Arrowhead 135 Ultramarathon

Running has been a big part of my life for almost 15 years now. I ran cross country in high school. Aced my marathon training class in college and followed my Wisconsin Badgers to the NCAA cross country championships in Terre Haute for five years while in school. I’ve always admired ultra distance runners for their determination, grit, phenomenal endurance and mental fortitude. All of those attributes are things that are severely tested if you are crazy enough to run the Arrowhead 135 ultramarathon.

The Arrowhead 135 starts in International Falls and winds through 135 miles of roads, snowmobile trails, massive hills and lakes and ends at Fortune Bay Casino in Tower, Minn. The distance for the race is not that unusual for an ultra marathon. Sure, it’s long, but there are longer ultras out there. The thing that makes this race particularly challenging are the elements. While the warm conditions at this year’s race were an anomaly, it’s standard fare to find starting time temperatures hovering around 20 below with athletes braving conditions that reach near 50 below at other points in the course. That’s without the wind chill folks.

Another interesting tidbit about this race is that you can either run, bike or ski the 135 miles. Since conditions can get so extreme and checkpoints are often many miles apart, race officials require competitors to carry the following on them at all times: -20 degree Fahrenheit sleeping bag or colder rating, insulated sleeping pad, bivy sack or tent, fire starter, stove, eight ounces of fuel, a pot, two quarts of water in an insulated container, headlamp or flashlight, flashing LED lights on both the front and back of your sled or bike or on your back if you’re skiing, whistle to call for your help “because your mouth is too numb to yell” and one day’s worth of food at all-time, which amounts to 3,200 calories.

The race officials have good reasons for requiring all of that. With conditions averaging many degrees below zero, things can go wrong quickly in places that are miles from another human, warm shelter or road. For example, the shortest distance between checkpoints is 25 miles and the longest is 35 miles. You don’t want to be stuck out in the wilderness without protection.

This year the weather was not so extreme.  Overnight lows dipped into only the teens and some sections of the race saw temperatures 60+ degrees warmer than last year. I was assigned to shoot the race for Minnesota Public Radio and was up pretty early Tuesday morning to catch racers making their way across frozen Elephant Lake to the Melgeorge’s checkpoint. It was definitely fun to see how a race like this works and to see the amazing things these athletes were accomplishing. Here are a few of my favorite photos from this year’s Arrowhead 135.

An Arrowhead 135 competitor makes his way across Elephant Lake early Tuesday morning near the Melgeorge’s check-in point about 70 miles into the race.

Garrett Mulrooney of St. Paul, Minn. makes his way across Elephant Lake early Tuesday morning near the Melgeorge’s check-in point about 70 miles into the race.

Chris Peters of Iowa makes his way across Elephant Lake early Tuesday morning near the Melgeorge’s check-in point about 70 miles into the race. Peters dropped out of the race at Melgeorge’s.

Chris Peters of Iowa makes his way across Elephant Lake early Tuesday morning near the Melgeorge’s check-in point about 70 miles into the race. Peters dropped out of the race at Melgeorge’s.

Jason Boon of St. Paul, Minn. makes his way across Elephant Lake early Tuesday morning near the Melgeorge’s check-in point and the halfway mark of the Arrowhead 135 ultra marathon.

Heidi Peter of Lacey, Wash. makes her way across Elephant Lake early Tuesday morning near the Melgeorge’s check-in point about 70 miles into the race.

Heidi Peter of Lacey, Wash. makes her way across Elephant Lake early Tuesday morning near the Melgeorge’s check-in point about 70 miles into the race.

Runners, bikers and skiers sleep, eat, drink, talk and recover at a cabin serving as the check-in point at the Melgeorge’s resort early Tuesday morning near Elephant Lake about ten miles north of Orr, Minn.

Lee Petyon of Edinburgh, United Kingdom gingerly takes off his socks to the site of a larger blister underneath the toenail on his big toe Tuesday morning at a cabin serving as the check-in point at the Melgeorge’s resort early Tuesday morning near Elephant Lake about ten miles north of Orr, Minn. At this point, Peyton was 70 miles into the 135-mile race.

Lee Peyton’s blistered and bruised feet after 70 miles of running over snow, ice and rocks during the Arrowhead 135 ultra marathon.

Lee Peyton of Edinburgh, United Kingdom winces as Sabine Couteau, a nurse from Grenoble, France, lances the toenail on the big toe of his left foot so fluid could drain from a blister beneath the toenail. A few minutes later, Couteau did the same for the big toe on Peyton’s right foot. Petyon was recovering and resting at a cabin serving as the check-in point at the Melgeorge’s resort early Tuesday morning near Elephant Lake about ten miles north of Orr, Minn.

LEFT: Chris Bollinger of Alaska approaches the finish line of the Arrowhead 135 ultra marathon Tuesday afternoon at Fortune Bay Casino in Tower, Minn. RIGHT: A light snowfall left snow behind on a mask situated atop a trail marker near the Ski Pulk checkpoint Tuesday afternoon during the Arrowhead 15 ultra marathon.

Charlie Farrow of Duluth, Minn. approaches the finish line of the Arrowhead 135 ultra marathon Tuesday afternoon at Fortune Bay Casino in Tower, Minn.

Charlie Farrow of Duluth, Minn. rests for a second after finishing the Arrowhead 135 ultra marathon Tuesday afternoon at Fortune Bay Casino in Tower, Minn.

Tom Lais (left) of Milwaukee, Wisc. and Craig Irving (right) of Cedar Rapids, Iowa approach the Ski Pulk checkpoint Tuesday afternoon during the Arrowhead 135 ultra marathon. The Ski Pulk checkpoint is 110 miles into the race and the last checkpoint before the finish.

Craig Irving of Cedar Rapids, Iowa had no issue with taking a few bites out of a burger from his backpack Tuesday afternoon at the Ski Pulk checkpoint. Irving bought the burger 26 hours before and 76 miles ago at the Gateway Store.