For every running team that enters the Klondike Road Relay to win, a dozen others sign up for an all-night party-on-the-run.
The Lady GUDivas try to capture the best of both worlds.
"There's a misconception that you can't be competitive and have fun," said Deborah Rudis of Juneau, a founding member of the GUDivas squad. "It's such a fun event, and it adds a whole other level when you can be on a competitive team."
The Juneau-based masters (age 40-over) women's team returns this year for its fourth appearance in what is formally called the Klondike Trail of '98 International Road Relay. The 10-stage, 110-mile running race, in its 22nd year, starts on Friday evening in Skagway and continues overnight along the South Klondike Highway to finish Saturday on the banks of the Yukon River in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.
As of Wednesday there were 134 teams registered for the race, including 76 from Alaska and 52 from the Yukon. Thirty-nine of the Alaska teams are based in Juneau - including the GUDivas, who hold the masters women's race record and whose name is evidence of the team's double-edged approach to the event.
GU is the brand name of a line of high-energy gels quaffed by runners, cyclists and other athletes - including the Lady GUDivas, who took the product for "serious" athletes and twisted its name to fit the light-hearted tradition of the race. Among this year's other teams are Scrambled Legs and Achin', the Twisted Blistered Sisters, Runs in the Family and Sole Train.
The GUDivas were formed in advance of the 2001 race, when Rudis and Dawn Walsh put their heads together and saw the potential for a team highlighting the talents of masters women's runners in Southeast - much like the legendary Smokin' Ole Geezers squad has done for local masters men's runners.
"We sat down and started naming names, and we were like, 'We can do this,'" Rudis said.
In addition to Walsh and Rudis, first-year GUDivas who remain with the team are Debbie Groves and Lisa Kirsch of Juneau, Heather Lende of Haines and Sue McCarthy from California.
Walsh, the team's captain, said filling the rest of the slots has been a challenge at times.
"Every year it's been hard finding the whole team," Walsh said. "The first years, we were stopping people on the street asking, 'Are you 40? Can you run 8-minute miles?'"
But through friends, acquaintances and chance meetings, the team has another full roster. Rounding out this year's squad are Ruth Barndt and Jenifer Kohout of Anchorage, and Gina Davis and Christine Kennedy from California. Shawna Rider, Walsh's daughter, will drive the team's support vehicle.
The distance separating the team hasn't been much of an obstacle for their success. They use e-mail and the Web to keep in touch and keep on track with training.
"Everyone on our team is really experienced," Walsh said. "Most of them have trained for elite races, or trained in college. We don't have to tell anyone how to train."
On the course, the GUDivas have an orderly plan to make sure runners get to their legs, and to make sure runners on the road stay happy. Walsh has each teammate fill out a race plan ahead of time with information like how often they want food or water along the way.
In their brief history, the GUDivas have made their mark on the race. They've won the masters women's division each year and set the division race record of 14 hours, 1 minute, 2 seconds in 2002. Last year, they just edged out a younger Whitehorse squad to be the top women's team overall.
While they've run it for years, the GUDivas - who eventually received a sponsorship and some free products from the company that makes GU - say the race still holds its appeal for its challenge - and its festive post-race party.
"It's the essence of running in the north," Rudis said of the race.
"Sometimes it rains, sometimes it snows, and sometimes it's gorgeous," Walsh said.
The race serves as symbolic end to the running season, and the culmination of months of training.
"I wouldn't run if I wasn't training for the Klondike," said Lende, who had knee surgery and thought about ending her Klondike days before being asked to join the GUDivas. "It's not so much that I like to race, but I like the preparation, and the shape I get into ahead of time.
"We're all really grateful to be over 40, and still running. ... It's nice to have a whole team of women who are doing their best, and their best is pretty good."
Joining the GUDivas on the course will be last year's overall winning team, Take No Prisoners of Anchorage - though last year's second-place team, Darwin's Tribe of Juneau, has disbanded for this year's race.
Among the top Juneau teams entered this year are the Vestigial Appendages, who were the top coed team and third overall last year, and Nine Spleens - formerly A Mighty Wind - a men's team who took 16th overall last year.
The Smokin' Ole Geezers are also back; they finished tops in the masters men's division and seventh overall last year, and they feature the Juneau trio of Glenn Frick, Al Graves and Jerry Buckley - the only runners to compete in all 22 Klondikes.
There are three Juneau-based Team Survivor Perseverance squads of cancer survivors and their supporters in this year's race - one running, and two walking teams who start in Carcross and complete the last four legs.
A complete wrapup of last year's results, along with more information about this year's race, can be found on the Web at www.sportyukon.com.
The Klondike Road Relay is a fund-raiser for Sport Yukon, which sponsors amateur sports across the Canadian territory. Last year's race raised nearly $20,000 Canadian.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at email@example.com.
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