The Road To Dirty Kanza: Putting The Final Pieces In Place

If you’ve been following along with our series of articles in the lead up to the Dirty Kanza 200 on June 2nd, you’ll have read about the training and equipment needed for the 200 miles of gravel roads riders will face. In this journal, Source Endurance coach Adam Mills reflects on the training prescribed to prepare Topical Edge athlete Neil Shirley to take on the toughest one-day cycling events out there, and shows the massive fitness gains made in a relatively short amount of time.

By now everyone competing in the Dirty Kanza 200 (DK200)  is doing the final touches of preparation on their gear, bottles, hydration packs (it’s gonna be a warm one) and the like. The same goes for Neil Shirley as he is approaching the end of the road to DK200 project we started last Fall together. I want to acknowledge all the hard work Neil did to get to this point. It’s a big show of trust whenever anyone is willing to give someone else control, which is why you’re always best choosing someone with educational, clinical, and experience credentials for something like this.

I’ll get you a final summary of the training, but first here’s Neil’s take:

“Coming into this year’s DK, which will be my fifth time competing at the event, there were a couple of big changes I knew needed to be made in order for me to have the performance I know could be possible. One was with my equipment, making sure my bike of choice was up to the demands of the day. The second, which was the major objective for the past six months, was my fitness. I’m pretty sure I’ve suffered more in the past two editions of DK than I have in the past 25 years of cycling combined!

“Although my overall training volume hasn’t changed much from years past since it’s a relatively fixed amount of time I have available, the periodized training program has prepared me for everything from the extreme endurance needed for 11+ hours on the bike to the high-intensity efforts I’ll have to make in order to stay in the front group.

“Over the past six weeks Adam turned the focus to my weakest link and upped the amount of work targeting my anaerobic capacity (the stuff that really hurts). This is where I really had to dip into my stash of PR Lotion to help with recovery between workouts and get more out of myself during the workout itself. Unfortunately for me, Adam knows that I should be able to perform around 20% more high-intensity intervals when using PR Lotion thanks to the study done by Source Endurance (you can find it here). So, of course that’s reflected in the number of intervals prescribed. Thanks, Adam.

“With so many variables I’ll have to deal with over the course of 200 miles, there’s no telling exactly what can happen out there. But one thing I’m confident in is the fitness I’ll be rolling to the start line with.”

The Final Approach

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has many benefits to performance and sport. If you’ve been following along with the Source Endurance blog you’ve likely seen the image above before from Dr. Andrew Coggan. It shows the variance in ability at high intensity among elite athletes.  Obviously, being at the top of the range is better. While there are always limitations to your ability to change your location on this chart, there is a definite ability to improve how much exposure you can tolerate to a relative intensity before failure (your ability to repeat a very hard effort). So that’s where we focused Neil’s efforts following the Belgian Waffle Ride (BWR) in April. The results are everything I could ask of Neil.

Neil will tell you that the last six weeks were tough but how tough, exactly? We’ll start by looking at Neil’s training in two phases when comparing his HIIT efforts and exposure. The first is from November to BWR (20 weeks) and then from post-Sea Otter Classic (work trip) to the present (~6 weeks). The second phase saw Neil’s HIIT efforts increasing by a brutal 36%. Another way to conceptualize how that feels is to imagine doing 85% of all the HIIT work you’ve accomplished in the last 20 weeks over the next six. To make it even more interesting, I made it a point to advise Neil to absolutely complete each HIIT workout using PR Lotion based on sodium bicarbonate research and our own testing that found ~20% more capacity to work at supra-threshold intensities.

Finally, when we put it all together we have a comprehensive understanding of where Neil is at physically. Generally speaking, I believe that Neil is performing at a level that he hasn’t seen in a few years. From a physiological and practical aspect, my goal is to give Neil the physical and psychological tools to excel at his key events and primary goal of Dirty Kanza. Part of this is to examine trends and show him that he is improving. Below you’ll see Neil’s Performance Manager Chart as I’ve customized it. I won’t discuss the minutiae of the chart as most of that’s been done before. Instead, what I want to draw attention to are the top ten performances of 1, 5, 20 and 60-minute efforts. These are represented by the dots on the chart above. Note how they tend to migrate between the two views to become more and more recent.

This shows me that Neil is on a fitness and form rampage and that he has the physical skill set to compete in Dirty Kanza to a level that should satisfy him. Overall, we've seen an astounding 32% improvement in modeled Functional Threshold Power since November. Wow! Knowing that Neil is at a level that will have him in the mix of top riders out there, the focus between now and game day is on his logistical preparation.

We’ll do a follow up summarizing his Dirty Kanza experience so stay tuned for one last “Road to DK” blog post. Until then, thanks for reading.

Adam Mills MSEd, RCEP has been a professional coach since 2003 and has worked with a multitude of national champions in different cycling disciplines. He can be reached at

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