I got properly fueled with two big plates of spaghetti, veggies, &
meatballs (plus a couple of 60 minute IPAs), sorted out the drop bags,
and had all of my gear laid out in the tent so that I wouldn't be
anxiously searching around for gloves 5 minutes before the start like
some people. ;-) Solid night's sleep and some superhero quality
french press to get the 'ol motor started in the am.
The start to CP1
A big horde of racers lined up and squeezed down the skinny, dusty
road out of camp for a "controlled" lead out...slightly sketchy, but
not too bad.
Out onto the road the pace picked up. It was easy to draft and get
pulled along at a pretty good clip. Once we made the left and started
climbing the pace was pretty steady. I tried to move up a bit to
avoid as much traffic as I could without having to expend too much
effort. I could see the front and the big hitters were taking it at a
controlled pace while one guy had attacked and was dangling just off
the front. When the climb turned onto the double track I think the
pace hotted up because things got strung out and the leaders motored
away. I stayed in the vicinity of the top 100 or so and climbed at a
pretty good yet sustainable pace.
I had intended to sag climb and drift back but I held my place pretty
well and felt good the whole way up. The climb went by pretty quickly
and I hit the cookie trail around some good riders. Only one guy
dabbed the initial rock section and I was able to ride the nearly the
entire trail. I got off and walked one steep bit to save the legs but
I rode much more than in the past. That was really due to less of a
traffic jam from being closer to the front.
CP1 to CP2
Out on Tillman Rd I made sure to eat a rice cake, a potato, a few
endurolytes, and a big swig of hammer gel. Before long I got together
with a small group that seemed especially motivated to drill this road
section on the way up to Lynn Trail. I didn't have a speedo on the
bike but I'm guessing we were hauling along close to 20mph on the
gradual climb. I was prepared to take a pull but two guys just stayed
on the front going really fast. I was very happy to get a relatively
easy ride up the road.
When we hit the singletrack climb we had a pretty large group of 10+
riders. Everyone was strong but that was too big of a group to make
for a smooth ascent up the steep, narrow, switchbacky, granny gear
climb. We spun our little gears wheel to wheel up and up but
eventually someone bobbled and had to dismount. That put us all of
the bike and into hike mode. I had a really tough time hiking. My
calves and lower back were not happy with the steep walk up the
mountain. I'd ride when I could but then have to get back off and
walk. It was just a bit too crowded and that is a super tough climb.
I was very happy when the climb was done but I was also anxious to get
the downhill over with.
Wolfe Ridge is a nice trail but it is pretty rocky and super fast.
You pretty much have to go a bit faster than you are comfortable or
pull over and let better descenders (usually with full suspension
rigs) get by. 5 minutes into the downhill my right palm developed a
nice blister. 5 minutes later that blister ripped open. The rest of
the descent my hand (and my triceps) were screaming with all of the
rocks. I also had plenty of two wheel drift through turns as my
nearly treadless Raven tires flailed around avoiding sidewall tearing
rocks and begging for traction in the loose stuff.
Back on Tillman Rd I was very happy to be off of the ridge. Next up
was about 8 miles of rolling forest service road to CP2. I ate more
rice cake and potato goodness and tried to drink what was left in the
bottle and hydration bladder. Even though I was feeling pretty good I
knew that eating and drinking now was the key to how I would feel
CP2 to CP3
I made a quick stop at CP2 for fluids and a quarter of a PBJ. As I
rolled out I was very happy to see Tim Covington (from the Wed Night
Happy Hour Crew) right there. We rode together to the start of the
climb of Hankey Mountain. About a third of the way up the pitch
kicked up slightly and I shifted down one gear to save the legs. Tim
kept on trucking, turning over the gear effortlessly. I watched him
ride into the distance passing everyone in sight. I felt I was
climbing really well but to see him fly up the mountain like that was
super impressive. That climb is very long and the second half is the
toughest part. It just keeps grinding and kicking up.
The Dowell's Draft descent is pretty sick. It is a fast, flowy, off-
camber benchcut roller coaster. It is super fun but it also demands
that you pay very close attention as the trail is narrow and you are
going very fast. I always enjoy this one but I can never really relax
on it. I rolled into CP3 (mile 45) at the bottom feeling good about
my ride so far. I grabbed dry gloves and more food from my drop bag
and topped off my fluids.
CP3 to CP4
The first part of this section is the only true road part of the
course. You cruise along Rt. 250 for about 5 miles. At first it's
downhill and then it's slightly uphill and into the wind coming from
the West. This makes riding in a group very helpful. I linked up
with two guys, one geared and one singlespeed. The singlespeeder
couldn't really contribute so me and the other guy let him sit on. We
were all happy to set a decent pace but not so hard that we were
hurting going into the next big climb. I made sure to eat and drink
plenty on this section.
We made the right from the road onto singletrack at Mountain House and
cleaned the dry, super rocky creek bed. Usually it has enough water
in it that I end up walking but not on this day. Up the giant, rocky
Hans Rey steps and it was time to get back on the bike and turn over a
tiny gear. I've come to like this climb. For the most part it is not
too steep but it has enough rocky technical sections to make it
challenging. Plus, it is a narrow bench cut trail that falls off to
your right. You have to really focus on your line to keep moving.
Halfway up the climb I caught up to a small group, including two guys
I know (Les Leach and Theo Procopos). We rode the rest of the climb
at a nice steady, yet comfortable tempo. Over the top I let those
guys lead it out as this is a ripping fun downhill and knowing my
conservative descending I did not want to hold those guys up. Sure
enough they were out of sight after just a few turns. I was able to
relax a bit more and enjoy this downhill though I did come into a
couple of curves too hot and got to enjoy some rear wheel drift as I
corrected my line.
Rolling into CP4 I was happy to see Tim Covington again. I got more
fluids, including about 10 ounces of warm Coca-Cola for a bit of sugar
and caffeine to enjoy on the next long stretch of dirt/gravel road.
CP4 to CP5
I rolled out of there after only a few minutes. I was still on a good
pace and didn't want to squander time away hanging around the aid
station letting my legs get stiff. The next 18 miles or so are nearly
all uphill. At first it's just a gradual false flat but eventually it
starts to kick up more and more until you make a right onto a dirt
forest service road for some steep climbing up the mountain with a
bunch of switchbacks. This whole section is known as "Soul Crusher".
It is aptly named. ;-)
I started this section with the same geared rider that I had ridden
with after CP3. We traded pulls evenly and eventually caught up to
Danielle Musto (4th place female and an endurance mtb rock star). She
joined our little paceline and took strong pulls. A while later we
caught up to a group containing Les and Theo so our group swelled to
about 8. Not long after Tim Covington and a few other guys caught up
to us so we had a large group rotating through a paceline. I had
thought Tim was leaving CP4 right behind me so I was glad that he made
back up. It was nice to have so many friendly faces in the group to
share the workload and pass the time.
My legs were feeling kind of worked from the 60+ miles of riding so
far and the pulls in the paceline so I was starting to wonder when I
would crack. Luckily with the size of the group I was able to eat a
bunch of food (more rice cakes & potatoes) and I drank all of the
Coke...even warm and flat it tasted SOOOO good! Before long I started
to feel strong again. I noticed that a lot of people in the group
were getting tired and skipping pulls so I stayed near the front
figuring the group would split at some point. After one pull I pulled
over to let the next rider through but nobody was there. I looked
back and saw that I had opened a decent gap without really trying
Since I was feeling good I just kept on going at a decent tempo but
making sure I was saving something for when the climb turned steep.
At the turnoff I gave myself a little pep talk to prepare for the
tough climbing ahead. Instead of looking too far up the road and
getting demoralized by the length and steepness of the slope I just
kept my head down and focused on turning the pedals and enjoying the
tunes in my right ear. My good legs continued and I passed several
more riders on the first pitch of the climb.
About halfway up I pulled over to take a leak...the only one of the
race. I don't think I was dehydrated but it seems strange to drink
that much fluid and only pee one time in a 100 mile mountain bike
race. I was happy to see Tim catch up and pull over for the same
purpose. We both felt even better after that and continued to work
our way up the climb. Shortly before the climb crested for the first
time I ended up on my own and cruised down the 'false' descent passing
a couple more guys that had passed me earlier in the day. When the
climb kicked back up I caught up to Pat Miller and rode with him into
CP5. Catching up to him confirmed that I was having a good day and
this gave me more confidence for the last 25 miles. I felt good about
reaching my goal of under 10 hours. I just needed to keep it steady
and avoid cramps or crashes.
CP5 to CP6
iPaul totally took care of me at CP5. He is the man! Fresh drinks,
endurolytes, pizza, coke and I was out of there in under 5 minutes.
After CP5 (mile 75) you hit a ripping doubletrack/forest service road
downhill with some air launching waterbars. Fun stuff! A couple of
times I caught more air than I wanted and got a little nervous mid-
air. Fortunately I kept it upright and the next thing I knew I was
staring at the first of the steep up's through the meadows.
In the past I have suffered in the section up to Little Bald Knob both
from the steepness and the mental anquish of the multiple false
summits. This time I decided to climb in my small chainring at a
relatively easy effort. I also didn't fall into the cycle of hoping
that ~this~ meadow was the top. I just kept turning over the pedals
and enjoying the spectacular scenery of the high meadows. The
beautiful colors of the wild flowers and the cooling breezes kept me
smiling even as I was grinding away at the steep pitches of the climb.
When I finally reach the true summit I was surprised as I had told
myself that there was more climbing yet to come. That was a nice
change. The ensuing downhill of Chestnut Ridge is a beast. It is
steep and full of rocky gnar gnar up top and then becomes a high speed
white knuckler with some blind turns toward the middle. Then you hit
a couple of morale busting uphill sections that seemed easier than
normal...maybe because I was expecting them. The bottom part of the
trail is just a super fast curvy smile inducing speedway. The
adrenaline levels were topped off by the time I hit the bottom. That
left me feeling really good to tackle the last 12 miles.
CP6 to the Finish
At the bottom of the downhill I checked my fluid levels and decided
that I had enough to get me to the finish. I rode straight through
CP6 and got myself motivated for the last climb of the day, Hankey
redux, the first part of the climb we had done earlier. Heading to
the start of the climb I caught back up to Pat Miller and we started
the climb together talking about how little suffering was left. I
continued up the climb at my own pace, legs tired but still turning
over the pedals pretty well. The first time from the start of the
climb to the turn-off had taken me 20 minutes. I told myself that it
would take 30 minutes this time. I was looking at the watch thinking
I still had 9 minutes to climb when the turn-off appeared. This was
another morale boost.
From there it was just a bit more climbing followed by some fast
descending and some big ring hammering. All of a sudden I saw some
people cheering and a sign pointing right. Just like that I was
descending through the campground to the finish. I crossed the line,
rang the gong, and asked what my time was. 9 hours, 9 minutes. I was
very stoked! Last year I felt strong and did 10 hours 14 minutes.
This year I knew my fitness was better but nearly all of my rides were
in the 1.5 to 3 hour range. I had no idea how I would do over the
course of 100 miles. I think that nutrition (eating/drinking early
and often) and course knowledge helped me put up a personal best.
Fast conditions, tunes from the iPod, and the lightweight tire gamble
helped too. The improved fitness is a direct result of consistently
hitting the Tues/Thurs TMR all year long. It definitely helps a ton
to add plenty of fun and camaraderie to the ~training~. Thank you
Huge thanks to Chris Scott, Shenandoah Mountain Touring, and the army of volunteers that make the Shenandoah Mountain 100 such an incredible experience. Also, thank you to Dogfish Head Beer for the kegs of 60 Minute IPA!