The Four Hundred And First Mile
I left the north. I traveled south.
Split the W-OH mid morning on Saturday for Stokesville, Vadge. The trip was the trip. Just me the xB and an iPod full of muzak from my faves. The holiday traffic slowed things down a bit, but not too bad. The thing that DID slow me down was getting lost about 3 miles away from the Stokesville Campground. But as I drove along the back, back, back roads I saw a hairy, pot bellied shirtless, tobacco chewing Virginian getting his mail and asked him directions. He was super nice and it turns out, the campground was right down the road. BTW That description of the man, was not an unfunny attempt at some sort of a southern stereotype. He was indeed shirtless, pot bellied and spit a gob of tobacco juice out just before he answered my question. Super nice though.
Once in the campground I stalked Bradley via cell phone to find out where we were camping. Finally the tin can/string that he calls a cell phone worked and he met me to direct me down to the sweet camp spot Ruthie C . and J.P. nailed down for us. The spot was sweet! Back in the shade of the woods, away from the keg stands and late night shenanigans.
Soon our friends Rob and Chrissy joined us and we got all settled in. Rob and Brad went out for a spin while I got registered and stood about talking to Plum Grove Pete. Later we all went up to the pasta buffet that the SM100 folks were putting on. We enjoyed a foamy cup of Dogfish goodness and then retired to our campsite to ready our drop bags and bottles for the race.
Soon I was in the back of the xB pretending to sleep for the next 7 hours. Before your knew it the gong was going off and I was scurrying off with my cheeks clenched tight to the porta john for a pre breakfast nerve induced blow out.
Two PB&J bagels, one iced coffee, one lubed chamois, and one sunrise later I found myself about the 490th rider back in a group of 500+ riders on the start line. Poor planning on my part. But it will thin out. Right? At least after 30 miles or so!
Out of the campground and up the first climb. I was feeling good spinning in my middle ring, passing folks and getting ready to hit the first single track. As expected a line of riders formed in the single track like scared cattle off to the slaughter house. Inching along the dirt and rock. Really no fault of the riders. I'm sure most everyone was accomplished enough, but when you get hundreds of folks going 4 mph through rocks and roots, shit happens and shit slows. Or maybe I should say "constipates"?
Soon enough things opened up and I was feeling great. Then we hit a steep single track section that turned into hundreds of riders hike-a-biking (Ruthie plowed through this!). A few folks made it up in spots, but it was hard with so many riders. Once to the top though, it was a rippppppppppppppping fast single track descent to the bottom. I was grinning from ear to ear and I blew through rocks, and one of the best downhills in a long time. Even better, there would be a few more this day!
The thing about a long race like the Shenandoah 100 is that things sort of blur and there is no use trying to remember too much. All I know is that things were going great. My legs felt great and every time I felt like pushing harder, I just backed off a bit. The goal for this race was to NOT blow up like I did at the 101. Just keep it steady, and have fun. And that's what I did. At least for the time being.
The race was moving along quickly and soon I found myself at the base of the "Soul Crusher" climb. 15+ miles of steady climbing to Aid Station #5 with maybe six MORE miles of up after that (unbeknownst to me). As I made my way up I was still feeling good. I ate a Snickers, kept taking in water, and CytoCarb/Gatorade and a shot of gel here and there. At about mile 10 or so of the climb things started getting a little harder for me. I was using the granny and just trying to recover and get ready for the 25+ miles to come.
At Aid 5 there was a ton of food, pizza and an old racing friend Paul (one time called Spot Paul. But I'm not sure he rides a Spot anymore, so he's just Paul). I thought I saw Paul at Aid Station 2, but wasn't 100%. But indeed it was. As much food as there was to pick from, I had NO appetite for ANYTHING. Just got my bottles filled, quickly said hi to Paul, took an Elete capsule and took off.
You can kick me, and you can punch me,
and you can break my face.
and you can break my face.
"OK, lets do this" I thought to myself as I pedaled out of #5. Should be downhill now? WRONG!! MORE CLIMBING!! (I guess THAT is why they call it the Soul Crusher). After just a mile or so I needed to stop and gather myself. Something was going south FAST in my belly and with me. I was freezing one minute (it was a little chilly on top the mountain) but then I would feel my face flushing and I was get freaking hot as balls. So I would dump some water on myself and keep on.
Soon it was happening, I could feel it. Shit was gonna go bad. I need to just keep it moving! "What the f*ck?" I thought to myself. I was eating, drinking, going steady, but now the thought of drinking one drop of anything made me want to puke and I was losing power FAST. Soon enough I would dry heave a few times. Great.
SOMEHOW I got myself to Aid Station 6. I sat down for a minute and a dude filled my bottles with fresh water (thanks!). I asked him how much more to go and he said it was about 12 miles with one more climb. "I will NOT STOP with 12 miles to go!" I told myself, but I ssssooooo wanted to just lay in the grass and go to sleep.
Not more than a mile out of Aid 6 I thought I made a mistake. I wanted to say "f*ck it" and turn around. I was frustrated at the fact that for the 3rd race in a row I would rip off 70 to 80 miles without a problem and then just shut down and have to claw my way to the finish. I pedaled a bit, started to come alive, passed a few folks and then shut down again. Walked a bit. Rode a bit. Then I started hitting more of the final climb and my stomach was in full on revolt. Pedal 100 yards. Stop, dry heave up some CytoFlem™ and then walk a bit. This went on for a couple miles and culminated with me being passed by not only my friend Plum Grove Pete who I passed and left behind several miles ago, but a slew others as well.
The trail started going down hill for a bit. Oh wait, now it's going up. Stop, walk, vomit, repeat. I was a mess. I hadn't taken any food or drink since right after Aid 5. Well at least any that STAYED where it was supposed to be.
Why is the last mile the hardest mile?
Finally some double track started dropping down hill fast, I rode it as fast as I could, saw a sign turning me right and hit some fun single track that thank God kept going down. OMG! The campground! I think I'm gonna make it! All I wanted to do was finish, lay down and not puke in front of 500 people. And that's what I did. Crossed the line, got my finishers pint glass, laid down and asked myself if a summer spent pursuing 401 miles of NUE racing was worth it for a bunch of pint glasses and t shirts.
I saw Rob snap my pic, and I talked a bit more to Paul who was now several beers in. Then made my way down to the camp. Brad wa sleeping off his own bonk and woke up when I got there. I laid the Dos down, and sat my ass down. I was not happy about the day. How can I be so "on" for 80 miles, but fall apart in almost every race? Why is it always my stomach? Who knows? What I do know is that this was one of the best courses I ever raced. Big climbs, big views, and fast, fun single track. I also know that even with the many miles of pain that I encountered (due to my lack of fitness, balls, stomach, etc,) over the 401 miles of NUE racing that I did this year, it was worth it. I saw new places, hung out with some good friends and met some new ones. Will I attempt to race at least 4 again? Probably not. There is much to do in the way of figuring out the bonk issues that have plagued my racing career and I want to figure out how to get my racing to a place where the pain comes from the race and pushing myself. NOT the inability to keep food down during a race.
My racing will continue to be scaled back as I read the awful truth that is the the writing on my physiological walls, but I'm pretty certain that the Shenandoah 100 will be on the list of "must dos". Folks that live in that area and can ride there are damn lucky. Endless forest roads, and trails. Just amazing.
After a phone call to Wifey, a Polish Bath, and getting some water to stay down, we headed up for some food and some 60 Minute. Then back to the camp to hang out with my friends and racing buddies. It was damn fun, and I soon forgot about the bad parts of the day and just enjoyed being amongst some bike loving endurance freaks, even if it took me 11 hours to do that.
Racing for '09 might be over or I might squeeze one more in October. That does NOT mean that epic days in the saddle are over though. I mean hey, I CAN make to 80 miles without vomit! ;)