I’ve done a couple 100 mile mountain bike races before (Fool’s Gold 100 in GA). I’ve done races with over 10,000 feet of climbing several times (once already this season) and after a solid summer of racing I was feeling pretty good about my chances at Shenandoah so I set a goal time of under 10 hours. Nothing quite prepared me for how tough this race was.
Up at 5 am to the gong going off around the campground, I ate my bagel and got to the start line. At 6:30 we rolled out and while I was positioned well towards the front, the pace was much higher than I expected on the rolling climbs and I had to back it down knowing it would be a long day. I also dropped my chain on one climb and this all contributed to me not being in the best position going into the first singletrack climb.
I got caught in the traffic jam and ended up having to walk several sections. This also put me behind some slower riders on the first downhill, which is a shame because it would’ve have been super fun at full speed. The second climb of the day did a lot more damage to me than I anticipated, it was very steep and required a lot of walking. I had a little more room to run on the downhill and held my position pretty well overall.
Next was the tough climb up Hankey Mountain. I lost some ground on the gravel road portion on the bottom, but actually made up some positions on the steep kickers towards the top because I refused to walk while everyone else around me was. Again, a fairly clear path on the amazingly fun downhill (with a few passes thrown in there) and it was on to the next climb.
Brailey’s was where the wheels started to come off. I didn’t realize it at the time but the 90 degree heat was starting to get to me along with all of the climbing, and this technical, singletrack climb just destroyed me. I felt like I could barely stand up when I had to get off the bike, and realizing I was only about halfway done at this stage was very tough mentally. I walked a lot, but pressed on and had a mistake free downhill followed by a strong run on the following flatter gravel section with a good group to keep the pace up on the way over to the Death Climb. I then went up the death climb very, very, very slow.
I was having major issues with heat exhaustion as evidenced by the volunteers at Aid 5 commenting on how pale I looked. After a slice of pizza and a dousing of cold water by the excellent volunteer who helped me…It was off to finish the last few miles before the trail turned down. Again, I was fortunate to have a clear path on the downhill, and recovered enough to actually enjoy it a little bit. After that it was pure survival mode to the finish.
I didn’t come anywhere near my goal time of 10 hours, but it was certainly the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I’m happy I was able to finish (with no lights too…) The conditions were very tough with the extreme heat, but I was also fortunate to not have any major bike issues. Overall a good accomplishment for me, and now that I know what to expect, I will certainly be back to improve on the time.
169/331 Open Men
Editor’s Note: Matt had done a lot of homework for this race and I hope he realizes it took the editor 5 tries to break 10 hours. Congrats for toughing it out Matt, Cheers!