Published January 28, 2013, 12:01 AM

Grueling Arrowhead 135 endurance race kicks off today

Bikers, runners and cross-country skiers will head into the wilds of far northern Minnesota this morning as the ninth annual Arrowhead 135 endurance race begins in International Falls.

By: Andrew Krueger, Duluth News Tribune

Bikers, runners and cross-country skiers will head into the wilds of far northern Minnesota this morning as the ninth annual Arrowhead 135 endurance race begins in International Falls.

A record field of 138 competitors is set to start the grueling race at 7 a.m. today, traveling down the Arrowhead State Trail to end 135 miles later at Fortune Bay Casino near Tower after hours — or days — out in the woods.

Ninety bikers, 43 runners and five skiers are signed up for this year’s race, representing at least 21 states and a half-dozen countries.

“The trail is looking like it might be a little soft this year,” said race director Dave Pramann, a Duluth native now living in Burnsville, Minn. With 5 inches of new snow late last week and not too many freeze and thaw cycles this winter, “the trail hasn’t really set up that well. … (But) it’s nothing we haven’t faced before.”

The softer trail may make finish times a little slower for bikers. Or perhaps not — Pramann said this year’s event features “the best competitive group of winter cyclists that have ever been in the race.”

Bikers from Alaska have won the race the past three years. Pramann said a strong field of Minnesotans — including Duluthians Jason Buffington and Todd McFadden — will challenge the Last Frontier contingent for the title this year.

Pramann predicted that the first cyclists should arrive at Fortune Bay in a time of about 17 hours — that would mean at about midnight tonight. Top runners may cross the finish line in about 38 to 39 hours. Skiers’ top times can be highly variable, though much-warmer-than-usual conditions this year — 20 below zero is typical; this year may see highs touching 30 above — may give their times a boost, thanks to faster skis.

The cutoff time at the finish line is 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Competitors, who must carry a set of mandatory survival and safety gear, race all day and all night. There are just three checkpoints along the way, and entrants are allowed no help except from race officials and their fellow racers.

“Arrowhead is about you, the wilderness, your inner dogged spirit and self-sufficiency,” the race rules state.

ONLINE: For more information about the Arrowhead 135, including course maps, go to www.arrowheadultra.com.

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