My First Marji Gesick 100 MTB Race

There are so many thoughts that go thru my head as I go to write the report for my first Marji Gesick 100 mountain bike race. So many lessons, successes, failures and new experiences on the trail. Riding terrain, drops and jump lines I’ve never ridden before. Hiking down sections of trail that I was too chicken to ride or up steep grades that I just didn’t have the legs for. My hands were callused and blistered, my feet hurt, my legs ached and my right knee was in pain.

My knee hurt for hours, mile after mile. At some point, it stopped getting worse or maybe my hands starting hurting more or maybe it was the bottoms of my feet from the running and then hiking up and down the steep grades with a bike. In the final miles, I could barely hold myself up on my bike. There were moments that I could only take a couple steps at a time. The pain was real and the suffering was deep. I’d get the best footing I could with my cleates on the rocks and push my bike up as far as I could, hold the brakes and then take 2 steps of pain and do it all over again until I reached the top. I don’t know how to explain to somebody what the body and mind is going thru out there, but if you’ve entered the arena and toed that start line, whether finishing or not; I don’t have to explain it to you. You know what I’m talking about. There was a moment that I wasn’t sure if I was actually going to make it to the finish and I was only halfway in…

Podcast of Race Report

The Podcast version has some additional thoughts and commentary. However, I still suggest reading through the written report first, getting a look at the course maps/elevation profiles and details of the terrain and ride before listening to the podcast to enhance your listening experience…!

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The Marji Gesick 100 Course Layout

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It was the truest of mountain bike race courses. Big climbs, rock gardens, rooty natural trails, flowy singltrack, rocky descents, unforgiving singletrack and relentless climbs.

My Marji Gesick 100 Gear & Drop Bag Setup

I took a video as I was packing up to show my gear and drop bag set up for the race. I wouldn’t change much other than maybe having my wife ready with another hydration bladder of Carbo Rocket waiting for me when I came through the trailhead of the South Trails. I ran short on Carbo Rocket mid race. I think I would have left all my lights in my drop bag also. I didn’t need them at all in the morning.

Le Mans Start of The Marji Gesick 100

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I lined up 3 rows back, not far behind Tinker Juarez. If you told me a few years ago, I would be lining up at the start of a race like the Marji Gesick, I would not have believed it. But this sport is addicting and keeps you wanting for more. There are not many sports in the world where a guy like me gets to race and compete on the same playing field at the same time as a professional athlete or one of the top athletes in the world. Mountain Bike racing is one of the few, where you actually get the real time opportunity to see where you stand against the legends and best there is. Here I was at the start line of the Marji Gesick 100 in Michigan’s U.P. a few feet behind Tinker Juarez.

The national anthem was played, the bottle rockets went off and we started running. This was not a 50 yard dash to our bikes, we were actually going to run .4 miles. I know in a runners mind it is not a long ways, but we set off on a .4 mile run before partaking in a 100+ miles of true rugged mountain bike racing.

I had a good start, but there were a few guys that really took off. We all know Tinker can ride, but that guy can run too and I never saw him again after the first couple hundred feet. I kept a steady pace around the running loop and came out of it toward the front. I gave Danny Hill a high five as I came across the field toward my bike. I actually carried my Garmin with me on the run, because I was curious to look at my heart rate later. I mounted my Garmin on the bike, grabbed my hydration pack off the ground and set out on the Marji Gesick 100. My wife was watching the live timing and I think it recorded us going across the start line in whatever order we crossed. She thought I crossed the start line in 36th place, so I did get off to a pretty good start.

Forestville & Harlow Lake Loops

Ski Trails & Double Track Descent

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If you didn’t do this race, you are probably thinking, big deal… ski trails are easy to ride. You’re right, they are and after riding the stuff that I rode later in the day, ski trails are awesome. But, it wasn’t some flat and straight ski trail roll out. We had a few light rollers over a couple miles as we worked up hill a bit. We did get to end it with a nice big double track downhill though before hitting our fist set of real trails.

First Trail Section

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I entered the first singletrack with a handful of other riders. I think a few of the guys were happy to settle back into a comfortable pace, but I could also tell a couple of the other riders were like me and wanted to stay on the gas while we were still fresh. I knew it was going to be a long race and we all ride differently. We all climb differently, descend differently and all carry speed differently. None of us are the exact same rider, so what might be the right thing to do for one racer, may not be the right thing to do for another racer.

I was feeling good at the moment and my perceived effort was lower than what I wanted to put out and I was getting antsy as we were a little bunched up and all flowing up and over stuff slightly different, even though the trail was pretty tame. A couple guys started making some moves to work through the group and I followed suit. We inevitably got jammed up at some point as we started another hill and I tapped off the back of another guy’s tire. Somebody from behind reminded that it was a long race, I think a way of telling us antsy guys to be patient. I do respect the thoughts and camaraderie, but the fact that it was a long race is exactly why I wanted out of this pack… It was way too long of a race for me to be stuck in a flow that wasn’t working for me. I needed some open trail to ride my own ride and work my strengths, so that I could survive this thing. That being said, it would probably do me some good to do some more wheel to wheel cross country racing to get more comfortable in these situations. Regardless, I was willing to burn a match at this point to find some open trail and settle into my own pace and flow.

I was never able to get through the pack before we came to a root filled climb. It was wide and we split all over the place finding our own lines up it. I think I was 2nd or 3rd up and then I believe this is where we hit the big rock overlook. It did not look ridable, but somebody yelled back that it was and I gave it a go up the right side. I made it to the last little edge and then jammed up and fell over. I saw a guy ride right up it though. I got back up and hiked it to the top and jumped back on to find myself dropping down a pretty severe drop. I made it, but when I looked out ahead it looked sketchy and I jumped off and hiked down the rest of it, which is what most folks were doing. I did see one guy clean it like a champ and was on his way.

I actually made it through all of it fairly quick, but I do need to spend some more time on stuff like that. It doesn’t seem like it would make a huge difference, but it is a lot more efficient to be able to just ride through that stuff, rather than dismount and drag your bike through it. He not only was faster through it, but I guarantee he also used less energy. On a day like this, where we would hit multiple sections like this, it starts to add up on you. I did manage to make it out of there with some clean trail and was on my own now.

Harlow Lake & Harlow Creek

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I popped out of the singletrack and ended up on some gravel rail trail for just under a half mile. I kept my map screen up on my gps to help keep me in line on upcoming turns. It wasn’t helpful in twisty singletrack, but was nice on straight sections to warn me to start looking for my turn. I was comfortable now. I could see people in front and behind me, but had enough space to ride my own ride and flow through trail at my own comfort level without holding anybody up or being held up myself.

I turned off the rail trail and onto some singletrack that flowed along Harlow Lake and then dumped us back out on the road. We went up the road a couple hundreds yards before it forked left and dumped us on an old railroad bed.

When I say an old railroad bed, I literally mean an old railroad bed where the old railroad ties were still there. The ground was filled in between the deteriorated railroad ties, but they still stuck above it some and it was ruff riding. I’m sure it was left over remnants form the mining days. My suspension worked well, but it was best to keep some speed going. It’s important to know about all of this stuff, because when you look at the course map, you may get the idea that there was some nice recovery straight and flat trail in various sections, but as you will learn as you read through this report, there was usually a catch to any of these areas and I’ll be sure to share details as I work through this report. There really was not much recovery in this race. We got off the old railroad bed and were on some nice singletrack in the woods. I had another guy come up on me pretty fast and I let him go by.

Roots And Endless Rock Gardens

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The trail started to turn more challenging after crossing over a rocky area near the lake. There was no natural flow to it. It made you work for every up and down with a natural landscape in an ageless forest that was a bit magestic in the morning dampness. It was good old fashion mountain biking and I loved it. I came up on a guy who raced the first Marji Gesick  last year and we chatted shortly. He had mentioned that this was not the time to push and that the last 15 miles would make you hurt. I paced behind him for a little bit and then I eventually went around him as we were starting to get caught by some folks behind us and I didn’t want to be sandwiched up again on the trail.

I also have learned a few things about these long races. I know that if I’ve only trained up to 5 or 6 hours at a time on the bike, then after 6 to 8 hours, my power is going to drop off regardless of how easy I take it at the start. As long as I stay out of my threshold window, I’m better off pushing on and getting as far down course as I can before the big power drops start hitting. I was feeling good and needed to push on anyways.

If I remember correctly, there was a short section that smoothed out through the woods before I hit some more rooted ups and downs and then some serious rock gardens. Every time I thought maybe the rough stuff was over, more rock gardens would appear. I was pretty happy about running a bigger tire up front for sure. I was also pumped about how much of the rocks I was able to ride! I finally got through it and the trail smoothed out briefly before popping out at the bottom of Beagle Club Rd.

Climb To Forestville Road And Down To The North Trail Loop

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I had about a 300 foot climb in just over a mile to get up to Forestville Road where there would be a little recovery on one of the few smooth descents. The climb wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t a climb I could knock out with a short burst either. I settled into a comfortable pace and worked my way up on my own. I wasn’t alone by any means. I could hear a couple riders behind me and knew there was somebody out in front of me a little ways. The traffic was definitely thinned out though.

I popped out on Forestville Rd and started my descent. There were a few sandy spots, but there was true recovery here. I passed by the drive going into the starting area and then made my right hand turn to enter more trails. I did not recognize the trail at the time, but after looking back at the ride files, I realized that we had popped out on Forestville Rd near this point in the Ore to Shore race and hung a right hand turn down this same trail. This trail section was short and I don’t remember much of it, other than I think it was fairly wide. I quickly popped out of the trails, crossed some railroad tracks and definitely recognized this trail from the Ore To Shore race. It’s funny to think that the only singletrack on the Ore to Shore was some of the easiest and fastest singletrack in the Marji Gesick.

Marquette North Mountain Bike Trails

North Trails Loop To Forestville Rd.

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It was nice to be on some familiar trail for a short period. It also offered a bit of recovery as it did flow downhill, minus your typical ups and downs and then became mostly flat as I approached the turn that started to bring me back west along the Dead River. There were spectators out on the trail here, rooting us on.

The north trails were a mix of fast and flowy trail, contrasted by a few really tight rooty sections. The North Trail Loop ended with a sweet flowy string of switchbacks. If you look at the gps, it looks like this last part was some straight rail trail, but if you look closer, you can see the back and forth twists in the trail. Not to mention that it was uphill. You know you have ridden some tough stuff already in the day when anything uphill feels flowy.

Forestville Road to M-28

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I came to the Forestville Rd. crossing where there were folks out directing me across the road to the trail on the other side. The trail was straight and then came to an opening where we hung a right. Right before I made the turn, I saw 2 guys way up ahead that had missed the turn and they were coming back this way. I yelled out to them before I made the turn to let them know where the trail was. I made the turn and heard them jump in behind me. One of them yelled out “thanks green helmet guy!”

We made a left and had a short descent to a small parking area where the next section of trail started. The trail split left and took us up a rougher steep and narrow trail that continued to climb and twist up the hill. I was forced off my bike at least once on a really steep section. I thought the guy behind me was going to make it and gave him a quick cheer, but he had to bail also. I eventually let him go by me as he had been catching me during this section.

We eventually came out behind some shopping centers and were headed down to M-28. I sat up a bit when we hit the pavement and soft pedaled my way down to the left hand turn by the ribbons and volunteer aid station before dropping down into the drainage ditch. They took us through a rocky water filled drainage tunnel under the highway before we had to dismount and climb out of the ditch on the other side, but this avoided us having to cross the main highway.

Marquette South Mountain Bike Trails

Getting To The South Trails

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I had gotten caught by 3 or 4 racers in the drainage ditch under M-28 and a small group of us were together now. There were folks set up all over the side of the road with water and cheering us on. I took the opportunity to eat one of my Honey Stinger Waffles as I soft pedaled up the road. We made our turn onto the bike path together and a bit of organization started in a moderate pace line. I was second in line, but was feeling hungry still and thought this was a good opportunity to eat again, so I grabbed another waffle. The pace seemed like it was starting to pick up and I started to fall back. The other guys came around me and they picked the pace up. I was content with were I was at and thought it was best for me to refuel a bit as there wouldn’t be much of a break for the next 20 miles. Eventually, I saw the guys enter the trail up ahead of me and one of them waved back and pointed at the singletrack entrance to make sure I saw it. People are always looking out for one another during these races.

Harlow Farms Connector Trail

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I made the tight right hand turn onto the singletrack and was feeling pretty good. I had eaten a couple waffles and drank my water. I was concerned about my CarboRocket supplies as I had not planned to refill my CarboRocket until Neguanee and it was getting obvious to me that I was going to run out. That was a little bit of the reason that I ate an extra waffle. I was thinking that the volunteer aid station at the trail head would come quick though.

This trail was nice and smooth. It was definitely newer style of trail and even though I was slowly gaining elevation the entire time, it took less energy to work through. I popped out on a road again to find that one of the guys from the bike path group had fallen off and was grabbing some fuel as he worked up the road. The road section was very short and I tucked in behind him as we hit the singletrack again.

It wasn’t far up the new singletrack that the pace was feeling too comfortable, so I made my pass and started working up the trail on my own. I had not ridden this trail before, but it was still nice clean trail and easy to ride. I was more than 3 hours into the race by now, so there was some obvious fatigue, but my power had not dropped yet. I do not have a power meter on my bike, but after using one on my trainer, I have a better perception of where I am at. Plus, with some of my recent training rides, I knew I was good at a high tempo pace for 4 to 5 hours and probably much longer. This of course, dependent on the climbs that could push me into threshold for long and unrecoverable periods.

Pioneer Trail Loop

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If you look at the Marquette South Trails, the Harlow Farms Connector Trail would normally dump you right into the Pioneer loop, but they did take us on a little jaunt out away from the Harlow Farms Trail before we hit the Pioneer Loop. Regardless, now I was in somewhat familiar territory as I had ridden this loop a few times the previous summer. It’s mostly smooth and flowy and there is a great little swoopy flow section with a few little jumps in it. My concentration here was taking the most efficient lines and pumping over the jumps to maintain speed. This is something I have been getting better at.

I had 2 riders come up on me as we made the loop around the golf course and I eventually let them by, but tried to hang on to their wheel for a bit before eventually falling off. Shortly after, I passed a different rider. Just before the open field area, I was caught and passed by another racer. I chased him over the open field and all the way up Smiley Trail before losing him near the top. We reconnected back on the south portion of the Pioneer Loop. This trail was a little rougher and I had ridden it in the past, but from the other direction.

Eh Line Jump Trail

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I popped out into the opening at the top of Benson Grade, where the arrows directed me to Eh Line. It was big, I mean real big banked berms with big table top jumps. I got into it pretty fast in the top section and after a couple of jumps, got a little nervous that I was gonna get carried away and I dialed it back a little to make sure I safely made it down. It was a riot, but so much for being able to recover on the downhills, because those tabletops worked me over and my upper body was feeling it by the time I reached the bottom. Seriously though, how many 100 mile mountain bike races have a sweet real deal bermed jump line in it. Thank you for putting this in the course! I assumed Tinker was in some kind of old school happy place and ripped through them with a big smile.

To The Trail Head Aid Station 

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I was soon across the road and working through a few little trail sections that I didn’t quite recognize. I wasn’t sure where I was at. I was on course, but didn’t recognize the trail. I think I got disoriented on my location by coming down the jump trail and was thinking that we were crossing the road north of the trailhead instead of south. I hadn’t really looked at the map much before the race, other than making sure it loaded onto my gps fine.

I eventually turned onto a trail that smoothed out and remembered this being the kiddy trail loop that circles out of the main trail head. I knew I was close to the aid station and sure enough, I could hear people and start to see the parking lot through the trees. I popped out of the woods to find one of the biggest aid station set ups I have ever seen. I set my bike off to the side and took off my hydration pack and grabbed my water bottle. I knew I needed water, but I kind of just stood there and starred at all the food at the aid station for a minute.

One of the ladies asked if I wanted my hydration pack filled and I remember saying no, no, just top it off… I thought about what I said and then laughed and told her I was a bit dazed and just needed a minute to figure out what I needed. My wife came walking up about the same time. I think my wife filled up my water bottle for me and then I eventually opened my hydration pack up to add some water. I had CarboRocket mixed in it, that was just about gone. I didn’t realize how much longer it was going to take to get to Neguanee, but knew I needed more than just the little bit of CarboRocket left in my pack so we filled my pack about halfway. There was a slight taste of CarboRocket, but it was pretty much water at this point.

Back to all the food on the table… The nice ladies had baggies and plates out and were ready to fix me a feast or pack me stuff to take with. I grabbed a couple donut holes and slammed half of a coke. I figured I could take a gel up the trail with the water that I refilled.

Down The South Line of Blue Loop

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I followed the signs south out of the parking lot to find even more people hanging out and offering water fill ups to racers. I don’t know if they were more community members or other racers’ SAG support, but it was pretty comforting to see all of this. I rolled into the trails fast, but then it slowed down quickly as I started to hit the rock gardens. I came by another frustrated racer who was messing with his seat post, but he passed by me shortly after as we were headed up the rocky switchbacks. I had to unclip a couple times through here and I think even had to step off and walk my bike over a couple rocky or rooty step ups. I’ve made some really good gains in my cycling performance, but I have a ton of work to do when it comes to rough trail riding. These are the sections that I really lost a lot of time on throughout the day that also took a toll on my knees hiking the uneven surfaces.

The trail took us up another 200 feet of elevation before heading downhill. This downhill portion was fun with a few sketchy spots if you’re not paying attention. It had some steep grades with some unpredictable rocky and root filled spots that always kept you on your toes. This trail was another example of how this race was relentless in the fact that there was no recovery in the downhills. I have to bring this up because there is always an assumption that if you climb a whole bunch, that you also get all kinds of downhill recovery. That’s not true! When we were going downhill, it was mostly technical and knuckle biting and the smallest of mistakes could cost you big time.

Up Mount Marquette Road

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I soon found myself on the gravel road of Marquette Mountain and the climb to the top of Scary Trail was under way. I could not see anyone in front of me, but could see another rider behind. I had never made this climb before from the bottom, but I do believe I had climbed the top portion at some point the previous year. I remembered it being steep and steep it was. The gravel was loose and standing up would only spin out my rear tire, so it was find a gear and grind this thing out. I just ignored the racer behind me and focused on my own game. I did not know the course well enough to know what was coming, but based on the last 50 miles I was sure there would not be any recovery. I would drop down a cog or 2 at times to see if I had more in me, but inevitably I opted to spin most of it in granny gear.

Scary Trail

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I had not ridden scary trail before and it is called scary trail for good reason. There are some serious steep grades over rocks. I even came to a dead stop between 2 trees where my handlebars where too wide. I was scared enough of the trail already that I was going pretty slow and saw the situation coming in time to get stopped. I rode some stuff here, that brought my riding experience to another level, but I also had to walk some of it. I could definitely save some time on this course if I could pick up my technical game. I think all the on and off the bike starts to add up on you, not to mention it is fatigueing and really wears on your knees having to step down the steep uneven surfaces with a bike in hand. My technical game has needed some work for quite some time and that is one of the things I will work on prior to next year.

Up The Back Side of Ski Hill

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I safely made it down Scary Trail and enjoyed the fun bermed switchbacks at the bottom. I crossed a dirt road and was riding along a small river where some fly fisherman were exploring the waters. I crossed the bridge to the other side and knew it wouldn’t be long before some of the most hellish climbing in the race would begin… or so I thought. I had ridden the first part of this the previous year, and had dumped out on the north side of the ski trail, but the Marji Gesick would take us around the south side. Some serious suffering started to happen here and I did a lot of walking up the steep grades. I had moments of strength and moments of weakness that were random, mixed and uncontrollable.

All kinds of thoughts were going through my head as I realized I was only halfway through the race and some of the toughest sections of trail may still be ahead. There were a couple other racers coming up on me, but we were all having to walk quite a bit. A pain had been creeping up in my right knee and the hiking up these steep grades was really making the pain set in deep and it was now flairing up fast. I had been doing really well up to this point, but I started to have some dark moments as I had to repeatedly get off my bike and hike while my knee pain increased. There were a few moments that I actually started to wonder if I was going to make it to the finish line. I tried to just shut out the pain and negative thoughts, ignore them and push on.

After each little climb, I kept thinking it was over and started to pedal down the trail again to find another steep grade. I went to let a guy go by me as I jumped off again, but he said I was doing ok and we slogged on. Finally, we reached the top and dropped down a little doubletrack and back into the woods. I had to pull off to clear a stick out of my wheel and let the other guy go by. My mind and legs were coming back a bit and I tried to keep the guy in front of me in sight as we made the descent though the loose singletrack. I figured it might be good to have somebody to chase ahead at this point to help me stay focused on the ride and keep my mind off the fatigue.

Carp Diem & Easy Street

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Finally to the bottom of the ski hill, I soft pedaled through the parking lot while I took in some food and water. I crossed under the bridge next to the river and started climbing up the Carp Diem Trail that I was familiar with. There were no steep grades, but it was all up hill. However, the trail was smooth and flowy with a wide creek running below.  I had ridden this a few times the previous summer and started getting my legs back. This trail was also more typical of the stuff I ride back home and my pace started picking up again as I worked through it and became comfortable again on my bike.

I came up on a familiar face, that I had met on a group ride in Houghton, MI a couple months back. I followed Chris for a bit and then eventually pressed on as I was feeling well recovered. I was surprised to feel the recovery as I thought I was past my recovery point after working up the back side of the ski hill. I felt like I needed to take advantage of the moment and hammer on. I think I had let the walking work me over mentally and once you start to lose the game in your head, it can turn dark quick. Regardless, I pulled out of it and was back on my game again.

Getting To Negaunee

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Eventually, came the turn off from the Marquette South Trails and I was on my way to Negaunee. I found myself on some atv type trail that was flat enough for a short period to soft pedal and grabbed one of my Honey Stinger gels and then kept moving. I eventually popped out on some pavement, but it only lasted about a half mile before being dumped into a sandy atv trail. This just sucked the energy out of me and I was feeling the fatigue again. As I was walking up one of the sandy hills, I could see Chris and another guy about to join me. We came to a very loose downhill where I chose the wrong path and washed out my front wheel where they ended up passing by and asked if I was ok. I was good, jumped back on my bike and realized I had made some bad assumptions about the possibility of there being a lot of recovery between Marquette and Neguanee.

I soon came to what was called “The Worst Aid Station”… and I was thankful as heck because I was out of water. These folks were having a good ole time with a grill fired up, water, Cokes and grilled cheese sandwiches. They filled up my water bottle while I grabbed a grilled cheese sandwich, followed by half a can of Coke. I can’t tell you how much that grilled cheese sandwich hit the spot. Huge thanks to these folks for setting up exactly where I needed them. I got back on my bike and road off as I yelled “thanks, that was the best damn grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever had!”.

I was thinking that Negaunee would only be a couple miles away at this point, but it turned out to be another 7 plus miles. I had to walk a couple more times in some deep sand and then finally got some real recovery on a section of paved rail trail.

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I finally arrived to find my wife anxiously waiting for me. She worries a bit for me out there and then gets pretty excited to see me pushing through it. Sometimes, I think I am calmer at aid stations than she is, but she takes great care of me and is always making sure I have everything that I need. As I am racing on the bike and she is chasing me through the course, I feel like this is something we’re accomplishing together. I started making the swaps of goods from my drop bag. I had a pre-mixed hydration bladder of CarboRocket all ready to go and some more Honey Stinger waffles, gels and Jelly Belly sport beans. I changed my socks and finished off the stop with the Claussen Pickles that I had packed in my drop bag and washed them down with a little pickle juice.

Neguanee and Ishpeming Loop Mile 70 to 90

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I was feeling relaxed, somewhat recovered and in good spirits as I rode out of Negaunee. I hit the stair case and still had the energy to clean it, not as easy as my pre-ride the previous day, but I made it up and over without a problem. As I rode out of Negaunee, I noticed remnants of sidewalks wandering off in the woods with deteriorated and overgrown old roads. I have to believe we were riding out through what was left of an old mining town.

The next miles of trails quite honestly blurred together as the fatique set back in. I was behind my planned pace at this point, but Negaunee was also 5 miles further than I had planned. Regardless, I still thought I was plenty safe on the 12 hour mark. I quickly hit the the rocky, rough and twisty stuff that I heard about. This was definitely different type of trail than what I had ridden in Marquette. This was rugged, rocky and relentless. There was no break. The short punchy climbs could get steep and the jagged rocks were all over. Switchbacks were tight and the pace would obviously be slower than it was earlier in the day.

I came across some really awesome views along some steep edges. I remember making the tight right hand turn at the big caution sign that had a crazy drop off on the other side of it. I would have liked to take the time to stop and chill on the overlook, but time was of the essence as I realized my pace was continuing to slow. I can’t quite remember exactly how many, but I know I got passed by a couple folks here. My lack of skills in natural hand built singletrack were showing their ugly face.

At some point, we got dumped out on a rail trail through Ishpeming that took us right by the finish line. The finish was so close, but so far away yet and I had no idea what was still in store for me. I headed back up into some twisty rocky trails and then eventually found myself climbing up and old deteriorated road that I remembered pre-riding up the day before. There was another rider headed up it and I just followed in behind him as we hit the last singletrack along a ridge. I really have to work on my offroad riding skills and I think it is going to take some trips outside of my immediate local trails.

I know the fatigue had set in deep by now as that last 20 miles of trail all seemed like a bit of a blur, but I had gotten through it and popped out of the trails near the drop bag location. I already had my lights mounted on my bike and I kept going. I saw my wife right before the 90 mile timing checkpoint and topped off my water bottle. I had 2 hours to cover the last 15 miles to the finish line to claim a belt buckle. I was a little concerned as I heard this was the toughest part, but I thought I was in the clear still.

Finishing The Marji Gesick 100

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As I headed off into the last segment, things didn’t seem too bad. It was uphill, but manageable and my brain was almost calling bluff on the whole, this last section is brutal thing… I found myself on a short gravel rail trail and then dropped left into some sweet flowy singletrack. Near the bottom I noticed my gps showing me off course. I thought I had followed signs, but I had dropped through the flowy stuff pretty fast and wasn’t sure if I missed something, so I turned around and rode back up to the rail trail to double check. I had been on the right path and remembered Todd specifically saying to follow the signs and only use the gps if you get lost, so I followed the signs and dropped back down through the singletrack again.

I popped out of the singletrack to enter a short section of old road and then the next turn is where shit got real. I can’t tell you the exact order of how things went down from here on out, but I just remember some ridiculous grades. The first one off the old road was ridiculous, but it was just a prelude. I remember a few steep grades that I would stand there and push my bike up the hill as far as I could, then hold both brakes while pulling myself up a couple steps and then doing it all over again till I reached the top. The pain that hit me on the back side of the ski hill was coming back fast.

There was some sweet singletrack with a few crazy steep spots, or at least steeper than I have ridden in the past. I had a few riders come up on me at various times. They were mostly on the gas and I knew they were chasing that buckle. I would let one of them by and then try to latch onto the back of them. I’d hang for a little bit and then could feel my body giving out on me and find myself drifting back. I was rooting for them as I saw the 12 hour buckle slipping away from me and was amazed that these guys had the gas left in the tank to rip through some of this singletrack after 12 hours.

I remember coming out to a loose doubletrack climb where I could see the 2 guys in front of me that had passed me earlier. I told myself I was going to make it up this climb. My knee was hurting and my leg muscles were beyond aching, but I just kept grinding the pedals. Grinding the pedals hurt less than walking. I eventually ran out of power and bailed to hike it up the rest of the way as I watched the two guys in front of me ride away.

I can’t tell you today if that was me not having enough mental fortitude left in the tank and mentally giving up, or if I had truly faced my limit. It’s a crazy intertwined mental and physical journey on these long endurance races. After 12 hours you kind of lose track of how severe the pain is or if it’s really there. Sometimes it can be excruciating and for whatever reason you find something else in you to block it out and keep moving on. I had fought through it earlier in the day, but I was not finding the strength at the moment and my goal now was to just finish.

I tried to carry whatever speed I could through the singletrack as my power was completely gone when it came to the climbs. I was taking risks on the downhills to carry momentum. As I passed between a couple trees, my bike came to a complete stop on a high root and I was catapulted over the top. I looked back and didn’t see anybody coming and I just layed there for a minute. I didn’t want to get up, but I eventually pulled myself off the ground. I picked up my bike, put my light back on and soft pedaled away.

Back on jeep trails and doubletrack, the climbs just kept coming at me. They were relentless. They were beating me mentally and physically and I just wanted it to end at this point. Then I dropped out onto a street and saw the sign headed up the trail. I had to push my bike up the first part and then got back on and started my way up hill when I saw the sign that said checkpoint ahead.

marji gesick

I began to smile through all the pain. I couldn’t even ride all the way to the top. I had to push my bike some of the way up Jasper, but I made it. I knew I had missed the 12 hour belt buckle, but I was happy. I grabbed my last poker chip and leaned my bike up against the checkpoint sign for a picture. I looked around for a moment and took in the darkening skies as the sun was setting off in the horizon and knew I’d be back again to finish up some unfinished business.

marji gesick

I hopped back on my bike, ripped down the last singletrack like a boss with a smile. I hit the road and saw my wife waiting for me to arrive. One last right hand turn and I was headed to the finish line in Ishpeming. I’m not sure where I found the last bit of energy, but I had just enough left in me to do a double fist shake in the air before crossing the finish line in 12 hours, 24 minutes and 10 seconds and 25th place overall.

I just sat on my bike, smiled and took it all in. I partly sat there, because I couldn’t really stand up straight and I just wanted to take in the moment of finishing the hardest thing I’d ever done and reflect on it a bit. I had failed at reaching my goal, but I was all smiles, because my biggest goal was taking my limits to another level and finding more failure points to improve on in the future. I had accomplished both and have plenty to work on in the future.

Marji Gesick 100 Final Thoughts

I don’t know what it is, but even though I was going through the fatigue, pain and mental quarrel… That’s what keeps me coming back or looking for the next challenge. I feel that if you’ve never felt that before, then you haven’t physically challenged yourself enough. If you come away from every race feeling like you hammered it and haven’t hit these points, then you’re not going fast enough or you haven’t challenged your limits.

We all have different limits, but it is amazing how much more you can do once you hit the first point of thinking you’re done. I can’t help but want to push those limits each time and set a new standard for what I can make my body do. It’s actually pretty amazing as I look back and think about all that pain and just trying to finish… Even though I couldn’t make it to the top of those climbs, I somehow found the strength to keep moving forward, even if it was just 1 step at a time. I stopped caring at some point about how long it was going to take to finish, but I knew I was going to make it.

I’m regestered for next year already as I have some unfinished business with the Marji Gesick. A huge thanks to Todd, Danny, the whole Marji Gesick crew, Marquette, Negaunee, Ishpeming and the unofficial volunteer aid stations.

Marji Gesick 100 Video Clips

My Marji Gesick 100 Strava File

Reference Links

This is the only one you need for now… 2017 Marji Gesick Registration

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  1. Aaron Hulett on October 4, 2016 at 11:39 am

    That’s one of the best race recaps I’ve ever seen. You summed up the course, the rocks, the endless roots, pain & suffering well. Great job on finishing that Beast in 12:24! That’s an Amazing athletic accomplishment by any standards. I came in over 5hrs later than that. The Marji is for the all round mountain biker. You have to have every skill mastered to do a sub 12hr; climbing, descending, trail skills, endurance, power, everything! I think this description of the course will really help future riders. Thanks for sharing!

    • Steve Hamlin on October 4, 2016 at 8:03 pm

      Thanks Aaron. I enjoy writing them up. I’d say each one tends to get a little longer, but the races are getting longer too. Glad you enjoyed reading it. Appreciate the nice words about the race. I definitely will work on my technical skills before next year. I gotta say though… I was thinking about this while I was putting the report together… I don’t know how you guys pushed through like that. That was the longest I’ve been on a bike and I don’t know how much longer I would have lasted. Big props and lots of respect for hanging in there and bringing it home.

  2. Scott Morman on September 12, 2017 at 5:50 am

    This is such an awesome race report!! Great job and I really appreciate all of the insight you provided. I am curious as to how much fluid you had in your hydration pack and if you felt it was enough. I am registered for the race this year, in two weeks, and am working my way thru studying the course and figure out bike set-up, etc. It looks like you are running a 100oz pack. At NUE 100 mile races I either run only bottles or a 50oz Camelbak. I absolutely realize this race is a whole different ball game so wondering if a 70oz hydration pack with a bottle (maybe two) on the bike would be good. Keeping the weight down on the bike and body is critical but getting dehydrated is obviously even worse. Interested in any insight you can provide. Thanks and great job!!

    • Steve Hamlin on September 12, 2017 at 1:47 pm

      Thanks Scott! Glad you found it helpful. I was using a 70oz hydration pack and a large bottle on my bike with water. I plan to do the same again this year, but will be prepared to replenish CarboRocket/Hydration pack when I hit the south trails trailhead (mile 45ish). I think my wife is going to meet me there, or I will just carry a bag of powder in my pocket and refill at the aid station that is most likely to be set up there by local community folks. I’ll do the same thing again with my drop bag and have another bladder filled and ready to go again at that point, mile 69. Last year, I was going to try and make it to my drop bag at the 65, actually 69 mile mark, but I was almost empty when I got to the south trails trail head (mile 45ish). I quit carrying a 100oz bladder a couple years ago. Just too much extra weight when in most races, there is opportunity to refill more often.

      I just sent this to somebody else that had sent me an e-mail, but I believe there were community/local business aid stations set up like this last year. I’m guess they’ll be back out again…
      31mile – right before crossing under Highway 41 and then there were people all over the roadside after as well – I rode straight through
      45 mile – south trails trail head, huge aid station set up under pavillion – I got water here
      62 mile – Known as the Worst aid station – local bike shop – I got water here
      69 mile – Another aid station and drop bag spot – just grabbed my drop bag stuff
      90 mile – Same as 69 mile
      105 mile – Finish

      See you up there! It’s a good one.

      • Scott Morman on September 13, 2017 at 5:23 am

        Thanks for the further info Steve! Ben racking my brain around this race from all that I have read and listened to (i.e. podcasts). My dad is driving up with me (we are from OH) and I am going to provide him the addresses for South Trail Pavilion and Jackson Park so he should be able to give me extra hydration packs. I have four 50oz packs and I am thinking between that and a bottle I will be ok. Temps may adjust my thought on that but being September I don’t suspect it to get all that warm out. Will be happy if there is no wet conditions of course. ha ha

        If there happens to be aid at mile 31(ish) that would be great for adding a bit of water. Sounds like we have similar fueling plans in that I plan to carry an extra serving of the powder mix that I use. Cool.

        Again, man oh man your race report is so detailed! I have been pouring over and getting the lay of the land as far as trail names, trail ratings, etc. Your race report is just the icing on the cake!

        Thanks again and it sure would be great to meet up with you at some point but these events can get a little crazy.

        Best of luck to you,

        • Steve Hamlin on September 14, 2017 at 8:18 am

          No problem Scott.

          Assuming we cross HWY 41 at the same spot this year… There is a Best Buy, right on the other side where your Dad could probably park and meet you on the short section of road there with a handup in case that aid station isn’t there. I think that is what my wife is going to do. There were people all over that short section of road last year cheering or waiting to give some handups. That’s right after the mile 31 spot I mentioned.

          Good wishes to you on your ride as well. Yeh, give me a shout out for sure if you think you see me around. One of the things I enjoy about these races is the camaraderie and meeting new people.

          See you up there. Enjoy the ride!


  3. Randall on September 14, 2017 at 5:42 pm

    Hey man, I greatly appreciate the detail that you provide in your race report. thanks mountains, and i wish you the best this year!!! I will be jammin single speed style semi fat. so stoked.

    • Steve Hamlin on September 14, 2017 at 7:58 pm

      You are welcome Randall and thank you for the note! I need to get myself on a singlespeed… I don’t know how you guys do that. I swear every race, there’s always some singlespeeders making me feel bad on a climb… haha. Rip it man. Semi-fat sounds like a good idea. See you up there and enjoy the ride!

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