As they meandered their way through the Windfall Lake Trail Challenge Run on Saturday, local runners had to contend with a half-dozen piles of bear scat, slick side-by-side "corduroy" logs, river washouts and huge stands of devil's club.
But in the end, the 14-mile race through the woods was decided by an untied shoelace.
Dewey Peacock, a Juneau-Douglas High School graduate who has been attending Montana State University, led the race for most of the first hour, only to have eventual winner Chris Wilkens and runner-up Dave Pusich both pass him when he stopped to tie his shoe.
Peacock was able to close the gap on Wilkens and Pusich. But Wilkens, a JDHS special education teacher new to the local running scene, pulled ahead from Pusich as they came down the gravel trail alongside of Montana Creek, a couple of miles from the finish line. Wilkens finished the race in 1 hour, 38 minutes, 26 seconds, followed by Pusich in 1:39:38 and Peacock in 1:39:53.
"Dewey was out in front until he had to stop and tie his shoe," said Wilkens, who was the top Southeast runner in the Boston Marathon in April. "Dave and I slowed down a bit and he almost caught up for a little bit."
"I don't want to blame the shoe, I just think Chris just had another gear we didn't have," Peacock said.
The runners started at the Windfall Lake Trailhead, just off Mile 27 Glacier Highway near the bridge over Herbert River. They ran along boardwalks and then cobblestones as they entered the trail, then skirted the edge of the 1.2-mile-long lake. From there, the runners entered Spaulding Meadows, where they had to maintain their footing on corduroy logs placed to help prevent trail erosion.
About four miles from the finish, just after the junction with McGinnis Creek, they picked up the gravel road that parallels Montana Creek and they followed it to the finish line by Skaters Cabin.
"I'd run on it for training, but I'd never raced it before," Wilkens said. "It was a lot of fun and there were a bunch of good guys in the race. It's fun; I'd rather be in the woods than on the road."
"It was pretty good for an old man," Pusich said. "It was fun. It was a good run."
Many of the 35 runners in the race mentioned seeing at least six piles of bear scat along the trail, but most of them thought they made enough noise to keep bears away from the trail. The real problem was the devil's club, which along some sections of the trail was taller than some of the shorter runners.
"There was a lot of devil's club," Wilkens said. "I took one in the chest pretty good, and Dewey took a couple of spills."
"I fell three times, so I'm a little dinged up," said Peacock, who was the top Juneau runner in the Bloomsday Run in Spokane, Wash., in late April. "I was dodging and weaving, trying to get through the devil's club. I think it's as bad now as it was last year in August."
"That middle section was pretty overgrown," said Pusich, who teamed up with fourth-place finisher John Bursell to tie for the victory in last year's race, when the course went the reverse of this year's race. "I was behind Chris, so he blocked a lot of it for me."
Brandy Anderson, known as Brandy Weston before her marriage last month, was the top female runner for the second straight year. Anderson finished the race in 2:01:22 to take 16th place overall. Breea Mearig, formerly Breea DeSloover, was the second woman in 2:06:35 for 20th overall, while Debbie Groves took third among women in 2:10:09 for 22nd overall.
"The devil's club was huge, but it was really pretty," said Anderson, who just finished her sophomore year at Western State College in Gunnison, Colo., but plans to transfer to Central Washington University. "I was injured much of the track season (she had problems with the ilio-tibial band of muscles along the outside of the leg twisting her kneecap), and I'm just starting to get back to high miles. I wasn't expecting to do this well. I thought the course was a little harder this way, or I was just out of shape."
While the top runners didn't take much time to enjoy the scenic route, some of the other competitors did.
"This run was a great way to see some of the wild places in Juneau," said Emily Ferry, who moved to town in January and was running her first local race.
"It was really nice to be out on the trails; it was really pretty," Deb Rudis added. "I was identifying bird calls, since I do bird surveys. I heard at least four or five sapsucker nests out there."
And the meadows were a hit, even if the worst patches of devil's club were out there.
"Conditions were great," Groves said. "I still have devil's club thorns in my legs from last year, but it was still really nice to get out on the trail."
"This was my first time running the race and it was great," John Kern said. "Breaking out into the meadows was awesome. It reinvigorated you, especially since the hill (before the meadows) was bigger than I thought it was going to be."
It wouldn't be the Windfall Lake Trail Challenge Run if a couple of runners didn't get lost on the trail, and this year was no exception. Donna Hahnlen and Kara Lindley, who both ran in the Suzuki Rock'n'Roll Marathon in San Diego on June 1, missed a turn and had a mile or two of bonus running drop them to the back of the pack.
Other runners were out of it much earlier.
"I thought I had this one," Dirk Miller said. "Then they started the race."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WINDFALL LAKE TRAIL CHALLENGE RUN
Results from the Southeast Road Runners Club's Windfall Lake Trail Challenge Run, a 14-mile off-road run from the Windfall Lake Trailhead to Skaters Cabin on Saturday. Runners are listed with their name, age, gender and times.
Finishers - 1. Christian Wilkens, age 27, Male, 1 hour, 38 minutes, 26 seconds; 2. Dave Pusich, 37, M, 1:39:38; 3. Dewey Peacock, 23, M, 1:39:53; 4. John Bursell, 39, M, 1:41:05; 5. Don Eagle, 33, M, 1:45:10; 6. Brian Goettler, 44, M, 1:48:24; 7. Wesley Brooks, 20, M, 1:50:12; 8. Jonathan Pollard, 49, M, 1:52:30; 9. Ben Gage, 31, M, 1:52:32; 10. George Johnson, 24, M, 1:54:09; 11. Steven Schmitz, 42, M, 1:54:34; 12. John Burick, 38, M, 1:55:19; 13. Steve Davis, 56, M, 1:55:37; 14. Jim Douglas, 54, M, 1:59:18; 15. Gerald Buckley, 60, M, 2:00:06; 16. Brandy Anderson, 20, Female (top woman), 2:01:22; 17. Zane Clark, 42, M, 2:05:20; 18. Jim Ustasiewski, 39, M, 2:05:45; 19. Andy Grossman, 54, M, 2:05:57; 20. Breea Mearig, 21, F, 2:06:35; 21. Craig Farrington, 50, M, 2:06:52; 22. Debbie Groves, 41, F, 2:10:09; 23. John Kern, 49, M, 2:13:17; 24. Dirk Miller, 42, M, 2:20:52; 25. Emily Ferry, 24, F, 2:21:59; 26. Michael Schlechter, 41, M, 2:24:04; 27. Clayton Hawkes, 50, M, 2:25:30; 28. Deborah Rudis, 49, F, 2:27:26; 29. Jim Grammel, 39, M, 2:33:49; 30. Jamie Bursell, 40, F, 2:45:30; 31. Julie Coris, 29, F, 2:45:33; 32. Gene Miller, 57, M, 2:45:45; 33. Nicholas Hamilton, 24, M, 2:49:43; 34. Donna Hahnlen, 41, F, 3:05:41; 35. Kara Lindley, 22, F, 3:12:39.