Pop Tart at the Top of the World
I signed up for my first running race in eight years, after seeing the Marji Gesick 100 (yes 100 miles) had 12,000 feet of elevation gain. I reasoned I wouldn’t have to train all that much since most of the race would be walking and I figured that wouldn’t be so hard. After doing some research I learned that the Marji started five years ago as a bike race. It now draws 600 racers and fills up immediately and race organizers added a trail run. In year one the winning time was 34 hours and has only had nine racers finish under 30 hours. Soon my competitive side resurfaced - I dug up my Leadville 100 results, evaluating splits and formulating a game plan. But these paces put me in the mix for winning the race – even if I handicap myself for not really training. So maybe I should start. And if I’m getting serious, I need to preview the course to set a realistic pace so I don’t crash and burn.
I got my first training run over 3 hours in seven years a couple of weeks ago and it didn’t seem all that different than my prior life when I trained B.C. (before children and even husband!).
So that’s where I am now. Now time for some real training and previewing the course. I got info on the 2018 racecourse, found some maps online (which didn’t match great with the racecourse map) and drove four hours to Marquette. We headed out several hours later than I hoped, so now we’d have to cram as much of the course into 30 hours (kind of like race day, except we’d cover it on both bike and foot). We started with the end of the course on bike, which turned out a good idea to do fresh. I told my husband several times that I’m looking forward to walking up these brutal hills not having to push my bike. In the four hour ride, I probably got off my bike one hundred times (I doubled checked with my husband and he said “at least one hundred”). And the downhills were worse. I’ve never locked up my tires skidding down hills so many times. Another problem I won’t have running.
After debating a bit I decided rather than running in the dark on remote trails I know aren’t marked well without cell coverage, I opted to get up early. Since it was before sunrise, I had a little trouble with my footing but soon realized I should have put on sunscreen since I would be running several hours. After several early wrong turns, I found a groove on the way to the start line. Turns out it was race day for another bike race by the same organization, so it gave me a feel what to expect come 9/20/20. I did make another wrong turn, but it allowed me to get a picture of the start area. I soon began passing racers – I talked to a few and found out I’d be sharing the trails for several miles. As I climbed to the Top of the World, I figured this would be a good time to indulge in a Pop Tart in a Pinch (#PopTartsInaPinch). I concluded there were several perks of sharing the race course 1) motivation to maintain pace 2) opportunities for conversation 3) photographers and 4) several yummy treats dropped on the course out of someone’s open pack that I didn’t have to carry! This was my favorite as I found 2 gels, some trail mix, and some chews – it was a remote version of trick or treating.
Once again I lost my route – and opted this time to use my adventure racing skills, using my map and compass to bushwhack back on course. As the vegetation got so thick I could only see feet in front of me, I hit a low spot when I tore through vegetation and realized I had dropped my phone (well actually even worse - my husband’s)! Luckily I had just felt it and found it quickly but was very lucky since it was so thick I couldn’t even see the ground. Next I had to wade through the creek to ensure I would not miss the trail – and was so thankful when I saw a bridge. I made it back to the car with a 4 3/4 hour training run under my belt.
Next we drove to another trailhead to bike several more trails. Turns out the first 100 meters were representative of the next two hours – gnarly trails either going up or down. We opted to skip Scary Trail when we were already struggling on the other trails. We enjoyed a nice view atop Mount Marquette. It’s the first time I preferred to ride down the road instead of singletrack. We then hopped on another trail which suddenly stopped having labels at intersections. We blindly tried to follow the race course, which we did fairly well. As we started descending the downhill mountain bike trails, my husband got off and stated “No one can ride this stuff.” No more than a minute later, three riders flew down past us, barreling down the drop-offs we deemed unrideable. The next intersection we opted for the road again, passing the spot we had looked at the map earlier. My husband had enough riding for the weekend so we parted ways and now I got the lighter, full suspension 29er. I enjoyed the smoother ride and continued on the race course, finally finding some flowy trails. I enjoyed the rest of the ride, arriving back to the trailhead where my husband prepared a great meal.
Onto more running. My husband proved to not only be a wonderful cook but chauffer and general supporter. I found my favorite part of the race course, flatter, flowy trails along the river. The best part was getting another run in and still feeling “as fresh as a daisy”. So opted to cover one last section of the race course prior to dark. Even after almost 9 hours on the bike and another 8 hours running I was sad to head home, but thrilled to still have gas in the tank, serving as a huge confidence booster to have an aggressive pace. It also helps having been through three full-term pregnancies to put into perspective being physically drained.