I don’t have a very insightful way of telling you my Shenandoah 100 story, so I’m going to scatter some thoughts and answer some questions people have asked me since the finish. Hopefully that will give you a sense of what the journey was like for me.
So here goes.
What time did I wake up and what did I eat for breakfast?
Race start was 6:30 a.m., and we didn’t get to bed until around 10 p.m. So I “slept-in” until 4:30 a.m. to be ready to leave at 5:15 a.m. I have the same routine before any morning ride/race so I know exactly what I’m going to do when I wake up. This helps me be efficient and not waste time planning my routine in the moment (which means more sleep).
Spencer and I sat down to our usual breakfast of coffee, boiled eggs and sourdough toast with almond butter (Spencer puts maple syrup on his). I have a sensitive stomach but this breakfast treats me right. Also, I always drink a bottle of Skratch Labs Wellness (formerly called Rescue) before a big ride, especially if I know it’s going to be hot.
What did I drink/eat during the race?
- 9 bottles of Skratch Sports Hydration (raspberry and lemon lime/match combo)
- 4 1/2 packs of Skratch Chews
- 2 GU Energy Waffles (Caramel Coffee w/caffeine)
- 2 small Hawaiian rolls with almond butter and honey
I rolled through aid stations pretty quickly but managed to pick up a small piece of pizza, a couple fries, and a few Pringles along the way, too.
What was the start like?
The start was pretty mild. I was lucky to have so many close friends from Motor Mile Racing nearby so my nerves were pretty calm. I’ve lined up for shorter endurance races that had a much faster start so it was nice to have time to breathe for a while and warm up slowly (which is what my body prefers). There’s a downside though. Not going hard at the start means you get to spend a lot of time in the conga lines on the early singletrack.
What were the aid stations like?
Unfortunately, my bike was creaking loudly by the time I got to the first aid station so I got the full experience. The mechanic did the best he could but without taking the bike apart, there was no stopping it. Oh well. The good news is the aid stations were all awesome – some of the best I’ve seen. People filled my bottles for me and offered to lube my chain. Even though I didn’t spend a lot of time at them, everyone was really friendly and incredibly helpful, which was nice.
What was the first half of the race like?
I basically stood around for a long time. At least that’s what it felt like. I would love to go back and ride those trails without the bogged down line because they
were a lot of fun. But when nearly 500 people are trying to squeeze in, the domino effect sets in and trickles down the line. I tried to do my best to track stand and pedal slowly and smoothly when I noticed people ahead of me getting off the bike.
Oh and the climbing. There was a lot of it (more than 13K in total). I felt incredibly strong climbing, especially early on when conditions weren’t so bad or when we were on the road or gravel/double track. I really have my coach, Steve Carpenter, to thank for feeling incredibly fit during the race, and my confidence definitely grew with every climb.
Also, my feet and chamois got soaked early on during several creek crossings and it only got worse as the race went on.
- Craziest thing that happened? – A huge black bear crossed my path on one of the gravel roads before aid #2. Hello, adrenaline rush!
What was the second half of the race like?
This is when shit got real (and mental weakness started setting in a little). Apparently conditions were the worst they’ve been in a long time because it rained so much that week. I’ve seen plenty of cyclocross races with much less mud and water.
There was more hike-a-bike before the Braley’s downhill due to the condition of the trails. It wasn’t the worst I’ve seen, but I imagine it was much better for the fast guys going through at the front before being torn up. You really had to have your muddy, wet rock skills in good shape or you might easily fall off the narrow trail. I definitely took too much time here getting on and off my bike.
(Bonus: some jerk made fun of me as I let him around – oh the joys of being a female racer)
Braley’s downhill was a lot of fun, but I saw some guy fly way off the trail (took a quick note of that spot and safely got through it). He said he was okay, but I made sure to let the first aid crew know he went down hard. Next up was the infamous death-march climb to the fifth of six aid stations (that’s where I found pizza – yay!).
cracked mentally shortly after leaving aid #5 and soon entered one of the worst parts of the course for me.
If it had been dry, things might have been different, but I really struggled through the muddy, boggy grass climb to the top of the Chestnut descent. I couldn’t take it anymore. I thought there was no way I could finish. So I stopped, ate a Hawaiian roll sandwich with full-blown RBF (pretty sure other racers were scared to speak to me here), and took a few deep breaths before getting back on my creaky bike to keep climbing through the mud.
Eventually I stopped for my one-and-only bathroom break, too (and to let some built-up gas out from sucking so my wind while racing and drinking out of bottles all day). With my comfort level slightly elevated, I was ready to bomb Chesnut (and overtake a lot of people who passed me during my mental breakdown, which made me super-motivated!).
Daylight was slowly fading at this point which meant the trails would be even darker. The top of Chestnut was like riding on ice because of the mud, but I was well on my way once it got less steep. I was definitely taking chances on this descent but it was so much fun! At this point my bike was hanging on for dear life though.
I had to manually bring my seat back up because my dropper post stopped working. And after leaving the last aid station, my front brake started making the most awful noise. So I now had two different sounds coming from my bike, and there’s no telling how much added resistance I had for my second climb up Hankey.
It was too dark to ride safely without a light on the last descent. But I was too close to the finish (and too lazy) to get out my bright light that I picked up at the last aid station. So, aimed my smaller Cateye light as best I could and basically had a “Jesus take the wheel” feeling on the final descent.
There was something very calming about it and before I knew it, I was back in the campground and hugging Spencer at the finish line. I almost couldn’t believe it – I actually managed not to bail and finish what many people told me is one of the hardest 100-mile races.
- Craziest thing that happened? – Rain and lightning hit right before the death-march climb. I jumped several times from loud thunder when I couldn’t see the lightning anymore because of tree coverage.
What did I wear?
I definitely made the right call wearing Pactimo’s Summit Stratos “12-hour” bib and Summit Aero jersey. Once racer told me he changed clothes at an aid station (what, really?).
This kit combination kept me cool in the heat and comfortable during wet conditions. Plus, the jersey pockets kept stored items close to my body so everything stayed nice and snug (no one likes a bouncy jersey, especially during bumpy downhills). Also, I wore Stoke Signal socks knowing they’ve held up well in rainy road races.
I still can’t believe I spent more than 13 hours in wet clothes and socks without any post-race chafing wounds. I’m very happy about that.
What bike did I ride?
I’m so proud of my bike – it really took a beating while getting me safely to the finish. I rode my Kona Hei Hei DL (full-suspension with 30T front and 11×46 rear) with Nox carbon wheels (another racer noticed the i9 hub) and Maxxis Ardent 2.25 tires. I was one of the lucky ones who had no flats and no race-ending mechanicals.
What did I think about the entire time?
I got this question before the race, and had never really thought about it before. Initially I thought I let my mind wander during races, but Shenandoah helped me discover that’s not the case at all. I realized I’m basically making countless decisions during the entire race – that’s all there’s room for. And if I’m not making a decision, I’m wondering how one I already made (or one I will make) will affect my race. I think that’s why I love racing my bike so much. I love making decisions and problem solving while doing something I love, and that’s exactly what I get to do racing.
Would I race Shenandoah again?
I would love to race it again, but I’d prefer better conditions. I had a faster finishing time in mind so I’d like to give it another go one day. I was racing near one woman who said she finished almost 2 hours faster last year. Needless to say I’m curious at what I can do now that I’ve seen it at its worst and got my first 100-miler under my belt.