I participated in the 2nd Annual Arrowhead 135 mile Winter Ultra Race last week. It was my first attempt at this type of marathon cold-weather event, and I surprised myself with a 2nd place finish. No sleep, lots of high-calorie junk food, and good ol' Pugsley got me from start to finish in 19 hours and 59 minutes. 32 racers registered: 5 runners, 2 skiers and 25 cyclists. 16 finished: 2 runners, 14 cyclists. I counted 11 Surlys during registration 8 Pugsleys, 3 1x1s. Many of the non-Surly frames were sportin' Large Marge rims and/or Endomorph tires. Surly was representin'.
The race started off at 7:00am on Monday, February 6th with a temp of -18F. Luckily, there was very little wind. I couldn't find my balaclava (later discovered it at mile 110 in a jacket pocket), so I improvised with some other clothes I'd packed in case the temperature got below -20. Not a perfect start to a long day, but I wasn't going to let this little snafu spoil my ride. When the race started, many of the cyclists went off pretty fast. I just settled into my groove knowing that there was little need to rush. I planned on being out there for 24 hours or so. David Pramann, the race winner, was in the lead from the beginning. I didn't think he could hold that pace. But, he proved me wrong, arriving at the finish line 4+ hours before me. David rode the course in 15 hours and 45 minutes. That's record time. Impressive.
I rode my geared Pugsley: 2 chainrings coupled to a 7-speed cassette on a DT 240 hub. I used a butchered (825 grams) Large Marge on the rear and a prototype offset extrusion Large Marge on the front. Endomorph tires provided the traction and suspension on both ends. My goods were carried in or on a Headland seatpost rack, Old Man Mountain front rack (modified), Velocipac frame bag (from the 80's), and Cannondale panniers (from the 80's). The only mechanical problem I had was occasional chain suck. For some reason, I kept the aluminum granny ring that came on my Truvativ crankset. Dumb move should have changed it out to a steel unit. I carried too much food, too much water, and too much other gear. So, my rig wasn't as light as it could have been. But, it was comforting to know that I was prepared for almost anything out there. Overall, the bike and packing system worked great. Here's my rig
For me, the hardest part was not knowing if I was on the right trail. I could see David's tracks most of the time, but they would disappear occasionally due to snowmobile traffic or hard trail conditions that wouldn't allow a tread imprint. Some of the trail is used for logging, and the truck traffic packs the snow into an icy sheet. It was always a great relief to find David's tracks after a half hour of self-doubt. I probably wasted 1 hour just combing the wide trail for tire tracks after I left the 73-mile checkpoint. The end of the race course was not marked as well as it should have been, so I made a wrong turn there. Not a big deal, but I might have saved an additional 20-30 minutes by not taking the wrong turn at that point. Next year, I'll know the trail better, and I won't second guess my navigational decisions as much as I did this year.
The second hardest part(s) was my sore ass, sore neck, and sore knees. It's just going to happen. 19+ hours, out of 20 hours, on a saddle is going to cause discomfort for most people. But, I'm feeling no residual effects. Daily commuting, to and from my places of employment in the Twin Cities area, over the last decade has given me a good fitness and knowledge base to work with.
Sleep deprivation wasn't a problem. I'm used to going without sleep. It's the way I'm wired .drives my wife crazy. I'm very nocturnal. I regularly tinker (mostly on bike stuff) in the basement til the wee hours of the morning.
My water didn't freeze, like it did for many racers, because I had it in Isotherm bottles (in my panniers) or soda bottles next to my body. Many a Camelback (or other brand of water bladder) hose, bite valve, or bladder froze up early in the race. There were quite a few folks hauling around water that they couldn't drink. My problem was that I carried too much water for the conditions. Had it been a slower course (caused by fresh snow, warmer temps, headwinds, etc), I would have worked harder and used more water.
My food and non-water drink consisted of the following: 1 pound of butter (required 3000 safety calories), Pringles, Gummy Bears, chocolate-covered coffee beans, Slim Jims, cheddar cheese, energy gel, dried squid, Redbull, peanut butter, gorp, gorp, and more gorp.
What made this event so special for me? 1) I challenged myself mentally and physically in a way that I've never done before. I've ridden 24-hour solo single-speed events that pushed me quite a bit, but the Mother Nature factor wasn't really present there. Sub-zero temps require a bit more attention to detail if you want to keep your fingers and toes. 2) The solitude allowed me to reflect on the many facets of my life. I only saw one person between the 73-mile checkpoint and the end of the race; Matt Evingson was waiting in his car for his brother John at mile 113. We chatted for a few minutes, and then I took off so I wouldn't chill. Other than that brief encounter, I was on my own for 10 hours. There is a lot of time to think out there, and it's eerily quiet without any wind. The squeak of the tires on the snow was the only thing making noise outside of my head. 3) The beauty of this northern Minnesota trail can't be dismissed. The sun was out during the day, and a half moon lit the trail at night. When you're out for so long, you get a lot of time to look around at Mother Nature's handy work. 4) My dad drove Paul Ziegle (6th place on a 1x1) and I to the race. And, my Uncle Bob met us in International Falls the night before the race. It was great to spend time with them before and after the race. They were able to rent a plane and take some aerial photos of the event. I'll post pics soon, if they turned out. 5) I got to know a lot of people over the course of a few days. I'm sure I'll see many of the same people there next year. It's fun to talk about the equipment, the clothing, the strategy, the joys, and the pain of the event. There's a lot to share.
How do you prep for something like this? Ride your bike. Know your bike. Test your clothing and equipment. Know your body. Coax your friends into joining you. It's a lot more fun that way.
Thanks to everybody who helped me in some way, shape or form: Pierre and Cheryl Ostor for putting on a great event, all the other fine folks who supported and participated in the event, Paul Zeigle for sharing in the fun and representin' Surly style, John Evingson for giving me helpful cold-weather tips and for being a catalyst for Surly fat tire frames and componentry, Pat Irwin for helpful tips and ongoing inspiration, Surly for allowing me to fly my freak flag, and my dad, Jerry, for always believing in me and encouraging me to chase my dreams.