There are many obstacles in running an ultramarathon - anything beyond 26.1 miles - the least of which is clothing, as this reporter found out when trying to photograph the challengers in Saturday's Nifty Fifty 50K ultramarathon.
While trying to follow eventual champion Houston Laws up Herbert Glacier Trail, I realized I was horribly overdressed and had to leave top shorts and hoody hanging on a branch.
Not your father's marathon, the Nifty Fifty was five miles longer than a traditional one and involved bear scat, loose dogs, tourists on bicycles, the sun, and on Saturday's event, some obviously unsympathetic road-paving crews. Race organizers had their permit approved by Miller Construction, but work crews laid out hot blacktop along a major portion of the run anyway.
"If I had known they would be paving I would have canceled the race," Nifty Fifty organizer Keith Levy said. "I am glad we did it though, that is what ultra is all about: the unexpected and uncomfortable."
Houston Laws wasted no time in pushing an early fast pace from Eagle Beach Picnic Shelter, and runners only saw Laws when he passed them on return portions in Leg 1 (9 miles on Windfall Lake Trail), Leg 2 (10 miles on Herbert Glacier Trail) and Leg 3 (12 miles along Glacier Highway), where he left foot prints in fresh black top. Laws won the individual race in 3:51:49, posting the fastest times for the first and second legs, 1:06:06 and 1:10:37, respectively.
"I definitely dreaded the road portion of the race," Laws said of his strategy to get ahead in the first two trail legs. "I opted to suffer my consequences on the pavement and my feet took a pounding at the end. I should have switched out shoes. Then the sun came out. That drained me."
The next closest time was 3:53:48 by the top two-person team of Frick N Phelps. Glenn "Mountain Goat" Frick paced Leg 1 in 1:08:03, while Rachel "Rocket" Phelps passed runners in Legs 2 and 3, posting the second fastest combined times and winning Leg 3 with a time of 1:32:24.
Justin Mull, Drec Steinman and James Steeves won third place as Fast In The Middle came in with a time of 4:08:55. Men Gone Wild - Zane Clark, Scott May and Jim Grammel - were fourth overall with a time of 4:13:07.
John Nagel ran as Me, Myself And I, finishing fifth overall in 4:29:07.
"It is just a long training run," Nagel said while running in Leg 2. "If I can't hold a conversation then I am really out of shape. This feels good."
It was at this juncture, five miles up a glacier trail and shortless, that I stepped in bear scat.
Team Blueberry Shoes' Katie Goodwin motored through the Leg 2 section at that point, confirmed no bears were about and blazed on to help with her team's final time of 4:43:49. Goodwin's Leg 2 time of 1:29:19 did not account for being stuck behind a construction pilot car.
Women Gone Wild II - Denise Grant and Mary Schlosser - matched Carrie Anderson and Anne Johnson of Women Gone Wild I stride for stride, both finishing with 4:59:25. Schlosser and Johnson had their respective third leg runners opt out of the race, meaning they had to fill the void and ran 22 miles total.
"Anne was really encouraging so I could make it through," Schlosser said. "I couldn't have done it without her."
Johnson placed second in the 46-year-old age class at the Stormy 50-miler two weeks ago in Squamish B.C. and kept Schlosser composed.
"We didn't want to default so we just did the extra 12 (miles)," Johnson said. "It wouldn't be good for a Juneau team to default, plus, now our teammates owe us a bottle of wine."
A trio of marathon trainers finished out the standings as Tom Thompson, Jim Ustasiewski and Dan Robinson used the course as a training run for the upcoming Klondike Road Relay from Skagway to Whitehorse. Thompson, Ustasiewski and Robinson finished in 5:08:08, 5:09:19 and 5:09:19, respectively.
As I battled an untethered black lab for control of my shorts while suiting back up, the lab's owners came flying around a trail corner with bells ringing, screaming about seeing bear scat.
Then, Chris Nelson, the final runner, came next, half walking and half jogging.
"I should be running," Nelson said. "This is a lot longer than I anticipated."
Nelson did not finish, but he beat this reporter by keeping his shorts on.
Contact Klas Stolpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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