Rider: Jeff Dickey
Conditions: Hot, humid, and slightly muddy
Place: 26th (24th in the open men's category)
I returned to the SM100 this year after getting worked over last year (double flat and bonking, resulting in a 15 minute aid-station stop to eat a bunch of pizza) and hoped that knowing the course layout would serve me well. At least this year I knew that the "Death Climb" truly did end. I also did some research on www.strava.com to see what other riders had done on the various climbs, how long and steep the climbs were and thought about what I needed to do to get over them.
I haven't been doing any structured training since early June and have been relying on racing and hard training rides to maintain fitness. That kind of fell apart after traveling a lot for work (along with eating while on the road) and other work-related pressures, as well as the cancellation of various races due to weather problems. So, I was a bit nervous coming into this race as I hadn't done anything to really prepare for it and I was hoping to just survive and enjoy myself. My race strategy was not to go out too hard and ride an easy tempo on each of the climbs to avoid going too far into the red.
I've done a few 100 mile events, but Shenandoah is the most fun one I've attended. The pre-race pasta/beer feed makes for a great atmosphere and fits right in with seeing many friends over the holiday weekend. Camping Saturday before the race and Sunday after the race limits travel time and also adds to the sense of community at the event, something I missed at other events like the Leadville 100.
I'd replaced most of the wear-and-tear parts prior to the Breckenridge 100 in July and so my bike was ready to go. Also, I've been running Maxxis Ikon tires since the Breck 100 and invested in the extra-heavy EXO sidewall version (worth the extra gram weight penalty). They fit incredibly well on a set of Stan's Crest rims and inflate easily with just a floor pump (all tires should work this well!). Plus, they hold air unlike any other tire I've used. I last inflated the tires in July and they held nearly the same pressure through September.
At 5:00am on the morning of the race, the SM100 campgrounds were awoken by Chris Scott, the organizer, riding through the tent city banging on a gong. A unique way to wake up! After gulping some exceptionally strong coffee (thanks to some retired Marines I was camping with), the race started around 6:30 just as it was getting light. The pack of 700 or so riders headed off for a long day of riding in the George Washington National Forest
|The start at sunrise (photo thanks to Shenandoah Mountain Touring)|
On the first climb of the day, a fire road with a steadily increasing grade, I had to back off the leaders as my legs hadn't yet warmed up (and I had a few moments of throwing up - not a good way to start the day...). At the top of the climb, I found myself in a group of 5-6 awesome riders, including Garth Prosser, Patrick Miller and Ryan McKinney. We rolled along to the first section of fireroad and Ryan set off on a blistering 29mph pace, stringing us out behind him. The group worked well and after a few rotations at the front to keep the pace up, we picked up 5-8 more riders, including Ian Spivak and his DCMTB teammate.
We motored along to the start of the Briery Branch ascent, a great singletrack climb, but with so many riders, it turned into a game of follow the wheel in front of you. At least this kept my pace slow and measured. After the long ascent, we flew down the awesome Wolf Ridge trail. The descent was as good as riding the Colorado Trail out west with nicely constructed singletrack winding through the woods.
Once back to the main fireroad, I found myself alone with Garth Prosser, who proceeded to set a wicked tempo that quickly ramped up my HR. I didn't want to follow his wheel because I was having flashbacks to 2010 where I'd blown myself up on the same stretch of road, trying to catch up to the leaders after a double flat tire. So, I backed off and rode along at my own tempo to the base of the Hankey Mountain climb. I knew from Strava that it should take about 45 minutes from the base to the summit of the climb (a 5 mile, 1,600 vertical foot ascent) and settled in to an easy tempo on the muddy road. Before I knew it, I was at the summit and catching some riders.
The descent down Dowell's Draft to aid station #3 was fast and fun and made up for the long grind up the mountain. I stopped at the aid station to say hello to Laura (she was volunteering at the aid station - great to see her there!) fill up on more nuun, grab some more GU and gummi worms and get some more water.
|Filling up for the next sections of trail|
Despite eating a lot, I started to bonk on the steep and rocky ascent of Braley's. I was having trouble keeping my HR up at a tempo pace and my focus was drifting. A few riders passed me and I had to walk a few short sections of rocks. Luckily, I started to feel better on the descent and caught and passed Ian Spivak again (he went by me on the next climb) and cruised along to aid station #4. I filled up with a lot of Coke and more nuun and ate a sandwich as reinforcements for the upcoming 2+ hours of climbing up the Death Climb. I would be climbing from about mile 57 of the race to mile 83 of the race and the day was getting hot.
As I was exiting the aid station, one of the Trek 29er Crew, Dan Atkins, caught up with me on the paved road section of the Death Climb and we worked together for a bit until I bonked (again) and had to let him ride away. After recovering for a few minutes, Pat Miller and another of the Trek 29er Crew caught up to me and I had recovered enough to start working with them.
We eventually formed a group of four, me and the three Trek riders, and we worked well to get up the never-ending road climb. As we made the hard right turn to the steep Reddish Knob climb, I could feel another bonk coming on (yet again) and hoped to make it to the next aid station before I cracked completely, so I maintained a constant HR up the climb and rode a pace that wasn't too hard, but would get me to the summit.
Unfortunately, I ran out of water with 3 miles remaining of the climb. The day had turned hot and I was starting to get some dehydration-related cramps and so I had to back off my pace and a bunch of riders passed me. I could feel the sun burning me through my helmet and my face was getting sunburned too, all leading to a feeling of fatigue. I thought I was much closer to the aid station than I really was and kept looking for it around each bend in the road. Mentally, that took a toll on me and I slowed down even more.
I finally got to aid station #5, I inhaled a lot of food and water and refilled my pockets with more GU. I was pretty cooked by this point and it showed. When heading up a small hill to exit the aid station, one of the spectators encouraged me not to get off my bike and walk that section because I would have been the first to do so all day. Ouch. I really wanted to walk that section, too...
After the aid station, the climb ground on indefinitely. I had heard that there were 16 or 17 meadows on the next section and that they screwed with your head as they all looked the same. Upon entering each meadow, you thought you were at the summit, only to be disappointed. I decided to count down the meadows, and I'm glad I did as it gave me something to focus on other than the cramping in my hamstrings. I counted off: 1 meadow down, 15 to go; 2 meadows down, 14 to go; etc. At 16 (or maybe it was 17, I wasn't thinking very clearly) meadows, the entrance appeared to the 7 mile single track descent down Chestnut Ridge.
The downhill was scary fast and I slowly started to lose my front brake due to overheating. Thankfully, I was able to retain just enough braking to get me to the bottom. Along the way, I passed several EMTs assisting Michael Simonson, who had crashed heavily on the descent while in the top 5 of the race. A full-blown rescue was under way to get him out of the woods with more EMTs and paramedics hiking up the trail to assist him.
After the descent, I met up with Laura who was waiting for me at aid station #6. So good to see her just before the finish! She'd run 12 miles that morning to aid station #3 and was planning to run back to the finish (another 4 miles). Her words of encouragement got me to the finish as I kept repeating them over and over in my head.
|Still smiling after 90 miles and lots of bonking|
I kept a steady pace up the first part of Hankey Mountain and passed one rider. I was hurting even more at this point, but he was in a similar state. We were both so cooked we could only grunt at each other in passing, but I think we knew what the other was going through.
The never-ending fireroad after the Hankey climb was just about the end of me, but I hung on for dear life and eventually got to the finishing singletrack. I was happy to get to the finish and beat last year's time by over 30 minutes for 26th place overall. Not bad for bonking at 3-4 times, throwing up, and coming into the race without much training!
|Relaxing at the finish - happy to be done!|
Here's my ride on Strava (I screwed up at the start and hit the wrong button - I was 8 miles into the race before I realized I hadn't started recording):
Other local riders did very well. Kevin Carter, who I'd raced with a bunch this past summer, caught the lead group at the beginning of the race and hung on strong through the Death Climb to finish 4th. Dylan Johnson, 15 years old, finished 2nd in the singlespeed race (and was only a few minutes behind me, despite flatting). 10 year old Adam Croft beat many other riders and looked fresh at the finish; he reported that he had a much better time on the downhills than last year!
The post-race party following a swim in the river was lots of fun with tons of food, very good beer from race sponsor Heavy Seas (they make a great porter), homemade limoncello and far too much wine and bourbon. I'll be back next year.
Results can be found here: http://www.mountaintouring.com/htm/home/page_home.htm along with more photos.
Next up for me is the east coast adventure racing championships.