“EVERYONE HAS A PLAN UNTIL THEY GET PUNCHED IN THE FACE”
It don’t matter how good your plan is. Always have a back up plan. Improvise, adapt, and overcome is a phrase we learn early on in the Marine Corps. So much so it sticks with you the rest of your life. This race is extremely grueling even under perfect conditions. If Mother Nature unleashes her fury you have to be smart or it could cost you some digits, worse yet, maybe even your life. Winter ultra running is not to be taken lightly. Not only do you have to know how to self rescue using your mandatory gear but you have to have the wherewithal to do so before you are in so much trouble that it’s too late.
“Only those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.” JFK
I’m not going to lie. I had a monumental goal for this year and I failed miserably. In retrospect my plan was severely flawed from the get go. I planned on racing for a P.R.(personal record)Then upon completion of the race I was going to turn around and go back to the start going after the FKT(Fastest Known Time) for the double Arrowhead. If that wasn’t dumb enough, I wanted to do it completely unsupported. Fortunately for me my back up plan worked out and while failing miserably I pulled off something I didn’t even know I was capable of.
Because my goal was so monumental I got absolutely zero sleep the night before the race. My mind just would not shut off. I kept going over what could go wrong during the race and how I would need to deal with it over and over in my head. This made for a very long night. All the while Kummer’s snoring in the bed next to me with seemingly not a care in the world. Scottie, from the http://www.tenjunkmiles.com/podcast and I had become friends while completing The Order of the Hrimthurs http://orderofthehrimthurs.com/ last winter. He beat me last year at Arrowhead by 31 minutes and had made sure I knew it as often as possible. He passed me with 8 Miles to go as I had to bivvy on the side of the trail. Because of this we’ve also become friendly rivals at every race we both attend. We have an on going bet for an undisclosed amount of money as to who will win each time we race together. Kummer uses his Podcast to remind me as such every chance he gets. It pretty hilarious. Nothing wrong with a little shit talking every now and then. He’s a master at it. Little does he know that even if the bet was for only a quarter that’s all the incentive I would need to push me even harder. My response to him cocking off on the show is to post pictures of my sled while I’m out training with the #KrushKummer or #BeatScott written on the back.
Race morning Mother Nature throws us a curve ball. For two weeks the forecast was calling for warm temps throughout the race. The night before it changed a bit and said day one could be -10. Still not a big deal for most of us. However race morning we wake to -20 and a nasty wind. It is cold and only going to get colder through the 1st 24 hours. My sled is extremely over loaded with extra food, clothes, and water in hopes of doubling unsupported. I have 160oz of water, double the required fuel, and 13,000 calories on board plus enough extra clothes to go both ways.
Because it’s so cold some racers congregate in the hockey arena lobby and don’t go up to the start until the last minute, myself included. We don’t want to be standing around in these temps for too long. Soon fire works works irrupt and the bikes are released. Two minutes later the skiers take off. Then they release the hounds. I find myself a spot up front and take off in the lead like the moron I am. It only takes a couple minutes in before I realize I made a very poor choice in gloves. The wind is cutting through my gloves and my hands begin to sting. I do all the tricks I can think of to get some blood flow so I don’t have to pull over and dig out my big mitts. It doesn’t work. My hands are going numb. I stop to dig out the big mitts that Randy Kottke had loaned me. I didn’t bring any big mitts thinking it wasn’t supposed to be this cold. I can’t find them. My bag is a mess because at last minute I decided it was too full. Instead of storing my sleeping bag inside the bag like always I just strap it into the sled on the outside of the gear bag. I know the mitts are in there but it’s taking too long to find them. I grab a pair of wool socks instead and use them as temporary mitts until my hands warm back up. First crisis Averted. By mile five the fast guys start going by. At mile 10 we make the turn onto the Arrowhead Trail and head east. The wind is now more at our back and I can shed the socks from my hands. Mile 12 or so I hear the oh so familiar sound of the most efficient use of poles one will ever hear. It’s John Storkamp(4 time winner and this years champ)closing the gap on me like always, but this year it’s a couple miles farther down the trail. We visit a bit then he is off like a light on down the trail. Quickly he is out of sight. I ran almost the entire way to the turn. My over weighted Pulk is already taking its toll on me. Both my knees are aching like a son of a bitch and my lower back is on the verge of going out. Again I don’t want to waste time so I don’t go back to the sled for much needed ibuprofen. By the second shelter I am completely shot. We are only 20 some miles in and I’m already having a conversation with myself about throwing in the towel. Some snowmobilers are stacking wood at the shelter. I go over and take a seat after digging out my bag of pills. I joke with one of the guys that this is the dumbest thing I have ever done. What the hell was I thinking. Soon, Just like last year, as I sat in the exact same spot for a quick break Tony Stensland comes on by. Last year I took some cool pictures of him as he went by.
I laugh at the coincidence and call his name. He comes over and takes a quick break. I turn my phone on and take his picture again.
I get one photo and my phone freezes and shut off immediately. Now I have no safety net. I’m kicking myself for not having a better set up for my phone to stay warm. Dumb, dumb, dumb!!! I should have known better than that. Anytime you take your phone out at -20 it shuts down. Thankfully Burgess Eberhardt was out there taking some excellent photos.
Photo credit: Burgess Eberhardt
As I press on I have about 13 Miles to decide what to do. Things were going south quickly. Quitting was already on the table. Thankfully experience has taught me that the pain of regret far outweighs the pain of continuing forward. My lack of sleep wasn’t helping matters as my eyelids were getting heavy. I get to the final hill that leads to the road crossing just up from the 1st check point. A female runner is just ahead of me walking her sled down the hill. I slide right by and yell out on your right as I fly by. As I near the road crossing I can see there are no cars coming so I slide out into the road. I hit a jump as the trail meets the road and jump to my feet all in one motion. There are two cars parked at the roadside watching this all unfold. As I get to my feet I start to run in front of the car. I get tangled in my ropes. This trips me and I go sprawling out right in front of the car. I feel like a steer that was just wrestled to the ground and tied up by a championship rodeo cowboy. I just lay there laughing in embarrassment. The guy gets out to check on me. I say I hope you didn’t get that on video. (He’s got a huge camera in his hand) He said, “no, but that jump was awesome!” It’s only 4:30 as I get to the first checkpoint. It’s still daylight out so I’ve got tons of time. I decided if I am to go on I need to change my plans drastically. I turn in my unsupported ribbon and begin hatching a plan to somehow get to that finish line by any means necessary. Gateway general store is awesome! I get some hot food along with a much needed coffee. They take my wet clothes and throw them in the dryer. I buy a charger to get my phone working again and send my wife and Dad a quick message. “Feel like death, trying to regroup and move on soon.” I take my time, change into dry stuff, and fix my feet. I already have some blister issues. Thankful I caught them early and addressed them. I lugged 108 extra ounces of water for 36 miles for absolutely nothing. I refill my 64 oz hydro bladder from the containers that had been dead weights for the past 9 and 1/2 hours. The left over liquid is dumped to cut weight. I spend a hour and 29 minutes in the first check point. We get word temps may drop to -30 overnight. Hearing this I make the decision to put on snow pants with just tights underneath as I ready myself for the next section. I also add a light weight puffy jacket for the first time in the race. I figured if I got hot it would be easier to shed layers than to add them out on the trail. 6pm and I was back out on the trail facing the coldest overnight of my running career….. Somehow I overcame the first big hurdle of wanting to drop. Once I leave check point one the option to drop is off the table.
Part 2 coming soon