Sunday, September 2, 2012

Shenandoah 100

I knew going in that Shenandoah 100 was going to be a motivation test.  My ribs were still sore from last weekend, plus rain was forecasted for race day plus Shenandoah has a bit of hike-a-bike, a lot of pace-lining on the road and lots of off camber trail.  Still, it's one of the 4 NUE races that I can drive to, so I wanted to go.

The race starts at 6:30 - first light.  I got a good start and worked pretty hard early.  I wanted to get as many miles in before the rain started.  It's all road and fire road to the first aid station at 11 miles in.  I lined up with the 8-hour group for the start, but I'm passing an awful lot of people.

After aid station #1 we get to some single track.  It's not raining yet, but the rocks are still wet making the going a bit treacherous.  I'm doing Ok, though, having to hike some sections.  I passed eventual female winner Sue Haywood on the road.  She passes me back on the rocky climb/hike-a-bike section.  She's pretty smooth over the rocks.  I get the edge on her on the rocky descent and pass her back.  ...only to be passes back on the next rocky climb.  Oh well.  The last big single track descent is gnarly rocky.  I haven't had much luck fixing flats in the past, so I'm descending with a little bit of caution.  I thought I was doing pretty well because I passed several racers, but then I got passed.  ...and passed again.   ...and a third time.  I stick with my plan.  Which works out well.  Two of the racers that passed me ended up alongside fixing flats (including one Sue Haywood).  The third racer that passed in the super fun roller coaster section ended up crashing near the end and I passed him back too.

Just before aid station #2 at mile 31 it starts to rain.  The forecast was 50%-60% chance of rain.  I think it ended raining on 50-60% of my race as predicted.  I was surprised to have caught Morgan Olsson at the aid station.  He has a pretty good history of top finishes in these endurance races.  So I ride with Morgan for a while through the double track or grassy single track.  In the rain.  Lots of rain.  Lots and lots of rain.  Sometimes I think I have the upper hand on Morgan, but I can't really get ahead of him.  So, we ride together some more.

When we get single track, though, I can't quite match Morgan's pace.  We do some FAST very narrow single track descending on the side of the mountain.  I'm flying ...until I get just a touch off line and wipe out in a big way.  I didn't hit anything, but it got my attention!  The first soggy rock section we get to I notice my seat is moving around a bit.  I knew if I didn't fix I'd end up seat-less, so I bit the bullet and pulled off the trail and tried to tighten the seat bolts.  I couldn't really get to the front bolt with my multi-tool, so I just tightened the rear bolt as best as I could go.  Now the seat is (mostly) tight, but pointed a bit skyward.

After having stopped (and getting passed) I guess I was all out of sync with the trail because I was really strggling to ride the soggy rocky climb.  I get frustrated and hike a bit.  Sue Haywood catches me and asks how I'm doing.  I said "kind of awful".  She asks if I need anything then says "There is a sweet descent ahead."  Believe me I was ready for some descending.  I thought.  Watching Sue roll smoothly along reminded me to just relax, pedal with my legs, work the bike and ride my pace.  I feel like I'm going slow, but I'm much smoother now.  Back in rhythm.

Until the descent.  Normally I could really bomb the descent and make up time, but I keep getting caught out.  The rain has slowed, but the trail is still soggy.  I slide off the trail another couple of times.  One time I had to drag my bike 15 feet back up the hill onto the trail.  Stupid side-of-the-mountain trails.  Plus now my seat has started to move around again.  When we finally get to some more open trail I feel like I need to make up time.  I decide to ride hammer down and fix the seat at the next aid station.  And then it falls off.  It was a wide open section of trail so I stop and take the time to level it up and snug it up.

When I get to aid station 4 at 57 miles I have the aid station volunteer put a wrench on the seat bolt that my multi-tool doesn't reach well.  I instruct him to tighten the heck out of it.  He does.  So now I'm ready to roll again - thinking all of my seat problems are behind me.

The 12 miles from aid #4 to #5 at 75 miles are all fire road.  Mostly very uphill.  It starts out as a gradual climb that gets steeper as you go.  Perfect for me.  And then the mile 66 "snap".  The carbon seat clamp bracket snaps in two.  So I ride sans saddle all the way to aid #5.  Occasionally I have to stop to readlust the saddle bag which now has no good attaching point.  The climbing is OK, but tiresome since I can't ever take a break.  The little bit of descending is nice, but I can't make up any time.  By now I've decided I'm going to DNF at the aid station.  You lose a lot of control without the saddle and with my record of crashes so far today I feel it would be the prudent thing to do rather than get impaled for what would now be a mediocre finish.

I figured there would be an easy way back to the campground from aid station #5.  I was wrong.  It turns out my choices were to continue on the 20 miles to the finish (Shenandoah comes in under 100 miles - more like 95 miles) or to ride 20 miles back to the campground.  Images of having to hike single track climbs (and possibly some descents) and of course, the whole impaling thing make my decision the all fire-road/road-road "mostly" downhill 20 mile route.  So I head back down the way I just spent so much effort climbing up.  Almost all the way back to aid #4, onto another fire road then a road-road.  I stop at aid station #6 (from the wrong direction) and pick up my drop bag for the remainder of the journey.  Four miles later I cross the iconic iron bridge and make the right turn up the final climb of the day - the entrance to Stokesville Campground.

Almost without notice I find my car.  No cheers.  No pictures.  No finishers mug.  But my cooler is waiting for me in the car.  I begin the rehydrating, change clothes and head to the finish to find my wife who is still expecting me to roll through at any time.  As I do, I see Morgan Olsson cross the inflatable Kenda finish arch and pause for an interview with the announcer.  Shortly afterward Sue Haywood also finishes and gives her victory interview.  The official time clock reads about 8:33.  I briefly wonder what might have been.

But I'm in one piece.  The ribs held up.  My form seemed good.   ...and next week is another NUE race.  The season-ending Fools Gold 100.

Congratulations to Jeremiah and Sue on their overall men's and women's and victories!

See you on the trails!

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