Arrowhead 135 – Lindsay’s 2011 race report

Lindsay Gauld, founder of our shop, has just forwarded to us his race report from the recent ARROWHEAD ULTRA 135, below. It’s worth pointing out that 3 days after Lindsay returned home from the event he was up in the middle of a sleepless night determined to figure out how to pack more lightly for a future attempt at skiing the event. That’s the kind of relentless ambition that it takes to do well in these events we guess.

From Lindsay, Feb 12, 2011: As I write my story about the race I’ve just completed I’m sure many will realize that my version will be wildly exaggerated as compared to the more factually correct version by Andy “the Good Doctor” Lockery who once again served as my Faithful Manservant for the race. However, I will try to pass on my insights into the event while they are still somewhat fresh in my mildly hallucinogenic mind.

I want to give a quick Cole’s Notes version of the event for those looking for the results with no time to read any more. The key numbers for the event from a Manitoba perspective are as follows: 137, 128, 57, 10, 14, and -37. There were 137entrants, 128 actually appeared on the starting line, and there were 57 finishers. Of those finishers I was 10th in 22 hours and 37 minutes and Ian “Gianni” Hall was 14th in 27 hours and 2 minutes. One of the main factors in the low % of finishers is the fact that the temperatures dipped to -37 C on both of the nights of the race.

In many events, there is a recurring theme that I take away with me that forms the basis of many of my memories. At this year’s Arrowhead race I found myself confronted by the same question on at least half a dozen times and it was always asked in almost the exact same manner. “If you don’t mind me asking just how old are you?” This was followed by what appeared to be a slight look of disappointment when they learned that I was a callow youth of 62. It seems that my Dogsbody and chief publicist had been circulating a rumour that I was actually 83.

I’m planning on taking part in the Alaskan Iditarod Trail Invitational, the granddaddy of all the winter events next year and the fatigue that I feel after this event makes me seriously question my sanity. These winter events are a true challenge as you are confronted with all of the usual race obstacles plus the necessity to survive in a hostile climate not really intended for sweat drenched athletes. It gives me pause to think that this race took me less than 23 hours and I’m probably looking at between 6 and 7 days in Alaska. One of the most useful skills for someone taking part in these long races is a short or at least a very selective memory. I will use this as a chance to purge the difficult times and move forward with only the positive memories.

The Preparation

As my good friend Al Dixon always says, “ Failing to plan is planning to fail” and this really applies to a winter mountain bike race taking about 24 hours. This is my 3rd year at the Arrowhead and I’ve improved my gear and my preparation each year. At last year’s race, a number of things went wrong for me with my new bike not arriving and some serious issues with a leaking Camelbak. You can learn a lot more from your failures and my many difficulties created lots of opportunity for improvement..

I got my new titanium Fatback and lighter wheels last year right after returning from the race and it is at least 5 pounds lighter than the setup I had for the Pugsley. I also got a great new seatbag from Eric at Revelate Designs ( formerly Epic ) that has huge capacity and does away with a rear rack. He referred me to Dogwood Designs for some terrific new Poagies to keep my hands warm. I could wear much lighter mitts and never had issues with cold hands .The total bike setup this year was about 47 lbs. This compares with 68 lbs in my first year and 57 lbs last year. This reduction makes a huge difference for someone my size.

I also worked on an insulated hose for my Camelbak and wore it under my jacket and fed the hose inside as well. I probably stopped about 25 to 30 times for water and the Camelbak option saves perhaps 40 seconds each time. Sounds like not a lot but that’s 20 minutes quicker at the end of the race without riding any harder. As I get older I’m looking for any equipment edge to make up for my gradually declining strength. (sounds like most golfers I know where the ethos is to just throw money at equipment and surely you’ll get better.) I tested it in some of our cold weather and felt all was well as long as I remembered the lid.

Perhaps the biggest equipment improvement I made was the surgery I had in March on my left shoulder. It’s the 4th surgery on the shoulder (I’m pretty stubborn) and this time I had a bone graft, which seems to have stabilized the joint. It’s a comfort to know I’m not likely to dislocate my shoulder by falling or even going over a bump on the trail. It means that I’ve got a large backlog on my dance card of races I hope to get to while I’m still young and spry.

Training

I always say that I’ve got no time to train as I’m always working but I don’t get a lot of sympathy from those who are familiar with my “career path” (editor’s note: Lindsay retired from ownership of the shop to work as a bike courier). I did get more time on the squishy bike this year as we had early snow. It was also a help that Ian was coming to the race so we were able to get together for some rides. The snowmobile trails at Birds Hill Park are excellent and I spent some sessions out there. On one of these rides, I had a flat tire and upon changing the tube my plastic pump blew apart when I tried to pump the tire. This led to a 14 km walk back to Spring Hill where I’d parked the van. It also led me to search out and test an all-metal pump by Lexyne.

One of the hard parts of the race is pushing a fully loaded bike up the hills, which are too steep to ride. I tried to get over to the old city dump ( West view Park ) to train at pushing the bike and of the got in 3 or 4 sessions. The lighter bike helped and I was feeling better about that part of the challenge.

The Trip

We had a real entourage this year with four vehicles departing on Saturday Jan. 29thin order to arrive with a day to rest up for the start on Monday morning at 7 AM. Besides me and Andy there was Ian along with Halberto Loewen who was there to help me and Ian as it turned out. Hal also sent an ongoing blog while the race was on which was excellent for those wondering how we were doing. Dallas Sigurdur went on his own to take part in the Foot category (they call it the Run but the reality is that it is almost impossible to run anywhere near all the time towing a sled. Al “mister” Dixon came along and volunteered at the race. Al is planning on taking part next year ( as is Hal ) and wanted to get a sense of the event.

We arrived in International Falls and went straight to the gear check where they check to insure that you have the necessary mandatory gear. The gear includes a -30 C sleeping bag, bivy sac, insulated sleeping pad, a stove and pot for cookinig or melting snow, fire starter, space blanket, a whistle, red lights for the front and rear of the bike, a headlamp, and a reflective vest. They want you to be able to survive and fend for yourself in case of fatigue or accident. I actually carry a number of extra clothes above and beyond the required list. It was helpful getting the check done on Saturday as we beat the rush on Sunday when the largest number of the racers arrive.

As I had mentioned earlier, I’d been working on my Camelbak hydration system and thought I had solved it but lo and behold I found something even better at the gear check. In the hallway, there was a small display with a battery heated bladder. The heating wire runs up the hose right to the end and can be turned on for 10 minutes at a time . The hose was well insulated with a zippered cover right over the nipple so it was possible that it might require the power except in the coldest extremes. It was being sold by Bob Ostrom , an electrical engineer and racer from Alaska. Given my issues with water last year, I had to purchase this unit. I tested it on our short Sunday ride and felt good about it.

On Sunday we had a relaxed day and went for a short ride. I suggested that we go to the first checkpoint at the gateway store to check out the course. Ian, Al. Hal and I went down the trail for 25 minutes then turned back. It was beautiful with the bright sunshine glistening off the recent snow hanging on the trees.

The prerace meeting and pasta feast started at 4 in the afternoon and I saw lots of familiar faces from my previous two Arrowheads as well as numerous other events over the years. There were a number of prize draws and I was hoping for the carbon fork from Fatback. There was also a frame from 9 Zero 7. I had no success with either of them but still fully expected to win the Salsa frame and fork. Alas, again I was beaten out and imagine my dismay when I realized that the culprit was none other than Ian Hall.

One bonus from the dinner was the fact that our friend Charlie Farrow offered Andy and I the prestigious Duluth DBD crests which we will both wear with honour in the future. DBD stands for Death before Dishonour which is a somewhat extreme creed to follow in our sport of choice and I hope I’m never confronted with the choice. The expression comes from the doomed Scott expedition to Antarctica in 1912. One of the men on the expedition, Lawrence Oates knew he was holding up his two companions in their desperate attempt to get back to the base. He left the tent and walked off into oblivion, sacrificing his life in order to give the other two a better chance to survive.

The Race

The race started at 7 am, which meant getting up at 5 am for an attempt to eat some breakfast. After all these years of racing I’m still too nervous to eat much before the race. I had the bike all ready from the night before and had a short ride to the start to make sure all was working. I had a special wardrobe this year with a bright pair of beach shorts over my Sporthill pants as well as a brightly coloured lei around my neck. I was having fun with the riders from warmer climes and told them that this starting temp of -24 was like summer to me.

We started through a narrow shoot and immediately turned south onto the main trail. As he counted down, I left several seconds early and was the first leader of the race. A group formed at the front and quickly reduced down to 6 really fast guys and one 62 year old . I rode with them for about 6 kms until I had an attack of common sense and backed off and watch their red blinking lights pull ahead. I cruised along and gradually got brought back by several other riders including Dave Gray, Jacques Boutet and Heather Best.

Heather is the wife of Jeff Oatley , the defending champion as well as winner of the last two Iditabikes. One really unusual thing for me was the fact that he dropped back at about the 25 km point in the race to have a visit. He had dropped at least a minute behind the lead pack but obviously knew he would have no trouble catching up. It also led the guys in the lead group to push harder. This was like the famous stage in the Tour de France stage when Lance Armstrong feigned fatigue and sucked Jan Ullrich’s team into attacking and wasting their efforts early in the stage.

I always seem to end up with Dave Gray at some point in the race. Dave is true royalty in the sport. He is the designer of the ubiquitous Surley Pugsley which changed winter riding forever. Dave’s also a former winner of the Arrowhead. He has a bit of a Manitoba heritage as his dad Jerry spent part of his university years at Delta Marsh. The fact that I was near him was a good sign that I was moving well.

The 4 of us hit the Gateway store at about the same time and we were basically the first racers to stop for more than just adding hot water. I had prepaid for soup the previous day and ended up having a generous bowl of macaroni and cheese. Andy filled my bottle and Bladder and I took the opportunity to put my jacket and balaclava and toque in the dryer for 10 minutes.

Heather got away first followed by Jacques and myself. The trail after the stop had been groomed overnight and was very fast so we were able to ride along side by side. We talked a lot which was terrific in that he’s a great guy but it also was a good way to insure that we weren’t going too hard. We basically rode together all the way to Melgeorges. Dave caught up to us just as 6 snowmobiles came by us. This is always bad news for a rider as they chew up the trail and make it much slower. We were confronted with this for the last 25 kms into the checkpoint.
We arrived at the checkpoint at 4:30. This was 40 minutes ahead of my arrival last year. I hoped to eat well and totally dry my clothes and at the same time be on my way within an hour. I ate a bunch of my own perogies personally prepared by chef Lockery. If anyone believes that, I’ve got some swampland we need to talk about. They provided 2 bowls of soup, 1 ½ grilled cheese sandwiches, 2 brownies as well as, a hot Apple cider. I had put two Starbucks Frappacinos in my drop bag. I drank them and then just before departing I had a Red Bull. I hoped the caffeine would keep me awake through the night. That I had a good appetite was a good sign that I’d been going the right pace.

Heather was the first to leave among our group. She’d arrived ahead of the three of us and had a good rest. Jacques left moments after her. I headed out about 20 minutes after them at 5:40 so I’d stopped for an hour and 10 minutes. Not bad. The next section is over 70 kms and has some long push-a-bikes. I actually preferred to be on my own as I would be able to listen to my body and keep the right pace. I actually left before dark but that lasted for all of 10 minutes.
This leg went pretty well. On the pushing sections I could really notice the difference in the weight of the bike compared to my first year. It’s still tough but I never reached that point where I’m breaking it down into 10 steps and then hope I could go on. On this section I heard later that Heather saw two wolves right by her on the trail. That would have been spectacular and more than a little scary.

My only issue was my vision. At one point, I went to take my glasses off because they were fogging up. I wasn’t wearing glasses . On the last descent off Wakeumup Hill I had to get off and walk, as I couldn’t see where I was going. From there it was about 5 kms to the last checkpoint at the Crescent Bar and Grill. I arrived there just before 1 am. I hoped that some time in the warmth would clear my eyes. I’m not sure whether this is a comment on how I looked at this point but three different people in the bar asked me how old I was. I had 2 delicious bowls of soup and refilled my bottles, said goodbye to my new friends and was on my way at 1:26. I had predicted that I would finish in 22 hours so I was looking good as I only needed to ride the last 33 kms in 3 ½ hours.

As I was pulling out of the parking lot, Dave Gray was arriving. The further you are into the race, the less you see of other riders as we get more and more spread out. I headed out and quickly came to realize that my eyes were going to be a problem as the rest and warmth hadn’t made any real difference. The last section is basically flat and fortunately I knew what was coming. Nevertheless, I fell at least 6 times as I wandered off into the deep snow at the edge of the trail. I ended up trying to stay right in the center of the trail and made no attempt to ride on the frontrunners tracks. Between falling and walking to try and get my bearings, I could see my 22-hour time slipping away but I could do nothing except to keep myself slowly heading towards the end. I was sure Dave would be coming up behind me at any minute.

I reached the finish after 22 hours and 37 minutes which was good for 10th. Dave P was there to take my bike and I wandered into the hospitality room in a daze and could barely see. Mary Grelk was kind enough to help me to the front desk and then to my room as I’m not sure I could have found my way. A quick shower and several hours sleep/rest helped and I could see a bit though my eyes were very sore. I’d planned on a 4 or 5 hour sleep followed by another 18 – 20 hours ride back up the course as I did last year but I decided that would be foolish in light of my vision issues.

Andy and Hal and I went for the buffet breakfast and then wandered over to see Ian come in. We almost missed him as he rode a very fast closing leg to finish in 27 hours and 2 minutes. This was good for 14th which is an amazing result for someone doing the race for the fist time. Ian finished right behind Bill Shand who is one of the most experienced guys in the race. Bill is off to the Iditabike for the 3rd time so I’m looking forward to watching his progress.
Dallas was unable to complete the run as he had some serious issues with his hip flexors. I’m sure he will be back to conquer that challenge but he plans on getting a squishy bike and riding it next year. It seems the Manitoba contingent could grow substantially with Hal, Al , Jeoff Chipman and possibly Morgan all planning on being there.

It’s a special event and I can’t offer enough praise to Dave and Mary and all of the volunteers for making it a great experience. The other special feature for me is the great camaraderie between all of the competitors. I had the pleasure of riding for 5 hours with Jacques Boutet and it was terrific. I saw Dave Gray many times and looked forward to seeing his dad at the various checkpoints. I briefly enjoyed riding with Heather Best. Any event that Charlie Farrow is at is special. Lance Andre is terrific in that he takes an all or nothing approach and is willing to risk all to go for the win. I hope it works out one of these years. For me the most outstanding performance was Jeremy Kershaw (another DBD stud) doing the run to complete the 3rd discipline and coming in 2nd, Incredible. I don’t know Tim Roe or Matt Maxwell but I salute their efforts in completing the 3 disciplines as well.

Thank you all for sharing this experience with me. I’m already looking forward to 2012. In the meantime, I’m planning on doing the 1000 km Trans Wisconsin starting on June 17th. Charlie Farrow and I will start together but I’m not sure how long he’ll want to stay with the old man. It should be fun.

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