Arrowhead 2020 Galleries and Racer Blogs
A good collection of photo galleries, articles, and blog posts.
Blog post by James Kiffmeyer, a biker.
Blog post by Travis Van Neste, a biker.
Blog post by Ben Zvan, a biker.
Blog post by Scott Waldrop, a runner.
Blog post by Bogie Dumitrescu, a runner.
Blog post by Amy Kippley, a biker.
Blog post by Nathan Marti, a runner.
Blog post by Cary Johnson, a runner.
Article about Neil Beltchenko, the winning male biker.
Photo gallery by Dave Markman.
Photo gallery by Amy Broadmoore. This gallery includes free, watermarked images.
Another gallery by Amy Broadmoore. This gallery includes images for sale.
Interesting collection of statistics from Christopher Tassava.
Album of all finishers below. Some notes:
- These are in picture time order, not finish order.
- Not all finishers had pics taken, sorry about that…
- If you would like full-sized versions of these, let me know (via Contact Us page).
2020 AH135 race report…
This winter season has been much different from the last two years, much less training, more beer drinking, skipped Tuscobia due to some medical concerns, pretty much dropped the ball as far as preparation for AH135, which I wouldn’t have recommended but somehow it never sunk in how much it was going to affect me. The run up was pretty standard fair, I didn’t change anything about my planning other than once again stepping back from unsupported, this year due to concerns about how my aortic stenosis would affect me. The gear I used was pretty much identical to last year, and I remember thinking during the first segment of the race that I probably wouldn’t even write a race report other than to mention about how straightforward it was this year, with mild weather and a pretty ride, and my only regret was dropping from unsupported. I kept kicking myself that first 72 miles, thinking I should have stayed unsupported, and I still think that to some degree.
At Gateway I ate warm food, but otherwise didn’t do much. My gear was dry, I felt fine, I just ate and moved on. Mel Georges is always great, though the foot path to get there was almost worse than riding the previous 72 miles. Pushing my bike through loose snow did bring me back to Actif Epica, though the distance was much less and thankfully the depth wasn’t too bad. I can just imagine doing arrowhead with the course in that condition, I know others have. Anyway, Mel George was great and I enjoyed the grilled cheese and soup while sorting my gear for the rest of the race. My gear was still dry, which goes back to the unsupported regrets, the main need for the checkpoints is drying gear, but if you are good at moisture management the checkpoints become simply a place to eat and relax. I spent a couple hours which seemed like a long time. I never can sleep there and I didn’t need to do much else, so I finally got restless and moved on.
The ride out of Mel Georges always feels like a fresh start. It begins with a long gradual climb, which warms you up for what’s to come. You are alert for the turn a couple miles in. (not the 1 mile they mention at the meeting, each year I mean to ask Ken if he says 1 mile just to mess with people and make them think they missed the turn) I felt fine and figured it would be a long but relatively uneventful night of fighting my way through the hills to Surly. Unfortunately about 15 miles from Mel Georges I started to feel the bonk coming on. It was like what happened at DaMN last summer, I felt like I was being regulated down by a restrictor. First I couldn’t keep my effort above a HR of 130, then 120, then 110, and then I just had nothing. Not sure what it was all about, other than a combination of lack of training and the aortic stenosis telling me I had reached the limit of what I could put out. By that point I was exactly half way between Mel George and Surly, and getting pretty depressed about my prospects. Those with more experience than me would have known instinctively what to do, and if someone had asked that question to me other than at that point I would have said the right answer, you just bivy down and recuperate. But just about that time I heard my phone ping with a text message and realized I had cell service, so I realized I could text Russ and mention I would drop if someone could get me, but I would keep going until they got to me.
While I mulled over that text, I finally came to the obvious realization that I should bivy, so I started looking for a spot. I knew I had passed a shelter a few miles back, so there wouldn’t be another shelter for quite a while. But I came to a place a snowmobile had driven off the path, which formed a nice spot to bivy. I set my bike down in the deep snow which held it up, and set up my bivy in the path of the snowmobile. It was tricky getting in, but I was surprised how fast it was, and soon I was warm and comfortable, gazing up at the trees and wondering why I had been so frazzled a few minutes prior.
I slept about 3 hours before waking up, and decided I should really get back to biking. So I packed up and headed out, feeling both rested and confident, running my HR up to 140s. Unfortunately my body decided that wasn’t allowed, and slowly drove me back, and within about 5 miles I was back down to bonk level. By then I had passed another shelter, so it was back to looking for a spot to bivy. I found another snowmobile track off the trail and made my second bivy of the night, this time a lot more confident, quickly getting to sleep. I woke up to Todd coming by in his snowmobile asking if I was ready for that ride I had texted for. I almost said yes, but he was headed to Mel Georges, and I just hated going in the “wrong” direction. I asked if he would be coming back this way, he said yes, so I said if I was still there when he got back I’d take the ride. I was comfortable in the bivy so why not either stay, or bike to Surly, I didn’t need a ride at that point.
About 15 minutes later I realized I was done sleeping and ready to go. I packed up, and was much wiser about starting off at a reasonable pace, even though I felt like I could motor away. Keeping my HR under 130 was very tough on the hills, but I took my time and was rewarded by my heart not telling me I was going to die. The trees were absolutely gorgeous, dressed with frost that was drifting down all over. When I finally reached Surly I was still feeling solid, so I skipped the teepee, added some warm water to my bottles, skipped the whiskey shot I was offered, and headed out. Not sure that was the best idea (skipping the teepee not the whiskey), but I was worried that if I started sitting down in the warm teepee I might just not ever get back on my bike.
The final 24 miles was so typical, every year it is just the same brutal experience. I’m wasted and want it to end, but at the same time it’s a relief to be on flat terrain and headed down the home stretch. But it just doesn’t end, it’s a relentless unending mile after mile of biking, trying to move quickly yet not bonk again. It felt so wrong biking at 130 HR at 6 mpg, when I knew the old me could have held a steady 10 mpg on those trails. But at that point I knew I was going to finish, and after assuming I wasn’t that was a relief. I finished around 3pm, for a total time of 32 hours, a lot more than the 24 hours I was hoping at the start of the day. I learned a lot more than I expected this year. I learned Arrowhead is worse without training than it is at -40. I learned the bivy was nothing to fear, like my good friend Steve says “freedom lies within the bivy”. And I learned I have grown a bit weak in my complacency. But I’m glad I once again lucked into a finish, this time by not being “rescued” when I foolishly tried to call for help, and instead gained experience I sorely needed. I still think back to going unsupported, realizing that if unsupported I would have bivied earlier and without hesitation. I would have gone even slower, and probably finished with much more satisfaction, or DNF knowing I tried. But I also can’t fault the decision to go supported given my heart condition, so I’ll just be satisfied and move on, hopefully finally conquering the unsupported version next year, though saying that is starting to get old…
So many people to thank! My wife Jodi for tolerating my crazy endeavors, Ken and Jackie for running such a great race, Russell for not saving me from a finish, Chris at New Moon Ski and Bike for getting my bike tuned up perfectly the week before the race, and Travis for being a wonderful friend and who crushed the unsupported version this year. I’ll miss all my Arrowhead family until next year, and loved spending time with you the past few days.
Arrowhead 135 2020 edition full report
I suck at facebook and “did it wrong” the first time…
…5:30 am Sunday morning… and this year’s edition of the Arrowhead 135 is off to a rocky start, since I needed to be up an hour ago in order to make my rendezvous with Woody Preacher in Tower. So first of all, an huge thanks to Thomas Thomas W. Hardy, who lives in International Falls and graciously provided transport from the finish line at Fortune Bay Casino in Tower to the start in International Falls, and for helping me get my stuff to gear check. I enjoy meeting him and chatting about the history and industry around International Falls. When I ask Thomas if he is taking part in the race this year, he laughs and describes himself as “more of a race fan” There is some mention of having made eye contact with the race director, Ken Kruger at the just the wrong time, and being involved in the race ever since. Thomas’ story is just the sort of thing that fuels my love of this race and the community that takes part in it, and getting a ride from him is just what I need, both as a matter of practicality, and to help me get into the mindset of being at the Arrowhead… to “set the table”, so to speak, for the annual feast of good friends, bikes, and cold weather high adventure that lies ahead.
For whatever reason, my excitement level for this year’s race took longer than usual to reach a full boil. I’m not sure if it was the temperatures of the last few years or what, but I just was not feeling it until final preparations were being made on Saturday. Once the sewing machine came out for a few last-minute gear modifications, food was prepared, and my bike loaded, the “stoke level” was back where it needed to be, and now I can’t wait to get started.
I’ve decided to try for an unsupported race again this year, after a disappointing DNF last year. Something about unfinished tasks eating away at me… The weather this year is predicted to be a balmy single digits to 15 or so above zero for the entire race… literally 40 to 50 degrees warmer than last year. The other big difference for me personally is that I actually get the best sleep I have ever had before any race, especially this one. I cannot say enough good things about what 9 hours of perfect, restorative sleep did for me. Getting to the hotel on Sunday with enough time before the prerace meeting to hang out with James Kiffmeyer, get bikes loaded up with gear and all squared away was absolutely huge. To come back from dinner and go to bed at 8:30, all clothes laid out and ready for the 5:30 am firedrill was the best race prep I have ever had. So, bright and early Monday morning it’s a quick ride into town and the now familiar scene of controlled chaos…Bikers rolling their loaded steeds to the line, runners towing sleds and skiers with huge packs doing the same. 150 of us in the starting area on the Arrowhead State Trail … our backs awash with the headlights of those behind, a confused sea of red blinking lights everywhere… a sea who’s current starts pushing towards Tower as the fireworks streak skyward, building speed even as they are starting to burst overhead.
The trail has been groomed and is very well set up. Almost like riding on a sidewalk with just the right amount of snow frozen to it. Slightly torn up from snowmobiles, but about a 3 foot wide strip of near perfection on both the left and right sides of the trail, and we all slip into an easy rolling paceline. The weather being cold enough for a nice solid trail, but not the dangerously cold temperatures that is normal in this region, is going to make for a great day, I can tell already. This year is going to be all about applying lessons learned from the past – the school of hard knocks, as it were. Every year I’m changing what I eat, how I’m loading my bike, managing moisture, dealing with boredom, etc. It all takes time to figure out.
I’m feeling great when I arrive at the Gateway Store. This year I can’t go inside to get warm / dry or eat any of the warm prepared food inside, so I just check in / out, and pirouette around the orange traffic cone in the parking lot that marks the turn around for the short out and back spur trail to the aid station (just a timing checkpoint for the unsupported racers). The trail to this point is mostly flat and the rolling hills are just starting to build. The rest of the way to Melgeorges Resort is an uneventful but beautiful romp through the rolling hills leading up to the Elephant Lake crossing. There is light snow occasionally and almost no wind. It looks like it has been that way for at least a few days, because the snow is stuck to absolutely everything and the woods are so beautiful. The trail is hard enough that the downhills are pretty fast. Have to be careful not to get carried away because there is the occasional soft spot, but with the lighter front end my bike is handling well. Even with really high tire pressure I hardly ever break through. In contrast to last year, I’m feeling better, going faster, and staying warmer / drier. Reasonable temperatures and a good night sleep are making all the difference. There is a short section of deep, ungroomed snow right before the Cedar Cabin at Melgeorges, which serves as a reminder that we take whatever the trail gives us. I’m grateful that this particular brand of fun is short lived as I push my bike up to the cabin.
Again unable to stay inside, and now pretty envious of the folks eating grilled cheese sandwiches and cajoling in the warm cabin, I stand outside in the driveway and munch on a few pieces of frozen chicken before getting into the real fun – the section between Melgeorges and the Surly Teepee is where it all happens. At this point last year, I was already looking for a place to get in my bivy sack and rest. I was absolutely exhausted and it was already dark. This time, it’s something like 4:30 pm and the miles feel like they are stacking up, but it’s a huge comfort to be feeling so much better than last year, and also to have a full understanding of what is ahead, unlike two years ago. My goal was to knock out as many of these hills as possible before dark, and they are getting checked off one by one. This is where loading of the bike is so important, and I can really feel a difference. I’m able to ride hills that I was walking up last year, and end up riding all except the ones that (I assume) no one rides up. Taking a lot of brief rests at the tops of some of these hills… stopping to grab a bite to eat or change batteries in my headlamp. I seem to be managing my water supply just the way that I intended. I wear two 1.5L water bladders on my back (so around 7 pounds) and carry another 1L in an insulated bottle strapped to one of my fork legs (almost 3 pounds including the container). With around 1/3 of the race to go, I still have my 1L reserve and my second water bladder is almost empty. In these hills, I am definitely not missing the extra weight, and that seems as good a way as any to measure my progress. This is the major thing with going unsupported – carrying enough water and food, and finding a way to keep it all from freezing, or else stopping to melt snow along the way, which is a time consuming and hypothermic affair best avoided. The colder it is, the harder all of that stuff is to manage.
I make it to mile 90 by about 8:00 pm… again, sharp contrast to last year, as this is the point that I was dropping last year at about 4:00 am. Another 24 miles to the Surly Teepee, and much more importantly, the end of the hills… although I have to say I’m feeling relatively good. Definitely redline heart rate at the top of each hill, but with the trail in this condition, you can really let it rip down the backside of these hills and sometimes carry enough momentum to make it halfway up the next, and at least that keeps things interesting. From here on out my frame of reference is my 2018 race. At this point in 2018 my GPS had died and I had no idea how far it was to Surly. My bike was overloaded with extra gear and I had my gearing set up too high because I had not paid any mind to the course’s vertical profile. The temperature that year was 40 below at this point in the race, and my moisture management had completely gone out the window. I was soaking wet and covered in ice and arrived at Surly exhausted and had to bivy. This year I arrive at Surly tired, but feeling great compared to two years ago. Again, I can’t go inside but unsupported racers are allowed to sit by the fire outside, and use it to cook or dry gear. I’m afraid if I sit down I’ll start to thaw and get wet, and then I will have to stay until I’m dry. My ice beard has been growing all day and now is a stalactite that almost reaches my chest. I resolve to get going… just as soon as I find my last bag of gummy bears. I managed to eat more “real food” this year until I got past Melgeorges, which I know is helping, but now I’m running on almost all sugar. Just a few more rolling hills past Surly and then the top of Wakemup Hill, basically the last hill of the course. 19 or so of the last 24 miles is flat flat flat, which is a welcome change, but demoralizing in its own way. For me, 24 miles at his point in the race is over 3 hours. I’m sort of in this constant state of shaking my head at myself that this is as fast as I can go. Like those dreams where everyone else is running fast and I am running in slow motion. Can’t keep my eyes off the “distance to destination” ticking away, which gets even worse with less that 10 miles to go, because then it starts displaying the miles with 2 decimal places. Distance to destination: 8.98 miles…. Distance to destination: 8.97 miles…. (what seems like an hour later… Distance to destination: 8.95 miles). For those that think you cannot fall asleep while riding a bike… believe me, it’s a thing. I take some small comfort in the fact that some of the tracks I am following have the telltale signs too… the course is in good condition, so there isn’t really any other explanation for the weaving back and forth of the tire tracks, sometimes with a sharp correction where they must have woken up… maybe even a few footprints trying to shake things off…then back to nice and straight again for a few hundred feet until the weaving starts again. I keep having to get off and walk in an attempt to stay awake. It’s so frustrating because I’ve got more in my legs, but the tiredness is filling every part of my soul. No amount of loud music, sugar intake, or proximity to the finish is doing the trick to spur me on to the finish line any faster. Cycling through my mind anything that might typically give me insomnia… taxes, uncompleted work tasks, unpaid bills… nothing is working. With 5 miles to go I’m dry heaving over the handlebars, but I’m running on empty and don’t have the energy to even be productive in that effort. I try to take that as a good sign that everything I’ve been eating all day has actually been going somewhere. With three miles to go I got passed by the first place skier… turns out he smashed the course record by over an hour! About the time I’m about to slip into complete despair the orange snowfence comes into view… the first indication that the finish line is yards away. Around the corner is the finish line tent, volunteers peering hopefully down the trail into the darkness, clipboards in hand, ringing cowbells and cheering from the top of the hill that seems so huge right now and will seem so insignificant tomorrow in the light of day. One last burst up the hill, heart racing… this time from both the effort and the anticipation of the now-familiar flood of emotions that I know will overtake me as I roll to the line… and here it comes… that physical boundary where all the preparation, lessons learned, past successes, and especially past failures get left on THAT side of the line, and for just a few minutes, there is nothing but the moment on THIS side of the line. Why do we do these things?… rebirth, man.
For those interested in numbers, looks like there were 78 bikers this year. 72 finishers (which is a very high finisher rate for this race). I finished 22nd in category, 9th of 14 unsupported finishers. 21 hours, 7 minutes.
“In or out?”, I ask Jeff Rock as I go through the keep toss decisions for items in my sled bag that are over and above the required gear. “It’s better to have it with you than wish you did” he quips. It’s the night before the January 2020 Arrowhead 135 mile race on bike, ski, or foot that starts at 7 a.m. in International Falls, Minnesota and ends near Tower at the Fortune Bay Casino on Lake Vermillion with a cutoff of 60 hours. Jeff is an Arrowhead veteran about to make his seventh start and because of significant knee issues, he’ll be skiing this year instead of going on foot. The marine in him won’t let him take a pass on getting to the starting line. Arrowhead seems to be one of those really difficult events that pulls hard on the soul to keep coming back for more. Being a rookie for this race, I set aside some clothes and an extra pair of shoes I’m thinking I won’t need, but will wait until morning to make a final plan. With only three checkpoints including a single drop point for food only, I better have what I need in my sled. A simple mistake or a seemingly small problem could ultimately end my race. It is also why there is a clear distinction between veterans and rookies at Arrowhead.
The next morning as thoughts of all the things that might happen go through my head, I add the rookie indecision pile to the sled bag – a few extra pounds in the sled I’ll be pulling for 135 miles doesn’t seem like much at the moment. The forecast doesn’t look threatening, nothing like one year back when the polar vortex had temperatures below minus 40, but never fully trust a forecast in northern Minnesota. With a late January start on the Minnesota Canadian border, the somewhat sinister goal is to maximize the likelihood of an arctic chill and maybe high winds with a bonus of fresh snow to slowly wear you down to nothing. Arrowhead has a well deserved reputation and I hope all the training and preparation are enough to get me to the finish.
We hit the start area just before the race begins. I walk out of the check-in only minutes before the fireworks go off indicating it’s show time. I scramble to make some final adjustments, get my red LED lights front and back blinking, which they must do 24/7 for the duration of the race, and join the pack when they “release the hounds” as the competitors on foot cross the starting line behind those on bike and then skis. Since we will be on the Arrowhead Snowmobile Trail, the lights are mandatory and intended to prevent competitors from being taken out by a snowmobile.
The first section out of International Falls is relatively flat and everyone settles into a strong steady pace. I await John Storkamp, four time winner in his 15th Arrowhead, who traditionally competes with Chris Scotch to see who can start last before taking the trail in his fast and efficient power hike that allows him to work his way towards the front group rather quickly. I hear John’s voice as he approaches and says “you look like an Arrowhead veteran.” He is very kind! He also gave me the opportunity to pick his brain over dinner back in November and that really helped me dial in my logistics and a general race plan. Each year at Arrowhead can be a whole new experience so being prepared to adapt to what mother nature brings is an essential element. I chat with Ben Trok of Duluth who is also doing his first Arrowhead and already sporting a nice frosty beard. I share with him the general pace stats for each section as he had only done some rough calculations on overall pace. A couple minutes later, his speed picks up considerably, possibly after learning we have been traveling just a bit faster than median pace, and before long he is out of view and off towards a great finish.
There is now a light snow coming down and, with very little wind, the northern woods is how I always like to envision it with the falling white flakes backed by a green wall of spruce and balsam fir intermixed with birch and aspen. With such positive thoughts, it must be early in the race!
I enter a section where the snowmobile trail becomes dual purpose with a temporary winter logging road on the left and snowmobile trail on the right. It isn’t terrible, but the footing is a little frustrating not being able to pick a consistent line for the sled. Those who did the race with plenty of fresh snow in years past likely don’t notice the minor inconvenience. “Didn’t even need to pull out the showshoes,” they might say. I do have snowshoes in my sled in the event they are needed.
At 5:15 p.m. with the light starting to fade, I arrive at the first checkpoint at the Gateway Store feeling the 36.8 miles in my legs, but pretty good overall. I immediately hit the chili and grab a cup of coffee. It still feels great to get off the feet and have warm food and drink. After refilling my water in the store sink, I venture out into what is now the dark night with headlamp shining bright. Less than 100 miles to go.
I begin to encounter occasional hills as I settle in for the 35 mile haul through the night and jockey back and forth with various other folks before eventually syncing up with Terry Fletcher from Milwaukee. He is doing the race with his brother who is not far behind us. We settle into a good pace with similar energy levels and stay together for a couple hours. My energy level fades just before we hit the one mile Elephant Lake crossing, but being so close to checkpoint, I go silent, dig deeper and hang with Terry to the Mel Georges resort on the opposite shore where we arrive still in darkness at 6 am. It is a very welcome site with a number of sleds parked outside the cabin.
Once inside I sit down and the wonderful volunteers bless me with a bowl of soup, grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of chocolate milk. I’m totally exhausted so sitting in this warm cabin having a good meal with 71 miles behind me is beyond awesome! The cabin is busy with competitors coming and going and the volunteers busily tending to their needs. Most try to get some rest here and there are a few beds and floor space in the loft of the cabin. I am fortunate and find an open bed, set my phone alarm for 2 hours and crash pretty quickly. I awake after an hour and a half and don’t feel like I’m going to get back to sleep so get up, tape up a toe that’s started to annoy me, refill water, eat a very tasty donut with another cup of coffee and say good bye to what is easily the coziest part of this Arrowhead race. I understand why this can be a common drop point.
I feel relatively refreshed leaving Mel Georges at 9 a.m., relatively being the key word, as day two of my race unfolds. It’s a good thing as I have the difficult 40 mile stretch to the Surly checkpoint. These long stretches of wilderness with no support, most of it alone, are a big part of what drew me to Arrowhead. Hopes are you planned well for what might unfold in your race and are actually able to execute that plan when the body and mind are being pushed to new limits. That can be a challenge in this winter wonderland. The wolves have not yet serenaded me. I wish they would – that would be extra special. They are clever and remain hidden though I wonder if they are watching. I would gladly give them my remaining beef sticks as they taste horrible now and I can’t even force one down.
I have heard about the big hills to come somewhere before the 100 mile mark and ready my mind for the inevitable up, down, up, down on endless repeat. I meet up with Terry’s brother Jessie and we also spend a couple hours together on the trail and eventually enter the hilliest section of the race. I start this endless hill section with a bit of energy, but each hill takes an incremental toll on my body and mind. At each hill I sarcastically tell myself out loud “oh good, another hill, just what I was hoping for.” The hills are where the sled really makes an appearance and these were fairly long and steep. I try to never stop in the middle of a hill and shut my brain off until my legs have me at the top and the quads are burning. The flip side is I was getting very adept at sledding the downhills. My shoddy steering from yesterday is transformed into a finely tuned system that maximizes trail distance while sitting on my gear bag. It does get hard to just stand up from the sled at the bottom of a hill as the body still vividly remembers the last climb. When I appear to be through the worst of the hills and the terrain starts to level out, I assess the situation and contemplate a short stop at the last check point a few miles ahead, maybe slam some caffeine pills, and head for the finish 24 miles away. Funny how fast things can change. In those last few relatively flat miles into Surly, I start to drag to a new low point and my earlier plan is unraveling quickly. Physical fatigue and sleep deprivation are getting strong footing in my mind. I am absolutely dead on my feet.
I hit the mandatory Surly check-in at 111 miles just after midnight and make my way into the tent with a very inviting wood stove where I park a chair as close as possible to the warmth while I collect my thoughts. Continuing on without a rest doesn’t seem like an option and a bivvy in the sleeping bag is winning out. I arrived at Surly with another runner who had pushed through this checkpoint last year and that experience also had him leaning towards a bivvy. After a 15 minute zombie stare at the wood stove knowing competitors are disqualified if they try to sleep in the tent, I venture out and down the trail a bit to an area cleared of deep snow where I could spread out my pad, bivvy sack, and sleeping bag. I crawl in and set my alarm for an hour and a half later.
I admit to hitting snooze once not wanting to leave the undeniable comfort of my sleeping bag, but ultimately crawl out, repack my sled, tape a couple more toes that are in pretty rough shape, fill my water bladder and head toward the finish. This rest did not rejuvenate me like Mel Georges, but I’m fairly sure it prevented the wheels from coming completely off had I tried to push through. In warmer weather, there would be little risk in continuing on as you can simply crash when you need to. On a cold winter night the rules are much different. Though saturated with fatigue, I am moving and at least feel awake. For me, it was the right decision.
My thoughts get really dark halfway through the last stretch. “I never want to race again – not any distance! Why would anyone ever want to do this type of thing? This is a game of fools!”. Here I am on flat ground with the sled gliding nicely and each step is a major effort. I am still trying to keep hydrating and filling my stomach with Reeses, chocolate chip cookies, mixed nuts, and other junk food to maintain a minimum level of much needed calories. I did have to quit the beef sticks yesterday. Hard to believe Reeses are now hard to choke down and for sure I am eating less than yesterday. Because of that, I am also having trouble keeping my hands warm without using the big mits. I’ve also added an extra jacket.
With about eight miles to go and having only passed one runner since Surly, I round the corner to another competitor and sled in the distance. As I approach I can see it is Bonnie Busch who not only has finished Arrowhead twice before, she has also finished Badwater four times not to mention a very long list of other tough ultras. Someone is at the race filming her. She is in high spirits and we compare estimates on miles to the finish. “Is there anything you need” she asks. It is a statement of the comradery that exists in the ultra world. Bonnie had gone 127 hard earned miles over two days and two nights and was still reaching out to help a fellow competitor. I feed off her positive energy and suddenly have a new mental reservoir to draw on. I pick up my pace and become determined to close the eight miles. The pain is certainly there, but not substantially changed by pushing a bit harder. I contemplate all that I have sacrificed in training and in the race to this point – what a journey. My first, second, and third goals were to finish and the odds are looking to be in my favor.
Eventually I can see the Fortune Bay Casino and approach a couple guys who instruct me on the path around to the back and the finish. I make my way up the last rise and humbly cross the line and come to a stop. 135 miles for me and my sled in 52 hours and 10 minutes well ahead of the 60 hour cutoff. That put me at 33rd out of the 71 who started on foot. 66% of the starters finished. Race directors Ken and Jackie Krueger have pulled off another great race with many more individual Arrowhead stories to be told and retold in the years to come.
For the veterans this may go down as a year mother nature didn’t unleash her biggest punches of 40 below zero temperatures or heavy snowfall often reserved for this race, but there are no easy years. Arrowhead has been ranked one of the 50 toughest races in the world. In the best of conditions, Arrowhead is a very tough race and an event that really challenges the body and mind to push well past the normal barriers that exist in our day to day life. I feel I have done that. The long term finishing rate on foot is around 44% so just signing up is no guarantee of anything other than the opportunity to engage in a lengthy and mostly solitary battle with a Minnesota winter and your own will to persevere.