Wednesday, September 12, 2018

4th annual Marji Gesick 100 blog

It's hard to believe that the 4th edition of the Marji Gesick 100 race is just around the corner! It seems like the saddle sores from the first one just healed... The race sure has come a long way, starting out with a small crew of riders at the Harlow Lake unit in 2015 to being an NUE event with 666 pre-registered participants including ultra-runners. Having been one of the lucky few to enjoy the first edition, it's been awesome to see the event grow and change over the past few years. That first year we had a very foggy notion of what we were getting into. We knew we'd ride about 100 miles, and that the trails were tough. No one knew where we'd get aid or what was available until we reached our drop bags in Jackson Park. The starting field was so small we were able to park in a little lot and lined all the bikes up in a few minutes. Fast forward a couple of years and the event takes over Forestville with hundreds of people milling about. While much has changed, one thing is sure to be the same; the good people of Marquette and the natural beauty of the Upper Peninsula. There's so much more to the event than just riding on some trails. The experience of getting to Marquette, setting up camp or lodging, mingling with locals and travelers, the nervous energy before the event, and the exhausted but happy energy afterwards. The reason we keep coming back every year isn't just for the bike ride, because we get to ride lots of great places, but rather the event as a whole. It's one of the few cycling events Jenny and I have made into an annual tradition, and part of that tradition is writing about the race and sharing our experience.
Racers anxiously awaiting the LeMans start!

The Course

The first 17 miles are the same as last year. We'll start out with the LeMans running portion which is over quickly despite many peoples' fears, and then it's off to the races on the xc ski trails towards Harlow Lake unit. Don't fret if you're not in the position you had hoped for coming out of the start, it's a long day and you're better off saving some for the back half than blowing up in the first few miles. The first substantial climb is up Jedi trail to Top of the World where we'll also find the first technical section. Generally speaking there are a few techy sections through Harlow Lake but we'll be spared tackling trails such as McLovin and Who Cooks for You. Don't force the rooty sections beginning around mile 10, but rather try to rely on good handling and consistent riding. The race energy and jitters can cause a person to push too hard in the techy stuff which can end your day quickly with a spill or mechanical. Around mile 12 we'll run into some chunky gnar which will have quite a few folks hoofing it, but take your time and avoid turning an ankle on the mossy rocks. It probably won't be the last time you're off the bike anyways...
View from Top of the World

We'll leave Harlow Lake unit and pedal a series of XC ski, two-track and singletrack routes back to Forestville around mile 17. We'll take Ramblin' Man, Wildcat and Mildcat en route to the North Trails proper on the Dead River. If you haven't heard, Pine Knob is out for this year.The North Trails will provide some reprieve from the gnar and you should be able to settle in to a nice endurance pace finally. Be sure to make the most out of the short gravel and two-track connectors when it comes to eating and drinking. It's easy to lose sight of nutrition in the heat of battle, but getting behind on nutrition early could spell disaster for the latter half of the day. The next big chunk of work comes around mile 25 when we get to Lowes Trail, a mildly technical and steep climb which punches it's way out of the Dead River valley and up towards US 41.We'll arrive at the notorious tunnel around mile 28 and that's it for the North Trail system.
Crossing the Dead River

Miles 29-31 are on the Iron Ore Heritage Trail, a paved bike path. Use this time wisely to fuel, address any issues or needed adjustments and catch a rest before the next section. Around mile 31 we'll dive into Harlow Farms connector also known as Black trail. Black trail weaves its way generally uphill into the South Trails proper and is pretty tame. Once into south trails we'll traverse about for several miles with a bit of everything until we hit the descent on Eh Line down to the South Trailhead around mile 40. Traditionally there has been a well stocked "aid station" at the pavilion, but remember there are no official race aid stations so take that for what it's worth... Now's the time to put your game face on and focus as the next several miles are both strenuous and technical with plenty of steeps and rocks. Don't rush the aid station if there is one because after that there truly isn't much of anything for who knows how long. We'll punch it up to Gurly, blast down to blue trail and through Doctors before abruptly turning and punching it up Mount Marquette road. Scary Trail is steep with some turns that will sneak up on ya so ride smart and keep your head up. Once down we'll meander to the Carp River where we'll be faced with the biggest climb of the entire race. The climb starts around mile 45 and lasts until just after mile 47 after ascending over 600 feet of vertical. Enjoy the shred down EZ Ryder back to the Carp River as we'll soon be climbing again. Once you arrive at Pipe Dreams you can breathe a short sigh of relief as the substantial climbing subsides for a while, although we'll be generally ascending until we arrive at Jackson Park. Morgan Creek Trail to Pioneer Loop is mostly relaxed singletrack which weaves it's way through the higher terrain until we depart from the south trail en route to Negaunee.

View off-route from Mount Marquette

Around mile 55 to 56 we'll pop out onto a curious surface called pavement whereupon it's advised to eat and drink merrily. This strange surface lasts for less than a mile before we dive back into some two-tracks and ATV trails. Around mile 60 we'll meet our old friend the Iron Ore Heritage Trail which means we're dangerously close to Jackson Park and that coveted drop bag. Jackson Park is around mile 65 so that gives you plenty of time to eat, drink and cook up a game plan for the next section. My advice is to eat and drink as much as feels comfortable without bloating or feeling nauseous. If you can diminish your supplies before arriving at Jackson Park then that's less time you'll need to spend eating at the checkpoint. Also, it gives you time to digest that food and drink before dealing with the more technical trails in Negaunee.
Jackson Park during the night time

Jackson Park, finally!! It is always an awesome sight to roll in and see all the amazing volunteers, fellow racers, family and friends that gather to cheer riders onward. Take the time you need here as you won't return for 22 technical and strenuous miles. The trails up in Negaunee and Ishpeming and tight, twisty, punchy, and not so flowy. There's not a lot of opportunity to fuel during the loop except for the occasional connector or crossing so make the most out of that stop as you may not return for at least a few hours. This also tends to be the time when the fatigue is stacking up and you're not thinking so clearly. Try to set a game plan ahead of your arrival at Jackson Park that way you're not wandering around like a Zombie and leaving with just a bottle of water. Leaving Jackson Park you'll wander on trails through the old town zone and get to actually ride on someones old staircase to their front door! Further into the loop you'll hit classics such as Malton Loop and Epic Trail. At mile 77 you'll actually ride within a few hundred feet of the finish line. Each section of trail pops up onto a knob and there is typically some sort of cool view or vantage point to take it all in. Try to remind yourself how cool the trails, scenery and people are as you're deep in the hurt locker grinding up each knob. Around mile 87 we'll return to Jackson Park for what is hopefully the last time of the race...

RAMBA goodness!

You've made it this far, there's no turning back now! According to the Strava route i'm referencing for mileage, the total distance is about 102 miles so that leaves us with 15 miles of ground to cover. The last 15 miles however are not for the faint of heart. We'll be faced with a couple substantial climbs after leaving the park and ride amazing trails such as Grandview, Flannel Shirt, AM/FM and Carroll Jackon. You'll see Suicide Hill from a distance, but then a few miles later it won't be so distant. Odds are the sunlight is waning or has long disappeared at this point. No matter the case, soldier onward and upward to the next high point. Make each summit an achievement and keep those pedals turning or feet hiking, one in front of the other. Arriving at the shore of Lake Sally you can rest assured that the struggle is nearly over, but not before just a few more climbs. Jasper Knob is the last castle to defeat before gliding/walking/crawling your way to the finish in Ishpeming on Main Street.
A classic!

Well, that doesn't sound too bad now does it? No matter how you slice it, it's one heck of a challenge getting from start to finish but i assure you it's worth it. The course favors those well prepared and equipped. Do you not meet either of those criteria? Well, sheer will power can get a person pretty darn far...
Jenny finishing after 2AM Sunday


We're too far gone now to talk about training so i'll jump right into nutrition. I'm just gonna tell you what my game plan is, and some tips i find handy and you can take that for what it's worth. First off, have some semblance of a game plan. It's too long of a day to straight wing it in my opinion. Hopefully you've tried out some drink mixes, gels, chews etc.. and have a fair idea of what you like. For me, i use Carborocket Half Evil which provide 333 calories per bottle. I'll carry a bottle on the bike and 1.5 liters of water on my back. I try to make a bottle last 2 hours or so, and carry the powder in a ziploc to mix with water when i can refill. I'll premix one bottle and carry a ziploc or two of mix to last me until i hit Jackson park and my drop bag. Water consumption is variable with temperature/pace/etc.. but i typically try not to over hydrate as it can cause bloat. 16-20 ounces of total fluid per hour usually work well for me. I drink more or less depending on the effort level. I try to regularly sip my drinks as opposed to chug half a bottle at a time to aid in digestion.
Get your pre and post game beverages at Blackrocks Brewery

For races 6 hours or less i'm fine with just drink mix and some gels/chews, but for longer undertakings i need solid and "real" food. I like to put my gel in a reusable flask that holds 6 servings. I find the flask is easier to access in my jersey and take a sip from as opposed to opening a bunch of gels and managing all the trash. I'll carry one flask to last me until Jackson Park where i'll have two more waiting for the final two sections. Since one flask doesn't quite cut it, i'll carry a few packs of chews to store in my top tube snack bag along with some chewy granola bars and something savory like Cheez-its or Combos. IF there's an "aid station" at South TH or en route to Jackson Park i'll typically feed on whatever sounds good at the time ranging from bananas to cookies to bratwurst. Remember that simple sugars and carbs only go so far when you're doing an endurance event, and proper food will help keep you from riding that high and low roller coaster that comes with just drinking mixes and eating gels.
Jenny leaving the aid station at night

Solid and whole foods are your friend, especially if you're not in a huge rush and just want to find the finish line. It's not always easy to stop and eat serious food if you're after a buckle, but if you can spare the time i highly recommend having something legit waiting for you at Jackson Park sure as a Border Grill burrito, cold pizza, pasta salad or otherwise. Just imagine going all day without eating, it's hard isn't it? Now imagine not eating all day while pushing your body to it's limits? I think you get the picture. Not only will sustenance help fuel your muscles but also keep your mood elevated and help you avoid those serious mental low points.
Burrito Palace


Again, i'll just tell you what i'm using and have used and let you be the judge. It's probably too late to get acquainted with a new dropper post or full suspension setup, but you can always makes small adjustments over a week out if you're smart about it (i.e. swap a 36t chain ring for a 30t, not a new drivetrain dood!). I've ridden the race on both a steel hardtail and a full suspension bike, and hands down enjoyed the experience more on my full sus steed. I'll be riding the Salsa Spearfish with a Fox Float 32 Stepcast fjork. Take the time to make sure you've got your suspension setup properly, and make a visit to your local bike shop if you're clueless. Running 300 psi in your fjork you might just as well run rigid, and vice versa running 30 psi you might as well bring a pogo stick. I've raced the first two editions without a dropper, and added one to my arsenal last year and was pleased that i did. It's just nice be able to get your seat out of the way when negotiating techy sections like Top of the World, Scary Trail, Gurly, etc... I'll be running the KS LEV Ci 125mm drop seatpost which is pretty new to the market.
Race rig ready to go!

Salsa Cycles Spearfish

Drivetrain wise i'll be running trusty ol' 1x11 Shimano XTR with a SRAM XX1 10-42 cassette. I like the feel and action of the Shimano but like the 10 tooth cog on the SRAM cassette so i can run a 32t up front and not feel like i'm out of gear on a few sections. Speaking of which, i run the Wolftooth CAMO setup with a 32t chainring mated up to Cannondale Hollogram aluminum crankset. Haven't had great lucky with carbon cranks in the rocky stuff and having alloy where i know i can bash a few rocks makes me feel better. Keeping my feet connected to the bike are Shimano XT pedals, they're tried and true and i'd rather save the nice XTR for the not-so-gnar stuff. Velocity USA Blunt SS hoops laced to Industry 9 hubs keep me rolling smooth and setup tubeless nicely with the Vittoria Mezcal 29x2.25 tires. I've been running these tires for several hundred miles so far and they roll fast, have good durability and corner well. I used them up at the HAMR race a few months ago with zero issues.

Some other additions to my setup include a Garmin Edge 1000 for the large screen and nice maps. To carry the necessary supplies i'll lash a tube under my seat (wrapped in plastic of course) with a Backcountry Research strap and stuff my remaining repair supplies in my Camelbak Chase Vest. To keep snacks handy and easy to eat i'll have my Oveja Negra top tube bag. I like the Camelbak vest because it has nice pockets on both should straps where i can keep salt tabs, chews, energy bars, etc... It's also nice because of the form fitting nature so it doesn't flop around much when you're getting rad.
Camelbak Chase vest with all of the pockets!

For repair kit i like to be well prepared. I've had good fortune at Marji that past several years but that can always change and i'd rather carry stuff and not have to use it than be out of luck waiting for someone to help me out. Here's what i like to carry:
Spare tube
Crankbros M17 multi-tool
Genuine Innovations tire plug kit w/bacon strips
CO2 inflator (push valve not screw on)
Extra CO2 cartidge
Birzman Apogee MTB pump
Park pre-glued patch kit
Park tire boot
11 speed quick link
Small valve core removal tool
Spare presta valve core
Derailleur hanger
Top cap tool to remove said derailleur hanger (Salsa design)
Repair kit

It might sound like a lot, but i strap the tube under my seat and am sure to wrap it in plastic to keep mud and dirt from rubbing holes in it. The small parts all fit in an old patch kit caddy and i stuff the rest in two zippered pockets on my Camelbak. This is about as minimal as i'm comfortable with, and of course you can always add more but i've been able to get out of most situations with these items. I don't carry extra sealant because i top it up before the event, and if i get a big enough puncture i face it upwards while i plug it so all the sealant doesn't drain out. I like the spare valve core because sometimes they get all clogged with sealant and it's nearly impossible to get air in with a small pump. I like the Birzman pump over my old Lezyne because it has a quick disconnect and won't pull out the valve core like i had happen with the Lezyne. That's also why i only use push-to-inflate CO2 heads and not thread on ones. Know how to replace your derailleur hanger, and if it has small screws holding it in place, be sure they're not so corroded you can't get them off. Also, if your derailleur hanger is like mine and need a large wrench or special tool be sure to have it on you.

I like to pack along plenty of clothing options to take up to Marquette as you never know what the weather will bring. It's good to have lots of modularity and layering options. For example, i don't typically wear heavier jackets or one piece tops, but rather like to use thin base layer, short sleeve jersey, arm sleeves and vests as needed so i can adjust with the weather. If it's for sure going to be rainy i like to use a high quality rain jacket like Gore wear to keep from getting chilled. Regular bib shorts can be coupled with knee warmers, leg warmers, embrocation cream or wool socks to cover a variety of temperatures. Don't underestimate a good pair of gloves for keeping your hands from blistering or slipping on damp grips. If you're so inclined you can always throw some spare socks, base layer, shorts, etc.. in your drop bag to have at Jackson park.
Don't forget about style

Head games
Aside from the phsyical challenge presented by such an undertaking, the mental battle is not to be overlooked. A large part of success or failure is due to mental fortitude or lack thereof. During any race that takes 10+ hours there is bound to be plenty of highs and lows. After doing some pretty long events i've developed some good skills at keeping the boogie man at bay and having a successful ride. First, keep positive thinking at the forefront and try to push out all the negative thoughts that enter. If you think you're gonna crash on a feature then you probably will, just like if you look at the tree you want to miss you'll probably run into it. Telling yourself you're up to the challenge, ready for anything and willing to face all tasks head-on will do wonders for your ride. Positive self talk is a critical aspect of endurance racing. Second, break the ride or race into "digestible" sections that you can grasp. Thinking of far away downtown Ishpeming when you're at Harlow Lake will seem overwhelming as you're walking the first tough section. Focus on completing one section at a time and celebrate each small victory to keep your morale high. For instance, i break the race into "zones" that i look forward to riding and finishing; Harlow Lake unit, North Trails, South Trails, commute to Negaunee, RAMBA loop, and the final section from Jackson Park to Ishpeming. Focus on getting from one zone to the next and don't worry about what's hours and hours away, you'll get to it eventually.Third, camaraderie is not to be underestimated as a great source of motivation. If it's really quiet and folks are groaning about the next climb, try to be upbeat and elevate the mood. Odds are you won't all be in tune with the same mood so help one another out and you're bound to have someone cheer you up when you really need the boost.
Perseverance award winners 2016

The spirit of adventure
To me, the Marji Gesick is an adventure ride, nothing more and nothing less, and i'm always just happy to find the finish line. It's a fantastic opportunity to test yourself and maybe even learn something in the process. It's easy to get caught up in all the hype concern, stoke and energy leading up to the race and have your mind going a million miles an hour. Just stop, think about how cool it will be to ride all that awesome trail, and embrace the adventure that surely awaits. The race seems to have a way of laying to waste the best laid plans so don't overthink things. Where there's a will, there's a way. I'm incredibly excited to get up to Marquette and ride with a bunch of great people and you should be too!
Hanging with a legend
Reliving the action.