Shenandoah – Working Hard; Playing Fair
Race day was great but not without its problems. Aside from the 100 miles and 14,000 feet of climbing that is. Bill, Kyle, and I lined up at 6:30am in the back of the pack with the group that considered 12 hours an attainable goal. The start was slow enough for us to walk from our starting position almost all the way to the actual starting line, but I hopped on my bike so I could officially roll over it. The ride out was fun and tightly packed with over 600 riders. The three of us quickly formed a pace line slipped into our agreed upon pace and started passing groups of riders. This was not foreshadowing the day ahead but I’ll get to that later. Before long we got off the fairly well paved road and went into the state park fire road where we immediately hit some hills that were harder than we trained for, but nothing compared to what we would see later that day or that evening. After what must have been twenty back to back 100 foot climbs and descents we came to a full stop where the pack had begun funneling into the first single track portion of the race. Not 3 minutes in, at around 8.9 miles, I got a flat in my rear tyre. Bill and Kyle lent their hands whenever possible and it went pretty well until I took the pump off the stem and noticed the needle from the stem ripped out and was still in my pump! After a little self-deprecating humor I pulled out another tube and repeated the steps of the last few minutes. Once it was pumped up I noticed the axle nut that holds the wheel to the frame of the bike had fallen off into leaves. Luckily after only a few minutes of searching my teammates found the nut and it’s spring and we were on our way. Now there’s the foreshadowing I was looking for earlier.
10 miles in we hit aid station 1 where we could swap out bottles if we had ’em so I picked up a sweet 24oz REI bottle in exchange for my 16oz generic bottle. More water = WIN! Shortly after that we had a nice hard packed downhill section that I hit my top speed of the day at 40.99 mph. I matched that a few times, but it was nice to get something like that so early. Little did I know that I would be going back up this hill at around the 90 mile marker later in the evening.
31 miles in we pulled into aid station 2. My first order of business was to give them my junk tubes and buy replacements. When the bike tech came back with two new tubes I asked how much and he looked at me like I was speaking in an alien tongue. Figuring my Boston accent was shining through I asked again and he kindly chuckled and replied “They’re free. Everything here is free” I told him how awesome he was for volunteering and that I appreciated everything that the volunteers were doing and giddily went back to my bike with the new tubes. The three of us finished up with food and drink refills, grabbed our bikes and we were off.
After a ridiculous 2 or 3 mile walk up several switchbacks on loose loam we got to the top of our first real mountain and were ready for an exciting descent. For the most part we enjoyed it quite a bit and the last mile or so was AMAZING! Jumping off smooth berms while weaving through trees at 20+ mph, I was elated! That is until we flew by a guy with his arm taped to his torso and a first aid person carrying his bike. I really only took it down to 15 or so, but it was a good reminder that bad things can happen fast out there and we had a LONG way to go if we wanted to finish. Six miles out from the 45 mile aid station three, Bill dropped his chain when a stick got caught up in the rear derailleur. He told Kyle and I to keep moving and he’d catch up after quickly putting his chain back on. Not 30 yards after that I heard him call to us “I’m out!”. I think I heard both of our hearts stop as we pulled over to go back and get our teammate. Once there we discovered that the rear derailleur had been ripped clean off of his bike. Not missing a beat we worked together to shorten his chain and make his pricey geared bike into a single speed. While it only took us a few minutes to implement this ambitious idea it turned out that the chains tension made the crank to hard to turn or was far too loose to function on any kind of sustained ride. After some debate and a few more attempts Bill told Kyle and I to be on our way. Reluctantly we started off to get him more help only to discover 100 feet later that Kyle had lost a screw for the cleat on his left shoe. Keep in mind that meant he was able to pedal but unable to take his foot off the pedal without removing his shoe. A dangerous way to ride when on rocks or the almost cliff like drop offs to the side of some of the trials, not to mention he was having serious muscle cramping issues in both legs. Bill noticed what was going on and didn’t hesitate to offer up one of his screws for Kyle. An amazing gesture, to say the least, for someone that just had to drop out of a race he had trained over a year for. Kyle and I started off for aid station three determined to get the bike tech ready for Bill’s arrival so we could continue as a full team. Doing so turned out to be a constant battle against my own body and mind, both of which kept insisting on trying to throw me off the steep slope to my left. I’m not joking! We had to lean to the right toward a steep vertical while riding on an off camper 16″ wide trail that had a super steep drop on the left side for 5 miles. I must have went off the trail and nearly lost it 8 – 10 times one of which Kyle was close behind and as a result of stopping fast caused him to fall left tumbling and sliding down the slope. He did hurt his knee on a rock, but we dusted off and kept going.
Kyle paid for the knee injury for the next two months. Once we were at the aid station we fueled up and refilled our CamelBak’s with electrolyte goodness. We let the bike tech know the situation and waited for Bills arrival. It was a tough call, but as we we’re about to leave in came Bill (Seen here) with his bike catching us with a bike he couldn’t pedal! The bike techs seemed hopeful, but Bill sent us on our way again and unfortunately that would be the last time we’d see him on the course.
The trip to mile 57 and aid station 4 is really the point that taught Kyle and I a lesson. About 49 miles in we got to this section that was one of the hardest sections I could have imagined and it lasted about 4 miles and went straight up for about 1300 feet. This section started with a nearly straight up climb on natural slate rock stairs and once we past that it could only be described as a treacherous 3.5 mile hike across loose loam and sharp rocks with a 5 to 10 degree angled pitch drop on the right side. And YES I said HIKE not ride. During the hike we spoke with a rider that had done the Leadville 100 (once lost by Lance Armstrong) and told us how much easier that was compared to the insanity we were in the midst of. Luckily the descent was pretty fun, but still not worth what we had to do to get there. I mean I wanted to ride my bike not walk for over an hour. We pulled into station four about 30 minutes before the 4:00 cut-off so we knew we had to work hard to make the next cut off about 2.5 hours and 18 miles away up the constant “death climb” or “soul crusher” as it’s known to the locals.
At mile 75 and the top of “Soul Crusher” we managed about 20 minutes to rest before heading out with only 10 minutes to spare. It turned out that soul crusher was the kind of long steady climb that we trained for and although Kyle was still dealing with severe leg cramps he hung in there and as it started to cool off his situation improved and we started to make good time on the last quarter of the 18 mile climb.
Getting to mile 88 turned out to be pretty difficult. It consisted of a very steep two or three mile climb followed by a 6 mile descent that really wasn’t much fun at all and I love single track descents. I think the phrase “controlled slide” conveys the perfect image of us going down 60 percent of that mountain. It started to get pretty dark now so the rest of the descent was made a bit more fun and maybe a little more dangerous with only the light on our helmets allowing us to see. It was more fun than dangerous if you ask me :), but we had to remain focused on working our butts off to make the 8:30 cut-off of the next and final aid station. Crossing several rocky streams in the dark was not easy, but we managed to pull into the pitch black aid station 6 about 15 minutes before the cut-off. It was a funny sight to see the people there wearing the only lights for miles on their heads. They were all very helpful and got us out in no time at all. If you haven’t picked up on it we were all very grateful to the volunteers. Everybody was amazing and we couldn’t have made it this far without them.
Once out on the road again we finally relaxed in knowing, in the words of Kyle, “We can go as slow as we want because there aren’t any more checkpoints”. I still felt great, but that hill I went 40mph down was waiting for me and was a real tough final climb. Once over that 3 mile walk, ride, walk, ride routine the rest was great level and downhill fun in the dark of night. Getting back to our 15-20 mph single track rhythm really lifted our spirits and prepared us for the for the final approach to the finish line. I did take one last chance by launching off a berm in front of the crowd when we came in, but I landed it and slowed to a careful pace so Kyle and I could roll across the line together while raising each other’s hand in victory. It was a great experience that I think exemplified several of our core values, but not one I wish to relive anytime soon unless my wife changes her mind about doing it :).
Thanks to all the volunteers that helped make it possible to survive this event. All of you did fantastic job Thanks!
To see the results of the race check out the results sheetTweet