Taking sport to the extreme: Ely’s Skustad, Johnston push to their limits at Arrowhead 135

Carl Skustad of Ely. Photo by Burgess Eberhardt

by Tom Coombe -

Nobody can ever say that Carl Skustad and Jerritt Johnston shy away from a challenge.
Both Elyites are experienced ultramarathon athletes, but they took it to the extreme Jan. 29-31 when they braved temperatures of 30-below, with even more frigid wind chill readings, while completing the Arrowhead 135.
Skustad skied 38 hours non-stop and finished second in the grueling competition while Johnston met his goal and biked the 135-mile course after skiing it and completing it on foot the previous two years.
The 42-year-old Skustad and Johnston, 45, are part of a small group of athletes who take determination to a unique level.
The annual Arrowhead 135 attracted 166 entrants, only 98 of whom finished, and tested the endurance and wills of athletes who started in International Falls, proceeded down a course that hooked on to snowmobile trails and wrapped up at Fortune Bay.
Johnston dealt with frost-nip and Skustad never slept, and even as temperatures dipped to dangerous levels, stopping was never a consideration.
“Personally I never let it enter into my mind, so there’s no question in my mind that I’m going to finish,” said Skustad. “I never let it enter my thought process.”
Johnston added “there’s something about the solitudte and ruggedness and sheer opportunity to test yourself at that level, that we just can’t get every day, that is just uuique.”
Both have dealt with challenging weather conditions before, but this year’s event was particularly grueling.
They were on the course overnight during the chilliest conditions.
“The weather kind of gave us a bit of everything,” Johnston. “There was extreme cold, a few fresh inches of snow, and really hard blowing winds Tuesday evening.”
Skustad was one of just eight skiers in the event and only three finished.
He too was overnight in 30-below temperatures and said “I just kind of shuffled along at that point to stay warm.”
Skustad plowed through without rest, while Johnston hopped into a sleeping bag for a bit of shut eye.
Both made it to Fortune Bay, completing another challenge.
For Johnston, his third straight Arrowhead may have been his last.
“In future years I’ll most likely be a volunteer,” he said.
Johnston said that ulttramarathon competitors require strong family support and “people who do it know what a toll it takes on a family and how important support from everybody in the house is.”
Skustad, who ran a series of ultramarathons to generate awareness about prostate cancer and to raise funds to fight the disease, is likely to continue.
“It’s easy for an ultra runner or skier to say they aren’t going to do it again, but it’s already a week later and I’m thinking this is not my last Arrowhead,” said Skustad.
Skustad said he looks forward to “setting a goal and attaining a goal and pushing my limits, and seeing what those limits are.”