Sunday, July 26, 2009

And They're Off . . .

This morning the 28th Annual Wilderness Classic began from the Gerstle River. Under overcast skies with nice warm temperatures around 60°, a group of intrepid adventure racers began their journey toward McKinley Village. This route has been run before in the mid-1980's but the race this year adds an additional 50 miles by starting from Gerstle River on the Alaska Highway. The first checkpoint on this year's race was where the the race used to start.

There are several very strong contenders this year. Previous winner Roman Dial is running the race with Forrest McCarthy. Previous race winners Chris Robertson and Bob Schnell have signed up as well this year. This duo has dominated the race for the last few years. Also running for the first time this year is Andrew Skurka. Even though he's a rookie and isn't from Alaska, it would a mistake to discount him as a serious contender.

The pre-race meeting at Dick Griffith's house a couple days ago was entertaining as usual. Many racers looked nervous and people hovered over maps and discussed the route. "Discussed" is a loose term because the conversations actually involved significant strategy and bluffing. The idea is to gather information from others about their routes without giving out information on your own.

I'm not running the race this year and I would give updates but there's no way to know where racers are on the route. However, given the strength, speed and experience of some of the racers I would imagine that the leaders should get to the first checkpoint, at about mile 50, about 24 hours after the race starts. Someone could potentially finish the race in about four days.

The route is bound to be brutal with so much time on the feet. Given the likely route, most racers will spend the majority of the race on their feet and not float any significant amount of time until near the end of the race.

The race travels very close to Fort Greely military base which is part of the fledgling missile defense system. Interestingly enough, there are rumors stretching back 50 or 60 years of nerve gas tests in the area and small nuclear test plants. To make things even more interesting on this route, there has been a high incidence of racer-bear interactions in the past. The Wilderness Classic is never boring.

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