October 30, 2008

2008 Shenandoah 100 Mountain Bike Race

2008 Shenandoah 100 Mountain Bike Race
August 31, 2008

Do I do this race, do I not do this race, do I do this race, do I not do this race? For three weeks since Leadville I had been struggling over whether I should put my body through the torture of another 100 mile mountain bike race so soon after Leadville. My wife was the angel on one shoulder telling me that I should rest and spend the entire Labor Day weekend with the family. GMO (Gary Morris) was the devil on the other shoulder telling me that it would be a waste not to take advantage of my great shape to test myself in another endurance event. So confused. After all the waffling, I finally made the call to do the frickin’ race as I just didn’t feel like sitting around a pool for 3 days straight.

GMO and I drove down to Harrisonsburg, Virginia on Saturday afternoon, checked into the Motel 6/Holiday Inn/Ramada Inn/Name-that-motel, and then headed to the Stokesville Campground for registration and carbo-load dinner. The scene at the campground was way more relaxed that its Leadville counterpart. There were no medical check-ins or bracelets or formal presentations. There was a pre-race meeting, but it was pretty casual. I think we could have skipped the whole shindig and just shown up to race in the morning. During the meeting, there was a guy who yelled out the following: “We like to ride mountain bikes right? Right. Well tomorrow we get to do what? What. We get to ride our bikes ALL DAY! How long are we going to ride? ALL DAY!” Not sure if that guy was a shill for the organizers or just a highly exuberant (and highly caffeinated) fellow racer, but now I had the ALL DAY catch-phrase stuck in my head.

OK, now I’m going to shun all rules of literary form and fast-forward 24 hours to the end of the race as the rest of the narrative is based on a recap e-mail that I sent out when I got back to Maryland:

Holy Shit, was that hard! In many ways, I found the Shenandoah 100 to be a MUCH tougher race than Leadville. Now I can fully understand why many don’t consider Leadville to be a technical course. Wow. The Leadville course is a frickin’ superhighway compared to this one! My Garmin showed 12,556 vertical feet of climbing at the end of the day. Thus the total climbing is comparable to the total climbs in Leadville. While Leadville has the obvious altitude issues that we all dwell on ad nausea, this race had humidity. Frankly, I’m not sure which is worse. I think I’ll take the altitude. Also, Leadville’s descents are strolls in the park by comparison. In Leadville, there is this nice concept called “recovery” on the descents. Not here. All 5 major descents were rocky, rooty, muddy singletrack including one never-ending shoulder/forearm/hand-busting descent of 2400 feet . . . at the end of the day! A lot of the singletrack is off-camber, so I was just holding on for dear life. I got to the point where I was dreading the descents more than the ascents. I’m sure my complete lack of course knowledge didn’t help either as I never had a clue whether the trail was going to straighten after a steep curve or possibly switch-back. Thus I was wearing out my brake-pads. As for conditioning, I thought that my Leadville shape would carry me through. NOT. I started struggling quickly. My legs felt heavy on the first climb and I couldn’t keep my heartrate down. In Leadville it never got above 157 bpm. I was up at 170bpm on the first climb and I didn’t even feel like I was really expending a lot of effort. That kind of freaked me out and I knew I was in for a long day . . . ALL DAY.

I was tired and sore at mile 20 and then I bonked and cramped hard at mile 51. Everything took longer from point to point than I expected, so I probably underestimated my hydration and was at a little bit of a deficit at the Mile 45 aid station. It is also a bit harder to drink on that singletrack as it is tough to take the hands off the handlebars to even stick the Camebak nozzle in the mouth. Anyway, by the time I arrived at the 45-mile aid station, I had probably only consumed about 105-110 ounces of fluids, but it had taken me nearly 5 hours to get there. It was clearly not enough fluids and I paid for it on the next climb. About halfway up, my legs seized and I had to walk the bike. Then I just felt my energy drain and I started feeling very lightheaded. I made it to the crest of the climb and started the descent and I couldn’t keep my bike on the trail. That led to two minor crashes and to some serious thoughts of withdrawing at the next aid station as I was both utterly miserable and concerned about my safety. I then started wondering whether Ken Chlouber’s statement about quitting and the pain lasting for 365 days applied to just Leadville or would I feel the same about this race. I got to the mile 57 aid station (#4) at about 6 hours and 50 minutes and was rescued by an angelic aid worker. Within seconds of pulling in, she recognized that I wasn’t looking or feeling too good. She said my eyes were glassy and I looked unsteady. She had me lean against one of the tables and proceeded to nurse and ply me with food and beverages for about 10 minutes until I started to come around. I went on to sample pretty much every liquid and piece of food that was served at the station. Fortunately, I wasn’t having any stomach issues. Loved the Pringles chips and the cheese-balls! I also popped 3 S-Caps for a quick 1,000mg of sodium. Don’t tell my cardiologist. She also assured me that there was no more single-track for the next 25 miles. I saw a guy loading his bike into a car and decided on the spot that I never wanted to be that guy. So, I figured I’d keep slogging on as I probably would never forgive myself if I quit and I also hoped that I would recover as I was able to spin the legs at a steady pace.

The next 25 miles were all gradual climb starting relatively flat for about 5 miles, steepening a little for the next 10 miles and then turning upward for the last 10. I had been told that this was a Death March, but I actually didn’t mind it. Sure enough, about 5 miles after the #4 guardian angel aid station, I started feeling my strength come back and I started making up ground and picking off other riders over the next 2 hours. Got to the #5 aid station at 8 hours 40 minutes and got out of there within 3 minutes as I thought I might still have a chance to go sub-11 hours if I didn’t waste any time. Little did I know that there was still another 700 feet of climbing between the #5 aid station and the beastly 2400 foot descent. I painfully slogged up those 700 feet as my remaining strength ebbed away (slogged because it was a muddy mess). As I said above, I hated the huge descent from the top. It just wouldn’t end and it was rare that there was even a 50 foot stretch of straightaway where I could release the brakes for a few seconds.

I finally got to the bottom of the descent and hit the mile 88 aid station at 10 hours 8 minutes. I stopped just long enough to chug two cups of Gatorade and listened attentively as the aid workers told me that I was in the home stretch and it was a “piece of cake from here.” Bastards. I remembered seeing another climb at the end when reviewing the elevation chart prior to the race, but I thought it was only about 400-500 feet of climbing. It turned out to be over 800 feet of pure hell as it was sunny and hot, the legs were toast and I just wanted the misery to end. A lot of riders were walking at this point. I just kept slogging. Yes, “slogging” is the word for the day. I crested the top and was dismayed to find yet another frickin’ singletrack downhill to the finish.

I’ve never been more tired or sore in my life when I crossed the line . . . way moreso than either of my two Leadvilles. I could barely move or walk. Everything hurt – calves, thighs, quads, palms, forearms, shoulders, neck, ass, feet, taint . . . I finished in 11:03. Damn. I was really hoping for the sub-11, but I just didn’t have enough course-sense to know where I was at any time. The finish actually came about 2 miles earlier than I was expecting. If I had known, I would have pushed it harder (or at least tried to push it harder) up the last hill to make the sub-11 finish. I had written it off about halfway up that last climb when I looked at my mileage on the Garmin and calculated a finish somewhere between 11:10 and 11:15. So hitting the finish line 2 miles early was actually a pleasant way to finish.

Anyway, I came in 194th place out of the 500 starters. Considering that it was a field littered with pro racers and seasoned amateurs, I was all-in-all pretty satisfied to finish in the top 40%. I’m not sure if I would do this one again in a year where I also raced Leadville. Thus it may be quite awhile before I do it again. Then again, like childbirth (so I’m told), the bad memories of these races seem to fade quickly and it doesn’t take long for stubborn fools like me to start wondering how I could do better next time if I just eat better, drink better, train better, know the course better, yada, yada, yada!!!! SOOOOOO, I’ll probably be back in 2009. Idiot.

1 comment:

gmo said...

Lookin forward to seeing you there in 2009!

-Idiot #2