Surviving the Marji Gesick ~ psychological elements.

15 09 2018

According to Wikipedia, Psychology is the science of behavior and mind, including conscious and unconscious phenomena, as well as feeling and thought.

You are going to have a lot of behaviour, phenomena, feeling and thought going on over the at least 10 hours of the Marji Gesick.

It is 7 days until the 2018 version starts. I wish I was there. Truthfully. But it has taken many months before I can say that with no underlying doubt in my mind. That’s a thought: doubt.

Actually, doubt is also an emotion.

For many hours during the 2017 Marji, I had doubt. I was far from sure that I could keep on going. It became substantially worse when the sun went down and the woods became the silkiest, deepest black. Even with powerful lights, making my way on the tech, slippery trail was difficult.

You will, I am sure, know that dotted around the course, there are little signs saying ‘Blame Todd’ or ‘Blame Danny’. Todd and Danny know their psychology. The signs at once denote a more technical or difficult section of the course, but also remind you that if you are actually blaming Todd or Danny for your predicament, you are already half way to quitting.

*You* got yourself into this and *you* need to get yourself through it: that is lesson number one of the Marji Gesick. Self reliance. Self belief and the ability to deal with and over come self doubt. Suck it up, buttercup. It *is* going to hurt.

The next thing I would advise when it comes to tackling this monster is to break the task down into small parts. If you try to fit too much into your mind at any given time after the reverb from the Star Spangled Banner fades, you are in trouble. The initial trails are cross country ski trails and they allow the bunch to start to string out and some passing, to-ing and fro-ing after the initial Le Mans run.

Goal number one. Be honest with yourself on the pace you will carry and settle into it. At no point will you bottleneck. There is no need to rush unless you are truly at the pointy end of this. Relax, settle, feel your body function, breath and let the white noise in your mind dissipate.

The next goal might be north trails. Perhaps give yourself some hydration and feeding stages to go through. Maybe the next will be the connector between the north and south trails, the last section where you will be able to roll without too much effort and sort yourself out for the increasing work you are going to have to do.

Read all the blog posts this week and work out how to split things up in your mind, tick off each stage you achieve and make sure to add in some reflective self care though them. ‘I will hydrate and eat this much by such a time’ ‘I will recharge bottles (hopefully) by here’ ‘I will assess my energy levels by here’ ‘If I reach here, I know I am 75% through’. Whatever, but split this sucker into parts.

The last thing I would suggest for finishing the Marji is to not at any stage accept that you are going to do anything but finish. It isn’t even a question in your mind. Indeed, it is the only definite about the day.

Re-read that and come up with some sort of mantra you can repeat to yourself in the cold and dark when all you want to do is to lie down and sleep.

Stop moving.
Stop hurting.
Just stop.

For me, it was a strange little thing that made it’s way into my mind. My daughter, Daisy, made me a wee folded paper puppy dog head before I left the UK and said she would like it if I took it with me during the race. I did this and sometimes when I grabbed something from my hip bag I would see it. The night before the race Daisy told me she believed in me: ‘I believe in you, daddy’.

I do not know how many times I repeated this to myself during the 17 or so hours I was out there. But it was deeply, emotionally powerful. If she believed in me I could damn well believe in me.

Do not underestimate the power of this race. Scratching is the norm. To finish is to overcome, to transcend and I cannot overstate how much shaking hands with Danny on the finish line can elevate your self belief.


Go to it.

I believe in you.



15 09 2018

Over the last few years, the number of available choices for tyres has …. well, ballooned.

Different tread designs, casings, tubeless readiness, anti-puncture layers etc. I tend to choose Maxxis tyres or occasionally Bontrager. I find the tread patterns excellent for the terrain I ride and the tyres are durable and reasonable in terms of weight.

(enlarge that pic by clicking on it and check out the front tyre deformation -defo doing it’s job!)

My most recent bike is a mountain bike. Sort of an ‘all-mountain’ type hardtail, I suppose. It has slack angles, lowish bb, plenty of seat post drop and a pretty good amount of fork travel. It is the bike I can ride fastest on rough or steep terrain.

As I have become more proficient with it, my usual tyre choices have had to be slightly modified.

My usual plan is to use a robust, big and knobbly front tyre with a slightly less aggressive rear tyre. With this 27.5+ bike, the initial tyre choice was a Highroller II 27.5×3″ Maxx terra (grippy), TR (tubeless ready), 3C (three compounds in the tread rubber) 120 TPI (supple), EXO (puncture resistance layer) on the front and an Ikon Maxx speed (faster rolling) TR, 3C, 120 TPI, EXO on the rear.

I have punctured two rear tubeless Ikon tyres on this bike badly enough that they have had to be replaced.

Basically, I had to face the fact that although the rear was both fast and light, affording surprisingly good traction for the way it looks even in mud, it was not durable enough for me.

I have other bikes that use different sizes of tyres and this sometimes helps me make choices for new rubber. I have Maxxis Chronicles, 27.5×3″ – again in 120 TPI, 3C, EXO and a Tomahawk Maxx terra, TR, 3C, 120 TPI, EXO but 29×2.3″. The latter has been great, with a good edge and is durable, but the bike is rigid, and even with a 29×2.6″ Rekon Maxx terra, TR, 3C, 120 TPI, EXO on the front (which is sub 900g and perfectly suited to the bikes raison d’ĂȘtre) I will never achieve the speeds the Plus hardtail can live with.

The Minion DHF 29×3″ Maxx Terra, TR, 3C, EXO I have has been unreal. Traction and cush for days and durable to boot. A monster.

What with it rolling so well, I decided to go with a Minion DHF Maxx terra, TR, 3C 120 TPI EXO 27.5×2.8″ on the rear of the plus hardtail. This thing is a beast. Nearly 1000g, it soaks up abuse despite low pressures and has allowed me to ride in a entirely different fashion. I can charge into rocks and roots with abandon and it just keeps coming back for more.

It has noticeable drag on tarmac, but who cares? The grip in muck and loose is phenomenal and the heft is entirely acceptable for the shit-eating grin the tyre will bring.

Recently, Maxxis released a new tyre type: it has all the monikers repeated ad-nauseum up there, but it adds yet another one. Silkshield.

This is a second puncture proof layer in addition to the EXO that wraps the full width of the tyre, bead to bead. The tyre available for 27.5+ at the moment is a Rekon and it adds 80g over the ‘normal’ Max terra, TR, 3C, 120 TPI, EXO tyre – taking the weight up close to 900g.

This promises to be a ‘Goldilocks’ rear tyre. Light, fast, grippy, durable and able to be run at pressures low enough to take full advantage of the ‘plus’ platform. At some point I’m going to have to prise the Minion off the bike and try the Rekon. But it might take me a while to get round to it.

It is interesting to note that as my tyres have become larger and run at lower pressures, and with an increase in speed, the meats have had to become that bit more aggressive. The added weight and drag is accepted so that I am not left limping home from the trails with a repaired and thus sub-optimal and anxiety promoting tyre.

Choose your tyres appropriately.

Super boost.

8 09 2018

There has been a somewhat negative reception to the (dreaded! cynical! money grabbing!) introduction of ‘super boost’ hubs across the forums. I welcome the slew of new 157mm hubs – indeed, I have been the beneficiary of wider rear hubs for many years now.

Recently I built up a 100mm OLD front hub to a Nextie 52mm rim and although it will be fine, I missed the wider front hub OLD I have also become used to. I hope I never have to use a 135/142 or even 148 rear hub again!

The following was a post I left on mtbr in response to a question about ‘super boost’ hubs for plus bikes.


Back in 2009/10 I met up with a very progressive frame builder – Sean at Vertigo Cycles. I wanted a short stay, ti, all-mountain 29er hardtail with a 120mm travel fork. At the time, that was pretty unusual! getting all the clearances right required a ‘super boost’ – aka a DH hub.

I had been riding singlespeed bikes exclusively for years, so 6 speeds seemed like a lot. I don’t remember if there even was 142 at the time – I don’t think so, so this bike had a 150mmx10mm hub. Sean always seemed to be able to think outside the box in order to get an excellent result.

BA was also the first bike (iirc) ever to have a 44mm head tube…. Sean’s work to bring that to market was so cool as it is now so ubiquitous! At the time, tapered steerer forks were very new and the only option really was a head tube designed for the occasionally used 1.5″ headset – heavier and bigger than really needed. There were some internal headsets for the new-at-the-time 44mm internal head tube and Sean realised that if there was an *external* 44mm cup, they would fit a tapered steerer fork! Awesome work!

Fast forward 8 years and BA is still riding strong – has been updatad with a few new parts – and more gears!

Without the 150 hub (and offset seat tube, that required a load of work to shape the support plate), Sean could not have made the stays so short and for many years I had the benefits of a bike that was essentially from the future. Slowly, surely, ‘all-mountain’ (really mountain bikes as opposed to xc bikes) with 29″ wheels became pretty normal.

2011 – My next bike from Sean had a 73mm bb shell with the ring in the outer position and a 150/157 rear hub – this allowed me to use a lighter crankset (over Saint – one of the few 83mm cranks available at the time). It still is a bike I deeply love to ride – light and quick and due to the low/slack layout (albeit not at todays extreme numbers) this rigid bike is a sweet ride.

I also got to try my hand at welding ti, courtesy of the ever patient Sean. Despite the assumption that it would be quite hard, I was surprised by just how hard it was!

My latest plus bike has a flipped 83mm bb/c’ring and a 177 rear end and ~407mm effective horizontal stays and no plates, yokes or problems running full 3″ tyres.

Is 177 necessary for plus? not at all, but I have come to prefer the stance of an 83mm bb shell/Q factor. I know Sam from Naked is using this set up too, albeit for 29+ bikes to great effect. In fact I believe he was instrumental in getting race face to provide a 149mm cinch axle for use with this platform (Sean had machined a sixc axle down so I could use Next SL cranks on mine).

Steel bikes don’t need quite as much clearance and of course there are ways to get around needing it with carbon and alu and even ti, by using plates and yokes but there is no getting away from the fact that a rear hub of at least 157 provides a considerably better wheel build and the clearances necessary for plus, without having to pretend long stays are ok (almost kidding!).

In some ways, it is a shame that Charlie Cunningham and Steve Potts didn’t have more of a say in hub widths with their original wider mob hubs way back in the day!