I had started this event as a girl and finished the event as a lady!
This is a 135 mile event that has to be completed within a 60 hour limit
You can run, bike or ski. Temperatures can go down to -50 degs C as it did in 2014 and bit my fingers.
It is held at the end of January as this typically has the worst weather and starts at International Falls, a town on the US/Canadian border. It should be known as Killer Frost Falls but not to put off visitors, it is called the Icebox of the Nation. The route is along a snowmobile trail, which is mostly along the Arrowhead Trail. It is very reasonably priced at $200 USD. You are expected to carry all your own survival gear and boil water if you have to. There are 3 checkpoints along the entire route and a snowmobile rescue will come out if you call for one.
Know how to use your gear and ensure you have the right gear for your own safety. The official website is here: http://www.arrowheadultra.com
I went hunting for the Ice Dragon 2012 and 2014. Both times the dragon kicked me off and in 2014 bit my fingers as a warning.
2018 would be my 3rd attempt.
Many sprouted the “3rd time lucky” motto. I really dislike this phrase as it feels like you can keep trying and luck will somehow intervene on your 3rd attempt and miraculously make everything happen. How about 1st time lucky or 2nd time lucky or nth time lucky? Load of hash browns & fish fingers if you ask me. Am happy that I did fail the first two times. It taught me to be more respectful of the environment, and how to better equip myself in my mind, body and soul. Failure happens because we fail to prepare in areas that need strengthening. God likes proactive people. The Bible is littered with “proactive” people doing great things who have been both physically, mentally and spiritually prepared to go forward.
To prepare, I found a shorter event to complete in the form of Rovaniemi 150 (150 kilometres). In this event, Isaiah 40:29-31 and Matthew 14:22-33 whispered continually in my ear.
So 150K completed, and now with my newfound confidence, I no longer wanted to hunt the dragon, but was ready to tame the great Ice Dragon of Arrowhead.
9 December 2017 completed my last long run along the North Downs Way of 30 miles with my buddy Paddy. December and January are administrative months with the taxman thumping on my door, so training was limited to strengthening the Achilles and lower back with stair dips and back exercises respectively, interspersed with about 10 miles a week to keep the body going. At the same time, I visualised the route to the first two Arrowhead checkpoints, seeing what I was doing, how I was feeling. In my mind, once I had got to the second checkpoint in good time, then I could play it by ear. Rome marathon taught me the power of visualisation.
17 January 2018: Finished personal tax, dumped winter gear onto sled and flew out to the US on the morning of 18 January.
I dropped in to visit my adopted US family that has been part of this learning journey on my last two attempts; who cared for me when I limped back to them. It was also to pick up important team members:
- Bisaniiwewin (16-18 lb tyre) – Lynn, an Arrowhead finisher, had organised the tyre to be brought up by Jason – a dedicated athlete & Arrowhead multi-finisher.
- Princess Suma – a peace penguin and daughter of an Emperor
- Pinky – a fluffy dog full of love
- Sharkey – to provide aggression to help me attack the route when needed
The plan was to go to International Falls the week before to get some R & R as the last two attempts, my very jetlagged brain hated starting at 7am. 2012/2014 taught me to arrive with plenty of time to keep the mental side calm. In 2014, I was still in the toilet when the start had kicked off.
22nd January 2018: A snow storm visited Minneapolis and all flights were cancelled to International Falls. Plans scuppered temporarily and instead a snow shoveling workout would have to be sufficient.
23rd January 2018: More snow shoveling to get out of the drive. Managed to strain a muscle in the peck. So pathetic!
You’re Going No Where
I laid my cardboard boxed sled next to the rope barrier that guided passengers to collect their boarding pass and informed a “check in” service lady that I was just leaving the sled to queue to get my pass. As I went to the back of the queue she calls out:
Check-in Lady1: “Are you checking that in?”
“Yes” I replied
Check-in Lady1: “Hmm, that is rather big and will be $200 USD to go through”
“Ok” I replied a little puzzled
Check-in Lady1: “Where are you going?”
Check-in Lady1: “Hmm. Come on over, I’ll check you in”
I was grateful, but as I followed her to her counter another lady who was managing the Boarding Pass line calls out to me and tells me that I need to go pick up my boarding pass first.
Check-in Lady1: “It’s okay, I’ve got this”
Check-in Lady2 comes over to me, and wags her finger at me, annoyed that I was “jumping the queue”, telling me what I was doing was not right and what I should be doing.
I looked at her, trying to give her a puppy dog confused look (Pinky’s head was peering out of my coat at the time) and she wagged her finger further. After her tirade at me, I responded “Thank you for letting me know”. She then turned away and returned to the other passengers.
In the meantime, Check-in Lady1 had taken out her measuring tape, ummed and ahhed: “This isn’t going to fit in the hold. It’s a small plane. Look it is one inch too long! I am not going to check you in because we cannot guarantee this will get on with you. You need to go to Specials and send this some other way”
Anxious and confused, I borrowed a trolley and took the sled over to Specials, leaving it near the front and joined the queue. There were two service women on one side and two service men on the other. I wished to see a man as have been “unlucky” with the check in women at St Pauls in the past. I remember having baggage of 51.5 lbs and was told to take out 1.5lbs of gear or be charged an excess weight. 1.5lbs is about the weight of a pair of socks! One of the men called me over and I explained that the other lady would not check me in as she thought my sled would be too big for the hold. He asked to see the sled. I placed Pinky and Sharkey on the counter top, introduced them to him……and he greeted each one of them as I went to pull over the trolley with my sled to his counter.
Check-in man: “Yup looks no problem”
Check-in man: “Yup and when I sign it, it will be on that plane”
My anxiety dropped and we had a nice conversation about the Arrowhead event.
Check-in man: “Now have a great event and don’t get frostbite”
Me: “I love you sir. Thank you”
Yeah I went a bit mushy as I just experienced night and day and a good reminder that an event can start off negative, but just got to believe in the positives. A pat on the head to Pinky
Catch Up and Final Preps
I would catch up with the amazing Rachel and her equally wonderful and loving friend Renata at St Paul’s airport.
Rachel had decided to see this dragon that I had chatted about when she was doing Rovaniemi 300 and I was doing Rovaniemi 150. Her friend Renata came to support her. We shared a room and the organisation of each of us couldn’t be more different:
- Rachel was so well organised and ready to try out her gear
- I was still sorting out stuff, deciding on what I should take on the trail. My kit exploded into piles of mess in the room and I couldn’t find a thing….but it had been a long day and bed reeled us in early.
24th – 28th January 2018
Being part of the “Last Minute” club, I was still sorting out gear, purchasing another set of lights and carabineers, sewing on reflective tape onto my harness and gluing the over boots onto my running shoes (as suggested by Ray Sanchez – another participant). The tireless Jerald and Sandy (owners of the Voyageur Motel) were soooo helpful having all the tools to help make all the last minute adjustments. So many more thank yous to them both and hope they can find good people to work in their motel.
At the same time, Bill Bradley, whose team had helped me get around when my fingers had been burned in 2014, was at the motel. He was doing his 7th attempt and had concerns. We concluded that with the right reasons for completing an event, the negative and disappointment that can be felt from fellow competitors who quit can be deflected…..and off I went to do some sled practice with Bill. Bill is like a big brother, who I want to help just as much as he cares for others (myself included).
The undertaking to organise this event is huge, and so offered my services to help out. We were given a special project to put fluorescent tape on the posts.
During the week, Ray and Bill pitched in to help create the posts that would guide participants along parts of the route, and on Saturday we loaded and unloaded two trucks of gear to Baccus – the registration area. We would have happily done more, except we all still had to do last minute preparations. I was still sewing the reflective tape onto my harness to prepare for the 4 o’clock registration. Jason also dropped by to present Bisaniiwewin…..the animals brought her in.
Saturday at 17:30 had organised a dinner date with Al – a Canadian who I had met on my last 2 attempts at Gateway and always got me food. I must have looked pathetic! He would be helping and supporting some other racers this time round and great for my Swiss buddies to meet someone new.
By Sunday, my gear was finally ready to do a test run with my entire entourage. I had made some minor changes to the Rovaniemi gear, carrying more food and an extra emergency down jacket for the extra cold. It roughly weighed 40lbs (about 20kgs).
Rachel and I ran over to the Baccus for the pre-race briefing, and I hung around after for the pasta dinner to chat with Stephen and Erv the oldest man in the event at 75 young years. Great to see the dinner now uses ceramic plates instead of the single use plastic polystyrene in previous years. In the future, hope they get rid of the plastic cups for drinking, perhaps encourage the participants to Bring Their Own Cup as provided in the goody bag!
The only part missing now was sleep. A sleepless night on Saturday night and a chopped up sleep on Sunday night.
The difference between quitting and finishing is having the right reasons for completing an event. Without those reasons, it is so easy to quit when the going gets tough.
Next post: The Taming of the Ice Dragon