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Juneau runners hold the pace at 28th annual Crow Pass wilderness race

Posted: July 28, 2011 - 5:14pm

There is still a lot of gas left in the tanks of some of Juneau’s silver-footed runners.

That fact became evident at last weekend’s 28th annual Crow Pass Crossing, a 24-mile race along the Crow Pass Trail which starts near Girdwood and finishes at the Eagle River Nature Center at the end of Eagle River Road.

While Juneau’s own ultra marathoner Geoff Roes won his third straight CPC crown in three hours, and twenty-eight seconds — the fifth fastest in history — some of the “geezers” he pals around with on area mountains set a record or two of their own.

“My concern has always been the trail where the grass covers the rocks,” John Bursell said. “There is always that risk of rolling an ankle.”

Bursell, who ran his first CPC this year, finished 15th overall in three hours, thirty-eight minutes and fifty-five seconds. Despite being wary of the tall grass and cow parsnip, Bursell said he still fell numerous times.

“I was hoping to be faster, but the trail was harder than expected,” Bursell said. “A lot harder.”

Mild weather made for spicy running, producing the fastest woman’s time since 1995, the fifth and sixth fastest men’s times in history and four age-group records.

Two of those records went to former Juneau-Douglas High School cross country coach Guy Thibodeau and self-proclaimed mountain goat Glenn Frick. Both have a long history running experience on every conceivable square footage of muskeg, beach, mountain pass and snow ridge in the Juneau area.

Thibodeau, 60, set the new record in the men’s 60-69 age group, recording a 3:59:35 to finish 36th overall. He demolished Sam Flora’s 2001 record run of 4:52:58.

“I thought I could probably run in that four-hour time,” Thibodeau said. “It was 15 years since I have been on that course, it was
harder than I remembered. That nine miles downhill coming off Crows Pass is just a pretty rough trail and beats you up pretty good. I fell six times. It is like Treadwell Ditch or Granite Creek in spots, but even they are smooth in comparison.”

Frick, 72, set a huge record in the 70-79 age group, finishing 73rd overall in 4:30:56. No other 70-plus racer has finished the race in less than six hours.

Other local finishers included Rachel Phelps, who finished 27th in 3:50:47, Bryan Hitchcock, who came in 28th in 3:51:00, Dan Lesh finished 49th in 4:09:11, and John Nagel finished 61st in 4:22:01.

Phelps compared the race to running to the top of the Eaglecrest, then the Treadwell Ditch Trail into Douglas, just with more roots, rocks and roughage.

Anchorage race rookie Kiersten Lippmann took first for the women and ran the eighth fastest women’s time in history. Meanwhile, Roes and Anchorage’s Eric Strabel finished first and second consecutively for the third straight year. Roes set the current record of 2:54:44.9 in 2010, besting his previous record of 2:57:11.7 set in 2009. Strabel ran the sixth fastest time in race history of 3:02:14. Together the two runners account for eight of the top 10 times.

The Juneau runners discussed how they could train for the CPC in Juneau. Most agreed there is no ridge in the area as rough as CPC for the same distance.

The Crow Pass Crossing features mountain-pass-climbing, river-wading, and features wildlife that can hamper runners, such as the slow-running moose that Roes encountered last year. This year, Bursell said he kept his gaze fixated on his feet, thus missing a brown bear runners ahead of him avoided.

The first three-and-a-half miles of the race are a “simple” 2,000-foot incline trail heading up the pass. The trail then heads up a scree field, then to a snow descent to more rocks and roots before finally plunging down to the glacier-fed Eagle River. Here, racers battle chilling waters that can reach waist height. They then run through 12 miles of snaking forested trail.

It is compared to running up Mount Juneau or Mount Gastineau to the cross.

“Then think about the most rocky spot on the Juneau Ridge,” Bursell said. “Between Cairn Peak and Camp 17, or that rocky portion on West Glacier Trail … just over and over and over again. The run is all based on effort level. You try to figure out what kind of effort level you can maintain for the three or four-plus hours. My strength is uphill. I did fine for three and a half miles. Too bad the race was another 22 miles.”

At the end of the race, officials had a snickers bar to hand to each finisher and refreshments were waiting up three steps of stairs on a patio.

“The hardest three steps of my life,” Bursell said.

• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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