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Duluthian wins 2024 Arrowhead Ultra 135 race

January 30, 2024

TOWER—The first time was the charm for Duluth’s Nick Nygaard, who won the 2024 Arrowhead Ultra 135 race, which begins in International Falls and finishes at Fortune Bay Resort Casino.

 

Nygaard crossed the finish line at 7:40 a.m. Tuesday morning, some 27 minutes ahead of second-place finisher Ken Blakely.

 

Difficult trail conditions have been challenging for the athletes who began the race Monday and will continue arriving at Fortune Bay through Wednesday.

 

“I certainly would have been curious to see what smoother trails would have been like,” said Nygaard, who won the race in his first attempt ever. “But I think part of the ethos of the race is to deal with whatever is handed to you and make the most of it—I was ok with how it turned out.”

The Arrowhead Ultra 135 racers typically have to deal with brutal cold, but not this year, as Mother Nature has given the racers a reprieve. However, that temperature break has caused new problems as the 135-mile trek has been described as brutal.

That’s because the lack of snow has made usually pristine snowmobile trails into a mixture of slush and occasional open waters. The conditions made it impossible for the usual slate of skiers to participate in the race, leaving 155 hearty souls who took to the 135-mile trail via bike or foot.

 

“The trails were highly variable,” said Nygaard as he enjoyed a post-race meal of homemade chicken noodle soup and rolls Tuesday morning. “There were some sections where I had to push my bike for an hour or more and then there were some rideable trails, followed by trails you could ride for a minute or two, crash and then get back up—it was challenging.”

 

Nygaard said a couple of snowmobilers were out on the trails, making sure racers were aware of open water on the course.

 

“It was nice that they were out there,” said Nygaard of the snowmobilers who guided the racers to a safe crossing point.

 

Nygaard said signing up for the 2024 race was something he had thought about for the past 10 years before finally convincing himself that this was the year to put his plan in motion. He said he spent a lot of time training for the race and working on his bike leading up to the race.

 

“It took up a lot of mental space for the past three months to get to this point,” said Nygaard, whose father witnessed his win and spent some quality time hanging out at race headquarters after the big race. “It was nice to pull the trigger and do it—I had a great time.”

 

Race Director Ken Krueger said that one of the things that he loves about the Arrowhead Ultra 135 is that the 155 racers knew it would be challenging, but they showed up anyway.

 

“To be fair, they don’t want an easy race,” said Krueger. “I had one racer tell me, ‘I paid for 60 hours, and I am going to use all of them.’ I loved that comment.”

 

Krueger said the 2024 race will rank as one of the hardest races in their history.

 

“The bikers are moving at half their normal speed and are dealing with open water and rough terrain,” said Krueger, who thanked all of the volunteers and staff for their work in pulling off the annual race. “I gave the racers a lot of credit for staying the course because it was anything but easy navigating this course.”

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