Marlee Dixon, Mtbracenews.com / Pivot Cycles, has seen some incredible success in the last 2 years including TWO consecutive Pro Open Wins at the Firecracker 50! She has worked hard with highs and lows like everyone. Currently, riding the wave, she was feeling the pressure on her home turf at the Firecracker 50, but pushed through for the win! Congrats!
Dark clouds were looming and I was feeling a bit anxious about the switchbacks ahead as Marlee Dixon and I started out on a short ride. We were climbing the Carter Park switchbacks and then to the top Jack’s Cruel Joke to snap off a few shots.
This was my first time riding with Dixon who jumped on a mountain bike just four short years ago on a borrowed yellow Trek 4300 that she called the Yellow Taxi. “I can remember the first time I got to a muddy puddle not knowing what to do and getting off my bike to walk around it. I had ridden bikes on the road my whole life but never trails before; it was so different and so much more fun than I had expected it would be. My dogs were successfully exhausted, and I think from that ride, I was hooked,” said Dixon.
Three weeks later she was racing at a local Summit Mountain Challenge Race more out of curiosity and to meet some new people. “It was the West Ridge Race, I rode my friend’s old, heavy Trek 4300, but it did the job. I remember descending West Ridge and being passed by some older women. I thought I was going to be so fast on the descents and I couldn’t believe older women were passing me. I remember thinking, this shouldn’t be happening, stop braking so much, go faster, these women shouldn’t be passing you! I felt so fired up after that ride. I loved that race.”
It had been a full day of riding for Dixon who had spent most of the day in Leadville training with her coach and then she graciously agreed to meet me for a few photos.
Despite the threatening weather, we decided to go for it and headed up the trail. We were chatting about the day, cycling and technique before we even hit the switchbacks. Dixon is part of the Pivot Mach 4 Women’s Team and rides a 27.5” carbon full-suspension she calls Black Beauty. “I named her Black Beauty because she is super fast and a little wild.”
Dixon’s blonde hair was in a thick knot at the base of her neck with wispy strands sneaking out the sides of her helmet. If she was already exhausted, she didn’t lead on as she easily chatted up the switchbacks with fluid movement. I, on the other hand, was laboring up the switchbacks, my heart was pounding and I could hardly speak. In my mind, we looked like a gazelle followed by a floppy-eared Yellow Lab.
When we reached the top of the switchbacks, we stopped so that I could catch my breath and Dixon told me more about her day and how she is excited about her new coach Alison Powers and the racing season. I asked her thoughts on women and mountain biking and how it has evolved since she started just four years ago. “I think the women’s mountain bike community is evolving and there is a lot of growth, especially on the West Coast. There are so many women-specific opportunities in mountain biking…. the Cycle Effect that helps teenage girls of all backgrounds to get coached and race mountain bikes, VIDA MTB Series that offers women’s skills clinics and camps, female-only races like the Betty Bike Bash, Mountain Bike Mondays, a weekly women’s group ride here in Summit County that is open to all women.
Social Media also has a huge effect on mountain biking with so many photos, blogs, articles and race updates. I think more women are getting into the sport now and that’s definitely what we need. As more women get into mountain biking and racing, it helps women in the industry. Competition gets harder making women perform better, companies see growth and invest more, with more race entries and sponsorships races can offer higher race payouts which then enables more women to be able to focus on training and it gains more interest in the sport, plus on an individual basis, mountain biking and racing is a great sport for women to get into at any age. It builds physical and mental strength, it’s extremely challenging, it usually goes hand in hand with a healthy lifestyle, it makes you appreciate the trail systems even more, it makes you smile a lot and there’s a great community to be involved in.
I think there is still a lot of opportunity for growth for women mountain bikers, especially racers, and I think we will see more growth and changes in the next 10 years. I just got back from racing the Mohican 100 in Ohio and I couldn’t believe there were only 20 women signed up to race the 100-mile course when there were 154 pro men. This is one of the largest ultra-endurance races in the East and I hope we will see more balanced numbers in the years ahead.”
I had heard that Dixon was diving into the ultra-endurance racing scene. It intrigues me as to why she decided to change her focus from cross-country to ultra-endurance mountain bike racing. “Last year I raced 20 races over the summer – trying every type of race from 9-mile races with 3000 feet of climbing to the Breck Epic 6-day stage race, to racing solo in12 hours of Mesa Verde to USA cycling XC races and marathon distance races. Every race was challenging in a different way. This year I wanted to try to test my endurance and try something new, compete mostly in 100-mile courses. I also liked the idea of being part of a National series (the NUE) where I will race against the same women and get to travel to new places to compete. I think once I get my body used to racing 100 miles at a time, it will open up some new options. I might look to do longer multi-day races in the future or I can tune it down and race shorter races.”
When we finally reached the top switchback at Jack’s Cruel Joke, I asked if Dixon was still planning on racing some of the local races. “Yes! I will be racing both the Firecracker 50 and the Breck Epic. This will be my fourth year racing the Firecracker 50 and it’s one of my favorite races. I love everything about the race…. starting the race as part of the 4th of July parade, the course which includes some of the best riding in Summit County (and probably all of the US), the awesome after-party at Carter Park. It’s such a huge community event and I feel so lucky to be a part of it.
I am also racing the Breck Epic again this year. Last year I had a bad mechanical the first day that set me back by 30 minutes. I went on to win three of the next five stages and finished third overall. Stage races are a whole new type of racing for me and I love it. Your normal world freezes for a week and all you concentrate on is racing hard every day, plus you get to hang out with new and old friends, eat lots of food and just chill out in the evenings trying to recover for the next day.”
Dixon got the third spot in the Pro/Open Women Race at the Firecracker 50 with an impressive 4:45:52. “I didn’t see these girls when I was out there, so we were kind of just doing our own race.” She was happy with third but wanted first.
“Marlee is going places,” says Jaime Brede, Breckenridge local, Pro Mountain Biker, Xterra Champion and Cycle Effect Summit Coach. “She is excited about riding as a pro rider and we can connect on that level talking about racing, players of the game and just have a good time with it. She is tenacious. When Marlee sinks her teeth into something, she does not let go and I think that shows in performance. The girl is driven and a talented competitor, but it doesn’t stop there, she is caring, hard-working and a really sweet person.”
Dixon has a full schedule this season. It started with the True Grit Epic Race in March, the Mohican Mountain Bike 100 on June 4th and then the Firecracker 50 on July 4th. The rest of Dixon’s racing season includes High Cascade 100 July 18th (NUE series race), Grizzly 100 (NUE Series Race) July 25th, Breck Epic August 10th-16th, Park City Point To Point September 5th, Fall Classic September 12th.
I asked Dixon how she trains for an ultra-endurance race. “That’s a great question! Training for an ultra-endurance race is something I’m learning more about this year as I train to race at least five 100-mile races. In the winter, it’s good to keep fitness levels up and I combine longer endurance workouts of backcountry skiing and XC skiing with some short intense trainer sessions at the gym. During the mountain biking season, every week is different depending on if it’s a race week or a week off. Race weeks I tend to take it easy with only a few shorter efforts. Non-race weeks I focus on two to four longer endurance rides, at least one shorter high-intensity ride that includes intervals, a low-intensity recovery ride day and usually a day or two off. It’s a learning process and I’ve been creating my own training structure so far, but I’m really excited about working with a coach going forward.”
I asked Dixon if she could give some advice to other ladies out there who might be considering ultra-endurance racing, what would it be? “Go for it! Train hard, reach out and take advantage of all the knowledge there is out there to help you train, if possible try to build up to a longer race, start with shorter distances,25-, 50-, 75- mile races. Racing shorter races will help you learn how to dial in a race day – nutrition, clothing, drop bags/bottles, pacing, personal fitness, stress, etc. It’ll be very tough and you’ll push yourself to places that make you uncomfortable, but it will be worth it.”
Marlee Dixon races and writes race reports for mtbracenews.com, a website focused on timely race results, race reports, and photos, as well as a mountain bike race calendar, coaches column, and product reviews.