Someone said "The first time you do something, you carry all your insecurities with you." That's fairly close. At Tuscobia 75, two times I carried far more than ever used, particularly in clothing and food. The furthest distance between checkpoints at Tuscobia was 35 miles. At Arrowhead, it is roughly 45 miles between mile 70 Mel Georges resort and a nondescript warming tent....somewhere around 110 to 115 miles. You can get warm water at 115 miles. No resupply between 70 miles and 135 mile finish. That's a haul.
My feet got a bit warm at Tuscobia. It started subzero, and got into the twenties. I wore too much on my feet. Keeping the feet warm was a bit of obsession from last year. This time, it worked a bit too well. Shoes over wool sock, liner socks and neoprene overboots, with microspikes on the outside. Probably would be ok for a cold Arrowhead. A little overkill for temperatues above zero.
Went shopping for new shoes, at the end of the winter season. Everyone buys before the first of the year. And I have big size 13 feet. This makes winter Goretex trail shoes of a particular type hard to find. I settled on two pairs. A Saucony Xodus low rise, conventional height trail shoe, and a Salomon mid height hiker. Bought some gaiters as well, as many runners seem to prefer a low rise shoe and gaiters for a snowmobile trail, few inches of snow combination.
Not a lot of training to be had between the end of Tuscobia at the first of January and getting ready for Arrowhead at the end of January 2015. Recovery from one event runs into the prep for the next. Continued weekend long runs in the snow, with a lot of pulling tire and sled. The uphill treadmill walk. Lifting, albeit in moderation, mostly body weight. Sled dog walking.
Left with Bonnie and her husband to on the Friday before a Monday morning Arrowhead start. It's about a 11 hour drive to beautiful International Falls, aka Frostbite Falls (remember Rocky and Bullwinkle?). Stayed three nights over before the race, even visiting Canada for lunch on Saturday. Border patrol didn't believe the unlikely story about pulling sleds for 135 miles across northern Minnesota. Got the full vehicle search treatment, but the benches were heated and the Canadians faithfully re-packed the bags and sleds. Lunch wasn't all that wonderful.
Race check-in was Saturday at a converted high school community center. These small town ultras always seem to get the old high school for check-in. Gear check was no joke, a serious business. The laundry list of required items is lengthy. Minnesota DNR allows the permit for race across public land using snow mobile trails with some caveats. Racers are supposed to be self sufficient for days on end. "Describe your winter outdoor experience" is an essay question on the application. Apply to be selected is a good way of weeding out the un-prepared. Still, a finish rate of about 30% among runners gives a
sense of the difficulty. It's not the high level of fitness. These are commonplace among ultra runners. It's combining fitness with organization skills, and a willingness to be alone and uncomfortable for days.
Runners are the minority of Arrowhead starters, numbering perhaps 150. Most are cyclists, who will be done in a day or a little longer. Fat bikes are the norm, loaded with as much gear as we pull on the sled. Bike finish at nearly twice the rate of runners, perhaps 60% on average over a decade. 2015 Arrowhead would be a better than average year with mild weather.
Race Director Ken and Jackie Kruger make the Arrowhead experience, taking names and doing check-in. Saw Ken on the course near the end, but I get ahead of the story. Small town races benefit local charities, bring economic activity and have a feel that I wouldn't trade for any big city anonymous crowd marathon.
Temperatures for Arrowhead were forecast in the teens and twenties, which are above normal for Frostbite Falls in late January. International Falls small claim to fame is as the icebox of the nation, having some of the coldest regular temperatures in the lower 48. Average temps are around zero, slightly above or below. All time low is -40 deg F "officially". Arrowhead 2014 included overnight temps in the -30's. We weren't unhappy that 2015 was warmer. Exceptionally warmer.
Pre-race included a Saturday night film "Into the Wild" about a previous year's race, which included many familiar faces in the crowd. Something odd about starting out a race with a film about how ungodly cold and awful past years had been.
At the pre-race dinner Sunday night, I happened to win one helluva door prize. I am the proud owner of a Black River Sleds Arrowhead Racing Toboggan. It was the big giveaway, and was a good omen of things to come.
Continued in Part 3.