Thanks to the constant encouragement of teammate Ryan, I decided to race the Shenandoah Mountain 100 (SM100) race this past week, in what was to be my third 100 mile MTB race of this season. And I’m glad I did.
After a strong start to the season with a third place finish at the Cohutta 100, I had what felt like a horrific time at the Mohican 100; despite a decent fifth place finish, it was one of the worst days I’ve ever spent on the bike, and was ready to sell my bike and never compete in another 100 miler again.
Shortly after Mohican I came down with Lyme disease and spent the better part of the summer on doxycycline and recovering from that. I was able to stick to a decent training volume throughout, just had to dial back the intensity quite a bit.
Fast forward to Shenandoah, in analyzing my taper into the Mohican race earlier this year, it became clear that I had way overcooked myself, so I dusted off the training plan Jeff O’Hara had prepared for me in preparation for my first 100 miler - the 2011 Mohican 100 - still my fastest 100 miler to date. The two week taper worked like a charm - thank you again Jeff!
My mantra going into the SM100 was to have fun and my strategy was not to go too fast for the first portion of the race, since I was pretty sure that was my downfall at the Mohican 100 earlier this year, and at the SM100 with 13,000 feet of vertical, pacing is obviously super important. My goal was a sub ten hour finish, maybe sub 9.5, so I lined up in the nine hour coral and off we went. Up the first of six long climbs (ranging from under an hour to an 18 mile soul crusher), my legs felt awake and ready to rumble. I constantly monitored my heart-rate and tried to keep it below threshold, at sweetspot or zone 3 as much as possible. Started getting some ghost shifting 5 miles in, kept on tightening the adjuster barrel, which would fix things for a while before more tightening was necessary. Not good, but the mechanics at Aid 2 made it all better for the time.
About a quarter of the way up the third long climb of the day, shortly after Aid 2, I started reeling in a guy wearing the yellow Kenda kit that I knew one of the usual podium finishers in the Master’s field, Dave Jolin, raced in. And sure enough it was Dave - I decided to settle in at his slightly slower pace and ride with him. We chatted, which definitely made the climb-time go by faster, until my rear wheel jammed up out of the blue. Crap, got off the bike, and realized that my rear through-axle had come loose and was sticking out by about an inch. Luckily tightening it was all it took to get me rolling again, no other damage done (I still don’t know to what extent this was related to my earlier shifting problems, and was a little worried that my rear shifting would now be off, if the Aid 2 mechanics adjusted the shifting to work with a loose thru-axle, but all worked well). But all being fair in love and war, Jolin had kept riding and was a distant spec of yellow well up the climb. Crap, I knew I wanted to stay with him, and with that all my earlier talk about taking it a little easier for this race went out the window. It took me a good ten minutes of threshold effort to get back on his wheel, as it turns out, just before the climb reached its steepest parts which lasted another 10-15 minutes. It hurt like hell to stay with Jolin up those steep pitches, but I managed. Then a roaring-ripping dicey downhill into Aid 3, Jolin stops, my feed strategy had this as an optional stop so I blew through it.
Climb four, one of the two technical (as opposed to fire-road) climbs goes well, then into Aid 4, refill all fluids, and get ready for the 18 mile soul-crusher or death climb. At the very bottom of the climb, I get caught by a train of 9 riders including Dave Jolin; oh well, I obviously jump on the train, and off we go. It becomes apparent after a little while that Jolin and I are the strongest riders in the group, and as we pace-line up the lower, less steep, section of the climb, we slowly whittle down the group to four riders; once we get to the soul-crushing steeper section, it’s just Jolin and me. Jolin mashing, me spinning, we go back and forth putting a hurtin’ on each other. I was ready to let him go more times than I care to remember, but I stuck with him. Aid 5 is about three quarters of the way up the climb, it was also an optional stop in my strategy, and I thought my camelbak still had at least the equivalent of one bottle of water in it, plus with some go juice in the bottle, I would be fine. Jolin stops, I don’t. My Formula 1 pit-stop strategy brought to endurance mtb racing kind of went awry a short ten minutes later when I sucked dry my camelbak. And shortly thereafter my bottle followed suit. I made it almost to the top of the climb (passing Montalbano) before I felt the caloric and fluid deficit kicking in. The downhill was insanely technical, fast or both (which they pretty much all were), but I managed to focus through my delirium and keep the rubber side down - got passed back my Montalbano, got caught by the women’s leader on the lower more undulating portion of the descent and decided to dig a little deeper and stay with her as long as I could. Aid 6 couldn’t get here soon enough.
Restocked, and set off for the sixth and final climb of the day, but the damage was done; about half way up the climb, it felt like I was going backwards - using my easiest gear and focusing just on keeping up my spin (on a moderately steep climb), I felt like I was crawling, checking behind me every minute or two for Jolin who I was convinced would come flying by me any minute now. But he didn’t, and I knew I was in the clear once I hit the final descent of the day into the finish. Crossed the line at 8:57, in what turned out to be third place in the Master’s class, twelve minutes behind Roger Masse in second, three minutes ahead of Dave Jolin in fourth. Jeff Clayton got first in a super-human 8:20. Lee Simril, currently in third place in the NUE series overall rounded off the podium in fifth. What a great group of ‘old’ guys, had a blast hanging out with them after the race - congrats to all on a job well done. I had an awesome experience and what a great way to cap the 2015 endurance racing season. And as always, great fun road-tripping with Scrapple!
On a very sad note, one of the competitors in this year’s SM100 died during the race as a result of a crash. Ryan and I met the fellow the night before the race, which makes it all the more real. My deepest condolences and sympathy go out to this fellow’s family and loved ones.
Keep it real, and never take your life or loved ones for granted.