Friday, December 24, 2010

Race Recap : 2010 Shenadoah Mountain 100

I was thinking about this as I was driving the kids around getting the last of the 'back to school' stuff today. Imagine that you LOVE ice cream. Wouldn't it be really fun to have all day access to Cold Stone Creamery? You would eat ice cream until your body hurt and then you might have a little more until you don't want ANY more. The SM100 is sort of like a Mountain Bike Binge day I guess. After you are done, you absolutely don't want any more. But then, like eating too much ice cream, quickly after your stomach settles down, you wouldn't mind having a bit more.

The 2010 Shenandoah 100 brought a unique combination of camaraderie, pain, pleasure and everything in between. As a last minute entry, Chris Hayes decided to enter the race for the first time and we rode down together and ended up riding the first part of the course at the same pace. Chris had done a bit of reconnaissance on the course with his wife Sherry and knew more about the course than I could recall from my participation in the 2009 course. So I decided to try to jot down some notes on the course as it is fresh in my mind.

Even now, it is difficult to recall the specifics of each climb / descent. I think my mind just tells me...forget where you are, you are not in purgatory, just keep moving the pedals in circles, don't look up, just look 5 feet in front of you and keep pedaling. Think of doing that for 10 hours on a course of varying terrain and somebody asks something specific about the race. "It was the effing hardest race I've ever done" is the first thing that comes to mind. So, I will apologize in advance for any parts of the course that I don't get right and would appreciate any comments that folks have to add clarification.

Climb 1 :

The first climb just sort of happens. Everyone is still relatively together. The coordinator asked folks to line up according to the time they expect to have. So the guys up front probably put a good 10 minutes into the field even before the first climb. This climb is by far the easiest climb, but it still steep enough to force people off of the bike to walk. I recall the first steep pitch as a rutted out fire road, looking up and seeing people slow down to a crawl, some people getting off, finding my gear and just grinding up past the walkers. The first separation happens here based on climbing ability. But still, this climb is by far the shortest and least technical of the climbs. It is on fire road for the most part, albeit rutty here and there. As you crest this climb, I recall looking to the right and seeing a nice view of the mountains. A special sight so early in the morning on top of a mountain in the GW forest. I don't recall much about the descent from Climb 1.

Climb 2 :

This one hits hard fast. This the first technical climb in that the grade is steep and it is all single track. So no room to ride to the left or right to correct your balance. Keep your balance and pedal hard to make it to the top on your bike. And if you have to pass the walkers, it adds another challenge of letting people know you're coming and hoping that they get out off the trail as you pass them. As I recall, you leave a fire road, enter single track and the ascent comes quickly. This section is rideable if you are near the front of the pack, but selections haven't been enough to split people up just yet and so if you are anywhere but near the front, most of the riders get off of the bike and walk large sections of this climb. It is the first time that I got off the bike and mostly just because everyone else did. I followed Chris up this section and felt like the walking pace was a bit faster than I would prefer, but I didn't want to make people behind me edgy so I kept pace. I recall having to lean significantly uphill pushing the handlebars of my bike and then switching back and forth between putting one hand on the saddle and the other on the left handlebar. At various points of the climb people decide to jump on their bikes and pedal. Invariably, these attempts are futile and people can't find the momentum to move the bike forward and end up falling back to pushing and sometimes falling over partially clipped in. A special sort of hell when you are exhausted. But we aren't quite there yet...this is just climb 2.

The descent off climb 2 is very rocky and technical. Many 1-2 foot drops here. Get ready to put your butt behind the seat on this one otherwise your flying end over end. I forgot my gloves and also forgot to unlock my front shocks. I was ended up descending one of the more technical downhills that I've done this year on a GF hardtail 29er with no shocks and no gloves. You can image how that must have felt. My triceps are very sore this morning.

Climb 3 :

Again, the descent from climb 3 was very technical. Although the terrain profile looks less of a pitch downward than climb 2, there are several challenging drops that have you locking up both breaks while navigating very technical rocky sections. Half way down this descent I came to the realization that my front shocks were locked out and I fixed them. I immediately noticed that it was much better descending with shocks and I felt a bit relieved, hoping that I would be able to move a little better and with less pain. It was true to a point.

Climb 4 :

The single track climb #4 is etched into the mountain side. Off camber on both sides. If you stop and lose your balance to the right (downhill) you better get your foot down quickly or your going for a ride. That happened to me last year and I have a vivid memory of falling down the hill, eventually finding my feet only to experience a full tower torso cramping experience worse than any other cramping I recall. After something like that you have to get it out of your head otherwise you tend to do it again. It's sort of like golfing in that way...ignore the pond, otherwise the ball goes right in every time. Get it out of your head and imagine that the path is on a level climb. There are also some unexpected rocky sections (maybe 3 or 4) but if you keep your speed up you can just ride over them. This section is mostly rideable, but the first part of the climb is a carry your bike section. Too steep to even push the bike. The descent from 4 is much like the climb except the downhill is to the left, so again, don't think about riding off the trail to the left. I am very conservative on the descents and am amazed at the skill that riders passing me have. Guys just fly down these technical descents.

Climb 5 :

20 miles of non-technical climbing...It just doesn't end. Just find your climbing gear and settle in. This is the only hilltop aid station and it is more than welcome to find all the food, Heed, water, electrolytes, bike techs that you could ever want.

Video of descent off of climb 5

Climb 6 :

Climb 6 is half of what climb 3 is just half way. It hurts, but you're comforted by the fact that this is the LAST ONE! and you can just picture yourself riding into camp.

The descent is once again fairly technical at the start but then turns into undulating hills that become a fun way to end the ride. You begin to see tents scattered amongst the trails as you head into camp and you know that you are home.

Flats :

As you can see by the terrain profile, there are a bunch of flat sections of the course. Lots of pace lining going on here. A good place to make up some ground on the pure mountain bikers for those with road fitness. I was passed by the same guys on the descents on every mountain, but I caught back up on every flat. Flats are on mixed terrain, concrete public roads, gravel fire roads, mountain top single track through fields, etc.

Aid Stations :

I can't say enough about how well supported this race is. At every aid station I was greeted with "Hello Bryan (your number plate has your name on it), how can I help you...need a bike check? Heed refill?" The answer is typically YES...PLEASE...and...YES...PLEASE Tables with everything you can imagine, small cups of soda, electrolyte drinks, boxes of electrolyte pills, PB&J sandwiches, bananas, ambulances, whatever you can think is there at the aid stations. There are 6 aid stations throughout the race. If you don't feel like riding this epic race, you can get pretty close to the experience by volunteering at aid station.

Short Video from the Promoter :

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.