In today’s athlete profile we sit down with Data Driven Athlete Carol Stauffer to discuss Dirty Kanza, The Wizard of Oz, and getting back on the bike after a bad crash.

Q – How long have you been riding and how were you introduced to cycling?

I’ve been riding since I was 5! In 2008 I did an MS150 on a tandem with a friend, we averaged 20mph. I quickly realized, I love speed. In 2013, my daughter went to college and it became more serious since I had extra time. (Insert my empty nest therapy here)! I started racing in 2015 and it’s been an awesome journey.

Q – What’s your absolute best memory on the bike?

Well now this is really tough, because I love them all! I’d say absolute best memories on a bike have been traveling in foreign countries by bike. It is a great way to experience the culture, the smells of the outdoors, and sounds of the creeks along the side of the road, all the things you don’t really get in a car or on a tour bus. Oh, and then there are those childhood memories of riding my bike with my brother in the blazing hot summer sun to get a 20 cent piece of candy!

Q – I’m going to be honest, the Wizard of Oz scared me shitless as a kid.  I’ll never forget those feet curling up under the house, the green witch, and the damn tornado scene.  How big of a deal is the Wizard of Oz to people who actually live in Kansas?

Ha, Ha!! Well we have referenced Dorothy and Toto on a few rides.  Kansas is fiercely windy at times and storms seem to pop up out of nowhere! Tornados are no joke. I lived through the Joplin tornado in 2011. It went over our house and 2 blocks north of us homes were leveled, 163 people were killed. During tornado season I watch the weather app, and bike on my trainer in the basement keeping my helmet close by. Thanks to this question I may have hallucinations of the green witch and those monkeys on my next long ride, so thanks for the inspiration!

Q – Speaking of tornados, what are some tools you’ve developed to enable you to remain consistent in your training in the midst of unpredictable weather?

I don’t enjoy indoor riding, but to get the outcome I want, I have to put the time in. I’ve learned that 45-60 minutes is maximum amount of time I can tolerate on my trainer. I listen to work related podcasts and Dax Shepherd Armchair Expert! Love that guy! Time passes by with several laughs!

Q – Since we’re on the topic of Kansas, there’s a gravel race out there that’s kinda getting popular.  Can you give us a rundown of your past and current experience with the Dirty Kanza 200?

Oh, man this could really bore someone as I could write a short story here. My first DK200 was 2017.  I was lucky starting off with a pretty good year. Not too much mud or wind. I kinda fell in love! It just sucks you in, it’s beautiful, difficult as hell, tiring, and inspiring all at the same time. The year 2018 was tough for me and I only finished 133 miles before I had to give it up. I had a mechanical, my front derailleur broke 55 miles in and I had to choose the small chain ring for rest of the race. Then, we had a dear friend that took a terrible fall. We were on the course with him for a good hour until the ambulance picked him up. Eighty four miles later, my nutrition wasn’t up to par and my electrolytes were off. I looked at my Garmin and those demons appeared. The ones that get in your head and tell you you’ll never make it at this snail pace (5mph) when your giving it your all and that’s all ya got! I knew if I pressed on I might end up departing in an ambulance like my friend. The DK won. Enter 2019! The battle is on.  We are 1 and 1! This year going north, and much hillier! There was no way I wasn’t going to finish! I did so many long rides, climbed two 6K ft. mountains, worked on my nutritional balancing act and it payed off! So thank you for that!! I felt great the entire race, my spirits were high and my strength pulled me through. I could’ve pushed harder, but I finished with a smile on my face, high fiving the crowd (which is still there to cheer you on at 11pm), and I had the energy for an excited scream YES!  My goal wasn’t to finish fast, it was to finish. I always say it’s just so much training, planning, thinking to finish the 200 miles, I’m not doing it again. But I enter the dang race every January. Although I think I’d like to just race the 100 next year, maybe I’ll try to beat the sun in the 200! Oh, lord I just wrote that down… #goals.

Q – Someone hears you’ve done DK and is interested in giving it a shot.  What are 3 primary pieces of advice you would share with them?

First and most important lesson I’ve learned is; NUTRITION for the long haul. You’ve drilled this into my head and most of it has stuck. I’ve set the alarm on my Garmin to remind me to eat something every 15 min. I’ve tuned into my body signals; Are you feeling happy or tired? Are your legs feeling fatigued? Is your breathing labored? Does your head hurt? The slightest yes to any of these questions, I eat and drink. Planning for 200 miles of eating sweet junk is tough, so lots of options are necessary. Find out what you can tolerate and eat on every training ride. Take notes!

Second most important, mechanics. First must:  Go tubeless with the strongest tires possible and you don’t want high tire pressure. I run 40 lbs front and back. I’ve had one flat on a training ride, but never during any of the three DK’s.  Oh and I love to bomb the downhills!  I’ve had several punctures, but they just seal themselves. Be prepared to fix flats, you’re on your own! Many people have broken the rear derailleur from mud. Know how to set up single speed if necessary. Basic mechanics are necessary to learn.

Third: It’s truly a mindset as long as you adhere to the nutrition. If you just keep moving forward no matter what you will finish, but you have to take care of your body first. I suffered cramping this year, but I knew if I just continued to ride it out, feed my body it would go away. It came and went, but I had to just move forward. Hallucinations over 200 challenging miles are real. I have seen trees waving to me, strange animals beside me, you name it. You’ve got to take control of those moments, laugh them off. You have to be strong and courageous, you have to keep moving forward. Luckily, I find peace on the country gravel roads, it’s really tough to go back to the city cars and ride.

Q – You had a bad crash last year where you sustained a broken collarbone, many cyclists struggle to engage with the sport in the same way they did prior to a bad accident but you bounced back even stronger.  What tips would you share for someone who has crashed and is struggling to get back on the bike?

Yes, my broken collarbone and five broken ribs kept me off my bike longer than I wanted. I guess I’d say, it was an accident and an accident can happen anywhere, anytime. Either on your bike, in your car, running, hiking, skiing, playing tennis, it really doesn’t matter. If you let the accident rob you of your joy, what is the point in staying off the bike? I’d rather experience life doing all the things I enjoy while I can! My first group rides were not easy, they scared the crap out of me. The start of the DK is a massive crit race on gravel! I had to get use to riding among my peeps again. It is scary, but life is scary, so let the emotions come, feel them and direct them.

Q – You’ve done your share of road racing.  What’s the best memory you’ve had racing on the road?

The speed of a group of women, staying in the front pack, sprinting for a finish, and dodging the accidents! Talk about adrenaline rushes!  Races in my area are kind of small, but I’ve traveled to a few larger races and man those are awesome! I got to feel like a pro for a hot second! I admire those elite athletes.

Q – What would be your top tip for a woman starting to think about jumping into her first road race or criterium?

You will be as nervous as everyone around you, just breathe. I don’t care if you’ve been racing for many years, at the start everyone’s a little nervous. Channel that energy into visualizing the finish. It will be exhilarating! It will be fast, furious, and fun. Hang on!  Trust your training, trust your bike and trust your instincts. Stay tuned in and alert of what other riders are doing and where they are around you.  If you finish last, it doesn’t matter. You started and you finished. You’ve accomplished competing in a race, and not many have the courage to do so. You will be back!

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Nate Dunn
Founder/Head Coach
Data Driven Athlete

Written by Nate Dunn, M.S.

Nate’s entire career has been spent in education and coaching. As a former teacher and now Founder/Head Coach at Data Driven Athlete, he is most excited about helping clients discover more about themselves as they achieve their goals on the bike.