Opportunity knocked and Kevin Denny responded

Kevin Denny had the opportunity to jump late into the Dirty Kanza 200 and had a blast. We had a chat with this Every Man Jack triathlete from Missouri about that experience and much more.

ST: Thank you for your time.

Kevin Denny: No problem at all! Thank you for taking the time to interview me.

ST: Looking back at 2018, how would you summarize that year?

Kevin: Up and down. The beginning of the season training was impacted by an unusually busy time at work, which impacted some of my early season races. As the year went on, I got stronger and I was very happy with my (planned) last triathlon race in early September. The following week, I ran a new 10k PR in a local road race, so I decided to sign up for IM Louisville only 4 weeks out from race day because everyone knows a 10k PR translates perfectly to an Ironman.

ST: Maybe not, but what was that 10k PR?

Kevin: 32:39. I never broke 33 in college cross-country - I think my fastest 10k was 33:07, and I never ran a 10k during track season. Since college, I've now run sub 33 three times - two in local 10 km events and once off the bike at Age Group National Championships. It's pretty cool for me to be able to still PR in races even though I ran in college.

ST: You ran a 2:54:37 time at the Kansas City Marathon, and I believe that was your first stand-alone marathon. Were you happy with that time?

Kevin: Yes, I was! KC Marathon was an experiment, of sorts, for me. I wanted to see if I could run no more than 30 miles per week, which is my weekly triathlon training mileage, but still run a fast time and if it would adequately prepare me for an Ironman marathon. I learned the hard way that a stand-alone marathon and a marathon in an Ironman are two completely different races.

ST: I agree about there being a difference, but can you share your thoughts for those who not yet experienced this?

Kevin: Goal race pace is the single biggest difference. I went into KC Marathon running all long runs as time on feet and no workouts or intervals at goal race pace. I was trying to see if this strategy would prepare me for an Ironman marathon, not necessarily a stand-alone marathon. During all my long training runs, I wouldn't worry about pace as long as it wasn't faster than 7-minute pace. Then, race day, I was out there trying to run low 6-minute pace. I still think I can run a fast marathon off the bike in an Ironman on lower run volume. However, I definitely learned that I can‘t run a fast, open marathon on low volume and Ironman specific, for me, at least, run training. The training and racing demand of the two are night and day. For me, it takes months of specific run workouts - tempos, mile repeats, negative split runs, etc at open marathon pace in order to adequately prepare for a marathon. I don’t think any of that work is necessary for an IM marathon where nutrition and what you do, primarily on the bike, is more important. With all that said, I've yet to nail an open marathon or a marathon off the bike in an Ironman. So, take it with a grain of salt.

ST: How much faster do you think is possible for you?

Kevin: I’d like to think I could run in the high 2:30s, but that all depends on the course and my training focus. I know now that I would need to focus more on running if I were to ever run that time. My weekly run mileage is typically only in the 20s with only a handful of weeks every year in the 30s.

ST: I think you have a track running background. Can you elaborate?

Kevin: Yes. I’ve been running most of my life. I ran youth AAU cross country, but really just played various sports growing up with soccer being my favorite. I played soccer and ran in high school before deciding to run in college at a division II school, The University of Central Missouri. I focused primarily on the 3000-meter steeplechase. My dad and older sister were also distance runners in college. I never was able to beat any of my dad’s running times. In high school, I couldn’t beat his high school times and same for college. Only one left for me to try and beat would be the marathon!

ST: What or who got you started in triathlon?

Kevin: I have no idea why I decided to try a triathlon, but after my sophomore collegiate track season (2009), I decided to buy a road bike and one week later did my first sprint triathlon. That feeling of going from bike to run was so awkward and unnatural for me that I loved it and instantly was hooked. Throughout college, I did one triathlon every summer until I graduated in 2012 and finally did my first full season of local races.

ST: And which race showed you that you not only liked the challenge, but could be potentially be good at it?

Kevin: That first race in 2009 was the race that showed me I liked the challenge. My first coach, Ryan Ross, was the person who really believed in me and showed me I had potential in triathlon. He took a college runner, who thought 1k a week swimming was good, and a 20-mile bike ride was a long workout, to placing in the top 20 overall at my first 70.3 in 2013. That was the race that really showed me I could be good and really motivated me to train harder. It was my first big competition, and I ended up having a great day and experience.

ST: Talk about your day job.

Kevin: I work in finance for a construction and engineering company called Black & Veatch. Primary tasks include the quarterly budget/forecast process as well as monthly and weekly reporting for upper management.

ST: What do your co-workers think about your busy hobby?

Kevin: I have a few co-workers that used to race triathlon, but stopped several years ago. So, they’re quite interested in my training and racing and follow me. The rest of my co-workers, though, get what I do, but have nothing to relate it to. They almost always ask what I did last weekend or what my next race is, but it's generally followed by, "I don't even want to drive my car that far", and that's not even referring to my DK weekend.

ST: And how many hours a week to you dedicate to training?

Kevin: My sweet spot seems to be around 14 hours per week. I have the occasional bigger weeks (16+ hour weeks) and recovery weeks seem to be 10-12 hours, but that 14 hours per week range seems to be best for me.

ST: Do you work with a coach?

Kevin: I have worked with two coaches previously, but for the last few years, I’ve coached myself. The switch to coaching myself was a very odd experience for me because I’ve had a coach my entire life--youth sports, to high school, to college and for 5 or 6 years of triathlon. However, I feel I have a great network of friends and Every Man Jack teammates with whom I share ideas. I also have benefited greatly from joining a local masters swim group. I am so grateful for the masters coach, David Schiffer, who has spent a great deal of time and energy helping me improve my swim stroke and times.

ST: Talk about that improvement and describe a hard swim workout session you do with that master's group?

Kevin: Frequency might be the biggest improvement I’ve made. I went from 2-3 swims per week to 4-5 per week. I’ve also spent a lot of time focusing on technique and power.

Two my favorite sets for short course yards are: 25 minutes of 50s on the :40. For me, this is a rhythm set. Tight interval, but enough time to touch the wall, take a few breaths while pivoting to push off and go again. I also like a broken 600 set we do. So, 6 x 25 on :25, 4 x 50 on :40, 2 x 75 on 1:00, extra 30 seconds rest after 2nd 75 into a hard 100. Then repeat that 4-5 times.

ST: Looking back over the last years, which race are you most proud of?

Kevin: Can I say 2019 DK 200? Triathlon wise, most memorable for me would be 2014 70.3 Kansas. That race was my first ever half in 2013 and was my sole focus all offseason before 2014. I ended up having a perfect day and was able to snag the overall amateur title. It’s a shame that race is no longer around.

ST: You can say Dirty Kanza. There are no expected responses.

Kevin: Non-triathlon race is definitely Dirty Kanza. 2014 70.3 Kansas for triathlon race, though.

ST: And what made you decide on Dirty Kanza?

Kevin: I blame and sincerely thank GU Energy for my participation in DK. Since I live fairly close to Emporia, KS, they reached out in very late April asking if I’d be interested in racing DK. They had a GU-sponsored athlete entry available and needed someone to fill it. I naturally said yes.

ST: How did they stumble upon you?

Kevin: Team Every Man Jack is very fortunate to have GU Energy as our nutrition sponsor for the last five years. The relationship has grown throughout the years and they even come to our training camp in Las Vegas every year and SAG our rides! This year, I was actually hurt during camp and couldn't run. I ended up talking to Yuri Hauswald specifically about DK while the rest of the team was out running. I had always been interested in doing a big training day to give myself a new perspective of long-distance riding, so I was picking his brain since he's a prior DK Champion. Little did I know that two and a half months later I'd be doing my first DK!

ST: Did you all the prep by yourself or were you leaning on some folks for advice?

Kevin: I found out and signed up for DK only a week out from my first triathlon of the year. I already had plans to race back-to-back weekends in early May. My first, and only, opportunity to panic train for DK was the weekend of May 18-19. I convinced my friend John to join me on a 100-mile gravel ride which was only my fourth ever gravel ride. As far as advice and gear, I relied on a lot of people. Kevin and Kris at Bike America in Lee’s Summit were invaluable. They fielded my endless questions, helped me prepare for any mechanical issues I might have, and dialed in my bike. A few others who were incredibly helpful were Walter, a local friend who has now finished four DK’s, and Neil Shirley from ENVE. Both of their prior expertise with this event gave me a lot of confidence and great tips.

ST: And please describe the bike the way you had set it up?

Kevin: I was riding my Felt F65x cyclocross bike, set up with 46/36 chainrings and 11-28 cassette. Panaracer Gravel King SK tires, 43 front, 38 rear, set up tubeless. There are stories galore about DK ranging from conditions, gear/bike set up you should run, how sharp the flint hills are, how a short cage derailleur often get ripped off, especially if it’s muddy. I was actually most worried about having my rear derailleur go into my spokes, which can easily happen when climbing a steep hill with grit and whatever else on my pulley wheels and it just gets pulled into the spokes. I was so concerned that I did not bike in my 28-tooth cassette all day and do not believe I ever went into the 25. My easiest gear that I used was basically a 36-23 combination and I just mashed up the hills. Several times my cadence was easily in the 30s or 40s.

ST: Talk about that experience.

Kevin: Where do I begin? 200 miles is a long way! It was honestly one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had racing. I went into the race with more unknowns than I could count. It would be my fifth ever gravel ride and first gravel race. My longest gravel ride being 104 miles and my longest paved ride at 2015 IM Chattanooga being 116 miles. And, that’s not to mention my lack of specific training leading up to it! However, I was unusually confident. The number one goal was to finish. I didn’t care if it took me until the cutoff at 2:59:59 am Sunday morning, I was going to cross that finish line. I think that attitude took a lot of pressure off me. The first 40 miles, I just had to go with the flow. The packs were still big and when there’s only one or two lines available to take, you just ride where you’re at. I felt amazing for nearly the entire day. Somehow, I had fantastic legs all day and really only had one bad section, from roughly miles 130-170, which I attribute to dehydration. The temperature ended up getting into the low 90s and there is zero shade in the flint hills of Kansas. The last 20 miles or so were amazing. I was riding that runners high, so to speak, and had so much energy. You wouldn’t think after 12 hours of riding you’d still be feeling good, but I honestly had a near perfect day with zero flats, zero mechanicals, no stomach issues and just one unforgettable experience.

ST: Are you now interested in more unique events?

Kevin: I am. I think it’s good to mix it up whether that’s local running races, cyclocross, or even big events like Boston Marathon or DK. While I still enjoy triathlons the most, the variety of other events keeps me motivated. Variety was honestly one of the things that intrigued me about triathlon in the first place. I went from a runner only to now trying to improve and balance three different sports.

ST: And which event are you getting ready for right now?

Kevin: The main focus for me the second half of my season will be 70.3 Boulder in August.

ST: Best of luck with that, and is there anything else we should know?

Kevin: Don’t think so! I truly appreciate you taking the time to interview me!

Kevin Denny wrote in more detail about Dirty Kanza on his blog

Image 2 by Dave Kopp