Photo Credit, Greg Ames.
This was a day I'd been looking forward to for a year. Last year at -30F I got cold feet, well, actually frostbit feet 12 hrs. and 72 miles into the race.
This year I needed to avenge my poor decision not to change my wet socks at the first checkpoint.
Most all the racers want the conditions for the AHU135 to be cold, bitterly and brutally cold. If you're going to try to conquer one of the toughest 50 races on the planet it needs to actually be tough, doesn't it? For the Arrowhead, that means the cold.
Well, I can't control the weather so I take what's handed to me and go from there.
At the gear checkout this year former Race Director, Bike Division multiple winner and former Course Record holder, Dave "The Legend" Pramann pulled me aside and after gently putting his arm around my shoulders asked me my age. After I responded 59 he stated he was a bit concerned he wasn't the "fastest old guy anymore". We chuckled a bit and he stated "well, I don't have all that carbon stuff on my bike" to which I responded with a wink, "it doesn't make any difference Dave, don't bother with it".
With that, the race within the race began.
Dave had undergone back surgery the past summer but then I had busted my clavicle, 5 ribs and punctured a lung the end of July....
The weather was looking a bit interesting. The temps were to be warm in the 20F range and snow was predicted....could we have another 2013 race that had 6,8,10" or more of snow fall during it that just about shut-down every racer whether it was on bikes, foot or even skis?
The first thing I did when I awoke at the Voyageur Motel Monday at 5 AM was to look out the window. Yes it had snowed, looked to be about 2-3". Shouldn't be too much of a problem, but the trail goes for 135 miles and conditions can and do change as one proceeds down it, plus it was still snowing.
Nobody would know that for sure what we'd find until we got started and headed out down the trail.
At the start with Pete McAdams from Winnipeg on the right.
Photo credits, Lynn Scotch.
At the start with Race Director, Ken Kueger. I was calling on the papermill in I'Falls 5-6 years ago and met Ken professionally for work. When we got to know each other he introduced me to the race in detail. He's done it many times and is one of the few to finish it using all 3 methods of propulsion thus earning the coveted a'Trois award.
Like the Race Directors before him, Pierre Oster and Dave Pramann, Ken is truly an unselfish person by putting his personal goals and objectives on hold to give back to the race and his fellow racers.
I would be remiss not to mention Ken's wife Jackie as well as the wives of past RD's, Mary and Cheryl.
Under total disclosure I've never met Pierre and Cheryl, but based on what I've heard, they definitely would meet my description above as they were the original RD's and started the Arrowhead 135.
Just after checking in pre-start....the snow was coming down in earnest.
Photo credit Sveta Vold.
The pre-start was relaxed for me. I rode down 25 minutes before the start and got registered in chatting with a few friends and then pedaled back to the Voyageur Motel to see if Lynn wanted to walk down with me to the start. Our motel was only 200 yards or so from the start line. It also gave me a little idea if my tire pressures seemed adequate and they did at around 7-8 psi.
I told son Chris and DIL Helen who were both in the foot division "good luck" one more time and Lynn and I walked down. Chris seems to like to start a few minutes after his division has already taken off or in any case, isn't normally all that concerned over a few minutes lost. As the bikes start first, I needed to get there before the ski and foot division people.
I got in line behind the row of the expected leaders and soon Ken, the Race Director "released the hounds" and we were off.
The pace started slow and didn't increase. Matter of fact it even slowed down some more once we got down the trail. 4-5 miles into it I started to pull out of the pace line some to look how far ahead the leaders were. I didn't see anything "way up there" and there were 12-15 or so riders directly in front of me so was thinking that a small group of maybe 4-5 of the top riders had taken off and were out of sight....and that meant they had laid down a track, so what the hell were we waiting for?
A new-comer to winter bike ultras and an Arrowhead rookie was considered a favorite to contend this year and I thought that if I had the ability and was a contender the best way to challenge this new guy would be to make him race hard the whole 135 miles as he was somewhat new to this distance and this race. So, with that in mind, I figured a few of the veterans would be taking turns breaking trail pushing to see if they could tire him out to make him race hard and burn him up before it came to a sprint finish at the end which would have played into this new, young guys strengths.
Even with the up coming hills that will definitely test the fitness and mental toughness of any racer, I figured it would be a hard push from start to finish, like most years.
It was snowing on and off so visibility down the trail was a bit marginal. I kept thinking that these were minutes lost...I needed to pickup the pace. Then I'd stop and say to myself, just hold back and relax. A gentle roll out isn't a bad thing. Gives my legs time to loosen up and the lungs and the cardio system time to ramp up gradually. It's a long race and a few minutes either way is no big deal, especially for most of us who aren't contending for the top spots.
That said, everyone searches and tries to get what they want out of a race like this. Everyone has to find their own motivation why they sign up and beyond that, how best to enjoy the hours and miles spent on the trail.
My motivation is to actually try to race it to the best of my ability. Yes, just finishing is an accomplishment in its self, but beyond that, I personally train and race to see just how fast I can do it. So for me, a minute lost here and there is important. It's how I critique myself after it's all over.
Soon Tracy Petervary from Idaho, a solid racer and the eventual Women's Division winner, was along side of me on my left passing me. I said something like "great, about time someone pushed this" she looked over at me somewhat (one had to pay attention to the trail or end up on the ground) and I followed up with "it's Mark" and she went up a couple of spots and pulled back into the line in front of me. A good start, I thought.
After a minute or so I thought, what the hell, lets get this party started, so I pulled out and took off as well.
There were the 12-15 or so folks in front of me as I stated before and as I started passing them and looking ahead and over at them I started to see folks I recognized....it WAS the expected winners group....they were all holding back due to the fresh snow. No one wanted to over-exert themselves early and burn up too quickly breaking trail.
Well, THAT was embarrassing, but I thought well, what the hell, as long as I'm here I'll take my turn at the front (yeah, too funny!) and off I went. I can't imagine what those guys were thinking about my move.
It wasn't too long after this when we could start making out people standing out on the trail watching for us. As I got closer I (we) could tell it was a photographer with lights and things setup.
Well, THAT caused the pace line to get jacked and one guy got even with me on my right and passed me and soon a number of folks went around me on my left as well. I settled in around 10th-15th or so again after the photo Op and that's where I hung out until around 9AM, 2 hours into the race.
I wanted to make sure I started eating and drinking earlier than I normally start. I had eaten a light breakfast so got into my food within 75 minutes of the start and water a bit before that.
All was going fine. I had made sure my food bag was easy to open and after replacing a leaky nozzle in the motel room, was pulling a little water as well.
I had a Fizz and an energy tablet in the water. With the warmer temps, even with a very thin light riding jacket and undershirt I felt that heavier sweating and possible cramps were a better than average possibility so wanted to get on the "program". Of course I had taken a few of my old standbys as well.
The camelback bladder was completely full as my plan was to skip stopping at the first checkpoint if the first 35 miles were under control and I felt I had enough water to get to the half way, 72 mile, 2nd checkpoint. One benefit of the slow lead out was that it definitely made this desision easy and allowed me to skip stopping at the 1st checkpoint at the Gateway Store.
Around 8:30 I started to have an issue getting water up through the nozzle. It seemed that it was freezing up which seemed rather odd to me as the temps were not bad and the hose and nozzle were under my jacket. Still, I could only get a small amount of water out and I couldn't blow back down the hose either.
I tried warming it up and sucking up water and blowing back air for around 20-25 minutes but it just acted like it was blocked. I decided that if I couldn't get water up by 9AM I had to stop and check into it.
Well, I had to stop. I took off my reflective vest, jacket and camelback and pulled open its zipper and pulled out the bladder. The hose is suppose to snap into the bladder and it had just about popped out. I snapped the hose in tight, got dressed and took off.
After the race, Todd McFadden who came in 4th mentioned to me that around this part of the race he had dropped back to talk to a fellow racer and when he saw me my face I was white as a ghost. I can only figure that it was due to trying to suck up water and not breathing properly while keeping up the pace.
Out on the trail in the first section.
Photo credit, Scott Mark.
Photo credit, Scott Mark.
A number of people had passed me while I was taking care of my water situation but the good thing is that we started to come up on a few small hills and I was able to carry them easily and started passing riders back.
I passed "old man" Dave and Tracey along with some others and shortly after that I heard some whooping and I realized someone probably went down behind me. I thought it was Tracey but after the race learned it was Dave.
It wasn't long before I caught the pace line and fell in about where I was before the water incident.
Coming into Gateway Checkpoint #1.
Photo Credit Greg Ames.
Coming into Checkpoint #1.
Photo Credit Russ Loucks.
Coming into Gateway Checkpoint #1
Photo credit Scott Mark.
As we made the turn at the checkpoint and they recorded our numbers I noticed that one of the leaders, Jay Petervary, had stopped to adjust something. As I went around him I yelled out jokingly that someone needed to take my picture showing I was ahead of Jay....... (actually again, but few spectators would have known about my boneheaded move a number of miles back on the trail)
Well, that was all I ever saw again of the leaders. They took off and separated themselves from the poseurs.
At this point I just settled in for the next 35 or so miles. Not too much happened just a pretty straightforward march to Melgeorge's, the 2nd checkpoint. One of the things that got my attention though was how fast I was moving down the trail versus when I xc-skied it. Landmarks were coming up so much quicker. I wanted to get in before dark and that happened.
It was energizing to see old buddy Al Dixon from Canada as a volunteer pointing us in the right direction as we hit the 1 mile lake crossing to checkpoint 2 and also giving us some words of encouragement.
As I got to the end of the lake and rode up to the checkpoint cabin Lynn was there. I was gathering up what I felt I needed to take in and Lynn starting giving me an update on a few things. My mind was racing and I had to ask her to stop talking as it was distracting me on what I needed to do. Multi-tasking was not going well even at this early point in the race. She understood.
What I did at Melgeorge's:
- ate 2 grilled cheese
- drank a coke
- drank a coffee
- ate a piece of mostly raw bacon I mooched off of "old man" Dave after he came in (I think he secretly wanted to poison me!)
- Went in the bathroom and re-lubed and dumped in a bunch of baby powder as well that I was carrying for any sock/wet feet issues. AHHH!!!
- filled my camelback with a new fizz and perpetuem
- took 2 endurolytes and 3 advils
Lynn asked about my socks and I said they were fine and with walking coming up and the warm temps I felt my feet were going to be ok. She looked at me a bit funny but I repeated, they were fine....and they were, thank goodness!
I got out in good shape with a decent time of 18 minutes thanks in large part to Mary and her Angels.
Photo credits Lynn Scotch
Getting food transferred from my drop bag to the bike.
Felt good leaving Melgeorge's, but the hills were coming up.
After a quick couple of miles I came down a steep hill with a left sweeping turn and a bike was laying in the middle of the trail with the rider standing along side of it. I stopped and he asked if I saw him crash to which I replied no. He got his bike upright and we took off.
It was Dan Luebke from Holmen, WI. Dan had just friend requested me on FB after the Tuscobia 150 race we both had done. We started chatting and were having a great conversation.
Later in the conversation he stated kind of off the cuff that it was me in part that had convinced him to sign up for the Arrowhead race after he had read my blog from 2013.
I asked him what I had said specifically to cause that as I write a lot of "stuff", he replied back it was my comment about "the gift". With that he removed his left hand from his handle bars and waved it across the sky and said something like "just look at this gift".....I have to say, I was left speechless....for a number of seconds anyway. The hair on the back of my neck started to tingle some and my throat tightened up just a little bit. I was humbled that I could have that kind of an impact on someone.
Once I beat back a tear or two I replied back jokingly that I was glad at least one person reads my blog! Although I'd finish this race 20 hours earlier that when I skied it, emotions can swing high and low when your body and mind get beat down and especially when something comes out of the blue and Dan kinda blind sided me some.
Dan and I rode together yo-yooing back and forth until we got into the hills then Dan took off....or more I dropped off? Dan would finish in 10th place, a great rookie beginning. Again, I just didn't/don't perform as well as I'd like in steep hills. Maybe I need to drop a few more pounds.....ya think!?
Dan and I took turns taking pics of each other right before darkness, and the hills set in.....
Dan Lockery from Winnipeg (11th place) caught me as well in the hills. As when we rode together at Tuscobia, his light when he was behind reduced me to looking at dark shadows. In these steep, soft, long and rutted downhills that was a recipe for disaster. Dan was such a gentleman he was hesitant in passing me but I asked him to go in front (heck, he caught me it was obvious who was faster) as I couldn't see anything when he was behind me. He told me that he and Pete McAdams had a system where-by they were generating power supplied from their front axle to power their lights...and on the downhills they got LOTS of power. No wonder I was riding in perceived darkness at Tuscobia.
But for the 2 Dans I hung on to the 3rd checkpoint without anyone else passing me....from what I remember anyway.
Leading up to the last check point I was having a hard time swallowing solid food so I put down some coke and hot chocolate and even put in a coffee to get some liquid energy and a boost trying save my raw throat and sore throat muscles.
"Old man" Dave came in and when I was ready to go I asked him he was close to leaving and he replied back yes and I said great, let's ride together. After a quick 3-4 minutes he was ready to go.
We left the checkpoint with another rider, Adam. I had spent 27 minutes at the checkpoint. It was soft and sloppy up and over the last hill. Adam took off and I followed looking for Dave as best as I could without crashing while looking back to see if I could see him coming up from behind. Adam got a decent lead and I couldn't see Dave's light so I decided to take off after thinking that for whatever reason "old man" Dave was lagging behind but he'd be fine.....besides, there was that delicious looking rabbit a couple hundred yards in front of me just waiting to get caught.
Dave told me after the race he just started to run out of gas. The surgery and lack of training from the down time had caught up with him. A gallant effort.
We had around 18-19 miles to go at that point.
I caught Adam but stayed a number of yards behind him. His pace of 8-9 MPH was comfortable but also all I could really sustain. My right knee started to whine a little and my left quad was doing the same. I was just hoping they'd hang in there and not fail me. The gentle incline wasn't noticeable to me as we hammered out the miles. I never experienced any cramping all race.
With 8-9 miles/1 hr. left we made the 2nd to last road crossing and I hung real tight to Adam.
I decided as I had been sucking his wheel on and off the last 21 miles and his pace was strong, even though the trail was setup and hard and no wind to really break, I wasn't going to try to pass him unless he faltered.
With 200 yards to go he was pushing it and I hung on till the last 40 yards when we hit the little uphill to the finish. Adam earned it, right to the end. A solid finish.
I finished 15th place over all out of 84 that started the race... and first "old guy"....that is if we don't count 50 year old Todd McFadden, the current course record holder who came in 4th behind winner Jorden Wakeley. Video of the finish.
Maybe we'll need to change the title from first "Old guy" to first "Ancient guy"? Results Page.
I almost made it in fast enough so the headings for checkpoint times on the Results Page show up when scrolled down to my name..... :-)
With Lynn at the finish.
Photo Credit Erv Burglund.
Besides my right eye getting a touch of frostbit due to glasses fogging up so I couldn't wear them, all body parts came out unscathed.....on to Actif Epica for #4 Winter Ultra of the year.
The Start, gear check.
Photo credits AHU.
Son Chris and DIL Helen finished on foot again this year as well.....we maybe have some plans next year to maybe mix it up some and make it a bit more interesting for us. Stay tuned.