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Training For The Marji Gesick 100 – Part 1

marji gesick training

This write up is a breakdown of my training for the Marji Gesick 100 over the past month or so. I have included some good data related to training zones, high level analysis of some of my workouts and where I think I am sitting at now. I basically broke the report down by types of training rides that include structured workouts and then higher mileage rides at the end of the build. I think if you read through all of this, you will pick up a few good nuggets of info out of it that you might be able to apply to your own training.

I spent a lot of time being sedentary this spring and into the summer between recovering from a couple 100 mile races and a couple injuries. I was pretty much on the couch for a couple weeks prior to this block of training while recovering from a rib injury and felt like I lost a fair amount of fitness. I also gained a little weight, but I am not going to dive into that right now as I am more concerned about my fitness performance levels vs a little extra fat.

Structured Indoor Training On The Wahoo Kickr

First things first… I really like the Kickr. I have been using a Jet Fluid Pro for the last couple of years, which I also really like and will probably still keep in the Endurance Path pain cave, but the Kickr has added an entirely new set of dynamics and capabilities to structured indoor training workouts. I started off with a threshold test on it, which I mentioned earlier that I had to bail out of early. I just couldn’t get my rib cage to expand enough to take in the deep breaths. That being said, I was able to get a full threshold test in a few days later to dial in my training zones a little more. It turns out that I was right in the ballpark already on my heart rate and close on my power estimate. I had estimated power a little higher before, based off of some power curves that I had seen for the Jet Fluid Pro and threshold tests that I had done with it.

At any rate, the Kickr has come in real handy for structured workouts since I can set the power exactly where I want it during the intervals. I even brought the Kickr with me on our road trip, so I could hit a couple more structured workouts on the road while it was raining. I actually did these workouts in our travel trailer at a campsite during thunderstorms.

Threshold Test

It was really interesting to do the threshold test with a power meter and real helpful to get actual numbers vs speculating the numbers. At the end of the day… my power is on the low side for the level of performance that I would like to see out of myself. That being said, I now have something to measure with and start to dial things in. One of the things I struggled with in the past with intervals or really any type of trainer workout is being between gears. Meaning, going to a bigger cog would be too light of an effort, but the next smallest cog was too hard of an effort for the work zone I was trying to stay in. The great thing about being able to control the power level is I can sit in whatever gear I want and adjust the power to the exact level that I want.

The chart below is training zones based on the threshold power numbers and heart rate that I came out of the test with. I’ll bring this up later when I get to the big gear and low cadence interval discussion, but I think my power numbers came out a little low as I had been so sedentary for 2 weeks prior to the test. It is good to be recovered before the threshold test, but being completely sedentary for the 2 weeks prior wasn’t good either. There might be a little wishful thinking in there too, wishing my power numbers were higher…

training marji gesick

Big Gear and Low Cadence

Bottom line… I need to build muscle and add some strength to elevate my power levels and this is where I feel some low cadence big gear hill repeats come into play. Keep in mind that this is the first time that I am able to do workouts like this using an actual power meter. In the past, I have gone to an actual hill for hill repeat training or just used really big gears on my Jet Fluid Pro at a lower cadence to mimic hills. Now I can just set the power and pick a cadence. I would not do this low of a cadence if I was a beginner, but I am experimenting with doing hill repeats at 60 rpms and I did my first big gear and low cadence power meter workout right around threshold power of 240 watts. I did 12 intervals with 2 minute work zones and 4 minute recovery zones and my heart rate peaked out at 167 bpm during the work zones.

1 week later I did the same workout, but set power at 260 watts and my heart rate peaked out at the same 167 bpm. There are 2 interesting things that come to mind when I look at the numbers… First, I am not going to jump to conclusions and say that my power went up by 20 watts for this workout in just a week. I had done the previous workout only 2 days after doing a threshold test. I may have still been slightly fatigued from the threshold test and the endurance pace ride the day between the threshold test and the first big gear low cadence workout. Secondly, I had been idle for 2 weeks and my cardio system may have needed a few workouts to loosen up. It would be interesting to do another threshold test now and see if the power is higher. I probably won’t do another one though for at least a few weeks and in the mean time, I am going to cheat my power slightly higher on my upcoming workouts with the assumption that it is actually slightly higher than what came out in the test.

This is a graph of the actual workout with cadence (RPM), heart rate (BPM) and power (W).

training marji gesick

Threshold Intervals

I actually bailed out of another interval workout on the Kickr. I believe there were 2 reasons that I had to bail early. Neither really had to do with my rib injury. First and mainly, I wanted to continue experimenting with this workout as I have this workout prescribed in my training plans. I do this often; try out different variables around a workout so that I learn more about the limits of the workout and how it effects you. It is definitely detrimental to some of my training in the short term, but I have always been a self learner and me doing this will help you and I both in the long term. I always want to find out how much you can push yourself in a training zone without blowing the workout. I set the power to 300 watts and was going to spin just over 100 rpms. I was pretty much burnt after the first interval and had to take way too long of a rest. It was also a good gut check on knowing how far I can push above threshold and for how long. Turns out that 300 watts is way out of my league for anything other than a short attack at this point.

The second, but much lesser of the issue, was that I was just really fatigued going into the workout already and have learned to pull back before I make myself sick. You have to be careful about jumping back into the workouts real heavy after taking so much time off and the threshold intervals were about to push me over the edge, so I bailed. I would equate this to always wondering how fast you can push that one corner on your local trail and then you finally push hard enough to end up face down in the dirt. You ruined that ride, but now you have a bookend past your limit to start dialing it in.

I repeated the threshold intervals a week later using 6 intervals with 3 minutes of work and 3 minutes of recovery. I set power to 260 watts for the work period of the interval and spun around 100 rpms. My heart rate peaked out at 169 bpm. This was a pretty successful workout and the next time I would do 1 of 2 things differently. I would either bump the power to 270 watts or I would add 2 more intervals and keep the power at 260 watts. 260 watts is above my threshold training zone, but I quite honestly think that my power numbers came out falsely low during my threshold test because of being so idle during the proceeding weeks as I already mentioned.

This is a graph of the actual workout with cadence (RPM), heart rate (BPM) and power (W).

training marji gesick

Door County Endurance and Tempo Riding

You may have already read my ride report from Door County, so you know I got a big mileage ride in. 94 miles was not necessarily the exact right thing to do at the time for training purposes, but I got a little carried away. My original plan was to put in about 60 miles of riding at an endurance pace. The weather was really hot and humid and I buried myself a little bit on the nutrition side so I could test my energy products a bit. It is always good to know if the stuff you are going to carry with you in a race will actually bring you out of a hole if you happen to bonk.

I have been trying out the Jelly Belly Extreme Sport Beans. The Extreme ones are the ones with caffeine in them. They seem to do the job, but I am mixed yet on the digestive side of things. They don’t cause any upset stomach or anything like that, but I do feel like they create a little gas that I burp up. I also am not sure if they just take too much energy to digest vs a more liquid gel or softer energy chew. More to come later on them I guess. I do know that they helped me out of a hole along with some Carbo Rocket at True Grit.

Here is a breakdown of my time spent in heart rate zones 1 thru 5 on my Door County ride.

training marji gesick

Offroad Mileage In Michigan’s Keweenaw

I haven’t written up a ride report for the Keweenaw yet, but I will probably write something up about all the riding options in the future. That being said, I got some great general trail riding and endurance training in while there. I did take my body right to the limit though with training stress. The good thing is, I am getting much better at recognizing this and I do find the performance management chart in Training Peaks helpful here also.

At any rate, I took 2 days off the bike after my Door County ride and then put some mileage in on my mountain bike once arriving in the Keweenaw. I ended up putting in 145 miles in during a 7 day period. I did 2 back to back days for a total of 73 miles, took a day off and then did a 55 mile ride with some local folks. I took 2 more days off and then did a real easy 17 mile ride. The riding included just about everything you could think of… Old school rugged singletrack, very little flowy single track, tore up atv trails, snowmobile trails, ski trails and a little bit of road. I had the opportunity for some good steep grade climbing and did all this on my mountain bike.

By the time I finished the group ride, I was pretty much pegged on the training stress and was ready for a recovery week. The recovery week was actually due to start the next day and was part of my plan anyways as I had been hitting it pretty hard for 3 weeks. The group ride was mostly spent in my endurance and tempo zones, so it was a good way to finish off the training block before moving into recovery.

Here is a breakdown of my time spent in heart rate training zones 1 thru 5 during that 7 day period.

training marji gesick

Singletrack Threshold Time Trialing At Island Lake

I was in lower Michigan at the end of my recovery week and not far from Island Lake State Park. For those that are not familiar; Island Lake mountain bike trail is very fast, flat and not very technical. I guess there are a couple hills, but very very short and hard to even pick out from an elevation profile. The only thing that really slows you down on this trail is a few switchbacks and some loose gravel and sand.

At anyrate, it was the perfect place to do a little offroad time trial test. You never hear anybody really talk about threshold testing off road and I wouldn’t really consider it a threshold test, but I think there is a lot of value in finding some single track that is around an hour or less to test yourself. I think it needs to be relatively consistent with little elevation. Basically some trail that you can put in a fairly consistent effort. First, you have a place to go back to and compare times throughout the season to see if you are getting faster and it gives you some real world experience in understanding where you can push your heart rate while still handling your bike. It is one thing to push the heart rate and effort on a trainer or on the road, but it is a whole different story pushing your heart rate and effort while handling the bike on dirt, around trees and some switchbacks.

This is where Strava can come in handy sometimes. I used to pay more attention to Strava segments when I was getting started, but now I tend to ignore them and just load rides to Strava for the social aspect of it. That being said, I am totally cool with anybody following my Strava feed to see what type of training and riding I am doing.

Back to Island Lake… there of course is a Strava segment for the entire Island Lake loop, so I know that the fastest folks are just over 45 minutes. I figured I could be 55 minutes or better. I don’t know the trail that well, but I am fairly familiar with it. I ended up doing a sub 52 minute lap with an average heart rate of 168 bpm. I was pretty happy with that and thought it was a good way to gauge my fitness. I wasn’t fully recovered yet like I should have been, but it gave me a bit of confidence. I’d like to think I could get to sub 50 minute laps there, but that is really irrelevant at the moment. The important thing is that I was able to go out and push my heart rate to threshold in a real world situation for almost an hour and lay down a respectable course time while keeping my bike under control and not wrapping myself around a tree.

The timing was good for this also as I needed to do a couple high intensity shorter rides like this prior to Ore to Shore. Ore to Shore will definitely be high intensity, but for around 3 hours and I had mostly been doing endurance and tempo riding. I went back to Island Lake again 2 days later to repeat the test and do another hour long threshold ride off road before leaving town and laid down about the same time and heart rate. I was a little faster, but not by much.

If you can find a trail like this in your area, then I highly recommend using it as a combination offroad road fitness and bike handling test. I do include some rides like this in my training plans also. Anyways, my trail like this back home is Elm Creek in Champlin, Minnesota. It has quite a few switchbacks but you are able to ride most of it at pretty high intensity and you will get a good bike handling workout in through the tight switchbacks.

If there is no Strava segment set up or you do not use Strava, just hit your lap button on your gps device or a stopwatch to check your time and keep track of it for yourself. Whenever I do a test like this, I actually just hit the lap button to record my own lap and then I don’t have to sort through all the Strava segments to find the right one. Some of these trails have a ridiculous amount of segments set up and I could care less what my time was through 200 meter sections of trail. At the end of the day, I just want to see if I am progressing on the same trail over time. That being said, Strava does make it handy as it keeps track of your efforts.

Ore to Shore

So that brings me to a couple days before the Ore to Shore… The Ore to Shore is not a target race for me as my training goals are focused on being ready to have a respectable ride at the Marji Gesick without blowing myself up, so that I can jump into some other cross training activities immediately after the Marji. However, I do plan on pushing myself at the Ore to Shore and am hoping to finish under 3 hours. The Island Lake rides were kind of a prep for that. We’ll see what happens. I haven’t done any races like this since fat bike season and I am not sure any of those really fit the bill anyways.

3 hours is in that middle ground of high intensity and endurance racing. You can’t go out and push for 3 hours like you would in a 1 to 2 hour XC event, but an endurance or tempo effort certainly is not going to get the job done either. The good thing is that I finally get to do the Ore to Shore and should be able to have a decent race without disrupting another training block before the Marji Gesick. Plus, it is another excuse to spend additional time in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Wrapping Up First Training Block For Marji Gesick

training marji gesick

Above is my performance management chart from Training Peaks since the Mohican 100. You can see all the down time in there that didn’t help my fitness levels, but were probably a good break for my body also. It just wasn’t really the right time of the year with the racing plans that I had. You can also see the ramp up  of my chronic training load at the end of July and then a bit of leveling off during the beginning of August while my form came back up. The rides at Island Lake were actually pretty good for maintaining fitness while still allowing me to come back into peak form. If I timed it out correctly, I should actually be sitting in decent form for the Ore to Shore. Not exactly right for an A race, but decent form for a B race.

I’ll repeat a similar training block like this immediately after the Ore to Shore and time it to peak out in decent form with better fitness for the Marji Gesick. The Ore to Shore just happen to fit in nicely between training blocks, so I am looking forward to getting out there in a couple days to test myself. I believe with another training block similiar to this past one, I should be able to have a good ride at the Marji and not have to spend 6 weeks recovering from it. A big key will be including those longer endurance and tempo rides. It’s been awhile since I did a lot of that riding and I think the week of it between Door County and Michigan’s Keweenaw will pay off. Stay tuned for part 2 of my Marji Gesick Training the week before the actual Marji Gesick race. I plan to put together another training report after my next training block.

So I am curious if you felt this information was helpful. Drop me a line and let me know if you would like to see more of this type of stuff in the future. I have had a few folks express some interest in hearing more about training than just race reports and I enjoyed writing this up. I enjoy nerding out on some of the data post ride anyways, so it wasn’t a big deal to put my thoughts down on the keyboard. It might help give you a little idea of what to expect in some of my training plans and workouts also as I start making them available for purchase.

Look out for my Ore to Shore race report next and then I will get something out there at some point about riding in the Keweenaw. If you see me at Ore to Shore feel free to ride by and slap me in the back of the head or something. It has been fun running into readers of Endurance Path and listeners of The Last Aid Station when I am out at races. Always feel free to reach out to me in general also.

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