Homer Fire Department’s Jaclyn Arndt finished her second Iditarod Trail Invitational 350 ultra-marathon earlier this month, on March 7.
The ITI 350 is a “true test of human endurance, adaptability and mental fortitude [in which] competitors 350 miles on the historic Iditarod Trail under their own power while hauling all of their survival gear with them…prior to reaching the finish line in McGrath, Alaska,” their website states.
The 2022 Women’s Ski Champion, who crossed the finish line last year after seven days, 20 hours and 45 minutes, finished “dead last” this year, Arndt told Homer News during an interview March 21.
“It was neat though; I was able to see parts of the trail that I didn’t get to see last year,” she said. “I did get to see the [Iditarod] sled dogs come through.”
Although Arndt’s finishing time this year was nine days, nine hours and 19 minutes — two days slower than her previous record — finishing this year’s race felt like much more of an accomplishment than placing first last year in skiing, she said.
“It was pretty intense, definitely different from last year. I feel like I experienced the Alaska ‘weather ultra.’”
Participants in this year’s race faced greater challenges such as difficult trail conditions and more severe weather, including colder temperatures and higher wind speeds. The first night on the trail, racers experienced -40 degree temperatures, Arndt said.
At Rainy Pass, near the fourth checkpoint approximately 150 miles from Knik Lake, she “was moving at about one mile per hour because of a direct headwind.”
2023 also saw one of the highest years of scratches, with 46 people — about 50 percent — dropping out of the race. Ten people dropped out after the first day due to frostbite, Arndt told Homer News.
“A lot of athletes got in trouble the first day,” Arndt said. “They were working hard and getting sweaty, then the temps dropped and froze, and they got frostbite. One guy had to be medevaced out due to hypothermia.”
Although she was not frostbitten herself, Arndt said, “It shook me up, and I realized I needed to be in a good mental state for this race.”
While the weather and trail conditions often proved troublesome, the extreme low temperatures prevented overflow, unlike last year, so crossing rivers and lakes felt safer, Arndt said. This year she also “had [her] gear more dialed in,” and experienced no catastrophes to herself or her gear.
Arndt kicked off from the starting point at Knik Lake on Feb. 26 and skied the 350 miles to McGrath, following the historic Iditarod Trail. The race allows a maximum of 10 days and nights for bikers, skiers, or walkers to complete the course to McGrath and cross the finish line.
“About 75 percent of people bike, maybe 20 percent are on foot,” Arndt told Homer News. “It’s a pretty small field of skiers.”
Racers may also choose to apply for the ITI 1000, referred to as the “pinnacle of all winter ultra-marathons,” which runs the full 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail to Nome. To date, no skier has ever finished the ITI 1000.
“I would consider going to Nome,” Arndt said. “On [a fat tire] bike, though.”
Nine skiers in total, including Arndt, registered for the 2023 ITI 350. Four skiers finished ahead of Arndt: Matias Saari, this year’s Men’s Ski Champion; Robin Beebee and Christy Marvin, Women’s Ski Co-Champions; and Gavin Woody, who is the third person to have completed the ITI 350 in all three disciplines, according to the ITI website. Beebee and Marvin also broke the course record for skiing, previously set at a little over seven days, by crossing the finish line together after six days, 23 hours, and 13 minutes.
One neat experience Arndt had during the race occurred on her last day on the trail.
“It was pretty warm out, I had about 30 miles left to McGrath,” she said. “The race director was flying stuff back from the previous checkpoint and they did a little food drop from the plane. I went off trail a little bit to get it.”
Participants must apply for the Iditarod Trail Invitational each year, so a spot in next year’s race is not immediately guaranteed. Next year, Arndt said she might join the ITI crew of volunteers and take a year off from the race itself.
More immediately, Arndt signed up for a half Ironman triathlon scheduled to take place in September. Ironman competitors swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles and run 13.1 miles.
“I really enjoy the three-sport aspect, rather than one sport, just for a variety in training,” she said.
Arndt thanked her sponsors, Summit Physical Therapy, Halibut Cove Live and Peninsula Surgery and Aesthetics, as well as the Homer community, for supporting her throughout the race.
“Knowing people [were] tracking me daily or hourly helped me keep going on some days where I just wanted to quit,” she said.
Previous coverage on Arndt’s participation in the 2022 ITI 350 can be found at https://www.kbbi.org/local-news/2022-04-25/homer-athlete-overcomes-challenges-to-win-ski-ultramarathon.