After setting up camp we threw on cycling clothes and hopped on our bikes to pre-ride the second climb in the race. This climb was my nemesis when I raced at Shenandoah 2 years ago, and I wanted to get it right.
Climb # 2 is long with a few steep switchbacks and lots of rocks. This picture does not do justice to the climb....not at all!
I quickly realized that I had to forget my intentions of doing the climb at an "easy pace." It gets steeper and steeper near the top and you basically have to gun it at the top if you want to make it! My stubborn self had to practice a few lines over and over again, and our planned 1 hour ride turned into a 3 hour ride. Oops. And I can totally picture my coach shaking her head right about now :-)
After the climb comes one screaming fast and fun downhill, only it wasn't fun for me. My arms felt like the were going to break off. I optimistically told Scott that I had way too much air pressure in my fork, but Scott pushed down on it once and told me that it was broken. I am so, so lucky that I brought my HT with me. If I hadn't, I would have been totally screwed!
We switched out forks and all was good again. The next day I did the usual pre-race stuff. Clean bike, get drop bags ready etc. When I went to registration several people came up to me warning me that the women's field was really tough. This was not a surprise as Shenandoah is always the largest and most stacked race in the series. Part of it is due to the fact that the race is so much fun, and part of it is due to timing. For a lot of racers it the end of their season, so the field is a lot more diverse. Pro roadies....XC racers....the usual NUE Series suspects...it was a really great mix and cool to have a big women's field.
The race started at daybreak and I was really happy to be in the front. Having 550 racers go off at once creates a bit of a bottleneck...and a lot of dust. At least one person went down in front of me, and I had a few narrow misses, but I managed to avoid all of the crashes!
Waiting for the first sign of light...
My legs felt pretty good during the first climb. However, I totally made the same mistake that I usually do in hundies. I swear, I didn't drink for the first hour. I don't know why I can't learn, but I am seriously considering getting a "DRINK" tattoo right on my arm. Obviously I need some sort of constant reminder.
The first climb went by really quickly, followed by a fun downhill, and then we were at my "nemesis" climb. Clearly the extra practice did nothing for me as I was not able to clean everything. I find that I need to have a really consistent spin to get up steep singletrack climbs, and I knew I was in trouble the moment people started dabbing in front of me. Before long, we were a long train of bike pushers, not pedalers. At least I was able to enjoy the rocky downhill that followed it. Having a fork that worked made a huge, huge difference!
Overall the race went really smoothly for me until mile 80. That's when I hit "not the wall", but a stick. I have no idea where it came from but my rear wheel stopped moving immediately and my derailleur hanger was in a position I had never seen before. This was the first time I've ever had to deal with this and all I knew was that I was supposed to try and bend the hanger back. I was able to get the wheel moving again, but I couldn't shift and my chain kept skipping. Finally I stopped again to do some more bending and another racer stopped to help out.
He did a bit of head shaking and asked if I had another hanger, which I did not. After that he told me that he had to be really careful when bending the hanger so that it wouldn't break. I think I stopped breathing until he was done.
I know I lost time during the last 20 miles because I was afraid to do much shifting. I had to mash like a crazy person to get up some of the climbs and my legs were borderline ready to explode. Oh well, I still managed to cut 30-some minutes off of my time from 2 years ago, not to mention finish. That stick could have ended things badly.
The last couple of miles were pretty great. I was riding behind a guy and the moment he started pumping his arms in the air I knew we were close to the finish. And let me tell you, the Shenandoah 100 has the best finish out of any of the hundred milers I've ever done. It's basically downhill into the campground. All you have to do is roll across the finish line, bang on the gong, grab a pint glass, and hang out with everyone for the rest of the night. And did I mention the "crack fries?" They had 500 lbs ready for the racers. I'm not sure what they put on them, but I'm addicted!
I won't be competing in the whole NUE series next year as there are other races I want to do. However, I plan on picking a few 100 milers out of the series and I really hope Shenandoah will fit in my schedule!
My aunt and uncle drove over from Richmond to cheer me on. They also brought homemade cookies which we put away in no time. Unfortunately now I'm always going to expect someone to stand at the finish line with chocolate chip cookies for me.... :-)
I just realized that this is a crazy race report. I never mentioned how I did or how the raced played out. Oh well, this blog post is long enough! Here's the short version: Sue Haywood kicked butt, Betsy got 2nd along with the NUE Series title, Carey Lowerly got 3rd, I got 4th and Brenda Simril got 5th.