Often described as one of the toughest bike races in the lower 48 states, the Arrowhead 135 challenges even the most prepared riders.
This is a journal by a non-athlete's participation in an event where starting is often just as much a challenge as finishing.
September 30, 2010
I'm officially now beginning to obsess about the Arrowhead. I think about it while I ride. I read every race report I can find. I dream about it. And I'm beginning to wonder if I can possibly be ready physically or mentally.
Its four months away and I'm already nervous. I was nervous when I first read about the race - Eric told me "good, you should be". I'll prob throw up the night before (which will be bad because I'm going to need every single last calorie I can get). People say Ironmans are "training rides". Athletes who finish regularly say "this is the hardest thing I've ever done". Haloucinations are common, esp on the second half. What the hell am I doing?
I think I'm a "red shirt" participant. I'm in, but I'm just field filler and prob won't make it. Like the red shirts on Star Trek - they always die. While this is sort of defeatist and perhaps not the most healthy attitude, I'm also trying hard to be realistic. I was reading a report today from a guy that did not finish the race until his third attempt. Its not the finishing that really matters, I think. Dropping this race is not a bad thing - no one cares, and any one of a zillion things can take you out, even those most prepared. The reality in this race is that if you cross the *starting* line, you've passed initiation.
For this I am grateful because after reading many of these reports I have no delusions of actually finishing. From my vantage point right now, pretty blue sky, warm sunshine, flat paved trail and road bike, I have simply no concept of the difficulty of this race. I simply cannot properly imagine it and thus have no basis to measure my current abilities against the challenges that will present themselves.
However, reading all this stuff has helped me tease out some secrets of this race, or at least what I think are the tactics necessary. The first is that while important, weight is not usually a deciding factor. Yeah, everyone wants to shave a pound here or there, of course. But often the reasons people drop are not only because they are over loaded. Usually there is another contributing factor. A miscalculation of food, water for the snow & weather conditions. Equipement failure. Physical failure that would have happened no matter what their equipment weighed. It just seems like from the reports of both successes and failures that it is a lot more important to pay attention to the body than the weight of the equipment. Obviously if you're pulling extra weight it impacts your endurance, but those that dropped seem like they prob would have dropped anyway because of a tactical mistake, even if their gear weighed 25% less. So anyway, like I mentioned in my earlier post, I think that time is better spent on preparing the body rather than drilling out my wheels.
Getting the proper amount of calories and water is important as well. This is a huge tactical decision. How to get enough of either and keep it from freezing.
Dealing with sleep deprivation.
One that I've not yet mentioned is that it seems like the people who end up with a partner or in a group seem to do well. I've not done any real analysis, so this is only an "impression" on my part. But it seems like the are three types of participants - those that are the strong guys - the leaders & real competitors who will race this as a race. Then there are the people who travel as a pair or maybe group of three. Finally, there are the people who end up alone. Its the last group that it seems has the hardest time. Often the race reports mention how great it was to see someone, talk to someone ride with someone and how much of a boost that was to their mental health - it is seriously lonely out there. You can talk occasionally, encourage each other, help each other (i.e. get something out of a pack, etc.).
Lastly, another tactical challenge that I'm surprised people don't do a better job of is navigation. There are a lot of side trails, a few T's, trail crossings and things like that that make it possible to get off the main trail. And following tracks is no sure bet, either, since who knows if the person that made them also made the right decision? I see very little mention of GPS units or pre-loaded routes. At this point I'm planning to load a GPS with a route and carry that. Maybe not run it the whole time, but at least be able to check it. Several times in reports there were people discussing the fact that they didn't know if they were on the right trail, or that missed a T and lost 10 miles and other seriously negative navigation errors. Some people recover and move on, but I think I'd be so pissed at adding the extra time and distance I'd quit. I want to be able to check if I find myself wondering if I'm on the right trail.
So one of the 2007 participants who had a real tough time went back in 08 to attempt it again. He corrected a lot of his mistakes from the previous year (and never once mentioned the weight of his bike in his race report after obsessing about it in 2007), and completed it successfully. An interesting aspect is that he rested for a long time at the midway point, not starting off on the second half until daylight. This was one idea to my own approach. I'm going to give up any sort of time goals. Yes I want to be a competitor. But I just have to do this to completion. If that means deciding to sleep for 8 hours, so be it. 40 hours is not an unrealistic time.