Friday, February 3, 2017

Arrowhead 135 Race Report - Fueled by Irrational Fears and Junk Food

Earlier this month i finished the Tuscobia 160 Mile ultra. That report was gear-centric. This week i completed the Arrowhead 135 Mile race in International Falls Minnesota.  This report will focus more on the mental and nutritional aspects of winter races.

Photo credit Scott Rokis

Sidenote: I am attempting a "slam" of three races in one year.  Tuscobia 160, Arrowhead 135 and Actif Epica 120 KM.  If you complete the three in one year you are entered into the "Order of the Hrimthurs"  Only three people have ever done all three on foot in one year.  


Arrowhead is generally referred to as one of the hardest foot races period.  It starts in the "IceBox of America" International Falls, MN. Like Tuscobia, runners (you can bike or ski as well) are unsupported, no crew or pacers. Runners are allowed 1 drop bag of food.  The only other gear you get to have is on your sled (pulk) which you pull behind you.  My sled weighed about 30 pounds.  i had much of the same things i had from Tuscobia.  There is a store you check into at mile 35. A cabin at 70.  A tent on the side of the trail at 110 and very little other than trees, hills and snow in between.  You are given 60 hours to finish.  Usually less than half of the starters finish.

Photo Credit Thomas Woods

Race Plan

My strategy was to try to get to 35 in 10 hours. Get to 70 in 25 hours. And then take it easy the rest of the way, finishing before the cutoff. I was going to run with my friend Tim again at least until halfway unless one of us was holding the other up.  My "reach" goal was to finish in 55 hours, and not be chasing cutoffs.  Last year I quit around mile 50.  Excuse, sheer gutlessness. 


Although I have been eating NSNG (No sugar no grains) I loaded about 10,000 calories on my sled and drop bag of bad food.  Gells/Waffles, Lara Bars, Reeces Cups, Pringles, Trail Mixes, Mixed Nuts and then, just for fun because they weigh nothing, a large bag of cheetoes (regular, not puffs).  My goals to cram 200-500 calories into my mouth per hour, no matter what.  When I wasn't hungry or it made me sick, I ate it anyway saying, out loud, "It's medicine."

The Race

Tim and I started strong and hammered the first section to Gateway.  We were even under 15 minute miles for some of the time and I was impressed with our progress.  It was in the 10's to start reaching the 20s, so warmish and snowing.  The trail was nice and we ran into many old and new friends.  We got to Gateway around 10 hours and I was thrilled.  We took a rather long stop because I had feet issues to cure and I really wanted to eat some warm food while I could.  I had a hot dog, a sloppy joe, chicken tenders and two cokes.  I also bought another bag of cheetoes (puffs), Twinkies (no idea why) and more cokes and a red bull for the sled.  (This is totally grossing me out as I write it).

Over the next 35 mile section something happened to Tim.  He started slowing.  Then he puked.   Like 500 times in a row.  This was bad.  Without food and water this race is impossible.  Dehydration causes cold.  Lack of food causes the sleepies.  I knew we were in trouble.  After several discussions he told me to leave and that he was going to "bivy" (camp on the side of the trail) and try to "unfuck himself."  I didn't think there was a good chance of that by the looks of him and I was sad.  Tim was in the slam with me.  We were really pushing and I thought a couple times that I was going to be holding him back.  This was a big shock.  I became lonely and all in my own head, which is a bad place to be.  I got out my coke and put it within my gortex jacket to thaw it out.  I also got out a large bag of cheetoes.  New nutrition strategy....every 5 miles, 10% of the coke and 10% of the cheetoes and 8 gulps of water.  Why 8?  Who knows?  Things aren't really making sense.  At this point I could hear packs of wolves howling everywhere.  That's interesting.  Creepy.

Ski Pulk - Photo credit Scott Rokis

Also, Tim was worried about a long lake crossing.  The idea of running on a frozen lake probably doesn't scare many people but for some reason it really scared Tim.  I wasn't thinking about whether it scared me because I was going to enjoy scaring and laughing at him.  Now, alone, on my own, going across the frozen lake without a person in sight, seeing all those tracks, and hearing the cracking noises I got really scared.  I called my wife and just asked her to talk to me.  My god.  I was so scared.  It made no sense in retrospect.  :)

I got to Melgeorges (mile 70ish) at 24 hours (ahead of my plan) and people basically laughed at me for being scared of the lake.  I ate a grilled cheese sandwich and some soup, served by Kari's sweet mom :) and changed my socks.  I refilled my coke, which had become a main source of happiness on the trail, stored in my inner pocket and swigged each 10K while I pounded more cheetoes.  My feet were BAD.  But you know what, I knew that was going to happen when I signed up, so I crammed them in my shoes again and pushed off.

The next section was the scary lonely hilly section.  I didn't see any people the entire time, it was snowing in my face and the hills were crazy, extra crazy with a 30 pound sled on your back.  Then there was the sledding down the hills which I was adamantly opposed to prior to this race.  Now I was sledding everything with reckless abandon.  Taking chances.  At many points completely unaware of my path.  I started to have a little fun in between the hills that I hated.  These hills weren't extreme by any means, but with the sled, over and over.  At some point I just decided that it was never going to end, it was going to be hill after hill and, well, whatever.  I turned into a cheetoe eating coke drinking zombie.

Photo credit - Eric Bloomquist

Those Twinkies came into play around mile 100.  They were slightly frozen.  I haven't had a Twinkie in a very long time.  They were, glorious.

I hit the last checkpoint at Ski Pulk (mile 110) around 11:00.  My plan was to leave by midnight so I would have 19 hours to go 22ish miles.  I would finally feel like the race is in the bag and I will finish.  I took off my wet shoes and tried to dry my socks and nothing was helping.  In fact, my feet felt like frozen blocks of ice and my shoes were freezing up.  I was really scared I was going to get frostbite.  Eric and Tim saw me at Ski Pulk and got me moving.  I actually left before midnight.  My feet and shoes warmed up a bit once I got moving but I was worried because everything was wet and the temps were dropping to below zero and this seemed like the perfect cocktail for frostbite.

Sidenote: I know nothing about frostbite.  I've never had it, never read about it.  I really have just seen scary pictures.  On a scale of 1-10 my knowledge of frostbite was equal to my knowledge of frozen lakes.  0.

Photo Credit Burgess Eberhardt

So pulled my last coke and bag of Cheetos (if something is working and you are eating why change, right?) and all I can think about is frostbite.  Over and over again.  So I called my wife and she googled it.  We decided I could change my socks, but that might do little with the wet shoes.  At the end of the day I came to the decision that my best course of action was to start running.  To get to the finish ASAP and then they would take off my boots and my feet would be black and blue and I'd need an ambulance to the hospital, but I'd still be in the slam so whatever, right?

Sidenote: I didn't sleep during this race at all.  I took a 5 hour energy and two caffeine pills.  I hallucinated most of the last 24 hours but after Tuscobia I was used to that. My initial reaction to everything, real or imagined was "that's not real."

So I cranked up the tunes (hip hop) and did the Cheeto/coke thing running every other song.  I was scared, miserable and in a complete state of panic.  All I though about over those last 15 miles was frostbite.  I pushed as hard as I could.

Sidenote: I did the first half in 24:01; the second half in 24:09.  Weird!!

When I finally finished I wasn't happy.  I just needed to know if I had frostbite.  I didn't, of course.  Just some really gross blisters.  It was all irrational.  Maybe my mind needed an excuse to make me run.  Maybe I did.  Maybe I just had more in the tank and needed an excuse to use it.  Or maybe I'm a wack job crazy person junk food addict.  Either way, at 7:13 I crossed the finish line to finish in 48:09:00 in 13th place.

There is so much more I could say and so many stories to tell and people to thank.  But I need to thank the Kruegers, Sue Lucas, Tim Kruse, Eric Bloomquist and most of all my wife Kylia who took my phone calls and never once accused me of being insane.

I guess anything is possible.