I am done the final 100 miler of the 2011 season. I have to admit I was way more excited about that fact last year as I was truly done my season and on to the 'just play and have fun' part of the season. This year, I have one more big race, the Pisgah Stage Race, in a few weeks. I am looking forward to the race (well maybe when I feel fully rested again) and racing on all new trails for me. But it's kind of hard to imagine riding 5 days in a row on tough trails just after finishing up being on the bike for 9 hours.
I had my best placing at Shenandoah this year, coming in 2nd. I wish it felt like a wonderful second but it seemed to be another race of just getting through. I was hoping one of the 100 milers this year would feel good, or I'd feel really. I realize it sounds funny to say racing a 100 miles will feel good, but there are those days that the legs are there, the body is there and the head is in the right spot too. I had moments here and there of that, but certainly not a whole 100 miler this year. I probably felt my best right around the Transylvania Stage race, until I got sick :( So, maybe the upcoming stage race will be my redemption on that front.
So, Shenandoah is truly a great race and I highly recommend it to any mountain biker out there interested in doing a long distance race. Chris Scott knows how to put on a good event the whole way through the weekend. The volunteers are amazing at the aid stations, pre and post race...great. The course is amazing, hard, lots of steep climbing, but amazing (when you can keep you head up and enjoy it, and even when it's difficult to keep your head up, you will still at least enjoy the really sweet downhills).
Heading into Shenandoah, the week was not without some drama. I was out riding some local trails post-hurricane Irene. I kind of had the thought in my head of "I have no business riding these trails with all the debris down from the hurricane and having a huge race a few days out." I rode the 25 minutes from my house to the trails feeling pretty good, just having a mostly chill ride and when I got on the trails they were a mess with twigs, sticks, leaves, etc everywhere, so I told myself to just stay chill and not risk catching a branch or anything to break spokes or deraillers, or derailler hangers. Well, I caught a few stick nonetheless but stopped immediately to pull them out before any damage could be done, or so I thought. I was started to hear some skipping in my rear cassette and stopped to try to adjust it, but to no avail. Upon closer inspection, I realized I had managed to bend the derailler hanger, or, I was hoping maybe just the derailler. I was getting eaten alive by mosquitoes so I walked out of the wood to the nearby road to try to fiddle the derailler to see if I could manage to straighten it out. I was kind of starting to panic as A. I had ridden over here and would have to figure out how to get back home and most importantly B. I did not have a spare derailler hanger and it was likely to get one, it would have to come from Switzerland where the bike was made, which likely would take longer to get here than I had time for. Stay calm... Stay calm.
I managed to find a gear that worked and pedaled home single speed style. I immediately called Brian (if you don't remember, my best buddy in the world who fixes my bike for me :) ) and told him what happened in a very whiney voice. He didn't respond with any sort of panic, or much of anything for that matter, so I was like "Did you hear me?!" And it dawned on him that I didn't have a spare derailler hanger. He still didn't sound overly alarmed so that made me feel less worried myself. He had needed to work on the bike to replace the bottom bracket for me so a trip to his house was in order regardless. Although, he wasn't going to be home until Thursday night and we were heading out Friday morning to Maryland to get most of the way down to the race.
I took a picture of the rear of the bike and sent it to Brian, who said it didn't look that bad... so phew.. but still. Thankfully, Shannon, my team manager, had a spare frame with derailler hanger (out in Salt Lake City) so I had him overnight the part to a bike shop in Maryland to pick up Friday once I got down there. At any rate, Brian was able to bend the hanger back and everything worked fine. I did have the spare one to fall back on thankfully.
So drama over. Thankfully, it was otherwise a pretty mellow week. I was mostly packed before even having to head to Brian's to get the bike work done. He was heading down to race Shenandoah as well, which was also a comforting fact knowing if something happened to the bike before the race started then I had a good chance of it getting fixed.
I headed out Friday morning picking up Brandon in Millbury en route. This would be his 2nd 100 miler. I have a convert here :) It was nice to have company again for the long drive. We stopped in Scranton, PA again for lunch and made good time down to Doug's in Maryland. Brian was debating following us down but ended up leaving later than we did. Once in Maryland we basically jumped in Doug's car to head up to Gambril Mountain (local riding spot) to get a short ride it. Brian met up with there.
I thought jumping on the bike after being in the car for just about 8 hours was going to be painful but I felt remarkably great. This was how I had hoped I would feel on race day - loose, effortless, etc. The bike felt good and survived the rough terrain which made me decide to just leave things alone and just bring the overnighted derailler hanger with me during the race as backup.
We got back to Doug's, showered up and walked over to a restaurant nearby for dinner. Then back to hang out for a bit and off to bed. I slept ok. We didn't have to get up super early but we did want to be on the road around 9AM. It was about 2.5-3hrs to race site and it was important to get there reasonably early to get a good camping spot. We made it there around noon time and barely managed to get a decent spot. It was closer to the pavillion/registration area which I knew would probably mean it would be a bit louder than other spots we have gotten further off into the woods.
We set up camp and then hopped on the bikes to spin the legs. It was hot and wicked humid out. We were sweating in no time. I was feeling pretty relaxed still but my legs and body felt like crap. I was rather dismayed since I felt so good the day before. I chalked it up to the long drive catching up to me and hoped it would subside by the next morning.
On the way back from the warm-up ride we jumped in the river to cool off and get cleaned up some. It felt great. Then we were off to Harrisonburg to get some last minute supplies - Brandon in particular needed a new disc brake rotor having damaged it in our short ride the day before. Thankfully, he was able to get that done while we ate a late lunch/early dinner.
Once back at the campground, we registered and just got all set for race day. I was still feeling pretty chill, wondering if I was perhaps too chill. We were in bed really early, but sleep was hard to come by. I'm used to this fact though so I didn't let it bother me too much. I felt reasonably ok when we had to wake up at 5am. Time to rock and roll.
It was a quick bite of oatmeal and a banana, oh and of course some espresso. It was still really humid out and for once just being in shorts and short sleeve shirt was comfortable for race morning (although that meant it was likely to be really hot and humid later). Then it's the long wait for the port-a-pots, which seems to eat up all the time until it's time to get start, which in some ways is good.
I was smart this race and made sure I was up in the front group right with my competitors. This made the otherwise usually insanely chaotic start out of the campground quite pleasantly smooth. There weren't too many racers in front of me to be all cramming into a narrow road. The pace wasn't too insane but certainly fast enough for legs I had warmed up yet. I made sure to stay with Cheryl and Viccki, and a couple miles in I realized Brenda was already up front too. We all rode fairly tight to each other through the first 20+ miles and only getting small gaps on each other. I was sitting in 2nd heading up the 2nd climb of the day where Cheryl began to widen her gap that none of us would real in. I magically forgot how hard these climbs are. It was pretty damp so the rocks were slick and I found myself fumbling off the bike earlier than i would have like to have been. I stayed in 2nd place through Aid Station 2 and up the beginning part of the 3rd climb where I was starting to feel not so good and the legs were pretty dead already. I looked back over my shoulder and spotted Brenda and Viccki coming along. Ugh! I knew I didn't have too much in me at that point to ward them off so they eventually caught me and slowly pulled away. I could only hope they would burn each other out, but I knew that was wishful thinking.
I just tried to keep in my race as much as I could, which wasn't all that great. I tried to convince myself to just enjoy the scenery and the phenomenal trails. I at least felt like I was descending pretty well. I was in and out of Aid Station 3 at the bottom of the hill and was quick to jump on some wheels up ahead for the upcoming road section. It was an ok small group to draft off of. Brandon had passed me not to long before Viccki and Brenda but then I caught up to him again on the road section. He was singlespeeding it so he would spin out his gear on the flats and not be able to go too fast. We yo' yo'ed back and forth a bit for the next 25 miles.
The 4th climb is a tough singletrack climb. It's hard on a good day and today I felt like crap riding it. I fumbled and put my foot down and then the rock I had stepped on was slippery so I fumbled some more and just didn't have the energy to get out of my own way. It was starting to make me feel really demoralized about the whole race. I have done enough of these to know, you just have to keep going there's nothing else to do. So I dragged myself on. At least the descents, truly are so amazingly fun. It's a nice break from the misery.
I rolled into Aid Station 4 and refilled my camelback for the 2nd time with Carborocket and got on my way. I was dreading the next section. It's a really long dirt road section with several false flat sections and then it just leads you to the biggest climb of the day. It's definitely a section that can break you. Not too long into this stretch, Viccki was pedaling back to the aid station, dropping out of the race after suffering from back spasms all race. I felt bad, but now I was in 3rd place. Although, it's not a particularly great way to move up in placing. I thought Brenda had looked really strong riding by me before so I figured she had a good gap on me.
I had a hard time keeping my head up in this stretch. My lower back was really tight and my left foot was bothering me pretty good. It was a long stretch of not the kind of thoughts you want to be having while racing. I caught up with Brandon again and another friend from Kelly, from the Transylvania Stage Race. We were riding together just before you turn to start the 'big climb' and right as we were heading into the turn I caught a glimpse of Brenda and her husband riding not too far ahead.
Once starting the climb, the legs and body kind of came around some, some, not great, but some. It was a very slow reeling in of Brenda but I did finally catch her. I told her that Viccki had dropped out. She asked if anyone else was close behind and I told her no, but I wasn't sure. And then I began to slowly gap her. It was right around this point that I got to experience what the plant Stinging Nettle feels like. I suddenly felt this super intense stinging pain just under my left eye and thought, geez, what the heck? Did I get stung? I didn't see anything fly in my face. It was really odd, but incredibly painful. I thought my whole left eye/checkbone was going to swell up. It slowly subsided and went away. I had a minor worrying thought of it being some sort of spasm or pain due to pushing my body too hard and it finally rejecting in some odd way.
Anyway, I make it into Aid Station 5 at 75 miles. I try to be super quick about it knowing Brenda likely isn't too far behind. I drank some desperately needed water and grabbed another full water bottle to go. I was probably under-fueling at this point as far as caloric intake went, but I just didn't feel like eating anymore. It was pretty hot and humid by this point so straight water was the most appealing. I did keep trying to finish off my carborocket as well.
The big climb really goes on and on and on... I know this from experience, yet I kept thinking, this is the last field section and then it's just around that corner that we start to head down...nope, next corner... nope.. Finally, the descent, although, you only descend for a bit on a wicked rough stretch and then have some short steep ups to finish up before heading down the rest of the mountain. It was in the stretch I passed Michael Simonson (I didn't know it was him when I passed at the time) on a backboard strapped onto a all terrain vehicle -- not good. He had crashed hard and sliced his throat on something pretty badly, among other damage to himself. He was ultimately light flighted out to a hospital in Charlottesville. I read an update today that he was released today and should recover ok, but definitely did some serious damage to his body.
Once down the descent, I was in and out of the last aid station. yeah! One more climb to go and then downhill to the finish. I was feeling fairly confident at this point that Brenda wasn't going to catch me again although I knew I had to keep riding hard to make sure that didn't happen. The last climb is also the 3rd climb which was where she had passed me oh so long ago. I think my legs actually felt better this time around, or at least better for being 90+ miles into the race then my legs felt at 30+ miles. I don't know what that's all about - perhaps a motivation thing to be finally done pedaling.
I crossed the finish line in 9:01 in second place, which was a few minutes slower than my time last year which got me 4th last year. Brenda followed up 8 minutes later in 3rd and that let her hold onto 3rd place in the NUE Series as well. I would have had to beat her by one more spot to take 3rd place. I was pretty happy with a 2nd place at Shenandoah. It is certainly one of the more prestigious 100s of the NUE series. I always joke that if I win Shenandoah I can retire, so I guess that means I have to do it again :( I wasn't completely relishing in my 2nd place as I was pretty wooped from the race, more so than usual. It took me a while to come around and even then I only managed to drink one beer barely. What's up with that?
I went back down to the river to cool off but it was not a fun short ride back up the hill into the campground. I then showered in the portable showers they had this year. Although, I was sweating right away again in the high humidity. I ate some food and chatted with fellow racers. It took a little bit to do awards for the race and then a while after that to do the NUE series awards. In previous years they only placed out to 3rd so I didn't think I would be getting a prize or even noted for my 4th place finish but I was, so we had to stay longer for that to finish up.
Doug, Brandon and I left a bit after 8pm finally in a state of delirium. We stopped in Harrisonburg to eat at a Chipotles before heading back to Doug's. I was super fidgety the whole drive back as I was so tired but just couldn't get comfortable. I crashed pretty much immediately when we got back to his place. I don't usually sleep all that well post-race night but I did sleep. I didn't wake up feeling like I slept well at all though. The usual back tightness was there that I seems to think is worse each time. I was surprised that my knees seemed fine, which isn't a bad thing. I was still feeling pretty wiped out and dreading the 7.5hr drive home but knew I should hit the road sooner than later.
It was a pretty uneventful drive home. We hit some rain but thankfully not for too long as it was pretty tough driving tired in it. Brandon and I stopped in Scranton again but this time for a sundae at TCBY Yogurt and a coffee. I dropped him off around 6:30 and met my mom in Westboro to pick up Bruschi from her. I dragged my butt home and half unpacked. I wanted a salad from Elsa's (my favorite local place) but they were closed, so I opted for another burrito to go with my beer. It was tasty and the beer put me to sleep.
It's all rest this week, although, I am quite busy working this week so it doesn't feel like I have had a lot of rest thus far. I plan on racing the Landmine 50 at Wompatuck Park in Hingham, MA this Sunday. I hope it stops raining so it dries out nicely since it's a really fun course, except when it's wet (slippery roots and rocks everywhere). It will feel good to race a flat course.