|📷: Rob Meendering|
I came into this race with a pretty lofty goal: sub 12 hours. I planned my season around this one. I tried to dial everything in: training, nutrition, recovery, sleep, equipment. I needed to be able to eek out every ounce of fitness I could. I knew that a buckle was not probable, but I kept a healthy attitude of anything is possible. The week leading up to the race, the weather was getting dialed in nicely: dry and mid-70's which was perfect for me. I pre rode Gurly and Doctors on Friday and was feeling fantastic on the techy bits. With optimal conditions and a body that was ready to rock, I had no excuses to "find my limits and destroy them."
|This greeted us at the start.|
It was a LeMans start: 0.5 mile run. I placed my bike close to the start of where the bike course began. It would be a lot easier to run a little more, making my way through 350+ bikes on foot, and not have to worry about someone trampling my bike as they ran to theirs. I also started off in running shoes, opting to keep my feet as happy as possible, and taking a wee bit longer to transition to the bike.
The race began sharply at 7:30 am after the traditional electric guitar National Anthem. We were led out by a unicorn. It was chaos. I kept my feet light, hoping not to be trampled by the masses. After the first 1/4 mile, the crowd thinned out. I came back around on this running loop, feeling great! Once I found my bike, I changed into my cycling shoes, put my CamelBak on, and headed out.
I was running a Garmin 830, with the screen on the map mode. I did not want to spend my ride looking at numbers and fretting all day, so I opted to be a "free spirit" and go by PE (perceived exertion). I have been racing long enough to know how my PE relates to heart rate and wattage. Although the course was well signed, the trail systems were like spiderwebs. It is easy to blast by a turn, and I did not want any "bonus" miles.
I had a great start and although I was in a conga line, it was moving at a comfortably hard pace. Around the 4 mile mark, I felt a catch in my pedaling and then my chain completely locked up. I could not move the pedals at all. WTF! I pulled off the trail and looked at my drive train. It took me a minute to figure it out, but something had caused my chain to get jammed down between the lower pulley and the derailleur cage. Meanwhile it felt like at least 50 racers passed me. As I was struggling to unjam my chain, I heard someone ask, "Are you ok?" I angrily mumbled to myself "Well if I was, I would be on my damn bike." After what seemed like an eternity (but was probably only 60-90 seconds), I got rolling again.
But now I was in a new wave of racers, going slower than what I wanted. "Patience, grasshopper." From years of racing, I knew that it was gonna be a long day. "Matchless" opportunities would arise for me to get around the slower racers. As I was approaching the sharp left hand turn onto Jedi, which is the trail that leads to Top O' The World, a bunch of racers had overshot the turn. Score for me! At the Top, there were too many off their bikes walking the descent to get a clean shot (I had cleaned it at Marji Camp), so I made the wise decision to run it. I passed 12 guys by doing this. Another score!
The remainder of the trail around the Harlow Lake area I was a good girl. Staying happy when sooo many people were off their bikes and hiking the rocky sections I would have preferred to ride. Focusing on the positive: the perfect weather, dry trail, effortless pedaling that would pay off later. On the 1.3 mile climb back up to Forestville, I caught up to Megan Doerr. We chatted, me momentarily, but she continued to be a babbling brook of happiness. I was thinking about all the watts she was losing through her mouth 😁.
Once I hit the ski trail, I started catching women. I found Lisa, who was looking strong. She told me that there were a couple more ahead. I slowly passed by her to reel them in. I finally caught up to the leader (Hannah). She gave some good words of encouragement as I went by. On a fast two track descent I missed the right hand turn back onto single track. Ugghh! Lost a few places and Hannah managed to get back in front of me.
I rolled through the campground and hit Ramblin Man at full speed. At the road crossing, a yellow jacket smacked my temple, stung me, and then crawled into my helmet. How I managed to dislodge that little bastard before he tagged me again (and remain upright) I don't know. At least the pain kept me on point. I felt frisky on Wildcat, one of my faves. It continued onto Pine Knob. I was glad I had pre ridden this at Marji Camp. I found my flow here and aside from the mandatory HAB sections, I cleaned ALL the descents. (A big thank you to the frustrated racer walking down one of the descents who was making room for us riders, but voicing his opinion about the difficulty of getting off the trail for us. I saw your struggle and appreciated your sacrifice. You have a free place to stay in Tennessee should you ever want to shred some Brappalachia trails).
I rode up on a small train on racers on Blue Heron. I settled in on their wheels and used this opportunity to refuel and feel the flow. I managed to pass Hannah again, as she was taking a nature break. By the time I hit Collinsville, I was ready to get after it again, feeling the pressure to put some distance (if I could) between Hannah and I. I made multiple easy passes and embraced the upward flow trail leading to Lowe's. Thanks Dustin for the encouraging words out on the trail!
The Lowe's trail was a freaking blast. In years past, it has always been a slip n slide, but today it was dry and only one short walky section. But the ride into and through Lowe's made up for that with the super sandy double track and the nice soft grass ride into a headwind. A Marji theme is to route you on some nasty energy sapping "trail" when a perfectly good paved road is right next to said trail. For "safety" reasons, they say ( insert eye roll).
Chris was waiting for me just after the highway culvert crossing (mile 29) near Best Buy. I refilled my CamelBak and grabbed a Honey Stinger Waffle to go. I rolled through the timing mat and made my way to the Iron Ore Heritage Trail (IOHT). Here I met Timo, who introduced me as a friend of fellow Rescue Racing team mate Alan. My, how small of a community we are! I had a brief reprieve as I followed his wheel along the IOHT.
Along the Black Trail, I made a courteous pass around Timo, to re enter my flow state. Time seemed to pass by effortlessly along Black, Greywalls, and Sandman, and Smiley. The trails were hero dirt and my energy levels were good. Eh line was meh. I am a natural feature kind of gal and don't particularly care for these types of BMX'ish trail. It works my quads more than I want, which probably means my form is subpar.
I rolled through the South Trails trailhead, saw Chris and grabbed another waffle and topped off my water bottle. I proceeded on to Gurly with people shouting out my name and "go get that buckle!" I was most appreciative and humbled that people actually knew who I was. The support along the trail so far was unbelievable! There were pop up aid stations at least every 5 miles. People who gave up their day and dollars to lend a helping hand.
After Gurly and Doctors, the infamous climb up to Scary began. 0.7 miles with an average grade of 11% had several off their bikes and more weaving back and forth across the road. With my 28T chainring and pie plate in the back, it was easy peasy for me. The one thing I hate is to be so gassed at the top of a climb that it makes the upcoming descent sketchy and dangerous. There were a few spectators at the root-strewn off-camber rock slab, warning that it was slick. I got a chuckle out of this because I have seen it in way worse conditions. Today Scary was all sh!ts and giggles for me. When I rolled by the area that had a token check point back in 2016 and 2017, I did get a little nervous not seeing anything, but figured that they had just chosen new spots for this year.
New to me New Yellow Trail rocked! Oh the flow! And the icing on the cake was Zueg's Trail. OMG! This rock lover enjoyed working her bike on this section. My half-assed track standing skills paid off here. Lots of work and love went into this 0.9 mile section, what with all the ramped rock features. I got gassed on this trail as it was all climbing.
|Zueg's Trail. 📷: Jeff Carlson|
Back on the New Yellow Trail over to Ezy Rider I had time to recover. Ezy Rider was chunkier than I remembered. I had to work hard on this descent to keep the rubber side down. Rolling into Marquette Mountain Ski Area, I was once again greeted by Chris. This guy ... always on point! He had me refueled and back on course lickety split. I was going through the fluids quicker than I expected. Chris told me that first place was just a couple minutes ahead. Hmmm ... I thought I was in first. Was there someone else up ahead or had Hannah snuck on by at the last aid stop? So many people were cheering me on to catch her. Totally amazed by all the support.
Going up Down Dogger was technically challenging. Big boulders littered the trail and there was lots of ratcheting to avoid pedal strikes. I must say that my instant engagement Industry 9 wheels were da bomb for this section. Once I hit Off Grade I felt the first bit of fatigue begin to sit in. I tried to settle in and ease off the power a little now that the trail smoothed out a little. Pipe Dreams was a hoot. Imagine riding on top of a metal pipe with a diameter of 4 feet at 15 mph. The trail footprint was about 18" wide and although most of the pipe was buried, it was still sketchy in a few parts.
From there Ezy Street led to about 5 miles of ORV trail. Sandy, loose, and slightly uphill, it was a "I should be going faster than this" section. Then on into the township of Eagle Mills where there was a mile section of slogging through sand with a perfectly good county road just 5 yards to my left. Seriously?!? I just kept telling myself, "not as bad as it was in 2017."
I caught the mystery woman just as I hit the IOHT. It was Hannah. She had stopped and got a Coke from a pop up aid station. We formally introduced ourselves and rode together for a bit. I took the lead on this cinder rail-trail. From here it was a 5 mile false flat push into a headwind (of course). I was hoping we could find some big burly powerhouses to tuck in behind, but not today. Soon after this thought Hannah popped off my wheel and I was alone to duke it out with the winds. Thunderstorms were in the forecast and the winds were not playing nicely.
Up until this point, I had not looked at the clock, my elapsed time, nor the distance. I had calculated that I needed to arrive at Jackson Park by 2:15 pm in order to have a chance at a buckle. As I approached the only official aid station, I swiped my screen and saw 3:13. I wasn't really disappointed and quickly readjusted my goal to going for my third win. I was still pushing a comfortably hard pace and having an absolute blast doing it.
I rolled over to where Chris was patiently waiting. While he helped me refill my CamelBak and swap out gel flasks, I ate 2 gluten free fig bars. (For the first 65 I had consumed 100 ounces of Infinit Nutrition electrolyte/calorie mix, 30 ounces of water, 6 Hammer gels, and 2 Honey Stinger gluten free waffles.) Another notable note is that I had not urinated since 7 am and had no urge to go. One of my secrets to gaining some time on my competition is to turn off the plumbing. I was back on the course in less than 2 minutes. As I was pulling away from the tent I happened to see that Hannah had just hit the timing mat. Good deal, I had a tiny buffer.
It was nice to hit some "flattish" trail in the beginning of this 25 mile loop as it gave my body a chance to process the 250 calories I had just wolfed down. It was eery riding through a ghost town now swallowed up by nature. I hit the stair case going up, which the first year I did it I thought it to be a very odd feature. I rode on broken up sidewalks, near an old retaining wall on Humpty Dumpty, and down a 3 flight staircase. Despite the fatigue, I was still pleased with my uphill efforts on the fence line climb and the subsequent grunty rocky and rooty sections.
Somewhere in this 25 mile loop, I came upon the first token check point. I love the way Todd and Danny f*ck with us, labeling this as #3 on the bucket of tokens, making the rookies think twice about missing 2 check points. My heart didn't even skip a beat. I grabbed a second token further on in this loop as well.
The Last Bluff climb was a bugger, but I still managed to clean it all, save for one switchback, where fatigue got the better of me, and just did not have the "umph" to lift my wheel over a root and not enough forward momentum to roll it. Past this portion of the first loop out of Jackson Park, my memory starts to get fuzzy. After 80 miles of racing, no amount of nutrition was keeping the legs out of the "weighted blanket" fatigue zone. I remember the subsequent climbs of BrokeBack, New York, Partridge Knob, the Hampton's, as being much harder than when I rode at Marji Camp.
As I passed by the finish line at mile 85, I waved and shouted to those in the beer tent, "See you in a few!" Even though I was beginning the struggle to race at any amount of speed, mentally I was as happy as a head louse in a barber shop. I was yo-yo'ing with a young lad, who was in the same struggle as I. However, as I hit Sissy Pants, which I thought was the last climb before Jackson Park, he was off his bike and told me he didn't think he could finish. I slow pedaled and tried to give him all the encouragement I could, but I could see the defeat in his eyes. I sure do hope he was able to pull it together and finish.
Knowing a short break was just around the corner, what did I see around the corner but The Hampton's Climb. "FUCK!" immediately flew out my pie hole. Head down, I ground out yet another frickin' uphill slog of death.
Back into Jackson Park, dusk would soon be upon me. I took a few minutes to chow on some more Fig N Jammies, chug a Coke, swap out CamelBaks, and put a light on my helmet. ( In this 25 miles I had drank 50 ounces of Skratch, 20 ounces of water, and 2 gels). Still no urge to urinate, so I was in and out within 5 minutes. As I was preparing for the final push, I paused to look around me. Bodies and equipment were scattered across the grass like a Civil War post battle scene. Most faces displayed "the stare." Although I did see several smiling ones ... or were they grimaces?
I drew my sword and charged directly into the line of battle. But be it for a bike mechanical, I knew I would finish this journey. I had begun to encounter some 60 milers and runners around mile 75, and during this section, they became more numerous. I made sure I gave each and every one of them a shout out. Knowing how difficult it was for me, I couldn't imagine being in their shoes. They had more grit, gristle, and gumption than I, to be where they were in their journey, at this hour, and knowing they had many more miles to go. They gave me inspiration to try and pick my pace up a bit.
Whose idea was it to ride that small but steep loose rocky, sandy section just upon leaving Jackson Park the second time, only to turn left at the top and go RIGHT BACK DOWN to the IOHT I just left? I was Yosemite Sam'ing it up this climb!
I was grateful the afternoon thunderstorms had held off. People were complaining of the hot temperatures, but after living/riding in 90+ degrees and 70+ humidity most of my summer, a breezy overcast 75 degrees was right up my alley! The off camber Dirty Mary was enjoyable in the dry. I turned my light on as I hit Flannel Shirt. Dusk is the hardest time of the day to read the trail and avoid obstacles. More than once, due to lighting and fatigue, I smacked a tree. I laughed out loud at myself more than once making these silly mistakes.
As darkness enveloped me, I became a little more cautious in my line choice. However, there were times that before I knew it I was bombing down a slick rock slab and just had to trust in my abilities to stay upright and hope my front wheel did not find a huge rock to catapult me over. I did have a few "Oh, shit!" moments but Marji Camp body memory saved me. As well as turning off my monkey brain.
The third token was in this final 15; once again, my memory of exactly where fails me, but what I do remember is that the sign was facing away from direction of flow and I had to stop and turn around to read the sign to see that it was indeed my third token, albeit labeled #1 on the bucket.
On Suicide Hill I came across some young high school age ladies. When asked if I was doing the hundred, they said I was awesome! To which I immediately responded, "And you are, too! Keep it up and you will be kicking my tail soon!" When I was their age, I thought a 5K run was hard.
The rock slab HAB was unusually hard this time for me. Bike on the left, feet up on the dirt, I used Blaze for a crutch to make my way up that steep section of hell.
I heard the lapping waters of Lake Sally at mile 99. My mind began wandering and I began recalling the movie Lake Placid. Imagining a giant crocodile chomping down on me was enough to squeeze my adrenals and pick up my pace a little.
When I saw white flags on a freshly cut trail, I knew that Cry Baby had begun. Danny may put on this sweet old man persona, but his true evilness shows in his trail work. Off-camber, with so many twists and turns and ups and downs, if I was any older, my vertigo would have kicked in. And what about those 29'r sized holes in the midst of some of those turns. Good Gawd! And those 2 or 3 steep ass HAB's almost made me cry for my Mommie. The only saving grace was that I was beginning to smell the barn.
Only Jasper Knob was left. I was so tired, I couldn't even make the initial climb up onto the trail. I pushed to a point where I could hop back on and finish the climb. Upon getting there, the last check point bucket had no tokens, only acorns and pine cones, with a Ha Ha! message from Todd and Danny. I enjoyed listening to the rookies remarks upon seeing this. More than one "FU!" was said!
The descent back into town was pure joy! I had finished my 3rd Marji, with each one earning me a dollar bill. Yeah, the buckle was out of reach, but that wasn't my only goal. As I have often said, my #1 goal for every race is to have fun. #2 is to not get hurt. #3 is to finish, leaving it all out on the trail. Usually, when I accomplish my core goals, I have a great day on the bike and a good placing.
I rolled through the finish line at 14:26. 1st woman and 39th overall. Not too shabby, considering this Marji had eaten many of its young, with a 63% DNF rate.
|Too tired to stand.|
This was my slowest time of the 3. But every year I have done it, the course has gotten harder, with more technical trail added. But, this was probably the funnest one, as the course was in the best shape I have ever ridden, allowing me to find more zen moments of pure bliss on the technical ascents as well as the descents.
I want to give props for everyone who toed the line, no matter the distance. To sign up for this event took guts. To finish took an unbelievable amount of mental fortitude and strength. And to those who found their limits, next year you will destroy them.
To all the ladies out there, you guys are amazing. I don't remember one woman who did not have a smile on her face as I passed by. You are my heroes! Your strength gave me smiles for miles ... and I think I found some free trail out there this year because of you!
Thank you Todd and Danny for all your hard work to push us beyond what we thought was possible. What an amazing soul searching journey!
Thank you to all those who shouted out my name and yelled at me to go get that buckle. I cannot believe so many knew who I was. It gave me little boosts of speed and happiness all day!
The volunteer support was utterly amazing. There must have been at least 20 unofficial aid stations. When I first raced this in 2016, I was on my own on the 25 mile loop and 15 mile push to the finish. This year, there were people at almost every road intersection! The communities of Marquette, Negaunee, and Ishpeming, as well as all the Marji folks are incredible.
Rescue Racing was well represented! Congrats to team mates Lisa Randall on getting that damn buckle (100 mile duathlon), Scott Morman (9th overall, 100 mile bike), and David Jolin (4th Master's, 60 mile bike). Shout out to Kathleen Tokuda, who got 11th in the 60 mile women's Open.
|Hardest dollar every earned!|