The Road to Kanza: The 200 Mile Criterium with Zack Allison

Zack Allison of Source Endurance Training and a member of Team Clif Bar Cycling has his sights set on winning the Dirty Kanza 200, a race he compares to a long criterium. We caught up with him during training to talk preparation and his motivation as he heads down the #roadtokanza.

NINER: Why ride the Dirty Kanza?
ZACK: Kanza is definitely a bucket list race for me. I like long events, really getting out there in the middle of nowhere, where you have to push yourself to get back or meet your goal. I also like gravel riding – mixed terrain keeps it all interesting. On top of all that I like tinkering with equipment and choices. I’m a decent wrench so I actually like picking equipment for technical events and putting it all together to conquer the course.

NINER: Up to this point, what’s the longest ride you’ve ever completed in one day?
ZACK: I’ve ridden about 200 in a day maybe once or twice. As I get closer to the event I’ll do a couple of epic rides that will be around 200 miles or close to a mediocre time at Kanza to push the legs and equipment and see where it’s all at. There’s a bunch of road events that are over 100 miles but they are usually screaming fast, 4-5 hours for 100-120 miles. Those are longer road races but pretty different efforts than Kanza. I’m not so much worried about the intensity at any one point at Kanza but more what happens after nine hours of riding at a consistent pace. I’ve got some pretty epic rides planned around Red Feather Lakes and Deadman’s Pass that will be way harder than Kanza, climbing and terrain-wise with hopes to make a rolling Kanza feel a bit less daunting.

NINER: What bike will you ride?
ZACK: I’ll be on the new Niner RLT RDO with full SRAM and Enve 4.5 Disc wheels. I’ve been riding it a few times a week on longer solo rides and the thing is wicked fast. Until this I haven’t been on a gravel bike that feels so much like a zippy road bike. The wheels help. I’m still going back and forth on a few tires. I’m leaning towards something overbuilt after reading about some other riders’ experiences. It seems like you can lose the race with a string of bad flats but no one has really said they lost the race because they were on bigger tires.

NINER: What is your training plan?
ZACK: This is a really great question and also complicated. I ride for Team Clif Bar. Team Clif Bar has a few facets to it, all run by the ever amazing Dylan Seguin. I’m currently at Speedweek, a five race crit series between the Carolinas and Georgia where I sit 9th overall after 2 races. The trick with this training plan is being where I want to be to be competitive in these crits and then not lose the long game for things like Kanza, the Belgian Waffle Ride, Bite the Bullet Gravel Fondo and all the long gravel events. Based on the Speedweek results, my intensity is there. My basic structure so far has been something like a couple of hours a day during the week mixing in some pretty intense intervals and group rides. The weekends are reserved for long, dirt, adventure rides. Depending on how much trouble I get into on Saturday, Sunday often becomes recovery from a death ride or a few more hours of dirt. Add that up for a few weeks then take a rest period or I might add in a couple of race trips here and there before Kanza.

NINER: What are your hopes for finishing the Dirty Kanza?
ZACK: It’s really hard to say where anyone will finish but I hope to be top 10. I think this is realistic after some extensive “strava coaching” and looking at who I have raced against in the past and how they have finished. It’s a huge equation with lots of unknowns involved. You never know about the weather, wind, mud, mechanicals, plain ol’ bad luck. If I can avoid mechanicals and its more technical due to wind and weather, I will benefit. If it’s a tailwind all day and there’s five “clydesdales” or five “yuge freegin’ guys” that I’m trying to ride with I’ll likely get pretty worn out.

NINER: What is your biggest challenge mentally for this event?
ZACK: Mentally, it’s thinking about the time on the bike. With the road racing, crit, and track background, I can go real real fast for a short period of time. That’s not to say I’m not prepared, training, or haven’t done the distance before but thinking about how to attack 12 hours on the bike is definitely daunting mentally. It’s challenging for me to wrap my head around, for sure. I’ve been in some pretty epic six hour rides that broke me and this will be like having that six hour ride making it home and then turning around and doing it again. What’s helping is thinking about the rides where time flies and thinking that it’s not like a road race where there’s some all out efforts mixed in over four hours. A more steady effort wins the race.

NINER: What is your biggest challenge physically?
ZACK: Interesting question. I would say it’s general “sitting-on-a-bike” fatigue. That sounds super vague but I have a strong core, I have strong legs. In a field like this, it’s not my lungs or ability to make power. It’s more like after 10 hours of sitting on a bike my back gets tired, my neck, etc. The position of sitting on the bike is probably my biggest physical challenge. In tackling it I’ve messed around with my fit, saddle position, saddle etc, just to try and make the position more sustainable over the long haul.

NINER: How many organized bike events have you ridden in?
ZACK: For the last eight years I’v had somewhere between 50 and 90 race days.

NINER: What do you eat when you’re on the bike?
ZACK: I try to keep it eclectic and metabolically logical. If its a super long, low intensity ride, I’ll start with a sandwich, eating half about an hour in and half before two hours. I’ll then switch to traditional Clif bars or Nut Butter bars. As I get more and more depleted I’ll try and strike a balance but eat a bit more carbs. In a crit I’ll eat a gel, on a 3-4 hour hard training ride I might start with a Clif bar and end with Clif blocks.

NINER: What’s one piece of wisdom you can share about riding in an all day event?
ZACK: I think the biggest advice is have a plan. In a super broad sense, have a plan for eating, have a plan for equipment failure, have a plan for pacing. If I didn’t plan this event at all, I assure you I would start riding at a 40k time trial pace, I’d eat when I got hungry 3 hours in, I would not be wearing sunscreen. There’s a high likelihood that I’d die of something that would be deemed self-inflicted from lack of planning. Some people who know me are reading this and laughing that I said the word planning. I could be known as a “fly by the seat of your pants sort”, but if you’re going to be out there all day it’s different than your epic five hour road ride where you pass three gas stations where you bought emergency Snickers bars.

You need a plan for everything that can go wrong – wrong with your body, wrong with your bike. If all of that is taken care of, everything from start to finish is wicked fun no matter what happens in the race.