It’s been over a 2weeks since my 5th attempt at the Arrowhead 135 in International Falls, MN. I’m taking time away from the bike so in turn I’ve struggled with conquering the race recap. Part of it too is I wasn’t sure how forthcoming I wanted to be. But I’m pretty much an open book so why start closing now!
I was pumped for this race, nervous too but more excited and jazzed to get out and ride. I skipped the race last year to save some money for my ITI (Iditarod Trail Invitational) race, hence the excitement this time around. I had been having a pretty good year with racing so I put some high goals for the Arrowhead 135 on myself.
At the start JayP and Will Ross took off, as expected. In the past I would tell myself to let them go and race my race. But this year I decided to go with them. I’ve put the time in and was feeling good. I was actually feeling great. I took some pulls on the front but for the most part it was Will and JayP. The conditions weren’t favorable so it was hard for me to turn around and see how many were with us. Because it was still dark I could tell it wasn’t many by the lights behind me. By the time we made the hard left around mile 8 there were a few riders several bike lengths back. A few miles later it was just us. I knew it was very early in the race but I couldn’t help but think that this may be it…at a minimum I’d be 3rd!
The temperature was warm, too warm. Thus the trail conditions were soft and taxing. Holding any kind of line was tricky and was almost better to just make your own and not follow the tracks of others. Because it was warm I was sweating pretty good. My top tube and frame bag eventually became covered a sheet of ice…from sweat! But I had plenty of fluids and stayed diligent about taking sips at a regular interval. Around the 3 hour mark I slipped and crashed. I let some air out of the tires and put my chase in. But I would never see JayP and Will again.
I was still feeling pretty good by the first checkpoint at Gateway. I didn’t stop, just did the “in and out” while on the bike. Many riders will tell you the 3rd leg (MelGeorge’s to Ski Pulk) is the hardest because of the big hills. I will tell you it’s Gateway to MelGeorge’s (2nd checkpoint) for me. There are rolling hills after rolling hills. They aren’t long or steep enough to require walking but for almost 40 miles they don’t end. This year was no different. With the slow trail conditions and warm weather I became very thirsty. I started sucking at my water more frequently. With about 2.5 hours left to Melgeorge’s I ran out of water. I had a 85 oz hydration back, 21 oz thermos with electrolytes, and a 8 oz Red Bull…all gone. I pushed on. I ended up not eating much in that 2.5 hour stretch either. Any time I put food in my mouth it became a giant cotton ball I struggled to get down. As a result my riding and attitude changed. I became much slower and depressed I wasn’t to the level of JayP and Will. Eventually I would be passed by Todd McFadden and then Dan Dittmer. While I was happy to see those guys I was bummed I was riding slow enough that they caught me. I tried to grab their wheel as they passed but that was short lived and they rode out of my sight.
I hate to admit it but I was pretty sure I was going to quit at MelGeorge’s . Jen (my wife) would be there, so I could quietly slip into the van and disappear. I had let myself down and let my goal of 3rd or better slip away. Crossing Elephant Lake to the cabins of MelGeorge’s I could barely see Todd and Dan on the other side. Damn I’m slow. I definitely was dealing with the endurance demons on this section of the race. I can’t say what I would have done if Todd and Dan were gone when I walked into the cabin but seeing they were sitting down and eating I instantly had the thought that this may be hard for everyone.
Refueling at MelGeorge. Grilled Cheese!
I’ve learned checkpoints are traps so I filled my bottles, slammed water, drank Coke, grilled cheese, more water and Coke, and another grilled cheese. Not wanting to give myself too much time to ponder my situation I was back on my bike in 9 minutes. Having Jen and her mom there providing encouragement was huge in keeping me on the bike. Plus the phenomenal attitude of the volunteers was contagious. As I left I told Todd and Dan I’d see them on the trail. Todd informed me he was hurt from a crash and may be done. About 30-45 minutes after I left Dan caught up to me and passed me. At this point I was fine with whatever position I was in…I just wanted to finish. I came around and caught back up to Dan. Since I’ve started doing the Arrowhead Dan and I have finished a spot or two from each other. We were a good match for riding. Before the big hills this 3rd leg starts pretty flat. In these flat sections it was some of the best conditions. Dan and I rode together for an hour just chatting…it was awesome!
Loading up on water at Ski Polk.
But it wasn’t to last and the hills eventually showed their unwanted faces. Dan and I would leap frog each other for the next few hours. I would ride out of site to later be caught and vice versa. On one of the final down hills before ski pulk I crashed pretty spectacularly. It took a bit to make sure I didn’t lose anything, and let out more air. That would be the last time I would see Dan.
Once again I ran out of water. How could I need more than 100 oz?! I hadn’t planned to stop at Ski Polk (the last checkpoint) but I was now committed. I was there only 5 minutes so I still had thoughts I could catch up to Dan. At the top of Wakemup Hill I stopped and put in my music. While I wasn’t fast that last 25 miles I had a pretty damn good time. The trail seemed to be riding a bit better, it was snowing, and I was singing loudly and poorly.
If you haven’t seen the video “Push” by Salsa and Mike Reimer please look it up, very worth the watch. Near the end it shows the orange snow fence near Fortune Bay Casino and the finish. That fence is an amazing site. I get goosebumps when I watch the video and see that fence as I know how much work and effort it is to get there. Around the corner from the fence is the finish line. I let out a weak “whoop” and cruised up the last hill to cheers of Jen, my mother-in-law and serval race volunteers. I was done and in 4th. I now have two 5th place finishes, two 4th, and one DNF.
I was happy with 4th but more happy to just be done, as I hurt. As with endurance races, for me anyway, time changes how I feel. The should’ve, would’ve, and could’ve thoughts have been running through my mind. Did I let my 3rd place goal just slip away? Was I not fully recovered from Tuscobia? Should I have refueled at Gateway? Such is racing and it’s what keeps me coming back, no two years are the same. Yep, I’ll be back next year for sure.