Friday, December 24, 2010

2009 Shenandoah Mountain 100

The Shenandoah Mountain 100 could easily become my favorite race of the year. It is without a doubt the most epic race in the state of Virginia. The race begins and ends at the Stokesville campground, or west of what most people may be familiar with - Harrisonburg, VA. The race is in the George Washington National Forest. Approaching the campsite, it becomes clear that you're headed into a mountainous region. The race meanders through these mountains and contains 6 major climbs over 100 miles. If you look at the terrain profile below, you'll see that one of the minor climbs is 1000 ft and the biggest climb is slightly over 2000 ft for a total climbing elevation of 12,000 ft.

The venue itself is superior to that of any race that I've participated in. The entire Stokesville campground is reserved for over 500 participants in the race. Dinner, which consists of pasta, bread, salad, drinks (including a limitless supply of beer) is served on Saturday evening and race packet pickup is done the night prior to the race. I took my ultralight 2 man tent and slept fine with the aid of a couple of sleeping pills and woke to the sound of firecrackers and random yelling whoops and yaws on Sunday morning at about 5:30 or so. Breakfast is on your own, so I downed as much as my stomach could hold and snagged a cup of coffee, provided by the event coordinators. The riders were corralled at a designated area in the campground and at 6:30, we were off.

It is a neat experience to be racing through the woods on the top of a ridge in backwoods Virginia before most people wake up. I didn't enter the race to really "race", but more to survive and finish with a respectable time and at the very least FINISH the race in the daylight. I've only been racing mountain bikes for less than 3 months after purchasing a mountain bike just shortly prior to entering my first race and I think I've raced a grand total of 3 events, so I wasn't looking to set the world on fire, but more to experience the event while not embarrassing myself. mission accomplished, with caveats.

I'd guess that half of the event is on fire roads and the other half of the event is on single track through the woods. If it doesn't work out that way in terms of mileage, it definitely works out that way in terms of time. There were 6 aid stations, pretty much positioned inbetween the climbs. The aid stations were littered with people to help, mechanics, pb&j, goo, cliff bars, heed, gatorade, water, pizza, skittles, potato chips, etc, etc. So you really just needed to take enough food to get you to the first real aid station @ 30 miles.

The best part of the race for me was between aid stations 2 and 3, where there was a non-technical descent that had a bunch of twists turns and jumps, that was like a roller coaster made out an abandoned undriveable fire road. Two other mountain descents were a blast and I only wish I had a helmet cam to capture that experience. For me, the hardest part of the race was the climb between aid stations 3&4. This was hell, physically but mostly mentally. This was a narrow off camber climb, with the trail cut into the side of the mountain. On several occasions, I found myself headed off the trail towards the downhill side of the trail and had to put the brakes on full to accomplish a dead stop. This happened to me repeatedly and when I stopped, clipped into my pedals, the objective was to fall towards the uphill side of the trail, but on 3 occasions, I fell on the downhill side. That's no fun and one of the times after luckily landing on my feet, my legs cramped seriously for about 2 minutes where I found them completely immobile. Mentally, after experiencing this once, it seemed inevitable that it would happen again if I decided to try to ride the sucker. So, it was a combination of mental torture and having to just give in and walk the more difficult sections of that climb. On the descent from that climb, I found myself headed straight for a tree. Seeing that coming, I slammed on the brakes, decreasing my speed to some degree, but ended up slamming my right shoulder into the the tree (like getting hit by a linebacker) which threw me horizontal only to fall back first onto my rear wheel, which had a bit of a wobble for the remainder of the race.

Shortly after those episodes of setbacks between aid stations 3&4, I was caught by Terry, my friend and teammate, who had suffered from a broken chain on the the second climb of the day. Terry and I ended up riding the remainder of the race together and crossed the finish line at the EXACT same time of 11 hours, each of us telling the other that they should cross first. We were mostly concerned with conserving enough energy to get us through the day. So, you can't say that we really "raced" the race, more like "rode" the race. Terry's climbing ability is superior to mine, tipping the scales at 130, and my descending skills seemed to be slightly better than Terry's, myself tipping the scales at 185, so he waited for me at the top of the hills and I helped him find the lines to make up some time on the descents. We didn't plan it this way, but I was glad to have Terry to get me thru the long day of suffering and take my mind off of the ride every now and then.

Jeremiah Bishop, arguably the best mountain bike rider in the US, broke the course record and finished under 7 hours. My other teammate, "Joseph" Dombrowski, finished 15th, beating his time from last year by 50 minutes. Official results haven't been posted yet, but I'll point to them when they are out.

Thanks to Joseph for convincing me to ride this event and showing me the ropes a bit.


At September 9, 2009 at 10:32 AM , Blogger Kyle Jones said...

You must still feel the effects of the race. When I lived in california and rode the mountain bike for hours, I would be surprised I would do like 20 miles in only 3 hours. I just can not imagine how your legs feel after 10 plus hours of riding.

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