A Post-Race Chat with 2021 BADLANDS Women’s Winner Marion Dziwnik
We checked in with Marion Dziwnik, the first woman across the finish line of the 2021 BADLANDS race, to learn more about her time pedaling along the 750-kilometer route in southern Spain. Find her thoughts on the highs and lows of her experience, her advice for anyone considering ultra-distance racing, and more here…
Photos by Jakub Kopecký (@jacob_kopecky)
With a time of just 3 days, 7 hours, and 11 minutes (3d:7h:11m), Marion Dziwnik (@supermajon) was the first woman across the finish line of this year’s 750-kilometer BADLANDS race in beautiful southern Spain, adding to her resume of impressive finishes, which also includes the 2018 Transcontinental Race and 2020/2021 Orbit360 series. We caught up with the 35-year-old scientist from Munich, Germany, to learn more about her and get a better understanding of her race experience. Find our interview below, along with a selection of images from race photographer Jakub Kopecký.
Tell us about your background as a cyclist and how you got into ultra racing.
I started (ambitious) cycling about six years ago. At first, I only rode fixed crits such as Rad Race (national) or Red Hook Crit (international). The fixie scene as well as the short and crisp crits were exactly my jam for a long time, but after two years of riding at full throttle in circles, I felt like doing something else. When Johanna Jahnke, my friend and fixed crit partner in crime, asked me at the end of 2017 whether I would like to take part in the Transcontinental Race (TCRNo6) with her as a pair, I immediately accepted. That was my entry into the ultra-distance cycling scene. Since then, I have been enjoying longer daily stages on my road bike and have also done a few solo bikepacking trips. In 2020 and 2021, I also took part in the Orbit360 gravel racing series here in Germany, which I won in 2020 and came second this year.
Of all the races happening this year, what attracted you to BADLANDS?
After the TCR in 2018, I finally wanted to ride a big ultra-distance race again. This time, I wanted to go off-road because it scares me to ride through the night in traffic during such races. At the same time, I wanted it not to be too long, so it could be done in a week at the most. Badlands was a perfect fit in this regard. Also, I followed some friends’ Badlands race on Instagram last year and knew I would love the landscapes.
Can you share some things that went especially well for you out on the route?
I’m very happy that my bike and equipment held up. I rode a brand-new prototype from Votec that I only got a week before the race, just like the bags and my light. And even better: I got the wheels the day before the race. So, everything was brand new and practically untested. I was admittedly nervous. Before the start, my biggest concern was that I would have a technical defect that I couldn’t fix myself because I don’t know the bike well enough. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Everything held.
My second day went particularly well. My timing was perfect. In the morning, shortly after the supermarket opened, I was in Gor, where I had a good breakfast and was able to stock up for the next 120 kilometers without resupply points. And then, exactly at sunset, I was in the Tabernas Desert, which was extremely beautiful. The fact that things were going so well for me up to then motivated me so much that I pushed through the night until I reached the Mediterranean Sea to finish with a swim and sleep on the beach.
And what went wrong or could be improved next time?
Finding places to sleep could have been better. It was the first time I slept outside in a race like this, and the first night was a disaster. I tried three different places before settling down, and the last place wasn’t optimal either. Mosquitos and barking dogs… I slept really poorly. Also, I could have prepared better for the heat. I was almost unable to eat solid foods because my body was struggling so much with the heat. I mainly fed on gels and maltodextrin drinks. I could have had more of that with me.
What kind of toll did consecutive days of riding in the heat with very little sleep take on your mind and body by the time you crossed the finish line?
Actually, I’m not a good climber, my body doesn’t get along well with exercise in the heat, and I actually need a lot of sleep. Sure, I wanted to do my best, but I didn’t expect much from myself under these circumstances. I had all my excuses, but then things went surprisingly well. When I noticed that my body could handle the heat much better than expected and that my legs and head could recover in only three hours of sleep, it felt great. It felt like I had discovered my superpowers. That gave me an incredible mental push, even if I was really tired on the last day.
I’ve also dealt intensively with mental training over the past three years and have to say that I was in very good mental shape. I didn’t have any real low points during the race. When things weren’t going so well – for example, when I just couldn’t make any headway in the sandy section behind the Tabernas Desert – I knew how to deal with myself – stay rational, do the body check, and find out that I’m not feeling that bad at all, look ahead and move on.
What bike were you riding, and how did you modify it for BADLANDS?
I rode a Votec VRX Alu prototype with the new carbon gravel wheels from Fulcrum and 40mm Continental Terra Trail tires. For Badlands, I installed two additional bottle cages on the fork, so I could carry up to five liters of water on the bike and in my hydration pack, which I really needed at times.
Any favorite sections of the route or moments of the race?
I really enjoyed riding through the Sierra de los Filabres. This is the long, rather isolated piece behind Gor. Most of the route is at an altitude of over 1,500m meters, so it is not that hot, and I simply enjoyed cycling in this area. It’s not too technical and not too boring and on premium gravel. I also had magical moments in the Tabernas Desert, when the sun was just setting, during my night on the beach and in the morning on the last day, about 70 kilometers before the finish line, when the sun rose, and it finally revealed to me what a beautiful area I was riding through.
What’s next for you?
I think my racing season is over with this, and I would like to spend the rest of the year getting to know my new home. I only recently moved to Munich and would like to go on a couple of bikepacking trips in and over the Alps. Next year, I would like to take part in Unbound Gravel and once again do a bigger bikepacking trip.
Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for aspiring ultra racers?
If you feel like doing something like that, you are fit (e.g. you can ride 200 kilometers with 4,000 meters of altitude in one day without completely destroying yourself), but you are unsure whether you can do it for several days in a row: do it! You will be surprised what your body is capable of. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past three years, it’s that ultra-cycling is more of a mental challenge than a physical one, and much more important than fitness is motivation and preparation.
Lastly, is there anyone you want to thank?
I would especially like to thank Fulcrum and Votec bikes, who made it possible for me to participate in Badlands in the first place. I would also like to thank Olivia Dillon and Sally McHughes for showing up well, especially at the beginning of the race. There is nothing more motivating for me than strong women around me. And I’d like to thank Raphael Albrecht for being the perfect travel companion for me on this trip (before and after the race) and my boyfriend Julian Helms for picking me up from the finish line. Finally, I would like to thank the organizers for this masterpiece of an ultra-gravel course and the top organization.
You can keep up with Marion on Instagram @supermajon.
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