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How to succeed in the NUE Series: Founders Lumberjack 100

Lightweight tires and minimal suspension is the key for the Lumberjack

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There are some races that struggle to stay in existence and to fill entries on a yearly basis. Held on June 16th, the Founders Lumberjack 100, stop number four on the NUE Series, is not one of them.

In it’s eighth year in existence, and sixth year on the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Series, the race sold out in eleven minutes.

It’s doubtful that when Rick Plite first organized the race as a side project he foresaw it turning into the cult classic that it is today. He simply “saw a decline in 24 hour races and figured 100 miles made more sense. No lights, tents, camping, overnight crew, etc.”

Held just a handful of miles from the east shore of Lake Michigan in the Manistee National Forest, the course features 90% singletrack and over 9.000 feet of elevation gain and loss.

Plite has organized a race that is logistically easy for racers without a pit crew, a good time before and after the race, and is constantly changing and improving as Plite tweaks the course to include more Michican singletrack. Last year, the course was changed from a two-lap race into three laps of a 33-mile circuit in order to add more trail to the course.

The changes were met with rave reviews, as the loamy singletrack did not disappoint.

The fact that racers were met with a catered meal and beverages from Founders Ale afterward probably didn’t hurt the situation either.

The course

While there is something to be said for a 100-mile course that does one giant loop, having a course that does three laps of a shorter course instead of one giant one has its advantages.

Held on the Big M cross country ski trails, the Lumberjack is unique relative to other NUE series races due to the fact that it is run on a shorter loop that not only gives racers a chance to return to the pit area twice to refuel — leveling the playing field between those who have pit support and those who don’t — but also allows racers to really learn the course.

It also makes preriding the entire course a much more feasible option for those traveling to the race than a 100-mile loop would be.

The majority of the course is non-technical singletrack and a handful of dirt roads and double track thrown in to connect sections of trail. Because of the three lap format and relatively fast trails, the Lumberjack is an attainable goal for someone’s first 100 mile race.

Don’t be fooled though, while the course isn’t excessively rocky and the elevation gain isn’t that of some of the other NUE races, there are still a good number of climbs that are described by Plite as “short, steep, and punchy.”

And in the end, a 100 miles is a 100 miles and that makes for a long day on the bike.

The lack of long climbs also means that there are no sustained descents during which to recover, and thus the race favors a rider who can stay steady on the gas for seven to ten hours, since there are very few places to coast and recover on the course.

Equipment recommendations

When asked to describe an ideal bike for the course, Plite was succinct in answering: A 29er hardtail would be the ideal weapon of choice. Then endurance world seems to be making a very rapid and complete transition to the larger wheels for the added comfort given by the bigger diameter and the added momentum afforded by them once they are rolling. While the singletrack in the Lumberjack is twisty, it’s not enough to warrant the maneuverability of smaller wheels.

Plite also recommends lightweight tires for the race since the singletrack isn’t rocky and sidewall tears and punctures aren’t as likely as they’d be on a rougher course. The softer dirt also allows for tires with low knobs, such as the Kenda Small Block Eights.

Trails and Recreation

One does not travel across the country for the sole purpose of racing. At the very least, racing should just be an excuse to travel across the country and ride in new areas. The location of the Lumberjack allows for just that, as there are numerous riding options in the Manistee area.

The Lumberjack race course intersects the North Country Trail (NCT), a 4,600 mile route that travels from New York to North Dakota on a mix of roads and trails. The NCT segments near the Lumberjack are excellent riding trails that extend for 30 miles in either direction with the premier segment being a 14 mile segment from Dilling Road to the Marilla trailhead. Plite describes this segment of trail as having “steep, long climbs and some great bench cut hillsides to navigate.”

For a non-bike related activity in the area, Plite recommends visiting Lake Michigan and taking a dip in the only Great Lake entirely within the US border. Located just 20 miles west of Manistee, going for a swim after the race would be a quick side trip.

After the Lumberjack, the NUE Series takes a one month break before continuing its trek west with the Breckenridge 100 in Colorado and the High Cascade 100 in Oregon.

Eszter Horanyi lives and mountain bikes in Crested Butte, CO.  She has dabbled in road racing, cyclocross racing, and cross country mountain bike racing, but has gravitated towards ultra endurance and multi day self supported racing in the more recent past.  She firmly believes that nothing tops a good ride with good friends on good trails, thus she spends her life in search of all of the above. You can follow her adventures on her blog. All articles by Eszter.

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