Matt Donahue

Monday, September 19, 2005

SM100 Report

I’m not sure if it was a good idea to wait a so long to write this report. I’m certainly rested and recovered. After reading the other race reports from the team I felt I needed to get on the ball and put this together, but I just kept putting it off. So here it is finally.

As the previous posts in my blog indicate, the Shenandoah Mountain 100 is something that I, like many others who ride it, prepare for for months. My friend Marshall aptly suggested, "This year, Matt has an Agenda." His words were carried a slight air of "are you sure you want to do that?" tone, but it was a good thing he share this, as these words helped me in the race. My agenda was to finish in 10 hours 30 minutes or under, shaving at least 1 hour and 15 minutes off of last year’s time of 11 hours, 45 minutes. I’ll admit that, for a short time during the race, this agenda threatened to derail the good time that I was having.

Saturday morning, the day before the race, Katie and I packed up the camping gear and made our way over to Joe’s place to pick him up. Joe has driven me to so many events over the season enabling my wife to have the car on the weekends, it was the least we could offer. He loaded up and we headed south.

I made the cardinal mistake of making changes to my bike on Friday night, while not too soon to correct if difficulties arose, switching shifter cables probably wasn’t the brightest idea. We arrived at Stokesville, set up camp, got registered and Chris and I headed out for a half hour spin. Climbing out the back of the campground, my gears were popping and skipping like water tossed into hot oil. Chris looked back and correctly noted, “that noise does not sound so good.” After about a half hour (the whole ride) of tweaking the barrel adjusters I had the gears dialed in, sort of.

The pasta party that night offered everyone the opportunity to catch up, meet other team members’ significant others and fuel up. I prepped my camelback and drop bags, still stashing a light at aid station 5 in case things got bad and I needed to finish in the dark. Off to bed and a night of tossing and turning, maybe I should have had one more beer to calm the nerves? Why did I have nerves anyway? It’s just a race, I’ve done it twice already, it’s going to be fun I just want to finish under 10hrs 30.

I set my clock for 5:15 AM and woke up before that. The beeping and gong sounding started up at the main camping field. A bungled attempt at a team photo- and then we lined up. I lined up with Joe, we wished each other a good race Chris Scott offered some words of advice and the 350 rider field eased forward filing out of the camping field into the cool new morning.

I had no real strategy for this race, I’ve heard go out hard and settle in, go out moderate and hold a steady pace, go out slow, warm up and go faster. I just went, probably something closer to the first option. I caught up with Pooch on the first rolling fire road section, then Chris and as the first climb set in I saw Mark G about 150 yards ahead. I thought he was Scardaville. I felt good at the top of the climb, and after a few last minute adjustments due to some gear skips, headed into the first downhill. I caught Mark at the bottom and we bombed the slightly downhill fire road together for a while. Mark pulled away with another group as the road turned up a little.

Approaching the next climb, the dreaded Lynn Trail, I recalled my historically bad performance here, essentially getting off of the bike at the first right-hand switchback. Amazingly I stayed on, passing a few folks who couldn’t quite manage it. I caught up with Kent at the top of the first set of switchbacks, I knew then that I was probably going too fast too early in the race. Kent praised me for going so fast with some amount of surprise to even see me near him; I was also surprised. The ride morphed into a foot parade as the trail turned rocky and steeper. Kent pulled away by riding a section I thought better of even attempting. A final left turn pointed down the first serious downhill in the race. An arm and hand burner for sure, the descent emptied onto a paved section to CP#2 my first stop. I ditched my knee warmers and requested that Tris look after them, which she kindly agreed to do. I departed advising her not to touch the warmers as they were pretty nasty! What a great volunteer! I probably spent under 5 minutes at this stop, wanting to keep the momentum, and headed off to Hankey Mountain, the next big climb of the day.

I started up Hankey alone. But as the climb wore on, a few people started catching up, toward the top I felt as if I was fighting something- tires too low? Looking down at the rear wheel, something was amiss. I didn’t want to deal with it. Damn. I hopped off and did a quick inspection. No obvious thorns… a slow leak? I pumped it up-Chris rode by.

I jumped back on, hoping that the air I just put in would carry me to CP3. Not 10 minutes later the sagging bulge in the tire was even worse. Changing tubeless tires is a bitch. The tight bead, removing the valve stem and re-seating the tire with a tube inserted. During this repair, several folks passed including most of the team: Evan, Eric, Pooch, Joel and some dude with speakers blaring out of his back-pack?! OK. I hopped back on, somewhat disappointed at having lost so much time but at least I was going again. My agenda was starting to weigh on me.

I started the Dowell’s Draft descent, from the top of the ridgeline that followed the Hankey Mountain ascent. I was making good time, I could see another CB jersey up ahead. Boom. Rear blew again. Irrationally upset I jogged down the trail to find a break in the steep benchcut so I could actually get off the trail to work on this one. More people passed, Joe and Mike included. Fixed and back on the descent.

I'd probably lost 20 minutes fixing flats at this point. But it's mountain biking, a 100 mile ride, what did I expect? However, I was still bent on making up the time, the agenda was crushing me. I tried to do make up the time far too quickly. I roared into CP3. Joel, Joe, and Mike were there feeding and fueling. The amazing volunteer crew had me ready to go in minutes, but I was filling my face with fig newtons and pretzels. Pedaling out onto the paved road section leading to Mountain House by Ramsey's Draft, I looked for my teammates- they were way up ahead. I pushed to make some time on the false flat, and joined nearest pace line that had formed. I felt ok and thought I could bridge the gap to the next pace-line. Not a chance. About half way to the next group I blew up. Feeling deflated, the agenda had taken its toll and as I turned onto the single track the group I had broken away from caught me. I was not riding smart, a lot of wasted energy there.

The climb that followed was probably my lowest point of the race. It wasn't terrible but I simply wasn't recovering from the road section where I blew up. No drama, just labored climbing and slight cramping, keep turning the screws I told myself. I decided to drop the agenda on this climb, who cares about what time I come in?! this is fun! but it hurts. Over the top and down the sweet downhill, across the rooty line that Marshall taught me two weeks before and on to Braley's Pond and CP4. I started recovering and feeling better. Joel was at the CP, we both bailed rather quickly, he before I.

The next grinding stage was mentally a tough one, a long rolling dirt road with a steep several-mile climb at the end, something like 22 miles or more all together? I spent the vast majority of this section riding with Cass (short for Cassandra), an incredible climber. We paced together for around 15 miles or so. We urged each other on trading places up front, making a solid pace and some small talk to pass the time. At the turn to the steep climb she suddenly got a bloody nose, I offered to wait but she laughed and wouldn't have it. She wound up coming in 5th for the women. I road with Camps for some of this steep climb, he on his 29er SS motoring up that hill. Nearly to the top, CP5 emerged. Again, I met some teammates, Pooch and Joel. The pacing with Cass had helped me recover and get my pace back, I felt strong and decided to push on from CP5 after a fairly short brake.

The next section is always a funny one, consisting of several similar false summits: woodsy climb opening onto a meadow, woodsy climb opening onto a meadow, woodsy climb and oop! Another meadow! At last no more meadow- the top known as Bals Knob and the 7 mile Chestnut Ridge downhill!! YES! A check of the time put me back in range of that agenda I had abandoned. It seems that you can make up time over 100 miles after all. Breaking out at the bottom of the downhill, it wasn’t far to CP6. Time became a factor again and I could feel the end getting dangerously close, just one more climb up part of Hankey Mountain.

I caught back up with Camps on this one. There were a jolly few of us, happily jawing away while we wrapped up the climb. The jubilant feeling of relief that comes with finishing Hankey infected the group and a few folks let loose some whoops on the downhill. Cranking the chain up into the big ring on the final wrapping fire-road trail to the campsite, I knew I was going to beat 10 30. A welcome development, but not as important as it was 4 hours before. I was smiling. Beer, friends, food were on my mind.

Another SM100. Another season. 10 hours 22 minutes this year, will I go for something sub-10 hours next year?

The lively feeling of a grassroots community atmosphere is very much present at the SM100. Teams, riders, old friends, volunteers mixing and mingling outdoors on a hillside with tunes, food and beer. While the race represents 10 to 12 or more hours of the weekend, the before and after meals, really make the experience. Not to mention all of the prep that goes into putting on the event, thanks to Chris Scott and his team, and to all of the volunteers. Huge congrats to Joe for shaving an astounding 4 hours off of his time from last year, and to Scud for finishing for the first time, nice work! Thanks to my wife Katie for being supportive for the whole season! and for volunteering at the race. It's great to be on the City Bikes team and have such a cool group to hang with at these races, congrats to all!


  • good job
    good time
    my calves are still tight from that event!

    good work
    sub-10 next year

    By Blogger gwadzilla, at 12:44 PM  

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