Sunday, February 4, 2018

Arrowhead 135, 2018, Race Report by Scott Sugimoto

Snow and cold wind whip across my face. I am on a trail standing by a fence..... and I have no idea where I am.  

Scott Sugimoto, 0600, January 29 2018, somewhere in Minnesota.  

Scott Sugimoto is an adventurer and a gentleman in the truest and finest sense of the word.  He says wryly "I have more time behind me than ahead of me" and he makes extraordinarily good use of the time he has remaining. He believes life is about making memories and marking life events by accomplishing goals that leave us breathless with admiration.  

Scott send thanks to Sue Lucas for her patient teachings, her motivation, her inspiration, and most of all, for her friendship.

This is Scott's race report of the fabled, not for the faint of heart, Arrowhead 135 Mile. I am honoured to host this guest blog on See Mike Run, and more honoured to call him my friend. 

Take a deep breath, and read on.

It's a good day to be alive.  


This event started for me almost the year before. Speaking with my friend Sue about Actif Epica, reminded me about someone I had long forgotten.... me as a young boy. My heros as a youth were the Arctic/Antarctic explorers. I might not be finding brave new worlds, but I am certainly finding adventure.

Sue Lucas is one of two women to achieve a Trois Award 
(i.e. completed Arrowhead by all three disciplines, ski, bike, and run).

Release the Hounds (
Fatbikers lead the way)

The Saturday prior to the start of Arrowhead, I met Jon Paradowski and Sue Lucas at Dallas Sigurdur's , and we picked up Pete McAdams enroute. The travel down was uneventful and we arrived checked in, and got gear check out of the way. The Sunday was shuffling cars around, eating, visiting, meeting old friends making new friends and the pre race meeting. We skipped the pasta dinner to return to the hotel to relax(?), review gear and eat. The plan was to be up and out of the hotel by 0630 Monday. Jon and I decided in order not to be rushed we would get up at 0445, and get our adventure going.

When I awoke, I squinted at the clock on the desk (0419). I figured I would go get a coffee in the lobby and let Jon sleep a little more. I was onto my second cup when I realized that with my glasses off, I had misread the time, it was actually 0319 when I got up... oppps. Everyone is up now and Jon, Sue and I load all our gear into my wife's jeep and the three of us cram ourselves into the two front seats. It was an easy short ride to race start where I managed to get the jeep stuck up to its axles in snow!

Fireworks, release the hounds ... and off go the Fat Bikers! A couple of minutes pass and off go the skiers, (Sue Luca being one of the skiers) followed by the runners.

Checkpoint 1, Gateway Store

The first leg to Gateway approx 35 miles, is flat and for a good part, quite firm, I am thrilled by this. The field seemed to break into smaller groups and those clumps seemed to remain fairly close together. For me it was time to try to get into a routine of eating and drinking, getting used to the trail, and just trying to maintain a steady pace. I believed I had a good plan that had no finish time expectations on myself. I would just try to stay ahead of the cut offs. I knew by doing that, and by just moving forward, I might finish.

I got to Gateway over 3 hours ahead of the cut off! Only a third of the way through is too early to celebrate anything, but by accomplishing this, I knew that now it would come down to my mental resilience or lack there of that would determine the outcome. Gateway is a gas station C store that opens its doors to the Arrowhead competitors, to recover and prep themselves for the first overnight.

It was at Gateway when once again I am reminded what a special community ultra running is as I have to ask Chuck Fritz for money to buy a cup of soup. Chuck is awesome as he stares at me and states "Scott, finish and you owe me nothing.... and I know your going to finish" .

Scott's maxim.

My plan was not to rush through the aid stations but not to waste time either. Approximately 40 minutes after arriving I head out into the darkness for leg 2. I was well aware of the hills in the third leg so I was taken by surprise by the climbing that was part of this leg. As I travelled and made my way along the trail I was getting concerned as to how tired I was feeling. With that said I chuckled as I thought of a phrase Jon told me, "shiver bivy", here you don't break out your sleeping bag and bivy sack, just collapse onto your sled and awake shivering from the cold, too funny.

Speaking of cold, the last forecast I saw was a low of -12C. Now I wasn't opening my weather app , but holy crap, it is getting cold out! I have since discovered it got to -27F (-38 C) overnight.

Everyone knows the old rule, "nothing new on race day", well here is where a bad decision on my part could of ended my event. I brought along a new jacket. If it didn't work out I could be in a lot of trouble. Fortunately for me once I slipped it on I was warm in minutes, but now I was overcome with fatigue.
Shiver Bivy

At one point I awoke when I walked on a 90 degree angle to the trail and right into a snowbank. I had heard of people saying their asleep on their feet? Well, what woke me up, was my knees buckling beneath me and me falling to the ground. Instead of laying on my sled, I thought my shiver bevy would be just to bend and lean on my poles. A couple of times I woke up as I started to fall foreword. Whatever gets you through.

As dawn approached I found my second wind, but was now struggling with diarrhea, I believe this had a significant impact on me later in the event. As I approached the second aid station the cabin MelGeorge at Elephant Lake, I had another good laugh as I thought of my friends Scott Kummers AH race report and his fear of running on the lake, thank you Scottie, I was in need of a good laugh.

Checkpoint 2,  MelGeorges Elephant Lake

It had taken me over 13 hours to get to MelGeorge, I had hoped for a little quicker as I wanted to leave with a minimum of 2 hours ahead of cut off. Here is where I made another error that potentially could of ended my event later on, which it didn't, but it certainly made my life more difficult for me. I decided to spend more time slowly rearranging my gear , changing clothes, and eating, then I did sleeping. I was over 24 hours into my event with +30 to go and I had taken a 20 minute nap. I was at MelGeorge for 3 hours and spent more time socializing than I did sleeping. A rookie mistake for sure!

Off I went to start leg 3, feeling positive but knowing that it is at the 70 mile distance is when an ultra really starts. As well one of the things Sue had mentioned to me was that there were 43 hills in this leg of 40 miles!

43 hills in 40 miles

It was within the first mile that I was into my first big climb. It was short steps, heavy use of my poles, making regular stops as needed. Oh my goodness this is tough. The hills are relentless! One after the other I found myself so far leaned forward that my sled belt would start to slide down my backside. It was funny, at the end Sue asked after all my questions to her and everything I read was I ready for this section? Early on, I knew I was woefully under prepared for these hills and was getting increasingly concerned!

 A couple of issues were rearing their ugly head. The climbing was causing me back spasms and the diarrhea was getting worse whenever I ate or drank as in all my water was Tailwind. Sadly I am going have to find something different as after two longer events that I believe Tailwind as a major reason for the onset of diarrhea. Mistake number three, if eating and drinking are the cause I will just stop doing both. Not the smartest move to make!

Two hours from Surley

I have to admit the second night is really a blur. There was snow, some wind, and not near as cold as the first night. I don't recall being as tired as I was the first night, but I was becoming aware that my thought processes were not as they should be. At around dawn I was getting very frustrated as I felt the third and final aid station Surly should be close. Every corner, every climb was followed by various expletives.

One of the snowmobile volunteers stopped and asks me how I am doing. I try to be as positive as possible, and ask if he knows how far to Surly? His reply was gutting! I am 4 1/2 miles away!?!?


He asks if I am out of water, not that it matters as I cannot get help from him or face a DNF worse yet in my decreasing mental state it never occurred to me to use my required stove to melt snow and make my own water.... duh. Anyway we look at our watches, it's 0500. He says keep moving you will be there in 2 hours or less and drives away.


Snow and cold wind whip across my face. I am on a trail standing by a fence and I have no idea where I am. As I look around I have no idea how I got to where I am. I remember talking to the volunteer on the snowmobile. I remember running up a trail and I remember running down a trail. Otherwise, nothing! I look at my watch, 0630.

OMG , I have no memory of the past 90 minutes. Which way to go? How long have I been here? Fear rises as I worry I have finished my event in the middle of nowhere. I make the decision to move forward, if nothing else my plan was simple from the beginning, just keep some foreword momentum. IF I have been moving at all, I should reach Surly by 0700. If not well, I don't have a Plan B just yet.

Ten minutes later a fellow on a fat bike approaches. With a lump in my throat I ask if he knows if the Surly aid station is close by. He gives me an odd look and points with his thumb over his shoulder and says, right around the corner. Some days are better lucky than good, and at 0642, twenty three hours after leaving MelGeorge and nearly 48 hours from the start, I check into the aid station #3.

In hindsight, I am of the opinion my "survival" of the last two hours filled me with adrenaline making me feel in better shape mentally and physically than I actually was. I dump out the Tailwind from my thermoses, and I drink some water, and get on my way in less than an hour. Before I go, Kate Coward and Kari Gibbons catch up to me. Two incredible young ladies that are doing the double Arrowhead! Yes you read that right, in just over a week these two ladies are travelling the route in both directions.

Darn, this is crazy stuff.

I leave Surly full of energy and confidence, one more big climb, one big down hill a total of approx 24 miles to the end! As I am travelling down the trail, I am once again in tears.... not for the first time over the last two days. I think of my wife and daughters at home and I cry, I think of Todd and Kim and last October Lemming Loop and I cry. The running community at home, all the support and I am in tears. Darn this is crazy stuff.

I get to the top of the last hill, it is the biggest drop on the course, I remember Jon laughing out loud as he speaks about sliding down it. I think, no fucking way am I risking hurting myself now. The sled and I walk down to the bottom.

The first 4-5 miles seem to go well and I think I am moving at a good pace, but drinking water now seems to go through me so I stop drinking. I am feeling fatigued cannot concentrate and my back is in a constant state of spasm. I am aware I am slowing down, I am leaning heavily on my poles like I was climbing. I can feel the finish getting away from me.

My mind wanders, I begin to question if I am on the right trail. I seem to come in and out of various states of awareness, but I wonder have I kept moving.? Have I been standing still at all? In all honesty I don't know!

Fear, panic grow me, I see a snowmobile volunteer approaching, I worry that he will pull me off the course, I think I know what day it is , but no idea of date, hell.... where am I again? He is getting closer... Rice Lake, no, Park Falls, no, shit.... he stops, " how you doing?" - my reply "good" ... he tells me how far and how long it will take me and as he drives away, I cannot remember a thing he said.

It only hurts when I breathe

I can see the tops of buildings now, I know I am close to the end. Sadly in more way then one. I have to concentrate on each and every step. My back feels "locked" , but it only hurts when I breath. I have to concentrate to stay in the moment. If I don't focus, I seem just to zone out into nowhere land. I come to four markers in the ground, I know that there part of the route, but for the life of me I cannot figure out what direction I am supposed to go (it was straight ahead by the way).

I begin to panic, think Scott think!!! Then I decide to call Sue, through the fog, I remember participants can help each other but no outside help. I pull out my phone and... it's frozen! I collapse onto my sled, look up and...

Kate Coward and Kari Gibbons

... I see Kate and Kari coming down the trail. I get up and head towards them. I am crying, lost, and afraid I won't finish. Kari says to me " your going the wrong way ". When I tell her I am lost she rubs my back and states "don't worry sweetie, we will take care of you". I fall in behind but soon cannot keep their pace and after a couple of corners I can no longer see them.

As I walk along I pull my phone out again, in my panic I did think to throw a hot shot by my phone and now it works and Sue answers. She tells me to keep moving she will send Don out.... I have no idea who Don is but okay. Quickly a snowmobile is there and it's Don.

Half a mile to the finish from just around the corner. I make the turn and it's all an uphill grade. I am so hunched over now I am all most walking on my knees, it takes all I have to keep going forward. When I reach the finish line I ask the fellow,"Am I an official finisher?"  When he replied yes... I made the ever dramatic face plant onto the ground of the parking lot.


At least the volunteers just carried close to the door of the hospitality room and let me limp in under my own power .... as it was, so I was able to maintain some level of dignity.

Miracle child, Aiden, receives Scott's Arrowhead toque for his bravery.

Easily the most difficult event I have done. I was the cause of most of my misery. When I say I feel I was lucky to finish, I do not mean to take away from anyone who finished or those who DNF. Luck will not get you through Arrowhead. By luck I mean my errors could of as easily ended my day at several point . Cannot wait till next year!