Yes, I am completely aware that “returnening” is not a word, thanks.
However, I use it anyways, as I headed back to Marquette for the first time since 2008 to do the Ore to Shore Mountain Bike Epic. After doing it three years in a row (2006–2008), I stopped going back. Why? For one, it was expensive. Even if you register early, it’s $45. Last-minute registration will cost you $70. Another reason I didn’t go back is because it was so huge. One thousand seven hundred thirty four (that’s 1734) riders took to the roads and trails of Marquette County for the Hard Rock and Soft Rock races — that doesn’t include the kids races. There are lots of good races up here that don’t require two hours of driving and an overnight stay. And to a certain extent, I felt that I was too good for the race. I could ride Copper Harbor, so why did I need to do a 28-mile road race on a mountain bike?
But as I discussed in my post about doing the events I care about, I made a point of doing my absolute best at the Ore to Shore this year. I did long rides on mixed gravel and paved roads on my mountain bike. I honed nutrition to know exactly how much drink I would need and how much solid food. I made it a priority and got down to Marquette feeling good.
The O2S is a crazy race to be a part of. It pulls in first-time racers on platform pedals and tennis shoes who are just trying to see if they can really ride 28 miles. It pulls in pros like Chloe Woodruff, who obviously show up with pro-level gear. You never quite know what you’re going to see out of a rider. Is that skinny guy over there going to drop me in his soccer shorts and t-shirt or is he as unprepared as he looks. That carbon fiber machine looks awesome, but can its rider perform at the same level as his bike? While standing for nearly an hour in the enormously horrible long line for packet pickup, these kinds of questions roll through your mind.
The entire summer here has been cool and wet. Until the very last part of August (which most definitely does not include the day of the O2S), we struggled to hit 70 degrees. There were a lot of happy Yoopers for that, but not I. I wanted a real summer day. And the O2S completely failed to deliver on that. We awoke in the tent to temps around 45 degrees. I’m okay with that for a ‘cross race, but not for a mid-August mountain bike race. Fortunately, the campground had a hot tub, so I stuck my arms and hands in there, which did wonders for my morale. Happily, once the sun started to rise about the treeline, things started to warm up quickly (but only up to that 70 degree mark).
Like a good kid, I used the restroom at the campground before we left, but early hydration efforts had me wanting a restroom when we got to the start, all of 10 minutes later. I figured I’d visit one of the portapotties at the start line after I got myself pulled together. Unfortunately, there were only two. It is at this point that I would like to remind you, the reader, that 978 people were standing at that start line trying to use two bathrooms. I stood in line for 15 minutes and got an absolutely terrible start position out of that. I suppose the upside is that I didn’t embarrass myself.
Once the race started, I recalled the horrible nature of the start. People are already looking at this as being a long, steady endurance effort (the median time for men in the 28-mile race was about 1:57) and are consequently going out slow and saving matches to burn later. I was confident I could roll in around 1:30–1:40 and went out as hard as I could. This requires creative passing. I was surprised at how effortless it felt to pass dozens of people and hoped I wasn’t going to pay for the effort later.
The course always funnels us into some two-track and I know I lost a lot of time here. I would have liked to be moving faster, but at least there was no crashing and I didn’t have to get off the bike. When things opened up a bit, I took off again. Eventually the course drops you onto a paved road with some enormous climbs. I felt really good climbing these and generally dropped everyone who tried to grab my wheel.
For a little while, I was riding behind a fellow METAL team member from Twin Six, Andrew Schirpke. Super positive kid, being very encouraging to the riders around him.
I don’t remember all the details of the rest of the race. What struck me was how much more ridable the course seemed than the last time I did it. Hills that seemed completely unridable in 2008 I just spun up. The sand dunes during the final descent no longer seemed terrifying, but very tame. I suppose that means I’ve matured a lot as a cyclist.
I finished up in 1:37:14.3, which I thought would be better than 90th overall (though it is 900 people riding). The main issue seems to be my terrible starting position. I need to be with the fast guys when we hit that first two-track if I want to place really high. However, it’s probably time for me to move up to the “real” race, the 48-miler. Nine years of riding and racing probably qualifies me for that.
The thing I would point out the most is that the Ore to Shore is such a unique mountain bike race that you should give it an opportunity. No, it’s not a lot of singletrack. It’s not technical in the least. But it really deserves a chance. I’m pretty sure I’ll be back next year.
I would be remiss if I didn’t credit sponsors. The Skratch Labs hydration was perfect as always and the sticky bites are perfect for racing. Get the recipe in the new Feed Zone Portables book. My PowerTap PowerCal has been super helpful this year in terms of focusing my fitness and led me to the results I’ve been getting. You really have no excuse to not train with power anymore.
Next up: The Great Deer Chase in Calumet, MI.