On my second attempt, I managed to complete the Arrowhead 135 Ultra. Below are my thoughts posted during the race, where I finished 16th overall among those running the frigid course. There were also competitors on bikes and skis.
Originally posted at the DailyMile:
Arrowhead Stage 1 – 73 mi – 27:30 – 22:36 pace
The first section went pretty well. I managed to average 3.5 mph, which isn’t fast but is what I wanted to do. Pretty warm out. I went to shorts and long sleeves around 23 miles. I was pretty cold by the time I made Gateway though, probably 17 degrees out by then. Section 1 is the easiest in terms of the course; 2 & 3 are all up and down.
Re-tooling & back out in 25.
International Falls to Melgorges Resort-checkpoint 2 – 73 miles – 27:45
Slept for 2.5 on the trail & that was a game changer. Got 60 to go, time’s still an ally. Big day in northern Minnesota. We’re racing today!
Arrowhead Stage 2 – 27 mi 12:00 26:40 pace
I’m just shotgun blasting these to get caught up. It felt great to get into and through CheckPoint 2 at Melgorges Resort after that long, long crossing from Gateway Store-CheckPoint 1 at 37 miles. The course really gets difficult in this traverse with short hill after short hill; repeatedly hauling 45 lbs of sled uphill, then pell-mell out-running “Bastard Sled” down the far side of the hill. I had the best cup of coffee, grilled cheese sandwich, and bean soup in my life at Melgorges, recharged, and got out and moving at about 12:30 p.m.
Arrowhead Stage 3 – 35 mi 16:14 27:49 pace
3rd and final section of the Arrowhead Ultra: miles 100 through 135.
73 to 100 miles was a tough 12 hours. I was still moving well from just after noon when I started right up to midnight when I knew I needed a second block of sleep to get some recuperation going, so I slept another 2-2.5 hours at the Shelter right at Mile 99/100. I found Lee Peyton and Steve Ansell in the shelter, but my snoring must have driven them out as they were gone when I awoke at 1:30 a.m.!
The miles leading up to 100 were tough, too; lots of up and down. Again, no monster climbs, just steep up and steep down-haul that sled . . . OUTRUN that sled . . . Lee and Steve were literally the first 2 people I saw since the access road to Melgorges at around 4 p.m. the afternoon prior, other than 2 civilian snowmobilers wheeling by at 6 p.m., and then Todd Gabrielson and his partner on the Snowbile rescue team with Arrowhead that stopped to check me out around 11:45 p.m.
Lot’s of quiet time in the great northern woods on the Arrowhead trail. A constant, really fine light snow. I saw coyote tracks running along the edge of the trail for about 2 miles, and also what I took to be wolf tracks crossing the trail around mile 90.
The coolest thing I saw the whole race, other than THE FINISH LINE, was the Lynx that ran right across the trail in front of me around mile 96. She (not tall, guessing female) bounded soundlessly across the trail from left to right not 18 feet ahead of me, well within my clear sphere of headlamp. A bright white ball of fur, huge pointed ears, big feet, glowing eyeballs. I’ve seen bobcats in the wild (had a really interesting experience in that regard in the woods on FT Polk in May 2008 – I digress), but this Lynx was maybe the coolest creature I’ve ever seen.
It was awesome to get out of the shelter and get rolling again. I felt better than I thought I had a right to feel, although I was cold and stiff from sleeping in the sleeping bag; it wasn’t cold by average Arrowhead standards, but still in the single digits and I was stiff. But I got going and pushed hard for Checkpoint 3 at Tepee at 111 miles. I ran hard every downhill, pushed hard on the flat and kept pulling hard on the uphills.
I noted and ran right past where I had dropped out and DNF’ed at Mile 102 in 2010 (STUPID, STUPID, STUPID) and kept rolling. I ended up catching and clearing 6-8 runners who must have passed me while I slept. I just felt very good and kept going as I knew that when I cleared 111 miles, the course had flattened and the hard, middle 65-70 miles of hills were over.
CheckPoint 111 had a couple of dudes, a clipboard, hot chocolate, and water. Drank the hot chocloate and moved. After Mile 111 there were another couple of miles of hills that culminated in the highest point of the trail at 112 on Wakemup Mountain/Hill. Pretty steep at that point. I was sure a 150-pound wolf must have been hitching a ride on my sled up that beast, but I didn’t see him when I kept looking back. Flowed down the hill to pass Crescent Bar and Grill at 114 miles – the last marked weigh point on the way to Fortune Bay. My Garmin was long past dead, so I could only try to figure points on the trail in distance against time to try to understand where I was on the trail. I ended up catching and passing Alyssa and Carles around 120, still traveling together. Alyssa would finish as first female around 56 hours in her third attempt at Arrowhead after coming up short in 2010 and 2011. That is guts. I wasn’t coming back if I didn’t make it this year.
The last 21 miles were a mindnumbing traverse through Taiga-type northern Minnesota woods for mile after mile after mile of scrub/scruff pine with really long sections where you could see way forward and way backward. This. Got. Long. I was pleased because I knew I would finish, but it was trying to turn into a trail of pity. I knew it would take me between 7-8 hours on this section, tried to stay strong and just kept trudging. I actually got a jolt of adrenalin and motivation when young Ben Clark (21, 3rd Arrowhead attempt) caught and passed me around Mile 117-118. He was trotting; I started trotting. It wasn’t simple as this tack was mostly upgrade. We kept passing each other for a few miles, and Ben finally dropped me like an old dog around 128. Great young man, remarkable. Told him so at Fortune Bay when I finally caught up to him in the finsh room.
Bonked hard at 129 but kept going and finally finished at 55:14, very relieved to see the finish line.
Arrowhead 135 Ultra