Fingers after rewarming action by Dave the Medic
Extreme cold temperatures mean you cannot afford to make a mistake, you need to pay attention and be aware of yourself at all times, because frostbite can catch you in the matter of minutes. Raynauds syndrome gives you a higher predisposition to frostbite as your hands (and feet) will shut down earlier than "normal" people even if your core body temperature is warm.
I did not pay attention in the 14th hour, distracted by trying to get a sled moving, and when I realised that a couple of my fingers were still not working, I did not take evasive action believing it was perhaps Raynauds causing the numbness, and would get to the checkpoint before anything "bad" would happen. It is said that in extreme cold weather, frostbite can take hold of your extremities within 10 minutes. I could have put on a pair of over gloves, but thought I would get to the checkpoint soon. It was about an hour. I took off my damp gloves - probably damp from sweat and from having residual sweat that I had wiped onto the gloves earlier in the event to ensure my face did not have any water on the skin. Having experienced -30 before, sweat can freeze on the face even if it is covered...though it might be a damp covering as Al experienced! So at least I had no cold injuries on the face :-) I had expected an injury to the right pointing finger as had spilt a bit of water on the glove and the glove around that finger was covered in ice. There was a bit of frostnip on it but all was fine.
First the "good news" finger. The right middle finger had a little bit of frostbite on the top and was quickly diagnosed as being first degree. Meaning although it was sore on thawing out (no worst than thawing out numb fingers), the damage is superficial, there was no blistering and it has an excellent chance of healing. As you can see from the following images the tip of the finger started restoring itself within a week. There is a bit of blackness on the tip of the finger and will expect that to peal off over the next couple weeks/months. In the meantime the skin of the frost nipped fingers have been peeling off. Plenty to chew on!
The other hand is a different story. The left middle finger was white, waxy and hard when it came out of the glove. Dave had warned it appeared to be a 2nd-3rd degree burn, even though it had not blistered. I thought I was lucky, though on thawing there was more pain from it than the right middle finger.Later on that night, I continued to put the finger in warm water that Mar (a fantastic lady who took pity on me and looked after me) had provided. However, that night (8 hours later) as I tried to sleep with it under my armpit, it was throbbing and felt like it was being sliced apart. The finger tip blistered and became knarly. Checked into the local A&E who put me in a wheel chair (even though I showed her my finger) to take me to the A&E room. The nurse came round and did the normal: checked my vitals; checked my tetnus jab was up to date and offered me drugs if I was in pain. There was some throbbing but I declined the offer four times. I like to feel my pain so that I can respect the injury. By the afternoon the pain had subsided by itself (or perhaps it is just because I'm a gal and therefore have a high pain threshold!).
Advice: Leave the blister intact! Do not pop or pick the blister as this will increase the likelihood of infection. The blister will keep blistering to form a clear demarcation before any action can be taken. Call back in 4 days time (Saturday) to assess the finger. Doc also prescribed a cream in case the blister burst and thus to reduce the risk of infection.
Question: Should I keep it raised to reduce the swelling in the finger?
Answer: No, as you will reduce the blood flow to the finger
Question: Should I take anti-inflammatories to reduce the swelling in the joint?
Answer: It won't make any difference (however I found it did make a difference, see later)
Question: Should I keep moving the finger?
Answer: It might help
As I was unable to call back into the centre in 4 days time, it was recommended I checked into an "urgent care" centre. So I went away with a prescription for a burn cream, that I did not pick up.
Below is the left hand side of the left middle finger. It has been a great conversation piece with everyone I meet. Of course I showed it to a queue of people and the lady at the till, who were waiting for me to pay for an item and at the same time staring at the finger and thus opened up more conversations.
The top of the finger joint continued to swell and blister as the days went by and I got to show off my finger to some of the finishers and DNFers at Fortune Bay. One of the finishers (3rd attempt) told a story of how he got frostbite last year and all of them blistered and then the skin would peel off itself. It was great hearing the stories. Heard also about Andy Chadwick, cyclist, who had black toes when his foot came out of his shoe and had blistered immediately upon warming. Again I thought I had gotten off lightly.
Day 3: Got to my friend's place on the Friday. She took one look and suggested an antiflammatory. Took it because thought I had nothing to lose!
Day 4: The swelling in the lower finger joint had significantly gone down and the blister itself felt a little softer. I decided to take advil for 3 more days until the base finger joint looked normal. I jumped into an Urgent Care centre. Unfortunately they did not look after
wounds and advised me to go to another place, but I would have to call them early. It felt an effort, so I talked to the local pharmacist who gave me some advice to keep the blister clean and also talked to the triage nurse over the phone from the local hospital. Both the pharmacist and nurse suggested getting it checked by the doc. I took that as an option so didn't bother as there was no pain, no redness, though had a slight trickle of blood into the blister.
Day 5-13: Had to travel to different states for work so monitored for infection, and talked to everyone who saw 'the finger". I
believed everything was fine since no redness, and only the odd bit of discomfort occasionally. I believed it was draining nicely and drying out to become scabby.
Day 14: Arrived back in the UK and Uncle took one look at it and took me straight to A&E at Kingston Hospital. Doc 1 looked at it, said it would need debridement and would have to see the plastics team. Nurse came in, took my vitals and said the doc will see me after. We waited for 3 hours in a little cubicle. Doc 1 had signed off without seeing me again. Doc 2 looked at the finger, was concerned about how necrotic the finger was and sent me to St George's to see the plastics team. Perhaps Doc 1 wanted a second opinion. Just wished there was more communication rather than being left in a cubicle waiting and wondering.
Checked into St George's and 7 hours later was seen by someone from the plastics team. Hadn't seen frostbite but took photos to consult with other docs. Sent me away with antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection (wet gangrene).
Day 15: Was called to see the hand specialist at St George's. The registrar decided to explain what frostbite was to me. None of them had much experience and more photos of the finger were taken and more docs came to have a look at a frostbite injury. The consultant said it would probably need to be amputated but would give it the "benefit of the doubt" and see if there would be any improvement in 2 weeks time but he would take it off rather than it withering on the bone. He also recommended not to take the antibiotics as I would be on them for a long time. It felt that he wanted to "have" my finger in 2 weeks time. Couldn't believe it as although I might be able to feel anything when it is touched, it feels I have a thimble on the end of my finger protecting the healing tissue underneath. And as more docs came to have a look and more photos were taken, I wondered if I
could put on a bikini and pose with my finger! Andy's feet were in worse condition than my finger and thankfully he had taken evasive action when he had returned back to the UK that week, so improved his odds. See below.
I, on the other hand, appear to be playing Russian roulette and been far too blaise. Hand doc got me thinking. Although I might be late, I needed to raise my game and talk to doctors who had experience treating frostbite. Al (Candian who took pity on me at Gateway) recommended I talk to Dr Mark Seaburg, an Arrowhead racer who likes cold races and works out of Minneapolis, USA. Another friend recommended I talk to Professor Christopher Imray
, a vascular surgeon, who is also a rock climber and works out of Coventry, UK.
Both have gratefully provided me their opinions and although there are some slight variations with regards to drugs to use, both of them said amputation should be the last resort and that it should be left for as long as possible. I trust both of their opinions as they both have experience treating frostbite and because it sounds better. If it is not infected why chop? The finger will never grow back....although a bionic finger might be cool! Also from research provided by Chris for me to read, frostbite can appear worst than it really is, so the body needs to be given a chance to heal the injured area. And if it does die and there is no infection, the finger top will self amputate. Hope am not eating when that happens....might think it's part of the dish.Review session with the hand doc is scheduled for 24th Feb. All going well (no infection), I expect to be walking out with 10 fingers and reassessing at the end of March or mid-April.
Masked! (pictures taken from MPRNews View)
Someone who I had met in an ultra in England said I would enjoy the Arrowhead Ultra, as I like dragging tyres! He had attempted it on bike some years before and DNFed citing bad weather conditions and that he would never attempt again. Arrowhead starts in International Falls, also known as the "icebox of the nations" and thus has a reputation of being the coldest ultra marathon in the USA. It appealed!
So 2 years ago, I entered the Arrowhead Ultra. I was at the start line with a fiber glass expedition sled containing all the mandatory and recommended equipment plus food and water to last for 2 days. It weighed @ 50-60 kgs (@120lbs). I pulled that dead weight up hills and glided down hills. Unfortunately 10 miles away from the 2nd checkpoint (Mel George) I was pulled off the course for being too slow. Actually I had an achilles injury and had stubbornly refused to give up even though I was travelling at 1/2 an ouch mile an hour. I also remember it was the day my girly cycle had started and thus was not a great start to the event.
This year the girly cycle was thankfully over a week before the event. Mike, one of the competitors, had lent me a lighter sled with runners and I had much less gear than previously. Altogether my sled (plus tyre) weighed @ 20-30kgs (40-50lbs). This time I could actually lift up my sled off the ground! Thus, compared with my last attempt, I should be faster and should be able to go longer. However, weather conditions were quite different. In 2012, temperatures were registered at @ -12 F. This year it was registered at -24 F, and with windchill that would bring the temperature down further to @ -46 F. We, veteran racers who had at least attempted this event before, were excited. This would mean the ground would be solid under foot. Start point and check in
The party lights are switched on at night!
The day prior, the organisers warned continuously of frostbite and keeping everything covered. With extreme cold Matty
, my polar buddy, wise words had entered into my head:
- Dehydration can lead to hypothermia so make sure you drink plenty
. I drank so much that for the first 37 miles I "marked" the route several times (sorry for any anguish I might have caused runners to whom I had to watch me bare flesh).
- Sweating can lead to frostbite and hypothermia so make sure you regulate your temperature
. I started the event running the first couple of miles, however I began to sweat. I had worn one layer too many out of extreme cold concern. The legs and body would have been fine with a double layer instead of the triple I had opted for. I needed to slow myself down. I took off my heated mitts and exposed my double inner gloves to the elements. My hands were hot and hopefully the cold would suck some of the sweat into the air. As sweat trickled down my face, I used my inner gloves to wipe off some of that sweat. I've had sweat freeze on my face before whilst playing on the Arctic Ocean and cause frostnipped cheeks. I was not going to allow that to happen again.
I slowed myself to a fast walk. In 2012, with my heavy sled, I had at least run the first 5 miles and reached the 10 mile mark in 2.5 hours. This year, due to the pace I was now going at, I reached the 10 mile mark in just over 3 pathetic hours. Though I could blame this on my trousers! 5 miles in, I noticed my trousers were down around my thighs. Although I had only just bought these trousers, I had tested them for a whole week without any problems. Perhaps I had overstretched the elastic in my anxiousness to drop my trousers to "pee". Several times throughout, I had to pull up my hipsters and so I talked to my trousers to behave otherwise it would cause me to fail to meet the cut off times. Removing the camera and heat pads to "lighten" my trouser load appeared to help slightly but not enough and thus continued to cause a mild irritation to my head.
I decided to concentrate on my breathing. The last time, I breathed through my mouth the entire time and ended with an awful cough (most participants do). Sarah
, a friend who does holistic treatments, had told me to focus on breathing out to help reduce sinus problems. I focused on breathing in and slowly out. This action unblocked my nose and less condensation was created on my already damp face mask. I enjoyed breathing along the route.
I found I was slow moving as I tried to Pose walk and so decided to blow caution to the wind and stride it out....then it was too late, I had an achilles niggle and reverted to "Pose" walking. This was not going to stop me from at least attempting to get to Mel George (2nd Checkpoint).
Dave the medic
With a steady pace and frequent forced "pit stop" breaks, I would get to check point 1 within the cut off time. However, I noticed my hands would shut down whenever I stopped for any length of time....yes even for a couple of minutes. Perhaps it was Raynaud's
disorder which meant I would have to ensure I kept my hands moving all the time to increase circulation. After every stop, I "played the flute" on my poles or scruntched my hands frequently to get the circulation going. Sometimes I put on my heated mitts, but found it a hassle to keep putting them on and taking them off once I was warm enough, so I relied on me remembering to keep my hands moving.
As twilight merged into night, the milky way came out. I was a little awe struck and excited. I would soon be at Gateway and then back out to Gateway to enjoy the party lights and maybe, if lucky, the aurora borealis. Before getting to Gateway there are 2 steep hills. At the top of the first one I waited for a couple of snow mobiles to climb up the hill. I tend to be out of control when careering down a hill on any sled and smacking into a snow mobile was not my idea of ending my race. Once they had passed me, I sat on my sled on the steepest part of the hill......I did not move. Something was wrong. I then tried to launch myself head downwards on the sled. It again did not move once I had got on it! "Noooo" I thought "this is supposed to be the fun part". Disappointed I ran the sled down the hill. I had been distracted and broken a rule. I had not paid attention to my now numb hands. When I realised they weren't moving well, I did not bother to try to put on my heated mitts as I knew I was near to the check point and did my best to keep my fingers moving. A foolish move on my part. By the time I got into Gateway (check point one), the damage had been done.Feeling fresh, I walked into Gateway and checked in. I needed to check my hands. I met Sue, Mike's wife who told me he had crashed out at the back and had only arrived minutes before me. He was slightly hypothermic and had later shown me a very wet jacket. I walked over to a Canadian group who decided to quit as one had frost nip on his cheek (his neck gaitor had frozen to his cheek as he had not rotated it around); another was finding it too cold and another for no reason did not want to continue. The night stretch can be a challenge on one's mind. As I took my damp gloves off, the Candian crowd, stared at my white waxy looking finger.
"That doesn't look good" said Al. His sentiment was echoed by others in the crowd.
"Hmm interesting - looks like frostbite" I responded. I was intrigued.
"Better warm it up slowly" said another Canadian who told his story about how he got frostbite on the Iditarod
Someone suggested putting a hand warmer on it. I knew not to from having learned about frostbite some years before. Frostbite
has to be rewarmed slowly and then cannot be allowed to freeze after.
"Darn I can't believe I've got this", I responded as I placed my fingers under my armpits, declining the offer of using any other bodily parts that were offered...."Oh well perhaps I'll get a new finger!"
Al offered to get me something to eat (note to self, the food at Gateway tastes extremely salty - could not eat it) and before I knew it there was a hive of activity around me. Dave, the on course medic, came over to check me and help rewarm my fingers. I felt foolish. Todd (a super snowmobile volunteer) asked if I was going out again. I was not going to risk fingers for the sake of getting to Mel George (check point 2). I was stubborn previously, this time round I was trying to be more rationale. I was out of the race with a bunch of othes who will be returning home with their "trophy" frostbitten hands (mostly runners), face (runners and bikers), feet (mostly bikers) as well as those with cases of mild hypothermia due to damp clothing.
Early DNF due to foolishness and thus one finger with a grade 2 to 3 frostbite (it blistered a day later and continues to blister! It will most likely have more permanent damage than the rest); one finger with grade one frostbite (looks black on the tip and is superficially damaged) and the rest have frost nipped tips. Am currently creating this blog with 2 good thumbs and a reasonable finger.
Hospital advice (after having taken my heart rate and blood presssure) was do not burst the blister (to keep things sterile) and allow the blister to track down....and several offers of pain killing drugs which I repeatedly declined. I like to try to manage my own pain. The pain, one will experience when the finger is warming back up, is stabbing and throbbing, lasting until the finger is back to body temperature.
My food (cereal bars; a loaf of bread with cream cheese, jam and turkey); drink (4.5 litres of watery electrolytes) and clothes all worked well. I will be remodelling my mitts so they are easy to cool off and so I can keep them on permanently. I will need to test my next sled before it comes out with me. Bisaniiwewin and I will be back in a couple of years when there is more feeling in those fingers.
Huge thanks to Jess and her family/Tam & Jeremy for looking after me; Nicole/Mike for sorting me out with gear; Mar for taking in the "stray" me, Bill for also allowing me to be part of his team and to all the excellent volunteers especially the guy who took off my shoes to check if I had frostbitten toes (I had none) and to the Race Directors Ken and Jackie Kruger for an excellent job. Also thank you to all those who donated to my cause
and to all those who signed Bisaniiwewin pledging to reduce single-use plastics. Sorry to all supporters for the disappointing end.....although frostbite is interesting and I am still intrigued!!!
Next blog, I will present a series of photos of the "bad" finger over a number of days....for those who are interested.
In the meantime you might like to check out Al's excellent write up of his feelings of AH: http://olympiacycle.com/2014/02/10/arrowhead-2014-racers-recap/
A present for Bisaniiwewin from my soul sis Tess
One of the benefits of sport, is that it can help calm the mind and reduce the stress and tension one has in one's life. Certainly, after smacking a hockey ball up and down a pitch in a game or smashing a squash ball against a wall, I feel I have beaten the physical aggression out of myself so that I can approach an issue more calmly.
Running (long walks) does something else. When you are on a long run alone, it can be a spiritual journey as issues cycle in your head and you begin to battle demons. Those demons that lurk in the dark parts of your mind, can surface and challenge who you are and what you do. As the miles go by, the things that conflict in your head will pull you in different directions and, if you allow it, emotions can flow. Sure you might talk to yourself as the war continues and you try to strategically reason out what should logically happen. Sometimes thoughts are not logical, and that what you must do in order to win that battle is no longer to fight for the injustice but to allow a visualisation of peace and love to overcome your very own being so that change can happen.A Brief Personal History
Over the last 10 years, there was a patch of darkness in my life. A disagreement between myself and someone close had arisen.
As the situation became heated we fired pot shots at each other, and then I stopped firing as he reminded me of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
from the bible."Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."
Sadly he carried on with pot shots, wanting to take away for what he thought he had given me! I turned away, no longer providing fuel for him to carry on raging, no longer wanting to try to fix a relationship. Although I did nothing he allowed his demons to tell him I did, and I became deeply sad and disappointed with his continued attempts over the years to demean my personal and business integrity. I thought I had forgiven him, but really I would never trust this person again as I feel his resentment overpowers him.
I thought I'd learned a lesson from that dark moment but I hadn't. I would pray for this person, that he discover true happiness and find peace but I did not want him in my life even though we are from the same blood. Really I thought he needed to change but it is me who needs to change in order to heal properly. I still carry the scar of our battle and I have refused to visualise a time when we would be able to reconcile.
As we journey through life, more scars gather and similar situations arise until we heal the first scar so that all the others will be swallowed.
In 2011-2012, I seemed to be fighting people who wronged others and that I had tried to help. I believed in the best of them. The last case affected me most. This man is not from the country, gained European status by marrying someone from Germany and
after a brief period left her so that he could rob the British benefits system and set a web of lies to gain trust. I naively helped this person and his Polish girlfriend find accomodation. In turn, he set on a destructive path to bully individuals in the house using his race to inflict his justification to "punish" others. He would perverse everyone's sense of being PC (politically correct) by using their
PC-nest against them. One of the tenants had to call the police in as he felt threatened by this man. However, "this man" continued to force people out of the house and at the end of his time in the house he had tried to destroy the house by stuffing paper into light bulb fittings. Thankfully the central fuse box would trip each time the lights were switched on. We had to take him to court to get him removed from the house as the British system appears to give more human rights to the wrong doers than to those who also need protecting (that is how I feel at present). He legally owes money to the house owners and to the system that he lied to, but he walks as a free person proudly quoting that he forgives everyone for the wrong they have done to him! And so I carry a fresh scar. I see this person frequently enough in my environment and I am meant to forgive this person and see this person as a spiritual being. Really what I want, is to see this person brought to justice or at the least be asking for forgiveness.The Three Beings of Human
Both stories show narcissistic personalities that bully and manipulate others. There are corporations that can also act narcissistically. I dislike bullies whether they are individuals or organisations. However I have recently become aware that we are made up of 3 parts: flesh; emotional; spiritual. As I become older and more opinionated, I have allowed those narcissistic personalities to affect my emotional and spiritual being. I have allowed the intrusion of negative emotions to eat into the positive emotions and thus how my spiritual being senses the world.
When we are battling, we are justifying ourselves and how the other side needs to change and take responsibility. On my training runs I now understand it is not that the other side needs to change, it is us who need to change our emotional state so that we dance in light and instead of the shadows.
Arrowhead Ultra will provide me with 135 miles to sort out my spiritual side as long as the flesh holds up and the emotional side does not make me teary about past happenings. Well....depending on temperatures, tears freeze and cold cheeks can turn to frozen cheeks (frostnip) and if unchecked can give you frostbite!
I am pulling for peace. Peace in my own being and peace in the world we live. I run to "be".
For those who want to support a cause I run for see: https://mydonate.bt.com/events/rimaultra2/110890
For those wondering what I wore and carried and want to attempt this event in the future. Please note though that this year the temperature range was crazy warm for the "ice box" of the country; -14 celcius to -4 celcius (ssshh - I'm not supposed to tell you)
Head gear: Started with a balaclava, later switched to light hat - to keep the ears warm,
Body: Two fleece bodies
Hands: Runner's gloves + fleece fingerless gloves + mittens if got cold
Legs: Long john baselayer + a pair of ski pants.
Feet: Thin socks + vapor barrier + thick pair of wool socks
Shoes: Trekking shoes + gaitors + yak traks that I took off later
Was toasty and warm. The temps could have certainly gone down further
- Snack bag + water bottle in jacket. Lost water bottle at some point on trail. Bought another at Gateway
- Snot rag - hate a blocked nose from the cold. Lost the rag some point bombing down a hill.
- Spare batteries
- Gels + electrolytes
- Compass - because it looks like I know what I'm doing!!!!
- Whistle to play music to keep me entertained
- Head lamp - helped me see where I was going when sledding down a hill. Other than that - never used it throughout the night
- Chemical stuff to keep hands and feet warm - never needed it this time
- Fiberglass expedition sled - (next time will adapt a children's plastic sled)
- Food/snacks for 4 days + cup - (next time reduce cooking food and snacks - brought extra in case I made a friend!!!!)
- MSR stove + 2 bottles of white gas for cooking
- Overboots (next time will not bring them)
- 2 jackets
- Spare socks, hat, gloves and goggles
- fleece hood balacalva neck gater
- Spare clothes for end point (next time give to drop off)
- Sleeping bag for -40 celcius (this time could have just carried a smaller bag for -20); bivvy bag; mat
- 3 litres of water
- Medical bag with plasters; strapping tape (that I didn't how to use!); anti-inflammatories; hair brush (need one luxury!)
- Two spare lamps + spare lights (snapped a light off - so had to use spare light!)
- Trekking poles - that I nearly left behind two times.
Thank you to my friends in Wisconsin for all your time, help and support :-)
Felix (from Kilimanjaro trip)
once asked me "Does Peace come before Love or does Love come before Peace
?"My mind has pondered over this thought.
Is it possible to say we love this world without peace?
If we loved this world, we would fight to protect this world. In order for us to protect this world we must find peace with this world. That is we should be in harmony with this world. Yet corporates tell us to spend on trivialities, spend on toys/goods that won't last, spend because that is what makes the world go round and that is what will get us out of recession. Firstly what are we supposed to spend when inflation and wage freezes have meant we have less money? Secondly change that word to "consume" and I cannot find peace with those thoughts. Our economics and greedy corporates need to change to become more sustainable so that each one of us can find peace with the way we live our lives and look to protect our natural world or we will continue to destroy our heritage for us now and for our future generations.
We all need to pull together for peace!
Eszter and her big bike - purple monster!
Bisaniiwewin would remind me of this continually throughout this trip for I was nervous about this event. My preparations were haphazardly put together, but some how everything came together in the penultimate days leading up to the event.Just days before, Dave (Arrowhead organiser) found me a buddy, Eszter, a biker and a great athlete who finished in the top 10 and smashed the women's record by 2 hours. She sorted out my accomodation and ride up to International Falls.
Another racer's plastic sled and my sled
Nicole, another amazing woman who is a friend of a friend, lent me her gear. I cannot complain, but when I saw the 5ft fiberglass sled she had lent me, I thought "oh dear". It was beautiful beast, weighing about 8-10 kg that needed two hands to carry it. In comparison, I could lift other racers' plastic sleds with my little finger. My second thought, was no big deal, I've pulled 60 kgs before.
With that thought, my mind went into expedition mode and began to load my sled for survival instead of opting for drop bags at check points. Wrong mode! Eszter helped me to adjust my head. So I left the snow shoes and a small bag of gear for a drop off at the finish, but still forgot to take out the over boots and a spare bag of thermal clothes that I would never use. I still had all of my food. All of which would be dead weight, and contributed to a total sled weight of about 30 kgs alone.
Most sleds in the race had a total weight of about 12-15 kgs.
6am check in for race start at 7am
Again, I thought "no problem", this would be great practise for an expedition. My head was challenging my body and my body was rising up to the challenge. My mother asked me to leave the tyre behind, but how could I leave Bisanii behind! Tim, another bike racer, who picked me up and dropped me off at the start point, commented at how heavy my sled weighed. However, at 6 am on race day I was committed.
The night before the race was an unrestful night as being a girl, my menstrual cycle was happening. Yes that "girly" thing that makes us crabby and snappy to those around us! This meant my body temperature was on the rise and thus the room felt hot and sweaty. It is typical for me to have insomnia the night before when that "that girly thing" is about to happen, although I managed to snatch an hour or two of sleep! It is typical for me to have an upset stomach and diarrhea when "that girly thing" is happening. Thus I had several moments in the toilet before the race started and unfortunately I had to be in the toilet when the race started! It is also typical for me to feel extremely tired when "that darn girly thing" is happening. This is a mind game, and the only way to defeat the mind was to keep everything positive.
The start of the Arrowhead trail
I raced over to the start line and saw everyone's flickering racer lights disappearing into the distance. I was 5 minutes behind everyone but no big deal as I normally started a race behind everyone!
We were briefed at the pasta dinner that the first 25 miles would be flat with undulations. After that the hills would strike with increasing severity.
Within 3 miles I had caught up with 4 other walkners (walking runners). Ryan from Manitoba was attempting this event for the second time (he completed the event). His motto was to just keep going. Jen had completed the bike last year and was now attempting to complete the distance by foot this year. Her head was not in a good place starting, so I tried to encourage her. She kept up with me at first but had to stop for water for about 5 minutes. I stopped with her but later had to question myself why I was stopping. Ryan kept going. On her second stop I had to apologise to her that I needed to keep going. As a racer, it is important to stop only when you need to stop. With cut off times, time was an important consideration and I wanted to be going at least 3 miles an hour in the beginning. When I next looked back to see if Jen had caught up with me, she was in the distance with another walkner.
Tree lined trail
The trail was easy to follow, with marshals located at turn points to ensure you stayed on the correct path. Temperatures this year were warmer than last year starting at -14 Celcius. However the soft snow packed trail would collapse unevenly under foot. I did not consider that this would have a significant impact on one's ankles and would force John, the walkner who had won the event 3 years in a row, to quit 10 hours into the event.
Day 1, 10am: I was at mile 10 and was fairly happy at the progress being made. However the yaktraks that I was wearing in case of ice, were making my feet impact with the ground sooner than I had expected. I had only tested using these for about 5 miles prior to the event. I decided to bear with them until the first check point as I would have to also remove my gaitors in order to remove the yaktraks.
There was only a french man (Jean) and a lady (Angela) a couple of hundred metres behind me. Both had completed 100 mile marathons before this marathon, both were looking strong and both would eventually catch up and overtake me back. First Jean at mile 11 and then Angela caught up with me at about mile 20 something.
It was nice to have a chat with someone, but as we continued a wave of lethargy washed over my being. I blame it on the "girly thing". It is when the brain vacates the body, leaving the body to feel alien and wanting to stop and sleep. It was 3 pm, too early to be in a zombie stupor and I would have to fight this, but I needed to do this alone. So I shooed Angela on ahead of me so that she would not pick up any negative emotions I would be feeling. I decided gels would be my answer.
3 slow hours, 3 slow miles and 3 gels later, my head began to sync back in with my body. By this time I had caught up with Chuck, a man on a mountain bike with normal mountain bike wheels. I guess if the snow was hard packed, the wheels would have worked, but being soft snow, the ground below collapsed into crevasses making the bike inoperable and useless. However Bisanii packed down the snow for Chuck, and made the route a little easier for Chuck to cycle on but not significant enough. He would make the first check point just after the cut off time.
Anton snatching an hour after 2 sleepless nights
Day 1, 5 pm: Anton, a volunteer with a snow mobile who was looking after participants on the course told us the first checkpoint was 5 miles away. Just before Anton came by, I began to have an achilles niggle on my left ankle. Dave and Ron who were behind me decided to dig in to make the checkpoint by 7pmish.
Unfortunately again I had to slow everything down. I was annoyed at myself for even having an achilles problem but continued to find difficulty with the soft snow to correct my technique. I felt the real problem was having left on my yaktraks and now my "girly thing" was really kicking in. Yuck! But I was close to the check point and would be able to sort everything out in the warmth of the service station.
Some slopes presented themselves, steep enough for me to dive onto my sled, head first, to take a ride down. My first attempts to use my body weight to steer the sled, ended with me crashing into a bank of snow and laughing to myself. I looked forward to more hill runs so that I could perfect my technique. However there would be no further runs until the first checkpoint, which I reached by 20:22. This left 38 minutes to top up water and sort out gear. Having over compensated on the right leg, my right shin decided to play in the pain game. I should have strapped up my left ankle, but time was ticking away fast. I was able to remove the yaktraks and just hoped this would help to make the ankles play nice.
Day 1, 21:00: I was back on the course, excited about the night. The ankles felt slightly better with the short rest, or perhaps it was the milky coffee I had at the service station. I walked without my headlamp on so that my night vision would have a better panoramic range rather than being light focused.
As I turned back onto the trail, I met a very positive Jen, who thanked Bisanii for making her so happy!
Day 1, 22:00: another wave of tiredness swept over me. I decided to use my secret weapon - red bull. It's sickly sweetness made me retch but unfortunately I had filled my bottles with energy drinks for the night so just had to deal with the sickly sweetness.
The trees were shimmering a strange green tinge. I looked up at the sky and it was a muted, faint green. Perhaps this was the Northern Lights, but as the sky thickened with clouds, the green tinge quickly disappeared. Or perhaps I was just high on caffeine. Regardless I was happy with my "illusion" even if it was watered down.
In the gloominess the pine trees appeared to have big broad prehistoric leaves laden with snow. Outlines and shadows took on shapes of animals and everydday objects. Every now and then light would catch onto the snow falling from the sky, making me think I was catching up with someone. I was happy my mind was entertaining itself but I could not stop the achilles pain that would occasionally cut across the back of my ankle with a shooting sharp pain when I did not concentrate on keeping my form. Soon a battle was stewing in my head:
The negative side: "You have a 100 miles more to complete and this could have a long term impact on your achilles. It would be better to consider a DNF (Did Not Finish) in order to save your achilles."
The positive side: "This will be your first DNF. You know about running techniques, you can correct yourself and you'll be fine."
The negative side: "Additionally you have slowed down to a mile an hour. You are not going to make the second checkpoint."
The positive side: "You can overcome your pain and have done so before"
The negative side: "Yes you broke an ankle because you strapped up a sprained ankle so stupidly tight in order to continue with your sport. You were out of sport for a year. Also remember your brother who continued competitive squash with a badly sprained ankle and won the game but suffered for years after."
TG: Okay you two sides, I will go to the second checkpoint which will probably be late and so will be kicked off the course anyway. So leave me alone to continue with whatever hallucinations my mind wants to entertain me with.
Anton came back to check on me and again asked me if I wanted to leave the course as there was a minivan with participants who were leaving the course. My mind was made up, and besides the trail was getting better with a hill to climb and a hill to go down. My spirit was alive. Bisaniiwewin was riding on the sled with me.
Day 2, 4am: There was the minivan with Ron, Jean and Lynn. The boys were sleeping at the back. Lynn said they were feeling too tired to go on. I tried to persuade her out but she had made up her mind as had the boys. My achilles and shin were now just a dull pain despite a flush of heat upon the achilles. I was high on hills and suppose the pheromones were dampening any pain.
Day 2, 6am: More participants were being snowmobiled out. I was surprised to see Angela and asked her to continue. She did not want to do another night. She had made up her mind that she had done enough and just wanted to get back to see her kid.
Day 2, 7am: I was now steadily completing 2-3 miles an hour and looked forward to the sun rise, to watch the sky lights changing. Anton came by and asked me if I wanted to leave the course. Again I responded no. However he wanted to reason with me and said I would miss the checkpoint time. I wanted to head for the second checkpoint. He decided he would leave me for a couple of hours to think about it. But I was adamant that I wanted to make that second checkpoint.
Day 2, 11am: More hills and I was feeling very good. 60 miles completed and 12 more to go. Anton came back to see how I was.
TG: Anton at this moment in time I am feeling strong. My head is in a good place.
Anton: Yes you look strong and we have no idea how you are hauling that load the distance you have done but you are not going to make the second check point. You have 3 more hours to make that checkpoint. At the rate you are going, you will need 4 hours.
TG: Well I do not want to go back to International Falls, I want to keep moving forward and get to Mel George (second checkpoint).
Anton: I can take you there because by the time you get there, the checkpoint will have packed up and have moved on.
TG: Am okay with that. I have everything here to support myself, including stoves to make my own water. I would like to carry on under my own steam.
Anton: Okay well, I will wait for you and support you.
TG: Please do not, I will be fine.
Anton: I want to ensure you are safe.
I felt guilty about my own selfish pride and I buckled. Anton had been working non-stop throughout yesterday and the night checking on our health and safety. It would have been unfair to have made him cover the extra distance and cause further concern just because I felt I had to go the distance. It was after all just an event and mentally I knew I had the capacity to go on.
It was time to use the achilles card and allow someone to help me. So it was at mile 60 I was snowmobiled to MelGeorge. Unfortunately I had caffeine coursing through my being, thus was wide awake and at a loss at what to do. The caffeine would not release me until 22:00 on day 2.
Lisa and her trolley sled!
Out of 51 walkners, only 45% of the entrants completed the entire course. A number of drop outs were hard nosed ultra runners who by MelGeorge were suffering with all sorts of ankle injuries. Last year out of 55 walkners, only 36% of the entrants completed the entire course.
My sled weight was a contributing factor to my slowness but my tyre was certainly not to blame. If my ankles were perfectly fine, my sled weight would have been a non-issue. I will be back to slay this dragon and so will Bisaniiwewin.
Thank you to all the excellent volunteers and the organisation. I thoroughly enjoyed the scenery and the course, and feel lucky to have watched the sun set, wandered through the woodland trail corridors, watched the sun rise in a beautiful natural place and play on the snow and hills. This is a fantastic race and one that I look forward to completing the next time round.
I decided to support the rest of the back guys. At mile 85, Lisa started to have negative thoughts. But I would not allow her to entertain those thoughts. After all she had to carry on as there were only 2 women left out of the 7 who started and she had less than 50 miles to complete. She completed in 59:29 (59 hours and 29 minutes). Alicia, the other woman, completed in 55:56. This apparently doubles the number of women who have ever completed this race on foot!
: Do you like the frigid cold?A
: Since the North Pole, I know that I suffer badly from Raynauds. Both my hands and feet could take an hour to warm up in negative temperatures. I have frozen my cheeks and ears from exposure to -30 C. I got hot whilst joining a lap of the North Pole marathon and moved my face gear as I was sweating. I learnt sweating is bad.Q
: So why have you joined Arrowhead Ultra, that is held in the coldest part of the US?A
: I missed the frigid cold! In fact I've forgotten what cold is. Although this year at the moment, weather predictions are that it is going to be warm compared to last year where temperatures went down to -41 C (-42 F). This year it may get as cold as -20 C. Half as cold compared to last year! So I should feel warm. Although last Sunday, I burnt my left cheek from wind chill in -3 or -4 C. But I've now got a balaclava to sort that out.Q
: The race is 135 miles in 72 hours and you have to be self supporting and carry your own survival gear. I hear most people do about 2 miles an hour. What plans have you made to cope with the endurance, cold and time?A
: For the first time, I am going to wear a watch and stop every 2 hours to eat and drink. Have planned in 3 coffee breaks. Don't know if that is cheating but I am very sensitive to caffeine so expect that to keep me awake for the entire journey. In addition to that, I will be singing songs of praises when I need strength and "Bob the Builder" for the "Can you do it?" "Yes you can"Q
: How long is that journey going to be?A
: Maybe 65 hoursQ
: Have you done this before?A
: About over 20 years ago when I had to complete a write up for my degree. Stayed up for 4 days. I was delusional and emotional at the end of it. My brain was younger and could take more abuse. So right now in my head, I think I can do it but who knows since I am older, I might just collapse in the snow.Q
: So you must have done a lot of preparation for this?A
: Nope. Longest distance I've completed was a 40 mile race in 2008. Leading up to next week, I did 2 weeks of 20 miles, doubling the distance I've been doing from week to week. This week I have slacked off big time, gaining weight, preparing my gear. Just got myself a sleeping bag to cope with -40 F. One day before the race I will get a sled, stove and more extreme gear.Q
: Sounds pretty foolish preparationA
: Yes. Please do not do this at home for your own ultra marathon preparation.Q
: Why put yourself thru this?A
: It's all about slaying dragonsQ
: What do you mean?A
: It's about finding out about yourself. The journey is more important than the end. Q
: But you've been in extreme cold beforeA
: Yes with a buddy. Now I go alone. Although there will be 134 other participants cycling, skiing and running. So who knows I might pick up somebody or someone might pick me up :-)Q
: And if it wasn't hard enough, I hear you are still taking a tyre with you. A
: Yes I've just got a tyre from the local diary farmer (Dave and Rich). She was a poor wretched thing when I first got her. But she's cleaned up real nice. We're calling her Bisaniiwewin (Bi-sanii-we-win) which means peace in the Ojibwe language
. Our mission is to pull for environmental peace as a continuation of the peace mission completed in Kilimanjaro.Q
: Well good luck to youA
: And may you all work harder to reduce your impact on this world's resources :-)