As the 2018 Marji Gesick 100 mountain bike race draws closer, we took a few minutes with Salsa sales rep Justin Michels to talk about what it takes to finish the incredibly difficult race. -Kid
Last-minute gear check in the pre-dawn darkness...
SALSA: There’s cross-country racing…and then there’s the Marji Gesick 100. Can you explain the main differences?
Michels: Aside from being several times the distance and elevation of the average XC race, Marji requires a completely different strategy. In general cross country racing is a battle for position with those around you, the speeds are higher and refueling is less of a factor. Marji and other epic races are a chess match where it doesn’t matter that you’re first into the single-track. Instead, consistency of pace, hydration and diet are the keys to the finish line.
Trust me...this is way steeper and way slicker than you would think...
SALSA: You didn’t finish the event in your first Marji Gesick attempt. What were the most difficult issues in that first run?
Michels: Mindset! I went out as hot as I would in a 30-mile XC race with nearly the same game plan; stay on the wheel ahead and pass whenever possible. One problem, the majority of the group I was with, along with myself, had severely underestimated how burly the course was. Around mile 35 it became apparent that this race was different; my fingers began to cramp from the constant kung-fu grip needed to negotiate the steep rocky climbs and descents and my skills became sloppy. With every “Blame Danny/Blame Todd” sign I went to a darker and darker place and by mile 55 I had been beaten. At the time all I wanted was an excuse, whether it be a mechanical, dehydration or even an injury, but in the end it was my overconfidence and underestimation of what it takes to finish the Marji.
Still early on, and trying to remember to ride my own race...
SALSA: Last year, you came back and not only finished the Marji Gesick, but finished with a strong ride. What were the main things you did differently the second time around?
Michels: After having a full year to wallow in defeat I had just one goal for the race, NOT TO RACE! I started mid-pack, found my own pace and held it as I got engulfed by people sprinting to pass me at mile three. I had nothing to prove and wouldn’t allow myself to join in with the competition, at least not yet. In the back of my head I had a plan that if I could make it to mile 70 with anything left in the tank I would flip the race switch. As the race progressed I could see the same pain in the faces of other riders that I had experienced the previous year. They had burned too many matches too soon and served as a constant reminder to stick with my plan. I slowly increased the pace throughout the day but when mile 70 came I couldn’t believe it, I was feeling great and the real racing began. In the end, I didn’t change my pre-race training or my diet, all it took was a change of mindset. Oh, and maybe 29+ and a dropper post had a part in it!
Redemption and success never felt so good...
SALSA: How did it feel crossing that finish line in Ishpeming last year?
Michels: The feeling of complete and utter depletion of physical strength paired with knowing that I couldn’t have gone a second faster is one of the most gratifying feelings I’ve had. As I lay on the sidewalk with numb arms and legs it was complete bliss. I thought back to what I had done over the previous 12-½ hours and even though I didn’t get a buckle it was nothing short of a win!
If you expect to finish the Marji Gesick 100, you should also expect to wind up in this position shortly after crossing the finish line...
SALSA: What are the top tips you have for those taking on the Marji Gesick 100 this year?
Michels: Simply ride “your” race, not someone else’s. You’ll surprise yourself.
Bring more water than you think you need.
Things get tough around mile 50.
Look around and take in the beauty that the U.P. has to offer.
Our thanks to Justin Michels for sharing his insights, and hopefully inspiration, for all of you in your final weeks of preparation to face the beast that is the Marji Gesick 100. Best of luck to you all. -Kid
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I love being outside. I prefer to ride on dirt. Or snow. If I was born a hundred years earlier I might have been a polar explorer. There's a great natural world out there to see, smell, taste, listen to, and experience. Life slows down out there and the distractions we've created will disappear if you let them. Give me a backpack and let me go.