food we needed (thanks Luke for the pizza!), while taking photos and sending them back to my wife to let her know I was still alive. Although accommodating, we spent only about 5 min at CP2 and got going again. Scott and I had both gotten behind on food/drink coming into CP2 so I threw on the hydration pack. As a side note, I DID NOT CRAMP this year and have become a believer in Hammer Endurolytes Fizz Grapefruit being added to every bottle/hydration pack. The effervescent tabs are not overly sweet and full of lots of good ion replacement, I think the fizz also helps keep me from feeling sick. While on the topic of gear, it needs to be said that the choices that Cycleworks in Lincoln, NE, my team shop, recommended for bike, gear, tires, and nutrition were all spot on for this race.  They did lots of last minute orders for me (sorry about that!) and I really thank Nathan Swanson and Kris Sounderop for having such a team available to local riders.  It also needs to be said after having done a few of these DK200's, having temps in the 70’s 80’s is a huge difference maker with my whole body compared to the 90’s, 100’s that have killed me in the past. Just drinking cool liquid versus boiling liquids made a huge difference towards stealing this DK.

The ride between CP2 and CP3 introduced me to a new type of exhaustion that I had not recognized before in DK. Usually, I feel acute bodily pain but for some reason my brain is safely cushioned from being tired. This prairie with a hard head/crosswind had slowed our 2 man paceline (now just m and Scott) to 11 mph, combined with hills that reminded us of the hike up to the top of Long’s Peak in Colorado; my brain was getting tired. I have no other way to explain it! Regardless, as Roy Orbison once said, we were “working for the man” on this segment and we got it done.


 We again picked up a great paceline coming into CP3, some of the same regulars that we didn’t catch the names of. When we missed “the turn” at mile 138, a man in our paceline who was watching the map chased us down and we only lost a few minutes. Thank you kind stranger, I wish I could say I would’ve done the same, but that is a lot of lost effort on his part to fix our lack of attention to the map. We could’ve easily put in an extra 20 -30 miles at that point as we were in the zone and you saved us! I am really feeling like I stole something thinking back to this point…. Leaving CP3, it was just after 5 p.m. We had around 50 mi left and if we finished before 8:42 we would win the “Race Against the Sun” developed last year by DK-Hardman Tim Ek. Unfortunately for Scott, I had eaten too much at CP3 and had to sit in a bit on our final slog north into the wind and he ended up doing much of the initial work on this leg. Ironically, we picked up the man who developed the race within the race that we were going for, Tim Ek. He had a film crew following him in a jeep so there is probably some footage out there somewhere of Tim, Scott and I making our final push into Emporia. We still had plenty of time to chat and as hard as it is to admit, I was surprised by a lump in my throat I realized I was going to complete the theft of this race that I wasn’t meant to do. I was still feeling pretty good, but Scott was feeling better. He was throwing out inspirational quotes, convinced he was going to pull us to the finish line in time to beat the sun. I kept telling Scott to finish by himself and leave me (dead weight) behind! He did finally roll away near Americus for the final 10 miles to catch “the sun”. Soon after, I did the math thinking the finish was 8:45 was doable. I cranked it up to over 20 mph on the flat roads and did some mental math realizing as long as I didn’t drop below 17 mph for the final few miles, I would finish by 8:45. I reached the edge of Emporia alone and still on course for an 8:45 finish. I was on the finish street and reaching the barrier section, still prior to 8:45. The crowd was super loud and I began to choke up roaring my way into the finish tent. I reached Jim and gave him a hug and did get a bit emotional, he even asked me if I was alright! I did finish at 8:45 on my clock, but if you remember the race against the sun was over at 8:42…missed it by a few minutes!

Photo credit: Emporia Gazette
Dear Dirty Kanza,

Thanks for not holding it against me for stealing you this year.  For what's it's worth, I enjoyed you just as much as if I had earned you!

Sincerely,
James Blake


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