All over the world everybody in one form or another is being impacted by the Covid-19 Pandemic and none the less has it been more apparent than within our running community as races in the U.S. and the rest of the world are being canceled. Trying to find some semblance of normalcy in this upside down world is as challenging as any race I have ever been a part of.
This weekend some friends and myself were going to run in the Alaska Endurance Trail race 24 hour challenge, but it was understandably canceled. Well we decided to run it anyway, not to race or be competitive but to celebrate an event we really love.
The race takes place here in Fairbanks, Alaska on a cross country ski trail called the Skarland trail, a 10k trail located in a ski trail system on University of Alaska Fairbanks land. We moved the start line to a public trailhead for ease of access and use of the picnic table, parking and the outhouse.
As 8:00 pm approached Michele Harmeling, Lori Branin and myself counted down to the hour and took off into the woods to spend the next 24 hours having fun and celebrating friendship and a marvelous event. Another friend of ours Travis Lewis would meet up with us in the morning to run the 12 hour version of the race. The run began with laughter and reminders of how much we were going to be hurting all for the fun of running in the woods for 24 hours.
During the first lap I placed pin flags and tape at all of the sketchy turns where we might make mistakes later in the race when our brains and thought processes may be a bit slowed down and things may not make as much sense.
The evening was pleasant and devoid of rain thankfully and after the first lap came to a close we all met back up at the aid station still laughing and smiling, chatting about the running, complaining about the mosquitos and beginning the process of getting in the habit of eating real food after each lap. After leaving the aid station we would loose track of each other, each of us running our own paces. I have been left to my own to run through the fading light and darkening shadows of the woods for hours on end, in fact not seeing anybody for the next 4 hours. As the night went on and the laps built up I was going through my own struggle with knee pain that had been building more acute through the night.
After only four laps and just about 25 miles I had to stop for a bit to let my knee pain calm down, this was a run for fun and there wasn’t suppose to be this much pain right?! I crawled into my makeshift bed in the back of my Subaru Outback and laid there for a little over two and a half hours and even managing to get a nap for about an hour and a half. Lori was similarly sitting in her car dealing with foot pain that she was hoping would fade. When I finally extricated myself from my bed I found Michele waiting for me and after eating a bit we headed out together on the next loop.
Together we worked our way along the trail talking about experiences and moments we went through running this race over the previous years. It felt good to have somebody to talk to and I really needed that. We started running all the flats and downhills and I began feeling good again, it was a miracle!
By 8:00 am Michele and I heard a rumor that Travis had arrived and was out on the course running with Lori, wonderful! Now that morning was in full swing so were the mosquitos and they were plentiful, we were going through cans of repellent like it was water and the mosquitos quickly became the most popular topic of conversation. At some point we all got separated and I was left alone again but this time I felt better and was mentally stronger having survived the night.
Some time around 11:00am Michele and I were coming out of the single track section and running down the T-field when she mentioned creamsicles and how much she would kill for one, the next thing I knew was that I was wishing for a rootbeer float. For the rest of the run all we could do was keep bring up how badly we needed a creamsicle and a rootbeer float. It dominated my thoughts for the rest of the day.
Every lap or so I would get updates from Lori’s crew at the aid station as to where everbody was, I even got to see Travis a couple of times and then I would stagger off into the woods again. As the miles went by I could feel my body slowly breaking down with fatigue from the punishment I had inflicted upon myself, until today my longest run of the year had only been 14 miles or so and being almost 60 miles into the run my body was practically shot.
When I returned to the trailhead at around 6:00 pm there was a thunderstorm cell moving in to the area and the idea of running in the rain was not on the table of acceptability. I had planned to run (which at this point was limited to running downhills only and speed hiking the rest) one more lap and pull the flags and tape that I had placed during the first lap. As I was pulling the first flags and tape a few rain drops began to fall so I threw on my rain shell. A half a mile later thunder was exploding over my head and the rain mixed with hail had unloaded on the area.
Right then and there I decided that there was no way I was running all the way around the loop in this weather, especially knowing that as the rain lets up the mosquitos will be out in angry clouds bent on devouring any creature that comes near them. While everybody else was out getting in their miles to meet their goals, I decided to hike and jog in to a major junction 2 miles in and retrieve the flags and tape I placed there as well as some gear I had also stashed there. On the way back to the start/ finish line the rain backed off, the mosquitos came out in full force and I hit my mileage goal of 100k.
This wasn’t a race, we weren’t trying to run as hard and as far as possible. This was a celebration of an event we all hold dear to our hearts and we had set these mileage goals for ourselves to have a finish line for a challenge we set for ourselves. When we came together at the start line we all agreed that with an hour remaining we had had enough and called the run completed. We accomplished what we came there to do, to run through the night enjoy the spirit of the race and embrace each other with a our friendship and common love for this sport because this is what we do. After a small conversation we headed off for Thai food, it was exactly what we needed.
I never did get that rootbeer float sadly.