Arrowhead 135

The craziest ultramarathon no one is writing about is winding its way down today, almost 60 hours after its start (as of the timing of this post). The Arrowhead 135 is a biking/skiing/running race along the Arrowhead State Trail, a snowmobile trail from International Falls, MN to Tower, MN. When I am listening to the radio in the morning and they are giving the current temperatures in the region, the coldest temperature is almost always in Tower. And it’s probably that even colder than that in International Falls, but it’s outside of the broadcasting area. So that tells you something about this race. This year it was positively tropical, about 50 degrees warmer this year than last year. And the race still happened. Think about that.

There’s almost no coverage of this race on any of the normal running sites I read (which are trail/ultra sites, so I expected to see something), and I’m not sure why. There aren’t any big names running in this race, of course, so that’s one reason. It’s also not solely a running race, so maybe that plays into the lack of coverage by running sites? A large proportion of those completing the race are runners, so I don’t see that as an explanation.

I don’t know why every ultrarunner ever doesn’t do this race. Look at the finisher’s award:

This photo is from the Arrowhead Ultra Facebook page.

And the race shirt is so metal I can’t stand it.

This photo is from the Arrowhead Ultra Facebook page.

Sick. This race is on my bucket list. Eventually. Because remember, one day I am going to be a fast, strong runner who will be able to complete races like this. I don’t think I could handle it in the typical conditions, but I suppose I could just keep entering and DNSing until another winter like this one came along. (No, I would not do that, it would be really obnoxious to take someone else’s spot.) Or I could learn to suck it up.

This year’s running winner completed the race in 34 hours and 20 minutes, which was a new course record. He has a blog and I hope he’ll do a race report I can link to. It’s in Swedish but with Google translate I am sure we can get the gist of it. He also finished ahead of 22 bikers (23, probably, there is one guy still on the course) and all of the cross-country skiers (only 2 skiers have finished at this point, one is still out on the course, and the fourth skier dropped. I think the conditions are kinda crappy for them.)

This race isn’t like most ultramarathons I’ve read about (I like to read race recaps!) Most ultras are, of course, not held in sub-zero conditions. No pacers or crews are allowed in this race, and there are only 3 checkpoints. There aren’t aid stations full of M&Ms and salted potatoes every 7-10 miles. Competitors are also required to carry a whole bunch of stuff, although that is not unique to this race, I think most multi-day races make runners carry certain types of gear. Here is the gear list, straight from the race’s website:

  • Minus-20F degrees sleeping bag or colder rating. Colder than -20F almost all previous races. If you skimp here you are foolish. And we will not allow you to skimp. So do not skimp. Fool. 2011 it was -42F on trail.
  • Insulated sleeping pad.
  • Bivy sack or tent (space blankets/tarps do not count).
  • Firestarter (matches or lighter).
  • Stove.
  • 8 fl. oz. fuel at ALL times (either gas, alcohol or 2 canisters of propane/butane 100 g. each or 12 Esbit tablets).
  • Pot (min. volume is 1 pint)
  • 2-qt (64 fl. oz.) or just under 2 litres, insulated water container. (Yes, Camelbacks count)
  • Headlamp or flashlight. Suggest minimum ~100 lumen good for 12 hours/bike or 20 hours on ski/foot. Bring a spare, the cold eats batteries.
  • Flashing red LED lights, both on front and back of sled or bike (or on backpack if skier). Everyone have at least 10 square inches of reflective material on front and back of the person for this race. Two lights total are required, one on the front of the bike, sled or racer (runner or skier with backpack), one on the back of the bike, sled or racer (runner or skier with backpack). Each red blinky light must be easily visible, don’t skimp here and buy a cheap blinky that we can’t see.. Keep ON ALL THE TIME. HIGHLY IMPORTANT….THIS MAY WELL PREVENT YOU FROM BEING HOOD ORNAMENT ON LARGE FAST-MOVING SNOWMACHINEs.
  • Whistle on string around neck to call for help, because your mouth is too numb to yell.
  • 1-day food ALL times (3000 calories) (tip: pound of butter or jar of peanut bar 3200 calories).
  • You will be given 2 bibs. We must be able to see your bib number on the front of your body (outer layer) at all times!!! Post the 2nd bib where it is easily visible.

Basically this is telling me I will die on this course, should I attempt to run it. And I will die alone, because the race directors want to “maximize solitude.” But what a way to go. Trampled by a moose. Eaten by a wolf. Freezing to death in a stoic, dignified pose. Flattened by a rogue snowmobiler. Murdered by Canadian drug lords. Sign me up.

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