Racing the Shenandoah 100-Plus
The darkness of a moonless sky was both creepy and exciting as I rolled away from Harrisonburg. Out to test my fitness and nutrition skills, I was riding the 20 miles from my house to the start of my “hometown” National Ultra Endurance race: the Shenandoah Mountain 100. I planned to race the event, and see how many more miles I could add on after the finish.
This “Shenandoah 100+” was my plan to recreate the aid station skills necessary for The Munga and chew off a big challenge—one that I could possibly fail. At The Munga there will be no outside support. Who knows what they will have at the aid stations? Some zebra stew and some bush berry candy?
The top races at the NUE hundred-milers usually shuttle drop-bags to the aid stations: we self-prepare all our regular and reliable food choices and they’re waiting for us on course. My idea at the Shenandoah 100 was to forego the drop-bags and instead come screaming into the aid station, scan the options, grab something quick but carefully, and set off. I’d see how odd drink and food choices treated me.
During the race, I was crafty and used the group on the dirt roads for some drafting and to cut down on Cameron Cogburn’s balls-out breakaway in the first half of the race. I had Keck “The Butcher” Baker and hardman Sam Koerber to work with on the major road section. Then on the rocky, technical Bridge Hollow trail, I launched a counter offensive and got into the lead.
A sixty-mile time trial was not my plan, but with a three-minute lead after Braley’s Trail, I said, “I am NOT giving this time back; they have to come get it.” Nose to the stem, I hammered and held strong to the last climb. At that point, the heat was oppressive and baking like an open oven door against the yellow, stony dirt road. I was fading from the intensity of the effort.
Just hang on!
My hands were tingling and my head was spinning from the bonk that was coming. I ate the last gel I had, and figured that even with no water it would give me a few minutes with a clear head.
I made it. I passed through the finish and hoisted my Cannondale Scalpel high in the air. “YES!” It felt so sweet to make it to the finish line and see my wife Erin and my kids Conrad and Bea.
I’d completed the first two parts of my challenge: I rode to the race and threw down a fast 100-miler. I even won in a record time of 7:08—about four minutes faster than last year’s time set by team Garmin-Sharp pro roadie Ben King.
Now my focus turned to Munga. The SM100 finish venue spread was like a Munga rest station and full of heavier foods. I was feeling shattered, legs aching with fatigue, but I grabbed a cheeseburger and wrapped it in foil, chugged a Coke and pint of water. I filled my bottles and then (using a Chris Eatough trick) filled three cups: one with pasta salad, one with baked beans and the third with fruit.
Setting out for the extra three-plus hours didn’t even seem possible at first, but I just said to myself, “I’ll see if I can ride some more.”
I realized most of the racers were still just approaching the Death Climb, and they could be hurting more than me, so I headed out on a mission.
Misery loves company, and indeed the highlight of my day was slumming hard with guys like Joe of Joe’s Bike Shop—one of my first sponsors—and Bryan Parr who I wrenched with at Princeton Sports way back in the day. It was awesome. There were folks walking to shake out cramps and a couple on a tandem bobbing their way in unison up the climb.
Eventually I deviated from the course and dropped down one of my favorite descents called Buck Mountain. It’s an epic descent through one of the largest roadless areas on the east coast.
I felt like a mountain man, dropping away from the company of others into a raw wilderness of rock gardens, small bald ridges and lots of bear poop.
My rotors were hissing in the light rain. My smile grew from the butt-on-the-rear-wheel, hair-raising single track turns. As I got off my bike to climb over one of the forty downed trees on the trail, I put my foot down right next to a huge charcoal colored rattlesnake. “YIKES” I yelled as my foot sprang skyward like a rocket. I gotta be careful out here, I’m on my own I realized quickly.
Then I forgot if I was in the first hour or the twelfth hour of my ride: my legs were back!
Returning to the growing party at the finish line, I’d clocked about twelve and a half hours moving time and 169 miles, including some very nasty back-country conditions carrying the bike over downed trees and through riverbed rock portages.
The “training” that started in the dark as prep for The Munga shed new light on my riding and what it means to go big and enjoy the ride.