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Gluttons for punishment

One of the world’s most brutal endurance contests gets underway Monday, with finish at Fortune Bay

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 1/24/19

REGIONAL—Participants in the 15th annual Arrowhead Ultra 135 should be all smiles when the gun sounds Monday morning, sending the roughly 180 participants on their way from International Falls to …

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Gluttons for punishment

One of the world’s most brutal endurance contests gets underway Monday, with finish at Fortune Bay

Posted

REGIONAL—Participants in the 15th annual Arrowhead Ultra 135 should be all smiles when the gun sounds Monday morning, sending the roughly 180 participants on their way from International Falls to Fortune Bay Resort Casino, near Tower. The temperature at race time is currently forecast at about minus-20 degrees, with even colder weather in store during the 60-hour race window which ends at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.

In other words, it should be just about perfect for a hardcore group of long-distance racers as they take part in what is now widely known as one of the toughest extreme endurance races on the planet and attracts participants from around the world. Race organizers time the event to coincide with what is typically the coldest week of the winter in the North Country, in hopes of challenging the skills and mental toughness of those who compete in the event, whether on foot, bike, or ski. Fewer than 50 percent of those who start the race will make it to the end on their own power.

“We have racers from Serbia, Italy, Brazil, Australia, and at least 30 states, plus most provinces,” said Ken Krueger, of International Falls, who directs the event with his wife Jackie.

Krueger was a longtime participant in the race but retired as a competitor several years ago to help organize the event. He’s generally pleased with the weather forecast but would like to see it a bit colder if possible. “I’ve done the race eight times,” said Krueger. “The most memorable was the toughest.”

Event organizers don’t just let anyone take part. First-timers must have significant experience in extreme events, according to the event website. “A race in winter conditions improves your odds of being selected and surviving,” states the website.

Most of the participants are old hands at the event, since about 70 percent are repeat racers according to Krueger. “It’s almost like a family reunion,” he said.

While the race is tough, participants do now have the opportunity to make it even tougher by going unsupported. Most racers take advantage of a few checkpoints along the way, where they can rest, change socks, and grab something warm to eat. About three dozen of this year’s racers, however, won’t be taking advantage of the checkpoints, but will rely entirely on their own supplies and forego a chance to warm up in temperatures that are not expected to reach above zero Fahrenheit throughout the entire event.

For participants, it’s all about bragging rights, since the event offers no cash prizes. But ever since the race was included in a book, “The World’s Toughest Endurance Challenges,” by Richard Hoad and Paul Moore, it’s had no trouble attracting plenty of interest from would-be competitors. “We fill up within two hours of opening registration,” said Krueger.

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