Every year, Chris Scott with the Shenandoah Mountain Touring puts on this grueling event. Every detail makes it quite apparent that this is his 15th year rolling out this event. Other RD's should take note, Chris knows how to put on a race. He even managed to draw out two current UCI ProTour road riders: Joe Dombrowski of Sky and Ben King of Radioshack Leopard Trek.
To complicate things a bit, I crashed hard 10 days out from the race, spraining my pinky and separating my left shoulder. Both were coming along well, but 100 miles is hardly the place you want to be testing the recovery of an injury. And as a result, my nerves were a bit elevated for my second National Ultra Endurance Series (NUE) race of the year.
The race started like any other, fast and furious. A few miles of road to try and move into an appropriate position, and a couple rollers to string things out. New single track this year meant a 2 mile longer course and an even more strung out field at the get-go. My goal was to find a smooth rider, and hang onto their wheel into their single track. I was grateful to find Garth Prosser and follow him into the track.
Separated from the lead group already, we held a steady but manageable tempo up the somewhat technical single track in the first climb. Ripping down the descent of Narrowback I was keeping a comfortable 1 second gap from Prossers wheel. I got the request to pass and thought, why not? After the requesting rider came too close and forced me off the trail, I was 5 back off Prossers wheel moving at the same rate. The only issue was that when we came out of the single track, everyone sat up, and the Prosser train motored on.
Reluctantly joining forces with the group I was left with, we plodded along to the next climb which was still wet from overnight rains. Dabbing, single-speeders and wet rocks meant a good deal of hopping on and off the bike. Finally at the top, I went on to give up minutes on the technical and rigorous descent of Wolf Ridge. I'd heard the stories, but now I'm a believer. I have no idea what would have happened if I wasn't on my S-Works Epic. Without the rear suspension, I would've been off the trail constantly. I had more than a few close calls.
Having lost a few more places on the descent, I was now in no mans land on a road section. I sat up, took in some Infinit and PowerGel and caught a glimpse of Ethan Frey and Jed Prentice working together behind me. I was glad for some help as they caught me and we all began working together towards the Hanky climb. Ethan and I paced well and picked up a few riders while dropping others in the process and made good progress up the climb. The descent came and went with me learning about my technical limitations and watching Ethan employ his.
At the base I was again alone and working on the road by myself. Being a long road section, I welcomed the chance to take in Infinit I had neglected on the tight single track. When the rain came, it was a sweet reminder that these are without a doubt the most mentally challenging days on the bike. I glanced behind and saw a freight train coming of strong riders and was soon picked up and carried to the base of the most challenging climb of the day. Road sections are a great place to relax, especially if you have others to work with. But it can't be understated that having fast tires makes a huge difference here. I was loving my Specialized tires as we were cruising along at over 20mph.
As I have developed as a mountain bike racer, I have leaned heavily on my climbing ability. Going downhill I lose time yes, but I can make much of that up while climbing. But the Shenandoah Mountain climb ripped me apart. With a bench trail that was now soaked and littered with rocks and roots, I was off the bike constantly. That was my last glimpse of Ethan as he danced his way up the trail as only a mountain biker who placed 6th at nationals can. I lost a few more places before finally letting some air out of my tires to get some traction. That was huge. Another terrifying and slick descent and I was alone, again.
The next part of the race was my physical low. I was about 58 miles in and was starting to feel my legs get heavy. My heart rate was dropping and I couldn't do much. Two guys caught up with me and we began working together towards the Death Climb. Labeled such on Strava, I'd have to agree, it was challenging and monotonous in its length. 13 miles long and 2200' in elevation gain will put you down mentally. It was going to be a long climb if something didn't change quickly. My last ditch effort was downing some extra Infinit and Powerbar gels.
We made our final approach and suddenly, as if a switch were flipped, I began feeling great just as the pitch turned up. My heart rate jumped back up and my legs began putting out some power. I churned up the climb, dropping my fellow riders. Mental confidence is huge at a time like that, and knowing I had the lightest bike and wheels in the Epic and Roval SL's was incredible as I flew up the mountain. I arrived at aid 5 and left quickly with another fast climbing rider to finish the final push.
Another descent saw me lose another place or two as we bumped our way back down to to the valley. Once there, I hit aid 6, slammed down some coke and took off for the final climb. Doing my best to stay positive, I climbed steadily, savoring the thought of finishing the race. Near the top, I caught sight of Roger Masse ahead of me by about 8 seconds. I could tell he was pushing it to stay away, but I was slowly reeling him in on every little climb. Another technical descent sealed my fate though, then I began looking over my shoulder at another oncoming rider! One more double track descent to go and I was determined to not let anything else slip. I drained everything I had into it, ripping the turns, taking every risk to hold the gap. Flying down into the finishing chute I was elated, I was finished, and I had held my position.
My time of 8:51:59 had me finishing 33rd in the Men's Open division and 40th overall out of a little over 600. At first, I was a bit disappointed. I had finished in the top 20 at the Cohutta 100 earlier this year, so being outside the top 30 seemed a step down. But I took a step back and realized I had just finished in the top 6% of the racers, while at Cohutta I had been outside the top 10%... improvement is being made, and that leaves me satisfied. My previous injuries were also a non-issue. What a massive relief.
The Shenandoah Mountain 100 was one of the best courses and races I have done. It tore me down and built me up again. Thanks again to Chris Scott and his army of volunteers for a first class event.