Minnesota News

Arrowhead 135 returns to Minnesota's north woods later this month

Arrowhead 135
Arrowhead 135 bikers begin their trek to the next checkpoint on Jan. 27, 2014 near Ray, Minn.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News file

Dozens of athletes will gather once again in far northern Minnesota later this month for a grueling 135-mile race through the wilderness — putting their training and endurance to the test in the depths of winter.

The Arrowhead 135 — returning this year after being canceled in 2021 amid the pandemic — allows racers to choose whether to ski, bike or run the course between International Falls and Tower. This year’s race begins on Jan. 31.

Racers have minimal if any outside support along the trail — there are just three checkpoints along the course. And there's a 60-hour cutoff time — that’s 2 1/2 days — to reach the finish line at Fortune Bay Resort Casino. Racers are on the trail all day and all night.

Race director Ken Krueger said many — sometimes most — people who enter the race don't finish, with trail and weather conditions affecting that completion rate. But that challenge is a big reason why people are eager to sign up.

Competitors partway through the Arrowhead 135 Ultra race.
Competitors are seen partway through the Arrowhead 135 race, in which racers run, bike or ski a 135-mile route through Minnesota's north woods, on Jan. 27, 2014.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News file

The race is limited to about 200 entrants, and Krueger said they filled that roster within a couple hours when registration opened last fall.

"For many people, myself included, it is literally a life-changing experience to find out what you're capable of," said Krueger, who's also participated in the race.

"Our finish rate is approximately half, 50 percent. But even those that don't finish — it is still... just call it a life-changing experience, to really challenge yourself."

Krueger said safety measures are in place this winter as high COVID case counts continue to be a concern in Minnesota.

Jim Wilson
With fogged and frosted glasses, Jim Wilson makes his way along the course about two hours into the Arrowhead 135 on Jan. 27, 2014 near International Falls, Minn.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News file

"We only accepted vaccinated racers. We changed our accommodations for our gear check and our pre-race meeting to allow for more social distancing," he said. "We're going to limit time in the checkpoints ... and we are requiring racers to be masked when they're indoors."

As of Saturday, Krueger said 27 racers had dropped out of the field, most of those related to COVID concerns.

For those that gather in International Falls for this winter’s race — the 18th Arrowhead 135 — Krueger said it'll likely be "like a family reunion” — even more so after last year’s race was canceled.

The race raises money for three charities: the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, Together for Good, and the Falls Hunger Coalition.

Once the race begins on Jan. 31, live tracking can be found here.