Margaux Elliott rode 6,292 miles (10,125 km) in the past twelve months, a distance that you don't often see from someone who isn't an accomplished roadie. While the mileage alone is impressive - it's further than biking back and forth across the United States - to make it even more incredible, Elliott rode the entire distance on her 140mm trail bike, on flat pedals, and she didn't exactly ride on easy terrain.
Most of the time Elliott was out, roughly 1,000 hours throughout the course of the year, she was climbing, accomplishing her goal of climbing one million feet (304,800 m) in a calendar year on December 20, 2020. This makes her the first woman to accomplish the feat on a mountain bike, joining the one million feet club alongside the likes of Mark Weir and Henry Quinney
Let's let all those numbers sink in for a minute. It's worth checking your recent Trailforks or Strava stats to help comprehend the enormity of the accomplishment. Let me do some of the math for you: 1,000 hours is roughly equivalent to 42 entire
Elliott isn't a professional mountain biker and that actually plays in her favour when attempting this challenge. This is not a number you'll see professional mountain bikers attempt. They follow strict training plans, focusing on quality over quantity since their careers depend on peaking for important race days. Rebecca Rusch, the Queen of Pain herself, congratulated Elliott on her accomplishment on social media as well as Jill Kintner, Caro Gehrig and many other professional riders. Even ultra endurance nerd Ben Hildred, who climbed and descended 21,635 meters in three days, was impressed, saying: "So, so good Margaux! That focus for a whole year, incredible goal."
Elliott works a full time job as Giro's Apparel Product Manager and, when I talked to her the day after she accomplished her goal, she said she only started riding seriously five or six years ago a couple of years after she met her partner and former downhill racer Evan Turpen. "Before I met him, I definitely looked at mountain bikes, but I had so much sticker shock even for hardtails. I was like, 'Holy shit.' I also didn't really know anyone who did it. It's one of those things that's a little bit overwhelming to get into." You get the sense that Elliott doesn't do anything halfway though, and in the five years she's been riding, she's already done more than a dozen races, finishing second in the Trans New Zealand in 2019.
The idea to attempt to ride one million feet in a year came up when she was driving home from a tough day competing in the EWS 100 race Northstar. "I totally mentally crumbled at that race. I was super embarrassed and sad. I was just really disappointed in myself. It was around that time where I was already mentally committing to it. Then I researched a bit more about how Mark Weir did it back in the day. And then, I'd say, by end of September, I was like, 'That's what I'm doing. That's my plan for next year.'"
She didn’t start talking about her goal publicly until March when she was about a fifth of the way into her challenge. She realized she couldn’t find information about any other women attempting the feat on a mountain bike and when she did tell people what she was trying to do, they got really excited about it. "If it's doing that for the people I know, maybe some girl out there will hear about it. She'll do two million feet or something.' I thought, 'Okay, maybe I should start talking about this more. This is kind of a big deal.'"
Despite some pretty serious hurdles along the way, including a global pandemic, California's wild fires, a particularly painful saddle sore, and a car crash that resulted in both a broken bike and an umbilical hernia, Elliott was able to push through and stick to her demanding schedule. She split the climbing over five rides every week, three rides at 3,000 feet (914m) a day during the work week and then two 6,000 foot (1828m) days on the weekends. She took Mondays and Fridays off to try and give her body the time to recover before and after the 12,000 feet of climbing on the weekend. In total, she rode 253 days in 2020.
Riding a million feet uphill means riding a million feet of trail downhill, which is why Elliott chose the 140mm Juliana Maverick. I wanted it be all on one bike, the type of bike that I enjoy riding, and that it was all mountain biking and incorporating trail riding." Elliott made rules for herself. She wasn't going to go out and do road repeats or even go out and do laps on the fire road descending down the fire road. She really wanted the challenge to be about biking in the type of riding that she likes doing. She also rides flat pedals, riding 100% of the year on flat pedals.
Other than a creek swim in June that led to a golf ball sized saddle sore under her sit bones that made riding painful for a stretch, she was able to stay mostly unscathed on the trails. A car crash
in July however almost derailed her attempt at one million. A week after the crash, riding a borrowed demo bike from Juliana since her rear triangle was smashed when the car flipped on its side, she found out she had an umbilical hernia. "It was irritated and getting progressively more painful. You have to operate on those to fix and so that was probably the least confident that I was that I would finish. If you have to operate, you have to do nothing for five weeks, basically. But then it went away. I think it was aggravated because of where the seat belt was and the stress from the accident. So again, I got super lucky."
She tried not to think about the massive goal on a daily basis, although she tracked everything using a bike computer (Stages Dash or Garmin) and Strava as a backup. "I feel like I turned my brain off a little bit. I had my plan. I knew what my plan was. Each day it was just about chipping away at it." She realized quickly how important that schedule was. "In April, they closed the state parks here because of Covid. It was a full week where I couldn't ride. It took me two months to make up that time. After two months of making up that time it was June, and I realized, 'Okay, I really have to be good about the schedule the rest of the year, or else I really won't make it.'"
Recovering was always a challenge Elliott said. "I wouldn't sprint up super steep climbs I didn't need to do, because that would have just totally screwed me for the long haul. But at one point, it felt like my body had adapted. Then it was about the perseverance of it and just putting in the time." On the ride where she hit 300,000 feet, she briefly thought, "Yeah, I'm doing this. I'm making it. I'm getting there," before realizing she still had a very, very long way to go. "I realized in that moment that I wasn't going to feel very confident about it probably, until the last week. If even then, maybe not even the last ride."
Photos by Satchel Cronk
In some ways, the Covid pandemic made her challenge more difficult because she wasn't able to change up her training loop as much as she had initially been planning to. "I was thinking I'd spend a month up in BC, because I've never really explored out there." She told me she had a whole spreadsheet that has different loops she was looking at to include and ride in different places.
In other ways, it made it easier because she didn't feel the pressure to go out and be social like she would have in a more normal year. She was also able to work from home which allowed her to ride during the day. "Initially, before the pandemic, I was waking up at 4:30 in the morning and riding by 5:15. I was in the dark for about an hour and a half. Looking back, the coolest part of the whole experience was that time, before I had the flexibility to ride whenever." No one joined her on the 4:30am rides she said. When Elliott started working from home, she could ride whenever she wanted to, getting up early to work instead of getting up early to ride. Her colleagues at Giro were understanding when she shuffled meetings around her riding schedule.
The challenge also helped centre her in a difficult year and she had a lot of time to think since upwards of 80% of her riding was done on her own.
Ride snacks kept Elliott motivated and fuelled, with PB&J, granola bars, dried mangoes and peanuts, and her favourite, a Snickers bar being the go-tos. She drank Skratch Labs on almost all the rides, even on the three "shorter" three to four hour weekday rides, since that helped her energy levels stay even and her mood brighter. She also had two stash spots of bubbly water and beer that she buried in the ground in the woods. After a flat tire that couldn't be fixed with her malfunctioning plugs and regular pump, she started carrying CO2 and, after getting a tick, she started to bring tick tweezers with her on every ride as well.
She also commented that she was lucky to be locked down in a place like Santa Cruz with favourable weather conditions most of the year. "Honestly, I think that's part of why this isn't like a super popular thing, because most climates you couldn't ride this much throughout the entire year. You do have to be kind of climate specific. I know the guy who did it Henry Quinney and he started in New Zealand and he spent half the year in New Zealand and then the other half in France, to skip the Southern Hemisphere winter. I do think part of me being able to achieve this was being located in Santa Cruz."
Although of course, there were the wildfires to contend with in 2020. "My having to deal with that, as far as riding goes pales in comparison to the people that were losing their homes and everything. But it definitely did throw a wrench into the plan, into the spreadsheet. There was about a week of really bad smoke and air quality. I did go up to the Sierras at one point to keep riding, when the fires were really bad. I had to flee Santa Cruz for a little while. Then I just had to take time off and wait for it to pass and then had to make up that time."
Another thing she was grateful for was her understanding partner, friends and family. It ended up taking up most of her spare time for the entire year. "Evan's such a huge part of supporting me to get there. Everything from working on the bike to bringing me coffee in bed, to suggesting a bubble bath when I came home crying because I was so tired. Having understanding from family and friends was really important, because I didn't have a lot of free time. I was either riding, sleeping or eating or working."
Photos by Mike Thomas
I asked her what the accomplishment means to her and she said that she's mostly proud of the commitment it took to achieve it. "I don't think that it's necessarily because I'm a woman or the first woman, it's just a huge endurance achievement to have accomplished. The coolest part of it is that some people have been inspired by hearing about what I've done. Someone reached out and said that they were inspired to climb 500,000 feet in the year, because they heard about what I was doing. Realizing that I had helped inspire them to do that was unbelievable and ultimately why I started sharing this story. I think stories like this are important because you never know who might hear about it and go on to do something even more incredible."
Once people started paying attention to what she was doing, she was really excited but also really uncomfortable with the attention. She chose to divert the attention into something positive. When the Grow Foundation launched, it was a the perfect fit. "Through the grapevine got put in touch with Elliot, and he was immediately super excited about it and so supportive. He just said, 'Yes, of course, this is great.' The thing I didn't expect when I started talking to him was that he really saw what I was doing as part of the Grow Cycling story. He said, 'You're someone super unexpected doing something totally insane.' To have him say that, and to see it in that way, is just really rewarding."
When I spoke to Elliott before the holidays, she was excited about some down time to nap, cuddle with her cat, watch holiday movies, and drink cocktails. Although she did say she was excited to spend more time on the pump track and that she'd like to race Dual Slalom at Sea Otter.