Despite bitterly cold temperatures, a new Arrowhead 135 ultramarathon bike record was set Monday night, smashing the previous one by more than 90 minutes.
Jorden Wakeley of Grayling, Mich., finished the 135-mile event in 11 hours and 43 minutes. Ted Loosen, a Minnesota native, held the record of 13 hours and 15 minutes since 2017. Loosen did not compete this year.
“I had a goal in mind,” Wakeley told The Journal Tuesday morning. “I actually told a lot of family and friends I wanted to break the record.”
The 28-year-old won the bike race in 2015, finishing in 15 hours flat. Going into this year’s event, he said he carefully calculated the speed he’d need to average and how much time he could allow for stops in order to secure the record.
“I’m definitely happy with how things turned out,” he said.
For others, the outcome wasn’t what they were hoping for.
California native Bill Bradley, who made a temporary move to Borderland in mid-December to acclimate himself to northern Minnesota’s weather, was listed under the did not finish category on the Arrowhead website Tuesday morning.
The extreme athlete previously told The Journal he has attempted the grueling race seven other times, all resulting in a withdrawal. He was hopeful 2019 — his eighth attempt — was his ticket for a finish.
“When I started, my energy level was at a 6,” he said Tuesday. “It went downhill after that.”
The runner about four weeks ago took on the Tuscobia Winter Ultra race in Wisconsin, and was unable to finish because of illness.
“I never recovered from Tuscobia,” he said. “Right off the bat, I knew I was in trouble... I got to the first checkpoint with three minutes to spare and wanted to go back out, but knew I couldn’t.”
Bradley said he was disappointed, but not discouraged.
“I’ll be back next year,” he said. “These big challenges are what I live for. Never quit on your dreams.”
The runner wasn’t alone in not being able to finish the race. As of 11 a.m. Tuesday, 43 runners had scratched from the race, leaving only 21 on the trail. In the biking category, 19 had finished, 22 were still en route to the finish line and 30 had scratched. Three of the four skiers did not finish and each of the three kicksled athletes were still active.
Finish or not, just taking on the race itself is a challenge. Wakeley said even though he reached his goal, there were obstacles along the way.
Around the halfway point, his water froze, creating some uneasiness for the biker.
“I knew it was going to be cold,” he said. “But my water freezing made me a little nervous.”
What he said he knew he did well was sweat management, knowing when to shed and add layers as needed – especially when the route saw some elevation.
“I like hills and after The Gateway (Store checkpoint), there is a lot of hills and I knew I could make a move to break away from the others and make it stick,” he said. “It worked out.”
While Wakeley and other finishers were able to warm up after crossing the finish line at Fortune Bay Resort and Casino near Tower Tuesday morning, others were still on the trail, battling subzero air temperatures and extremely low wind chills.
“(Racers) are hanging in,” said race co-director Jackie Krueger Monday night.
Jackie’s husband and co-director Ken Krueger said several racers had dropped before overnight hours Monday due to frostbite, illness, exhaustion and other factors. Racers have 60 hours to finish the event.
“I hope everyone is being safe out there,” Wakeley said. “This is some really cold weather.”
But it’s the extreme cold these thrill-seeking athletes crave, and many were even more motivated to finish because of it.
As they were getting ready for the race to begin at Kerry Park Monday morning, several athletes made comments about being just hours behind Borderland’s record-setting -46 degrees Sunday. They admitted that finishing the race in such extremely cold temperatures would only add to their bragging rights.
“This is why we’re here,” two bikers said as they gave each other a quick good luck hug before strapping on their helmets Monday.
Monday morning, the temperature in International Falls was -9 degrees with a wind chill of about -23 degrees. Tuesday, it was -26 degrees with a wind chill of -45 degrees.
Several racers were still on the trail as of press time. Check www.ifallsjournal.com and Saturday’s edition for more Arrowhead 135 coverage.