This was the best Polar Roll yet. This was my 3rd one and I think maybe there has been 4 total, so I can’t speak to the earliest of them. The trails were dialed and I really liked the course layout. I know the snowmobile trail is not very popular, but I think it provides a great balance to the race and if you ever get in to fatbike ultras… You better get used to snowmobile trails. I haven’t done one, but I know that type of riding is a large part of fatbike ultras. So, I really think they did a great job with the course. There was some great singletrack, steep and long climbs (for the midwest), a couple sections of really tight singletrack and then the snowmobile trail. It was balanced out well and had a great mix of everything. Enjoy the report!
2018 Polar Roll Course
The course started in downtown Marquette… It rolled out of town on the lakeshore bikepath/snowmobile trail down to the south trail system before hitting singletrack. We had to do some climbing to get up into the south trails, but the south trails were dialed and provided for some pretty amazing fatbike riding.
From the south trails, we took the snowmobile trail (some of the bike path in the summer) to Ishpeming before connecting with the Hill Street trails.
The Hill Street trails are great as well with a few steep hills that will force most into a hike-a-bike situation and some fast downhill sections.
The last section of trail is the singletrack between Ishpeming and Negaunee. It’s great riding with some really tight and narrow singletrack sections for the long race.
The finish was in downtown Ishpeming at the High School where you had a nice place to warm up after the race.
It’s all uphill… There are of course some great downhills, but yeh, you work your way uphill to the finish line. There are 2 opening climbs are grinders… The jeep trail up to HWY 553 and then Benson Grade. The snowmobile trail can catch you off guard as it’s uphill. The grade isn’t bad, it’s more of a false flat. Outside of the second half of the snowmobile trail, there really isn’t much sustained flat sections of course. You’re either going uphill or downhill.
Gear and Nutrition Setup
Trek Farley Carbon w/ Bontrager Carbon Wampa 27.5″ wheels and 4.5″ Barbagazzi Tires – I’m digging the 27.5″ wheel setup.
GX 12sp Eagle with XO Cranks (was a closeout on the cranks when I built the bike) – I’m sold on the 1 x Eagle drivetrain and it’s pretty affordable now in the GX level.
Shimano XT with non heat sink rotors – hard to beat these brakes.
Spare Parts & Tools
Topeak Hexus Multi-tool
25g air cartridge with Genuine Innovations Air Chuck
Sram Power Link
2 thermo bottles and 1 regular bottle (Thermo bottle is too tall to fit in seatpost cage under top tube)
Started race with 1 full thermo bottle on downtube and 1 full thermo bottle in jersey pocket
The regular bottle just had CarboRocket powder in it, so I could just stop at an aid station later and fill it up when the other bottles ran empty.
Sturmfist 4 Gloves – Hands froze at the start and took about an hour to warm up. Started getting cold again toward the end. I seem to always have cold hand issues.
Bontrager OMW Boots – Toes got cold toward the end, but overall pretty happy with these. I did have a toe warmer in each one.
Bontrager B2 Baselayer, Cyclova summer jersey as mid layer and Cyclova Ski suit top as outer layer – The Bontrager B2 baselayers are awesome and seem to regulate well. That combined with my Cyclova Ski Suit top from Mt Borah is a great combination.
Bontrager B1 Velocis Thermo Bibs w/ summer baggie liner chamois shorts underneath – This worked out really well also. The B1 Velocis Thermo Bibs say for above freezing temps, but they were perfect for racing at 15 to 20 degrees and could probably be used for colder temps.
The 906 Polar Roll Fatbike Race
Downtown to 553
Folks were starting to line up in the gate, so I headed in from the back and found my way to about the 4th row. I stood there for a few minutes and could see a bunch of empty space in the second row, so I went ahead and moved up. I’m getting more confident with my ability to roll out hard from the gate and thought there was a good chance I could finish in the top 20. The first couple rows added up to about 20 people.
We took off with a controlled rollout, made our right hand turn and hit the snowmobile trail much quicker than I anticipated where 2 lines quickly formed. I think I ended up getting pushed back a little bit, but then worked my way back up into the top 20 as the 2 lines shifted back and forth. We crossed under the bridge and were quickly dumped into the first singletrack and moving at a good clip.
I hadn’t been on the trails up here yet, so I didn’t really know where my traction was at quite yet in the corners. I could feel my fingers freezing up already as well. After a few twists and turns in the singletrack we started heading up hill and the work began. It was a steep grade and probably about the steepest you’re going to find when it comes to fat biking. We were climbing hard and I don’t believe I ever shifted into that granny 50 tooth gear.
You could look up ahead and see the gaps starting to form as a rider here and there couldn’t keep the pace. I made up a few spots on the climb with a couple other folks on my tail chasing, but not fast enough to avoid a gap forming in front of me. This section is what I believe is considered to be the jeep trail. We dumped out at the top and headed across some open parking lot area to cross under 553 along the creek. My wife was there taking some pictures and said I was sitting in 15th when I came by.
553 To Snowmobile Trail
We took an icy path, that had been sanded, under the road along the creek to avoid crossing the road. On the other side was more singletrack and climbing. We hit a little bit of twisty singletrack that went up before hitting Benson Grade and starting another long and steep climb. I can’t remember exactly how things went up Benson. I might have gotten passed, but can’t remember.
At the top of Benson Grade, we dumped down what I believe is called Pipe Dreams. It was a fast downhill ride and I had a little space in front of me and a few riders back with plenty of breathing room. I was also realizing that I probably had a little more traction than I thought I would have. Even though the trail appeared to be a little slick, it was actually fairly tacky.
At the bottom of Pipe Dreams… I was rolling pretty hot and completely blew a right hand turn. The turn was marked, but I was moving out and blew right past it with the skids on. I yelled back “turn right!” to anyone that was behind me as I got myself turned around. I ended up dropping 3 spots there and got back on the chase as more folks were coming in.
The first guy was hauling out pretty good, but I was back on the wheel of the 2nd and 3rd one fairly quick with another rider coming up on my wheel now. I was patient and then we eventually came to an opening where I made my pass with a couple other folks coming with. I had one rider that was catching me on the hills and then I would pull away on the twisty stuff. He eventually ended up passing me and dissappeared out in front of me.
Somebody yelled from behind that these trails still weren’t quite as good as Woolly, or something to that effect… Woolly Bike Club Trails are my local trail and my jersey has a Woolly badge on it. Woolly trails have been about the best you are going to find lately, but it’s darn hard to beat the trails in Marquette. They were in great shape and there is miles and miles of them.
Back to the racing… I think I dropped a spot or 2 somewhere in this section, but I may have picked up another spot along the way also. I do remember my fingertips really starting to freeze up on me. I hate that feeling.
Anyways… The trails in this section were absolutely dialed. There were a couple icy downhills that had been sanded, but you almost couldn’t ask for better snowbiking conditions. This section of trail is also some of the most fun intermediate level trail riding you are going to find. You can ride it as fast or slow as you want. It’s just really flowy and gets more challenging with the more speed you carry as you start coming into corners a little hot.
This section of the race was my highest average heart rate of 160 bpm and where I hit my max heart rate on the day of 172. This actually is a bit conservative for me in a sub 4 hour race. That being said, it’s early in the year. At the end of the day, I was pretty comfortable for most of the race… Aside from those leg cramps that fired up about 3 and half hours in.
Snowmobile Trail to Hill St
The first set of singletrack was done and now I was on the snowmobile path to Negaunee. This would be a long and fairly steady uphill grade. More of a false flat than uphill though. I was expecting the trail to be soft, but quite honestly it was amazing. Maybe it wasn’t amazing, but my expectations were low and I thought it was fairly hardpacked.
Anyways, there was an aid station when we first dumped out on the snowmobile trail, but I rode straight through as I had my own stuff and didn’t feel like stopping or spilling water on my gloves. After crossing the road on the other side of the aid station, I relaxed a bit and grabbed my own water bottle. I saw a couple people up ahead, but I didn’t realize anybody was behind me and I must have drifted over a bit as a guy came up my right side. We clipped bars and I went down as he rode away and latched on to the group ahead.
I saw him later at the finish actually and he brought it up and appologized, but there really wasn’t anything to appologize for. That’s just part of riding and to be expected. I think I drifted over as he was coming by and he probably figured he had plenty of space since we were on the snowmobile trail and didn’t worry about yelling ahead.
Anyways, I got back on the bike and moving forward again to catch a solo rider that was split between me and that small group ahead. I was feeling good and wanted to catch the group ahead and ended up taking the pull till we caught the small group ahead. When we caught the group ahead they were kind of sitting up or nobody was really taking the lead. I was too low on my effort and wanted to pick up the pace and took off the front. I figured I was either going solo or was going to inspire some help, but I wasn’t going to sit up and slog down the snowmobile trail waiting for somebody else to take the lead.
I think I put a little gap on them, but it didn’t take long for them to get organized and latch onto my wheel. I pulled for quite some time and that probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do. But, I wasn’t willing to dial the pace back either, even if that meant pulling the whole way. Just before Eagle Mills, one of the guys came up around front and took a pull and kept the pace up as well!
I had emptied both of my insulated bottles of CarboRocket at this point and pulled off at the Eagle Mills aid station to refill. The aid station volunteers filled one of my insulated bottles with water and then filled up the extra bottle that had the CarboRocket powder already in it ready to go. The rest of the group rode through, so I was on my own from here to Neguanee unless I could reel them back in again.
For reference… Eagle Mills aid station was less than halfway to the Hill St. Trails, but probably a little past the halfway point of being on the snowmobile trail. For a short period, I thought I was going to reel them back in, but it never happened and they maintained their gap until hills or turns got in the way of visibility and then I never saw them again and solo’d my way all the way to hill st.
On the way up Hill St. I decided to dip into my can of Red Bull that I had been carrying in my jersey pocket. I had already drank the other bottle of CarboRocket and figured I was going to need something to get me through the last hour on the trail. I took it easy up Hill St. as I downed the Red Bull before trying to get the empty can stuffed back in my jersey pocket. I heard something hit the road as I got back on the hammer and sure enough it was my Red Bull can…
I stopped and just left my bike in the street and ran back to pick it up while a rider came flying by me and then I saw another group making the turn up Hill St. and they were on the gas. I got my Red Bull can stuffed back in my jersey pocket and raced my way up to the entrance of the singletrack before getting caught by that next group.
Hill Street Trails
I was familiar with this trail entrance as this was the start of the 2017 Polar Roll. I put in a little extra effort to give myself some space from the chasers and was successful aside from 1 other rider starting to sneak up on me. I had to bale and hike up the first part of one of the really steep hills about halfway through the loop. I had to hike up a bit of this same hill the previous year.
We didn’t ride all the Hill St. trails from the previous year, which would have probably added another 5 miles to the race. I don’t know, maybe Todd’s getting soft on us… There were some good climbs in those other trails.
I came by what I believe was a bunch of folks from Blackrocks Brewery that looked like they were having one heck of a good time and then sent it down the long and flowy trail with the lake off to the right. This was fast, but I was feeling confident and it helps when there is a bit of hoot’n and holler’n going on as you head into it.
I believe that chase group was starting to reel me in just before this. But, only 1 of the guys stayed with me and we put a gap on the rest of them by the time we made it around the lake. The climbs back out of this area around the other side of the lake are really tough and at the edge of traction loss, but I made it all the way up. I dumped out on the wider path that leads to the Division St. crossing with the other rider right on my wheel.
To The Finish Line
I can’t remember exactly, but I think I asked the rider behind me if he needed to get around, but he mentioned he was starting to cramp… I was too. I could feel the warning signs coming on. I was doing ok still and then we hit the really tight singletrack and my legs locked up as I headed up one of the climbs and fell right over sideways into the snowbank, still clipped in. He asked me if I was ok. I said I was good and was just going to sit here for a second and try to get these cramps out.
I eventually got up and then just walked my bike in an effort to try and stretch out the cramps and get them to calm down before I got back on again. I had forgotten to replenish my pickle juice shots, so I didn’t really have anything to help get rid of the cramps other than have to dial my effort way back and try to walk them off. I was a bit frustrated, because overall I had raced somewhat conservative as far as effort goes. I hadn’t been lazy, but I didn’t feel like I was overpushing it at all.
I got back on the bike and soft pedaled for a little bit and eased my way back into it. I think I ended up getting passed by a couple more racers soon after this. I hadn’t looked at the course map much and wasn’t quite sure where I was at on it. I eventually came out to the Bacon and Hugs aid station, but kept pedaling. Now I knew where I was at and was on the long stretch that led back to Negaunee. I came up on a rider that I ended up passing and he asked how much farther. I told him my GPS was reading around 35 miles at this point, but we were headed away from the finish line and toward Negaunee.
I dropped down the flight of stairs going into Negaunee and then up the short flight from the Marji Gesick. They were easy in the snow, since they were completely packed in. You wouldn’t even know there were stairs there. Again, I hadn’t looked at the map too closely and was thinking we were a near direct shot back to the finish line, but I was wrong… We did get dumped into some more really tight singletrack.
It wasn’t a lot, but I was out of fuel at this point and fighting off the leg cramps. I didn’t really have anybody around me when I entered it, but I got caught fast. Between the trail being a little icey and me getting a little twitchy on the bike with my fatigue and cramps… I felt like a pin ball bouncing back and forth off the raised snow edges of the trail and eventually went down – a couple times. I ended up giving up more places in traffic again before dumping out of this section.
Finally, I was out of the trail and recognized the snowmobile trail back toward the finish line. I made that last left turn onto the pavement and gave it everything I had left and sprinted across the finish line solo. I like doing that as it’s my last little win of the race, whether I’m sprinting to the finish with somebody else or not. I ended up finishing 22nd place with a time of 3 hours and 51 minutes.
The Jan Roubal Classic
So this was a fun little event at the after party that only 5 of us did while a couple hundred folks from the after party cheered from the bottom of the ski hill. The deal was you had to ride your bike at least to some marked points on the hill. From there, you could push your bike the rest of the way to where 3 people were standing. 1 was holding nothing, 1 was holding a $1 bill and the other holding a $100 bill. The first 3 people to claim a spot/person got what they were holding.
I took off slow because I figured it was going to be a grind up the hill. I also figured I would zig zag the hill vs going strait up. That was actually a mistake as it was hard to get turned up the hill without fear of slipping out. I was headed up left and was finally able to get turned back to the right, but not uphill enough. It took me going across the entire hill to finally make it. I got about as far as I could before coming close to hitting the fence and went to turn up and slid out. I looked back to see that I had just cleared the marking post and started pushing. I actually think I was the 4th person up, but a couple of the others had headed back down the hill early. There was also a free set of 45NRTH tires at the bottom for the first person back down. Anyways, I ended up with the $100!
I think I might just write up a whole different post for the fatbike enduro. That was a ton of fun and was an awesome way to finish off the weekend.
Final Polar Roll Thoughts
This was the best Polar Roll yet! I really liked the course layout and the trails were amazing this year. I do like longer races and I thought this was balanced out well. The shorter race last year was fun, but this year had a bit more epicness to it, which to me… makes it more worthwhile to plan a weekend around.