2017 Shenandoah Mountain 100

This time around it was different. The mental state of a racer is just as important as the physical side. During a 100 mile mountain bike race your emotions are truly on a roller coaster from hell. The top racers have an uncanny outlook on life itself which directly reflects their ability to not only suffer on the bike but find light in the darkest of hours.

Shenandoah Mountain 100…

This race was the first race on my calendar for the 2017 season. I was able to do a lot of cool races last year but Shen was easily the best race of the season for me. Not only is the actual race amazing but the entire atmosphere is which leaves most with a weekend full of memories to never be forgotten.

Our trip started off early Saturday morning. I linked up with Bill, Hans, Roy, Kimarie and Larry around 7:00 am to make the trip South towards Stokesville, VA. It was a very relaxing drive down as we stopped numerous times (we weren’t in any rush to get there being that there was rain in the forecast for Saturday). Once we were roughly 30 minutes from the venue we stopped at Shenandoah Bicycle Company in downtown Harrisonburg. Really cool shop with a very helpful staff (definitely check them out if you are in the area). From there I checked into my hotel while the others headed to the event. Quick check in for me and I immediately headed over to the event campground.

There I link back up with Bill, Hans & Roy to help setup camp. We setup camp right next to our friends from MD. Matt along with Sugar Teets (yes that’s really a person and a story for another day) who were already setup. Ted arrived maybe an hour later. The gang is all here! We hangout for a bit share some laughs and of course talk about what’s to come. While there was a calmness to the evening you could still feel the nerves starting to take over. Wanting to get a good nights rest, I registered and headed back to the hotel. I watched some of the Alabama vs. Florida State game and quickly called it a night.

4:30 AM wake up because race day is here. I kit up, throw on the race day Reds and head over to the event Start/Finish area. The crew is getting themselves ready for the day as I pull up to the tent area. Race goes off at 6:30 AM. It’s 6:25 and everyone is scattered about. I’m not interested in getting thrown off of my game plan so I head over to the start and line up in the 11 hour section. There I see Matt Eggleton who I met at last years Shenandoah 100.

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The whistle blows and it’s game time. Baffled by where the hell everyone was I hesitated for a second but then began pushing pedals as I knew there was work to be done to break the 12 hour mark.

The weather is cool, the roads are damp and one by one I passed riders that were towards the back of the pack. We get into the first 6 mile fire road climb and there I see Kimarie and shortly thereafter I see my teammate Hans. I had a brief interaction with both and continued pushing pedals. At the bottom was Aid Station 1. I rolled right through as my plan was to stop at 2 which was roughly 31 miles in. Between AS1 & AS2 I run into Anne Pike, I had no idea it was her until she looks left and says “hey Jon” LOL. Hey Anne, how’s it going? “I’m good”, I’m good as well.  Short but sweet we continue pushing pedals. A group of 6 or so riders began to work together on a very fast road section. It was cool to see complete strangers work together and I guess everyone understood how much faster we would be sharing the work load versus being on your own. That was until Wolf Ridge…insert fck my life.

Wolf is a 5.3 mile technical single track climb that is absolutely BRUTAL. Last year I walked most of this section from the bottom. This year armed with go go gadget legs and a 11 – 46 rear cassette we were trying to clear this one. First section and I’m on one…dabs galore around me but Swaggy P is putting it down. First switchback clear and we still grinding, second switchback and I’m still on the bike but the legs are starting to feel this beating. Third switchback and I’m still on the bike but relegated to a crawling pace. I was still gaining on the walkers and anyone behind me had no intent on passing. There was a steep pitch ahead and everyone dismounts. I gave it a good attempt but that’s all she wrote. I walked the rest of Wolf. While the climb sucks you are instantly rewarded with some of the best single track that you can imagine. Fast, tight, bench cut trails with berms for days. 2 minutes in and I had completely forgotten about that 30 minute climb/walk section. This was simply amazing and probably my favorite descent of the day.

I roll into AS2 and I see both Dave Pike (volunteering) and my teammate Bill. Two bottles refilled with my Skratch Labs mix a couple cookies and I’m good to go. I pull out of AS2 with Bill and this was the most Epic part of the day for me. It wasn’t all fun and games though…first things first… Leaving the AS you are immediately thrust into a road section that leads directly into the 6 mile Hankey climb. It’s not super steep but it wraps around the mountain and feels never ending. We eventually get to the summit of the climb and after a couple other sections come to my 2nd favorite descent of the day. This section had it all. A similar cut to the first downhill section but there were rocks and roots thrown in which made it a little tougher and because of the speed you could carry you had to be on your A game. Getting the opportunity to share this with Bill was simply amazing! This section starts around the 4 minute mark in the below video. EPIC!

We roll into the ‘S’ turn section and there is Will Niccolls to capture this amazing Brands Factory Racing cover shot. He’s already known as an amazing photographer but talk about being at the right place at the right time…

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Eventually we make it to the 6 mile SR 715 climb and I lose contact with Bill. He had legs for days and I knew I had to follow the plan to PR and my HR being at 165 was definitely not part of the plan so I couldn’t risk a chase with so many miles to go.

As if shit wasn’t already getting real enough here comes the Death Climb. This climb can’t be explained to anyone who hasn’t done it simply because it sounds over exaggerated and just can’t be as bad as it sounds. F all that, it is exactly that bad! Legitimately almost 13 miles long and comes around mile 65 on top of that. While I PR’d it this year it still took me 1:45:45. I had all kinds of crazy discussions with other racers including me deliriously telling someone that I could fit into some skinny jeans right about now. No idea how that discussion went south so quick but we shared a laugh and it helped take our minds off of this never ending climb for a few seconds.

Death Climb is finally done and here is where I have made the biggest jump as a racer. Yes my fitness is better this season but mentally I have been able to stop myself from jumping into that deep dark hole. I’m on the diving board at times but I just don’t jump in. At this point I’m a salty sweaty mess. Legs are on fire, shoulders, arms and hands are sore and my ass was taking a beating from being in the saddle all day. I kept pedaling though! AS4 was a blur but I remember coming into AS5 as this is where I knew they had pizza. I slammed a slice and had the entire Aid Station laughing when I yelled I’m only here for the pizza. Grabbed a coke and I was in and out of there in less than 2 minutes.

More climbing was on the way out of 5 but I knew AS6 was 13 miles away and once I got there I was only 12 miles from the finish.

Climbing out of 5 a rider rolls up on me and says “hey New York”. I turn around and see Christine a rider from Bicycle Depot out of New Paltz, NY. I smile and say Hey New York. We engage in a little conversation and we talk about Lippman Park. She says…”yeah it’s okay but we have much better riding up there”. My eyes lit up with excitement as Lippman was already one of my favorite places to ride. Don’t worry Christine, I’ll be up that way soon and definitely going to be looking to ride with the locals. She passes me on the climb but I catch her on the descent into AS6.

AS6 was a fckn party. Music blasting, people yelling and all hell is breaking loose. No matter how you felt at this point you couldn’t help but smile. I head straight for the Pringles but someone hands me a coke with a side of fries. Holy s#$@! Fck the Pizza…I’m now coming for the fries. Suddenly I felt no pain. Was it the fries, the coke, the double fist of Pringles, cookies? You name it, I had it and I was still out of AS6 in under 3 minutes.

2nd round of Hankey…I got this. I’m behind a couple racers but I keep them in my sights. I climb and climb and climb some more until we hit the top of Hankey. It’s a left at the top but there is still more climbing to be had. On the very last climb I pull next to a racer and he says I thought they said the climbing was done. I laugh and say we are almost there. I tell him my legs are shot but I’m about to drop the hammer. I don’t think he wanted any parts of a hammer session so he declined to follow. I knew exactly where I was and once we hit the top it was truly all downhill from here.

I dip into the last bit of SWEET single track and pop out to people lined up on both sides of the finish area yelling and screaming for you. Someone yells out do a tail whip…of course I had to give the people what they asked for LOL. Unfortunately I missed the big finish on the GoPro!!!

Mission accomplished. I finished officially in 11:31:51. Mentally I was able to keep my head in a very good place for most of the day. Physically I suffered like everyone else but I cleared things I couldn’t even imagine clearing last year. Old friends, new friends, PR’s, stories and memories for a lifetime.

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Why do we do this? I talked to so many riders throughout the day that completed numerous SM100’s and all of them said I just keep coming back. It’s crazy how one could suffer so much and then reset to do it all over again. You learn a lot about yourself during these races. They are really long days on the bike and that both mentally and physically wears you down. The strong survive though! You have to be willing to push through barriers and walls that you never have before but one pedal stroke at a time and sometimes even one step at a time you just keep moving forward.

The 2017 iteration of the SM100 was really hard. Slick roots and soft climbing sections made for a long day but I finished. I PR’d by 40 minutes and the very next day I was thinking about if I would do it again. While I’m not ready to spit out a goal in terms of time I’m aiming for just yet I would 100% do this race again! There is just enough amazing single track to balance out the immense amount of climbing.

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I can suffer with the best of them.

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While I’m not the strongest rider out there my calm demeanor and strong will are things that drive me forward. It’s inevitable that things happen in a 100 mile MTB race. It could be a small mechanical, a crash, nutrition issues, going to hard, etc. Countless things could go wrong out there. That can’t stop you. At times it is just you and your bike for miles at a time. You get comfortable with this and it makes you focus on the goal at hand. It gets to the point where the only thing that matters is crossing that finish line. Once you do your life is changed forever (complete one and you will totally understand that statement).

I now get to welcome 3 friends to the club so congrats to Bill, Hans and Matt on completing their first and surely not last 100 mile MTB race.

What an EPIC day! Chris Scott puts on an amazing event. The Aid Stations, the course, the fries, the volunteers, the pizza, the world class field, the FINISH… Everything you could imagine is put in place to make this an experience of a lifetime and for that reason alone I’ll definitely be back.

Thanks to Dan and Brands Cycle & Fitness for their support all season long. Special thanks to Rohan, Charlie & Pasta for getting the bike SM100 ready. Shout to Bill, Roy, Hans, Matt, Ted, Joe, Dustin, Larry and Wynn for finishing. A special, special shout to Kimarie for finishing with lights in the dark (super proud of you)! Thanks to Chris Scott for putting on an amazing event. Lastly and certainly not least thanks to all of the companies that have supported me and help me to travel to these races doing what I love to do.

Photo credit to Will Niccolls and Tammy Eggleton

While a lot of progress has been made I still feel like there is a lot more work to do. The journey has started but it certainly isn’t finished. I’m so happy to be able to share my ups and downs and if you take nothing else away from my race reports…take away the fact that you can do it too!

Until next time…

My Journey, My Life

Jon Merritt

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4 thoughts on “2017 Shenandoah Mountain 100

  1. Haha, that was me who said something about the climbing was supposed to be done! Good ride, and nice write up! I finished just a couple minutes behind you. Josh

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