Polar Roll 2016

I know there’s that saying about how you never regret a run, and I can get behind that statement. Does the same apply to bike races? I’m still trying to decide.

It was sometime on Friday afternoon that I decided to go home and prepare to do this thing. Scott and a friend nailed it—[the race director] had gotten into my head*. I needed to just do the damn race if that’s what I wanted to do. Still, as I packed my bags I had a lot of questions about conditions. Was it worth the drive if I had to walk a lot of the course? I also had no clue what the course would be like. You can look at an elevation profile all day long but it doesn’t tell you anything about what a trail is like. In the end, it was a good thing I wasn’t familiar with the course. I don’t know if I’d shown up if I’d known what was coming.

*There were a series of emails that went out to participants that were of the “suck it up, we’re doing this even if we have to walk, blah blah” sentiment. And a bunch of business about “earning your pom hat” that you picked up with your bib. I found them more annoying than motivating.

I was also feeling some serious Mommy Guilt, after being gone the weekend before in Austin. Sophie was actually pretty annoyed that I was leaving, “AGAIN, Mom?”

As far as race reports go, there isn’t a ton you can say when the course is trashed and it’s 40 degrees. If you weren’t riding in slush on a snowmobile trail or bike path or road, it was ice. Most of the single track was mushy, with a six-inch deep tire track as your best line. I never realized how hard it is to ride in a straight line. Keeping your balance in normal conditions is one thing. It’s another if you’ve been pushing a 40 lb bike up and down hills and falling into snow banks all day long. My arms felt like they had run a marathon from just keeping the bike upright. There was no enjoying the downhills. I was just trying to stay alive.

Nervous but optimistic at this point. Also, a lot drier than I was at the finish.
Nervous but optimistic at this point. Also, a lot drier than I was at the finish.

I started in the back, knowing it wasn’t going to make much of a difference if I had 50 people in front of me or behind me. I leap frogged with a group for much of the course. We walked a lot of trail together. There were older guys, younger women, even some teenagers out with their mom.

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My Garmin wasn’t keeping up. It kept stopping and wouldn’t start back up—so for most of the race I had no idea how far I had to go. This ended up being a good thing; I thought we’d only gone 4.5 miles but were actually at the 8 mile mark. I could’ve hugged the volunteer at the intersection who gave me that news.

The only other notable event was the whiskey and bacon aid station, right before the ten mile mark. Approximately 50 yards out, the road was slushy. My bike started to slip so I put my right leg out to catch myself and CRAMP. My entire leg from the knee up was completely locked. I stood next to my bike for a good five minutes before it subsided enough to hobble to the aid station. It was the worst cramp I’ve ever had in my life, and during that last stretch I fought off mini cramps in both quads. Maybe it helped that I ate a handful of bacon and took in a Gu and the rest of my GU brew (that shit saved me).

Right before a stretch of really slushy bike path. Hell, no I did not ride under the bridge.
Right before a stretch of really slushy bike path. Hell, no I did not ride under the bridge.

So do I have regrets? I suppose not. I don’t regret going, even if I had to push my bike as far as I sat on it and pedaled. I fell so many times I stopped counting, including one hard fall on a road that was a sheet of ice. It happened so fast I don’t even remember how it happened. (Side note: swapping out my clipless pedals for platforms was the smartest thing I did that day.) I’m pretty bruised up today and sore, but nothing major. I’ll live to ride/ski/run/snowshoe another day.

But would I do it again? I won’t rule out that someone won’t convince me to give it another shot in a year; a lot can happen in 12 months. But in the same conditions? It would be a tough sell.

Regardless, the event organization did seem pretty great. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to partake in any pre-race or post-race festivities. I will say that—if I do ever lose my mind and do this again, I’ll make it a weekend affair. The volunteers were friendly and encouraging. The bacon and hugs station was like a desert oasis.

I only managed about half the beer but made up for it with bacon.
I only managed about half the beer but made up for it with bacon.

I’ve only done two bike races before this, so I don’t have a ton of experience. I tend to get nervous before bike races for this reason. even though I’d say I’m at least an average-ability rider. I was pushing my bike somewhere near the six mile mark—wondering how I was going to make it—and I realized this felt more like a marathon. All the running mantras applied, especially the one I had in my head for most of the 4.5 hours I was out there: Just keep moving. Sometimes “moving” meant pedaling. Most of the time, it was walking while pushing my bike. At one point, it meant rolling it down a steep embankment and climbing down after it.

I eventually made it across the finish line. The stats from the short race were 206 Registered – 171 Started – 128 Finished. I ended up finishing 106th (yes, I went back and counted). So yeah, I earned that dumb pom hat. Yeah, I guess I did.

Earned my hat and a burrito. Still waiting for the burrito.
Earned my hat and a burrito. Still waiting for the burrito.