Saturday, 12 September 2009
(pic courtesy of SMT)
So, Shenandoah. I've been waffling on about it all year. I rode this race last year, and some may recall the Singletrack magazine article about it. I just missed the 10 hour mark. It is a tough race with several significant climbs, technical and rocky terrain, fast, fast singletrack descents with a real chance of puncturing and long dirt road rollers. 100 miles with 14,500 feet of climbing. The goal this year was to knock 8 minutes off the time from last year, and try and ride the steep singletrack climbs and enjoy (rather than grimace my way down) the downhills.
So: lower gearing, a year spent learning to spin faster and lots and lots of early season miles.
Mistake: i needed to have done more steep climbing and i needed to use a not-quite-so small gear.
The nitty gritty: After hitting New York, we sped westwards to State College in Pennsylvania. There i hooked up with east coast imba dude Frank Maguire and Jim Malta (indy fab and Genuine Innovations honcho). We had a few beers, and rode for a few hours at Raystown trails which they had been instrumental in building.
The legs felt great. A few massages prior to leaving had seemed to decrease the muscle tightness i had been suffering since Kirroughtree, and i was hoping that being on holiday would melt the fatigue i have felt recently. All good. Bike shod with new wheels dropping 450g from the front and 150g from the rear felt skippy light.
After picking up some last minute stuff for the road trip, we took the 4 hour drive to Harrisonburg, home of team Hugh Jass. For those who don't know, these guys rode 24 hour races and other endurance events with 1 pair of shorts between them, on fixed gear shopping bikes over the gnarliest terrain imaginable and basically upped the ante so high that i don't believe anyone has gotten close since.
A quick refuel at a quality eatery and out to the campsite, arriving just after dark. A few dogfish head ales calmed the nerves, but my jet lag meant precious little sleep. Up at 4.45am, with some coffee and some cereal. The day was to be dry and dusty and record times were predicted. The startline was busier than last year, but i managed to make a reasonable start and headed out on the initial dirt road happily enough. After the short steep fire road climb to the mast, we headed along a classic east coast rocky, rooty ridge line, Wolf Ridge, before the first significant downhill to aid 1. No need for refueling yet so try and knock the bike into a high cadence and spin my way along the dirt road.
This 20 mile section has one or two climbs but is generally a relatively easy ride. Worryingly, my left hamstring and quad were twitching with cramp every time i ramped the cadence up. I tried to hydrate and take in some electrolyte. With little more than 56 hours in the USA and 9 hours driving after a flight, my system wasn't on top form and unfortunately the accelerade i was using was making my stomach a bit achey. Corn fructose? maybe...I decided to cool it a little and see if i settled into things. The long singletrack climb was hard work, and i ended up walking some of it, but the drop after was sweet relief. At aid 2 at Todd Lake, i filled the bottles with Heed, and ate some PBJ's. With this i headed up Hankey's with some hope that the lower gear would ease the pain. It did and i was still aiming for a good time, my legs were not great, but i was holding.
As i popped out at aid 3 after the wicked descent of Dowell's Draft (on which i punctured, but repaired rapidly thanks to a loan of jimbo's Genuine Innovations pump/CO2 unit) i hit the road to spin out to Braley's Pond, the leaders came through. Um. Wow.
As i tried to get a spin going my body hit a blank. It just wasn't playing. I didnt feel tired in particular, but i had no va-va-voom. The following section was a bit of a grey time as i realised 10 hours was looking very optimistic indeed. After Ramsay's Draft climb, a technical singletrack ascent i was able to roll quite well, a hairball descent over sharp rock clinging desperately to the steep hill side, aid 4 was a blessing. Refueled again and pedaled out to the beginning of the long climb up to Lil' Bald Knob. With many false summits i was prepared to suffer here, but the roll out to the start of the climb seemed to take forever. I tried to do some sums and compare with last year. I knew it was possible to slip in under 10 hours at this point, but i'd have to climb well, and rock the tough decent down to aid 6.
It wasn't to be. There was no way to muscle the bike anymore than a gentle climbing pace. The false summits were punishment after a quick refuel at aid 5. They seemed to double in number compared to my memory. I made the decision to just go with the flow, enjoy the downhill, and chalk it all up to experience. Caution to the wind, i ripped downhill, the jones allowing aggressive lines to be taken and the speed was exhilarating. I *love* the riding on the east coast. At aid 6 i was crashed out. I stopped for a while to eat, stretch hydrate and talk to a few guys who were intrigued over my bike. Reluctantly i remounted and rolled to the bottom of Hankey's for the final big climb of the day.
After helping a fellow singlespeeder with a leaking tubeless tyre, i began the climb. The tanks were empty and my motivation to dig deep had gone when i had realised the time on the way up to aid 5, so this time the ascent took forever. I walked the dustier parts that had been building up all day and then rolled through the final double tracks and beautiful singletracks to the campsite.
10.46. Disappointing in some ways, but i think i may have stacked the cards against myself with a pretty tight schedule to even get to do the race.