I’ve been wanting to race the Shenandoah 100 for years. I remember the first year it was held, I was in high school and heard about a nearby“underground” 100 mile race through the George Washington National Forest. These were the days before NUE and endurance mountain bike racing was a novelty with only a few events being held each year. A few years later I saw some pictures of the race in a mountain bike magazine and it planted the seed. Someday I was going to race it.
This year I finally felt physically ready to tackle the race. With more elevation gain than Leadville and about fifty miles of rocky, damp, single track covered in roots and moss the race isn’t a ride in the park. With sponsorship and support of Pedalers Fork/10 Speed Coffee sponsorship at the beginning of the summer I knew that the SM100 would be a target.
The minute I stepped off the plane in Richmond I knew I was home. Even though it was in the 70’s the humidity made it feel far hotter than the 97 degrees we had just braved the night before at Ride and Pint. Crap. This might be a sticky race. It’s great to have family in the area. My parents live an hour from the race in Ivy, where I grew up. They were excited to help out and offered to hand me bottles at three different spots along the course, which turned out to be a life saver. I didn’t have to stop once to fill a bottle at an aid station or dig through a pre-packed bag.
The Shenandoah 100 starts in a large field, which also doubles as a campground. There’s nothing easier than pitching a tent a few feet from the starting line. We rolled into camp on Saturday afternoon and set up the tent and got everything organized and ready for the morning. After an amazing dinner at the Joshua Wilton House in Harrisonburg I drove back to camp. Kegs were flowing in the pavilion and music was bumping but I exhausted and went straight to bed.
At 5am we were awakened by the approaching sounds of a gong as someone walked through camp banging on the brass disk. Time to kit up. The tent was dripping with condensation and my clothes were already sticky. By 6am the sun was starting to rise and people were beginning to assemble near the start. The starting corral is an honor system, a far cry from the precision of the Leadville. At the SM100 there are signs that read “7 Hour,” “8 Hour,” “Nine Hour…” and you line up next to your anticipated finish time. I was shooting for the 7.5 range so I lined up between the 7 and 8, which was completely empty. Most people were in the 8-9 range but as 6:30 approached there was a surge toward the front and I found myself about 2 rows back in the top 20-30 position. It’s a long race with a long pavement/fire road start so I wasn’t too concerned.
The start was frenzied as usual. There was jockeying for position on the narrow road and few crashes but nothing out of the ordinary. My strategy was simple: find Jeremiah Bishop and stay on his wheel, the man clearly knows what he’s doing. He hung toward the back of the top 10 so that’s where I sat. Every now and then the pace would drop and he’d creep up along the side. So did I. A sense of urgency developed as the turn onto the singletrack approached. Jeremiah shot toward the front and was one of the first into the turn. I wasn’t so lucky. There were dabs, spinouts, and holdups as riders fought the first climb. I quickly slipped back to about 12th. Riders were already beginning to struggle with the pace and I was able to slip around them and get back toward the front. I’m a West Coast fire road boy now so the singletrack threw me for a loop at first. It was fast, loose, and damp and I lost some time on the first descent of the day. We hit the pavement again and I jumped on the pedals and caught up with the top 7. The atmosphere was unusually relaxed. Jeremiah was chatty, taking notice of my kit and commenting, “Pedalers Fork, I love that place! I hang out there when I’m in L.A.” We conversed about West Coast racing, Leadville, and “that fast French guy out in LA (Julian Bouvarde of Blackstar Racing)” before the second climb of the day hit. Narrow, steep, and full of switchbacks and loose rocks it was a huge field separator. I stuck with the top 5 on the climb but couldn’t match their speed on the gnarly descent. By the time we hit the road again they were gone. I managed to catch Gered Dunne and we worked together for a while on the road. A spectator called out we were five minutes off the lead. An eternity, but we still pushed hard. We managed the long third climb together but he gradually slipped away. Toward the top we caught David Hauber, an overall contender who was clearly having a bad day. By the time we hit the third aid station and route 250 I was all alone. Vastly alone. Not a rider in sight. At one point I caught a glimpse of Gered about a mile ahead but every time I looked back there wasn’t a rider in sight. The climb off 250 was insane. Rock staircases, slippery moss, and exposure made for slow going. I was convinced I was going to get caught. I knew I was solidly in 6th but that could easily change. The miles ticked by. My mind began to play tricks. At one point on a fire road between miles 60 and 65 I didn’t see any yellow arrows and I was convinced I had ridden off course. Do I turn around? Keep pushing forward? Panic set in. Finally there was a turn and two yellow arrows, instant relieve. I kept hearing about the “death climb” to aid station 5 so I was on guard. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the longest climb of the day was a 7% fire road; my SoCal bread and butter. I spun up with ease only to discover that the next 5 miles of ridge line were rolling, over grown and seemingly endless. By mile 90 I was starting to hit a wall and mentally struggling as we started up climb number three again. I just wanted it to be over. At mile 92 Gordon Wadsworth passed me as he danced up the climb on his singlespeed. I was now 7th overall, 6th geared. The final descent was a blur of singletrack and a few kickers. My Garmin read 96 miles and I was preparing myself for the final 20 minutes when suddenly we were back in camp, flying through the woods and making our way to the finish. I’d done it and I felt great.
This was the first endurance race I’ve done without a single cramp or charlie horse. I’d experimented with Skratch ratios at Leadville but today I’d been spot on. The humidity is deceiving as well. In the desert you don’t have a chance to feel sweaty before it evaporates. I was convinced I’d lost too much fluid during the race but the humidity is deceiving. I had an appetite the whole race and was able to stomach a few raw food bars and Shot Blocks, also a first. The calories kept a bonk at bay and provided much needed sodium. Overall it was a great race, an amazing course with incredible trails, and a fun family visit. Oh, and I’m writing this from my Southwest double length exit row seat with all the luxurious legroom in the world, boy does it feel good to stretch out. Can’t wait to get home and see the wife and little man.