Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Long Time Coming, Pt. 1 ...

So … The Shenandoah Mountain 100 … I'm not really sure what I should say here - where I should start, or which story to tell. I suppose I could just say "let's go back to the beginning". It would seem to be a fairly obvious place to start any story about a race, right? But that presents another problem … truth be told, I'm not really sure I know where that is. The SM100 turned 16 this past weekend. But I've only done it three of those 16 (including this year) and I first lined up for it in 2010. That in itself could provide a beginning, except I actually first conceived of the idea to do it a while before that, and explaining that could go down a rabbit hole on its own. I could also start with the 2011 version, my second attempt and quite possibly the single most disappointing and painful day I've ever spent on a bike. That would kind of set the groundwork for why I hadn't done it since then and, more importantly, why I needed to go back this year.

But I guess in the end, it doesn't really matter how and where it begins. What matters is how it ends, and on Sunday afternoon, that end was -

Well, now I'm getting ahead of myself. There is a story here and that story doesn't start with the result ...

As I said, I've done the SM100 twice before. Both times were on gears and neither time worked out the way I would have hoped. In 2010, I finished in about 11 hours and 20 minutes. I had planned on a 10 hour day, and I think that in hindsight I was just unprepared for what I was getting into. I remember the exact moment I realized that, too -- I was about halfway up the death climb and was fighting off cramps in my arms and legs and it dawned on me that I still had more than 30 miles to go. I didn't yet know that the toughest climbing was still ahead of me, but I was already giving put the ghost of a 10 hour finish. In the end, I wasn't too disappointed with that finish because I think I knew that I had bitten off more than I could chew. I did resolve to go back the next year, though, armed with a greater understanding of the course and its demands and fix all the things I'd done wrong in 2010.

As 2011 rolled around, I had pretty much made the transition to riding mostly single speed, but I made the decision to ride the SM100 on gears again. In fact, unlike in 2010, I decided to race my hard tail 26er (in '10, I'd ridden my full suspension Fuel 26er.) That was my first big mistake. Since I'd been riding mostly 29er at that point, making the transition back to a hard tail 26er on a course with techy descents like the one off Wolf's Ridge wasn't the smartest thing I could have done.

But far worse than that was the fact that I chose to even line up in the first place considering what had happened about a week before the race. I was out riding in the Wiss after a run of pretty severe thunderstorms. Now anyone who rides Wiss with any regularity knows what that means: downed trees everywhere you look. The ground in Philly's signature trail system is pretty robust to rain in the summer -- all that Wissahickon schist just kind of sucks in water and leaves the trails rideable - in fact, sometimes even better than when it's been dry for a long period -- less than a few hours after the latest rain. That's entirely true except for when it isn't. And it isn't when we get a whole lot of rain all at once. The ground and trees will soak everything up, but if too much water comes at once, it gets overloaded and that softens the ground around a bunch of trees that aren't really dug in too deep to begin with. And so many of them fall down. And in 2011, a huge tree fell right across a major section of the trail, making it necessary to scramble over it (you couldn't get around it.) The problem was that the tree had become a home for quite a bit of poison ivy, some of which found it's way into a cut I had on my upper arm. Poison ivy in a cut = cellulitis, and so a week before the race I was walking around with a profoundly itchy fluid-filled grandma-arm. And so I was halfway into an antibiotic cycle on race day, which is never a good thing. I don't respond well to antibiotics anyway (my stomach is as weak as a nerd baby to begin with, so adding chemicals that are designed to kill anything that lives inside me only makes it worse.) And then there was the real problem: one of the worst thing you can do while taking an antibiotic is spend a lot of time in the sun, like, say, when you are riding a bicycle up a completely exposed 20 mile fire road climb. I never felt good all day in '11, but I actually reached a point where I was scared for my well-being a few miles before Aid Station 5. I was red as a lobster, completely overheated, and my throat felt like it was closing up. I crawled into the aid station at about 3 mph, sat myself down on a cooler and refused to move. I stayed there for about an hour and they finally told me I had to either leave or I'd miss the cutoff. I opted to head out because -- I don't know -- bicycle race?

I ultimately crawled to the finish in over 13 hours. It was the worst I've ever felt on a bike and immediately afterward, I made the decision that I would not be returning again for a while. In fact, I didn't even want to ride my bike again for a few weeks after that. It just left such bad taste in my mouth. But I think I also knew that there was no way I was going to be able to walk away from it completely with that being my last performance.

So fast forward a couple of years. I've spent the last three years pretty much exclusively riding the SS and I've never really been able to put the sting of 2011 too far from my mind. I knew that I had to go back and at least try to fix it, and I also knew that if I did, it would have to be on the SS. And so back in April of this year, I already knew that I was going back to Stokesville and I started thinking about how I might guarantee that I avoided the kind of problems I'd had in previous attempts.

And that seems like a good place to pick up next time … to be continued!!!


  1. 9:52 and change , 18th place SS...mystery solved.

  2. Amazing stuff man. I can't even imagine that on a bike much less a SS.