Wednesday, September 13, 2017

3rd annual Marji Gesick 100 blog post

Well folks, once again that wonderful time of year is here again! The Marji Gesick 100 is just 10 days away and i can hardly wait to hit the trails in Marquette, Negaunee and Ishpeming! Jenny and I will be making the trip up north of the bridge a week from today to get up there a bit early and "acclimatize" prior to the race (ride some sweet trails, have some beers and camp). If you've done the Marji then you know what you're in for already, but there are some changes this year. Just before Labor day weekend i had the chance to rip around up there for a few days checking out some of the changes and additions. I know Todd highlighted some of them in a social media post, but just to recap here's what i found:

Harlow Lake area - Riding from the start it's business as usual heading out on ski trails/two tracks towards the Harlow Lake unit. On this particular day i had the good fortune of riding the terrain after a big rain had come through making it that much more exciting. Top of the World was sporty to say the least, and normally it's not an issue to ride it but after slip sliding down the first mossy rock roll i bailed. With Angry Bear cut out this year you've got a bit more sandy road to ride which makes things easier, but the rocks and roots on Andy Gregg trail were super greasy when wet and difficult to keep it upright. Once you get through World Cup and back up the two track towards Forestville road you actually punch on past it on old ski trail which is a bit of a biatch but a welcome change. The additions of Ramblin' Man and Wildcat make the next miles way more fun, but i think Pine Knob will be a trail of reckoning for many folks. Once you arrive to Pine Knob it's time to dig into that well of patience and focus you've been saving up. If it rains or is wet, this section of the race is going to be very difficult.

North and South Trails - The North trails are some of the more beginner friendly ones out there so this will be a good time to sort yourself out, settle into the groove and rip some sweet dirt. The new Silver Lead trail is a hoot and much better than that frigg off sandy thing that we used last year. You'll punch it up the pavement after the trail and bomb down into the start of Lowes Trail. I didn't go ripping through there this time around, but rode it earlier in the summer and the construction will change things up a bit from last year. Once you get across 41 you can forget about taking easy street down the IOHT because someone decided to throw in two-track and ATV stuff all the way towards the black trail. Once you hit the core of the South Trails you're in for a good rip toward the main South Trailhead. Sometimes there's peoples here and foods and drinks and whatnot but no guarantees. Brace yourself for the next several miles because they're not easy. You punch it up to Gurly on the Blue Trail and rip down some buck nasty rocks which will catch some folks off guard. All i can say is stay high and tight to the right, if you start drifting left you're in for a ride. Once to the bottom you'll be riding some proper rocky singletrack around the mountain until you dump out onto Mt Marquette road. This is a steep gravel road that takes you up to Scary and so on and so forth. Scary isn't as bad as it seems, just steep. Once you bottom out at the Carp river be ready to climb one of the biggest continual ascents in the course. By this time you'll probably be feeling it and wondering why the hell you came here in the first place. Just ride your bike. There's a new section added in on the west side of 553 and i'm sure there's someone you can blame for it. Keep your wits about you as this climb requires some finesse to stay clean. It's business as usual from here until Jackson Park. In summary some of the biggest and baddest climbs are in this area so be prepared and pace yourself.

Negaunee and Ishpeming - Even though you may be at mile 65 or greater when you roll into Jackson Park you're definitely not half-way to the finish. The going is slow here on out and your patience and perseverance will be put to the test. Unless you're vying for a top spot i highly suggest properly fueling here, taking an extra minute or two to eat some solid food, put on some chamois cream, chug some extra fluids and find a buddy or two to ride with (especially if it's dark). Out of the gate you'll get into Humpty Dumpty. This is a new trail and i'm sure you've seen videos/photos. Once you get to the wall be smart about your decision to ride or walk. It's all of 10 feet or more to the bottom and it'd be a shame to end your ride here. Things have gotten changed up here and there for these two loops but the vibe stays the same; punch it up a knob, twist around and white knuckle to the bottom. You'll repeat this theme far more times than you thought possible. Even the fastest folks will be struggling to average 10 mph from Jackson Park to the finish. The good news is you only ride 25 or so miles before you're back at the park and your drop bag. Once again, eat some food, catch your breath and take a second to sort things out. If it's dark make sure you've got plenty of lights to last to the finish. Despite what the mileage says the last legs will take several hours. General theme is to keep your guard up, things get tight, twisty and weird out here.

Ok, so now you've got the rundown from a macro level on the course. The patented Todd hype machine has been going full gas since the day after the race last year and your head is a jumble of thoughts and fears. To throw you a bone here i'm going to tell you what i've done the past two years to get me through, what i've learned and hopefully a few tips that will come in use on race day.

Gear - First year i rode my hardtail steel bike, it worked but i definitely felt a bit thrashed at the end of the day. Second year i rode my Salsa Spearfish and was much happier to have done so. The great benefit to full suspension is that you can rip the descents a bit harder and not get so beat up. If all you've got is a hardtail then fear not, several hardy Marquette residents have completed Marji on full rigid singlespeeds and Tyler "Big Grin" Keuning has done it on a Surly Wednesday rigid steel fatbike singlespeed. So, you've got your bike and you're wondering what tires do i run? Burly tires. The UP folks know what's up and run some heavy duty rubber for good reason. Leave your Schwalbe Lightskin Racing Ralphs at home. Seriously, don't bring them. I've used the Schwalbes with Snakeskin casings but am pretty selective about my lines and stay light on the bike. This year i'm using Continental Mountain and X-king combo with Protection carcass in a 2.4 width (they run narrow closer to 2.25). Make sure you're tubeless sealant is fresh and not all boogered up like a weird stans creature inside. If you've got a dropper post then bring it, but it's not necessary. I've not used a dropper the past two years but will bring one this year as i'm used to having it and can "send it" harder with one. Now is the time to make sure your bike is dialed in and not Friday before the race. Don't even think about changing anything later next week!

Clothing - Bring lots of options with you, the weather can shift at any time by the big lake and you don't want to be caught out in a sleeveless tri-suit on Marquette mountain. We've been lucky the last two years with warm temps and no rain. It's going to cool down at night so if you plan to be out there a while put some layers in your drop bag at Jackson Park. I like to have lots of options so i layer up with things like arm/leg warmers, wind vest, thin under armor shirts, etc... if need be. Some extra socks and cycling caps never hurt if you're partial to using those.

Nutrition - You're going to want to err on the side of cautious when it comes to fluids depending on your goals. There will be times when there's no where to turn for extra water or food. Ten plus hours on the bike is a long time to be eating gels and drink mix. Sure it can be done, but it's nice to have options when you get to hour seven. I like a balance of gels, drink mix, solid foods and gas station type snacks. It's nice to have some salty treats to balance out the sweetness. Bananas, applesauce and rice cake bars will help keep your stomach from going completely sour if you're sensitive. If you plan on being out there a long time, i'd even recommend getting a sub sandwich, Border Grill burrito or pizza slices to stash at Jackson Park. Some good solid food can go a long ways mentally and physically. It's one thing to bonk riding your local 8 mile loop and a totally different thing to bonk riding AM/FM in Ishpeming at night. Don't be that person.

Maintenance - Through some skin care products in your drop bag and keep a chapstick and some chamois cream pouches in your Camelbak, they don't weigh much and can come in handy. It doesn't hurt to have some Ibuprofen, Caffeine, and salt pills handy just in case either. As far as your bike is concerned, carry a small bottle of chain lube along with your repair kit. Here's what i'll be carrying: tube, multi-tool, chain tool, quick link, tire plugs that look like small bacon strips, tire boot, valve core remover, Tire sealant and derailleur hanger. It all fits into a medium seat pouch and covers most things.

Your biggest foe on the course will be yourself. The hype machine is running in full swing to get you thinking and concerned about what you're getting into because this race is no small feat, but anything worth doing is never easy. Take the hype and use it positively to make sure you're ready to go physically, mentally and equipment wise. I've seen people ride 330 miles in Iowa on gravel in freezing rain that never race a bike the rest of the year. I've seen people with one arm ride the Leadville 100. I've seen crazy people ride Surly Wednesdays with one gear on the Marji Gesick 110. If you want it bad enough you can do it, and that's made easier without a time cutoff. Jenny made it nearly 80 miles the first year before pulling the plug in Jackson Park after the first loop. I was stoked for her to have made it that far on her Beargrease, but she wasn't happy without finishing. The next year she came back with more than enough lights and better prep and a resolve to finish. It took her 19 hours by the time she rolled across the finish in Ishpeming with Jim Draheim, and they were the last two to finish, but finish they did. The last section from Jackson Park to Negaunee took them 5 hours in the pitch dark. I had met them in Jackson Park to help her prep lights, check the bike out and cheer and when they left for that last section i had no doubt they'd finish. You're going to have to make a commitment to yourself to finish and not consider any alternative if you truly want to roll across that start line. Leave the negative thoughts and comments at home or at least don't mutter them aloud. you're going to need the support of others when you're down and when you see someone in a dark place do everything you can to lift their spirits. Look around yourself at the natural beauty of the area if you're pissed off about something, and if you're brain is going a hundred miles an hour just tell yourself "Just ride ya bike mon!".

Here's my challenge to everyone including myself, let's prove Todd and Danny wrong with the finishing rate. They've tried their best to thwart us from finishing, but lets push that rate through the roof. Let's get more buckles than they've made. Let's keep them up until Sunday morning when the sun is rising for the second time during the race. Let's hang out after we finish, go to Jackson Park or out on course and give riders that boost they need, and let's Thank Todd and Danny for an awesome challenge!