Thursday, October 1, 2009

Extremely belated Shenandoah 100 race report

Back on Labor Day weekend I raced in the Shenandoah 100 while I was sick with the flu. I never got around to finishing the race report. Not that I really need to make excuses, but I was sick before, during, and after the race, and was completely slammed at work all month, and just didn't get around to finishing it up. Plus the next weekend after S100 was Faster Mustache 24, which, of course, was the A-Race of 2009. Anyway here is the writeup.

The Shenandoah 100 was the fifth 100 mile mountain bike race I did this year. Leading up to the weekend, it was not looking good for me and I thought I might have to drop out. About as soon as I had returned from Colorado, I caught the flu. For the next week I could barely do anything without getting nauseous and having horrible body aches. It may well have been swine flu, since lots of people at work had it, but I didn't go to the doctor so I can't know for sure.

I deluded myself into thinking I was getting better and managed a hard solo ride in Pisgah seven days before Shenandoah-- but the following morning was so ill I had to come home early from work. By Wednesday, I was finally starting to feel a little better, although a hacking cough meant my lungs were still irritated and congested. The real problem wasn't just my lungs, though, but also the fact that the flu had kept me off my bike. From the time I rolled over the finish line at Leadville until the race morning for Shenandoah, I had only gotten 10 hours of bike time.

Despite all this, I decided I would go. I started trying to adjust my expectations to ride it more for the experience than for the competition. I knew I would be coughing a lot the whole way, and being off the bike lately meant it would hurt. But I felt recovered enough that I could finish without making myself more sick. I would not finish with a great time, but I would get to see the course, which could help me if I returned next year. Also, it would be fun. And, I had already paid for it.

I had lots of delay on Saturday and rolled into the race venue just as the sun was setting. The fields and wooded areas serving as camping areas were already packed. Luckily friends had staked out a spot big enough that I could squeeze in. I was feeling pretty crappy, the driving and a last-minute bike repair issue making me stressed on top of sick. Soon as I got my tent up I crawled in and fell asleep.

The next morning I decided the key would be to start very slow and ease into it, respect my sickness, rather than pretending I was fine and going out at full healthy-person race pace from the gun. When I had been sick but gone out hard at Snake Creek Gap in March I ended up having to drop out. I lined up near the middle-back of the field so I would be less tempted to go hard from the gun.

The race started on some dirt roads, which progressed from flat to more and more rolling. The Shenandoah area had gone weeks without rain, and the 550 racers were kicking up a large cloud of dust. It was definitely affecting my breathing and by mile 10 I had unwrapped the first of many cough drops. I began to slowly pick up my speed, trying to figure out how much would be too much for 100 miles of effort.

I found my rhythm but didn’t know how long it would last. I didn’t want to overstress my lungs, and consciously tried not to let the other people around me dictate my effort. I let myself fall off the back of pacelines on paved sections. When someone attacked I let her go. She faded, I passed her back, and she attacked again. I let her go again.

Overall I didn’t feel like I was up against the other women, or the clock, or the course, as much as my own health. It was a hard race for my ego since everything I think I’m good at I was sucking at. I was climbing like shit all day, and not really setting the flats on fire either. Even weirder, I was descending well on all the technical singletrack, which is usually where I expect to suck. However, it is also where lung capacity means nothing. The course was pretty good, there were some great sections of trail in there. At about mile 90 I missed a turn, along with another couple riders, because a horse trailer was obscuring the trail marking. This added about 2 miles and 10 minutes onto my day. I guess I would have been mad about it if I'd been having a fast race, but as it was I couldn't get too upset. On the plus side, since I wasn't all wound up about having a fast race I was not too stressed out there.

Whatevs. It didn't suck but it wasn't great. I was happy to be done.

In the end it was just a long day on the bike. My lungs felt better as the day went on, but I was just not going to finish very fast. I ended up in 11th place, with a time of 10h 31. This race is pretty good, though my experience was really colored by being sick during the whole thing. There are a ton of people racing, so you get lots of traffic on the trail and a real party atmosphere back at the finish. It was cool to catch up with folks for a while but I didn't feel super social. I laid pretty low and just chilled out near the tent and drank beers.

I probably shouldn't have raced because it prolonged my sickness. The day after the race I had mild bronchitis, which persisted for days. At Faster Mustache 24 a week later I was still suffering from a hacking cough and periodic pains on really deep breaths. Luckily with that event it didn't really affect my race. It took another week after FM24 until I really felt like I was entirely recovered.

It's been an great season of excellent racing in beautiful places. East Coast racing has been welcoming and challenging. Still some big things on the horizon, but it's hard not to wax a little retrospective at this point. The series races, the big projects, the drive-all-day-to-get-there races, the stretches of back-to-back-to-back (to-back-to-back) endurance races, are winding down. What have we learned? Stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. Emily,

    congrats on finishing the race. sounds like it was a rough one. haven't finished one or even tried one feeling that off. i have a story here about a mountain biker who fell in love with the sport and used it to overcome a whole slew of troubles.

    if you like his story vote for him while you're there. if he does well then his story/video will be a television commercial for mutual of omaha next year. thanks for looking. just trying to support the mountain biking community.