The New York Times showed up last year to cover this race, but they haven’t been here for 10 years. I have. The Arrowhead Ultra 135 started in 2005 with a group of 5 snowbikers that wanted to do something crazy, but maybe a little bit cool, too. Let’s bike 135 miles in January, in northern Minnesota, on a snowmobile trail. Every good thing starts as a bombastic crazy-ass idea first: Climb Mount Everest? Impossible. Women voters? Don’t be ridiculous. Ride your bike through the snow? I don’t think so. Until someone did.
The Arrowhead Ultra can be completed by biking, running, or skiing. It turns out that biking is the easiest, unless the trail is soft and you have to push your bike. Let’s just swing that idea past you one more time, because it’s worth registering: RUN 135 miles. IN MINNESOTA. IN JANUARY. The trail has hit -40 degrees Fahrenheit during races, and sometimes hovers around 30 degrees. Each year is a roll of the dice. You must carry all the gear you need, complete the race with 3000 calories in stow (my racer carries lard), and finish 135 miles in 60 hours. Less than half finish.
(photo credit: Gear Junkie).
Once a feat is tackled, the flag is planted and the bell rung, you must make it harder, faster, and more punishing. It’s no longer enough to finish one difficult epic journey. While I write this there is a group of individuals that finished running 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents yesterday.
You get a special trophy -the Arrowhead A’trois- if you finish this winter race in all three modes of propulsion: ski, run, and bike over a period of three years. There is a Brazilian racer this year that is trying to finish the Badwater series. He has run the Badwater 135 in Death Valley (hottest), Badwater Brazil (mountains), and is now attempting to finish the Arrowhead Ultra (coldest). He has been training in a freezer. Not kidding. Where does one find cold weather in Brazil? A walk-in freezer. I wish him well, but nothing has prepared him for the six inches of snow today expected on the trail and sub-zero temps at night. 30 degrees is balmy here, 30 below is to be expected and prepared for.
I admire people that do hard things, while I recognize that we have a cush lifestyle that allows us to train for these experiences, travel to different places, and the funds to do so. We aren’t fleeing through the mountains being chased by those that would do us harm. We aren’t running through the desert to flee from persecution. My husband doesn’t need to sleep outside in the winter trying to get us food off the trail. We have plenty. It’s a voluntary struggle that all of these racers sign-up for, yet they are the ones that run, walk, and ski it.
It’s a psychological game at night to take out your sleeping bag and bivouac on the trail. When it’s below zero, your brain wants to survive and may buck the idea of surrendering to sleep. Ultramarathons aren’t for sissies. Winter camping isn’t for the fearful. Racing requires you to step off the sidelines. Arrowhead 135: Cowards Won’t Show. It’s honestly the tagline.
I think everyone can learn something from those that push for more, in every area. For me, if I was hiring, I’d go for a racer. They are tough as hell. Talent only gets you so far in life, at some point we all must do more. Dig deeper. Be better. If you can’t do it, bring a cowbell to cheer on those that can.
Keep sharing moxie.