“It was an adventure for sure. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in sports.”
That from the Sault’s Jan Roubal, cyclist and Velorution co-owner/operator, speaking of his participation in the Arrowhead 135, an exceptionally gruelling 217 kilometre (135 mile) winter race, held Jan. 28 and 29 in the frozen wilderness of Minnesota.
As reported earlier by SooToday, the race has been around for the past 10 years, with three different ways to complete it (running, skiing, or bicycling).
Jan was the lone Sault and area competitor in the Arrowhead 135, in a field which included athletes from Canada, the U.S., Brazil and several European countries.
Jan achieved his goal of finishing in the top four or five competitors, finishing fifth overall in 15 hours, 45 minutes and 11 seconds (everyone who finished the race received a trophy).
The race came with its dangers.
“I almost got run off my bike by an elk. It was in the middle of the night. It was five feet ahead of me and this animal came barreling across the trail,” he chuckled.
Then, of course, there was the weather.
“The organizers were worried about people getting frostbite, but I used my gear pretty well, I had a face covering with a hole in it for my mouth so I could breathe, but I had it pulled up over my face. Starting at seven in the morning, it was in the dark, it was cold. The warmest it got was about 20 below.”
Always good natured, Jan laughed “it didn’t warm up that much.”
“It started on a Monday, at about 25 below without wind,” Jan said, noting that wasn’t as bad as the previous day’s 46 below.
“All the gear I had worked really well. It was a really fun experience, really challenging. The terrain changed, snow conditions changed, so I had to hunt around for whatever was the fastest spot available on the course.”
“The organizers had three different check-in points where they made sure everybody was still plugging along, at the 30-mile mark, at 70 miles and 110 miles...at 70 miles there was a cabin where they had a fire going inside, ladies cooking up grilled cheese sandwiches, so I stayed there for about 40 minutes, stuffed down a couple of those sandwiches with soup, it was awesome.”
Jan said the stretch from the 70-mile mark to the 110-mile mark “was probably the hardest part of the course. Really hilly, up and down, and then the last 25 miles or so were flatter.”
“I ended up riding with a dude from Minneapolis for the last 20 miles or so, so it was kind of nice to have somebody with me. When we came to the finish line he finished about a second before me. We didn’t really race it out for the fourth or fifth place, we were just happy to get to the finish.”
Would he do it all again?
“I talked to my wife and she asked me ‘are you going back next year?’ and I said ‘no, I think it’s a one-and-done thing.’ My body was pretty broken after. My knees were super sore and my muscles were aching, but now that I’ve had some time to reflect on it, I probably will do it again. Not next year, but I’ll do it again for sure.”
Jan said he appreciates the support he received while cycling the Arrowhead 135.
“I turned my phone on in the morning after the race and it kind of blew up with messages, congratulations from the cycling community, and the Sault in general, it was really cool to have that much support.”
“The camaraderie was really cool as well, talking to people who have done the race 10 or 11 times as well as people who were new to it. I met up with people every now and then and rode together for a bit, everybody in it for the same reason, just to accomplish it.”
Jan said with each competition, he learns more about himself and the world around him, the Arrowhead 135 no exception.
“Events like this end up being both mental and physical, especially in the winter when you take in the elements...you go through some big highs and big lows mentally and you find yourself digging out of dark holes mentally to get through it.”
“I found it was a spiritual type of adventure. Within the couple of weeks after I saw the bigger picture, of things that are important and things that aren’t important.”
“I’ve been thinking about it the past couple of weeks. In the winter, in the country, everything’s super quiet. When it got dark the stars were super bright...it makes you realize how small we are in such a big place. It was a unique experience in that way.”
An awe-inspiring thought.
Yet, Jan has accomplished big things as a bicyclist, his next race being the 100 mile Marji Gesick event in Ishpeming, Michigan in September.