My main goal for the SM100 was to totally enjoy the day and the weekend. When people asked me what my time goals were before the race, I dodged their questions with this answer, and I think they thought I was lying or just being cheesy. But seriously, I figured that if I had fun and put my best effort out there, I was bound to crush my previous best time from 2010. Racing just to beat some arbitrary time has never really been enough motivation for me.
At the start, I was hoping to find someone to pace off of for a bit. I saw my teammate Mike and jumped in line next to him. I was quickly separated from him in the chaos of the start. As soon as we hit the road, I picked it up and passed as many people as possible. My plan was to start hard hoping to minimize the bottlenecks. The problem was, I didn’t really know how hard that was.
I ended up back with Mike on Narrowback and we headed into the bottlenecks together. It was stop and go with some walking. I heard my teammate Beth yell behind me something like “Hey there’s Karen!” She is right up there!” Then I heard her yell down the mountain to the rest of the women on our team, “Hey everyone Karen is right up there!” And my first reaction was, @#$% I need to ride faster. But I was standing in a line of people. The line finally started to thin out and we could ride consistently. I got a little stuck behind a guy on the descent, but tried not to be too annoyed by it as this was a fairly new experience for me. But seriously, why wasn’t he going faster? As soon as we hit the Tillman road, I took off with the intention of passing as many people as possible before Lynn Trail. I jumped from wheel to wheel, hiding in the draft of bigger guys on the downhills to pull me along.
When I got to Lynn, I saw that people were riding, and I wasn’t sure whether I should be happy about that or not since the top is quite the soul crusher. But I rode most of the bottom, passing a few people, and walked the steeper sections at the top with everyone else. I saw a Bike Lane jersey up ahead and heard lots of chatting and I knew it was Russ. I learned about SM100 years 1-2 from Larry Camp before Mike asked if we were going to relive all 15. We had time for sure. I followed Mike down the descent on Wolf Gap, which was super helpful and also the most fun I have ever had on that descent.
Back on Tillman road I tried to stay with Mike, but he was crushing the roads and I was starting to worry I was going too hard on the road sections, but I knew I had to stay on the pace. I kept him in sight, sometimes from his wheel, sometimes from someone else’s, and sometimes from the front. Heading up Hankey I didn’t feel great and started to worry about the top where it gets steeper. I also kept an eye out behind me for Beth, Julie, Anne, and others, ready for them to pop out from behind me at any minute. Somehow, as the trail got steeper, I felt better. I passed Mike and Russ at the top of Hankey, but then let Russ go ahead of me on Dowell’s Draft so I could follow him this time. It was greasy and a little sketchy in places, but having someone to follow again was super helpful.
I was feeling pretty good heading into the Mountain House climb. I have always liked this climb because it is hard, but not too hard, and it gets easier at the top. But it was really slippery, making it much harder than usual. I even took a tumble off the side of the mountain. I uncliped with my left (uphill) foot, but then somehow toppled over to the right off the mountain with my bike flipping over me still attached. Possibly landing in poison ivy, because I am not sure how else to explain the itchy splotches all over my arms and legs right now. The worst part was trying to climb back up onto the trail. The Brailey descent was more sketchy than the last. After my tumble, I took it easy, and I could hear the guys behind me saying how this mountain was just trying to launch them off the edge. I passed a woman who I wished I could hand a Michaux MTB camp flyer. How was she even ahead of me? I don’t know. Maybe I better go faster. I passed a kid laying off the side of the trail and his dad. Turns out it was just a broken collar bone, but from my view it looked worse. After that I didn’t go faster. The bottom of the descent was a mud pit that rivaled last year’s conditions. This made me really nervous about the top of the death climb where the life sucking mud pits were last year. I did not want to do that again.
I chatted with my teammates Marc, who was volunteering, and Bruce, who was photographing, at AS4, and then it was off to the death climb. I was not looking forward to it, since this is where the wheels fell off the bus last year and it is pretty boring. I fell into a pretty big pace line for the miles of false flat. At times I doubted it’s usefulness since we were only going about 11-13 mph uphill, but I have no doubt that I would have ridden slower by myself. So even if the draft didn’t help, the motivation did. Eventually it got steeper and fell apart, but it was good to have some people around on the climb to entertain me. However, I was slowing down and riding easier than I should have been. Towards the top, Kathleen from VeloWorks-Spokes passed and I decided that I had to stay with her. Turns out that riding faster felt about the same as riding slower, but that didn’t last long since we were just about to AS5.
Leaving AS5 the road was totally dry and I was so happy as I flew through the first short downhill. I pictured the mud slog through this section last year, and knew that it was going to be a good day for the rest of the ride. Up and down across the ridge I rode enjoying myself and that I wasn’t in 3-inch deep mud, finally arriving at the Chestnut Ridge descent. I don’t remember it being so steep or so long, and I was definitely wishing for a dropper seat post. (Christmas present from a loving husband perhaps?) When I was finally on the lower parts of the mountain where it is more open and you can go just about as fast as you want, a bee stung me on my arm. Like really stung me as good as he could because I think he was stuck in my arm. I couldn’t exactly take a hand off the handlebars at the time. I’m not usually allergic to anything, but by the next day my arm was all puffed up and extremely itchy. I also found what looks like another sting that I don’t remember getting.
I headed into and back out of AS6 right ahead of 11 hours, and knew I only had about an hour left. The second time up Hankey was kind of boring, and I couldn’t remember how long it was. But finally, I saw the turn and knew it was all downhill to camp! Or mostly at least. I told a guy who was walking “Last climb!” at the last short steep climb, and he was probably cursing me when we hit some rollers on the fire road. I think I went faster than I ever have before on that last descent. Earlier in the race someone asked me my favorite part of the course. They said “Don’t say the end,” and I said “But the end really actually is my favorite part.” The trail is fun and you just fly back into camp with a huge accomplishment behind you. It’s hard to beat that feeling.
I pulled into the finish at 12:02, which was 48 minutes faster than 2010, and so much faster than last year that it isn’t even worth comparing. I was 17th out of 44 female finishers and 57 starters. It was great seeing friends all over the trails, at the aid stations, as course marshals, and seeing Bruce about a billion times. I know lots of spots where I could have pushed a bit more, or made a better effort to stay on the pace, but the downhills are no longer holding me back (thanks Michaux MTB School!). For the first time I looked forward to them instead of anticipating them, and I was able to really enjoy all of the trails and just being on my bike. I am starting to feel quite at home in the George Washington National Forest. Looking forward to next year!
To relive the day in photos, check out Bruce Buckley’s recap.