I SURVIVED – I FINISHED- I’M BACK INSIDE WHERE IT’S WARM
Both the Tuscobia and the Arrowhead 135 races went well.
I finished — and that’s all that really matters!
For those of you not familiar:
The Tuscobia Winter Ultra is a human powered run, bike or ski event held on the Tuscobia and Wild Rivers State Trails in Northern Wisconsin, in the middle of winter. There are two options: an 80-mile one-way route or a 160-mile out and back.
The Arrowhead 135 is recognized as one of the 50 toughest races in the world. It is a human powered Ultra Marathon taking place in the coldest part of winter in the coldest part of the United States: 135 miles deep winter across Northern Minnesota on rugged, scenic Arrowhead State Snowmobile Trail from International Falls to Tower.
WHAT THIS ALL MEANS FOR KIDNEY HEALTH AND DONOR AWARENESS
Participating in these races resulted in great kidney media coverage. Check out the media on my website: www.markscotch.com.
The article by Angie Riebe at the Mesabi Tribune, Virginia, MN is maybe one of the best print articles written so far about The Organ Trail journey. Angie’s husband was a heart recipient, so that might be one reason why she did so well with the article — she knows the transplant experience first-hand.
The TV coverage by KBJR channels 3 and 6 out of Duluth, MN was satisfying as well because they used much content from our new website (link above) for TV shots and they got the message across nicely.
Arrowhead Ultra (AHU) Race Director, Ken Krueger, allowed me to say a few words at the racers meeting the evening before the event and that was a highlight.
In all, I felt that I was able to really do what I wanted to do this year, both at Tuscobia and Arrowhead — to create more awareness for kidney health and donation and to try to save a few more lives.
WHY DID I JOIN THESE RACES IN THE MIDDLE OF WINTER?
I’ve participated in both Tuscobia and the Arrowhead on a number of other occasions over the years.
However: I had “retired” from both and I wasn’t planning on doing either of these races again until I donated a kidney and decided I wanted to demonstrate that one can TRULY go back to one’s former lifestyle.
The test of these two winter ultra marathons leaves no doubt in my mind that my kidney donation and surgery on September 30th, 2020, have not affected my life post-donation. My right kidney (the remaining one) is doing fine without its lifelong traveling partner which, hopefully, is still in New York somewhere, doing what it does best — helping someone else to live a normal life.
One of the two highlights of the race was immediately after the racer meeting when a woman came up to me and introduced herself. Margaret was an Arrowhead rookie from Albuquerque, New Mexico. She offered to host my wife Lynn and me when we arrive in Albuquerque in April during The Organ Trail 4.0 journey from San Diego, California to Denver City, Texas. That will be a great evening to reminisce about the race and get to better know Margaret. She finished very strong on foot. I hope to convince her to ride with me some when we get near to Albuquerque!
The second highlight was when, after a couple of hours of riding, I came upon a rider who knew me. I knew him too, although not all that well. He was riding a single-speed, meaning no gears and also unsupported, meaning he had to carry all his food and water for the race. Furthermore, he could not enter any aid stations. I completed my unsupported AHU race back in 2018, so I know the difficulty of this endeavor. To attempt it in the single-speed category is above and beyond even what normal ultra athletes attempt. In any case, I passed him and soon he pulled back up beside me and started asking about my donation recovery. We chatted for a few minutes before he said he is seriously going to consider kidney donation! That was an amazing few minutes. The thought of another person dealing with dialysis and possible death possibly being saved and rejoining their family and friends was inspirational.
DETAILS OF FROM THE ARROWHEAD 135
Conditions at Arrowhead were rather the opposite of Tuscobia a month earlier with warm temps which were great for my lungs, but less than ideal for trail conditions. I lowered my tire pressure to 4 in the front and 5 in the rear (I carry a gauge) and seemed to have adequate control. A lot of miles of mashed potato snow, combined with the very steep downhills around mile 100, led to a few high-speed crashes. If I had been going through that section during the day or had a much brighter light, been less tired, I might have been fine, but it is what it is.
When you crash under such conditions you lay there a few seconds doing a full body check for pain to figure out if you got hurt in any way. Then you slowly get up, brush off, find your headlamp buried in the snow, check to be sure all the red blinkies are still working, straighten the handlebars, use a few cuss words, try to eat something, pull out a drink of water and get on with it, even if it is 2:30 AM and you have 35 more miles and 4-5 hours to go. There is no reason to be upset. I actually enjoy going through the AHU hills solo, although I’ve had fun doing it with company, as well.
At the Arrowhead 135 (as with Tuscobia) I had a real difficult time getting food down. Even at the half-way checkpoint I could barely eat wild rice soup and couldn’t force down a grilled cheese sandwich without gagging. Chocolate milk was fine. I knew I had to give up my position in the top ten or so and get some rest and reduce some body stress so I could eat. I slept for an hour hoping to wake up in better condition. I did and was able to eat more soup and a sandwich so I took off. I tried eating as much as I could over the next 40 miles, but I knew I would be riding on fumes to the 3rd and final checkpoint. I’d worry about the final 25 miles after the 3rd checkpoint when I got there — no need to waste energy on that yet. I made the checkpoint and downed a couple of Embark syrup energy bars (300 calories each) and forced down a few gu chews and hoped for the best. I know it’s bad when I can’t even force down chocolate!
The last 25 miles of the trail had firmed up and with my lungs performing much better than at Tuscobia (cold weather and exercise-induced asthma symptoms) the only thing holding me back was my energy level and ability to ignore my muscles screaming at me. I took another Hammer Endurolyte said a little thank you under my breath to Vanicream (formerly Vaniply) for quite literally keeping me in the saddle for Tuscobia, Arrowhead and most of the miles on my Organ Trail rides.
I took off and I finished a bit under 25 hrs, 21st place.
How does that compare to other years? In 2018 I finished on bike unsupported at 19:18. In 2016 (had a rough race, shifting issues on the bike which turned into physical problems…wrong gearing) I finished 20th in 28 hrs.
So, 2022 placed me in the middle of my history on the bike for the Arrowhead 135 Ultra, pre and post kidney donation surgery.
A FEW THOUGHTS AND THANKS IN CONCLUSION
I know that I’m not training as I have in the past. I just don’t enjoy training at the intensity levels I need to be more competitive, so I can’t expect to put the stresses on my body I have been lately and expect the same results as before.
That, and at the age of 66, I’m not getting any younger!
I truly want to thank Ken, Jackie, Russ, and all the volunteers for 2022 and all the past years for their efforts to make the Arrowhead 135 possible and as satisfying as it is.
Of course, without all of my fellow racers and followers, the experience wouldn’t be nearly as rich. These types of races are about us as individuals, of course, but I think all of us that race at one point or another, while out on the trail, have thoughts about all aspects of the combined human involvement that got us to that point. That gives us a bit of inspiration and a shot of adrenalin to keep on keepin’ on. Whether we finish or not that day, all have helped everyone to get that much further down the trail.
I would be remiss if I didn’t double all those above points with the most gratitude for my wife, Lynn. She is and always has been, with all my endeavors, The Wind Beneath my Wings.