“From struggle comes strength.”
I’ve been blessed with parents who brought me up to believe that through hard work and determination that anything is possible. There is nothing special about my abilities as a runner, but nobody is going to set limits on what I can accomplish. All my life I’ve tried to learn from everyone I’ve come into contact with. In recent years some of those people are very, very, special. By surrounding myself with positive like minded people and distancing myself from negativity my life has improved exponentially.
2016 taught me many lessons in struggle. I failed at Arrowhead 105 miles in. I had three experimental procedures on my knee one month later which had me on crutches, struggling to even walk, and questioning whether or not I would ever be able to even run again. I was pulled from the Superior 100 for missing the final cut off by 6 minutes, but that is when the magic started to happen. You see I thought I was done at Temperance (mile 75), but this amazing group of people,(trail people) whom I had never met, gathered around me and got me moving again after I thought I had nothing left. I spent the next few hours on the trail with certain young lady that was able to get an effort out of me that I didn’t even know existed. Though I failed it set me on a path to what is quickly becoming an almost unbelievable 2017.
On January 6th I completed the longest race of my life and somehow ended up in 2nd place at the finish. See Tuscobia report here: The 2017 Tuscobia 160 Mile Winter Ultra Now this past week I completed the Arrowhead135. This is all in hopes of completing The Order Of The Hrimthurs. The Order is a Grand Slam of sorts that includes 3 Winter Ultras within 6 weeks. Something only 3 people have ever completed on foot. This year in fact will be the first year that the final race of the 3 has offered a 162k option. So actually nobody as ever completed that as of yet. There will be 4 to possibly 7 of us going up next week to give it a go. Find more details here: http://orderofthehrimthurs.com/
The Arrowhead 135 has a special place in my heart. I love everything about this race. This would be my 4th attempt. The 1st year brought failure at -50 degrees as I had no idea what I was doing and my gear was grossly inadequate for those temps. Wisely I called it quits at mile 36 as I was severely dehydrated and hypothermic. Year 2, having learned many lessons from my DNF, I was able to get my first finish. The 3rd year I made it 105 miles but made a crucial fueling mistake that left me again severely dehydrated and throwing up for almost 12 hours before finally throwing in the towel. Which brings me to this year, my 4th attempt.
Having just completed the Tuscobia 160 3 weeks earlier I had no idea how my body was going to respond. I had every intention of taking it easy and just hoped to get a finish. If all went really well I dreamed of going sub 50 hrs, but I was trying to be realistic. I had signed up to go unsupported so I had no drop bag and didn’t plan on getting any aid at the 3 aid stations. This meant my sled would be even heavier than normal as I would need to carry extra fuel, food, and water because again I would not be able to restock at the aid stations.
7:04am Ken(the race Director) said release the hounds!! We were off and running. As usual I quickly found myself up near the front of the pack because I have very little self control and always start too fast. This meant runners would continue to pass me as I slowed down and settled in to a comfortable pace. Like past years some of the faster guys like Rob Henderson and John Storkamp would come by and we would visit for a bit before either they would take off or I would let them go. It didn’t take long before I realized that there was some major residual muscle fatigue still going on from the 160. My legs felt like stone. Like in almost every Ultra I was hitting the wall by mile 25.
By mile 35 I was questioning my sanity and was already considering dropping from the unsupported category.
Only one mile later I find myself on the spur trail into the first check point. On my way in I see Jared coming out. I tell him how awesome he is doing and remind him to save some energy for the 2nd half of the race. Cheering him on somehow gets me out of my funk. As I pull into Gateway Store a Volunteer is standing outside with a clipboard to check us in. I see about 10 sleds sitting there so I give him my number, thank him for volunteering, and head right back out.
Upon leaving check point 1 I was chuckling that I gained so much ground while everyone else was enjoying hot food and a warm place to relax. I knew this could come back to haunt me, but I was happy to be ahead of previous years having never left there during daylight. As darkness approached the legs finally started to feel good. Night time is my favorite and things begin to click. Throughout the night I meet and leap frog a few different runners. Parker Rios, Tosh Brian, and Paul Schlagel. I did know Paul having met him at Tuscobia and we rode up to the race together. About 1/2 way between check points my stomach began to go south on me. I could no longer eat. I knew that this was bad, but thankfully I had jolly ranchers to suck on. Somehow this was enough to keep me moving. Tosh, Paul and I started to work together taking turns breaking trail. Early in the day when Tosh had passed me I guessed he was a former Marine just by the way his stride was. As we talked he confirmed my suspicion. Come to find out not only were we both Marines, but we were both infantry, and we both went to the same Security Force School. I was hoping to reach Check point 2 by morning, but as we got closer I figured It would be more like 4am. As Tosh and I reached Elephant Lake Paul had gapped us a bit. Tosh stopped to pee and add a layer. I went ahead and also stopped to put on my puffy jacket. I was now chasing the red blinking light that was already crossing the wind swept lake. I gained on him, but never was able to real him in before we got to the resort. As I rolled back onto shore I knew I was in trouble having not eaten for the last few hours.
My best option at that point was to change to the supported category and utilize the final 2 aid stations. I entered the aid station and began changing into dry clothes immediately. Then I attempted to replenish the calories I so desperately needed. I had a couple cokes, a couple chocolate milks, and a grilled cheese sandwich. Unfortunately the sandwich was not going down well. I ended up only eating half. A volunteer gave me 3 Alieve. It took a few tries to even get them down. I was having a difficult time swallowing without throwing them back up. Finally I was able to choke them down. I put my shoes on the heater and headed up stairs to lay down for a quick nap. As did Paul and Tosh. I set my alarm for 2 hours. I slept, but did a lot of tossing and turning. While we slept Parker was outside melting snow to replenish his drinking water. The alarm went off way too early, but I knew it was time to get moving. I head down stairs and grab a cup of coffee. I quickly gather all my belongings and fill my water containers. With one last thank you to the volunteers Paul and I head back out at 7am. Tosh was still asleep, but we were in hot pursuit of Parker.
Day two brought more snow and the unrelenting hill section of the Arrowhead trail. It was fun having company for this section. Paul and I were working well together. Eventually we caught up to Parker as he had stopped to make a fire at a trailside shelter and dry out his shoes. We stopped to join him for a few minutes as I knew I was way behind on my fueling again. I hadn’t eaten anything but Jolley Ranchers the last few hours on the trail. After grabbing a couple different types of food that I hadn’t tried yet I climbed into the shelter and took a seat along the wall in the dirt. This shelter was just three walls and a roof but it didn’t have a bench around the inner wall like some of them. I ate a big stack of Pringles and a few chunks of beef jerky. After quickly eating I hopped back up and readied my sled to depart. Paul was doing the same as I began to violently throw up everything I had just eaten. After about 5 hurls I apologized to them for having to witness that. As we leave I think to myself I guess it’s back to Jolly Ranchers.
As daylight on the second day starts to come to a close Paul tells me we just passed the 100 mile mark. We celebrate by sliding down yet another of the endless hills.
Soon it was dark again and going off the mileage card all day I was estimating that we would be at the final check point by 7pm. Then Tosh caught us and straightened me out. He said it would be more like 8 or 8:30 before we made it there. That caused me to unleash a whole slew of cuss words because it had already seemed to take forever. I didn’t dwell too long however knowing that that kind of negativity can absolutely kill your race. I just adjusted my target to 8:30 and hoped we would get there before that. You would not believe just how much your attitude can affect your race. It can be the difference between a DNF and a finish. That was my last negative thought of the race. We arrived at the Surly check point at 8:15pm. Paul and I were both having stomach issues most of the day. We needed desperately to get a little break and rally.
I grabbed my clothes bag from my pulk and headed into the teepee to change into dry stuff. My feet were pretty thrashed. Coming into Surly I had concerns that my toes were frostbitten. Thankfully the pain I was feeling was not frost bite. It was just a nice collection of blisters. I sat down in front of the wood stove and began to operate on my toes using one of my bib pins. It felt so good to release that pressure. After that I decided to try to dry out my feet and shoes at the edge of the stove before putting socks back on. The next hour or so I just sat there and shot the shit with other runners, volunteers, and supporters. These are some of my favorite times in these races. The camaraderie of this fraternity is unmatched anywhere.
Photo Credit Robbie Skantz (man is it hard to keep your eyes open when someone’s using a flashing the dark)
As I sit there I can’t help myself from doing the math as I begin to smell the hay in the barn with only one more climb and about 25 miles to go. I try to get Paul going as I think just how cool it would be for us to finish this thing together. We both agree, a couple of times, just a little bit longer. Finally the pull of the finish line has us both up on our feet and gathering our things. We spent way too much time there. The warm teepee had left us both battling the sleep monsters.
As we hooked up our sleds we begin our 3 mile climb up the final hill. Paul is still throwing up and he began to worry that the black color of the vomit was serious. Maybe even blood. I give him a couple tums hoping it will settle his stomach. I’m also still having issues as all I can keep down is Jolly Ranchers. Paul asks if I have any left. I dig the rest out and gladly give him half of what I have left. We finally reach the top of Wakumup hill. I give Paul a heads up about the big turn at the bottom and we ready ourselves for one final slide. After Wakumup we click off a few final miles. Everytime we stop he throws up. Now we are both worried. Paul starts talking about bivvying for a couple hours. I’m not ready to bivvy, but I stay to help him figure out where to set his up. As we part ways I get an overwhelming feeling of guilt for leaving him. I start to pick up the pace now that I’m alone. However, after a couple hours I find myself standing in the middle of the trail asleep on my feet. From past experiences I know it’s now time to bivvy. Instead of trying to push through and continuously finding myself standing there making no headway I promptly pull over and set up my sled to bivvy. The first time I just put on my puffy jacket, cold weather mitts, and pull my neck gaiter up over my face. Instead of taking out the bivvy I sleep right on top of the sled. I hope all I need is a quick 15 min nap to get me to the finish. It don’t take long and I wake up chilled. I pack up and get moving again. After only a couple hours it’s happening again. I can’t keep my eyes open. I know I’m close to the final trailside shelter so I push on to the trailside oasis.
This time I do it right. This will be my last bivvy. I pull out my whole kit and crawl into my sleeping bag. After about a half hour the cold wakes me once again. I hastily pack my stuff and quickly reference my mileage card to see how many miles are left. Knowing I’m going to be slow I figure the final 10.5 miles could take me as long as 3 hours. I put my head down and embark on the final leg of my two year odyssey to get back to the finish line. Minutes later my biggest savior Robbie rolls up on his snow machine. Robbie, with his always smiling face, came to a complete stop to reveal some desperately needed encouragement. That is when the supernatural happened. Robbie told me I had only 6.4 miles to go. When he said that I was in utter disbelief. I must have looked at him like he was crazy! Could my card possibly be 4 miles off?! With his big old grin Robbie pointed to his odometer and assured me he was correct. What happened next I’m still trying to thoroughly process. It was as if my body no longer had an internal governor telling me I had just gone 130 miles. It also didn’t hurt that the trail was finally firming up for the first time since the very beginning of the race. I was off and running! Everytime the footing got good I’d pick a tree up ahead and make a surge until I’d reach it. I was making really good time. Soon I realed in another runner. It was a young lady from New Jersey. I’m not sure what I said to her, but I’m sure we exchanged pleasantries as I passed. Now I had one more goal, not to be caught. I continued my surges to try and open the gap between us. I knew I was getting close to the finish. I started to search for any sign of the up coming road crossing or signs that the Casino drawing near. Soon I come to some power lines as I make my way to the final road crossing. After crossing the road I know I’m on Casino property. Two years ago Harvey Lewis came out here and interviewed me about what I thought of the Arrowhead 135. At the time I was in rough shape. This year was a different story. I pulled my phone out to document just what a difference a couple years can make.
Soon the Casino is in sight and I make one final push to the finish line. At 7:49 am my race comes to an end. As I cross the finish line a giant of a man with a monster beard comes out to greet me. With an enormous grin and his arms out wide Steve Cannon welcomes me home with a big old bear hug. Now I’m not normally a hugger, but even I can make an exception when something this special has happened. I have been blessed with many really good friends and Steve has quickly become one of them. My place is of absolutely no consequence. The only person I was racing was myself. I beat my finish time from two years ago by 4hrs and 43mins. If all went well I had a dream of breaking 50 hours. I finished in 48:45. Somehow I still have a lot of room for improvement.
My biggest take away from this race is that we all have an enormous untapped potential. Our biggest limiting factor is our own mind. The only reason I write these reports is to hopefully inspire someone to go outside their comfort zone and dream big. There truly are no limits to what one can accomplish if only they believe.
So many people to thank. Ken, although I don’t know why you allow me to be chosen to run this race I want you to know that I am extremely grateful for the opportunity. Thank you Ken, Jackey, and all the amazing volunteers for all you do.
Last, but certainly not least, thank you to my beautiful wife and kids who pick up my slack when I’m gone and enable me to chase my crazy dreams no matter where they take me.