On a frosty Monday morning in International Falls, Minnesota participants of the Arrowhead 135 set out into near Arctic conditions. The event is a 217 km winter race that attracts fat bikers, skier and runners. Despite the severe cold, the course record was smashed by Jordan Wakeley of Grayling, Michigan. He covered the course in 11 hours and 43 minutes keeping an average speed of 18 km/h throughout the race.

The previous record sat at 13 hours 15 minutes set in 2017. Neil Beltchenko of Minneapolis, Minnesota finished second at 13: hours 27 minutes and was the first unsupported men’s biker to finish. Minnesotan Leah Gruhn was the races first female finisher in 22 hours 15 minutes.

The race is routed through the northern Minnesota wilderness with minimal outside support for the participants. They either opt to do it self supported or only at aid stations. Before the start, race director Ken Krueger said among participants there was, “a lot of nervous energy, a lot of second-guessing gear and equipment and bringing extra clothing, extra food, extra water, extra hand-warmers.”

The race is one of attrition with between 20 and 80 per cent of starters finishing on any given year. “We’re one of the 50 hardest [races] on Earth, and people want [that],” Krueger told MPR News. “We’re a very small town… and we get, literally, people from all over the world to come to this race.”

“It’s a mental thing — people say the race starts at the midway checkpoint,” Krueger said. “It’s just a mental game. You’re so tired, you’re so cold, you’re so hungry — and you’re only halfway and you have to go back out.”

Out of the 80 participants who set out on bikes, only 39 finished in the race that has a 60 hour cut off time. Five starters on bikes were Canadians, all who finished the race. Many others got near halfway through the event before calling it a day. The organizers urge participants who don’t feel confident about reaching the next checkpoint to pull out.

“There’s a very small margin for error out there, especially a year like this year, where we are expecting brutal cold conditions. We could well hit below 30 below zero (-34 C) this race,” Krueger said. “If your water freezes, if you don’t have your clothing quite right, if you run out of something — that’s what you have to watch out for.”

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