Saturday, February 28, 2009

Eric Johnson, First on foot
















Without question the last 65 brutal miles is what defines the Arrowhead 135. On Monday, February 2 in the frozen reaches of northern Minnesota, 26 people started and placed their bets they'd finish 135 miles away. Sixty hours later at race end there were 18 DNF's. The only similarities between the Arrowhead and a summer 100 is that you wear running shoes, which is where all resemblence stops. Add another 35 miles, all of which are done in a deep freezer and your're in for it.


As I mustered my way through the second night in temperatures that dropped to -35, I wished for an extra check point. Problem is, there are only two, total, one at approximately mile 36 and the second at 72. That provides a lot of real estate between the runner and the finish to be completely on their own, and is a painful test of self-reliance, which is exactly why I love winter or artic ultras so much. Perhaps in no other aspect of the extremes of organized ultras is self-reliance so absloutely critical. That along with sleep depreviation, a 25 pound sled and no pacers or extra drops, not to mention the mind blowing mercury drops of -35, and you've just met the Arrowhead. Maybe the last 65 miles of Pierre and Cheryl's race should be called "Pierre's Payback".

You also better pray it's not windy at -35, and that you don't need to stop and add any moleskin to your already sorry looking feet. Because if you get it to stick without subjecting your toes to frostbite, I doubt your fingers will be so lucky, I promise. There are plenty of reasons why the sub-culture of active winter or artic ultrarunners is so small, which is also why the active sub-culture of ultrarunners who participate in extreme heat events like the Badwater 135 is so sparsely populated: the margin of error is extremely tight, and if the ultrarunner has any physical or mentally weaknesses, they will be forcefully and painfully exploited, and they will suffer. A Navy Seal once said "It's mind over matter, and if you don't mind it doesn't matter."

Meet you at the starting line next year, and I hope that you don't mind.

Eric

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