it was probably around 10am when it happened... i was climbing hankey, just past the gate at the point the climb gets a little bit steeper for the last 1/4 mile, probably around 35 or 36 miles into the sm100. my hamstrings locked up. my heart sinks a little lower. in the past 6 miles i've gone from thinking i've got a shot at 10 hours to wondering if i'm going to finish.
i started the race fast, maybe a little too fast. i'd been riding a comfortable but solid pace over narrowback and up to lynn trail. the traffic was bad on lynn, so there was a good bit of walking there, but eric was just behind me and matt just in front. the ridge and downhill were fast and fun, as usual, and once we hit the bottom matt, eric, and i came together as part of a fairly large pack climbing back up tilghman road.
my hands were sore from the downhill, not something i'd expected so early in the day, but i figured i didn't have the grips & brakes positioned quite right from swapping the bar out a couple of days before, and the new fork was a little on the stiff side. still, there'd be time to deal with that at aid station 2.
once you turn off tilghman road you start climbing the first of two small ridges that separate you from the bottom of the hankey mountain climb. aid station 2 is located right between the two of the them, but as soon as the road started tilting up in knew something wasn't right. my legs were a lot more tired than they should be this early in the race. i dropped back from the group i was with to give my legs a break and put my head down, already feeling my spirits start to drop.
at aid station 2 i refilled asked the volunteers to refill my hydration pack, took a couple of sportlegs, grabbed more sportlegs from my drop bag, ate a bit of food and got some help with the position of my grips & brake levers. i'd swapped my handlebar earlier in the week and didn't have the position quite right which lead to some hand problems on the way down wolf ridge.
the stop was a bit slower than i'd wanted, but i was soon back on the road to 3, but dreading the climb up hankey that lay ahead. the bottom section started ok, but i was in the granny gear a little earlier than i would have liked and my legs were definitely not feeling their best.
i started checking things off in my head... am i eating enough? maybe not, that gel flask is still a little full. am i drinking enough? the hydration pack was just about drained at 2, so probably. am i getting enough electrolytes? big question mark there...
when i was portioning out my clif electrolyte mix i had to go with a little less per packet than i'd have normally mixed. i figured i'd be ok by just mixing less water, but with volunteers doing the refilling it can be a bit hit & miss. on top of that i was using sportlegs instead of the endurolytes i'd used in previous years and i hadn't been able to find the cheap little plastic coinpurse that i used 2 years ago to hold them. the coin purse was great, i'd refill it from my pak or drop bag the aid stations then stick it up the leg of my shorts so it was easy to keep taking them throughout the ride.
towards the top of hankey you pass a gate and the trail steepens for a 1/4 mile or so. right after the gate i cramp. i spent a couple of minutes in agony stradling the top tube with both hamstrings completely locked up. that's when my spirits really started to go downhill and the big question comes into my head... did i go out to fast? it's soon followed by another question... am i going to be able to finish?
after the steep section you get a couple of teaser downhills that are followed by short steep climbs as the trail rolls along the ridge. i cleared more of the headwall section than i ever have before, including the rock step near the top, but sill got a little sketched out by the final steep and loose section. after following the ridge for a mile you start the downhill in earnest and get to ride one of the sweetest downhills anywhere. it's fairly smooth, and pretty fast, but i had a little hiccup as i flatted about 1/2 way down. klasmeier and cargo mike passed me as i was fixing my flat, but i was soon back on the bike.
heather was waiting for me at aid station 3 and than helped get my spirits back up. she gave me my shuffle and i refilled, ate, and grabbed some endurolytes they had out on the table. i also drank a water bottle of weak gatorade then hit the road to mountain house with mike scardaville. between mike's company and my shuffle the road went by pretty quickly. we rode a conservative pace on the road and i could tell my pace was dropping, but i didn't feel that bad when we got to mountainhouse... i just wasn't sure that i'd make it too the top of the climb.
the climb from mountainhouse to the top of the braley pond downhill is narrow, off camber, and in places steep, singletrack. it's a climb that takes all of your attention on a good day. when you're fresh it'll make you feel like a rock star, but when you're tired it just beats you down. i was seriously worried that i'd completely cramp once we started climbing, but i was pleasantly surprised that i was able to ride most of the climb. i was off the bike for a couple of sections (short steep pitches or loose shale fields) but overall it wasn't as bad as i'd expected. it did, however, feel like it would never end. it'd probably never felt as long since i first rode it 3 years ago while getting ready for my first 100.
but i did make it to the top and the payoff is the best downhill of the day, if not one of the best anywhere, down to braley pond. miles of swooping contour downhill. it's just a little steeper and turnier and more technical than dowell's draft and i love it. after the climb it's the perfect thing to lift the spirits a bit before the climb to 5. there's a bit of winding singletrack from the base of the downhill to the aid station, and it hurt more than it should, or at least at time it seem like it hurt more than i remembered from 2 years ago.
aid station 4 is a bit of a blur. there were more thoughts of dropping out, but there was no way i could. heather would be there at the finish and that was enough to keep me going. klasmeier got in to 4 a couple of minutes before i did and waited for me to get ready to leave. bottle of gatorade at the aid station, refill the pack, try to eat, but my stomach is feeling a little off, then plug the earbuds back in and hit the road with mike for the inevitable suffering to come on the way to 5.
we start at solid but "we're just going to make sure we finish" pace. end up riding with a woman racing for giant for most of the ride. the course map makes a lot of it look flat, and when you're riding it looks flat, but in truth it's something like 15 miles of gentle climbing to get to the 5 miles of steep climbing to get to aid station 5. mike and i do a pretty good job for most of it, even though it doesn't really feel like it. the road goes on and on forever, but the shuffle helps a bit and having company helps as well. once we hit the steep section of the climb we're both in bad shape. physically i feel weak and spent. i've got no power left in my legs. mentally i don't know how i'm going to keep going after 5. there's still another 6 or 7 miles of rolling fireroad to the very top of the chestnut ridge downhill.
on the way up to five i feel about the worst i have ever felt doing this race. worse than when it took 15 hours three years ago. i'm full of self doubt... was going on past 4 a bad idea, am i going to get stuck on the side of the road cramping an unable to continue. this the the most i have ever suffered, physically and mentally. i'm at the bottom of the pain cave.
we make it to five and take a while to sit and recover. a volunteer gives us some ibuprofen, and tried to eat, but just couldn't swallow any solid food. i had a couple of bottles of gatorade and refill the hydration pack. there were thoughts of dropping again, but from here there's no point. drop out now and you'd spend all afternoon waiting for a ride back to camp, or have to ride back almost as long as finishing the course. before we leave i manage to eat a couple of pieces of melon.
on the ride past 5 something starts to change. fireroad past 5 rolls through meadows with some steep climbs interspersed with short downhills and steadier climbs. my legs feel like they're rebounding a bit. i'm still riding with mike, and now larry camp, who's rocking the singlespeed as usual. by the time we get to little bald and the top of the chestnut ridge downhill we've dropped larry a bit though and i start off behind mike on the downhill.
this one isn't as much my taste as braley or dowells, but it's got some sweet ridgeline sections where you're riding in a 4-inch gap through mountain laurel and has to be the prettiest downhill on the course. unfortunately that mountain laurel can hide some surprises and my front tire hits a rock badly and flats again. larry comes by while i'm doing my fix-a-flat routine, as do a lot of people we've passed earlier in the day. as soon as i'm back up and running i get caught off guard by a small rock ledge i don't remember, my front wheel caroms off a large rock a yard down the trail and i'm on the ground. no damage though, to me or the bike, and i'm soon off and riding again.
the downhill is feeling good though. there are a few pedally sections and small climbs, but my legs feel fine on them. i pass larry camp, and a couple of other singlespeeders, and once i hit the road at the bottom and pull into aid station 6 mike has already left. my stomach feels fine for the first time all day, and there are bananas at the aid station (first time all day). top off the hydration pack, grab a spare tube (i've used both of mine now) and hit the road. a time check reveals that i'm not doing as badly as i expected. i've got about an hour to ride and i'm at around 10:05.
i climbed the lower part of hankey with thomas jenkins and some of the other harrisonburg guys. they pushed a little harder than i could, so i dropped back. rode a pace that let me chat with a couple of other riders and then got to that beautiful left turn that marks the beginning of the run back to the campground.
it's not all over for climbing though, as you're up on the ridge and there are a couple of short ups and downs before you drop down to the fireroad to the finish and on one of those downs the front tire goes flat again. as i'm changing the flat i notice the hole in the tube is in the same spot as the previous flat and double check the tire... sure enough there's a 1/4" gash so i grab the shot blok wrapper in my pocket and boot the tire before putting in a new tube.
as i was putting my pack back on joel gwadz passes me. that gets me hustling and i'm back on the bike as fast as i can be. i see joel ahead on a short steep climb as the field compresses, the lose him as he hits the downhill while i'm still climbing. riding the downhill to the fireroad i start to see a dust cloud ahead of me... i'm catching up to joel, i think, and push a little harder. by the time we hit the downhill he's less than 50 yards ahead so i push my pace on the fireroad just enough to get in contact. i make a joke to joel about his downhilling needing work if i can catch him on a downhill, but i can't maintain the pace an he starts to pull away again as my legs start to twitch. no need to be foolish and cramp now so i ease of and cruise the last mile into the campground.
coming into the campground at the end of the race is a feeling i can't describe... relief, elation, joy, think of a superlative and it's all there. heather's there at the finish line, bang the gong, pick up the pint glass, and head for the keg...
11:15... not bad for thinking i wouldn't finish, not bad for 3 flats. not a pr though... oh well, there's always next year.