This is the second piece in the personal narratives of David and Julia Priest's race experiences at Dirty Kanza. We couldn't be more proud of these two dedicated individuals for their strength and their willingness to represent Stinner Frameworks at such a grueling event. With that, here is David's story.
When I decided to race Dirty Kanza I really had no idea what I was getting into. Road racing is my jam, but I have always game to put myself in an unfamiliar position on the bike. Doing DK was an easy decision; just got for it and figure the rest out later.
I always approach racing the same way; prepared and focused on putting myself in the best position to win. I lined up in Emporia, Kansas on June 3rd, 2017 with exactly that in mind. I knew I needed to put myself in a good position early and save my matches for later in the race when it gets really hard. The only difference is DK isn’t a 150 km road race. It is a 333 km grind across endless rolling hills in the Flint Hills of Kansas.
At the four hour mark I am usually putting myself in position for the final km’s. Four hours into DK and the race is just barely getting started. DK is just a different animal all together. My race plan was simply get through the first half in the front group and then reassess the race and my legs for the 2nd half of this 11+ hour marathon. From a road racers perspective, this strategy is so simple. Nothing like a road race, no team tactics, no constantly taking stock of who is in the move and if you need to be in it. The tactics for DK are simple. The only problem is the course and your equipment don’t always get along. Over 11 hours and 333 km of rough gravel road is ample opportunity for a mechanical and it is simply a matter of when it happens and how prepared you are to deal with it. You can probably see where this is going.
Fifteen minutes in and the race is starting to sort itself out. The front group of 50-75 riders is starting to take shape and rolling along at a solid 40kph. I have myself tucked in and enjoying what I know will be some of the easiest moments of the day when a puncture leaves my front wheel instantly flat. I know instantly that things are going to get hard a lot earlier than I was hoping.
Dirty Kanza is a self-supported event except for the 3 check-points spread out on the course. I have spent enough time changing flats in a bike shop to quickly change my front puncture in a little less than 4 minutes and get back rolling. I knew that if I had any chance at a decent result I needed to get myself back towards the front of the race soon. I quickly start catching groups of riders, but none of them are going fast enough to even maintain the gap between myself and the front of the race. I had no choice but to keep pressing on solo. I settled into a tempo that I knew was closing the gap, but that I could only sustain for a couple of hours. I was all in. Catch the front of the race in the next 2-3 hours and hope I can recover a bit when I get there or not make it and set myself up for a very painful 2nd half the race.
In the Flint Hills of Kansas, you can see forever–like literally forever. The roads are straight and the hills gradual. I could see the front of the race out there a few minutes in front me like a beacon on the horizon. I could even take my own time splits and confirm that my efforts were closing the gap albeit slowly. I was keeping my speed up on the rollers and refusing to touch the brakes on the way down. I was risking flatting and blasting through water crossings just hoping there wasn’t a nice big hole underneath the water waiting to destroy my brand new wheels.
I was having a blast racing my bike. The legs were awesome and the front of the race was getting within one minute. I finally started to catch a few riders that were able to contribute to the chase. The only problem was they weren’t off the back because of a flat. They had already been dropped, so their contributions to the chase were limited.
After nearly 4 hours of chasing the front of the race was 30 seconds up the road. It was do or die time. I was going to catch in the next 20 minutes or I was going to blow up. Then I heard that dreadful sound of air escaping my rear tire rapidly. I felt like my whole race had just been deflated along with my rear tire. I was on my limit trying to finish off the last 30 seconds and now that gap was ballooning to over 5 minutes again. I changed the flat, got back on the bike and soon became aware that mechanicals were going to be the least of my worries for the foreseeable future.
My body was smashed. I had lost track of time while chasing. What seemed like 45 minutes of hard riding had been 4 hours. I had expended the same amount of energy I would normally expend in the early breakaway of a 4.5 hour road race. I had at least 7 hours to go and I had no idea how I was going to get there. I went from closing the gap to the front to be being passed by riders who I had passed long ago. I was bleeding time like crazy and struggling to produce 200 watts. I went to a dark place in my mind. I was looking for reasons to quit and struggling to focus on the task at hand. Danger Will Robinson.
I came to Kansas for the challenge. I had hoped that challenge would come in the final few hours of the race duking it out for a good result. That wasn’t going to be the story of my race. The challenge was simply finishing. I had no choice–just keep pedaling, eating and drinking, and waiting for things to get better. It took a few hours but I finally started to see a light at the end of the endless prairie. My body was cooperating again and I was rolling at a steady clip. I was not feeling great by any stretch, but I was moving and focused. After 333kms, 12h20m24s, and 9,700 kilojoules I finished. 49th out of 628. Happy to be done and happy with my effort. I had nothing left to give. Finishing with an empty tank is really all an athlete can ever hope for. I left Kansas unsatisfied with my result, but really pleased with my effort as an athlete.
I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to all the people that support me as an athlete: my wife Julia, my families in Kentucky and Wisconsin, Stinner Frameworks, Jones Precision Wheels, Black Sheep Cycling, my co-workers at Carmichael Training Systems, and all the friends I ride with on a regular basis that keep me motivated to race. Thank you all.
David Priest finished 12th overall in his age group. Next time you see Julia or David Priest out on the road, give them a high five. They seriously deserve it.