Thursday, September 23, 2021

Marji Gesick 50 Race Report

Has become my favorite place to be in September

Todd might as well call it the Marji Gesick 100K now.  I think it originally started out with 50 miles, but with the constant additions over the years, it is now really 60 miles.  Having done the 100 miler three times, I decided to reward my efforts by doing the shorter version.  It was still going to be #doinghardthings, but the suffering would not nearly last as long. My team mate, Dave, had made the trip over too, and was racing the "50" as well.

Ore Dock on Lake Superior

New this year was the start in downtown Marquette, near the Ore Dock.  Score for us, as the AirBNB I had gotten us, was 5 blocks away.  This race is a point to point, so the evening before, we took Dave's truck over to the finish in Ishpeming.

I had no expectations other than finishing and maybe getting a sub-8 hour time. I was riding my Trek TopFuel, with a 120mm fork, a 28T chainring, a 10-52 cassette, and all AXS baby!  Believe me, when I tell you the last time I did the Marji, I got tendonitis in my thumb from shifting so much.  AXS has been a game changer for happy hands.

For once, the weather forecast got better as game day approached.  The course was dry and the starting temperature was 53 degrees, with a high of 75.  It was nice not to have to think about what to wear for once.  I opted to go with just a bottle at the start and had my CamelBak at Jackson Park.  

There was plenty of time (2 miles) before we headed into single track, so I took it easy and opted NOT to go out "greyhound" style.  There was madness at the front when the gun went off.  Everyone jockeying for the greenway pole position.  I just sat on wheels, conserving, until my heart rate started to soar and then I backed off, popping off the lead group.  I saw maybe 3 ladies up ahead, but when the Marquette Mountain climb began, I lost sight of their position. No worries, as the day was going to be long and the course tougher on the back end.

Off Grade was the first section of single track.  I was glad to have pre-ridden because there were some uphill techy bits that I was able to work my way through without burning any matches.  I was not wanting to open the matchbook before Jackson Park.  

Pipe Dreams Trail

Pipe Dreams, the second trail, was so much fun.  Straight and downhill, what more could you ask for in a race that supposedly had "no free trail."  Short-lived, however, and then I was onto Easy Street and the Pioneer Loop, which was tight, twisty, and rooty.  I was with a couple of fellas, Kevin and Caleb, with whom I would end up going back and forth with them, as well as a few others whose names escape me, for most of the day.  I was glad to hear that Kevin had his sights on 8 hours as well. 

Once onto the ORV trail, I was thinking I was golden: legs feeling great, nutrition going well, and I was in my happy place.  But I completely forgot that there was 5 miles of this "Luciferous" sandy doubletrack.  After 30 minutes of this nonsense, I burst onto the smooth surface of the Iron Ore Trail.  A fellow racer and I worked together over the next few miles to Jackson Park.

Pulling into the park, the "no official aid station" staff jumped to my aid and had my cooler pulled out into the open. I quickly donned my CamelBak and swapped out gel flasks.  My race day nutrition consisted of Skratch and Torq and Hammer gels.  No solids for me, as they tend to just hang out in my stomach and ferment all day long.

I headed out for the round 1 of Marji madness.  I continued to meter my pace and fellow racers Kevin and Caleb caught back up to me.  I let them pass as I had to make a slight adjustment on my CamelBak, followed by removing a derailleur killer soon thereafter.  At times, I felt like I was going too slow, but the  Old Guard kept reminding me, "Conserve now or die later."  

I caught up to a pair of racers, one being Kim, the bearer of the 666 number plate.  After a few minutes of riding behind her, I asked to pass.  It was near the mining rail crossing and we were both off our bikes anyways.  One of just many cool things about this race, is that absolutely NO ONE was a dick when it came to making passes.  Everyone was so encouraging to each other out there.  We were all in this together, not racing for a podium or 73rd place, but racing to our own finish line, without caring how we stacked up against one another.  And I would say this has everything to do with Todd's message and mission: conquering our inner demons of doubt, finding new limits, and reveling in helping our fellow racers do the same.

The remainder of the first loop seems a blur of trail names.  What I do remember is how much easier and with less HAB was I able to go uphill.  There was definitely more smiling and less grimacing as compared to the hundie.  I also recall the lady (Jay's wife, sorry I forgot your name) in the sick Jeep Gladiator who was everywhere on that course, offering up bananas and water every time I saw her.  As well as so many other citizens offering neutral support. 

WTF was that new section of trail on Al Quaal just after the New York climb?!?  I had just seen my team mate Dave begin the descent off of New York and I thought I was just a minute behind him and really wanting to try to catch up and finish this thing together.  But as I readied for the hard right, one of my racing buddies behind me said, "Go left."  What do you mean go left?  And then I saw the arrow, directing me onto fresh cut trail.  Oh goodie soon turned to oh fuck as I came up on this steep drop.  My monkey brain put the brakes on and I was off walking it.  It was definitely rideable for me, but since this was new territory to me, the safest thing to do was an ego check.  The remainder of this newly cut trail was unforgivingly tough.  Needless to say, I walked about half of it. Six minutes later, I was back on familiar trail and crushed that steepishly fun descent.

I had remembered all the BIG climbs on this loop: Fenceline, Last Bluff, Hamptons, but durn it I forgot about Stinkin' Sissy Pants.  Which pissed me off once I got to Hampton's because by then I was so ready to get back to my precious little cooler for that 8 ounce Coke I had been thinking of for the past hour.

Once again, the official unofficial aid station had my back and after a 4 minute respite, I was ready to knock out round 2 of Marji Madness.  Two pieces of advice when deciding what to pre-ride:  look at the start so you know how hard you want to go to get to where you want to be once the single track begins.  And second, ride the finishing miles so that when you are at your most fatigued, the course will be familiar and thus at least feel a little easier knowing that the end is near.

Death by a 1000 punchy climbs

A dry Dirty Mary is WAY better than a wet one, and it was nice to be able to have traction on that off-camber clay climb. Then onto Flannel Shirt with that nice little detour from easy trail onto a rickety old bridge.  I half expected a token station right here.  From there the course seemed to ease up, if just for a bit.  But once I got to Lake Sally, the legs began to burn with all the climbing.  And the double track, aye yai yai.  If wasn't struggling up the steepest of pitches, I was working my way around mud holes that smelled like they were corpse-filled.  I even walked around a few, not wanting that putrid muddy water on me or my bike.

Hmmm ... halfway through this second lap and still no tokens.  I wouldn't put it past Todd to have only one token station at the top of Jasper's Knob.

I found a buddy to hang with during these next 5 miles.  I can't remember his name but he was wearing an orange kit.  During the beginning of this second lap out of Jackson, I thought I was chasing down Dave, which helped to stoke my fire.  I hate I forget his name, but I owe him a big thanks for setting a great pace.  He probably thought I was a little crazy when I cried out "My favorite part!" as we began the rock slab HAB.  And at that moment it was, for it signified that the suffering would soon end.

But then, Cry Baby.  I swear to God it felt like it went on ... FOREVER.  Purgatory might be a better name for it.  I had never ridden this in daylight and at one point I was thinking that riding it at night was better, for on and on and on and on it went.

Finally!  The two (or three) steep rollover descents signified that pavement was close.  I heard church bells in the distance as I was finishing up the last bit of single track and for the first time knew that I was 8 hours into this race.  You see, I only had the breadcrumb trail up on my Garmin screen:  no distance, no time, as I did not want to know.

As I began the HAB up to Jasper's Knob, I saw a token station.  I was so hopeful this was as far as I had to go and I could turn around and start the descent.  But the breadcrumb trail said otherwise and then I saw another token station up a little further.  And then another.  And then one more at the top, with a dude standing there, probably going to take our race numbers down.  Haha!  Once I got close enough, I realized it was a mannequin.  I laughed to myself as I thought how those that hit this section in the dark would perceive this "person."  I bet there was a lot of one-sided conversations at the top of Jasper's Knob.

Racing back down off the knob, onto the pavement, and along finisher's alley, I rolled across the mat with a time of 8:14.  Fully stoked with how my day went, I presented all 5 tokens (including the #unfinishedbusiness one I got at packet pick up) and chalked up another hard earned finish (in the daylight, for once).  The finishing cake was heavily iced 15 minutes later, when, after getting cleaned up, I found out I had won.  I suppose I was just chasing ghosts or perhaps had gotten ahead of them at the Jackson Park aid station.  

A dollar for the W, which to me is worth so much more than 1 buck.

Dave Jolin also managed a 3rd place in the Master's field.  To him goes a big chest bump, as he was competing against guys that were 10 years younger.  So proud of what he accomplished, as he also took the NUE Marathon Series win!

What a helluva day!  I never had so much fun doing hard things.  And thanks to the hundreds of volunteers, official and unofficial, who helped make my day a little less hard.  You guys are the unsung heros.  

Those who finished, whether it took 6 hours or 40 hours, are all winners.  And to those #quitters, let that hashtag fuel your redemption for 2022!

Hands down, the best 100 miler and 100k out there.  And to think the Marji Gesick materialized 6 years ago when #blametodd and #blamedanny wondered about a summertime event they could come up with.  If they had known how many lives that would change for the better, they woulda washed those crazy thoughts down with another beer.

Cheers to you, Todd and Danny 🍺