I’ve completed the Arrowhead 135 three times, once in what I’d call pretty tough conditions. “I got this”, was my thought going into my fourth Arrowhead in 2014. I wasn’t worried even though my training was way down due to a broken hand earlier that fall. But 24-below air temps, the aforementioned lack of training, mistakes, and a lack of mental toughness all had different plans. My race unraveled at the first checkpoint, Gateway. There I agonized on what to do, finally making the decision to call it quits. It was only my second time to quit a race. I knew it was the right call, but it hurt. In fact, it still hurts.
Feeling humbled and bummed, I looked forward to potential summer mountain bike races and cyclocross. Even though I had nothing to prove to anyone else I felt I had to prove to myself that I still had what it takes to do a winter endurance event. JayP’s Backyard Fat Pursuit popped up on my radar, but time and money were some major obstacles I would have to overcome. With the help of my family, the shop (Revolution Cycle and Ski) and Salsa, I was able to overcome these and plans were made to head out west!
I tend to go into things a bit too casually, sporting an attitude of “I’ll deal with it when it happens”. On race day of the Fat Pursuit I was on the starting line for the 200k with 17 other riders believing the trail was groomed, would be fast, and that I’d be done under 24 hours. Hah! Was I ever wrong!
I didn’t have ambitions of winning the race but wanted to finish, and preferably finish in the top half. I found myself in good position early on in the race. Conditions were pretty good and we were moving at a great clip. As the miles ticked by we started to encounter deeper snow. The pitch increased and soon we were slowed to a crawl and even began walking and pushing my Mukluk. I kept telling myself that surely this wouldn’t last!
After completing the loop to the first checkpoint and retracing some of what I’d already ridden, I turned left onto new-to-me trail. I stopped and paused, as the trail was so bad that I didn’t think this was possible, but the foot prints and tire tracks told me otherwise. Onward I pushed. My plans for a sub-24 hour finish had vanished and were replaced with thoughts of just finishing. I saw myself slip from third-place to fourth to fifth to sixth. Frustrated and sore, I told myself I’d quit at the second checkpoint, near mile 70, in West Yellowstone.
I had not planned, or realized, that the second leg take me so long. I ran out of water some three hours from the checkpoint. At the time I didn’t realize I was that far out or I would have boiled up some water, but instead I let myself become suckered into believing I would soon be there. Heck, I even knew I could boil water because I’d already done so at the first checkpoint as part of JayP’s Facts Of Winter Life Challenge!
While walking and riding I kept looking for the lights of West Yellowstone. Over the next hill, lights appeared and I thought this must be it, but as the light grew brighter and brighter I realized it was just the trail groomer. While it wasn’t West Yellowstone, it provided some relief as I was able to pedal into West Yellowstone. This greatly boosted my morale.
As I entered the cabin to the smell of cooking food and thawing riders I knew instantly I’d push on to the third checkpoint. I reminded myself that this wasn’t made to be easy and that everyone was suffering. Mike 'Kid' Riemer from Salsa had given a talk at the prerace meeting. In that speech he’d said, “Just stay constant”. That became my motto: Just stay constant, Ben.
About two hours later, I headed back out reenergized and excited to bring this race closer to completion. It was almost midnight, 17 hours in. It was cold out, the air was still, and the trail fast! Back out on the trail, I found a gear I hadn’t had all day. I felt like a rock star. I ended up passing two other riders during the early section of the third leg, but the speed was not to last. The climbs up and over the Continental Divide were steep and never ending! On one of the walking climbs I found myself stopping several times to catch my breathe and close my eyes. But what goes up must come down, right? Not right away but it did come eventually! With the cold air, fast descents, and tiredness I got chilled quickly and crashed a few times too. I ended up jogging at times to warm my body.
That’s when it started to snow. My speed dropped further and it became difficult to see. My speed was anywhere from two to five miles an hour.
My body was craving sleep. On sections where I had to walk I would close my eyes and savor the feeling that gave me. Tired, sore, and desperate for sleep I once again found myself battling internal demons that were telling me to “quit at checkpoint three”. At this point I had pushed my bike about eight hours! Then, I caught myself. “Just stay constant…everyone is going through the same thing”.
Sometime in the early morning, around 7 AM, I entered checkpoint three, The Man Cave. Despite not having any sleep themselves the volunteers damn near carried me to a couch, brought me salted potatoes, and anything else I wanted. I was whooped. Again, I found myself contemplating what to do. The atmosphere from the others (volunteer, racers, Kis, and Jay) present was so positive I knew, once again, I’d go on. I knew it would be tough to leave if I stayed long, so I was in and out of checkpoint three in about half an hour, with 21 miles to go!
While the going was slow it was mostly rideable, minus some walking on hills. I ended up taking a wrong turn for a bit but it was nothing too serious and I realized the error fairly quickly. I did get passed in that time but truly didn’t care; the finish line was all I wanted!
I ran into Rebecca Rusch struggling on the trail. She had been killing me in the race but her asthma and exhaustion were setting in. I plugged along slowly, alternating between riding standing or seated, and walking. I had some major chaffing going on plus my feet were terribly sore. I’d reached that point where you just have to keep moving forward toward the finish.
It took hours, but eventually I popped out into an open spot and saw the finish line and a small crowd of well-wishers ahead. My finish place was fourth overall, third male (Tracey Petervary rode an incredible race to take second overall) in a time of around 30 hours.
It was the longest and hardest event I’d ever done…but I want more.
Endurance riders, myself included, talk of mentally dark times during an event, but it’s really hard to explain, and even more difficult to train for. The demons attacked me during the race but I prevailed and managed to keep them at bay. I haven’t always succeeded at this…but this time I did…and that has me dreaming of returning to Idaho for the second edition of the Fat Pursuit, or maybe even taking on the Iditarod Trail Invitational.
Whichever event it is, I’ll do my best to remember to “Just stay constant.”
ABOUT THE GUEST BLOGGER
Ben Doom has been working in bike shops in '94. Currently he is co-owner of Revolution Cycle & Ski in St. Cloud, Minnesota. He's married and has three girls under the age of 11. With a business, wife and family he still finds time (albeit dwindling) to ride. Soon his attention will be solely on the upcoming ITI (Iditarod Trail Invitational) as he prepares himself to take on Alaska.
Share this post: Tweet