News / USA

Harrowing Minnesota Race Tests Endurance

Athletes battle extreme conditions in Arrowhead 135

The cyclists who placed first and second crossed the finish line just one second - the width of one wheel - apart.
The cyclists who placed first and second crossed the finish line just one second - the width of one wheel - apart.

Multimedia

Audio

Frostbite, sleep-deprivation and harrowing descents in pitch blackness are all part of the strange allure of the Arrowhead 135, a two-day 135 mile (217 kilometer) race that takes place each winter in far northern Minnesota.



The competitors ski, bike or run along a snowmobile trail from the Canadian border, through a remote stretch of forest, to the small town of Tower, Minnesota. One hundred and thirty-five athletes started this year's eighth annual Arrowhead 135 in late January.

Last year, overnight temperatures plummeted to minus 31 degress Celsius. The year before, minus 37. That year, cyclist Jason Buffington saw one of his friends - a fellow racer - who'd stopped.

Competitors at Ski Pulk, the last checkpoint, 110 miles (177 km) into the race.
Competitors at Ski Pulk, the last checkpoint, 110 miles (177 km) into the race.

"I came up on Charlie in the last 20 miles of the trail standing and waving his legs back and forth trying to get circulation back in his toes," Buffington says.

Charlie Farrow, 52,  kept going, crossing the finish line about two hours later. Buffington, a doctor from Duluth, Minnesota, and 10 years younger than Farrow, was there to meet him, and quickly helped him remove his boots.

"His toes were swollen and purple like a plum," Buffington remembers. "He lost probably about half of the skin off his big toe about two or three months later."

"My toenail never came back," Farrow adds, "so I'm a man without a toenail."

Nevertheless, both men were still at the starting line for this year’s event. Farrow's bike was outfitted with snow tires as wide as his fist. After biking the past two years, Buffington raced on foot this time. He rigged up a sled to pull behind him, loaded with more than 11 kilos worth of survival gear every racer is required to carry for the extreme cold.

Cyclist leaders at mile marker 109 (175 km) at night.
Cyclist leaders at mile marker 109 (175 km) at night.

"You get what's called the kennel cough," Buffington says. "Where your lungs get frozen, your eyeballs, your corneas get a little frostbite, and everyone kind of walks around, and everything's real foggy, and you just have this dry coughing going the whole time."

Then there's the lack of sleep. The walkers and skiers take almost two days to complete the course, and may only sleep a couple of hours. The fastest bikers take nearly 20 hours, and don't rest at all.

This was Farrow’s seventh Arrowhead. He’s done all of them except the very first race. The high school social studies teacher says every time he does the race, his fatigued mind starts playing sinister tricks.

"I have a recurring hallucination regarding the Wizard of Oz. I always have this vision of the trees coming after me... and then I also have this vision of the Emerald City... but I can't ever get to it," he says.

Isolation is also a factor. As the course meanders from International Falls, on the Canadian border, through a national forest and around and over some of Minnesota’s 10,000 now-frozen lakes, the racers are spread out far apart.

"That's definitely the biggest danger," Buffington says. "Both years that I've biked it, even though it's taken less than 20 hours, there are times where for six-and-a-half hours, in the middle of the night, 20 below, you don't see a soul, and if anything happens, you're out there on your own."

That means racers have to be extremely prepared and careful. Three aid stations and nine shelters are spaced along the route.

Jeremy Kershaw, 40, a cardiac nurse, has completed the race for the past three years; first by ski, then bike, and last year on foot. With about 32 kilometers to go, he caught up to a racer struggling on the side of the trail.

"He was kind of frantically trying to get new clothes on and eat," Kershaw says. "It was a scary situation because I was really at the last several hours of the race, and so I was really at the end of my reserves."

Luckily, the racer had a cell phone, so Kershaw was able to get hold of a support crew which hauled the racer to safety by snowmobile.

Kershaw says it was a good reminder of how things can go wrong. "If you're not paying attention, things can go south very quickly, particularly when it's that cold and you're that tired."

Every year, about half the racers in the Arrowhead 135 drop out before reaching the finish line.

And that's partly what attracts athletes like Kershaw. "I'm more drawn to it by the fact that there's so much carnage, that people don't finish, that it's so tough."

There wasn’t as much carnage this year. The temperature at the start was a relatively balmy minus twelve degrees Celsius. And racers benefitted from the conditions. Minnesotan Casey Krueger smashed the ski record by 14 hours, finishing in just over 22 hours.

The first woman biker across the finish line - Eszter Horanyi from Colorado - took a bit over 18 hours to break the women’s record by two hours, just two-and-a-half hours behind the winning biker.

And Jason Buffington, the doctor from Duluth, set a new course record for runners. He finished in just over 37 hours.

You May Like

Official: S. Sudan President, Rebel Leader to Meet in Tanzania

Talks part of effort to end conflict in country that has left more than 10,000 people dead, displaced more than 1.5 million others More

Dutch Deny Link to Mystery Submarine Off Sweden

Netherlands denies Russian claim that 'foreign vessel' photographed in waters off Sweden could be Dutch More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Lawi
X
William Ide
October 20, 2014 10:23 AM
China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Nigeria Agrees to Cease-Fire With Boko Haram

Islamist militant group Boko Haram and the Nigerian government have agreed to a cease-fire. The Nigerian government issued an order Friday, telling all military chiefs "to comply with the cease-fire agreement in all theaters of operations. Why now and the significance of the agreement are questions on some people’s minds. VOA's Mariama Diallo reports.
Video

Video Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

The offensive by Islamic State militants against the northern Syrian city of Kobani has caused hundreds of thousands of residents to flee to Turkey. They receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from the town of Suruc a few kilometers from the border.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.

All About America

AppleAndroid