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.
- 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).
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.
"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/
For other posts click on the The Adventures of Tyre Girl hyperlink at the top of this page