Monday, September 05, 2005


Somehow, I don't really know how to write about my first Shenandoah Mountain 100. The words escape me. I can't find words long enough to outlast those long fireroad climbs; no words futile enough to capture my desperation at trying to keep up with the gearies on the flat road sections; no words exhilirating enough to do justice to the descent down Dowell's Draft. And no words humbling enough to describe how I felt when I crossed the finish line.

I'd been training for this race all year. I got my V02max test, a heart rate monitor, an indoor trainer, and put together a training schedule. A month later all that junk was sitting unused in my closet. It felt too much like "work". So I stopped taking data, stopped checking off workout lists, got rid of my cyclocomputer, and just started riding, a lot. When the day came, the plan was to treat this race like just another long ride, and I think that put it in a good perspective.

My only goal going into the race was to finish, but right at the starting line my instincts kick in and I start eyeing the competition, drawing up the battle plans. I have a good idea of who I can hang with and who I should just let go. Crazy Markie, Rastaman Butch, and "Supafly" Foley have been riding strong all year. So has Scardaville. Erin the Great, when he's on his game, can blow our little peloton apart. All of these guys have posted faster times than me at our local races. But I tend to do better at longer races so it was really anyone's game. Larry "the Terminator" Camp? Slap me for even thinking about it.

The signal to start is given and 350 riders are following the pace motorcycle down the road. The little gear on my singlespeed is no match for the gearies on terrain like this so I settle down for a ride at the back of the pack. As the trail turns upward into a wide double track I step on it a pass about thirty people, a group of singlespeeders following my lead. Before I know it I'm on the first singletrack descent. I have the tires pumped up extra hard to avoid flats, so combined with the rigid fork, the rocks are turning my skinny arms to jelly. I have to ease up and yield to the squishy bikes. This would become the theme for the rest of the day: pass people on fireroad climbs, get passed on everything else. Luckily there were lots of long fireroad climbs and I was able to hold my own.

The race is as much an excercise in mental fortitude as it is in physical endurance. My mantra of "finish, finish, finish" over and over in my head seemed to make the miles and hours go by quicker. The constant back and forth between Crazy Markie, MarkW, ChrisC, and myself also makes it more interesting. Before I know it I'm closing in on checkpoint #3 (about 40 miles into the race). By this time Markie is either smelling blood in the water, or he's getting desperate. He blows through the aid station while I take a break and rest. I'm wondering whether I should chase him down or stick to my game plan. After a minute of deliberation, I let him go.

The stage from aid station 3 to 4 is just one climb and one descent. Sounds easy but my legs are starting to cramp. As I pull off to the side to punch at my legs, a mysterious singlespeeder catches up to me. He motions to his jersey pocket, I reach in and pull out a handful of magic white electrolyte pills. I normally don't take candy from strangers, but I'm desperate to lose the cramps. I down one and the cramps ease up. Excellent. I finish the climb and descend into aid station 4. I spot Gina among the volunteers and my spirits are up again. The Pedalshop boys are there in force, wrenching bikes and dispensing the suds. Markie is nowhere in sight. I wonder if it was a mistake to let him go. I grab a handful of pringles, drain a coke and set off on the dreaded 18 mile climb to the highest point of the course.

The big climb to checkpoint 5 is the make or break point of the race for me. If I can make it to station 5, I know I'll finish. I hit the road, the Mantra going round and round in my head. After a while I spot Markie far ahead of me. But he's doddering and I'm closing in on him. When I finally catch up to him I make it a point to pass him quickly, to take away any incentive for him to chase me. The effort almost kills me but it works. I ride into checkpoint 5 with no one on my wheel. It's here that I first see Foley. He's been ahead of me the whole time. Scardaville is there too.

Foley, JonW, and I set out together from the aid station on the heels of MarkW. From this point on the four of us would never be more than 2 minutes apart. Jon and I would go back and forth many times before he would drop me on the descent to the finish line. But back to the race. We pull into the final checkpoint together, about a minute ahead of MarkW. Looking for the kill, MarkW is a blur. He blows through the aid station Jeremiah Bishop style, slowing only to grab a coke. Jon and I, slackers that we are, take our time and leave together.

Ahhh, the final climb of the race: Hankey Mountain. I don't know exactly how it happened, but I found myself in the middle of a cheap fling in mid-climb. It was a classic summer romance. Boy meets girl, girl sucks boy's wheel, boy sucks girl's wheel, boy finds girl sucking someone elses wheel, boy drops girl. See ya! When I think it's all over I find JonW, sucking my wheel. Now it's getting weird. I let him go by knowing that he will be faster than me on the descent to the finish line (he actually caught MarkW). I take my time and enjoy the last few miles knowing that there's no way I won't finish now.

I crossed the line in 10 hours and 50 minutes. I was happy to finish. My stomach, after a diet of coke, red bull, gatorade, and electrolyte pills, was on the verge of revolution. Although I was hungry, I couldn't eat. I went back to my tent. I was tired but couldn't sleep. My body was in a state of confusion. Sometime in the night, I hear a massive cheer erupt from the camp. Scud had finished. I finally drift of to sleep. In my dream, I'm flying down Dowell's Draft again. Somehow, it wasn't as good as the real thing.

The gold at the end of the rainbow

Cheers! JonW and me show off our new sm100/ODB glasses


Blogger JonW said...

Joe you're an animal. I couldn't keep up with you on the climbs at the end of the race. And you were on a singlespeed; and I had lots of little gears. Maybe that was the problem. Little gears let me take it easy. So, I took some of mine off this weekend. :) Now if I can just find the right sized cone wrench to put my front hub back together with...

12:15 AM

Blogger camps said...

Nice job Joe!
finish finish finish, is always my goal at these things too. anything can happen, it's not just about fitness. collarbones have been snapped descending into 6. bad crashes in the dark on the final descent after Hankey. bikes break.

I wasn't too far ahead of you and spent a lot of the day with Jon, Foley, and Scard.

11:45 AM

Blogger gmr2048 said...

congrats on the speedy finish, joe. and a great write up too!

8:04 AM


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