Running without roads

Local ultrarunner Geoff Roes breaks records, finds peace in Juneau's alpine

Posted: Friday, November 13, 2009

It's in a place often described as isolated where ultrarunner Geoff Roes trains daily. Tucked against the mountainsides and hugged by the ocean, those who live in Juneau know there's an end to every road, a summit to every trail and only two ways to get out of town; by boat or plane. So for a sport that requires hours spent logging miles, Juneau's small footprint may pose a problem. But not for Roes.

Back | Next
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

Last Saturday he took first place in the Mountain Masochist 50 mile race in Virginia with a time of 6:27:55. It was his fifth ultrarunning race this year, his fifth win and his fifth course record. Last year Roes claimed two titles and another course record, both in 100-milers.

His success is not something he openly shares, however, because for Roes it's not about the recognition or the rewards. No, Roes runs for the same reasons an artist feels the need to paint, or a fisherman yearns to be on the water.

"It's become the way I express myself," he said. "It's almost a spiritual thing for me. It's meditative. It keeps my mind clear, and grounded. And Juneau kind of just happened."

Which is OK with Roes. Because on these unlikely training grounds, he's found his place in the mountains.

Most days he sets out from the back door of Rainbow Foods, where he works as a cook, winds up past the apartments on Gold Street, past the cliff-side homes on Basin Road and heads up the Perseverance Trail. He doesn't always know where he's going or for how long, but that's what he likes and based on his results this year, that's what works.

"It seems to me that, at least with the 100-mile stuff, it doesn't seem to take much specific training," he said. "I just spend a lot of time out running and (it's important) I'm enjoying running somewhere beautiful and fun to be."

Training hasn't always been so carefree for Roes. He said he used to be "that guy" who logged every hour, every mile and adhered to a strict training regime. Even today, Roes said the discipline aspect of his sport has been the hardest to wrangle. But he's now found a common ground between the "need" to train and the "desire" to train.

"I think that a year ago I would have answered that question very differently. I would have said, 'Well, every Wednesday I go to the track ... and I'm really going to go out and push myself near my max,'" he said. "So it had to be all self-motivated before and now, I just listen to my body and I very rarely feel the need to push myself to that extent."

His runs happen mostly on trails, on ridges or a combination of both. They average between two and three hours, and he'll cover between 14 to 20 miles in a day, he said. Fittingly, Roes is slim, but strong. He goes through almost two pairs of running shoes a month and devours about 5,000 calories a day and more than 6,000 a day the week before a race.

"I eat a ton of - well, everything," he said. "I like to think of myself as an 'oportunivor' - driven by opportunity ... but I try to make sure that most of my fat consumption is healthy fats. It's not an issue of gaining weight, because obviously I burn everything off, but just because I'm not at all overweight doesn't necessarily mean that my cholesterol is low, or my blood pressure is low."

Like any outdoor excursion, there's definite risks that come with traversing terrain such as the Juneau ridge, or topping mountains daily such as Mount Roberts or Mount Jumbo. But Roes said he's been extremely lucky. The closest encounter he's faced has less to do with the area's topography and more to do with the wildlife.

Porcupines, slow-moving and spiny, can pose hazards for any trail runner. For Roes, it's the fear of stepping on these creatures, that raises the most concern.

"I do a lot of runs at night, or in the evening. And near certain spots - up Sheep Creek, or on the Treadwell Ditch Trail - I feel like every time I'm out I come within inches of stepping on one."

And as far as injuries go, Roes said he's been fortunate. In his early days of training he faced a few overuse injuries, but nothing serious.

"I've had almost nothing, I think the human body can adapt to things just amazingly," he said. "The first year that I was running I had problems with my feet, knees, hips, but eventually it all just kind of worked itself out and all the muscles and joints just adapted."

But what about work and life? Between hours spent in the mountains and hours in the workplace, how does he manage the balancing act?

"Sometimes not very well," he said laughing. "But it's definitely a necessity for me to not let my job take precedence over my running."

"I generally only work about 30 to 35 hours a week and I don't know if I could do much more than that with training more than 20 hours a week," he said. "I like to think that my job is much like my running. I just show up in the kitchen and there's a bunch of food and ingredients and we'll just figure out what to make. There's not much structure."

From regimented to relaxed, Roes has found a successful recipe to his running. And while his race results have pegged him as one of the top ultrarunners in the nation, he said his accomplishments are still hard to believe.

"I think that this year has been the best year I've had performance-wise," he said. "But it's been really shocking and almost hard to believe and understand. To be able to perform as well as I have and to have it continually become more and more fun, and healthy on a day to day basis (is great.) My training doesn't feel like training anymore."

• Contact Abby Lowell at 523-2271 or abby.lowell@juneauempire.com.



CONTACT US

  • Switchboard: 907-586-3740
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-586-3740
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-586-3028
  • Business Fax: 907-586-9097
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-523-2230
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback

ADVERTISING

SUBSCRIBER SERVICES

SOCIAL NETWORKING