Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Looking back on Arrowhead '06

Yesterday I was reading a blog that reminded me of the 2007 Arrowhead which led to me looking back on the race from that year (the line from blog to '07 AHU is not straight so I won't bother with it.) For those of you who don't know that was the year I made some serious mistakes and I had to be rescued on snowmobile. I suffered some pretty serious frostbite and, while it wasn't as bad as it could have been, my toes are still not quite right. Granted, it was a tough year with a combination of bad snow conditions and a serious cold (-35f), but it was nothing I wasn't aware was possible.

After that disappointment I was in quite a funk for a while and as a result I've never written about it or analyzed what I did wrong (although I did learn some things from it). The AHU blog from that year (especially the "To bivy or not to bivy" and "Drink water don't ration it" entries) makes some pretty heavy points about the race and it really got me thinking I needed to re-think what happened. Here's a rough outline of what I did wrong that year:

What I did wrong:

-My cycling shoes were not warm enough or roomy enough for the conditions.
--I had gotten frostbite the year before ('06) using the same shoes, but rationalized it as "not that bad." Any frostbite is too much, don't think otherwise.
--I tried to use heat packs in my shoes, but without any room to breathe in the shoes they didn't work.

-Not enough water
--My thermoses froze shut from spilled water freezing on the cap threads (I managed to force one open, but on the other I broke the cap trying to get it off and never did get it open cutting my water supply in half).
--I didn't drink because it was too tough to get in to the thermos in my pannier bags (even when not frozen shut).
--I didn't eat for the same reason. It was hard to get to the food. That and not drinking probably caused a lack of appetite
--Because I didn't eat or drink I had a pretty epic bonk about 50 miles in. I didn't have the energy to ride the bike and eventually couldn't even swing my leg over the top tube.

-I was in a hurry.
--I was trying to break 24 hours and stuck to it even though conditions dictated otherwise.
--This contributed to not eating and drinking along with not stopping at the Gateway store.

-I didn't stop at Gateway store 35 miles in.
--As a result I didn't warm myself up, eat, fix and refill my thermoses. All of which would have been possible at the Gateway store. I probably could have bought warmer boots there too (it's that kind of store.)

-I never expected or intended to use my stove.
--I had never tested my lightweight alcohol stove in cold temps (sub-freezing. I have since and the stove does not work well in those temperatures.)
--I hadn't practiced with the stove.
--I didn't melt snow to drink.

-I got lost.
--The Arrowhead trail is pretty straightforward and I didn't figure I could get off course...and I didn't, but I didn't know where I was on course. I thought I was ~5 miles from Melgeorge's (halfway/75 miles) when I was actually ~20 miles out.
--Because I thought I was closer than I was I kept moving rather than stopping to camp. I thought that at worst I had 2 hours of walking. In reality it would have been more like 8.

What I did right:
-said "no" when asked by a snowmobiler if I was okay. I got on the snowmachine and dropped from race. None of this would have been necessary if I had done just one or two of the major points above right.

The number one thing I can do to keep these things from happening this year as I attempt to run the Arrowhead is to practice with my gear. To that end I slept outside last night and, while the 6f temperatures aren't what I expect at Arrowhead, I got some good practice with my (much better) stove.

Me, proving my stove works with a hot cup of coffee.


Steve Fuller said...

Learning from our mistakes is one of the most important things we can do. Can't wait to see you finish this year Matt

Jeremy Kershaw said...

Atta boy Maxwell. Learning how to move through this wild winter world is more than half the battle. I actually believe that hydration and eating are the keys to Arrowhead survival...way more important than even conditioning. I look forward to meeting at the Tuscobia. I know that will be a real litmus for my crazy notions of run/walking this year.