Marji Gesick 100 - Looking for #Redemption

I’m not new to endurance racing, I’m not new to suffering, in fact I’m not even new to the Marji Gesick race itself. This year was my third time lining up for the race. My first go was in 2016. I had an amazing day finishing in about 11 hours and 50 minutes and earning the very coveted buckle (I should mention this is the only race award that is not just sitting somewhere in my basement, it is hanging in my bedroom in a very nice shadow box made by my wife). I learned an awful lot that day about myself and what a punishing, yet rewarding, experience MG could be. I went back in 2017 with the goal of beating my previous years’ time and adding a second buckle to my collection. Those hopes were dashed pretty early in the day when a rock garden attacked my rear wheel, denting the rim to the point where my tire would only hold air for a few minutes at a time. I was force to text “Quitter” when I rolled into Jackson Mine Park hours after my expected ETA. You can read the full account here: 
After that attempt in 2017 I said I was not going back until I got a full suspension bike as the course was just more than a hardtail could really deal with. 2018 came and went with no new bike in the quiver and a tinge of regret as I saw posts about people heading up to the race and the great conditions on race day, but deep down I knew I made the right call.
Fast forward a bit and a shiny (well more of a matte) new Specialized Epic found its way into my modest collection of bikes; #Redemption was now in order.
My new bike in it's natural habitat, next to it anyway
For the race weekend a small group of us booked an AirBNB. We arrived in Marquette at different times Thursday and did our own things. On Friday, Laurie and I went over to the start of the 100 mile run so Grant Woodman could use my bike for the Le Bike portion of his race (why wouldn’t you have to ride a bike 0.3 miles before running well over 100?). A number of other friends came to the start as well. We cheered as Grant, Jameson and the other runners started their incredibly long journey towards Ishpeming.
Filling the AirBNB basement with bikes
After a quick lunch, Brett, Sebastian and I drove over to the finish area so we could ride the last ten miles of the race course. After a few miles of road we were able to jump right on course; we all found ourselves taking it pretty easy, but grinning ear to ear the entire time. We took just under two hours to ride slightly more than 10 miles, but for the most part we thought everything was pretty manageable. I think we walked two of the climbs but we rode everything else. When we got back to the car my hopes of a second buckle were even bigger than they had been before.
Pre-ride smiles

One of those hills that just keeps going, what you can't see is the giant section of bedrock
Friday night there was definitely some excitement mingled with trepidation, mingled with a healthy fear of the course hanging in the air of our house as Brett, Matthew and I all got our stuff around for the morning.
Saturday morning did go amazingly smooth as the three of us and our significant others moved around the cozy house while managing to stay out of each other’s way and get our last minute preparations done. Then we all headed out for Forestville and the start line.
A Le Mans start for a bike race, again, why not; you might as well start a day like MG by getting a bunch of cyclists out of their comfort zones early. I found a spot up front for the start with Sebastian right next to me, for moral support I guess. After the National Anthem the customary bottle rocket was lit and we were under way.
The run is 0.3 miles and over before you know it. Time to bike, up first is some wide open two track to spread things out. I was able to get a good start and found myself in a great spot after just a few minutes as I blasted down these trials. That was until about mile 6 when I missed a turn. Luckily, I did not go too far before I realized it and I turned around and got back on track. The biggest downside of missing the turn was, as I got back to the course a train of about 20-30 riders started rolling through. I jumped into the middle of the line and started strategically picking my way through the group on the singletrack up toward Top of the World.
On my way down Top Of the World
As we crossed a road before Top of the World we caught a few more riders but traffic was still light enough that I was able to stay on my bike. I rode more than ¾ of the way down the back of the giant rock formation when I got caught up with some other riders and had to stop and walk the final section. I was pretty happy with this as both times before I had to walk pretty much the entire back side of this downhill. At the bottom I jumped back on put some speed back on.
A few miles later I hit the old railroad bed turned abandoned railroad bed. All the ties are still there, but the iron tracks are gone. My full squish made a nice difference here compared to past years, I was not even worried about my teeth falling out of my head. More trail, more fun. Today is going well.
Around Freeman Landing we hit some rocks and soldiered through without much fuss. There were a couple sections of hike-a-bike for the sake of my sidewalls, but nothing ridiculous, yet.
I rolled back through the Forestville area feeling good and on a great pace. After Forestvillle was a few miles of really fun, mostly downhill trail. The turns had nice berms and there was even a small jump/rhythm line. More fun, more smiles. Today is still going well.
Then came some of the ridiculous trails I remembered from 2017. Tons of sharp rocks with super steep punchy climbs and down hills. Through here I was so happy for my change in bike. The more slack geometry combined with a dropper post meant I was able to ride down almost all the sections I found myself walking in 2017. Buckle here I come.
Lowes trail and the construction zone were both in much better condition than I expected and before I knew it I found myself on the bike path through Marquette with a few other racers. We cruised down the path at a pretty good speed, but most of that was due to a tailwind and a slight downhill grade. A mile of single track later I met up with Laurie for the first time of the day for a bottle change and some encouragement. After a quick 30 second stop I was back underway and still feeling good.
Leaving stop #1
South trails is always fun to ride, but there is not much to write about. There are a couple of good climbs, a few rocks, but mostly well maintained trails. You should ride here if you ever get the chance.
Just after mile 40 I crossed a main road and rolled into the Noquemanon South Trailhead where some local trail angels had set up a really nice aid station. I didn’t actually stop, but I did get a chance to see Laurie cheering me on with a home-made sign as I crossed the second timing mat of the day. I was still feeling pretty good, but I knew one of my least favorite portions of the day was looming just ahead; the backside of Mt. Marquette.
Here is how I would describe this section. First you hit some big sharp rocks. Then you hit some big sharp rocks while climbing. Then you hit some big sharp rocks while attempting to descend. Then you hit some more big sharp rocks but by this point you are so disoriented you are not sure if you are climbing, descending or on flat ground, but it doesn't really matter because you have to push your bike anyway. After what feels like forever, but in actuality is only about two miles the trail turns on to Mt. Marquette Rd and you spend the next half mile climbing an average grade of 12% that feels like it might as well be straight up: but really you don’t care because you are just happy to be off those stupid, stupid rocks. I hate those rocks!
At the top of the climb the course turns back into the woods for the descent of Scary Trail. This section is usually pretty wet and greasy, but was in rather good shape and for the first time I was able to ride down the entire thing. I was ecstatic about this and visions of a buckle were getting even clearer. I was riding well, clearing sections I had not been able to clear before.
Now it was time for some new trail, new to MG anyway. The trail is called New Yellow Trail and it was replacing the longest sustained climb of previous years. It was replacing it with a long, sustained climb of its own, but how could it be worse than what we rode up in the past. At first the trail was an absolute blast over some amazing bench cut rollers. I can’t even imagine how much effort and how many man hours went into creating this trail but it was awesome; for about a mile. For the next two miles the trail went up, up, up. I cursed every stone people had painstaking put in place, and there was some amazing stonework on this trial. But it just kept going. Looking back this was the beginning of my troubles that surfaced later on in the race. During this 25ish minutes of climbing I drank and ate next to nothing. I just focused on picking lines, staying upright and keeping my bike moving forward. In hindsight, I should have stopped a few times to drink, especially since the temp was flirting with the 80 degree mark. 

After the climbing was over I took a moment to look at my Garmin; I did not like what I saw. I was no longer making the pace I was hoping for the day. Even though I had planned to be much slower on this section of trail than I had been leading up to it, I was still going slower than I had hoped. But then I saw a sign for Easy Rider and I knew I was almost to the Mt. Marquette parking lot. But how could that be, I was still 5 miles away according to my Garmin. Then I looked at my Garmin again and noticed my speed was much lower than what I actually thought I was going and it kept jumping around. Sure enough, my speed sensor had somehow lost connection with my Garmin and I had gone about five miles further than it was showing. The buckle may still be within reach after all.

I rolled into the Mt. Marquette parking lot right on the timetable I had planned, where I met up with Laurie for a new camelbak, bottles and some snacks. After some more encouragement and a change of gloves I was back underway. The next three miles is pretty technical, with a lot of rocks to ride around, some more good punchy climbs, and the chance to blast down a pipeline at as fast as you are willing to go; I topped out at 28.4 on this section (yes, I had reconnected my speed sensor by this point). Then came the slog into Negaunee; sand, more sand, then a crush stone bike path followed up by a little bit of this really strange surface, it was hard and smooth and almost easy to ride on; I’m not sure how it made it in to MG, but it was there and I enjoyed every second of it. By this time my quads had really started to tighten up and had the early twinges that precede cramping, because guess what I did not do enough of, for what was not going on two hours. That’s right I was not drinking near enough water. 
Jackson Mine Park here I come
I could make excuses all day long about why I was falling behind on my hydration, but it comes down to one simple fact that was all my fault. I don’t usually ride with a camelbak, I don’t care for riding with a pack on at all, but because of the distance between where I can refuel I was using one. My failing was in not getting used to it pre-race. I really didn’t think much about it at all. Most of the time I just use bottles; which means I can grab a bottle, look at it and know if I’m drinking like I should be or not. If I’m not it is real easy to see right away and fix. With a camelbak, not so much. So my arrogance was starting to bite me in the butt as I rolled out of Jackson Mine Park after another quick meet up with Laurie. I was still right on my time schedule though.

I always think I hate the section of the course behind Mt. Marquette most of all, but that must only because the 26 miles between the two Jackson Mine Parks stops is so evil and relentless I completely block it from memory. That said, other than one section, it does not have near as many sharp, soul crushing rocks as earlier. It does however make up for that with some of the steepest climbs that just keep hitting you over and over. Climb, descend with the dropper down, hanging as far out the back as possible with the rear wheel locked up and the front brake as tight as you dare without locking it up, then turn and go right back up. Over and over again, that is until I started walking the climbs because my quads were cramping. Oh Danny, you are a cruel, cruel man for designing this course.

Made it to Jackson Mine Park, my legs hurt but things are still going well
This section is not all bad. It does give you the opportunity to ride though what used to be a town I guess. There are sidewalks and paved roads, curbs and even a few stair cases that have all been reclaimed by the forest to varying degrees. It is pretty neat to see, if a bit eerie. 
I kept watching the clock as I rode (and walked) much slower than I had ever expected. And worst of all, I was starting to lose any power I had left in my legs. As I hit the 10 hour mark for the day with miles to go before I even got back to Jackson Mine Park I knew my chances of a buckle were gone. I went from right on track to well off pace in less than 15 miles. The good news is the pressure was off. Now all I wanted to do was finish, regardless of the time. 
I settled down, took a breath to regain a little composure and kept plugging away with a renewed goal to simply keep moving. I was quicker to jump off my bike and push up hills in an attempt to save what little was left in my legs; after all, I still had at least 18 miles to go, which in MG distance is closer to 21-22 miles. 
Back into Jackson Mine Park after 26.4 miles, which took me more than 3 1/2 hours. 7.4mph. Slow. Painful. Cramps. Dead Legs. I had planned for section to take 2 hours and 45 minutes. Laurie met me for the last time and got me a refilled camelbak, bottles and I put my lights on; I was not going to make it to the finish before dark. The damage from dehydration was done, my legs had nothing left in them, but I was going to finish. I took in as much water as my stomach would tolerate and very slowly started riding away. I crossed the timing mat and realized I had not put on the new camelbak Laurie had given me so I stopped and walked back the 100 yards and grabbed it. Fresh, hydrated me would never have made that mistake.
Back at Jackson Mine Park and I am contemplating what I got myself into
Nearly time for the portion of trail I had ridden the day before. There were no more surprises in store for the day. Just a finish line to reach. 16 more miles. I can make this. I tried to keep taking sips of water and nutrition, but my stomach was having nothing to do with it. It was now just a brick; digestion was not something it was capable of. Time to really earn that finisher token. 
I'm not going to quit, but that doesn't mean I have to enjoy it.
About five miles later, with darkness gathering all around I heard someone shout “HAMMER TIME” and Sebastian comes riding up beside me. He was looking pretty strong still and the sight of a friend gave me a boost of motivation to ride a little more. We rode mostly together for the next 8 miles until we got to a bit of a sustained climb. Sebastian was able to keep riding and I had to hop off and walk. No point in being proud now, I am just going to finish. I kept trying to sip my water and get some calories in me, but each bit just sat heavier and heavier in my stomach. 
As I approached the base of Jasper Knob I got that “feeling” in my stomach, it radiated to the back of my throat; I stopped and that lump in my stomach decided it would rather be a lump on the side of the trail. But man did I feel better. I was able to drink some water then I set out for the top of Jasper Knob where I was sure there was a last check-point token to grab. Turns out the joke was on me (and the rest of the racers). There was an empty checkpoint bucket that simply said “HA HA Go Finish!”. 
So mean; it fits right in with the rest of the day
All that was left was to ride down Jasper Knob and roll through town to the finish line. 
I kept those pedals turning as fast as I could and crossed the finish line after a grueling 14 hours, 20 minutes and 54 seconds. I’ve never been so happy to finish a race yet feel so miserable at the same time. I finished, but I was finished. Marji beat me up and made me pay for every little mistake I made.
But I finished, one of only 37% of the starters to do so. 
So, was this the race I wanted or planned for? No! Was it what I expected from the day? Absolutely not! Did I learn a valuable lesson and come away a smarter racer? I sure hope so. Dehydration is not something to be taken lightly and it can be extremely dangerous. I want to say my drive and tenacity pushed me to finish, but I think really my hard headedness and unwavering stubbornness pushed me to the edge. I did not break, but I sure felt awful for the next few days.
I started this race looking for #Redemption from my 2017 DNF. I still remember sitting in Jackson Mine Park and texting “quitter” after a demoralizing and humbling day, realizing that continuing was not an option. This year hurt, I paid for my mistakes on course, but I crossed that line and I proved to myself that I can keep on pushing. I can keep on riding. I am a #finisher.
Breathe, just breathe

Thanks Laurie

This chair is much better than lying on the road
That about wraps up the race day portion, but sitting here writing this over the course of a week I realized I left so much out. There is so much more to Marji Gesick than just a day in the woods on bike by myself. Just after I finished I told Laurie, I don’t need to do this again, at least not for a couple of years, but less than two weeks later I can’t stop thinking about how much smarter I could ride and how much quicker I could be; Marji has re-set the hook.
So be on the lookout for “Part 2 - MG100 Beyond Race Day”.
Last but not least. I need to thank Laurie for putting up with all of my antics and crazy adventures and my Sponsors: Hammer Nutrition, ESI Grips, Rudy Project North America.


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