The 11th annual Arrowhead 135 wrapped up at 7 p.m. Wednesday with this year’s ultramarathon being one for the record books with the highest number and percentage of finishers ever.
Mild winter weather with cloudy skies and air temperatures remaining in the 20s above zero prevailed during the three days of the 135-mile race along the Arrowhead State Trail from Kerry Park in International Falls to the Fortune Bay Casino near Tower as 124 athletes reached the finish line within the allotted 60 hours.
Of 154 athletes who began the race, 77 of 84 bikers, 44 of 66 runners and three of four skiers finished. Overall, 80 percent of the athletes completed the ultramarathon, which has historically had a finish rate of less than 50 percent.
That is in stark contrast to last year’s ultramarathon when the 142 athletes at the start faced below-zero temperatures and only 47 finished — 30 bikers, 16 runners and one skier.
“Certainly, the weather was favorable (to the athletes in this year’s ultramarathon),” said race organizer Ken Krueger, who also noted warmer weather softened the snow along the trail.
Krueger said athletes in the 2015 Arrowhead 135 didn’t have to deal with problems of icing or their glasses fogging up as would be the case in colder weather, noting the biggest challenges this year were foot issues such as trench foot and blisters.
He said this year’s race had a “ridiculously competitive field” of both runners and bikers.
The first person to finish, biker Jorden Wakeley of Michigan, made it to Fortune Bay in 15 hours flat. He crossed the finish line with three other bikers mere seconds behind him – Tim Berntson of Alaska (15:00:01), Jay Petervary of Idaho (15:00:02) and Todd McFadden of Duluth (15:00:04).
McFadden, who set the Arrowhead 135 record in 2013 when he finished on a bike in 14:20:00, said he entered this year’s race predicting that a new record would be broken, noting that the trail was faster when he went on a practice ride Sunday, the day before the ultramarathon began.
“The elements make (the Arrowhead 135) kind of special, because you never know what you’re going to get,” said McFadden, who noted the snow conditions prevented a new record from being set.
This year was the fourth time McFadden competed in the Arrowhead 135, in which he also placed eighth in 2012 and had to drop out of last year’s race because of frostbite.
He said this year’s race was the most competitive of the four he has been in with bikers grouped together at the front of the pack and about 12-15 bikers still in the lead group at the Highway 53 crossing south of Ericsburg.
Based on the field of competitors, McFadden said he expected about 10-12 bikers were capable of winning the race, in which the group of four bikers he was with toward the finish kept the pace up so that no one would pass them up from behind.
For the duration of the ultramarathon, McFadden said he planned to be off his bike for not more than 10 minutes to be in the running for the top spot, noting he just turned around and didn't stop at the first checkpoint at the Gateway General Store in Kabetogama.
The first female to finish on a bike, Tracey Petervary of Idaho, placed 18th overall in 18:27:00.
A new Arrowhead 135 record for runners was set when Marcus Berggren of Sweden reached the finish in 34:20:00, almost 3 hours faster than the previous record.
The first woman runner to finish, Sue Lucas of Manitoba, set a new record by 5½ hours for female runners when she reached Fortune Bay in 42:31:00.
Minnesotan Steve Schuder was the first skier to finish in 34:51:00. Another skier, Minnesotan Daryl Saari, reached Fortune Bay in 58:40:00 and became the seventh athlete in the ultramarathon’s history to have finished the race by skiing, running and biking to earn the “Arrowhead a’Trois” trophy.
The last athlete to finish before the 60-hour cutoff time was runner Jim Wilson of Minnesota, who made it to Fortune Bay in 59:52:00.
All the finishers earned trophies for completing the race.
The first “Spirit of Arrowhead” award was presented to runner Lisa Paulos of Iowa for her effort in helping her competitors.
Toward the end of the race, Krueger said Paulos helped another woman, who was having trouble with asthma, finish by pulling the woman’s sled so that they could both reach Fortune Bay.
All the athletes in the ultramarathon are required to carry mandatory survival equipment. The bikers were able to load their survival equipment on their bikes and most of the runners pulled sleds known as pulks.
Proceeds from this year’s ultramarathon are being donated to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, Safe Families for Children – Minnesota and the International Falls Hunger Coalition.
The 12th annual Arrowhead 135 is set for Jan. 25-27, 2016.