He has finished the Holy Grail of Alaska running accomplishments, and Juneau’s Houston Laws can proudly preach from a pulpit built from shoeboxes and discarded gel packets as he spreads the good word of ultrarunning.
“Being out there, sometimes alone, is the alluring part and achieving the goal is what draws me to these 100-milers,” Laws said. “After all the training, the monotony ... to quote a friend, ‘We experienced being comfortable in uncomfortable situations to get us where we need to be.’
On Saturday, Laws finished his fourth Alaskan 100-mile race in a calendar year, the Resurrection Pass 100, to complete the Alaska Slam.
“It was fun because it was such a low-key atmosphere for this race,” Laws said. “It was a free race, no bibs, and they accepted donations. We all had folding chairs and after we finished we just sat and watched everyone else finish. Everyone was there to camp out anyway; no one had to be anywhere else. Everyone had a Sunday to spare so it was really cool. We could just savior the moments.”
Laws finished second overall in 21 hours, 47 minutes and 40 seconds. Dugan Greenwell won in 18:57:40 and Shawn McTaggart was third overall and first for women with 22:01:36.
The Alaska Slam consists of the Susitna, White Mountains, Sluicebox and Resurrection 100s.
Laws was joined in the four-race endeavor by ultrarunners Laura McDonough and Sarah Duffy. McDonough was fourth overall in 23:17:25 and Duffy ninth in 26:13:48.
The race began at 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 8 in Hope, where runners had their only stretch of road — four miles.
Laws ran with Greenwell for the first 20 miles, but the pace was hot, at 10 to 12 minutes per mile.
“I like to average 13, maybe hit a couple 10s — just not that many,” Laws said. “I held back at the beginning just because of my fear of what happened during the Sluice Box where I was out of energy. If I can conserve energy at the end, it is a better play for me.”
Runners travel Resurrection Pass to a drop box location 42 miles away at Cooper Landing.
At the drop box, Laws exchanged his old pair of Salomon Speedcross 3 shoes for a newer pair and relaxed for 25 minutes.
“During the race, it was about 20-plus miles to the volunteer stations,” Laws said. “It was just relying a lot on the waters off the creeks that were fast-flowing and moving. So far they seemed safe. A lot of the locals drink from it, I trusted in that.”
Runners left Cooper Landing and Laws donned his headlamp for the return to the Resurrection Pass fork.
“It seemed to go a lot quicker in the dark,” Laws said. “There were some eyeballs on the course, some type of animal met me and had a standoff. I didn’t know what kind of animal it was. It just had two green eyes, narrow and close together. I knew I was bigger than it, and that was kind of key in the animal kingdom. It held its ground before finally moving off. It still was really freaky.”
At the return run to the fork, 24 miles out, there was a nine-mile run through a park trail, past Juneau Lake and through Devil’s Pass.
“Dawn was coming up and it was just beautiful,” Laws said. “Our trail ran right next to the lake.”
At 72 miles, Laws found his second drop bag containing a sweet potato, GU energy gels, and SHOT Bloks.
Women’s winner McTaggart arrived at the same time.
“Both of us were disgusted with our choice of what we packed,” Laws said, “so she offered me a can of Starbucks espresso. It was delicious.”
Morning welcomed the runners to the finish line, and Laws made a special presentation to McDonough and Duffy.
Laws had purchased three gold pans at Second Wind in Juneau to distribute among the three Alaska Slam finishers.
“I thought since this was the first year, and John Nagel had the idea, that we should have something special,” Laws said. “We kept the Alaska theme, so gold pans seemed appropriate.”
Final results for the Resurrection Pass 100: 1) Greenwell 18:57:40; 2) Laws 21:47:40; 3) McTaggart (women’s winner) 22:01:36; 4) McDonough 23:17:25; 5) Martti Lindeke 24:46:02; 6) Michael DiFillipo 25:05:01; 7) Ron Koczaja 25:13:09; 8) Eliseo Marquez 25:50:09; 9) Duffy 26:13:48.
The Resurrection Pass 50-mile finishers: 1) Allan Spangler 6:22:03; 2) A.J. Schirack 6:28:10; 3) Erik Johnson 7:43:53; 4) Chris Garber-Slaught 8:38:25; 5) Sara Sayre (women’s winner) 8:39:12; 6) Joe Nyholm 8:40:14; 7) Nathaniel Knapp 8:41:04; 8) Stacey Buckelew 8:47:19; 9) Fred Hveding 9:05:37; 10) Alexander Hone 9:11:30; 11) Chelsea Ward-Waller 9:13:29; 12) Briston Blair 9:42:29; 13) Dorian Gross 10:14:29; 14) Sarah Glaser 10:46:23; 15) Julie Dunston 10:47:45; 16) Carole Holley 10:52:25; 17) Wynn Auld 11:04:25; 18) Michelle Bodenhamer 11:15:10; 19) Jared Kern 11:56:24; 20) Jeffrey Kern 11:56:34; 21) Nicole Leman 11:57:09; 22) Doug Debenham 11:57:31; 23) tie, Emma Brand 12:05:35, and Jennifer MacLaughlin 12:05:35; 25) Jennifer Goyette 12:22:44; 26) Gail Leedy 12:22:46; 27) Justin Hone 12:23:48; 28) Kimberly Hone 12:53:49; 29) Jon-Michael Dreher 13:07:18; 30) Jenni Diep 13:44:07; 31) Jacinda Walker 13:44:50;32) Terri Hayes 17:35:00.
McDonough has the most Resurrection titles with nine. She has won the women’s title seven times and the 50 twice. She holds the women’s Resurrection 100 record (21:51, 2011) and Julie Udchachon the 50-mile (7:59, 2004).Juneau’s Geoff Roes has the men’s record for the 100-mile (17:33, 2008) and 50-mile (6:10, 2007).
The original Grand Slam of ultrarunning consists of running (and finishing) the four oldest 100-mile trail runs in the U.S. in the same year: the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run, Leadville Trail 100 Mile run and the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run.
The Alaska Slam concept was Laws’ idea, and more runners are picking up the movement.
“Throughout the Alaska Slam I ran with everything I had in me,” Laws said. “I crossed the threshold from survival to control. It was such a wonderful feeling being at peace to run my race the way I wanted to. On and off the trail we all will face discomfort but how we navigate through it will determine who we are. I not only wanted to complete this Alaska Slam for myself but for the Southeast community I live in.”
Laws plans to do the slam again in 2015.
“I know some things I need to work on to improve and I am excited,” Laws said. “I am going to improve on my flexibility and range of motion and do more strength training.”
Laws also acknowledge support received in Juneau, throughout Southeast and by his sponsor Ketchikan’s Tongass Substance Screening.
“The encouragements are really helpful,” Laws said. “They think I can do it, so I know I can do it. The little engine type of thing. The friends and community support hasn’t helped through a hard moment but through the entire journey.”
Laws went 26 hours 49 minutes at Susitna, 22:44 at White Mountains, 32:33 Sluicebox, and with Resurrection’s 21:47 has a rough total of 103 hours, 53 minutes for the Alaska Slam.
McDonough hit 24:50 at Susitna, 24:51 White Mountains, 26:37 Sluicebox, and with Resurrection’s 23:17 has totaled 99 hours 35 minutes.
Duffy was 32:35 in Susitna, 34:48 White Mountains, 28:26 Sluicebox and with Resurrection’s 26:13 has compiled 121:62.
Laws’ first run in his slam series quest was on Feb. 15 in the Susitna 100, where temperatures varied between the lower teens and minus 10. That human-powered (ski, foot or bike) race started in Big Lake and followed packed snowmachine and sled dog trails in the Susitna River Valley north of Anchorage. Laws placed fourth for foot participants with a time of 26 hours, 49 minutes. His time was the 66th fastest among all 100-mile divisions (bike, ski, foot). David Johnston had the fastest run time with 18 hours, 22 minutes, Piotr Chadovich was second in 21 hours, 56 minutes and female winner Laura McDonough had the third-fastest running time of 26 hours, 37 minutes, good for 65th overall.
Laws next completed the White Mountains 100 on March 30. The event was a human-powered winter chiller. Laws finished in 22 hours, 7 minutes for 50th position. Joe Grant, from Colorado, won the foot division with a record time of 17 hours, 5 minutes, placing 38th overall. The prior year, Laws posted a 33-hour, 4-minute time after battling exhaustion, nausea, bitter cold and hallucinations.
On June 29, Laws started the third of the slam series, the Sluice Box 100 near Fairbanks at 7 a.m., finishing the foot or bike race, considered the toughest in the Interior, within a 36-hour time limit by crossing the finish in a time of 32 hours, 33 minutes and 5 seconds for fifth place overall after taking a wrong direction on the route and having to retrace steps.
For more on Houston Laws and the Alaska Slam, please see the following Juneau Empire stories: