The March to DK: Journal #1

As of March 1st, there are exactly 94 days until the start of the most prestigious and outright hardest endurance gravel event on the planet, the Dirty Kanza 200. And for frequent blog contributor Neil Shirley, there’s not a day to waste! DK is an event that Topical Edge is partnered with and has turned into an annual rite of passage for Neil, so we asked him to write a series of journals documenting his preparation leading up to the event on June 2nd.

This year’s DK200 will be my fifth consecutive time lining up on Main Street in the small town of Emporia, Kansas, awaiting the countdown that launches nearly 2,000 of us into seemingly endless miles of gravel roads at first light. It’s an exhilarating and nervous few minutes on the start line as all the months of preparation flash through my mind...wondering if it’s going to be enough.

Even with my extensive cycling background, that includes spending years racing professionally, a successful outing at DK200 has proven to be rather elusive. In the four DKs I’ve competed in, I’ve dropped out once and sworn off cycling on two other occasions. Fortunately, I didn’t follow through on those threats. Getting everything right and having some luck along the way has been my Achilles heel, yet that’s one of the things that keeps me captivated, and maybe slightly obsessed with the event.

The challenge to have my fitness dialed, choosing the proper equipment (and keeping it working), ensuring my nutrition strategy is nailed, knowing how to pace myself for 11+ hours, and be ready to handle any of the vast numbers of unanticipated things that could happen out there are all pieces in the puzzle to success. I have enough experience to understand how critical each of these pieces is, and the amount of detail needed to confidently roll to the start line with each item checked off the list. I’ve done well with most of these things over the years, just never all together on the same day.

Overall fitness used to be one of my greatest strengths, but over the past two years it’s turned into my biggest weakness. With less and less time available to commit to training due to family and work, my ability to be a contender has disappeared. I trained with structure for years as a pro, and once I took a step back from racing I thought that doing what I wanted when I wanted would be the best approach. That was fine for a while and I was able to rely on the large base of fitness I had to get me through, but now that I’m coming up on my 40th birthday, and far enough removed from my pro years, I’ve come to the realization that I need to be much smarter with my training if I want to achieve my goals.

Late last year while riding together, Adam Mills of Source Endurance called me out for underachieving as of late; so I presented him the ultimate challenge: coaching me. Adam works with some of the top professional road cyclists in the U.S. and is also heavily vested in the gravel segment with the Belgian Waffle Ride Survival Camp that Source Endurance puts on, so I knew I would be in very good hands. But, I wasn’t sure Adam fully knew what he was getting himself into considering that over the past seven years I’ve been opposed to structure, intervals, and any real plan. Of course, I knew I had nothing to lose and a whole lot to potentially gain. Plus, I figured it might be an interesting exercise to document my progression.

Just before we started the periodized training program, Adam outlined some key objectives that will be a priority leading up to the event. In the next journal, we’ll discuss the specific workouts prescribed and the fitness progression we’ve seen. We’ll also bring my nutrition plan into the focus and discuss caloric/hydration needs and how to test them in training.


  • Training Volume
    • Volume is a key component for success (or even comfort level) at Dirty Kanza. Of course with a full-time job and family life taking precedence, there are limits to this and that’s where ensuring we’re achieving the most in the training time available is so important. We’ll also look for opportunities to add in some bigger blocks, like the four-day, 430-mile bike packing trip Neil has coming up soon.
  • Large Dose of Threshold Work
    • We can make some accurate predictions of what Neil should expect to produce on DK day. Typically, 60-70 minutes will be a large dose of exposure time to threshold power at a road race. DK should see Neil stomping out 2 hours or more at his threshold power. That sort of volume at threshold takes a lot of work and a lot of nutrition/ hydration just to enable it as a possibility.
  • HIIT Training
    • High intensity interval training lets you resist muscle damage and fatigue while allowing you to make the selection and ride in a faster group. It will be optimal for Neil to work on his short-term power since riding in the front group will require making Vo2Max efforts. Investing a little time in this type of training can pay off exponentially.
  • Inclusion of Epic Events/Rides
    • We will mix semi-rare epic training days at home with the occasional event such as Rock Cobbler, SPNDX Stampede, Belgian Waffle Ride, and Chino Grinder to prepare for DK200. The goal of this approach is to work on his day of event nutrition and build the fitness to where Neil sees very little drop off in his horsepower late into an event. This approach allows him to build at home and take his fitness on the road to measure his progress subjectively with his peers.

Take a deeper dive into the training plan here, where Adam Mills outlines what he’s prescribing for workouts and why we’re doing it.

For more information on how Adam Mills or another Source Endurance coach can help you achieve your goals visit

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