This last weekend found me in Stokesville, Virginia for the Virginia IMBA Mountain Biking Festival. I’d never had a chance to ride any of the trails out there, and I figured that it would be an excellent way to assess the advisability of me actually competing in the Shenandoah Mountain 100 this year. A number of the group rides would follow the SM100 course, and the plan was to take advantage of those rides to see as much of the course as possible. All the while having a grand time.

Well, something like that.

I did, indeed, have a grand time (even with it involving that most wretched form of recreation, camping). But I’ll have to say that I greatly overestimated my capacity for long and hard off-road rides. Especially when they involve heading up mountains. Saturday’s ride was something of a figure eight loop tracking the Dowell’s Draft and Braley Pond portions of the SM100 (~34 miles and 3400 ft of climbing).  Putting aside a plethora of excuses, I’m here to admit that I spent an obscene amount of time walking/carrying my bike up the climbs on this ride. I simply wasn’t prepared for the sort of climbing involved, and my ability to knock out a metric century on demand or grind out a Skyline Drive section without complaint didn’t seem to amount to much. I was lucky to connect with an excellent group of riders (including Joe, Liz, and Jason), none of whom exercised their (much deserved) right to make me feel like an asshole for slowing the whole group down with my ill-considered participation. In fact, they were pretty much your ideal riding partners – better than you (to push you hard), yet unwilling to leave you behind (you know, in case you get eaten by a bear).

The lesson of the day (besides holding onto your bike if you fall down a hill, so you don’t have to chase it down) was that I’ve got a lot of work to do on my climbing. Far moreso than I could likely get in between now and the September 2nd start date of the SM100. All that said, I’ve not given up entirely on it. If I don’t race, I’ll be there as a volunteer. But I sure would like to race.

The next morning, I was smart enough (and sore enough) to know that attempting the Southern Traverse was a bad idea, so I hooked up with an informal MORE member-led ride down Reddish Knob. While the shuttle to the top skipped the misery of the day before, it was still a tough descent, especially after I lost my back brake about half way down Wolf’s Ridge. Navigating loose rock is tricky enough with two brakes – doing it with just your front brake is a whole ‘nother level of, uh, fun. Also, where the two tumbles I’d taken the day before were good for lots of (relatively pain-free) bruising, a slow spill near the end really wrenched my ankle. Wasn’t too bad at the time, but it’s kept me from hitting the trails again this week.

Between this and my awful showing at the Bunny Hop criterium a month ago, it’s become clear that if I really want to race, I need to kick up not just my own physical training efforts, but my group riding. There’s just no substitute for riding with a group that has the capacity to shame you into better performance. I’m not entirely clear on how I’m going to do this, but I am clear that I want to do this. And that’s a (new) start.