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  1. Marji23_600px

    When I first started mountain biking all I wanted to do was keep up with my mates (well, that and not puking into the bushes from trying to keep up, but that's another story...) but very soon that progressed into trying some races, broadening my competitive horisons and starting work with a coach (because we didn't use the internet back then and info on training was sparse)

    One of the first tasks he set me was to think of some goals for my performance; he asked me: what did I want to achieve from my cycling? My answer was, as I now know with the hindsight of coaching for a couple of decades, pretty standard: get faster, keep up with peers, do better. He got me to hone in on my goals, make them more specific, to attach timelines to them, and to think both short and long term.  

    The big, long term, goal was that I wanted to be elite National XCO champion. Short term we had gaining a licence in a category higher, losing bodyfat, improving skills, learning to train, and then this ultimately lead onto how to understand performance and coach others.

    My coach looked at the goals, looked at the time frames, and then we decided if they could be realistic. Some were, others were but only if we adjusted the timeline. Becoming elite, it turns out, takes a combination of training duration, training intensity, rest, recovery, and using a long enough timeline to allow the body to adapt at natures speed. I would say that I'm of middle-ground genetics. That is I've potential, but it has limitations, but with enough work, and a long enough timeline, a lot of goals and aspirations are possible. 

    This journey started when I was 20 years old. Next year I turn 50. I've still never been the National XCO champion! So maybe some goals will never be possible, or maybe my change of direction, into the longer races to win a world masters title at 24 solo, after 15 years of chasing the National XCO dream stopped that dream from finding fruition. 

    So how does this relate to the Marji Gesick and your goals and aspirations? As a coach and an endurance athlete of 3 decades what's my take on the Marji Gesick? I find the best way to consider this is to relate it to other mainstream sports people interested in the race may follow. It gives perspective. Allows for better understanding of the challenges and how we might fit into this sphere and carve out our own success. 

    The 50 mile is a round of the NUE Marathon series. Marathon being the UCI recognised distance/duration. In very basic laymans terms this makes it the equivalent of something like the NBA but for endurance mountain biking. It's the top level for the fastest competitors. Completion, is a big deal, and a worthy goal for anyone bar the elite. The elite are fighting it out for on the day and overall series glory. The 100 mile is the ultra version (and big bad brother) of the 50. In other sporting terms it doesn't really have a comparison. Maybe it's like going to the Olympics for endurance mountain biking? One thing is certain: it's BIG. 

    The beauty of cycling, and endurance mountain biking in particular, is that we can all play in the same arena with the big boys. In making our goals though we have to keep some perspective on what we are entering and set them appropriately. If I'm the MTB equivalent of a Jordan or a Bryant then maybe I'm going for a buckle. If I'm a retired Rob Lee then a buckle is going be a very tall order, and if I'm new to racing and have never tried Marji 100 before then I'm most likely setting myself up for a guaranteed failure if I can only see success as coming home in less than 12 hours next season.  

    To quote one of the top coaches in the world (Tim Grover, from his booking entitled "Winning") we need to consider 3 things when we set our Marji Gesick goals:

    • Do you want to do it? Is this your idea, or someone else's? Is it your dream, or are you doing it to please others? Because you can't just want it, you have to crave it enough to make it your obsession.
    • Can you do it? If you're not able, if you don't have the skill or means to make it happen, all the focus in the world isn't going to deliver the results. You must be realistic about what you're capable of achieving, so that you're focusing on something that has at least a chance of working.
    • Is it worth your time? I mean, really, really worth your time? Will it be worth the sacrifice and commitment and relentless grind? Because Winning wants all of your attention, not just spare moments when you have nothing else to do.


    In short, to find success at Marji 2023: Enter because you really want to, because you crave the long hard challenge, find purpose relating to the race that is specific to you. Do the distance that will stretch you, that you want to do, and don't let opinion sway that decision. Set a goal for that distance, that has a realistic chance of success based on who you are and where you are today and the time left until the next race. Set to work on a plan, stick to it, commit the time, do what it takes, and make it happen. When you finish the Marji, and your 2023 season, revisit you goal, check in with that original goal, judge your achievement on how far you've come and successfully hitting your goal. 


  2. Given that 12 hour solo is my favourite distance in mountain biking I was kinda surprised to realise I’d not done one since Torchbearer back in 2017! So far my season has been a bit up and down. I’ve still been showing up to a few races, but in-between I’ve been very thin on actually training in order to get to level I might be competitive. In 12 hour though I still have a distinct advantage against a lot of much fitter racers = I know how to pace myself better than most when it comes to a mountain bike race that lasts longer than the average working day. In addition this race course offers a very weight-friendly elevation gain per lap and is technical enough that it takes a good degree skill to ride fast, so I felt relatively optimistic of my chances.

    This year I have perhaps bitten off a bit more than my current fitness, and time available to train can probably support: I’ve entered the 24 solo national championships later in the year, and so at this race I was hoping that some of the best single speed racers in the country would show up. I could do with a gauge as to how bad, how far off, I might currently be. Maybe the fear of a beating in October might help me find the time to train at least a bit more than of recent months. Sadly it was not to be at the Torq 12 with a very thin on the ground solo single speed class, and after sign on I felt confident the win in that category was mine. I decided that a new goal was needed to give me the motivation to stay “in the race” and not just cruise round for the silverware. I settled on two race goals: I’d aim to race all the other male solo categories (guys on gears basically ;-) and cover 100 miles, which I felt was possible but would stretch my current fitness. 


    With a race start at midday and a particularly high temperature forecast (relative to what most of us would have trained in recently) it was obvious to me that starting this too fast would end in disaster. However, with a very dry course and the potential for lots of dust in the last 3rd of the race in the darkness, it was also apparent that speeding up in the last 4 hours was also not really an option. I decided to go steady for the first 4 hours, push on in the middle 4 and then just settle down to complete the job through the dark and dusty ending. As luck would have it an old friend agreed to come along and pit for me, so for the first time in a very long time I’d actually know what was going on with lap times and those around me in the various solo categories throughout the race. I’d also have someone to mix any additional drinks, put things back together if they broke and heckle me if I slowed down or tried to stop. Perfect

    I started right at the front, as I often do, simply to avoid lost time in the various bottle necks that always occur on the first lap of any mountain bike race. The start was fast and furious, but I let the very fast team and pairs riders go, whilst setting what I felt would be a decent lap pace for a soloist. From there I settled in for 4 hours of consistent effort, but not too much, keep the fuel and water coming in and generally avoid doing anything dumb. That worked particularly well and at the 4 hour mark I was sitting top 15 overall in the soloists, top 8 in V40 and leading single speed. It had started to cool down, I had all the lines on the course dialled, and it was time to move forward. 


    That probably makes it sound like I was going to speed up. It’s not really like that in the solo class, but I know that if I pace it well then the middle section gets harder but I just don’t need to slow down. If its paced badly then fading happens for almost everyone around hour 4 or 5. My middle section lap times tell my my first 4 hour pacing was on point:

    Lap 5: 48:43

    Lap 6: 48:21

    Lap 7: 48:39

    Lap 8: 48:59

    Lap 9: 49:12

    Lap 10: 48:58

    …and so it was with that with another 4 hours on the clock I had moved up to 5th solo overall and 3rd V40.

    Up ahead the leading senior, leading V40, and leading V50 were out of touch, whilst behind I had a healthy gap on 6th overall. I’d also started to feel the starts of cramp setting in, and so knowing it was now a gamble to maintain pace just to gain 1 place in categories I wasn’t even entered for, I decided to ease back just a touch, keep the cramp at bay and see if I could clock the last lap I needed before cut off and go over 100 miles. 


    The pressure was now off, I dropped to lap times a minute or two slower, and had a lot of fun riding rooty, dusty single track in the dark. The laps ticked by, the gap behind grew a bit more and I finished with 102 miles on the clock. 1st single speed, 3rd V40, 5th overall. Job done. I think I still love racing, maybe I should do some training too ;-)