Photograph by Jim Johnson, iFalls Daily Journal
The Arrowhead 135 race is long, difficult, and bitterly cold, but that’s all part of the fun. Right? Undoubtedly some competitors question this line of reasoning while standing at the starting line of this 135-mile (217-kilometer) ultramarathon in International Falls, Minnesota, a town that routinely registers the coldest temperatures in the Lower 48 and is more commonly known as Frostbite Falls. The self-supported race follows the Arrowhead State Trail through the hilly, densely forested hinterlands of northern Minnesota, and the rules are relatively few: Racers can ski, run, or pedal with fat-tire snow bikes, and they must finish with 15 pounds (6.8 kilograms) of emergency gear and 3,000 calories of emergency food in the good old-fashioned spirit of Midwestern self-reliance.
In spite of starting-line jitters, the unique perks of the race—one of the coldest of its kind—soon reveal themselves: the sound of your misty breath and the snow crunching beneath you, the sight of the moon pillowed by a halo of clouds, and wolves standing as silent as monks by the side of the trail, to name a few. Fewer than 120 people do it each year and as many as 80 percent don’t finish, but the value lies simply in participating. In fact, the most coveted trophy is the one reserved for the dead-last finisher. And the true booty is the camaraderie that comes with joining a select clan of people who step up to such a singular challenge.
Need to Know: The 2011 race, with an entrance fee of $190, is scheduled for January 31. To register, contact the Arrowhead Winter Ultra organizers (www.arrowheadultra.com).