I figure I better get this report done before I have too many race reports stacked up. This race lived up to all the hype. I have to admit I was getting annoyed by all the emails and Facebook prompts telling me how hard this race was going to be and finishing in 12 hours was all but impossible. Because of this I think I went into this race with more anxiety than pretty much any race. I think it was the unknown. I've ridden in Marquette before but only for the Ore to Shore, this was to be nothing like that.
The race started with about a half mile running start. This is done to spread out the field some. Sadly my calves are still sore! Ridiculous! But it did the job. The field was much more manageable and we took off on our bikes in controlled chaos. The start was on nordic ski trails and fast single track, giving me a false sense of optimism. That fast paced, flowy trail gave way to my first hike a bike section and much more rocky and rooty single track. Nonetheless the group I was with kept a decent pace and hammered along. I was with a couple of locals, which helped in picking the best lines.
I had my Garmin set to show me the time of day, distance, speed, and average speed. I was focused on the average speed. I wanted to keep it close to 10 mph. While the first 10 or so miles gave me an 11 mph average I was slowly watching that fall as the trail became more demanding. Eventually I rode away from the group I was with and was on my own for much of the day. I would leap frog with riders but mostly would stay constant.
There were no official aid stations so I came prepared. There ended up being 3 stations throughout the course. I skipped the first two, as they can be time sucks, but stopped at the 3rd for a quick Coke. Maybe a bit too quick as I burped a lot of it up! While not easy the first 70 miles seemed to go by rather smoothly. Don't get me wrong it was a lot of climbing, gnarly descending, walking, and just plain going slow, (so slow my Garmin would stop working) but I was expecting it and still somewhat fresh.
At 70 miles we had our drop bags. I switched out hydration bladders, attempted to eat my peanut butter sandwich (too dry) and was on my way. Maybe 5 minutes? I think my fear of wasting too much time at aid stations comes from my winter fat bike races where time really disappears in the warmth of the checkpoints. We would come back to our drop bags at mile 90. While only 20 miles this was some demanding trail. From here to the finish I descended some stuff I know I normally would have second guessed myself on but by the time I was there it was too late to stop. No crashes! I would make it up a lot of the climbs but walked a lot too. I'm curious if some rode everything.
Back at the intersection to the drop bag (mile 90) there was a sign pointing us to the bags or 15 miles to the finish. The "only" 15 miles pushed me on and I skipped going back to the drop zone, despite desperately craving a Coke. I may have should have gone as I started to run low on fluids. I was drinking way more the last part of the race compared to the front portion. A gift from the directors appeared somewhere along the course...cases of bottled water! I slammed one and pushed on. I was warned about the last 15 miles being super hilly. Yes they were! There was a lot of walking up some steep climbs. At one point I had to apply my brakes, pull myself up, and repeat...crazy! What goes up must come down but the down wasn't a smooth trail. It was almost more painful to navigate some of the descents.
As we neared Ishpeming (or from what I believed near, we could have been near a long time) I got a boost of energy! Finally I burst out onto paved road...so smooth! Taking the left and seeing the finish banner two blocks away is comparable to the seeing the orange snow fence at the finish of the Arrowhead...pure relief and joy! I finished in about 11 hours 30 minutes! So yeah I got the belt buckle! Goal achieved. I ended up 13th overall, which I was stoked with. It wasn't too long I wished I pushed a bit harder and maybe jumped into the top 10...never happy.
Despite all my nerves going into this race I honestly didn't have any dark moments. I never cursed the race, the directors, myself or plethora of other things I've done in longer events. That in itself is a victory. I think shooting for 12 hours or less helped, If I had tried to stick with the front group I may be telling a different story. I'm already contemplating going back next year. Hell registration is already open! But there are so many cool events I will hold off a bit before I commit.
My nutrition was spot on. Because it was a technical course I knew eating would be difficult. I started using Infinite Energy Go Far a couple weeks ago. Amazing! I had 170 ounces of that throughout the day. I only ate 1 sleeve of Clif Bloks, 1 bar, and 1 Coke. I never bonked, felt hungry, or had gut rot. I'm sold.
The event itself was run phenomenally. While they warned of the trail signs being taken down, etc I never had any confusion of where to go, very well marked. From packet pickup to the party at the end it was all amazing.
There was something like 300+ riders registered. I'm not sure how many toed the line. Over 54% didn't finish. Now that's a tough ass race!