135 Miles in the Nation’s Icebox
In temperatures dramatically below zero, northern Minnesota hosts annual Arrowhead 135 this week
The finishers are a distinctive bunch—easily recognized by their icicle-laden eyelashes, mustaches and exposed skin. A cutoff-time mandated 60 hours of human-powered exertion in temperatures typically ranging from 30 to 50 degrees below zero characterize the Arrowhead 135, which traverses 135 wintery miles across northern Minnesota, from International Falls near the Canadian border to Tower. For comparison’s sake, note that the Antarctic Ice Marathon, run a few hundred miles from the South Pole, has an average temperature range of 14 to minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit.
It’s no surprise that locals have taken to referring to the Arrowhead area as the “Icebox of the Nation,” even, as the race website attests, renaming International Falls: “Frostbite Falls.” Race Director David Pramann and five-time Arrowhead finisher noted that racers must prepare for “a tremendous variety of unpredictable conditions.”
Even so, those harsh conditions haven’t kept the intrepid from taking on, … no, flocking to this adventurous event. The inaugural race in 2005 featured 10 entrants. By 2013, there were 135 athletes from 21 states and 6 countries filling the race quota, competing in one of three categories: ski, run or bike. Runners from around the world—from Brazil, France, Australia and Canada—toed the line as this year’s race, which began January 28th at 7 a.m. The dark morning air was a pleasant 24 degrees Fahrenheit, though racers faced a large winter storm that was well underway; it would dump 12 inches of snow on the trail by the race finish.
Just over 14 hours later (14:20), with temperatures settled solidly into the single digits, a new record was set by bike competitor Todd McFadden, a Minnesota native. The first skier, Mark Scotch of Wisconsin crossed the finish line after nearly 39 hours. Forty two runners set out to tackle the distance, and only seven were still on the course by the final checkpoint, 35 miles from the finish. Parker Rios of Wisconsin claimed the victory in 45 hours 40 minutes. The second-place runner, John Storkamp of Minnesota, completed the race in 51 hours 33 minutes. Eric Johnson of Utah took third in 54:37. Only four other runners finished the race, the final finisher crossed the line a mere 16 minutes before the cut off. No female competitors made it past the 70-mile checkpoint. Though the finish rate (49 out of 135) may not sound impressive, Pranaam called this year “the best and most competitive Arrowhead yet.”
The race traverses the Arrowhead State Trail, a multi-purpose trail used primarily for snowmobiling in the winter. The majority of the trail is wide and well groomed, although the race takes place during what the race directors somewhat masochistically say is “hopefully the coldest time of year.”
“You can freeze your tail off if not careful and then we would feel very, very bad and the race likely would not happen next year and we would have to notify your next of kin,” says the race’s website.