Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Shenandoah 100

Earlier in the week the forecast for the race was looking bleak. Ernesto was heading up the East Coast promising to dump many inches of rain on Virginia. The mountains did end up getting quite a bit of rain, but luckily the meat of the storm stayed further East sparing the trails from the worst of it.

Around midday on Saturday I picked up Poz and we rolled out in the direction of Harrisonburg. Initially we drove through a steady rain as the tail end of the storm worked its way North. As we made our way down I-81 the clouds broke and the sun came out. Instead of a rainy weekend we were in for cool temps and sunshine, perfect weather for an all day mountain bike ride.

Arriving at the Stokesville campground we found the campsite that Jason Berry had kindly saved for us. It was just far enough from the Pavilion to allow us to get a good night's sleep. We registered and talked with many friends and acquaintances that had gathered to join in the fun. After a tasty meal of spaghetti & meatballs that was prepared by the army of amazing volunteers it was time to get some sleep.

And a good night's sleep it was.

The gong woke me up at 5am and I quickly went from relaxed to scrambling. I got dressed and rolled over to the pavilion to chug some coffee and half a bagel. Soon thereafter I was in a thankfully short line for the crapper. That went well and I was back for a refill of coffee before rolling back to our campsite.

At this point we were 15 minutes from the 6:30 start and Poz and I seemed to be in slow motion getting our shit together. I had just finished getting my helmet on when I heard a roar and the rev of the moto's as the f-ing race started...with us still at our campsite! shit!

The Start
I looked at Poz and said "I'm outta here." He was still getting ready but I think he hurried after that. I sprinted down the camp road and caught the pack before they turned onto the main road.

I resisted the temptation to hammer the climb up Narrowback, but I kept a pretty solid pace without having to dig deep. The fireroad part of the climb was pretty easy with only a few short steep sections that hurt. Once onto the singletrack I was feeling clumsy. The rocks were kind of slippery and I just wasn't feeling any flow-mojo. I was really fighting the trail and working way too hard.

All of the traffic didn't make it any easier as it only took one person off the bike to force all those behind to dismount and run/walk. One guy that wasn't dismounting was Poz. It was on this section that he came storming by me riding by a bunch of walkers on a rocky section of the climb. He was flying!

Wolf Ridge
Coming off the descent we made a right onto Tillman Rd and passed Aid Station #1. I kept rolling and hooked onto the back of a good group. At first the pace was hurting me a little, but after 10 minutes or so I settled in and my legs finally opened up. As we climbed up the road and our group shrunk we rolled a nice paceline and kept the tempo high until we turned left onto Lynn Trail.

The first part of the trail was fine, but soon enough the slope kicked up and the trail narrowed considerably. Every effort was made to keep pedalling, but eventually enough riders started walking that it was practically impossible to stay on the bike. And so we settled into a long long train of racers hiking up the steep switchback climb. From time to time we'd get back on our bikes and ride for a bit, but then we'd come to a halt and resume trudging. A nest of bees kept things interesting and stung quite a few people. That was one thing that did suck. 8-)

The Wolf Ridge downhill did not suck. In fact, it was spectacular and very very fast.

Once into Aid Station #2 I got a refill on my camelback and bottle from the super volunteers while I ate some food and popped endurolytes.

Hankey Mountain --> Dowell's Draft
The climb up Hankey just kept going. First it was a long, twisting fire road.
Then it changed over to a grassy double track before narrowing to singletrack.
Following my gameplan I kept my pace steady and evntually passed several riders that were suffering after starting the climb too fast.

The downhill was spectacular. I paused at the top to take some endurolytes before clipping in for the seriously fast ride to the bottom. I rolled right down the couple of steep rocky sections that some chose to walk. These areas were a little hairy, but nothing crazy. However, dodging people walking downhill made it sketchier than it needed to be. Eventually the trail settled into smooth, benchcut singletrack that was so much fun. I managed to follow Elk's wheel down the second half of the descent. He was not having a good day, but it was cool to get to ride with him for a bit.

I only stayed at Aid Station #3 long enough to refill my fluids and eat a PB&J. In '04 I spent way too long at this stop getting my knee cleaned up and bandaged up after a big crash on the downhill.

Mountain House/Braley's Pond
The first part of this section was an extended road ride up a false flat into the wind.
I hooked up with a couple of riders and we rode a moderate paceline all the way to the turnoff for Mountain House.

Across the calf deep stream & up the hike-a-bike beginning of the climb and it was time to grind.
This climb is a beautiful benchcut singletrack that winds its way up the mountain. With fresh legs much of this climb is ridable, but after 50 miles of racing it is often more efficient to get off and push. And that's how it went...ride a bit and hike a bit.

I was pretty happy when the trail turned downhill sooner than I expected...this never happens at the SM100! 8-) All the downhills at this race rock, but this one might be the best. You drop off the mountain at high speed on smooth, narrow, curvy singletrack. I think I let out a yell of joy at some point.

At Aid Station #4 the volunteers filled me up and David Crouse made sure that I knew what was coming up next...the long uphill drag to #5 two-thirds of the way up to Little Bald Knob.

The Morale Crushing Climb
Rolling out of #4 I turned on my iPod for the first time. I needed something to distract me for the roughly two hour climb that lay ahead. The first part of the climb is a false flat, but it grinds on and on. My legs were hurting and I was not moving very fast. When the road finally kicked up I started to feel better. I was still going slow, but I was making steady progress. Aside from a quick stop to take a leak I kept on pedaling.

Upon arriving at Aid Station #5 I grabbed my drop bag for fresh gloves and socks. I also reapplied chamois cream. The Assos stuff was awesome. I had no chafing issues!
After taking care of gear issues I hit the food table. I was needing some energy at this point so I down some Coke and ate a piece of pizza. The pizza was money. I was getting sick of gels and other sweet energy foods.

I caught up to JoeP on the way out of # 5 and rode with up on the never-ending climb up to Little Bald Knob. The first part of the descent was sketchy as hell with rocks covered by wet leaves. Braking or changing lines was asking for trouble so we pointed our bikes downhill and hoped. By this point my triceps were screaming from getting pounded by the rocks. The bottom half of the downhill was smooth and fast....ahhhh that felt good.

Aid Station # 6 came shortly thereafter. A quick pb&j and half a banana were all I grabbed before hopping back on my bike and heading off for the final section of the race.

Hankey Redux to the FINISH!
On the way to the climb I reached in my jersey pocket for one last dose of endurolytes. My baggie only had two pills left. I'd been taking 3 per hour so I was going to be a little light for the last hour. I carefully reached into the bag as I rode and grabbed the pills. I didn't want to drop them and tempt more cramps on the final climb. Of course I dropped one! I wasn't about to turn around and look for it so I swallowed the one pill and rode on.

The course takes in this climb earlier in the day continuing all the way to the top. On this final leg we would only be going part of the way up before turning off in a different direction. The first time up the climb I had timed myself up to the turnoff. It had taken 20 minutes on relatively fresh legs. It would take longer on cooked legs, but at least I had an idea of how long I needed to sustain the effort.

I wasn't moving fast, but I was on the bike and I was making progress. My legs and mind were weary, but the turnoff came in 25 minutes, quicker than I expected. I ground my way up the rest of the way before the trail turned downhill.

Now it was mostly downhill the rest of the way. I really wanted to finish inside of 11 hours so I bombed the downhill and then hammered the flattish sections on the way to the campground. Entering the campground I felt like I was in a 'cross race carving the downhill turns at speed and making a nice pass on one of the waterbars.

I caught a little air heading into the grassy field and cruised across the line. I was smiling as I rang the gong and grabbed a pint glass. My time was 10:48, knocking 26 minutes off my 2004 effort. I felt much better than I did the last time when I was a wreck after the finish. This year I parked my bike and went right to the keg for a recovery beer. I ate much food, got a sweet massage, and drank a few more beers before calling it a night. I did not contest for the rock star GC.

This report has been delayed too long and I don't have time to add anything else so this is it, but to sum up the experience, it was a blast and I'll be back.

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