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My First Shenandoah 100 Mountain Bike Race

shenandoah 100

Even though the race didn’t go quite as expected (I was planning a little faster race time)… Shenandoah 100 Mountain Bike Race is probably now one of my favorites races. I only wish it were closer to home. It just had a great mix of riding, awesome venue, good sized race field and definitely hard.

Note: Pictures, Strava file, other ride data and reference links at the bottom of report.

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Shenandoah 100 Venue

The Shenandoah 100 has the best venue that you are going to find for a mountain bike race, at least that I have been to. The Mohican 100 is dang close, but the fact that the Shenandoah 100 takes over the entire campground for the whole weekend for just the racers, brings it to another level. Wilderness was another great venue, but having running water restrooms and showers in an actual campground, brings it to another level.

The race is on Sunday, but the campground opens up Friday and racers are welcome to come in and set up camp from Friday till Monday. There are a couple of bathhouses with restrooms and showers, along with extra porta jons brought in for the weekend. The actual campsites are first come first serve, unless you reserve and pay for an RV site with some hookups. Some of the sites are a little tough getting into if you have low clearance, but I was able to find a nice campsite and get in and out of it with my Ford Focus. Otherwise, there is a ton of camping space available in the open field areas around the start/finish area as well.

There is a nice pavilliion where a pasta dinner is provided on Saturday night before the race and then another meal again after the race on Sunday. Everything is held right there at the start/finish line. I really enjoyed hanging out around the campground for the weekend, chatting with folks I had met at the Wilderness 101 a month earlier and then also making some new friends. The entire set up really was fantastic. I really liked the fact, that you could show up and not have to leave for the entire weekend.

Shenandoah 100 Course

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Great course layout and set up all together. I probably say this often actually, but it was really good. It was broken up nicely in different sections with a couple repeat sections and a 2 way traffic gravel section early on. The aid stations were spread out nicely and if you can carry 2 bottles on your frame, you would have no problem running bottles. It consisted of just about everything you would expect to find in any endurance mountain bike race. A little bit of pavement, gravel, jeep trail, fast and flowy singletrack, rocky narly singletrack, narrow ridgelines, hike a bikes, etc… The long climbs were not all gravel either. You were climbing some steep ridgeline singletrack and some jeep trails that went on forever, eventually turning into singletrack.

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There was a lot of climbing… Over 12,000 feet according to both Training Peaks and Strava. The course was not a constant up and down though as you can see from the elevation profile. The climbs were big, steep and grindy and the descents were fast and not on gravel. There was some rocky descents and a lot of fast narrow ridgeline descents.

Start to Aid 1A (mile 12)

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We rolled out of the campground as it was getting light out and all filtered down the campground exit road. It seems like things started to light up by the time we made it across the bridge and made our right hand turn through what I believe is the official town of Stokesville. There was already a seperation happening with a front pack breaking away out front and I put in an effort to stay on the back of it. We made the left hand turn up the pavement and the pace didn’t let off even though we started heading uphill.

Shortly after hitting the gravel, things started thinning out. I kept up my effort as we worked up the gravel jeep trail where we would climb about 400 feet of elevation between that left hander out of Stokesville to the entrance of the singletrack about 7 miles in. The singletrack would take us up another 500 feet in about a mile and a half.

I think I hit singletrack with a handful+ of other riders. I think this is where I was starting to think I might have gone out a little too strong. I just wasn’t riding the singletrack well at all. It was all up hill and had just enough little rock or root spots to waffle somebody up enough to cause a chain reaction of knocking downline riders off their pedals. At somepoint I waffled myself and had to step off and let riders by. It was probably the best thing as I was pushing too hard and I needed to dial back to a more comfortable pace. I had definitely gone out too hard and was with some folks that were beyond my capabilities to comfortably hang with…

I made the rest of the singletrack climb at my own pace as I let the handful of riders in front of me slowly get away. I was comfortable now. I find it hard to get in my own rythm on new trail like this if I’m pushing too hard and have wheels all around me. I was on my own now with nobody coming up on me that I could see. I eventually hit the top of the singletrack climb to find an amazing fun and fast descent down the other side. It was fast, flowly and fun with a few berms to catch a little air and cut loose if I remember correctly.

I’m not the fastest on this type descent, but I actually caught back on to that group in front of me that had gotten away. I assumed the person who was leading that group might have been holding them back. By the time we reached the bottom and dumped out on the gravel road, another group of folks where now catching us from from behind as well.

Aid 1A to Aid 1B (mile 29)

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Aid station 1 was right after dumping back out on the gravel and folks were holding out bottles. I rode through, as did just about everybody else I think. I believe it was all gravel to the next section of trail and we had a nice line of riders working together with a rotation of pulls until hitting the singletrack. There were a light grade uphill in the gravel that would come back down again and then the last section of gravel went up about 300 feet in 4 miles.

The singletrack was steep with a grade that continued to increase. It would climb about 1,200 feet in 2 miles. It was a grinder and the ground was a little wet. The wet rocks would cause traction problems and cause the occasional waffle that would make you walk a section that you might otherwise ride, but there was no getting back on the pedals. At some point it was feeling like a death march and I asked the guy in front of me how long much longer the climb was and he said we were close to halfway, but the second half was way worse…

I can’t remember when it happened, but I think we made a turn up a switchback and the steep grade went up a notch. I found myself hiking among a couple other folks for part of it and granny gear grinding for the rest.

At the top I was rewarded with a phenominal descent. I was a little slow at first and had to let a couple folks by and eventually started finding my rythm and flow. There was a small bit of an uphill and then the descent turned into a fast, rocky and twisty dowhill hill that kind of flowed, but was unpredictable with wet rock. I could hear a couple riders coming up from behind, but not on my tail yet and I used that as motivation to push myself and take a little risk. I got into a great rythm and let my bike do it’s job. I actually passed another rider and ripped down the rest of the trail to a trail head parking lot.

As soon as I got back out on the gravel, my legs locked up with nasty cramps. I was about to pay the price for going out too hard in thestart of the race. It was so weird the way they hit though. I hadn’t been pedalling much through that descent, but my legs were definitely getting worked over as I sure wasn’t seated in my saddle during that descent. I could actually feel a cramp working its way up as I was coming down and as soon as I hit the gravel and got back on the gas, they hit hard. I think I was in mid sentence with another rider when the cramps hit. My legs locked up and I came to a dead slow roll. I think he asked if I was ok, I responded with a yes and some cramps just hit watched as he and a couple other riders pedal off into the distance.

I quickly grabbed and downed the shot of pickle juice that I had in my jersey pocket as I soft pedaled up the gravel. A couple other riders came by and asked if I was ok, as I was barely rolling. These cramps locked me up pretty bad… I told them I was fine again and just had the cramps hit. I thought I heard one of them mention something to the other guy like “cramps, only 25 mile in?” The other guy responded with, “I’ve been that guy before, it sucks…” and then they both chuckled and pedaled away in the distance.

I chuckled with them a bit I guess, wondering how the next 75 miles were going to go with leg cramps at this point. I also used it as some motivation to try and mentally turn off the cramps and make a goal of catching back up to them and the rest of the group that I saw riding away. My cramps started to go away and I was able to get back on the gas, but never caught them and was now coming back through aid station 1 for the second time.

Aid 1B to Aid 2 (mile 33)

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Shortly after coming through aid 1, I thought I saw a single arrow pointed right and made a turn up a jeep trail. After making the turn and working my way up hill, I started questioning whether or not I was actually on course now and if I actually saw the arrow correctly. Most of the turns were all labled with double turn arrows, with more arrows after the turn to confirm you turned correctly. I could see some bicycle tire tracks and kept going. I made it up over the hill and about halfway down the other side and jumping on the brakes to turn around when I came across a few other riders headed back up the hill, confirming that I had made a wrong turn. They had actually gone all the way down the other side.

We turned around and made our way back down to the main gravel and got ourselves back on course as other riders were riding by and looking at us with a, where the heck did you guys go face… I think it only cost me about 6 or 7 minutes is all and maybe an extra mile. I think there was a slight loss of motivation once we got back going on course as the riders I was with seemed to be soft pedalling at first and I wanted to make up time. I picked the pace up for a little bit and it seemed like everybody started moving strong again as we worked up the gravel to the turn up the pavement. It was a couple miles of pavement and then I was at aid station 2.

Aid 2 to Aid 3 (mile 46)

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I filled up my water bottle, told the aid station folks about the potential flipped arrow. In hindsight, I could have went back to check it myself when I got back on course, but I didn’t think about it at the time. I was just concerned about getting back on course and getting going again at the time. Anyways, I got my bottle filled and headed up the road on what would be the start of a long climb that would turn steep near the top.

Keep in mind that I had already ascended about 250 feet on my way into aid station 2 and I would climb another 1600 feet or so after leaving aid 2. There was about 3 miles of pavement climb and then another 4.5 miles of jeep trail that I believe eventually turned into singletrack. I would climb continuously for nearly an hour.

I paced myself well and was feeling good the first half. As I got past the halfway point on the jeep trail, I was getting fatigued and had to walk a couple steep sections. They were all ridable, but my legs were feeling the stack up of the continuous long climbs and going out way too hard at the start. I can’t remember exactly, but I think maybe those couple spots that I walked might have been a little slippery or something from the previous couple days of rain. Not muddy, just a little slippery. There actually wasn’t much mud on the course, but things were slippery at times. Especially the rocks.

I think the other reason I might have walked is a bit of a mental weakness that snuck up on me. I saw somebody walking in front of me and I mentally told myself that it would be ok to walk as well. Then I realized they were a single speeder and probably pushing a 34 X 20 or something while I had plenty of gear with my 2 X 10 drivetrain and should have been able to spin up it.

These races are long and you can find yourself going in and out of weak and strong points along the way. What makes you weak at times, can also make you stronger in the long run if you can recognize that weakness and work on it later. Sometimes you might even catch it in time to face it head on in the moment.

When I crested over the top and started down the other side, I was feeling fatigued and a little off. The downhill side was fast and I just couldn’t find my comfort zone in it. I can’t remember exactly the order of the trail, but it was fairly clean singletrack with some loose gravel if I remember correctly. I do know that for some reason, I just couldn’t find my comfort zone and gave up a few places on the way down.

The trail became narrow at some point and ran along the side of ridgeline or was really narrow bench cut in the steeper hillside. It really wasn’t that bad and I should have been able to rip down it, but just felt really nervous on it. I suppose some folks might not have thought much of it and might not relate. It’s just not stuff I am used to riding a lot.

I feel like I do better on narly rocks as long as there is no drop offs, than I do on the narrow ridgelines or steep benchcuts. I have a hard time getting my mind off the, if I go down here, I might tumble for a ways…

At the bottom was aid station 3.

Aid 3 to Aid 4 (mile 59)

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The aid station folks were great. They got my drop bag, filled up my hydration pack and even mixed my CarboRocket up for me while I slammed a Coke that I had in my drop bag and grabbed my fresh supply of Honey Stinger gels and waffles, along with another pickle juice shot in case the cramps came back again. I also grabbed a handful of Pringles and a cup of skittles on my way out. I had to grab the Pringles. For some reason the Dirt Wire TV video with the guy talking about the Pringles at the aid stations was stuck in my head… and yeh, the Pringles were awesome! I should have grabbed more.

I got going again and hit the highway. This was the section of the race that was about 6 miles of main road that would rise about 300 feet and a paceline was a good idea. Shortly after working up the road a few of us joined up and the group grew a little more by the time we hit the trails again. I had kind of wanted to push a little harder, but based on what I had ridden so far, I knew the upcoming trail probably wasn’t going to be a walk in the park and I was going to need something left in the tank when I hit the dirt again. Not to mention, I had to cut one of my pulls at the front short to hit my shot of pickle juice when the leg cramps fired up again. I’m convinced that stuff helps now as they went away by the time it was my turn for another pull and I don’t think they ever came back again.

I think I filed into the trail near the back of the line and the climbing would once again commence. Again, I can’t remember the exact details, but the trail would take us up another 1,000 feet over the next 2 miles. It got steep along one of those steep edges again and then I believe this is where the stair climb was at. It gets it name from the obvious formation of rocks that look like stairs where you do a hike a bike up hill. The hike a bike got to me and I ended up doing some more hiking again later on stuff that I should have been able to ride. The going out too strong and the last climb had stacked up on me. I like going out strong, as I feel like I’m going to fatigued regardless, but looking back at my heart rate data… I just about blew myself up.

I was jittery or nervous again coming down the other side, especially after watching the guy in front of me slide over the edge. He caught himself and only went down 5 or 6 feet, but could definitely have been worse. I had let a few folks go by in this section and then also passed a few folks myself that were fighting some some fatigue.

I felt like my bike was all over the place and then a tight right hander over some loose rocks sent me over the top. I hit the ground hard in the rocks and immediatly felt my left hand throbbing. My legs were tangled up a bit in my bike frame that was tangled up in a tree stump while I was laying on my back head down the trail. I didn’t see anybody coming right away and took a second to assess the situation…

Then, I saw somebody coming down the trail and new I needed to get out of the way. I kind of felt like I was upside down. He came around the corner as I was getting untangled. and pulling myself. I can’t remember his first reaction, but he was definitely concerned and asking if I was ok. I said I was fine. He stopped and helped me get my bike up a little and made sure I actually was ok and reminded me to check my brakes and make sure everything was working ok.

I got back going again to find that my left hand was in pain. It hurt and I couldn’t barely grip my bar. Thankfully, I think I was fairly close to the bottom and just slow coasted down the rest of the way into aid station 4.

Aid 4 to Aid 5 (mile 77)

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I felt a little out of it and pulled into the aid station for some water. I stood over my bike for an extra moment and took my time while one of the aid station volunteers filled my bottle. I kind of shook things out, grabbed a couple cups of Coke and got going again.

I was now headed up some gravel and the pain in my left hand was getting worse. I knew I had a long climb in front of me and just found a comfortable place to rest my hand on my bars and ground out the pedals. Aside from one little blip in the elevation profile, it was all uphill to the next aid station. The grade would continue to increase and I would climb nearly 2,000 feet over the next 18 or so miles. I figured I would be ok with the long climb as long as I didn’t believe it was going to get technical and hopefully it would start feeling better by the time I got to the top.

If I remember correctly it was a lot of gravel. I want to say it turned into some jeep trail, but I can’t quite remember exactly what it looked like as it went on, but it was nearly 2 hours to the next aid station where I would hit my drop bags again for fresh supplies.

By the time I got there I was able to find a comfortable grip on my handlebar with that left hand. It was still painful, but I was dealing with it now. It was during some of this segment of the race I think that I was going in and out of a few negative emotions, but pushed them out of my head and pressed on.

Aid 5 to Aid 6 (mile 88)

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The aid station folks were geat, once again. I didn’t want a full hydration pack as I was nearing the race  finish and my last drop bag is more of a safety net if things are not going to plan. I was running behind my planned pace, but just wanted about a half a hydration pack of CarboRocket to get me to the finish. The aid station folks mixed up half my powder with half a bag of water for me while another volunteer filled my water bottle with fresh water. I like keeping fresh water on the bike. I think I grabbed some more pringles, a few skittles and slammed the Red Bull that I had in my drop bag and was ready to finish this thing up.

The climbing was not done. The trail was jeep type trail coming out of the aid station and would go up just a short way before dropping a couple hundred feet. However, I would start climbing again and have to climb another 600 feet before getting to go down again. I believe the climb was singletrack through a wider path or maybe it was old jeep trail that was worn in like singletrack in spots. I also believe there were some wooded true singletrack sections as I remember a look out over this amazing view of the countryside and Appalachians. There were a few of these points in the race.

It would continue going up through various little meadows or small prairie sections and switch between steep grades and false flats. Each time you thought it was about to flatten out and start heading down hill, another section of climbing would hit you. I was riding back and forth with another guy at this point. We had been going back and forth for quite some time and I remember him shouting back that this must be the top… we were close, but it wasn’t the top. We crossed through that prairie section and then hit some more singletrack climbing again.

Finally, do the down hill… I remember a section of singletrack being a little rough on a narrow benchcut with a fairly steep grade down the side of it. This might have been the first section of down hill. Anyways, there were a couple small drops on it. It was all easily ridable, but I got nervous and just didn’t have a good grip. My hand had gotten more comfortable, but my braking and control just wasn’t there yet. I jumped off a couple times to let somebody by and then walked down/over a couple spots. I knew I was dropping more time, but I just didn’t want to take any chances.

I got back going and eventually got my rythm back and got my hand comfortable enough to give me some more confidence in my bike handling. The trail was not smooth and was mostly loose and a little rough if I remember. It was steep and I was using a lot of braking pressure. I was being too conservative and got passed a couple times on the downhills. It was fun though!

I don’t remember it being vary switchbacky, but mostly just dropping down a ridgeline where you could really build some speed. I wasn’t familiar with the trail and was just a little nervous about letting my speed get out of control if a tight turn were to sneak up on me. There was only a couple of tight turns near the bottom before popping out at aid station 6, which was also aid station 2 that I had come by earlier.

Aid 6 to The Shenandoah 100 Finish Line

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I think I topped off my water bottle and then got back to racing. I was out on pavement and climbing again for a couple miles. The next next few miles would be a repeat of the same course from earlier in the day after leaving aid station 2, which was the same as aid station 6, as I mentioned above. The course would climb about 300 feet and than drop down 300 feet before hitting the dirt again.

It would also be the same jeep trail climb from earlier in the day, but we wouldn’t have to go all the way up this time and would cut off of it less than half way up. That being said, we could climb about 700 feet of it with another 100+ feet once turning off of it.

Once making the left off the jeep trail, it was a mix of singletrack and some narrow gravel/jeep trail. I picked up a couple more places on the way down and was feeling good. I knew I was close to the finish, but didn’t know exactly how close. You never know on these races if it is exactly 100 miles or not. I came up on a single speeder as we were dropping into the final bermed and flowy singletrack coming into the campground and I tried to stay with him.

There is a lot of times in these 100 milers that you end up crossing the finish by yourself and I always find it more fun to have somebody to race with to the finish. We dropped out into the finish line shoot, caught some air off the grassy rolling drops and made the big sweeping right hander around to the finish. I pulled around him as I had more gear but let off a little too soon and he shot by me just before the finish line. We laughed and gave each other high five. I enjoyed that, it made the finish more fun!

I ended up finishing in 9 hours and 42 minutes with a 66th place finish in the Open Men’s class and a 92nd place finish in the overall of about 450ish racers.

Shenandoah 100 Final Thoughts

This is such a great race. The venue is awesome and there is such a variety of trail and it is challenging. There are some really tough sections that beat you up, but there is a ton of really fun trail also. I’m going to get back to it and give it another go. I will probably get back to this one often actually. It’s a long ways away, but it is one of the best races I’ve been to when you look at the overall venue, course and size of the race. Great event!

The more I get out to some different races, experience some different trails… the more comfortable I know I’ll get. I’m really glad I pulled the plug on some of the smaller local stuff in exchange for getting out and experiencing some new stuff. It’s a bit of an adventure and a great test. I’d highly recommend putting the Shenandoah 100 as a priority on your bucketlist.

Other Data

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The forth column is my Heart Rate Threshold window and I spent a cummulative of more than 2 hours within that threshold window. A whole bunch of it near the start of the race. I’d really like to get power on my bike. Not necessarily to use during the race, but I think I would find it interesting to look at afterwards.

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This is time spent at Peak Heart Rate. My estimated Heart Rate Threshold is right around 170 to 172.

Weekend Photos

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Strava File

Feel free to follow along on Strava. My file is missing the first mile or so. I think I forgot to start my Garmin until we were out of the campground.

Shenandoah 100 Reference Links

Shenandoah Mountain Touring

National Ultra Endurance Series

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