by Charlie Sokaitis
Saturday, July 24, 2010
GIRDWOOD, Alaska -- One of the state's toughest races, the Crow Pass Crossing, was contested near Girdwood Saturday.
Spectators and more than 100 competitors drove across a bridge Saturday morning to the parking area of Crow Pass Trail, a 24-mile path from the depths of Girdwood to Eagle River. Many people take a day or more to complete the trek, but a spry group of runners did it Saturday morning in a fraction of the time.
"The challenge is the unpredictability of the course, it's varied: you've got a hill climb to start off, then you've got a steep downhill to get to the river, and then you've got just uneven footing," said Crow Pass competitor Mike Friess. "That, coupled with don't know what's out there in terms of river crossing, because it changes hourly -- don't know what kind of bears you're going to run into, bees."
So why do it? Why run? Why take on such a monstrous and seemingly dangerous trail? Perhaps only those who ran Saturday could answer those questions.
"Because I'm insane," said runner Kristen King. "I don't know -- I did it two years ago, and I absolutely love it because you're just out there completely by yourself and it's really scary sometimes -- but when you finish, you have the best runner's high ever."
"I don't have any other really good explanation, other than that it's pretty challenging," said runner Jim McDonough. "And you go through your highs and lows during the race, and sometimes you're loving it and sometimes you're hating it. But when you get off that boardwalk just below the visitors center, you know you've only got about five more minutes of suffering and when you finish, you look back and it's something to be proud of."
"To see the scenery and to see if I can do it," said runner Yvonneleut Wyler.
Athletes hit the trail Saturday to see if they could complete the grueling race in less than six hours to be officially counted in race records, but the top talent was more worried about first place.
At the pass, last year's runner-up Eric Strabel had his legs pumping. He led by a few minutes through much of the race, but Geoff Roes would make a late charge -- overtaking Strabel to defend his crown.
"It was after the perch, so just about four miles from the finish, I kind of knew I was gaining on him pretty fast," Roes said. "I was getting some splits from people out there and I kind of eased up for a while, and just kind of got good and relaxed and drank a lot of water and got up behind him -- and saw that he was definitely struggling just on his pace and made a pretty quick pass and just took off, and felt really solid to the finish."
Strabel would finish the race in second place, and he knew it would have taken something special to beat the defending champ. Roes regularly competes in even longer races, and bested his own course record Saturday with a time of 2 hours, 54 minutes and 44.5 seconds.
"I was going for it; before today I never, never really hit the wall and I knew I wasn't going to outlast Geoff," Strabel said. "I had to outrun him from the start, so that's what I tried to do. And it was going great, it was going great until about 45 minutes from the finish; through that point I was smoking the course. I was on pace to run about 2:50; I was on pace to run about 2:50 through about an hour 55 (minutes) and then -- and then it really hit the fan."
If the men's race was a two-man contest, the women's race was a surprise win by recreational runner Abby Rideout, who'd never won a race before Saturday.
"Guess it still hasn't quite sunk in, but yeah, I'm pretty excited," Rideout said. "I didn't realize I was the first to the pass until somebody yelled out, ‘First girl!' So it wasn't really until then that I had any aspirations of winning -- so it's still a little surreal."
Rideout crossed the finish line in 3 hours, 50 minutes and 54 seconds -- almost nine full minutes ahead of Jamie Bronga, her nearest competition.
Contact Charlie Sokaitis at email@example.com