Home > Gravel

The ultrarunners taking over Dirty Kanza

Do the athletes have the perfect background for the gruelling 200-mile race

Dirty Kanza is one of the longest and most famous of the modern gravel bike races. The 200 mile gravel race takes place in the Flint Hills around Emporia, Kansas and attracts thousands of participants every year. As gravel grows in popularity, the race, started in 2006, has gained a reputation as one of the biggest gravel events in North America.

The past few years have been full of retired pros turning to gravel. Peter Stetina, Svein Tuft, Ian Boswell, T.J. Eisenhart and Laurens Ten Dam all made the transition from the peleton to rougher roads, celebrating the type of riding gravel allows them. Even current pros on EF Education First will have the chance to race at Kanza, with their ‘alternative race calendar’ that includes races such as Dirty Kanza and the Leadville 100 MTB race.

But ex-pro cyclists aren’t the only heavy hitter athletes we’ll see lining up at Kanza this year. A number of ultrarunners have gotten into gravel riding in the past few years, and they’re ranking highly in the sport. An ex-ultrarunner, Amity Rockwell, won the women’s field in 2019, finishing just under 12 hours.

View this post on Instagram

I won a bike race on Saturday. It’s hard to find any other words to say about it and feel like they’re the right ones— two days later and I’m still in shock. I had no idea that a victory like this could create such an outpouring of love and support. Bike racing can feel so selfish at times but then I go to Kansas and cross the line first and all of a sudden everyone I’ve ever connected to in some small way is happy, and I’m happy, and I’m reminded why I love this sport and the people in it so damn much. There’s a lot left to tell about it, but for now the most important thing is saying thank you, to all of you, to bicycles, to @dirtykanza, Emporia, and my legs. Moments like this are truly more meaningful when shared. Thank you thank you thank you. ❤️ /. photo @andychasteen

A post shared by Amity (@amityvil) on

Most ultrarunners who get into cycling take up the sport due to injury. They use it as cross-training, but find there’s an appeal to the low impact sport. This transition to cycling is so common that meme accounts often make light of it, lovingly referring to themselves as “Injured pieces of shit” (IPOS)

Ultrarunners already have a great endurance background and the mental fortitude needed for long races. A 200 mile race with 10,000 feet of climbing is likely less intimidating to them than it is to a typical cyclist or runner. Here are some ultrarunners to look out for this gravel season.

Amity Rockwell

Rockwell was an ultrarunner until a nagging injury forced her to try a new sport. She had only been cycling for three years, had no coach and no training plan, yet, despite a number of mechanicals, she managed to come in top 10 at Dirty Kanza in 2018. The next year she came back and won the race. She’s now a part of the Wahoo Frontiers program, joining a group of ex-pro cyclists and one triathlete.

Anton Krupicka

Krupicka has a big following in the ultrarunning community. Referred to as the “Ultrarunning Jesus”, this runner turned cyclist has really integrated himself into the gravel biking community. The ultrarunner has won a number of large races, notably the Leadville 100 trail running race twice. A recurring stress fracture got him into cycling and forced him to diversify his training. Krupika raced Kanza last year and finished ninetieth overall.

Hillary Allen

Ultrarunner Hillary Allen broke her ankle in winter 2018, leading her to start cross training on a bike. In a partnership with with Scratch, she spent four weeks training and learning about cycling preparing for Dirty Kanza.

In the end Allen finished in 190th place out of 871 women. No word yet on whether she’s returning to the race this year.

Hal Koerner

Koerner, author of best seller “Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning”, has branched into cycling, and he’s ready(-ish) to take on Kanza, although an old injury may keep him out of the race this year. Unlike most ultrarunners, who turn to bikes because of injury, it seems that Koerner keeps injuring himself on the bike. Most recently he fell cycling and impaling his ankle with the chainring.

Tory Scholz

Canadian ultrarunner Tory Scholz is registered for Dirty Kanza. The Squamish-based runner got back into riding due to injury (forming the fleeting IPOS bike club ). Although the runner does not currently own a gravel bike, she says she would welcome any support, if you have a company and are looking for a rider.