Two of Juneau's top runners jumped ship for a record run in this year's 18th annual Klondike Trail of '98 International Road Relay, hoping a new team will lead to a record after two years of narrowly missing the mark with Juneau's Pacific Roadrunners Wolfpack team.
Paul Pusich and John Bursell joined the Anchorage team Take No Prisoners, which is hoping to break the course record of 10 hours, 16 minutes, 28 seconds set in 1990 by the Juneau "B" Team. The Wolfpack missed by just over two minutes in winning the overall title the last two years -- posting times of 10:18:39 in 1998 and 10:18:58 in 1999 -- with Take No Prisoners second last year in 10:30:32.
"We jumped ship," Bursell admitted when reached by cell phone on the ferry near Haines this morning. "They're good guys. It'll be fun. I don't think there are any comparable runners this year, but we're going to go for the record. If there's a tailwind, we might get it."
The 10-leg, 110-mile relay starts in Skagway tonight and finishes in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, sometime Saturday afternoon. Some of the teams will start at 6 p.m., with teams starting in 30-minute shifts of 20 teams each until nearly midnight tonight. There were 150 teams registered in the race as of Tuesday night, with the vast majority of them coming from Alaska and about a third of the field coming from Yukon Territory. Most of the Alaska teams come from Southeast, including several of the leading contenders.
When the Wolfpack broke up after last year's run, Bursell and Pusich were recruited by Take No Prisoners to fill open spots on a team that historically has included a couple of Olympians. This year's squad has former U.S. Olympic cross-country skier Adam Verrier, but U.S. Olympic runner Don Clary is injured and won't run. Other members of the team include Kevin Donley, Jens Beck and Kirk Fischer, who will run two legs, plus two other guys from the Lower 48, Bursell said.
"I think the real race will be between the Smokin' Ole Geezers and the Vestigial Appendages (both Juneau teams)," Bursell said. "They've both picked up some new guys this year."
The Smokin' Ole Geezers have been the top masters team in the relay for nearly a decade and feature Rick Thibodeau, Glenn Frick, Tom Meyer, Chip Lende (of Haines), Roger Gatti (of San Diego), Andy Grossman, Al Graves, Jim Douglas and Bob Marshall. The Vestigial Appendages feature Tracy Rivera, Kim Rivera, Gary Smith (of Sitka), Shasta Smith (of Sitka), Ken Maas, Dave Pusich, Sue Doherty, Robert Sowers, Lane Brant and JoAnn Quigg.
"We've won the mixed division the last two years," Tracy Rivera said of the team formerly known as Captain Chaos and the Vestigial Appendages when it took fourth place last year in 12:23:15. "We should be up top again. I think the top teams will be the Geezers, that Anchorage team (Take No Prisoners), and in the mixed division Fresh From the Yukon and the Thunderbolts (of Anchorage) should be our top competition."
Frick said the Geezers will have some new faces this year and should improve on their finish last year, when they dropped to sixth overall under the name Smolderin' Ole Geezers with a time of 12:40:03. Last year's team went by the Smolderin' Ole Geezers because every member was older than 50 years old, but this year the team went back to its usual name of Smokin' Ole Geezers when a couple of runners in their late 40s were added to the squad.
"We've got a real good shot at it if three teams don't show up," Frick said. "We've got four new guys, and we're a little younger this year. Last year we were smolderin' and this year, hopefully we're smokin' again."
Another interesting battle between Juneau teams could come in the corporate and women's divisions as Hard Women Are Good to Find takes on a team called Fast Women ... And We Run, Too. Jessica Menendez of Hard Women said her team is comprised of a lot of personal trainers and instructors from the Juneau Racquet Club, while Fast Women has a lot of women who work out at the club and run inthe same circles.
"Fast Women vs. Hard Women, you decide," Menendez said. "We've got four of us on our team who are using this race to train for the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 22."
When the race starts tonight, the 1,500 runners should expect drizzly conditions. The first two legs feature the long run up Klondike Summit, the highest point of the course at 3,100 feet.
"For the first 50 miles, which is what I'm responsible for, it's damp, but it's not raining," said Skagway's Buckwheat Donahue, who is the race start coordinator. "The clouds are down to 300 feet, so we should expect to run in the fog for the first three legs or so. We had snow above the 4,500-foot level the last three nights, so it should be a little chilly."
Donahue also wanted to start up some regional rivalries.
"The folks from Anchorage are all wusses, they always wear the most clothing," Donahue said. "They're not used to the damp or cold in Southeast. Oh yeah, and every Skagway team will beat every Haines team."