Thursday, February 03, 2011

Arrowhead look back.

Frustrated, upset, mad, helpless, and baffled would describe how I feel as I digest my Arrowhead experience.

It started last year. I wanted to try this race they call the Arrowhead 135; 135 miles on snowmobile trails in the "Icebox of the Nation", famous for it's cold temps. Last year I simply wanted to finish, but undiagnosed asthma flared up and attacked, ending my day. This has to be one of the funnest most unique races I ever lined up for. After getting hooked up with meds, I dreamed about my return all year long. For the first time I was excited for the snow to come.

Leading up to the race I was lucky enough to get from support from the best snow bike company out there, 9:Zero:7 from Chain Reaction Cycles aka Combined with their roomy and very light Flattop 80mm rims I was in awe. My gear set up also improved and reduced in weight. The Bontrager bits gleamed in the sun as well. I came into this race riding just about the most ideal set up you could ever have. My training leading up to the race went swimmingly and the week leading up to the race I was simply giddy with the fitness demonstrated in shake down rides. The fitness I showed in my win at the Tuscobia Ultra 75 miler seemed nothing to how I was riding now.

J-No and I arrived in International Falls 2 nights before and got to chat with all of our favorites prerace. A shake down ride on Sunday went well and I had high hopes. As I left our little oasis for the start on Monday morning the lungs were suffering for the first time in about 3-4 months despite my now usual prerace puffs. Undaunted, I moved on with inhalers handy in my breast pocket.

The start was a little fast and I followed the leaders closely, hoping to wait out my lungs' reluctance to fully function. As we made our way across the landscape the lungs didn't seem to come around. In reality, I was working at a 60-70% ability level and hurting for it. The one thing I had for me was my ability to suffer and my fitness. I knew that despite everything, I could put up with the breathing and subsequent pain from weakness for the rest of the race. I would just start the inevitable pain process earlier, and put up with it longer. Temps dipped down to -20 around sunrise, but I felt good with my gear.

About 25 miles from the start, and soon after another few pulls on the inhaler, the attacks started from Lance Andre with the group responding. I would slowly pull this group back, doing what I could considering I could not "push" it. Well, soon after another regrouping, we hit a hill and my lungs "popped". Breathing got more rampant, legs became more week. It was not a full attack from my body, but more of a building revolt. I stopped, added air in my rear tire as it felt like I was dragging a bag of bricks; no help.

So, I limped along at a very reduced rate, looking to my lungs to rally and continue forward. I rolled through the 1st checkpoint as planned, afraid to expose the lungs to the warm air inside and then the cold again, a past trigger for me. A few miles down the trail and I could tell it was getting worse. A u-turn back to the checkpoint was made to regroup, so I could at least finish this race. The situation worsened. Draped over my bike, I gasped for a full minute, preparing the strength just to make the 20 foot walk to get inside. Once inside I had uncontrollable breathing. I sat, too weak to stand.

After a a long period a few words could be muttered, forced between rapid breathes. Luckily J-No was there so he could explain to the "EMT" what was wrong and that I indeed use inhalers. I think I sat there for 30 minutes before I even felt the strength to stand. Jokes were made to cover the emotions I really felt. The frustration of all the work I put into this event only to have it taken from me by something I felt helpless to. It seems the instruction manual for my body is in Chinese, and I am not quite bi-lingual yet.

So that is that, my race was done. I loaded pictures onto the blog and bummed around the finish waiting for for J-No to come in (I am expecting his race report soon). Currently, I am working with the Mayo Clinic's finest to figure this whoole thing out.

Oatley, Biuffington, Dittmer, Peterson, and Doom all had great races, taking the top 5 spots. Congrats to them on a job well done. That being said, I hope to return next year, determined to drop them all down one spot on the podium.


Unknown said...

Sorry to hear that. I haven't had an asthma attack that bad in a few years. I've become really pretty good at knowing when I'm going to shut down and I back off to as low of an output as possible knowing that the day is done.
I normally don't have those issues in the winter but I'm also not trying to do something in that cold of air. I normally bail out of riding at about zero.
Glad you had your inhaler.

Unknown said...


It was great to see you and I am sincerely bummed to hear about the lungs. There is no questioning your strength and resolve as a rider. Your place in the upper levels is secure. Look forward to hearing about some progress.

Anonymous said...

Nice work at Cheq 100 this weekend. I decided to check out your Arrowhead post cause I remembered you had some issues and was curious. Would love to know what Mayo's finest came up with for you. I had a similar experience at Arrowhead and could basically only walk - any time I tried to run I started suffocating. I had no issue at Tuscobia and have never had asthma issues before, so I am a bit stumped...