The first time I heard about the Arrowhead 135 was, I believe, in the Fall of 2009. A gentleman who had participated in the event numerous times, Pat Susnik, had told me all about the race. “It’s how far?” I thought. “At what time of the year?” “In I-Falls?” I was simultaneously frightened and fascinated by it and deep down I knew someday I’d do that race.
Fast forward to 2015 and I found myself riding my bike 150 miles at the Tuscobia Winter Ultra. I’m a lousy winter cyclist and finished dead last, but I finished. My main goal, however was to gain some winter experience and to qualify for Arrowhead but I can’t say I had fun. In fact, after the race I remarked to a co-worker, “I will never do Arrowhead. Never.” There was simply no way I wanted to ride my bike for that long, for that many hours ever again.
Fast forward again to January 2016 and there I was, on my bike, on the starting line of Arrowhead! The race had been haunting me for so long I just couldn’t NOT give it a try. I felt a bit under trained for the race but I was still confident, and excited. After all of those years of having thought of the Arrowhead 135, I was finally there, on the course experiencing it all! I was thrilled.
The race itself didn’t go so well for me. As I said, I’m a lousy winter cyclist and the warm temps that year created some really soft snow that I simply didn’t have the skills or the strength to ride very well. I was pushing my bike a lot and while doing some math in my head somewhere between the Gateway checkpoint and the Melgeorge checkpoint I knew that my best option was to drop out and come back next year. And I KNEW I was going to come back next year, because the race was just so incredible! The course, the people, the solitude on the trail…it was amazing.
So in the Summer of 2016 I began training for Arrowhead in earnest. I had decided that I wanted to do Arrowhead on foot this time for a couple of reasons. One, being a runner I felt that this mode was a bit more in my wheelhouse. Second, I felt like doing the race on foot would really get to the heart of the true Arrowhead experience. I’d simply be out there on the course, in the elements longer. And I wanted that experience.
I began training with a bit of normal running and that worked fine, but my best training was when I was dragging a tire. A friend had loaned me a nice old truck tire that weighed about 35 pounds. I attached a rope to it and strapped a harness around my waist and began my Summer of tire dragging. My main workout was a series of hill repeats up and down a ski hill at Chester Park. Up and down, over and over and over. Sometimes I’d wear a pack with about 10 pounds of weight in it as well. My goal was to build strength and power as that’s always a weakness for me in these long races. 15, 20, 30 times up that ski hill I went until the snow fell and I couldn’t be on the hill anymore. It was absolutely the right choice to do those hill repeats. It definitely made me stronger and it prepared me well for the hills at Arrowhead.