Sorry for the delay in the writing of this race report - just sleepy...
The finale of the National Ultra Endurance Series (NUE) went pretty well for me. My goals for the race were to podium (1-5 in this race), hopefully be under 9hrs and have fun?... I got 2 out of three - 4th place in 8'56" and, well, I mostly had fun although at times it was a struggle.
Shenandoah is my favorite of the 100s that I have done. Oddly this year, I think I enjoyed the 101 a bit more, which had typically been my least favorite of the 100s (although I think Cohutta will take its place), but maybe that's because I felt really good at the 101 and only so so at Shenandoah. Thankfully, my so so pace is pretty good. I felt like I had decent legs for the first couple of hours but then I kind of petered out and just had my "all day" pace to struggle with. My head game with myself was a constant reminder of that this was the last meaningful race of the season and I get a nice long break when it's over so keep pedaling. No cyclocross this year. Just play, recoup, recover and be all fired up for next year. Not that this season has gone badly at all, it just isn't quite there for me mentally to keep the discipline in the training that is necessary to be really successful in this series and to really enjoy it. I fell somewhere in between.
Anyway, I headed down to Maryland on Thursday afternoon. I hit some traffic going through Connecticut since I was passing through pretty much at rush hour. It got me a bit stressed out since it took about 3-4 hrs before I could relax and not have to pay attention so much. I did see an absolutely gorgeous sunset over Scranton hills. And much to my delight, the construction zone where 81 intersects 80 wasn't that bad. The past two times heading down that way have been terrible backups since it goes from 4 lanes to 1 with a lot of truck traffic, and continues as one lane for ~12 miles. But it was smooth sailing through there. I was getting anxious from driving so long and thought I was home free getting off in Harrisburg to head down into MD but then I hit some more construction, similar 3 lane to 1 kind of crap...erggg. I thought about how easy it to just snap and do something really retarded, but I refrained and just showed up at Doug's a crabby cranky fidget bucket. So I drank a beer :) but that only helped a little.
Friday was mostly a chill day. Doug and I met up with a New England transplant, Mike Joos, to do a ride at Gambril Mountain. It was a beautiful day out and the trails were fantastic. I did a couple oh shi... and felt like I kind of pulled a muscle in my back but thankfully that subsided. After that it was just making sure I was all packed and ready to leave first thing Saturday morning so we could get to the race site Stokesville Campground and get a good camping spot since the race filled up. My friend, Laura, from the Transylvania race was driving up from North Carolina and I told her we'd save her a spot too.
The drive down was fine. I was still feeling pretty sleepy but I was hoping that would mean I would fall asleep quickly Saturday night. We arrived at the race site around 1ish and got a decent camping spot. We set up camp and got ready to meet up with Amanda Carey to go stretch the legs on a short ride. On our way out to ride we ran into our good friends Lee and Brenda Simril so they joined too. I felt pretty decent on the ride. The legs felt a bit like they had a long drive in them but I was hoping that was a good sign and that on race day they would be great. It was nice to catch up with everyone. I haven't really chatted with Amanda since last fall during cross season. She's been kicking butt this year in the endurance race scene.
We got back to camp and Laura had arrived. It was really good to see her again too. She had bunked across from at the Transylvania race and we shared lots of stories together. I semi talked her into doing Shenandoah this year. She had done it a couple years back and was on the fence about it, but I reminded her of how fun it is :) Haha!! Anyways, she wanted to get a spin in so Doug and I then headed off to our favorite pub in Harrisonburg for dinner. The food is fantastic and the beer is good too, but I refrained from the beer drinking tonight to 'behave' for race day. I was hoping we would make it back there post race to enjoy the beer and scrumptious looking nachos, and peanut butter something or other ice cream cake, and ... Really, the dinners are actually pretty "healthy" there if you want to eat healthy.
Back to camp to finish prepping for the race, chill, catch up with Laura and hit the sack. I slept reasonably well for a pre-race night. It got pretty cool overnight and at 5am when we got up it was darn chilly, but it always is in my recollection of doing this race. Brrr... Ate some oatmeal and had some espresso. I was just standing around and I felt this odd cold sort of damp feeling sort of thing on my back and I was like what the heck is that and I felt behind my back and it was a nasty bug of some sorts.. absolutely grossed me out. I ended up mushing it with my fingers not realizing what it was. All traumatized I took off all my layers and it left an icky mess on my race shirt. Thankfully I had another one with me so I put the clean unscathed one on instead.. gross... total girlie moment.
Well then it was off to the start line. They were attempting to stage the start based on estimated finish times to try to help ease the craziness of the start of this race. It seemed to semi work as it didn't strike me as being quite as nuts as it usually does. We head out of the campground on this narrow dirt road that usually you get kind of pushed or shoved around or someone messes up or goes off the edge of the road... not fun. It wasn't that bad this year but perhaps because I am probably getting more used to that kind of start. Then it's super fast down the road and onto a "rolling" mostly uphill dirt road which helps start to spread out the pack. I was feeling ok through here. The legs were warming up and when we hit the first more pitchy climb I felt ok and had caught up to Cheryl who was riding in 3rd at this point. I was with her through the singletrack at the top of the first climb and down to Aid Station 1. I was feeling a bit sketchy on the downhill and thought, hmm, maybe the dualie would be nice. She might get me on the downhills alone on her dualie. We caught onto a wheel and mostly drafted on the road section till the next big climb. She did try an attack and I pulled her back in and then we chatted briefly. She gapped me starting into the next big climb but was only a few riders ahead through the climb. I was starting to feel the legs a bit already and I was just hoping at that point that they might come back around to feeling good again, oh maybe in a few hours.
I hate the downhill on this section as we're still pretty bunched up in the race and there are always some yahoos that come screaming by passing in really sketchy areas. It unnerves me. I was following behind a slow guy and had some others pass us and then finally I got by the slow guy to get up to another slow guy with some more yahoos breathing down my neck so I tried to get by but clipped his handlebar and almost crashed big time. Very scary moment. I managed to stop and of course the two slow guys get by me again. I sat back there for a bit not feeling it worth it to risk passing. I finally got by them further down.
Then it's another road section for awhile to Aid Station 2. I had put my first drop bag here so I had to refuel quickly even though I hadn't really drank too much of my camelback yet. The volunteers at the aid stations in this race are amazing. They are so helpful and quick to get you water, food, etc. I was on my way quickly and off to the next big climb which we do again at the end but only go half way up then before turning off to head back to the finish at the campground. I found a decent pace but wasn't feeling super spunky. As I passed the turnoff for the next time we'd be climbing this I had a lingering thought of how nice it would be to just turn off there now :) But I climbed on reminding myself that this one just keeps going and going and going, like most of them. I did struggle to keep this thought in my head though. The downhill off this mountain is one of the best in the course. It's a bit rough and rocky up top but then as it gets down the mountain its slightly off camber smooth sailing and drops you right into Aid Station 3. I didn't need to stop here as I had my next drop bag at Aid Station 4 and would make it fine with what I had. I got out onto the road and sprinted a little ways to get on a wheel to draft for this section. The group was ok but not particularly well organized but it was better than riding it solo into the wind.
The course heads off the road and crosses a dry river bed which we all walked and then up a steep embankment onto the next climb. We were still sort of in our pack which was good for motivation to keep moving and not slow down too much as someone was right behind me especially since I was feeling like I could have easily backed off too much on this climb. It's kind of a fun climb but gets draining by mid-way and then there are some loose rocky sections which are tricky when you're barely moving along as it is. I got into one of these sections and got too wobbly from going too slow and stepped off the wrong side and fell down the hill a little bit. The guy behind me was like are you ok? I was too tired/mad to answer right away and he asked again.. I'm like, I'm fine, just pissed off now.. Got some nice bruises from that one. Anyway, I carried on and well the downhill on this is pretty darn sweet too, just about as nice as the last one :) I was happy I had learned how to brake properly with one-finger this year for these long descents. It makes it a bit easier on the arms. I forgot how long it was out of the trail at the bottom to Aid Station 4, but thankfully more level/down than up. I refueled here as well although the volunteer messed up and put my powder mix in a water bottle which I didn't take instead of my camelback which I didn't realize until after heading down the road :( hmm... Thankfully I had extra powder mix on me as that was my last drop bag and there was still just under half the race to go. It did make me drink more straight water which I think was a good thing. I just made sure I ate more of my food that I had with me to make up the calories.
The next road section just sucks. It goes on and on and on. I know this and I know it can break you before you even start the "big" climb. It was tough. I actually got to draft for a little bit of it which helped. I couldn't help but notice that there was a lot of road/dirt road in this race this time around. I guess I had always kind of blocked that fact out since the downhill trails are so so sweet!!! Anyway, the dirt road goes on and on and then turns and starts the huge climb that takes about an hour to get all the way up. This guy was riding with me chatting about the race and he asks so how far up the climb are we? Poor guy. We haven't even started the climb... really? yes. It goes on forever I tell him. He asks how long till we go down again? I'm like, hmm, an hour. There are actually a couple short downhills within the drawn out climb but it really does take a long time to get all the way up it. From Aid Station 5, which is about 2/3rds of the way up or maybe only 1/2, it took me 1/2 hr to finally top out and start the decent down... which still actually traverses a ridge so there are some more short ups before really heading down. Those ones always feel so harsh - short but steep and the legs are pretty cooked by this point. At least when you drop out onto the road, it's only a short ways to Aid Station 6 (which was also Aid 2) and then just the one last climb :)
I had hoped to finish up in under 9hrs but was feeling pretty skeptical about that at this point. I wasn't climbing too well but all you can do is keep pedaling. When I got to the turning point on the last climb, I started to think, hey, maybe I can make it in under 9hrs so I got moving and cranked out those last few miles. I kept checking the time thinking, hmm, 7 more minutes to get in... and then finally the whoopty doos into the campground and across the finish line in 8'56" :) yippee.. I'm done! Done the race, and done for the season!!
I slowly make my way up to our tent site and get changed and cleaned up and eat some food, then head back down to the post-race dinner, and more importantly, the post-race beer :) Some nice Dogfish IPA. I chat with my fellow racers...we pack up... do some podium pics.. and hurry off to Harrisonburg for a nice treat - I got to meet up with my brother and sister-in-law as they were driving up from Houston to Albany for work. I get to see them maybe once a year so it was pretty sweet timing that they would be passing through the area after our race. Of course I was pretty wiped out from a long day but got some food and drinks and chatted for a while before nearly passing out from exhaustion. Funny, we ate at Texas Roadhouse Grille... Doug and I had passed it the night before heading back to the race site after eating at the pub we like in town and I joked, hey, do you think Brian and Wendy will want to eat there... guess so :) It was pretty good and within walking distance from the hotel.
I slept reasonably well for post-race but of course was still dragging on Monday. We all got breakfast together and then hit the road. I'll get to see them again at the end of the month before they head back down to Houston.
Well, it was a good season. I am looking forward to taking a break now and just riding for fun or doing some other stuff, like hiking and kayaking and not feeling guilty about not riding. It will help me refresh for next year! Oh, I do have a 12hr race in Maine next weekend that I'll be doing with Doug, so long as the weather is nice. But other that, just chilling, trying not to get too fat or too slow :) Or whatever. Till then... thanks for reading my blog! I know they're long.
And thank you to all my sponsors, friends and family for their support!