Iron Woman | Elizabeth Karcz and the Baja 1000

We caught up with Iron Woman Liz Karcz who is fresh of racing the Baja 1000 in the Ironman class. Yes, that it 800+ miles through the desert in 2 days solo. There is so much that goes in to getting mentally, physically and mechanically ready for a monumental feat such as this. Liz is the second woman in history to complete the Ironman class and finish! Read on to hear about her journey to the finish line.

babes in the dirt
babes in the dirt

Lets start by having you tell us a little about yourself:

Name: Liz Karcz

Where do you live? Albuquerque, NM

Day Job? more like “night job” (I work nightshift) but Trauma/Surgical/Burn/Open Heart ICU Nurse

How long have you been riding? 5 years

What bike do you ride? a 2009 Honda 450X and a 2013 KTM 300 XC  

How did you first get in to riding dirtbikes? My ex’s family was big into dirtbikes. While living in the Tahoe area I really got into mountain biking, and it seemed like the perfect next hobby!

What type of riding do you normally love to do? Desert, but I love some good mountain riding as well 

Tell us about the Baja 1000 and what inspired you to want to do it?

Well, once I got the OK from Mark (Winkleman) to attempt to be the first woman to solo the entire SCORE International series, I started with the San Felipe 250 and progressively moved onto the next event. After finishing the first 3, the Baja 1000 would be the grand finale, so there was no turning back at that point.

The Iron(Wo)Man class is pretty intense, break down what that is all about and how it challenges you as a rider.  

To Ironman a race means you race the entirety of the event on your own. Events as long as these are often done as a team, with each rider focusing on a specific section and giving it their all for a certain distance. There are a definitely a few challenges when committing to the entire distance. For one, you need to know how to pace yourself so that you don’t fatigue out. You need to take calculated risks (more so than a team racer) because if something happens to you, that’s it…you don’t have a backup rider.  You also need to be very mindful of your nutrition and hydration, refueling your body well enough to be able to handle hundreds of miles and hours of exertion at a time. And of course, you need to be both physically and mentally strong. Baja is a beautiful, but brutal place… easily one of the most challenging places on earth to race, and you need to be prepared for whatever she might throw your way.

What bike prep did you need in order to get ready? Any specific modifications? 

Having a Honda 450X to work with was a great foundation for a race bike in itself; they’re proven to withstand a variety of elements and be very reliable down in Baja.  To get Juanita more race ready (yes, my bike’s name is Juanita) my mechanic Greg jazzed her up with the following:  threw in an R camshaft when rebuilding the motor, gold valves from Race Tech for the suspension, Scotts Performance Products stabilizer, Baja Designs lighting (Baja Designs also did a rewind on my stator at the beginning of the season), and converted the gas tank to an IMS dry-break set up. My wheels were built with Warp 9 Racing rims/spokes, Moose steel sprockets, KENDA tires (Washougal for the front, Parker for the rear), and SRT bib mousses. And of course, the best graphics out there to make her pretty were designed & produced by my friend Matt at REV Designs.

babes in the dirt

What kind of training did you go through to get in shape for the Baja 1000?

I’m a pretty active person at baseline, so my training regimen was not far off from my routine. I continued to cross train with mountain biking and road cycling, plus quite a bit of time at the gym doing strength training and cardio  (weights, tire flips, rowing, swimming). To improve conditioning I would try to head up to the crest [Sandia Crest, elevation 10,679ft] every so often and run, and even road cycling up to the crest from the base was a good push (elevation gain of ~3600+ ft in 20ish miles). I usually eat pretty healthy, so didn’t follow any specific nutrition plan, but did incorporate additional supplements like amino acids to help with endurance….and minimizing my ‘adult beverage’ intake helped stay on track.  

babes in the dirt

Tell us about the ride, any mishaps? How was the terrain? Any particularly challenging sections? 

The longest one I’ve been on, that’s for sure! I had no rear brake for the last 50 miles or so (after a tip over onto a rock), but overall no major mishaps! Greg built me an incredible bike. She may have a few battle wounds, but my chase crew did an excellent job servicing the bike throughout the race to keep it running great (I think we did a total of 6 air filter changes, frequent oil checks and topped off as needed throughout the day, and fresh wheels at mile 480). The terrain, variable.  Some fast & flowy sections, lots of whoops, lots of rocks, and lots (and lots) of silt.  The most challenging was everything through Catavina, mostly because of how bad the silt got. The race unfortunately ended for a lot of people between 380-535; stuck vehicles, blown motors, it was a nightmare.

How was your mental state during the race? Were you super exhausted? While you were riding did you ever ask yourself what you were doing or have any doubts that you could finish etc

I was doing pretty well until about 24 hours in. After battling the gnarly terrain between 380-535 for 10 hours straight, sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion was catching up to me and I started to get delirious. I would start zoning out and dozing off riding my bike, and my mind would play tricks with me: was I still on course? Is this the wash I’m supposed to be in? Did I miss a marker? I was tired and sore, and everything looks so different at night. I knew the sun would be up soon and the homestretch was near, so I would force myself to stand as much as I could, and just start singing to myself…anything  to keep my mind active.

I never doubted myself that I could finish, but I did start to get worried that I was going to time out. In the last 50 miles I tipped over the bike on a hill climb (it was just getting so hard to hold on & my form was getting sloppy) and got pinned between my bike and a rock. My bike felt like it weighed over 500lbs at this point, I tried to wiggle myself out but it was hard. I started crying ,cussing, staring at my STELLA watching the time go by. I felt so helpless and trapped. Then I heard a car coming and realized I had no choice but to get myself up, that I didn’t come this far to time out.  I dug down and found whatever ounces of energy I had left to give that bike one last push. I got it up, and kept moving.

Did you feel prepared or un prepared once you started the race?  

I could have used a better night’s sleep, but otherwise, I was as ready as I was going to be. Greg (Sceiford, my mechanic) worked hard with me all year to prepare me from a bike-troubleshooting standpoint, and I had the best chase crew with the right logistics, so I knew I was in good hands and could just focus on riding the bike.

How was the navigation? Did ya get lost at all?

The navigation is pretty easy to follow if you have a GPS. There were still a fair amount of markers left by race day in most sections, but once you got to the coast, they were slim. Unfortunately, after weeks of pre-running it’s just bound to happen so you need to be ready for that. I don’t know how anyone could race without a GPS, truthfully. There is just too much potential for error and to get lost out there.

Was there any other ladies riding that you came across?

When I was riding I was so focused on my own race I honestly didn’t know who may or may not be around me, unless it was at a pit or check point. However (don’t quote me on this) I don’t believe there was any other females racing on a dirtbike or quad…I could be wrong, hard to tell with helmets on; and I don’t believe I was ever caught by any of my  gal pals that race in the other classes (UTV, Truck, Car, etc)…I could also be wrong with this, in the dark it’s sometimes hard to tell, and most of the last 10 hours was a blur as far as my surroundings.

babes in the dirt

Tell us about some of the people you met.

Throughout the season I have been so fortunate to make so many awesome friends! Of course it’s been a blast getting to know some of the other ladies like Sara Price, Ericka Sacs, Kristen Matlock, Julie Boyer, Diane Giannelli, Baja Nikki (to name a few). So many other amazing racers too: Cameron Steele, Steve Hengeveld, Ricky Johnson. But one of the coolest things was having Jimmy Sones come down to help chase me during the 1000. He’s a legend, and so knowledgeable, to have him be a part of my race was really cool.  

Favorite part?

Running into all my friends I’ve made throughout the year, whether it’s locals or people from back in the States. There is nothing like moto family, and even more so, there is nothing like Baja family…it’s just such an incredible place to be experiencing together, no one ever goes home without stories.

Least favorite part?

 I would say it’s a tie between the silt, and having to share a race course with the trucks/cars/UTVs.

Describe your feeling when you crossed the finish line? What was that like?

Relief.  I was so happy to have made it back, me ok, the bike’s ok…. to see my family and friends again, and knowing I was going to get to go back home to my dogs!! The actual reality of what I accomplished would take a few days to sink in, which of course makes me ecstatic…sometimes I still can’t believe it’s over and I did it.  

Would you do it again?

Hard to say. It’s not something that is realistic for me to try to go back to for 2019, but if the right opportunity presented itself in the future, maybe? There are also other events that would challenge me in similar ways which would be fun to try, so I guess we’ll see where the wind blows.  

If you did, would you change anything about how you did it?

I would have definitely started peeing on myself sooner! For the longest time, I was super skeptical about resorting to that as a time-saving strategy…but had I not done it at the 1000, I would have timed out. It makes me wonder how much faster my times would have been at the others if I didn’t overthink it and just did it.

babes in the dirt

Any suggestions for ladies who might be interested in going for it next year?

I would say definitely do your homework. Before doing any kind of racing in Baja, I think it would be very beneficial to get down there for a fun ride beforehand, or link up with another team and go pre-run with them… to get a feel for the terrain around the peninsula, see what roads go where, what towns are where, etc. What a lot of people don’t realize (I know I didn’t until I came down to prerun during the 2017 Baja 500) is just how much the layout of the land plays a factor in planning logistics, whether you are racing on a team or solo.  Not everywhere on the course is accessible by vehicles, not every town has a gas station, not everywhere is ideal for a rider change (if racing as a team), cell phones don’t work everywhere and medical help can be hours away…the list goes on. Does that mean that someone who has never been to Baja can’t successfully race there? No, I’m sure it’s been pulled off before. However, the more you plan and the better you prepare, the better of an experience it will be. Racing down in Baja is not to be taken lightly. It is an amazing thing, but it is also a dangerous thing. You need to know what you are up against, have back-up plans, and then have back-up plans for your back-up plans. That being said, with the right amount of organization and the right people in your corner, it can be a beautiful, once-in-a lifetime experience; commit to it, put in the time and work, and anything is possible.

babes in the dirt