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Athletes Kick Off Ultramarathon In Minnesota Despite Extreme Cold

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Officials in the Midwest are warning many residents to limit their time outside due to the extreme cold. But a group of racers in remote northern Minnesota are seriously bucking that advice.

(CHEERING)

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Dozens of skiers, runners and cyclists set out yesterday morning to run a 135-mile race.

KEN KRUEGER: It's 22 below with a wind chill of 46 below.

CORNISH: That's Ken Krueger. He directs the Arrowhead 135 race.

SHAPIRO: Participants head from International Falls on the Canadian border to the small town of Tower, Minn.

KRUEGER: The whole course is wooded. You don't see a house until you get to the finish line.

CORNISH: Now, if that doesn't already sound hard enough, the runners also pull sleds behind them with emergency supplies - a stove, sleeping bag, matches.

KRUEGER: And they weigh approximately 35 pounds.

SHAPIRO: Some years, only 20 percent of the racers finish, but that's all part of the draw.

KRUEGER: Maybe some people want a warm race, but most of them want a tough race. They want the challenge. They want the bragging rights. And if they get a, quote, "easier year," it's almost like they were cheated out of a race.

CORNISH: Already, a number of this year's racers have dropped out.

RUSSELL LOUCKS: A variety of reasons. We did have one drop because of frostbite.

SHAPIRO: That's Russell Loucks. He's a race official. Racers have also quit because their drinking water froze or because of mechanical issues.

LOUCKS: Tires go flat or something breaks or something and it's 22 below, and you really can't take your gloves off for more than 30 seconds.

CORNISH: Loucks himself hasn't participated in the race.

LOUCKS: Oh, hell no. (Laughter) These people are crazy.

SHAPIRO: But cyclist Leah Gruhn just finished the race for the seventh time.

LEAH GRUHN: Once you finish something like this, you kind of look, you know, into the rest of your life and ask yourself, oh, what other things are out there that I don't think that I am able to accomplish but maybe with some planning and work I actually could? So I think it's really empowering.

CORNISH: The bikers and skiers have mostly finished by now, but most of the runners won't wrap up until later tonight and tomorrow.

SHAPIRO: Expected lows tonight at the finish line - 30 below zero.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE PIANO GUYS' "LET IT GO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.