The 2023 Marji Gesick
I’m going to start off by telling you this is not one of those amazing stories you’ve seen on the Marji Chat page; it’s not full of trials and tribulations, there is no “this is my moment”, not even a cool overcoming adversity section. This is simply a story about how I set a goal, trained hard (for a long time), made a plan and executed on race day.
I could talk about all the workouts I’ve done, the time on the trainer, fun rides with friends and other races done in preparation for Marji Day; but the whole point is to talk about the race. After all, everyone has their own plan to get to that start line and what I did may not (probably won’t) work for you. So I’ll skip that and get to the good part. Race Day!
I take that back, I have to step back a week first to talk about the weather forecast. I started looking at it about a week out and every time I checked it was different. Rain, sun, cold, clouds, hurricane; okay, I may have made that last one up, but you get the point. I simply was not sure what the day would bring. I have told myself that I won’t race Marji in the rain; simply put: I have nothing to prove, but I have a lot to break. Especially after racing Mohican in a mud bath of a day. A day that, no joke, took me until the week before Marji to finally get all the little foibles on my bike fixed. It turns out I shouldn’t even have looked at the weather, it was possibly the best conditions I’ve raced Marji in.
Alright, back to race day.
I wanted to be sure to get a parking spot at Forestville so the family (all four of us and the dog) loaded up at 5:30am and made the 20 minute drive from our AirBnB so we could sit in the car for an hour before I needed to get ready. Not one who can sit still for long, I parked, got my bike all set and was race ready in about 15 minutes. One hour and 45 minutes until race start. Time to force myself to relax for a few.
As the start time approached, I made my way to the start area, staged my bike and spent a few minutes talking with friends and fellow racers. Laurie took a few pictures, without her I would have to include drawings of stick figure me.
|Time to focus|
Time to ride.
The first chunk of the race is exactly as it’s been for a number of years. A two track climb to thin things a little, followed by a fast descent to re-group everyone. Up next is a single track climb up to Top of the World. I was in a small train of riders as we approached the first big obstacle of the day, which turned out to be not so great. The two guys in front of me both picked slightly different lines and both stalled out part way through the rock climb up. Instead of being bothered, I jumped off my bike and started jogging towards the descent. There was no real point in even trying to remount at that point so I just ran down the rock face, passing a couple guys on the way.
Harlow Lake area was as bumpy as always and the old railroad track still has the old ties that want to rattle your teeth out. I made it to Rickles/Freeman Landing in a good place. In this area there are a couple of rock gardens I’ve never ridden through clean, but for the first time I made it through without even a foot dab. Confidence boosted. I still had to walk the nasty rock garden climb, but that was fine.
Heading back towards Forestville I hooked up with a couple other guys and we chatted about previous Marji times, goals for the day and how much of Pine Knob we were planning to walk. We settled into a good pace and rolled into Forestville and my first Aid stop of the day in just under 90 minutes. Slightly ahead of my goal and right on my stretch goal.
|Leaving Forestville - Mile 18ish|
Next up was some fun trail leading to Dante’s Rock Garden, sorry, wrong name, Pine Knob. By the time I reached this I was at the back of a line of four guys. As things got tougher I managed to ride really well, cleaning all but two nearly cliff face climbs, passing here and there as others didn’t make a climb or picked a bad line. No crashing, no tire punctures, no wanting to quit. Near the end of the trail I joked with one of the guys that the first time I hike-a-biked through PK I could never have imagined how anyone could ride through half of the trail and here I was riding nearly all of it. More confidence boost.
Now for a short reprieve with some very scenic trail along the river, there’s even a dam in there somewhere. I may have quoted "O Brother Where Art thou?" a little (if you know, you know).
Climb, rocks, roots, more rocks. Nice trail, just kidding, more rocks. All the way to some sand pit of a road that leads to my second Aid stop at America Mall in Marquette and the Iron Ore Heritage Trail. Time on trail: 2 hours 45 minutes, still right on my stretch goal time frame.
Now it’s time for South trails and a little real fun, not FUn. I missed one turn, but only went maybe 15-20 yards before my Garmin started yelling at me. I may have been watching someone walking their dog just up the trail instead of paying attention. Ready for another surprise? There were way fewer rocks on “Rough Rock Ridge” than in the past. There’s been a fair bit of trail work in that area and it resulted in a mostly clear trail. Mind Blown!
Eh Line was as fun as ever.
South Trails Trailhead and Aid stop 3. Time on trail: 3 hours 43 minutes. I was two minutes ahead of my stretch goal.
After a quick stop to get new bottles and some encouragement from the fam I was back underway heading for Gurly. I stopped at the top for a quick nature break and was going to walk my bike through the boulder field of eternal suffering, but I saw Rob and his camera perched at the end and knew I had to look cool for a photo. So I hopped on my bike and hoped for the best. I managed to get just past Rob before my front wheel got hung up on a rock and I very slowly tipped to one side. Don’t worry, I got my foot out in time to keep from hurting myself or my bike.
Doctors is always a blast. Climb for a few minutes then a nice long blast down some moderately rough trail with a few drops. Time to send it before climbing up Mount Marquette Rd. I set a power target I wouldn’t exceed on the climb and stuck to it. This set me up well to hit Scary trail with something in the tank. Climbing Zuegg’s was as tough as ever. It’s long, it gets steep and near the top there is the coolest rock work I’ve seen. It’s not fun to ride up, but it’s amazing what they did out there.
|Dropping into Scary Trail|
Marquette Mountain parking lot for Aid stop 4. Time on trail: 4 hours 55 minutes, still right on track.
For the next 10 minutes or so I rode like crap. I couldn’t pick a good line for the life of me and my bike handling just wasn’t there. I very slowly picked my way through the rocks of Off Grade and eventually started riding well again. Just in time to blast down Pipe Dreams anyway.
From there to Jackson Mine Park not much happens. There’s some trail, nothing crazy, nothing tough; we even get to ride some paved bike path for a few miles before hitting JMP.
Jackson Mine Park. 6 hours and 30 minutes on the dot and still right on track for my stretch goal. But now the real race was about to begin. RAMBA land is no joke. At the park I drank a mini coke, ate a cookie and even stopped long enough for Laurie to take a picture with me and the boys. Thats right, once again a stick figure drawing is not needed.
Heading out to RAMBA I was feeling good. My legs were getting a bit battered, but considering what I’d ridden so far I was very happy with how I felt.
This 22 mile section of trail either needs to be a book of it’s own, or it needs to be glossed over quickly. Let’s go with the latter. I rode what I could, walked a few climbs, rode as well as I could expect; maybe even a little better. What I am most happy with is how smart I was riding. Metering out power when it was wise and holding back when it was needed. In here I started catching 50 mile races and I have to say they were all incredibly nice about letting me get by. In return I offered as much encouragement as I could muster. At the end of Last Bluff I met Laurie for a quick bottle change and kept on moving.
JMP #2. Back at the park 9 hours 28 minutes into the day. I had 2 ½ hours to ride the final 18 miles of the day if I wanted to earn that coveted buckle. Here’s the thing. With fresh legs that would not be a problem. With over 88 miles in them I was not so confident. I grabbed my lights, even though I was sure I would not need them and set off to finish this race.
Dirty Mary, Luge Climb, Flannel Shirt. They all kind of run together. I kept riding and passed more 50 mile riders than I had in any previous Marji. They were still all incredible about letting me get by and I continued to encourage their outstanding efforts. As the minutes and the miles ticked by and that 12 hour mark inched closer I became aware that it was just out of reach. I didn’t really watch the time as I rode, no one needs that kind of pressure added on an already insane day. But I did sneak a peek at my watch at about 11 hrs 50 minutes in and I knew I still had a solid 15-20 minutes left to ride, maybe even more because I was not sure how tough/long the new connector to Jasper Knob would be.
I checked the time again just as the 12 hour mark was passing. I was bummed for a moment, but then I remembered my goal for the day was 12 hrs 30 minutes and I was about to destroy that. I was almost there. I had ridden 104 miles and only had 2 remaining, and one of those miles was on a smooth bike path and roads through town. The only thing that stood between me and that finish line was a climb up Jasper Knob.
|Cresting Jasper Knob|
I rode up the small wooded bridge that leads to the trail, shifted to an easy gear and hopped Todd had not decide to put a check point token halfway up the climb like a few years ago because I didn’t think my legs would want to start climbing again if I stopped. There wasn’t. Mashing the pedals, I reached the summit and saw the last token (a Dum Dum sucker in a giant fake pumpkin) grabbed two accidentally and bombed back down to the road.
Time to empty what little was left in the tank. I cranked it down the bike path and finally turned on to Main Street, sprinting for the finish line.
20 full minutes faster than my goal time.
16th place overall and 14th in the Open Men’s division.
I dug through my pockets to pull out my candy tokens. You read that right. The checkpoint tokens were an Atomic Fireball and three Dum Dum suckers. I traded them in for my finisher token and celebrated with my family (minus the dog, she had to stay at the AirBnB).
What a day.
What a course.
What a race.
|Me and my Suffer Crew|
Like I said at the beginning, this wasn't one of those "changed me" stories nor do I expect it to change anyone else. The point is simple though. Do the work. Put in the time. Don't make excuses. There is no magic bullet, no secret sauce.