In December I ordered my mountain bike, got it right before Snowmaggedon in February. Immediately signed up for the Shenandoah Mountain 100 as my big event for the year. At the time, I had roughly outlined a training plan that involved several shorter races, some road racing, and a trip or two out to pre-ride the course.
Very little of that actually happened. Did a couple of MTB races early in the year as well as 1 road race. In June, when I realized my self-styled training plan wasn't doing me any good, I bought a plan from pro Chris Eatough. The plan gave me some structure, and I was able to do a lot of the weekday rides in conjunction with my commute. Finding time to get the off-road miles on the weekend was the real challenge. I did the 12 Hours of Cranky Monkey solo, but that was early in my training…and it was a distance and effort that wasn't called for at that time. Results were decent, so it was a good confidence builder. I proved that I could spend that much time in the saddle on a hot day and survive. The 24 hour adventure race in July proved that I could hike a bike, and again, spend that much time in the saddle. 2 weeks before race day, I realized that the thing I was lacking was big climbs…knowing that getting out to the course was a challenge, I set my sights on Skyline Drive. Got busy that weekend, and decided to forgo the trip out to Front Royal and make a visit to Mad Fox Brewing Company instead. Eventually made it out there a week before the race for some hill training…just like college, cramming for the big test. Knocked out 80 miles with 7000' of climbing at a strong pace. Felt good at the end…felt ready.
Showed up at Stokesville Saturday afternoon, set up camp, knocked back a few Dogfish Head beers (sponsor of the race, they provided an obscene number of kegs), got to bed early. It was a nice cool night, so I slept great. Up at 430 before the dude on the motorcycle rode around the campgrounds waking everyone up. Shifted into pre-race routine…coffee, bagel, banana, bathroom. The port-a-potty line was almost comical, with folks reporting on TP status after doing their business. Someone starts passing out napkins (2 per person) in the line as an insurance policy. Needless to say, the port-a-potty was pretty foul. Started to air up my tires, broke a valve stem…great, only had 3 tubes and 1 was in a drop-bag that I'd pick up at mile 45. So I got to ride the race with 1 spare tube and a patch kit.
Going into the race, I had no idea how I'd finish. If fitness were the main factor, I thought a 9:30 was reasonable. If the course was highly technical, I was expecting a 12hr finish. So, I told Sonya to show up by 4pm, and to expect me at any time between then and 7. I started with the 10hr group. The first climb was uneventful, dirt road. Everyone was fighting for position before the first trail section. After the singletrack downhill there was a bit of road riding where the pack split up a bit. I was hoping to get in a good paceline, but at that point it seemed as if everyone was riding for themselves. Climbed a bit more before the next trail section…a steep rocky climb. Most were walking it, and it was quite congested. I walked as well.
The next downhill was a bit more technical, and I noticed that I was taking quite the beating. I ended up getting behind a guy that was struggling to hold a good line. Just as I was getting ready to pass him, he stops in the middle of a creek. I managed to narrowly miss him, but I had to come to a stop. The 2 or 3 folks behind me do the same. After getting out of the woods, I check my fork and see that there wasn't much travel in it…and I couldn't adjust it. I didn't dwell on the problem, and just accepted the fact that it was going to be a painful day. During the ride to Aid Station #2, I made up a lot of time to put me back on track for a sub-10hr finish. Thoroughly enjoyed the downhill into AS #3…best of the course for me, as it was flowing smooth and fast. Quick stop at AS #3…volunteers were awesome at all the aid stations, refilling camelbaks, water bottles, lubing chains. Really didn't have to do anything for myself aside from shoving PB&Js in my face. The ride to AS#4 was some of the worst riding for me. The singletrack was way more technical than what I'm used to, climbing from rock garden to rock garden, a lot of off-camber trail with steep drop-offs. I didn't want to take risks, so I pushed the bike a lot. Although I was told that the downhill was great, I didn't enjoy that one too much as my body was absorbing a lot more shock than I desired.
Rolled into AS#4 a little off pace, but thought I could make it up on the road ride ahead, despite the fact that it was about a 20 mile climb. The climb started off gently, a lot on the road, giving way to gravel road. Got in a paceline and really started making up time. Then we turned onto a rutted, dirt and gravel road that was just steep. The group had broken apart beforehand, so I was climbing solo.
After about 15 miles of climbing, I hit AS#5, had some pizza, reloaded ready to go. One of the volunteers said the climb was just about finished. The dirt road gives way to some grass, climbing from meadow to meadow, each a false summit. A guy next to me keeps telling me "this is the last false summit" every time we reach another meadow. His memory wasn't that great as we climbed on for a couple more miles. At the summit, I took a quick break. There wasn't a lot of satisfaction in the early part of the downhill…lots of steep drops, more off-camber trail. More beatings. Eventually rolled into AS #6 at about 10hrs.
Started the last climb feeling ok…again, get with a guy that keeps telling me the climb is almost over. Eventually I get a cramp, so I get off the bike, take some endurolytes. Based upon what the Garmin was telling me, I thought that 11hrs wasn't doable, so I decided to backoff the pace. Started the next downhill thinking I had 9 miles to go. Near the bottom of the descent we start rolling next to some cabins and I see some caution tape. With eyes full of sweat and dust, the waving tape was screwing up my vision…combine that with fatigue, I nearly hit a tree in front of a few spectators. The guy behind me yells "Recover!" and I make a hard left to avoid the crash. He points out that the finish is around the corner, then I see Sonya and the boys cheering as we come out of the woods. I still thought we had 5 miles to go. Roll into the finish line at 11:06, grabbed my pint glass and Sonya ran off to fill it up with some Punkin Ale.
The trails, the volunteers, the beer, the atmosphere around the event all make it a great race...hats off to the promoters for a topnotch event. Although my taint and back are telling me not to do anything like this again, I'm sure I'll be back next year.