Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Shenandoah Mountain 100 Race Report

I awoke Sunday morning around 4:30am to a warm temperature of 55 degrees. I enjoyed some coffee that Zeke had brewed and then downed 2 Pop-Tarts and 2 eggs. Having gotten my stuff together the night before, I threw it in the van and we drove over to the Stokesville campground.

The start was a bit hectic with riders jockeying for position. I had initially lined up just a couple rows back, but by the time all the racers had made their way to the start, I ended up being about 15 rows back, alongside Sue, Danielle, and Karen.

The race out of the campground onto the pavement was "inchworm style" with tires rubbing and handlebars knocking. I watched Sue weave effortlessly in and out of riders to the front. I immediately latched on and "The Master" guided me close to the front. Once we hit the first climb, I sadly watched Sue drop my butt like a bad habit. I had no expectations of being able to match her speed, so all was well. I just needed to ride my own race.

The climb went by oh so fast. My legs were o.k., but my breathing was ragged. It reminded me of when I started racing in the Sport class in less than optimal shape. Was this breathing remnants of my cold last week, some left-over post TR fatigue, or was I going too hard and about to blow?

Not liking this feeling at all, I backed off a bit. Once I hit the first single track, I picked it back up a bit and enjoyed flitting through the rocks. Several guys ahead dabbed a bit, but I was able to get around them. This was the first time in 3 tries at this race that I did not have to push the bike on this section. The descent was fast and furious, but I was disappointed when 2 miles of trail had been turned in to a logging road.

Popping out onto Tillman road, I was lucky to ride in a group to the Lynn Trail. Danielle had caught back up to me at this point and took a strong pull. The climb up was more doable this year as opposed to the last time I raced here. I attributed this to better fitness and being farther up towards the front. I did end up hiking a short bit when a few guys ahead of me just couldn't pedal the steeper sections.

The descent on Wolf Ridge Trail was exhilarating! Previously, I always the descents as my skillz weren't too good. But this year, I enjoyed them better than the climbs. I followed a guy down the mountain as his lines were perfect! We were hauling ass until we suddenly came upon a caravan of slow riders. Tartar sauce!! I was needing the speed on the descents to break away from Danielle as she excels on the gravel roads and the climbs ... with those super long legs!

Back onto Tillman, I joined another paceline. Betsy was in this one. We motored along at lightspeed. Once again, my breathing became a bit labored. Once we turned right and began climbing, I had to slow down as I started to get light-headed. Betsy slowly began to put a gap on me.

At CP2, I grabbed a water bottle on the fly. The road continued to climb and slowly my legs began to wither. I felt like I was reliving Day 6 at TR when I had no gas. I had no choice but to just settle in to a comfortable pace. The gravel road climb up Hankey Mountain was no fun at all for me, with the legs not turning over and feeling like I was breathing through a straw.

Amazingly, I was still passing people and they were telling me that Betsy was just around the corner. But I just did not have the energy to kick it up a notch to try to catch her. I kept thinking that eventually my legs would come back. I made every effort to drink and eat a bit more than I usually do.

The Dowell's Draft descent is wicked fast with a middle section that can take you out in a heartbeat if you are not 100% focused. It has a couple little kicker climbs followed by a bench cut off-camber narrow rollercoaster finish down to CP3. In years past, I would usually get passed on this one as I was a bit hesitant. But today, I at least was finding my mojo on the descents and holding my own.

At CP3 I refilled my Camelbak and a volunteer filled my gel flask. Kudos to these guys and gals as I felt that I had my own personal assistant. Hoping that my legs were coming back to me, I headed out onto the 5 mile road section. As soon as the wind hit me in the face, I knew my legs were still dead. This section was miserable and I had no one to hook up with. 'Nuff said.

Finally, I made the right turn, cleaned the dry, bouldery creek bed, hiked up the stone steps, and grannied my way up the singletrack climb. I passed a number of guys and almost cleaned all of the rockslide sections, save for the next to the last one, where I bobbled and then was off the bike for a short push.

The descent to CP4 was uneventful as I was alone in my own little world. I had no intention of stopping at this check, but one volunteer almost grabbed my bike as I pedaled through. Man, they are serious about helping us! I told him "No thanks," and pedaled on. Knowing that the beast of a climb, my nemesis, was shortly ahead of me, I took a caffeinated gel.

Thankfully, a guy hooked up with me and working together we were able to latch on to a group of about 5 guys. The next 18 miles was up, initially a bunch of false flats and a few rollers, but towards the end it really pitched up. Riding in the group, my legs became happy again. Whoo Hoo! About damn time! The group stayed together for the first 12 miles, but when we turned right onto the steeper forest service road, the group fell apart ... me first.

I took another caffeinated gel and settled in for the next 6 miles to CP 5. Sure enough, I slowly reeled in the guys as they tired. I eventually caught them all by the time I made it to the CP. I was feeling strong again; I made a quick stop, refilling my Camelbak and gel flask with the volunteer's help.

I attacked the next 12 miles like it was an XC race. After climbing a bit more, I turned right onto a fun double track descent with multiple water bars. Careful not to catch too much air, I flew down this section and prepared myself to endure the climbing through the meadows up to Little Bald Knob. Still feeling good, I crested the final little climb and dropped on into the Chestnut Ridge Trail.

The first part of this descent is steep with big rocks that would love to grab your derailleur or your front tire. I played it conservative here, but once it smoothed out into a curvy, fast, flowy trail, I pulled out all the stops. I think I actually smiled the whole way down this one!

Having enough fluid and food for the last 12 miles, I rolled on through CP6. Once again, that climb up to the last bit of single track was my Achilles' heel. I managed to make it to the top without too many expletives.

Knowing that there were only a few miles left, I was able to dig deep and hammer on through this section of fun single track descents, short little uphill grinds, the grassy double track with a couple little kickers, followed by the oh so sweet single track descent into the finish.

I was hoping for a sub 9 hour finish, but missed my goal by 2 minutes. Although the day was brutally hard, I was pleased with my finish, given that I had felt so bad miles 31-55. I rang the gong and collected my glass. One of the cooks was there with a plate of fries. They were freakin' awesome!

Thanks to Chris Scott and his army of volunteers for putting on such an awesome hundy ... my favorite!


Walter said...

Impressive accomplishment - even if it felt sub-par

Danielle Musto said...

My favorite race too :-) Great job!!!

I have to say, I feel really good after doing that race. I think your chocolate cake has some super recovery ingredients mixed in!!!!

Talk to you soon!