Defying the Odds: Marley Blonsky
Inspiring Triumph at Unbound
Over the past couple of months, we have chatted with Marley Blonsky, cycling activist, founder of All Bodies on Bikes, and multi-time cycling gravel race finisher. When we last spoke, Blonsky was finalizing her preparations for Unbound, a popular cycling gravel race in Emporia, Kansas, in June. The race offers distances ranging from 25 miles to 200 miles, and Blonsky signed up for the 100-mile distance. You can meet Marley then read about her journey to unbound before reading how she finished.
Blonsky finished the full century ride in 15 hours and 39 minutes in grueling conditions that included deep stretches of mud, rain storms, wind, and more. Her attitude of gratitude and perseverance is what helped her get to the finish with a smile on her face, even when others opted to drop out due to the difficult conditions. We chatted with Blonsky to learn about what lessons she took from this arduous but rewarding day.
“You signed up for this.”
Unbound is known to test even the most seasoned cyclists with torrential downpours, scorching heat, bumpy terrain, and even water crossings. This year, thanks to unprecedented amounts of rain, significant portions of the course were still wet with thick mud by the time race day came around.
“I started the race and by mile four was riding where I usually do, in the back of the pack, settling in and finding my groove,” Blonsky says. “But then by mile 10, I came around a corner and saw all these people battling through this stretch of mud. I was able to find a line through the mud and ride through it.
Battling Through the Mud: A Test of Perseverance
Blonsky notes that she saw “miles of humans walking” their bikes through the mud as well as people freaking out about the mud, but she was not going to let that be her.
“I was able to ride through about 75% of the mud stretch, which was awesome,” Blonsky says. “I could sense the frustration and desperation of others…by the time I got to the water station at mile 40 there were people laying down waiting to be picked up because they had given up due to all the mud… but the reality was that most of them were totally fine.”
Blonsky shares that while not every race can be magical, and sometimes you need to DNF, she felt a fire to persevere when others were so easily deterred by the route conditions.
“I saw so many people who told me they were done with the race,” Blonsky says. “And I was like, ‘Why? Your bike still works. Your body is fine.’ Yes, it was muddy. But to a degree, we did sign up to face these elements. We need to be ready to race whatever conditions are thrown at us and do so with a good attitude and determination.”
As others dropped like flies due largely in part to their own mental frustration with the course, their pace, and forgetting to follow their nutrition plans, Blonsky committed to finishing the race, even in muddier-than-normal conditions.
“There are a lot of people who don’t have the right mentality and they just quit when the going gets hard,” Blonsky says. “My mentality was all about doing what I needed to have a great day and to finish. For example, at one of the water crossings, I took off my jersey and dunked it in the creek to cool me down. I loved it and I had fun with it; stuff like that kept me in a good mood when others were so willing to quit.”
The Power of Community: Motivation Along the Grueling Journey
There were multiple points in Blonsky’s race where the gravel community gave her the motivation she needed to have a great day.
“I lined up at the race start with the Adventure for All team, which is an inclusive athletics organization based in Florida,” Blonsky says. “The head coach Chase and one of their athletes, Josh, who has a developmental disability, were next to me as we started. When everyone else was on the start line freaking out about the mud and weather, Josh was encouraging everyone to have fun and enjoy the ride. It helped put me in the best mood to kick off race day.”
At another point in the ride, hours later, Blonsky happened to meet up with a friend, Kareem, as their races converged
“Kareem and I met two years ago when we both did the 50-mile Unbound distance,” Blonsky says. “We don’t even have each other’s contact info, but every year since 2021 we end up riding together at Unbound. It’s a really fun time and special to have that connection with another rider.”
This year, Unbound removed the time cutoff for the 100-mile race, which meant that Blonsky could celebrate her finish by soaking up the environment and community without worrying about making it under the clock.
Soaking Up the Unbound Experience: A Celebration of Triumph
“I finished at about 11:30 at night and as I headed toward the finish I got to see fields of fireflies and an insanely beautiful moonrise,” Blonsky says. “I absolutely made the best of the whole day. I rolled into town and ate a burrito and some ice cream and then immediately went to bed.”
Blonsky says that the community at Unbound this year was unlike any other year in her experiences.
“I stayed in the dorms available to racers and the community was more apparent this year than ever before,” Blonsky shares. “The NBA Finals were on TV before the race, and there were 30 people gathered in the dorm lounge watching it together. It really felt like a tight-knit community.”
Overcoming Challenges and Looking Ahead: Blonsky’s Next Adventures
Blonsky was able to make it through Unbound without aggravating her ongoing knee pain, but will be continuing to rehab her knee to make late summer and fall racing possible.
Blonsky was recently in Colorado with the brand Osprey to celebrate the launch of their size-inclusive hydration packs, and then she’ll head out on couple more two-wheeled adventures to close out summer.
“My event season truly ramps up in July and August,” Blonsky shares. “I’m riding RAGBRAI in Iowa in July and then doing a bunch of gravel riding in Colorado, Montana, and the Mountain West as well as some bikepacking.”
Follow Marley Blonsky’s Inspiring Journey on Instagram
You can follow all of Blonsky’s bike adventures and activism news on her Instagram.