I completed the Shenendoah 100 Mountainbike race in Virginia last Sunday Sept 6th in 12hours-18minutes. I missed my secondary goal of completing it in under 12 hours, but in hindsight, the course was almost designed to slow me down.
The trail consisted of some paved road, quite a lot of crushed gravel two-tracks as well as some technical single track loaded with rocks- both on the flat and on descents. Additionally, there were a couple sections, one was really long, bench cut climbs in which the trail tread was barely wide enough for a racer to push his bike along side him – which was a necessity as I will explain later.
The aid stations were laid out as follows:
#1 Tillman Rd. 10 Miles
#2 Todd Lake 31 Miles
#3 Dowells Draft 45 Miles
#4 Braley’s Pond 57 Miles
#5 Picnic Area 75 Miles
#6 Todd Lake 88 Miles
The race started with over 700 riders heading out of the campground in the pre-dawn light down to the paved road and to the edges of the George Washington National Forest
Usually with a group this large a strong climb will thin the pack out, but everyone was fresh and you can see from the profile that the first climb was small. I was probably in the middle of the back part of the 700 racers, with perhaps 80-100 behind me and approximately the same immediately in front as the course swept to a flat spot off the gravel road and immediately bottlenecked at the entrance to the first singletrack section.
This section was very technical with rocks, interrupted by flat dirt trail on a narrow bench cut and eventually looped around the hillside to begin what was climb number 2 on the eleveation profile. this was a steep steep climb up to the peak at Mile 18, approximately. This whole section was rideable for a decent technical rider- of which I consider myself one. However, that would be predicated on you riding alone, or with a couple buddies and everyone keeping 10-15 yards between you to compensate for everyone’s change in speed or momentum as one negotiated the rocks or granny-geared up the steep climb. Unfortunately with nearly 200 racers strung out wheel-to-wheel, as soon as any rider lost momentum and dabbed a foot or came off the bike, the whole pack behind were forced to do the same. So what entailed was a miner’s hike, with a long line of cyclist pushing their bikes up the steep incline which was barely wide enough to accomodate rider and bike side by side. To make matters worse, if one encountered a flat-ish spot and attempted to start pedaling, the slow speed might cause you to wobble or veer and if you tire caught the outside of the bench cut- it was NOT firm and the tire would slip off the edge. Either you got your feed down fast or risked tumbling down the steep embankment.
We eventually reached a short paved road section. In the middle of this, at approximately the 20 mile mark, my chain snapped. A first and would lead to a minor comedy of errors. I moved to the side, flipped the bike upside down and pulled off the seat bank to dump its contents- 2 tubes, three air canisters and nozzle, and my Park Tool pouch- no chain tool- AARRGH! Another rider stopped and pulled out a chain tool but as I started to work it, I noticed I didn’t really need it as the way the chain snapped I needed only pull off the remaining half of a link (the other side was gone) and I could simply install another Sram Powerlink- of which I had three spares. I handed him his chaintool and repaired my bike and repacked the seatback, but as I did so, on a whim, I check the Parktool pouch- and there was my chain tool -DOH! I thought I’d simply stuffed it in the seatbag, not also in the pouch. Whew! In any event, 40-50 or more riders now passing me whom I’d likely have no chance to catch later
Eventually the climb ended and we started a descent in the technical single track as well as eventually dodged onto some gravel pathways before starting the next climb. During the course there was very little downhill two track. The typical pattern was long fire-road climb, fast technical singletrack descent, repeat. A few singletrack climbs were included as well as some really sweet flowing singletrack that would be a familiar feel to Michigan rider who has ridden BigM, Hanson or Boyne
The singletrack was so technical that at one point, at a really awesome, but treacherously tricky bounce down over some odd shaped and placed rocks, I heard the rider behind me exclaim “DAMN!” I wasn’t sure if he was exclaiming regarding my ability to negotiate it as quickly as I did or was simply struck by the feature itself.
There were two fairly long road sections- one longer than the other- which started on pavement and eventually went back onto the crushed gravel roads. Five of us got on the pavement together the first time and four of us immediately formed up a rolling paceline, hugging the side of the road way as cars passed. We clipped along at 14-1/5 to 15 MPH eventually picking up a fifth rider we’d caught (but dropping one of the original four). This really saved a lot of energy and allowed us to move quickly. The second time on the road, there were eight of us and we caught another rider- coincidentally the same one we caught the first time, and he tagged up and the line cruised along but eventually broke up into a group of four and five respectively. I was in the lead group and as we started a slight grade when the pavement ended and the gravel started, I endeavored to maintain a 12MPH pace and moved away from the rest of the road fellowship. As I passed another rider he formed up behind me and I tried to keep the pace but after almost a mile I moved over and he went ahead. He was a machine- turning RPMs to continue at 12MPH steady on the gradually increasing grade. I finally could not keep pace so I slowed to drink some Heed and he kept going the last hundred or so yards to the top of that section of road, whereupon he promptly stopped and fiddled with his camelback. I motored on.
On it went, UP down UP down. Here was were a brief period of discouragement set in. As we approached the next aid station, I had been riding for just over 6-1/2 hours and my computer indicated 40 miles. WHAT! I can’t be THAT slow! However, one rider I discussed this with said his computer showed 56 miles and that the next aid station #4 was coming up. UH? Later, as I watched the computer, it continually shut off at speeds of 2mph which was all I was getting on some climbs, unfortunately. My conclusion was that the walking sections early on and a few of the really steep slow climbs were enough to cause it to go into off-mode by itself and only come back on if it sensed a slight uptick in speed. Very frustrating, and essentially it became a CLOCK. So my idea of monitoring time and distance to know when to push myself, borne of my experience at Wilderness100, was basically shot right out the window!
Beginning at approximately the 57 mile mark (aid station #4) we began the long long long- oh, did I say LONG? climb up to the 80mile mark. Racers were calling this the “soul crusher” With the exception of a couple minor little dips downward in the gravel road (and one quick downhill), it was almost a continuous climb for 24 miles!!!
Finally, after nearly crashing into the US Space Station, the peak was reached and I wish I had had one of Tony Newton’s Summit Flags! We then raced downward again for nearly a continuous downward slope of ten miles to a couple more little peaks. The climb at mile 93-94 was one we’d done before and completely fooled me. We were on a gravel road and circling up the hillside and several riders before and after me were starting to walk. I continued in the granny gear (walking actually hurt other muscles). Finally I saw the trail go into the singletrack and I shouted “we’re here boys!” because I thought it was the last singletrack down into the campground and the finish…….. BUT NOOOOOOOOOO, it was simply that last section again at mile 93-94 leading to false hope hahahaha.
Eventually it dumped out onto the two track again and after only a short ride did climb over the berm and drop down into the campground.
So I finished in 12:18. Very exhausting. Interestingly, as I cleaned up, at dinner and had a Dogfish Ale IPA, there were riders finishing in the dark with lights on at nearly 14 hours! (If you reach the checkpoint #6 (mile 88) after 600pm, they make you stop unless you have lights for the remaining 12 miles.
But as to “designed to slow me down”… I liked Shenendoah much better than Wilderness, which I thought was deliberately planned to create too many walking sections. Probably nearly 98% of Shenendoah is rideable, but not with the pack of riders one part of during a race. The reason I know this isn’t an ideal course for me is that a) the long climbs are necessarily slow for my climbing ability- I knew this going in, b) the sections that are ostensibly rideable become NOT rideable in a pack of the last 200 racers. So right away not only is time sucked out of the pace by the climbs, but I lost much time walking so many sections and there were not enough 10-12 MPH downhill sections to allow time to be made up.
I am ambivalent about coming back to Shenendoah. On the one hand I think I can beat the 12 hour mark, even with the restrictions of the climbs and walking, now that I know what the course – and if I have a decent computer perhaps (or GPS). The campground is really a great location. The event was an EVENT- even more so than Wilderness was (both are operated by the same promoter). They fed us decent food both Saturday night before the race (spaghetti) and Sunday after the event (veggie burger for me, with pasta, fruit and dessert).
The hard part was the drive there. I came in from the north via Morgantown WV and ended up on some snaking roadways up and down the county for 1-1/2 hours which can take longer if you get behind slow traffic on the steep grades up and down. I took a slight southerly route out- going to Staunton Virginia to reach an expressway sooner -Interstate 81 to I-64 west. I-64 took me to I-77 north all the way to the Ohio Turnpike. The mileage was a bit longer but didn’t seem to take as long as well as being a more relaxed ride with more amenities on the drive (aka Starbucks hahahaha).
Repeating Shenendoah will be a consideration for 2011, but may depend on other factors and races I decide to do.
They have my official time at 16 seconds sooner than I initially noted- 12:17:44 !
My position overall in the race was 400 out of 650 racers. (There were 541 finishers 109 DNFs overall).
In the Master’s Men specific category, I was 19 out of 36 (30 finishers and 6 DNFs).
Big Kudos to Christian Tanguey- Michigan based racer who beat the leader of of the NUE series by FIVE MINUTES! WOW