Wednesday, September 07, 2005

SM100

Shenandoah Mountain 100
100 Mile Mountain Bike Race
September 4, 2005
Stokesville, VA

Another year, another SM100. In fact, this was to be my #7 SM100 in a row. And #12 overall if you count the Wilderness 101s I've raced. Time sure does fly.

Last year wasn't so good for me, and the memories were still fairly fresh. I'd had to travel for work Wednesday and Thursday to Newport News, VA for a final project demo and ended up exposed to a few too many germs. I woke up Friday morning sick. I did "race" two days later, and all but crawled to the finish line after an awful race that saw me suffering from chills and general malaise the entire day. Sometimes you can race on a cold and feel better afterward, but it was too soon into that cold, and I'd just made myself more miserable. In retrospect, I should never have raced last year, and I wouldn't make that mistake again.

But it was a new year and my experience was completely different. I traveled for work Monday and Tuesday, but had the rest of the week to "rest" up and prepare myself and my bike while working from the office as usual. I went into the race feeling like I'd done the best I could. I hadn't ridden over 3 hr more than once since the Wilderness 101 in late July, but maybe it would mean I wasn't so run-down?

No matter how well rested I am, I hate mornings and feel tired. I think the fact that most mountain bike races start at 11 AM or noon instead of 8 AM partially fueled my transition from road racer to mt. bike racer. Anyway, the 100 milers are the only exception I make to early morning exercise, but no matter how many times I do them, the pre-dawn wake up and 6:30 AM start really hurts.

This year, it was cold in the morning before the start. I stood, all bundled up, in line for the port-a-potties in the dark after force feeding myself some breakfast when I was not hungry. I thought I had myself pretty well together and later rolled over to the staging area listening to promoter Chris Scott give last minute directions. 3 minutes to go. 2 minutes to go. I'm talking with some of my 340 start line neighbors, and all seems good until the revelation hits. I don't have my camelbak, which has all my tools, some water, and some food! Holy shit! I sprinted back to my car in an all out run with my bike and fumbled for a key so I could get inside and retrieve it. I frantically threw it on, shut the car door, and sprinted back to the start hopping on my bike at a full speed run as everyone rolled off. Needless to say, I didn't feel like I needed a warm-up at this point. I was already on full adrenaline rush mode. I thought would I have gone back after the start to get it, and how much time would it have cost me? After the finish a friend asked me "I saw you running before the start, is that part of your warm-up?" I laughed and answered, "only when I forget my camelbak."

Going up Narrowback for climb #1, I thought I felt decent. Not great like the year I followed my friend Dave effortlessly up the hill passing all kinds of folks, but not awful either. I didn't have chills and wasn't on cold medicine, so I was way ahead of last year. The climb went by faster than I thought it would (always a good sign!), and I remembered to give thanks that I wasn't running up it whenever the going got tough. (note: I was remembering a very demoralizing winter "trail" run up this climb.). The rocky singletrack following the climb was a blast. After two days the previous week riding in State College, I didn't even notice these rocks and breezed right through them.

For me, the race doesn't really start until after the second climb and descent. The second climb is really a hike-a-bike with a few riding sections. Don't listen to anything else anyone tells you about that climb. You will hike your bike.

There is nothing I hate more than hiking my bike. I'll take riding, I'll take hiking, but never shall the two mix for more than a minute or two if I can help it. Maybe this is why I like the Wilderness 101 better? Well, Lynn trail goes on forever, and it's like death march for me to get to the top every year. Everyone else walks uphill faster than me. So I knew it was a good year when I found myself thinking, "well, that wasn't so bad..." as I crested the top for the downhill (which itself contains several short hike a bikes).

I hopped on a train of 2 very fast guys on Tillman Road and made some time. This was the kind of terrain where you passed singlespeeders, who were outgeared, left and right. Then it was thru Aid Station #2 and onto the next climb.

Onto Hankey Mountain. I had a bad moment there two years ago in the Tour de 'Burg final stage when I blew up spectacularly and lost the yellow jersey, but this year, Hankey and the subsequent Dowell's were good to me. I'd spent the up and the down chasing Churtle the Turtle back in July. Or should I say hanging onto her back wheel for dear life so as not to loose more time? Churtle didn't do the 100 miler, but she was with me in spirit. I tried to ride that downhill like I did the day I'd followed her and learned so much.

I left Aid Station #3 freshly lubed. Up until this point, I'd been trading spots with several women. Very uncharacteristicaly for me, I was actually passing some women on the downhill and, not surprisingly considering how much I'd been riding in the prior weeks, getting passed on the climbs by a few of the women like I was standing still. However, after Aid Station #3, I never saw another woman racing. I was on my own with the guys.

Rt 250 was the usual false flat uphill slog. There even seemed to be a bit of a headwind, oddly enough. 3 of us spent time trading off. One was Patrick, on an IF singlespeed. He ended up being my race buddy because we saw each other so often during this race. We've both done most or all of the 100 milers and even had a brief conversation about when we might retire. How long do we really want to keep doing this stuff anyway? No conclusion was reached.

Weather and trail conditions were perfect. I kept my arm warmers on until checkpoint #4 due to the slight chill. It was what I call a high resolution day in Virginia. It was so clear and sunny, you could see forever, and you feel like you're living in a magazine photograph. The trees were brilliant green, and the sky clear and blue with white puffy clouds. The mountains had seem some residual hurricane rains the week before, but that'd left the trails in primo condition after a few days to dry out after a generally dry preceding month.

Ramseys Draft is always a welcome site. It means a brief hike a bike up rock stairs followed by my favorite climb of the race, up Bridge Hollow. Thanks to yoga, I can really enjoy this slow-speed balance fest, and I'm no longer prone to high-siding on the sidehill bench cut like I used to regularly do. The rock gardens are just enough to keep the singletrack interesting, but not frustrate you, and I think it's the fastest 30 minute climb around in terms of how long it seems to take. Plus, when you get to the top, you are rewarded by a fabulous, smooth singletrack descent down the local favorite Braley's Pond trail.

I couldn't help but think of the manhunt that happened here a few weeks ago. A man shot and killed a neighbore in Weyer's Cave (a small town in the Valley) and then fled to the Braley's area with his wife held hostage. Eventually he released her and killed himself, and probably the best quote in the local paper was from the nearby convenience store owner. The state police had taken over his store as command post, and he said something like, "well, it wasn't too bad having them here--they did ask first before taking over which was polite, but my beer sales sure did drop. No one stops in to buy beer where there are police everywhere in front of your store." I guess everyone has their own perspective.

Braley's dumps you into Checkpoint #4, and my friend Cathy was running the show there. She has done an incredible job at aid stations at many Wilderness 101's in years past, and it's so great to see her out there during the race. She's so encouraging and her aid stations are always the best! I rolled out refreshed and ready for the Long Slog.

The Long Slog is a false flat uphill climb that eventually turns into a steep uphill climb. This happens over a course of 17 fireroad miles. Can you say boring? Mindnumbing? Makes you want to cry if you are by yourself? Fortunately, for me, I teamed up with another two guys and we slogged it out together. Misery loves company. We both tried to hop on two faster trains that passed, but no luck. My legs weren't having that, and I knew it would be suicide to force them to hang on. The worst part of all this are the steeper pitches that spring up along the way of the false flat part. I can't help but think back to before the forest service re-routed this road. I know they meant well and probably did a good thing considering flooding long-term, but I can't help but think sometimes "those bastards"! The road used to follow the creek more closely, which left it nice and gradual the whole way. Now, located further from the creek, you get these tough little hills thrown in. Sometimes they can be so demoralizing.

Aid Station #5 was a welcome site. It signals a switch to doubletrack and then eventually a sweet, mostly downhill, slightly rocky singletrack trail to #6. This section was pretty uneventful for me. It was fairly lonely, but usually someone was in sight somewhere. Paul Johnston kept me company on part of the descent.

Jeff Cheng welcomed me to Aid Station #6. Almost there, I thought. I crammed down some more food and headed off for the final time up the lower part of Hankey. I was starting to bog down after pushing pretty hard all day, but what can you do? I'd been going pretty well, and I can't always finish on a second wind. I was determined to make my personal best time and seemed on track to do so. Heck, I figured I might even have a shot at the Team Lucky Green Record (held by my husband Matthew). Of course, I couldn't remember exactly what that time was! Afterwards, I teased him that I could have gone much faster if I hadn't had to answer the question "where's Matthew?" so many times throughout the race. Usually, we are within a few minutes of each other on these races, sometimes him in front, sometimes me, but this time he was in Colorado visiting family.

The last few miles were fun, and I rolled it solo into the finish at 10:08. This was my personal best by 30 minutes. Of course, the good weather and good trail conditions only helped, but on top of that I had a good day and felt very solid. I finished in 4th place, about 50 min behind 3rd (Karen Masson, former Sm100 winner and recent TransRockies winner) and an hour behind 2nd (Trish Stevenson, former SM100 winner and this year's winner of the the TransRockies and the Continental Divide race). First place...well, let's just say that was almost-Olympian Sue Haywood, who not only smoked the women in just over 8.5 hours, but came in 10th overall out of everyone, including the men. How impressive is that?

I was just psyched to be as close as I was to the fast ladies and to have my personal best time. As one friend put it in perspective, "Sue, you're the top of the women-with-full-time-jobs category." I guess that is one way to look at it--at least if you don't count that Sue's job is to ride pro full time!

All in all, it was a fun year to race the SM100. After doing so many 100 milers, they sometimes all blur together, and it's hard to get excited for any particular one, but I was reminded how much I enjoy them. Not only for the racing, but for the chance to visit with so many like-minded cycling friends. It really feels like re-uniting with family at these events, and no matter how you do, it's hard not to leave with a warm fuzzy feeling.

To wrap it all up, my State College and Boston friends joined us for the traditional post-race brunch. As Nittany Wheelworks co-owner Jim said when I asked him if he was coming, "the brunch is the best part--I wouldn't miss it." The IHOP in H'burg isn't the best place ever to eat, but hungry cyclists can't be too choosy on Labor Day. And it was great to fill up on a big breakfast before heading home to partake of my other post-SM100 tradition...the all day nap!