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Matt Suoja: Charlie Farrow, The ultra athlete

Charlie Farrow, of Duluth, competed in the Arrowhead 135 Winter Ultramarathon last week. Image courtesy Mike Curiak

I always hear athletes complain about their contract or not getting enough playing time.

I would love to hear them when competing in the Arrowhead 135 Winter Ultramarathon.

Charlie Farrow, along with some other Northland athletes, battled the elements in a pure test of endurance last week.

He finished second in the race (it took him 21 hours and 58 minutes to complete). Jeremy Kershaw, of Duluth, was the first skier (21st overall) to finish the race.

Participants can ski, go on foot or bike a 135-mile stretch from International Falls to Tower on the Arrowhead State Trail.

"Extreme" is an understatement (imagine doing anything with temperatures at 40 below).

Farrow, 49, is not bothered by the conditions.

"I have yet to hit my peak," he said in an e-mail. "In the enduro-cycling world, there are lots of guys in their 40s and 50s that are very competitive. Cycling is a great sport for older athletes because it is easy on the joints."

Farrow, a social studies teacher at Esko High School (the best in all of the Northland, he said) has competed in the event four times.

"I usually train about 750 hours a year on my bike," he said. "Though in the past few years, I have turned into a 'one-trick pony,' and so my hope is to get into a more varied routine including more cross country skiing, hiking, etc."

No one should be calling Farrow a "one-trick pony." Maybe a "one-trick machine."

For what he does, he is putting most professional athletes to shame.

"I usually do at least 12 to 15 mountain bike races every year," he said. "Mostly standard mountain races that take about two hours, but I also do several 12-hour events, and usually I complete in the 24 Hours of 9 Mile (last year he finished in 11th place). I also greatly enjoy long gravel road races as well, like the Trans-Iowa and the Almanzo 100."

Farrow also plans to race the Iditarod Trail Invitational in 2013 and compete in the Great Divide race in a few years.

The Iditarod event uses a similar route as the mushing trail, and the Great Divide is a race that goes through parts of Canada, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. The race ends when the biker's wheel crosses into Mexico.

These races make him a cut above most athletes. Not necessarily for competing in them, but for this attitude: "I am absolutely and totally hooked on bike racing, even though I never ever win. I have never won a bike race -- ever."

In fact, this statement is the opposite of what most sport cultures value today.

Sports are not always about winning, but the journey that it takes us on. I wish this were the culture in baseball; maybe then more fans would respect it.

News to use

To read more about Farrow, check out his blog at

Matt Suoja is a reporter with the Budgeteer News. Send e-mails to Call him at 218-723-1207.