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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.
If you’ve been following along for awhile, you know that last year I attempted a 100 mile run on Resurrection Pass here in Alaska as part of the Resurrection Pass ultra races. I know that sounds insane. The races, a 100 miler and a 50 miler, are organized by a team of volunteers and have no race fee. The 50 miler tends to fill up, but the 100 miler is a small field of maybe 10 or 15 runners, tops. Both races are unsupported, meaning there are no aid stations or course support. On the 100 there are two spots – 43 miles and 70 miles in – where your friends can bring you a snack resupply. Otherwise it’s just you out there. The 100 goes basically out and back. The 50 goes point to point.
I didn’t make it 100 miles. I basically fell apart at mile 63, then walked out the about 7 to mile 70ish. But I learned so, SO much in the process. I learned that training for 100 miles is a huge, huge commitment — for perspective I ran about 220 miles over last July before race day at the end of the month. Imagine all the time that represents not just running, but eating and recovering, too. I learned that staying up all night is not my thing for sure. I learned that if you don’t show up on a course at 4 in the morning there’s no way you’ll ever see the sun hit the fireweed just so and that alone is worth it.
So fast forward to this year. I decided all the training for 100 doesnt really fit my family life, and Id go for 50 instead. It still took serious dedication but it was a much better family life fit. And the reward was showing up on race morning at the starting line, ready to tackle Resurrection Pass point to point, stare down the spots where I fell apart last year, conquer the mental challenge, see some things you only get to see if you actually make the effort to go to them, and explore my limits.
Could I run that far and still have a good time? Could I handle the unpredictability of being out there in the middle of nowhere in nature and pivot with whatever it throws at me? Has spending all my time outside — almost five years now– taught me to be prepared yet flexible in the face of whatever happens?
The answer, in short, was yes.
The day started with pouring rain, which is not at all what you want when you’re about to run 50 miles. But it ended moments before the star line whistle blew. Instead we got high humidity, perfect running temperatures at between 50 and 60 degrees, a light breeze a few times, very very few bugs — which was a good thing because I forgot to put on bug spray — and views for days.
High up on the pass the arctic tundra stretches green and yellow, freckled with wildflowers, curving up green mountains. Lower down the boreal forest transitions to bushy devils club mixed with fireweed. Mountain creeks and rivers flow with crossings every few miles, and several high alpine lakes pepper the landscape. It’s a complete, gorgeous tour of the vegetation in this part of Alaska. But you have to get out there to see any of it.
The run itself gains and loses about 5,000 feet over the 50 miles. My goal for this race was to hopefully come into the finish between 10 and 11 hours, and closer to 10. I knew that was going to take some serious effort, since all that climbing and the corresponding long, relentless downhill can slow you down, and when you factor in necessary water stops time starts really adding up.
The biggest win of this event is that I felt spectacular almost the whole time. Sure, I had things aching here and there but it was nothing too challenging. You just have to push through and keep going. But about 12 or 13 miles before the finish my stomach started to cramp, and it slowed me down. I lost probably 20 minutes and I had a really intense mental battle to keep going and not just walk the last four miles, when I was so close yet so very far feeling.
Otherwise all was fantastic. All the swedish fish and uncrustable sandwiches were consumed. I enjoyed the 11 hours of listening to the world around me while running mostly alone, something I actually love.
But of course the best part was getting to the end to find my family waiting for me and best friend Rachel, crew helper extraordinaire. Rachel came down with me the night before to camp, only to find that I had managed to book a site for the wrong month — June not July. Great. But she quickly found a friend who has property nearby, and we were able to park there overnight, which was even better than the campground we had planned to visit. And then she drove me home even though I smelled not great and was grumpy because the hamburger place Id been dreaming about the entire race was closed when they said they would be open.
Recovery wise Im feeling pretty great. My legs are sore, but thatll fix itself in a day or two. And I have a few spectacular toe blisters, but those will heal too. I also have six or seven bug bites. Remember how I forgot bug spray? Well it didnt matter because I didnt get bit on any exposed skin. I only got bit through my socks. Rude.
Will do 50 again? You bet I will. This was a very challenging yet completely doable distance for me — that sweet spot were I had to actually try and push and grow to make it happen, but not so unattainable that it ate up every part of my life. I also think the ultra running community has some of the best people in the world. There is no shortage of inspiration out there, people doing incredible things, overcoming barriers and inspiring me with all of their stories. Just the chance to hang out with them is worth it.
You can see a picture or two from my race on Humans Outside on Facebook and Instagram. And I want to do what spectacular things you are doing, large and small. Tag me on your daily outdoor time with #humansoutside365.
Until next time, we’ll see you out there.