This past Saturday, I rode the Dairyland Dare 200k. And unlike last year, I actually finished the ride. All 125.2 miles plus some. I had intended to do the ride alone, but ended up running into a few friends at registration on the morning of the ride. They invited me to ride with them, and I figured I could use the company. Plus, I knew they would push me. The three friends I rode with are all notably faster than I am, so I knew it would be a great challenge to try to stay with them for all 200 kilometers.
The nice thing about the Dairyland Dare is that there is no formal mass start. The race begins at Harris Park in Dodgeville and riders can begin at any point after 6 a.m. I rolled out of bed at 5 a.m., drove to Dodgeville (a little less than an hour’s drive from Madison), and was riding by 6:30 a.m. It’s kind of fun how the volunteers organize small group starts. Essentially, 4-5 riders line up behind an official start gate, the volunteers ring a cow bell and drop a ribbon, and you’re off. That way it still feels like an official start, but without the crowds and jostling. It’s really a great way to deal with crowd control out on the course.
The Dairyland Dare is well known for its extreme terrain and killer hills. There are several course distances to choose from – a 50k, 100k, 150k, 200k, 250k, and 300k. I chose the 200k ride because the distance is longer and the terrain more extreme than the Ironman Wisconsin bike course. I wanted something that would test my physical limits and make next month’s Ironman course seem easy in comparison (if that’s even possible). But I do have my limits, and I think anything beyond a 200k would probably push me over the edge.
The 200 kilometer course features 13,547 total feet of elevation gain (yes, Wisconsin has hills—lots of them) and eight stages, with aid stations in between each. The aid stations offered water, HEED, bars, PB&J, fruit, cookies, meat sticks, and other necessities. The course was well-marked and the volunteers were wonderful. The roads were also great—smooth with very little traffic. Definitely a great day weather-wise and a really well-organized event.
As I predicted, my friends Tom, Mark, and Jackie pushed me hard throughout the day. According to Tom, we maintained an 18mph pace for the first 100 miles. Which is just amazing to me considering how much of that time we spent climbing. I’m sure it helped that I was oftentimes in the back of the pack drafting off the others. But it was anything but easy. In fact, I was working so hard I could barely keep up a conversation. Just like any endurance event, I had highs and lows—at some points I felt great, others I felt completely out of it. Tom informed me that the gearing of my bike (an 11-23 cassette) was in no way ideal for the course, or for Ironman Wisconsin for that matter. Apparently, I had less gears to work with, which made it more difficult for me to climb. So I’ll definitely be looking at swapping out my cassette for Ironman Wisconsin.
One thing that really helped me get through the day was the silliness of Tom and Mark. They added a lot of comic relief to the day, engaging with other riders, riding “no handed” for the photographers, and high-fiving every volunteer in sight. Although I was struggling and in pain, they kept me laughing. My favorite memory is when they saw another rider sporting a yellow US Postal Service jersey and started yelling at him in French accents and racing after him like he was Lance Armstrong at the Tour de France. It was classic.
We were all very tired during the last 20 miles of the race. The ride seemed like it was never going to end. I was sweaty, smelly, tired, hungry, and my legs were cashed. But I was excited when we hit the final aid station and were told we only had 8 miles to go. As we approached the finish, we saw a photographer crouched down behind a big red arch at the finish line. We decided to all ride through the arch together and raise our right arms. But as we squeezed through the arch, Mark’s bike tapped mine, and then I hit Tom’s. Luckily, we were able to recover without taking out the photographer! We finished the ride in 8 hours and 8 minutes. Afterward, we enjoyed post-race festivities in the Harris Park shelter—a burrito bar from Bluephies, homemade smoothies, and ice-cold soda. It was a great day and an epic ride.
FYI – the great pictures above are from Brad Guck. He totally captured the great scenery and essence of the Dairyland Dare.