The Marji Gesick 100 has gotten quite the reputation over the past couple years as the hardest 100 mile race in the country. Now that’s a pretty big statement… but I will cut right to the chase and say that I fully endorse that statement! Now here’s where I have a bit of a hard time with the claim that it’s the hardest single day race in the country, what consists of a single day race? is that just during the day? is it a 24 hour period? This year Marji had an out and back on the course and to me that’s about like a 24 hour race even though the winner did it in 26:20ish, so if you put that in the one day category then I would call that the hardest bike race in the country.
I have been thinking about this a lot, so I’ll talk about it a bit more, because blow by blow race reporting is really boring to me but this topic is quite interesting… What is the hardest race in the country? Well as far as 100 mile races go I give the nod to Marji Gesick, the only other 100 I would put in with Marji is the CB 100 in Crested Butte, and even though it’s 125 miles the Vapor Trail, both of those races haven’t happened in a couple years so you can’t really compare something that isn’t happening anymore.
Now is Marji harder than say a 12 hour race that’s on technical single track that you ride over and over? that’s hard to say, I felt like I was more beat up at the Salida 720 12 hour race but it’s more mileage, 127 or something and in a lap race you can go light and grab more food and drink every lap. In the Marji your carrying everything you need and getting some water along the way until you can refuel at the 60 mile drop. Also in a 12 hour lap race your getting better and better at riding the lines because your doing it over an over on the 13 mile course or whatever that course may be. So Marji against a 12 hour race that’s hard to call but I still give it to Marji because it’s all different terrain and you’re carrying everything, plus there was some debate on the actual mileage of Marji, it was claimed to be 105 but I heard a lot of people saying it was more like 115, either way it’s a hard race.
Now to the 24 hour comparison, any 24 hour race is harder than Marji 100 in my opinion, but the out and back version of Marji (which I put in the 24 hour category ) has to be the hardest race in the country, 210+ miles on that terrain is about as hard as it gets, beyond that your getting into Arizona Trail 300 territory and I think that’s really a different animal because you really are self sufficient and carrying everything and although I’ve ridden a lot of that section of the AZT I can’t speak to the difficulty of the race because I’ve never done it.
So basically Marji as a whole gets my nod for hardest 100 and hardest race in a 24 hour period or in one big push has to be Marji out and back! They kind of have all there bases covered with the addition of the out and back, I don’t think anything tops that.
Now to the actual race, I’m going to make it relatively short and sweet. I did get to pre ride some of the course and the riding I got to do made me really excited for the race, it was raw single track mixed with super bermed out fast and flowy riding, always punchy climbs with a bunch of technical stuff thrown in everywhere. I didn’t even get to pre ride the good stuff (in my opinion) mile 60 to the finish. The last 40 miles of the race was just raw street fight technical single track, super fast transitions, some rock slab rollers, full body riding I was seriously in heaven in this section.
The start of the race is a spectacle to see! there were bonfires, a drum circle, electric guitar, star spangle banner and a unicorn leading us out on the Lemans start. I felt like I was at a music festival rather than a bike race, best start to a race I’ve ever seen! We did about a half mile run and then its into some nordic center type trails for about 7 or 8 miles. The pace was super manageable and we had a group of about 6 or 7, we had just gone through what I think is called top of the world kind of a slaby technical up and down pretty technical for XC racing but rode everything sight unseen with no problem.
After we get a ways in, and I can’t remember the guy’s name because later on he was having flat tire problems but we are doing about 20 down a pretty wide section of trail and I think he was just not paying attention and clipped a pedal, goes sideways in front of me and hits the dirt, I slam my brakes on and I’m basically sliding into his bike and eventually him so I hit the eject button and lose the bike and land right on top of the dude. He totally breaks my fall I jump up thinking he could be hurt but he’s totally fine, bikes are fine we both jump back on and we’re going again.
The next 50 miles basically became a guided tour of Marji Gesick by Matt Acker and Scott Quiring, I was quite happy to let a couple guys from Michigan show me the way. There were other guys in the group and the group actually grew to about 7 or 8 people by the time we got to the 40 mile mark. I got out of the aid first only having filled my bottle with water and got into Gurley and up’d the pace a bit to try and shrink the group, before I knew it Scott was right on me, we got to a short steep road climb so I took the opportunity to eat and Scott took the lead for the next section with Matt and Cole House jumping back on shortly. We all rode together to mile 60 with Cole getting ahead of us just before the aid, and I dropped off the pace just before then on the bike path section. I definitely should have started with more food and Infinit drink mix, running out of both from mile 50 to 60. I knew once we got to the aid and I could refuel I would be ok but at the moment I was not feeling to good and the heat and humidity were definitely getting to me.
I pulled into the 60 mile aid and got all my stuff together, new pack filled with Infinit Nutrition and more food, downed a Honey Stinger chew and a gel and filled my bottle and was off just behind Matt and Scott. I caught Scott after a few miles and he let me pass, I think he was feeling it a bit too! The next 40 miles I ate and drank as much as possible and started feeling really good again. I was having a super good time riding the trails, some of the climbs were super steep and hard and I was cleaning most of it, which was surprising me because a lot of it was the type of stuff that you give it a go even though it looks like you won’t make it but when you do it really gives you an energy boost even though you just sprinted up some crazy rutted out rocky trail. It was also a lot of really quick transition up and down, all kinds of funny 180 turns with all manner of rock and sketchiness, everything was steep and I was loving it.
I kept pushing hard because I knew Scott was somewhere behind me, Matt had been riding really strong and he had been telling me how much he liked this section of the race so I knew he was probably not going to be caught. In the back of my mind when I started the race I had 10:30 as a finishing time and the closer I got to the end I figured I might be able to pull it off! I pushed hard the last few miles and if it wasn’t for one last hill and little trail at the end I would have been under 10:30, instead I was 10:32 which in hindsight I’m pretty happy with, first time racing there on a hot humid day.
Marji Gesick is a special race, Danny and Todd have created something you don’t find very often, they decided to make the hardest race they could come up with while other races are looking to make a race easier so they can get as many people to do the race as possible. If your looking to test yourself and you fancy yourself as a trail rider then you will have to give Marji a go at some point, trust me you won’t be disappointed!