Knowing Chris and what a great coach and disciplined racer he was I, of course, wanted to follow his plans again. I decided to do his 20 week winter training plan to get my base fitness back and then do his 12 week SM100 training plan to get ready for the race. I tried to follow the plans as closely as possible, but with a full time job, 2 kids and the regular crazy day to day life stuff, I can’t say I did it perfectly, but it was as close as I could manage. There were a lot of 430am wake ups with rides in the dark and super early weekend rides to get in the long ones, but still have family time and leaning on Jon a lot to handle the kids, so I could get my rides in.
So finally race weekend was here. I was excited and nervous, but not happy that the weather wasn’t looking good. Jon and I drove down and as we got closer to Stokesville starting hitting the rain. I was really bummed, because I had really wanted all things to be equal to compare how I had done in 2008 to this time. I was hoping the weather, the trails, everything would be similar so I could really see how much time I could shave off (hoping I’d shave something off, because I was 5 years and 2 babies later, so who knew?) Well even without the weather, all things weren’t going to be equal, because the course had changed again this year and with the new trail the course was actually 4 miles longer than it had been in 2008. So I decided to just stop worrying about it all and go ride my bike. When in the last 4 years had I had ALL day to ride my bike?
The wake up call was 5am, by 620am we were staged in our prospective finishing time areas. I chose to line up at 9hr finishing area hoping to get ahead of some of the crowd, because there was always a bunch up once you hit single track. At 630am off we went. The typical accordion back and forth with 600+ people getting going. The race starts on the road a bit and then you take a left and hit the fire road for about a 2 mile climb. Lots of people surging ahead and dropping back and back and forth. I tried to keep a good comfortable climbing pace and not go all out knowing I had 99 more miles to ride. As expected, the course took a left into the single track and this is where it stopped. A lot of very fit riders usually end up in the front and up the climb first and then when it gets technical, they get off their bikes to walk it and it starts the back up. The trail we turned onto was the new trail added to the race. I was afraid we were going to be walking the entire thing, but luckily there were some sections we were able to hop back on and ride, but what was disappointing were these beautiful flat rock table-top like piles that I was forced to walk and would have loved to ride. This trail was AWESOME and had a bit of everything, rocks, roots, TABLE-TOP swoopys (in the race!) and I don’t think I can put into words how crazy fun the descent was. Unfortunately on the descent there was a group of about 5 of us behind a slower descender and no matter how much we whooped and hollered he wouldn’t pull over and let us pass, so the descent could have been even better!
Next was the 5 mile fire road to the Lynn Trail hike a bike. I got in a train of about 5 guys and we flew down the road. The Lynn Trail was a bit emptier then the last time I had done it, so I was able to ride a bit more of it, but its steep and with all the rain this summer and the day before the trails were a bit wet and the rocks and roots were slippery. After getting up to the top, I was ready for a descent and a break. However, this section was new to me and Wolf Ridge does descend but throws in a few climbs and some rocks to keep it interesting. This is where I first passed a girl I knew to be a really fast rider, and I was stoked to see her and get past her when she bobbled a rocky section. After the downhill, you hit the road again for quite a stretch and do a road climb to Aid Station 2 (Aid Station 1 is at the bottom of the first descent and is just water so most people just go by).
If you’ve never experience an SM100 Aid Station, you should do the race just for that. You roll up, they ask you what you need, grab your bike, lube your chain, get your drop bag if you have it at that Aid Station, grab your camelback fill it up, hand you a bottle,etc. You end up standing there, wondering what it is you’re supposed to do as everything is being done for you. Its AMAZING and these are volunteers! Tons of food options, super nice people cheering you on, you end up leaving happy.
After Aid 2, you have a bit of a road climb then small down hill and take a left to climb the infamous Hanky Mountain. Its a long switchbacky kind of climb the first 2 miles, then you take a right at the intersection to continue climbing it. The grade is manageable and I was able to climb it in my middle ring, but after you take that right turn and climb for another few miles there are a couple of pitches at the top that are pretty brutal and you are either in your granny gear or walking some of it. The trails were pretty wet, but so far ok. Probably soft enough in spots to make it just that much more painful. After the Hanky climb is one of my favorite descents. Fun, fast, swoopy and yes, I yelled and hollered and screamed the entire way down with a huge smile on my face. I feel like I could have gone a bit faster, but I was keeping myself in check a bit with the wet roots and rocks, but my tires were feeling pretty grippy and you just can’t help yourself with a descent like that. And the one thing about the SM100, the descents make all the pain in the climbs worth it.
After Dowell’s Draft is Aid 3, where I had a drop bag. Changed into dry gloves, refilled by camelback, grabbed a couple of gels and tried to get out of there as soon as I could. Here you hit the road with traffic for quite a bit. Tried to grab onto a group and draft a bit to save some energy, but still go fast. The girl that I had passed on Wolf Ridge caught up and passed me on the road, but I decided not to chase her down, because I knew what was coming. Off the road you take a right at the Mountain House and hike a bike across the stream and up some steep stone steps. This next climb is a tough one. Its tight bench cut single tack with some rocks and roots and with the trails being wet, made for plenty of slippery mess ups and having to put a foot out, plus its steep. After getting around a couple of people that were not comfortable with the rocky bits and wet roots, I was able to spin out the rest of the climb. This is where I caught up and passed the fast girl again, so I must be doing pretty good? Again, another fun, FAST downhill, and then the MUD. We hit the fields and it was peanut butter! There was a guy behind me and I started laughing and asked him, ‘are you seeing this?!’ as I fishtailed and swerved this way and that in all the mud, he responded his bike was doing the same thing. Made it to Aid 4 and they asked if they could lube my chain, I said ‘Sure, if you can find it’. Jon had put a mud flap on my bike which I was really enjoying at this point. Then I mentally prepared for the next ’18mile climb’.
The 18mi climb is just that, but the first part (11-12mi?) is not totally awful. Pretty manageable grade until you take that wonderful right hand turn and start going up, up, up. I remember being afraid of it the first time I did the SM100 and during it thinking the ‘false flat’ as the call it wasn’t so bad, but this time I kept thinking it didn’t seem as flat as I remembered it! The right hand turn and climb up was as hard as I remembered. Chatted with a few people on the way up. Some I passed, some passed me. One guy said we should be close to Aid 5 because it was supposed to be at mile 75. Our GPS hit 75 and no Aid station in site. This is the climb that I willed myself not to walk the 1st time I had done the SM100 and I was determined not to this time either. Legs were tired, but O-K. Can’t say I was flying up it, but I was still moving. At one point, you actually descend for about 45 seconds, my legs definitely needed that! Finally about 2-3miles later is glorious Aid 5, thank God! I have a drop bag, so grab another pair of dry gloves, doctor up my camel back with my drink mix and get ready for the meadows. The worst thing about the 18mi climb and when you get to Aid 5 is you think you’re done climbing for awhile. Nope.
What an awesome race! Some of the OLV guys came and said they thought I might be top 10. Found out I came in 9th out of almost 60 women starters. WOW! I can’t even describe how amazed I was at my time and that I did so much better than I ever expected. Top 10 at the SM100, really!? It was really satisfying to know that all the effort, all the stupid-early training rides in the dark and long tired days were actually worth it. My bike was great all day, my tires were grippy, my legs were nice to me, I made friends all day long. The trails could have been dryer and if they had, maybe 10-15min even faster? During the race, I think around Aid 5 which isn’t a surprise, I remember thinking that all the training for the race was hard and the race itself was just really long and really hard and that this was probably going to be the last time I do the SM100, that its all just too hard. Then the day after, when Jon and I are driving home, I start cracking up and he asks me what I’m laughing about and I tell him I had just caught myself thinking how the next time I do the SM100, I would do this differently or that differently. So as you can see, no matter how hard it is, there is something about this race that just keeps you coming back. Maybe its the descents or the awesome aid stations or the great after party or the friends you see or the euphoria of having just ridden your bike on fantastic trails ALL DAY LONG, but whatever it is and how ever hard it was you always leave thinking, ‘The next time……’.