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Good trail, mild weather lead to broken records in Arrowhead 135 race

The lead pack of cyclists rode in tight formation early in the Arrowhead 135 race on Monday. The race runs from International Falls to Tower. From front to back are Jay Petervary of Victor, Idaho; Ben Doom, St. Cloud; John Lackey, Bellingham, Wash.; and Ted Loosen, Minneapolis. Photo by Russ Loucks

Despite riding several miles on a bicycle tire she didn't realize was flat, Duluth's Leah Gruhn peeled seven hours off her previous best finish in the Arrowhead 135 ultramarathon. Gruhn was the fifth woman to finish the challenging race from International Falls to Tower in a year that saw men's and women's records fall and many personal bests recorded.

"Conditions were so fast," said Gruhn, 37, who completed her fifth Arrowhead 135. She finished in 38th place overall early Tuesday morning.

The race was decided by a single second Monday night — and the lead pack of riders shattered the course record.

Ted Loosen of Minneapolis rode his bike across the finish line at 8:15 p.m. Monday with a time of 13 hours, 15 minutes for the 135-mile course. John Lackey of Bellingham, Wash., was just a second behind Loosen, with third-place finisher Ben Doom of St. Cloud just 15 seconds off the lead.

The previous top mark was 14 hours, 20 minutes, set by Duluth's Todd McFadden in 2013.

Jill Martindale of Grand Rapids was the top female finisher in 16 hours, 40 minutes. She broke the previous women's record by more than 1½ hours, placing 12th overall.

"It's been awesome," race director Ken Krueger of International Falls said Tuesday morning. "Four guys beat the old record. We broke the female record. The racers would say, 'Hey, thanks for the groomed superhighway.' It was crazy fast."

Light snow fell after many of the racers reached the halfway point, which slowed the pace a bit, Krueger said. Temperatures were balmy by the race's standards — in the teens and 20s throughout.

The finish was a sprint among three riders up a steep hill to Fortune Bay Casino near Tower, said Russ Loucks, a volunteer race official.

"They were pushing as hard as they could up the hill," Loucks said. "The winner won by about a bike length."

A field of 156 competitors — 84 cyclists, 61 runners and 11 skiers — began the 13th annual race on Monday morning, and many remained on the trail Tuesday. The cutoff to reach the finish at Fortune Bay Casino is 60 hours, or 7 p.m. today.

Duluth's McFadden finished the race in fifth place in 14 hours, 41 minutes, about an hour and a half behind the winner.

In a typical year, fewer than half of participants finish the race. But this year will be different, Krueger said.

"I anticipate a record percentage of finishers," Krueger said. "The record is around 82 percent. We have a chance to beat that."

One racer, Steve Sylvester, 57, of Lino Lakes, suffered broken ribs in a fall from his bicycle just beyond the Melgeorge's Elephant Lake Resort checkpoint about 61 miles into the race.

"He figured he busted some ribs, but he went another four hours, until he couldn't get on his bike anymore," Krueger said.

Mike Stattelman of Duluth rode with him for much of that time to make sure he would be OK, Krueger said. Sylvester was ultimately picked up by a snowmobile and was transported to the Cook Hospital in Cook.

"He had five broken ribs," Krueger said. "That kind of tells you about the toughness of the people who do this."

Sylvester, a pastor, also suffered a bruised lung and kidney in the fall, he said. Last June, Sylvester had been hit by a truck while riding his bike. He suffered four broken vertebrae and "a bunch of broken ribs" in that accident, he said, but managed to recover to train for the Arrowhead 135.

Stattelman rode on to complete the race, finishing 42nd in 22 hours, 39 minutes.

This year's race marks the first time racers could compete in an "unsupported" category, meaning they had to provide all their own water and food rather than accepting it at checkpoints. Nor could they enter checkpoints to warm up. Most of the unsupported racers were faring well, Krueger said.

The top unsupported competitor was Idaho's Jay Petervary, a former winner of the race, who placed fourth on his bike, about a half-hour behind the winner.

Unsupported racers, many of whom used camp stoves to melt snow for water, found the race extra challenging, Krueger said.

"They used more fuel than they thought they would, and it took longer (to heat water) than they thought. They got colder than they thought they would," Krueger said. "But all of them said, 'Yeah, keep it going. It's a great challenge.'"

Duluth's Gruhn was one of those unsupported riders. She drank less than she planned to, she said, when much of her water turned to ice.

  • Carl Skustad of Ely was the first skier to finish the race, reaching Fortune Bay at 3:34 p.m. Tuesday for a time of 32 hours, 32 minutes. He was followed by a trio of Duluthians in second place: Peter Miner, Paul Miner and Ladislaus Strzok. All three skied across the finish line at 4:58 p.m. for a time of 33 hours, 56 minutes, according to the race website.
  • Scott Hoberg of Duluth was the first competitor to finish the race on foot. Hoberg, who was the only runner to use a kicksled, crossed the finish line at 1:36 p.m. Tuesday for a time of 30 hours, 32 minutes.