The 906 Polar Roll is the final race of the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series. It’s advertised as a 35 Mile race (Actually 41, Thanks Todd) which starts on the main street of Marquette Michigan. This has taken the top spot for my all time favorite fat bike race. I was nervous about this one as I’ve never been on a bike for 5 hours much less in the dead of winter. With a race this long, depending on conditions of the trail, I figured I’d be looking at anywhere from 4 – 5 hours on the bike. Perfect preparation is imperative to surviving the cold conditions for that amount of time.
The race rolled out on the main street of Marquette Michigan. Number 553 is my Mr. Rollins lined up with all the fast guys. I placed myself a few rows back making sure I was in line with the first set of women. My main competition was Sonia Pond and Megan Barr who were leading the Great Lake Series. Also saw Emily Nordahl, a champion cyclocross racer in the mix.
The rollout was pretty chill, we quickly headed to a bike path that ran along Lake Superior. I needed to make sure I was in a good position leading into the first section of single track as once we entered it, there was a climb I like to call “The Soul Crusher.” It’s a category 4 Climb that took me over 8 minutes to crest. I had to be as close to the front as possible as once you started this climb you were stuck at the pace of the single line of riders ahead. I was able to pass a few guys as they got dropped off the back, working to put separation between me and the other women early on.
The next major hill came shortly after a slight break. Benson’s Hill was a leg burner, my heart rate was high, I was pushing much harder then would have liked so early in the race but I was chasing a guy about 20 ft from me and I wanted to be right on his wheel once we crested the hill as there was a nice long straightaway after. I burned some matches knowing I’d get some recovery time before the next gradual climb through the Marquette South Single Track Trails. Also, a guy upon passing me said, “There’s a girl not far off.” GAME ON
The plan was to give everything I had to be the first lady into the single track and start to build a gap. I also had to prepare for an 8 mile, straight, uphill, snowmobile trail heading into the wind. You better not be alone when you get there.
Flying through the single track felt so good. The trails were in the best condition I’ve ever seen. Reminding me why I ride in the winter. Nearing the end of the single track I forced myself to get out of my cornering comfort zone as I needed to stick with the guy I was following. I absolutely needed his wheel once we jumped out onto the snowmobile trail. One of my own teammates went by both of us and ended up crashing out the guy I wanted to work with! What tha! Dude! I needed that guy! There was no chance of me hanging onto my teammate so I slow rolled until my crashed out friend came to rescue me.
There were times I didn’t think I’d be able to hold on but I kept thinking of how much worse it would hurt if I was fighting the wind alone. We had a solid, steady pace going until we saw another pack of guys ahead of us. My new friend said, “What do you think?” I said, “Let’s go get them!” We put in an effort and were with our new pack in minutes. Relief was short lived as you know how it goes, the more guys you add, the faster the group ride. Again I was pushing harder then I’d hoped to at this point in the race but had no choice. Kept thinking, c’mon single track, where are you? Save me!
23 Miles and over 2 hours into the race we were finally in Ishpeming. I was happy to see Tony Wagner standing at the 2nd of 3 aid stations with water bottle and gel in hand. Tony agreed to be race support in exchange for a room for the weekend. This relieved much of my pre-race anxiety. Frozen water and food is common during races with temps in the teens. Not being properly hydrated and fueled can and will destroy your race. I bought 4 insulated camelback water bottles and filled each with warm water and Heed sports drink from Hammer Nutrition. I used rubber bands around the bottles to hold my hammer gels. This way I would get food and water without skipping a beat. Crucial for the win. One of the guys I was teaming with had to stop to refill his bottle at the aid station, never caught back up to us. Cost him 6 positions in the end. I put some Fully Charged in my 3rd bottle for a little extra zing midway through the race and my last gel was caffeinated for one last kick to get me to the finish.
I made a move on my pack on the first major hill at the start of the Ishpeming trail system. One of the guys, Evan from the 45 North team not only responded but passed me up halfway up and took off! What do I do, just let him get away? He’s just a guy, it’s not like I’m racing him. Then I imagined he had a ponytail. If he had been a girl, would I have let her go? No Way, I went after him. Full in and out of my seat sprints to stay with him for the next mile. We hit the open road and that slowed him down, nice burst of wind in your face will do that to you. The majority of the final 8 miles was really tight single track with steep punchy climbs. Evan and I rode together for a few but he gave me the go ahead as he was blowing up. Off I went, the last 6 miles of the race, alone in the woods with my thoughts.
- Don’t let up now
- Ride smooth, no crashing
- Muscles are on fire, so are everyone else’s
- It Burns!
- I want that Buckle, I’m gonna get that buckle!
- That all you got Todd? Goofy looking little thing weren’t you
- I could actually win this thing
- I’d love to rip this trail with fresh legs, steal some QOM’s
- Hello Ice patch
- I want to build a cabin up here
- Easy on the corners blast it on the straightaways, when is this straightaway going to end!?
- Wonder if Tony will have that Hot Coffee and Whiskey waiting for me at the finish
- There’s the finish, there it is, I Won, I Won, I just won the Polar Roll!
I came in at 3hrs and 44 minutes. Much faster then I had anticipated. The immaculate course conditions played a big part in that. It was a perfect race for me, the kind you dream about. Felt strong and prepared going in. A feeling I haven’t felt at this level since the Birkie last year. Everything went my way, rode smooth, hard, and had help when I needed it. Rode on the sweet spot of pleasure and pain. If you haven’t made the trip to Marquette Michigan, make it a mandatory addition to your plans next year. Marquette truly is a winter wonderland.
Shout outs go to:
My Team Broken Spoke Racing – www.brokenspokebikes.com
Mark Barrette from Hammer Nutrition – www.hammernutrition.com
Race Support Tony Wagner
Scott Robinson from Integration Bodywork www.integrationbodywork.net
My Ryan Rollins
All the Race Directors and Volunteers
Next up on the Agenda:
Sweaty Yeti – Neillsville, WI
Hugh Jass – Waterloo, WI
Birkie – Cable, WI
28 Below – Spearfish, South Dakota
More from Leia at – https://leiaschneeberger.blogspot.com/
Editors Note – You may recognize Leia as the Host of the Dose of Fat Podcast