Cyclist Richard Pool, 29, of Olathe is a product designer at the Gerson Companies, a home and decor wholesaler in Olathe. This year, Pool is making his second attempt to ride the Dirty Kanza, dirtykanza200.com, a 200-mile “gravel grinder” race that begins and ends in downtown Emporia, Kan., on May 30. The 1,500 rider entries are sold out, but there are free race-day festivities for spectators in Emporia and the two aid station towns, Madison and Cottonwood Falls. Pool is one of 26 riders sponsored by Velo + bike shop in Old Town Lenexa. This conversation took place over cups of Maps Coffee, a roasting operation and cafe inside the shop.
When we first spoke by phone about the Dirty Kanza, you told me, “There is nothing fun about it.” Can you please elaborate?
Last year was my first attempt, and it ended badly.
The thing no one tells you is, because this race starts at 6 a.m. while most gravel races start at 8, you’re up at 4:30 or 5 getting ready, and your body’s not adjusted to that time waking up.
So I didn’t feel very good. The race starts, I go out with a pretty fast group, and I do the fastest 50 miles I’ve ever done, which ends up being a bad sign for later.
I ran into some dehydration issues, and then at around mile 136, I got a pretty good case of diarrhea. I was on Sharps Creek Road, and I remember that because that road is in the very heart of the Flint Hills and once you turn on it, your options are to go straight for more than 10 miles or go back, and I was right in the middle of it. Probably the worst possible place you could quit the DK.
I had to ride backwards about 21/2 miles to a bridge and climb down the side to get to a highway where my team could pick me up.
What were you thinking at the end of that day?
I was thinking, “I will never do DK again. Why did I do that to myself?”
But then, give it two days, and you feel somewhat normal again and you look back on it and you think fondly about it for some reason. There was nothing fun about it, but it turns in your mind to, “That was actually a good time. It was a nice day on the bike.” It makes no sense.
How is the Dirty Kanza different than other races?
The way they put it on, it’s probably the best race there is. The whole town (Emporia) kind of shuts down and it turns into a big party at the finish line. It is a lot of fun to be down there.
And unlike some other gravel events I’ve done, it’s a really scenic race. It’s places you would never have any reason to go to except for this. That’s my favorite part of it — you can kind of get lost in it while you’re in it.
What makes riding in the Flint Hills different than riding on gravel roads in Olathe?
It’s not really gravel, it’s rock. A lot of people complain about flat tires, but I didn’t get one. If you choose the right tire pressure and find the right line on the downhills, you’ll be fine.
What about the weather?
It’s hot, but I can survive in the heat. But the wind can really destroy your day. Riding with a 20-mile-per-hour wind in your face makes it really, really hard to maintain your speed. You are supposed to maintain a 10-mile-per-hour pace. There is nothing more demoralizing than when you’ve been riding for 12 hours and you see you are only doing 9 miles per hour and you know they can pull you from the race at the next checkpoint.
Why did you sign up for the full 200 again, instead of the half-pint 100-mile course?
There are two kinds of people who ride the DK: people who think they can win it, and people whose goal is just to finish it, and that is the group I’m in. It’s like ultra-marathon running. It’s a weird thing. Bodies aren’t made to do that, and I still don’t think my body is made to do it, but it’s a life goal, to be able to look back and say I did something that was very, very physically demanding.
Do you think you can finish this year?
I hope so. I’m not going into it hoping I can narrowly beat last year’s distance (smiles). Also, I have a child coming in October — my wife and I are expecting — so I don’t know if I’ll have the time next year to put in the training I did this year.