Race Report: 2013 Shenandoah 100
I’ve heard since I started mountain bike racing about the epic Shenandoah 100 race put on by Chris Scott and Shenandoah Mountain Touring. Shenandoah was the 13th race of the National Ultra Endurance Series (NUE) and my 5th series race this year. The Shenandoah area is beautiful and being able to race around those mountains sounded like a blast.
Shenandoah was my first NUE race on full suspension bike. I ordered a new bike a month ago but it won’t be in for a couple of weeks so Joe’s Bike Shop arranged for me to ride a Scott Genius 910. Knowing the terrain of Shenandoah from hiking and backpacking there I knew it would be rocky and technically challenging. After taking a beating on the downhills in the Hampshire 100 two weeks ago I was looking forward to riding full suspension for Shenandoah.
Elise and I headed out to Deep Creek on Friday with Riley and Seth to spend the weekend with my parents and family. I read somewhere that Jeremiah Bishop eats ice cream the night before National Ultra Endurance Series races so I’ve adopted the practice. We headed to Lakeside Creamery with my folks, sibs, and cousins. The chocolate, peanut butter, & banana waffle cone was fantastic.
My race day was starting at 2 a.m. so I was in bed at 10 p.m. to get 4 hours of sleep. In the wee hours I loaded up on coffee, breakfast, and my bottles for the race and hit the road by 2:45 a.m. Race day driving through Western Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia was a “dodge a deer” competition driving from 2:45 a.m. to Stokesville, Virginia where the race was held.
I arrived at 5:40 a.m. for a 6:30 a.m. start. I met up with Andrew Dunlap, Ethan Frey, Patrick Traill, and Jeff Brown at the venue and we prepared for the day ahead. With 650 racers this was the largest NUE event of the year. The Stokesville Campground was packed.
Ethan and Andrew are the speedy guys so they lined up near the front. Patrick, Jeff and I started a little ways back near one of my teammates, John Stavlas. The start was pretty chill with a short road loop out of the campground and looping around on roads until the first fire road. I saw another teammate, Esther Schaftel, on the roads and wished her well. It’s always great to see the Adventures for the Cure dots out there.
The first 15 miles of the race were very tame with a moderate fire road climb and a sweet flowy single track descent that felt more like a pump track than wilderness single track. It was fun and spirits were high. Aid station #1 was around mile 12 but I didn’t need anything so I buzzed through it. Around mile 18 you started the first real climb of the day: Briery Branch Climb (1200’). Unfortunately, because of where I was in the pack this was a line of people walking for most of 2 miles. That wasn’t fun. But after the climb there was another super fast flowy section of single track down the mountain.
Aid station #2 was at mile 33 and I swapped out two bottles of my custom Inifinit blend that were pre mixed and ready to go (Thank you Andrew for dropping off my drop bags the night before). I was in and out of the aid station within about 30 seconds. After aid #2 there was a short road section and then the 2nd big climb of the day. The 2nd climb was a 5.4 mile 1800 foot climb on fire road up the mountain then becomes single track climbing up along the ridge. This was my favorite climb of the day because I could actually ride it and still felt good. The views at the top were spectacular and the downhill was a blast.
We spent a coupe of miles on the road heading to aid #3. I passed my teammate, Jason Manger, who had been injured in a wreck at Patapsco earlier in the week so he was sitting out this year’s race. He cheered me on and I cruised ahead on someone’s wheel for the road section.
I rolled through aid #3 at mile 47 and headed for the 3rd big climb of the day: the 1300’ Shenandoah Mountain Road climb. This was my least favorite part of the day. It started raining as we approached the climb which made the already technical rocks and roots slippery and even tougher than they would be normally. I was on the bike, off the bike, on the bike, off the bike for most of the two mile steep section. It was demoralizing in the middle of the race to spend this much time walk/riding. I was watching my 10 hour time goal go out the window with each step I was walking.
After summiting the climb we started what should have been a very fast and fun descent but with the mud and narrow trails I was getting passed by a few riders. This was discouraging because generally I’m doing the passing on the descents. I’m usually confidant and aggressive going downhill but when things get muddy I get much more conservative (read: I don’t have the skill developed yet). At the bottom of the descent we spent a couple of miles in rideable but very muddy trails going past Braley’s Pond before landing at aid #4 at mile 59.
At aid #4 I traded Infinit bottles again and rolled quickly. I made one significant nutritional mistake during the race. I let myself get a little behind on my liquid intake. While I was calorically good at about 250 per hour, by the time I got to Aid #4 I was very thirsty. I should have grabbed an extra bottle of water there before hitting the road but in my head I figured two bottles was enough. About three miles away from the aid station I knew I had made a mistake. I had already drained one bottle and was starting the second. I had the famed thirteen mile “Death Climb” ahead. I was going to be in trouble.
I passed cheering Jason again on the road and began the long slow climb up to aid station #5. This climb is long fire road up to Reddish Knob. Normally, I wouldn’t have minded it so much but feeling thirsty for an hour and forty minutes wasn’t fun. I was grinding it out slowly but most of the time I was just hanging on and keeping the pedals moving. For the second time of the day I was kissing my goal goodbye. At that point, I was wondering if I could even get in under eleven hours.
Aid station #5 finally appeared at mile 77. I guzzled two cups of coke and refilled two bottles with Inifnit powder I had brought with me. One of those bottles was gone within twenty minutes of leaving the aid station. But we were almost done the death climb and I knew I would be fine getting to aid #6. My body felt good again after getting enough liquid. The climbing continued and eventually we reached the top and headed downhill.
At this point in the race the downhills hurt. The early downhills were smooth and flowy like a roller coaster. These were rocky and steep like falling down a flight of stairs. I was incredibly thankful for Joe’s Bike Shop’s loaner Scott Genius. The travel on the shock took away a huge amount of the pounding from the rocks on the descent. I was cruising in autopilot at this point. We were at mile 85 or so and I was ready to get finished. I had a bit of a second wind so I just let the bike go.
I cruised through Aid #6 at mile 90 grabbing two bottles of whatever they were offering and took off for the final climb of the day and the finish line. Leaving the aid station it started raining for the second time. Earlier it had rained moderately. This was a downpour. At this point in a 100 mile MTB you just laugh and keep going. It adds to the challenge factor and you simply endure.
In my head the last climb seemed “easy” compared to the others at only 900 feet and at a moderate grade. But by this time of the day it was a drag. I put the bike in the granny gear and left it there until the top. Occasionally I would stand up for 10-15 seconds to stretch the legs but most of the climb was sitting and grinding.
At mile 95 I reached the top and started descending. I was 10 hours 35 minutes into the 2013 Shenandoah 100 and I was hell bent on getting through the last 5 miles to get across the finish before 11 hours. I took the descent as fast as I knew how occasionally losing my rear end around the corners. I just wanted to be finished.
I crossed the line right around 10:50 (I haven’t seen the official results). Fifty minutes past my goal time but I was happy to be done. I caught up with Ethan and Patrick. Ethan crushed the course in 8:24. Pretty incredible for a rookie NUE race. Patrick had gone off course and wasn’t feeling great so he bailed around the mid point. Jeff finished 15 minutes or so after I did. Andrew had already left but did a very respectable 8:50 time.
Shenandoah was a TOUGH race. I was in peak condition for it and it still took more mentally to get to the finish line than any of the other NUE races I’ve done this year. It’s a beautiful course and Chris Scott puts on a fantastic race.
I cleaned up quickly and hopped in the car for the ride back to the lake. I spotted one black bear on the way home and enjoyed some spectacular views crossing Shenandoah mountain. I got back 19 hours after leaving. Ate about 5,000 calories and hit the sack.
Here’s the full event on Strava.
I’ve got 6 days to rest for the last NUE race of the year: Fool’s Gold in Dahlonega, Georgia this coming Saturday.
Keep moving forward,