Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Political Tangles

Here's a taste of some of the political wrangling that happened between race directors and bureaucrats when the race was very young. Ultimately, like any good Wilderness Classic race, perseverance paid off and the race survived.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Superb navigation expertise is critical for the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic.  Some people take along a GPS but if you do, you shouldn't rely on it too heavily.  If you're stopping all the time to see how many feet you traveled in the last twelve minutes then you probably need to put it in your pack for a while and stop looking at it.  A GPS can actually slow you down if you get mired in the minutia of the coordinates and routes.

Whether or not you take a GPS you definitely need a compass and a map.  Most racers spend the months before the race poring over maps and figuring out which route is the fastest.  By the time you start the race you should have studied the terrain and the vegetation of your route and considered what it will look like when you're there in person.  Everything in Alaska is big so imagine the landmarks looking much larger in person than they seem to be on a map. 

I have used a combination wrist altimeter and compass for past races and it's worked very well for me.  Suunto makes great altimeters and it's the brand that most serious mountain climbers use.  Read some reviews and buy what you think will work best for you.  Here's the one I use.  Suunto

Saturday, November 27, 2010

1981 Original Race Info Packet from George Ripley

Here's the original race packet sent out to people interested in the Classic.   It's interesting to see that a lot of well known Alaskan names were in on this race from the beginning.  Vern Tejas, Brian Okonak, Steve Hackett, Harry Johnson and others were all involved. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

1982 Race Info Sheet

Check out this original race information sheet from way back in The Day.  The sheet was written by George Ripley who conceived the Wilderness Classic Race some thirty years ago.  Part of the sheet mentions the first annual Pioneer Classic but it also says it's the 2nd annual race on the first page.  I assume this is probably from the second race in 1982 and George included the information sheet from the previous year for reference.

Look at the suggested gear checklist which includes a .22 pistol and fishing hook to help gather food along the way. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

1989 Race Report - Nabesna to McCarthy

This is the official post-race write-up of the 1989 Wilderness Classic.  Even though this race report covers some of the same information that I've already posted before in slightly different forms, this is the first time I've posted the actual race report.

It's worth overlapping some of the same information anyway for 1988 and 1989 because these two races have it all.  The strategy, persistence, and flat out audacity in these two years are what the Classic is all about.  Combine all of this with one of the best race courses ever run and survival through wit, strength and pure luck and you've got a true world class adventure.  The images might come up small but you should be able to click on them to zoom in.  Enjoy.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Most Wilderness Classic racers use caffeine in one form or another during the race.  Even though it's widely used, you can still get an advantage with caffeine with a little planning.  The results of studies vary on whether short term athletic performance is enhanced by caffeine but most of them point to caffeine helping the body burn fat during endurance events.  Burning fat is key in the classic and other ultra-endurance races. It's also very useful for staying awake and can enhance moral as well.

A few weeks before the race, taper off your daily dose of caffeine and don't use it again until the race.  The effects will last longer and be stronger if you haven't been using it every day. Wait until you think there's no chance you can walk another step in the race before you take your first dose.  This is where caffeine will give you the greatest advantage.  You'll be so hopped up on adrenaline the first twelve hours of the race, caffeine won't give you much more help.  

When everyone else is laying down on the ground for a doze and you're still staggering along making distance, you can several miles on your competitors.  An average pace of two miles an hour is decent in the Wilderness Classic so if you can keep going for an extra hour, that's two miles farther ahead you'll be. 

Another important point to note is that caffeine is not the same in every form.  That latte you buy every morning from the local drive-through stand is chock full of high-octane garbage caffeine that will give you a headache and just make you feel tired in a couple hours.  It's also full of pesticides and fertilizers which won't do your body any favors.  Caffeine pills are also made of cheap grade caffeine.  They'll give you a good initial boost but the aftermath isn't pretty. 

Buy some quality organic coffee and you'll feel much better and when it comes time to cut back or even stop drinking coffee altogether, the withdrawal symptoms will be much less painful.  Kaladi Brothers in Anchorage has some great organic coffee that tastes great also.  While I'm on the topic of healthy caffeine, typical drip coffee makers not only ruin the taste of good coffee but they also dump plastic into your coffee pot from the hot water and acidic coffee coming in contact with the plastic coffee maker.  Use a stainless steel percolator or better yet, a fully stainless steel french press.  You'll be amazed at the difference in taste and you'll avoid the pthalates and other estrogen mimicing chemical compounds that come from plastic that you really don't want to accumulate in your body. 

Back to the topic at hand:  boosting performance with caffeine.  Here it is in a nutshell.  Don't use caffeine for a month before your race.  Use caffeine as late in the race as you can hold out.  This will probably be about fifteen hours into the first day.  Use a small amount and wait for it to start wearing off before you have some more.  Overlapping caffeine doses just wastes good stimulant affect.  A good way to use caffeine in a race is coffee beans.  One small bean goes a long way.  Hold it in your mouth and suck on it for a little while. 

Caffeine is a much more mild diuretic than most people think.  However, it's still good to drink a little extra water to make sure it doesn't acidify your body too much when you're using it. 

Remember it's the small advantages that make a successful race. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pictures from 2001.

Here are a few pictures from the 2001 Wilderness Classic.  This race route started in Nabesna and finished in McCarthy.  

The first picture is on the second section of boating on the Nabesna to McCarthy route on the Nabesna River.  Check out the raft pictured here.  It's likely a Curtis Designs raft which were the lightest and smallest rafts among several different types that racers used.  At about 1.5 lbs, these rafts embodied the true spirit of light and fast travel through the wilderness.  They were also dangerous for inexperienced rafters.  These rafts were very durable but were also so small that most racers had to raft with their legs hanging over the edges in the water.  This was great to chill and sooth swollen, abused ankles in the glacial water but also led to hypothermia and extreme anxiety in big water.  Adding to the adventure, this was a time when almost nobody used life jackets.  Sturdy Alpacka rafts are required gear now and most racers use some sort of life jacket. 

This picture is approximately an hour into the Nabesna River float, about 10-15 miles into the race.  The racer taking this picture is probably headed toward the bottom of the mountain in the background.  This is where Cooper Creek enters the Nabesna River and where the next section of hiking begins.  The cloudy, low light weather is typical.  This is about where most racers begin questioning whether they should have started the race at all. 

Donna Klecka and and the legendary Dick Griffith drying out their gear about 50 miles into the race at Chisana. The fastest racers try to make it to Chisana in one day of travel.  Most racers arrive there on the second day.  Chisana is one of those little Alaskan gold rush towns that time forgot.  Only a handful of people live there in log cabins and the residents are more interesting than characters out of a pulp fiction novel. There is an airstrip here and this is the most common place for people to drop out of the race.  After Chisana, opportunities for dropping out and getting a plane to fly you out are extremely limited.  From Chisana to the finish line is about one hundred miles of rough, wild Alaskan terrain with some serious rafting required.  Novices, neophytes and greenhorns need not apply. 

 Dick Griffith, the legend himself, finishing the race in McCarthy.  

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Life Analogies

The Wilderness Classic is an amazing race not only for it's ability to challenge the human spirit and break the will of some of very strong people but also for it's never ending analogies to life.  The last couple months has brought some astounding changes to my life.  I feel like I've changed courses in the middle of the race and I'm digging in my pack for a new set of maps.  Undoubtedly, I'll look back on this time period as pivotal.  In a strange way, the timing is probably appropriate since I also just celebrated my 40th birthday a few days ago.  Change is always difficult, however, change also brings opportunities. 

Well enough introspection for now.  What this all means for you is that this blog is going to change course just slightly.  I think you'll like it.  The main focus will still be the Wilderness Classic and all it's wonderful intricacies.  However, instead of the occasional hike, climb and run in Alaska that I sometimes include, I'll be adding random adventures from Maui.  I'll be spending a good portion of my time in the islands from here on out and it didn't take me long to find lots of adventures on the Valley Isle.  With a little investigation I'm finding that Maui has at least as many opportunities for adrenaline junkies as Alaska.  Feel free to email me if you need any information about adventures or anything else on Maui. 

One thing I've learned writing this blog is to respect my readers so my apologies for the month long hiatus in posting.  The reasons for this are varied and have to do with a missing laptop and the fact that getting internet service in Maui takes quite a bit longer than you might think.  Chalk it up to "island time".  The point is I should be able to post more regularly now.  Stay tuned.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A few pictures from the 2001 race.

I'm still traveling but I should be able to post more regularly soon.  Here's a few pictures for you while you're waiting.  These are from the 2001 Wilderness Classic which ran the Nabesna to McCarthy route. 

This picture is of racers inflating their boats to float Jack Creek about five miles into the race.  Jack Creek is slow and winding and has some small willow branches as sweepers.  After a little ways, Jack Creek joins the Nabesna River which is fast and angry.  The transition from Jack Creek to the Nabesna is sudden and severe and some people have ended their race at the sight of the tumolt.

Several racers near the start of the race.  Probably just a couple miles from the start.  Doug Woody on the left, Kevin Armstrong next and Gail Koepf on the far right.  Apologies to the racers I don't recognize. 

A sweet, ultralight camp setup for a good two hour night's sleep.  Note the use of the raft as a sleeping platform/tent.  

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I'm traveling now so I can't post much but I'll have some great stuff in the near future.  I still have all sorts of great material from past Wilderness Classics and I'll keep writing some training tips too.  In the meantime, train hard and enjoy the fleeting Alaskan summer.  Peace out. 

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Fairbanks Daily News Miner Article

Here's an article about the 2010 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic race in the Fairbanks newspaper. 

Rookie Racer from Fairbanks . . .

Also, take a look at this video by Luc Mehl about his Classic experience in this year's race. 

Biking the Classic

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

2010 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic Race Report

I'm posting the official 2010 race report below.  It sounds like this year was a doozy.  Really nasty hypothermia inducing weather forced the majority of the entrants to drop out.  Eighteen people started the race and six people finished. 

If you survived the race, congratulations on finishing or on making a wise choice to drop out. If you didn't do the race this year, you should probably be glad you didn't. Happy reading.

2010 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic Race Report

The problems began early for this year’s trouble-plagued Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic. This year’s race, the 29th annual event, ran from the Gerstle river crossing of Highway 2 to McKinley Village, which is something like 120 miles away across the Alaska Range as the crow flies, and up to 180 miles depending on the route chosen. Even before the starting cry of “OK, let’s go!” on Sunday morning June 20th, problems began for race coordinator and racer Michael Martin when his partner (and son) awoke with fever and nausea, forcing a scratch only hours before the race. This left Martin scrambling to re-pack for a solo approach.

19 racers registered for this year’s event, including a higher than usual percentage of racers from outside. Racers came from Washington, Colorado, Utah and Florida. With one scratch at the start, 18 set out Sunday morning to navigate over or around the Granite Mountains between Highway 2 and the Donnelly Creek campground checkpoint on Highway 4. From there they would choose between any number of routes to reach McKinley Village.

As usual in the Classic, racers showed real creativity in routes and methods of travel chosen. The rules state that all travel must be self-contained and self-propelled. Racers are not allowed to add or leave anything once the race has begun. No help from non-racers. Luc Mehl and Eric Parsons had perhaps the most unusual approach, showing up with custom “tundra bikes” outfitted with a series of frame and other bags designed by pro-designer Eric (Revelate Designs®) which held their pack rafts, skis and other gear. They planned to ride the ATV trails around the Granite mountains, then ski (towing their gear and bikes in their inflated pack rafts), boat, ride and hike to the finish.

“Chunk” Bernard and partner Tyler Johnson planned a southerly route following the checkpoint at the Donnelley campground. They would walk south to Black Rapids, cross the Delta, ski up the Black Rapids glacier and follow a glacier route to the Nenana. They would then packraft the Nenana to the finish.

Most others chose to race along the north side of the range, crossing the Trident, Hayes and Gillam glaciers in various combinations and at various points. Most would float or walk the Wood river and float the Yannert, getting off before the Yannert enters a gorge near Denali Park, and walking into the finish near McKinley Village.

A team composed of 2009 Classic winners, Bobby Schnell and Chris Robertson was joined by Todd Kasteler. They planned to jog the first section to the checkpoint, and were accompanied by newcomer Danny Powers and the team of Chunk Bernard and Tyler Johnson, reaching the checkpoint in just over 13 hours. But the weather was not going to cooperate this year, and by the time even the fastest racers had reached the Donnelley checkpoint, most racers were hypothermic from sleet and rain, and many had been significantly slowed by fog and extremely wet conditions making travel across even good tundra “mushy”.

The “G Force” team of Jeff and Greg Gedney, joined by Floridian Jason Speigel found themselves overwhelmed by freezing rain and fog in the Granite mountains, not finding the Richardson Highway (and Donnelly checkpoint) for 36 hours. Speigel had a badly hurt knee by that time, and that combined with hypothermia caused the team to scratch at the checkpoint. Peter Calvin and partner Susannah Pratt originally made the checkpoint in good shape and crossed the Delta only to find that the weather was even further deteriorating in the high ground between the Delta and the Trident glacier, and returned to the Donnelley checkpoint where they left the race. In fact, by Monday evening 10 of the 18 starters had abandoned the race at or near the Donnelly Campground because of hypothermia, weather and/or injury. This included rookie Travis Carbough, who had made good time over the Granite mountains, but succumbed to the same weather challenges as many others.

Chunk Bernard and Tyler Johnson, having made it as far as Black Rapids on Monday, spent several hours evaluating the weather and making tough decisions about going on over the long glaciated route. They report that the peaks and glacier were completely socked in, and with regret, they also decided to drop out.

From the point of view of race director Martin, the language expressed in the AMWC application “Responsible racers will make timely decisions about whether to drop out or attempt to finish when difficulties present themselves….there is always another race.” is key at times like this. The Classic is perhaps the toughest cross-country race around, but it is meant to provide a challenge, not irreversible consequences. And in the 29 years of the race there has never been such a problem, largely due to the intelligent decisions of the participants at times like this.

The team of Rob Kehrer and Matt Reardon and solo racers John Lapkass and Michael Martin all eventually found their way to the Donnelley campground at various times on Monday, and began to consider whether to drop out or go on.

Each made a decision to spend the night at the checkpoint, assay the weather in the morning, and decide whether to continue. Because the weather seemed to be improving, all continued, crossing the Delta in the morning and heading for the high ground to cross the Trident. By this time, Martin’s original partner, Michael PeƱuelas, was feeling better, and joined him for the second section.

In the meantime, the weather, although seemingly locally improving, continued to deteriorate, with thunderstorms, hail and sleet dogging the racers all along the route. The group of Bobby Schnell, Chris Robertson, Todd Kastener and Danny Powers, leading the remaining racers by a huge margin, themselves ended up hypothermic and needing an 11 hour layover in the mid-section of the second part of the course to warm up and regroup. Nevertheless, their finish time of 4 days and 48 minutes indicates that had the weather cooperated, they would have handily beat the record of 3 days, 17 hours and 54 minutes.

Martin and (at that point non-competitor) partner PeƱuelas had the astonishing luck to film a wolverine crossing the center of the Trident moraine. They later scratched from a tiny airstrip on the Little Delta, realizing they would not make another exit point in a reasonable time, but were awed by the beauty and challenge of the route, and left the race in good shape. The same could not be said of veteran Classic racer John Lapkass of Anchorage, who suffered a medical emergency and was extracted by helicopter from the last-third section of the route, proving definitively the value of the required satellite phones for all racers. From his hospital bed, Lapkass expressed deep regret because he had been in great shape at that point, and poised for a satisfying finish at McKinley Village.

The only other finishers, sharing second place this year were Rob Kehrer and Matt Reardon, finishing in great shape (except for Matt’s impressively damaged feet) in a time of 6 days, 9 hours and 22 minutes.

According to Martin, who has participated in Classics since 1993, and served as race director for 5 of those years, this Classic was as “classic” as the race gets…a widely varied group of competitors, wildly imaginative routes, weather of every variety, and challenges at every step. This year also boasts the lowest finish ratio in memory, and emphasizes that this race is extremely tough and unpredictable, and that the objective hazard of the weather can make all the difference. According to Dick Griffith, holder of the record for the most Classic finishes, in reference to this years race, “They just don’t make ‘em like they used to.”

Sunday, June 27, 2010

2010 - No more info yet.

I don't have any more recent race finishing info yet other than the comment someone posted this morning about Rob Kehrer and Matt Reardon finishing on Saturday night at 7:40 p.m.

By my count, that's six people who have finished the race and six people who have dropped out.  That leaves potentially five people who are still on the course. 

More info as soon as I get it. 

Friday, June 25, 2010

2010 Preliminary Race Results

Here's a quick update on The Race. 

17 people started the race this year.

Chris Robertson, Bobby Schnell, Todd ?? and Dan Powers won the race. 

Pete Calvin and Suzanne dropped out at Donnelly. 

Luc Mehl and his travel partner dropped out at Donnelly with a broken bicycle. 

Craig (Chunk) and his travel partner dropped out at Black Rapids. 

As far as I know, Michael Martin and John Lapkass were still in the race. 

That's all the info I have now.  Updates as soon as I find out more. 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

No news of a winner yet and guest blog post.

I haven't heard of a winner yet on the 2010 Wilderness Classic but it's probably about time someone came across the finish line.  I'll let you know as soon as I hear anything. 

On another note, I was recently invited to write a guest blog post about Alaska eBooks and Western Chugach Alpine Guide for 49 Writers - which is a well known blog for Alaskan authors.  My guest post is being published today.  Here's a link if you would like to check it out.  Guest blog post. 

Friday, June 18, 2010

2010 Race and Paddle to Seattle

If you are doing the Classic this year, hopefully you are ready because it starts in just a couple days! Here are a couple of links to webcams and weather info at different places along the typical route.  

Black Rapids
Maclaren Lodge

Also, you can now order your DVD of the Alaskan adventure film Paddle to Seattle on AlaskaeBooks

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hot Springs 100 Race Results

Here are the results from the 2010 Hot Springs 100 Race.  You can also check out this article from the Fairbanks Daily News Miner.  Clouds and Fog.
Mark Ross --    25:50 (hr : min)
Gerry Hovda--   26:20
Danny Powers/Eli Sturm--  29:58
Drew Harrington/Steve Taylor/Brian Young--  31:23
Jeff Wells/Jason Reppert-- 31:23
Steve Masterman/Sarah Masterman/Chip Vaughan--37:40
Ian Lleshi---  40:30
Jeff Gaarder/Michael Roylance--  41:06
Rourke Williams/Storm Williams--  61:50

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Training Tip - Alkalize

Journey with me for a moment - it's 4:00 a.m. at some random Alaskan trailhead.  Your car is the only one in the parking lot and there is a slight drizzle coming down out of the steel gray sky.  It's 50° and it doesn't look like it going to get any warmer during the day.  Despite the early hour and weather conditions that most people would consider miserable, you're amped up and ready to start down the trail for an eight hour run/hike. 

If you're the type of person who gets excited about a morning like this then this training tip is for you.  

The human body tries to maintain a specific pH.  Everyone's pH is slightly different but most people's blood pH level hovers around 7.4.  Many things throughout a typical day can cause your body to become more acidic.  Fried food, air pollution, the PCB's you ate in that salmon you just caught out of Ship Creek, stress and anger can all make your body more acidic.  If your body is too acidic, healing is delayed, carcinogens take their toll more readily and you age faster.  Most importantly, you won't be able to run your ultramarathon as fast as could. 

The good news is that you can do a number of things to alkalize your body and bring your pH levels back toward normal. Moderate exercise will alkalize but if you're reading this blog you're probably not into moderate exercise, which is probably considered something like a light twenty to thirty minute jog.  Heavy exercise takes a toll on the human body and makes it more acidic.  

This all brings me to my original point which is what you can do to recover from your eight hour high intensity run that you started at 4:00 a.m.  At the end of the day, when you're dehydrated, completely spent and even laying down on the couch won't bring your heartrate back down to pre-run levels, alkalize your body.  Meditate, do some yoga or tai chi, or watch a funny movie.  Deep breathing, laughter and relaxation will all help offset acidosis in your body.  

Another powerful remedy is to drink a full glass of water mixed with a teaspoon or two of apple cider vinegar.  Even though most vinegar is very acidic, apple cider vinegar is made by burning apples and some of the ash is left over in the vinegar.  Ash is alkalizing and will bring your pH back in the right direction.  A couple notes:  regular white vinegar won't work because it doesn't have any ash.  To kickstart the ash/alkalizing process you can take a couple of magnesium supplements because minerals are required for the body to convert the vinegar.  If you don't give your body a mineral to use, it will use minerals in your body such as bone.  This is ok but for longer term use, it's probably better to provide extra minerals. 

You can offset the potential toll of heavy exercise by alkalizing your body.  Maintain a strong, positive mental attitude when training hard.  Derive joy from your runs and hikes, take a bit of apple cider vinegar and you'll heal faster, be stronger and feel better. 

Happy training. 

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Alaska At Its Finest - Barefoot Flattop

I tested out the Five Fingers on Flattop today for the second time.  I ran up the backside on the "runner's trail" and posted a decent early season time.  The weather was stellar and the temperature was warm enough to run only in shorts.  The Five Fingers made the minimalist style complete.  Feeling the warm rock and soaking up the sun's energy like a sponge - this has got to be barefoot mountain running in Alaska at its finest. 

Without intending to sound like a Five Fingers apostle, I must say that if you're at all inclined to try out barefoot running or some sort of minimalist shoe style, I really like Five Fingers.  The backside of Flattop is no problem at all and although I haven't tried the Five Fingers on Peak 3 I'm sure it would be fine since I made it up and down that peak last summer completely barefoot.  Peak 3 has even less gravel and rock than Flattop. 

I hope you're out enjoying the weather. 

Friday, May 28, 2010


If you're adventuring in or near Fairbanks check out this website.  Northern Packrafts

Friday, May 14, 2010

Hot Springs 100

The Hot Springs 100, is a 100km++ overland wilderness event from Chena Hot Springs to Circle Hot Springs, Alaska.
In a straight line as the raven flies the distance on map is about 65 miles.
Afoot on terrain it may be 75 to 80 actual miles.
The terrain is primarily wilderness: unglaciated alpine domes and ridges.
Possible foot trails include animal(~73%), atv(~12%), gravel/tailing road(~15%),
Also a wilderness river float (as much as 40%).
This is a wilderness event.  The routes are mainly alpine with boreal forest approaches and a possible 30mi+ river section.  Bears, black and grizzly, are common all throughout the country.
Participants must be fit and equipped with wilderness experience; ready to cope with wilderness hardships.  It is essential a person feels comfortable orienteering from map to landscape and from landscape to map with a compass.
The event has occurred four times.
61 total participants. 55 finished.
The solo record time is 23hr. 50min.  (2009) The team record time is 23hr. 38min.  (2009) The solo all-overland record time is 24hr. 56min. (2007)
   Information 457-6376  or
be free,

1983 Race Summary

Race summary from the 1983 Hope to Homer race. 

Friday, April 30, 2010

More Barefoot Running

After suffering last summer running completely barefoot on sharp gravel, I decided to order a pair of Five Fingers KSO and try them out.  I'm pleased to report that they are the greatest thing since sliced bread.  Running in these things gives almost all the benefits of running completely barefoot without much of the pain.

I tried them out on the Turnagain Arm Trail a week or so ago before all the snow had melted.  I found out quickly that they are not waterproof at all and running over snow and ice turned my toes numb in about a half mile.

Overall they worked great though and I've used them quite a few times since then.   The Turnagain Arm Trail has a lot of roots and ankle twisting terrain so take it slow if you run here barefoot until your calves and ankles become stronger. 

There are several models of Five Fingers and I went with the KSO which stands for Keep Stuff Out.  Not exactly an original name but they do work fairly well keeping stuff out.  I put a link below for the most popular model of Five Fingers but if you're in Alaska and you're running trails or doing some peak running you should consider the KSO.

If you do order some Five Fingers don't get them from Amazon.  For some reason, probably because of the barefoot running popularity explosion they really jacked up the price.  REI still has them for a reasonable price.

Vibram FiveFingers Classic Multisport Shoes - Men's

Thursday, April 22, 2010

1982 - The First Race

Here are a few pictures straight out of the "Way Back Machine".  I'm pretty sure these are from the very first Wilderness Classic race.  The route was Hope to Homer, the year was 1982 and the I believe the person in the photos is George Ripley - the original race organizer.  

 George, jogging down the Homer Spit toward the finish line and ending in style. 


Monday, April 19, 2010

The Best Training Technique Ever - Visualization

If you've seriously participated in any sport for a little while, you've surely come across visualization techniques.  Even though visualization is becoming more common, most people still don't utilize it's full potential.

Visualization has been around for a long time.  People all over the world have successfully used it for thousands of years in everything from martial arts to business to medicine.  The power of the mind is extraordinary and you can also tap into it for any type of distance running or adventure racing.  Any veteran of the Wilderness Classic can tell you that the most important thing to finishing the Classic intact is mental strength.  You can and should use visualization to not only survive the Classic but excel at it.  You can also apply these techniques to anything else in life.

This post is just scratching the surface of visualization.  There are numerous books about the subject but many people still think it's only for Olympians or professional athletes.  It's more simple and more effective than you might think.  For more reading, take a look at Think and Grow Rich which, despite the title, is very applicable to sports visualization and was one of the original books about visualization.  You can also do a basic Google  search and you'll find more than enough books to keep you busy.

Here are the basics:  the power of the mind resides in focus and you can increase your concentration through regular practice.  (Slightly off the topic - fish oil and other supplements that are high in antioxidants like gingko biloba will also help.)  Since your mind has control over your physical body, your body will respond to visual images in your brain. The goal is to convince your physical body, through visual imagery, that it is capable of doing something. 

Start by maintaining a positive mindset about your racing and training.  Take some time and figure out exactly what your goal is. This could be anything from a specific race finishing time to a specific mental state after a hard 20 mile training run.  Write down your goal. When writing your goal, be specific and use the words "I will . . ." instead of "I want to . . . ".  Here's an example:  "I will run the Wilderness Classic in 3 days, 15 hours and 12 minutes". 

Memorize your goal word for word.  Read and recite it in the morning when you wake up and in the evening before you drift off to sleep.  If possible, say the words out loud. See yourself completing your goal.  Think about how it feels to have already accomplished your task.  Take your time and feel every aspect of your accomplishment.  Put some emotion into it.  Be proud of yourself and revel in the wonderful feeling of completing a goal. Convince yourself of it.

Play a video in your brain of yourself completing your goal.  Play this video over and over, particularly when you start the day and also just before you go to sleep.  Keep visualizing every day until it's time for your race and you will have the confidence you need to complete it.  Come back to it again and again and don't be discouraged if you don't meet your goal exactly or if you have doubts.  Simply refocus and bring your mind back to visualizing your completed goal. 

If you're new to visualization, all this may seem silly but this is what successful professional athletes do all the time.  Try it out.  You'll like it. Your confidence will grow and you'll be more successful in life. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Just a quick update to let you know that I haven't forgotten about my readers.  I'm writing another training post that I'll be posting soon about a great training technique and I also have some more pictures of one of the original Wilderness Classic races, so check back soon.  

In the meantime if you want to watch some hiking and climbing entertainment, I posted a video slideshow trailer of the Western Chugach Alpine Guide. 

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Another Year. Some training tips.

By now, you should have received your Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic race application in your email inbox.  If you aren't on the Classic email list and want an application, email me and I'll forward your email address to the race organizer.

The race is the same course as last year and by all accounts, the Gerstle River to McKinley Village route is living up to all the expectations that a good Wilderness Classic must meet.  It's too long, too dangerous and just plain too brutal for most people. 

Here are some random thoughts about training for the race:  

If you plan to do the race this year, you should already be logging some serious mileage.  Hopefully, you won't just be starting your training now - ideally you should have been putting in long days all winter long.  The Classic is the type of race that needs a lifestyle of fitness.  By this I mean that you need to make endurance a part of your life.  Most people who do this race like to go on all day hikes, climbs or bike trips and for them a two or three hour run is considered short. 

Long, slow workouts will train your body to burn fat which is a necessary physical adaptation for endurance.  A workout needs to be at least thirty minutes long before your body starts burning fat and you should go slowly enough so that you can easily carry on a conversation.  If you're training by yourself (which I recommend) you can gauge proper speed by breathing through your nose.  If you can breathe through your nose without getting out of breath for a couple minutes at a time, then you're going slow enough. 

The key is to always keep moving.  Learn to get into your pack without stopping, eat while you're moving and resist the urge to sit down.  The only time you're traveling backwards is when you're stopped. Aim for at least twelve hours of movement and try to do several eighteen hour days.  If you beat your body up now, you'll be much stronger during the race when an eighteen hour day is mandatory.  Even if you train hard now, fifty miles into the race, you will wish you would have trained harder and longer.

Similar to training for an ultramarathon, you should peak in your training about a month before the race to give your body as much chance to recover and strengthen as possible.  Don't be a couch potato the last month but do taper off and don't push your body too much.  Don't injure yourself or destroy your muscles by overdoing it.  When the race arrives, you should feel like a caged tiger - your body should ache to get out on the trail.

Proper sleep and diet are extremely important in the final few weeks before the race.  Eat whole foods and pay attention to what your body wants.  Think about your meals before you eat them and what is appetizing to you.  Think about how bloated and slow you feel after a greasy burger and opt for the steamed vegetables,  rice and skinless chicken instead.  If your body craves fat, add some olive oil, coconut oil or nuts to a salad.  These oils are high in Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and have myriad other benefits also.  Coconut oil is brimming with antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties.  Olive oil has lots of antioxidants and is an anti-inflammatory also.  Reducing inflammation is key in distance training. 

I'll sign off for now but I'll continue with some more training and nutrition tips in another post soon.  Based on Google Analytics analysis of this blog a lot of people tune in here to read the training and nutrition tips so if you have a specific training or nutrition topic relating to the race you would like me to cover, shoot me an email and let me know.  Happy training!  

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

1990 Race Article

This article is another Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic gem, plucked straight from the annals of history.  Enjoy. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

New Guidebook and Alaska eBooks Website

I recently finished writing the first guidebook in a series that focuses on hiking and climbing in the Western Chugach Mountains.  The first book focuses on the Eklutna Lake area near Anchorage and includes eleven routes on seven peaks.  The guide is available exclusively as a downloadable ebook in PDF format.

You can check out my publishing website here at  Visit the site often because I'll be listing ebooks from other authors soon also. 

If you have any questions about the book, ebooks in general or potential publishing, feel free to email me.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Winter Wilderness Classic

The 23rd Annual Alaska Mountain Wilderness Ski Classic starts in just a few weeks but you might still have time to sign up if you want to compete.  Contact Dave Cramer who is the event coordinator at  You can get an application and find out more about the race at this link. 

The race this year is from Galbraith to Anaktuvuk to Wiseman.

Friday, March 12, 2010

More pictures from 2004

I found a few more pictures from the start of the 2004, Eureka to Talkeetna.  These were taken just a few minutes before the racers took off from a gravel pit near the Eureka Lodge.  I've labeled the people I recognize.  My apologies to those I haven't labeled.

Thai Verzone - in purple, facing the camera.  Roman Dial - head visible just over the shoulder of the guy in gray.  Ben Summit - in blue, second from the right.  Dave Looney - far right.

 Ben Summit - on the left in blue.  Dave Looney - gray shirt and yellow hat.  Hans Neidig - wearing black behind the racer in the yellow jacket.  Chris Robertson - blue shirt, just right of the yellow jacketed racer.  Jeff Bannish - red shirt, center of picture.  Rob Kehrer - blue shirt, just right of Jeff.  Jim McDonough - in black clothes and blue hat.  Butch Allen - blue vest, holding papers in left hand.  John Lapkass - wearing black pack, facing away from the camera. 

 Roman Dial giving the racers final instructions and guidelines just before the race start.  Roman is on the left wearing black with orange bike helmet. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

1988 Magazine Article

1988 was the year of legends for the Classic.  Chuck Comstock flew off a cliff with his parapente, the race was held for the first time at the favorite Nabesna to McCarthy venue and strategy played a key role for the winner.  This article for Ultrarunning magazine details all of it. Enjoy! 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pictures from 2004 - Eureka to Talkeetna

Here are some random pictures from the beginning and end of the 2004 Eureka to Talkeetna race.  This was the year Gordy Vernon and Thai Verzone reminded us that subterfuge, strategy and innovation will often beat pure endurance in the Classic.  These two veterans schooled everyone by coming from behind and winning the race.  They carried a huge raft but eventually used it to float the entire Talkeetna Canyon while everyone else had to portage around it through thick brush.

Gordy and Thai told nobody about their plans and also brought a large cooler of free beer to the starting line for other people to take.  After months of shaving 1/100th's of an ounce off their packs, several people opted to calm their nerves with some brew and actually carried some of the beer in their packs.  Whether the cost/benefit ratio favored this decision is anyone's guess.  What we do know is that Gordy and Thai knew exactly what they were doing.  

Erin McKittrick on the left in purple with Bret Higman just behind her.  Bob Schnell just to the right of them in the blue hat.  Jason Geck in the center, Butch Allen, Jim McDonough and Dick Griffith on the right. 

Thai Verzone on the left, Jim Lapkass just to the right and Michael Martin in the red coat. 

Thai and Gordy bringing out the cooler of beer to the starting line. 

And they're off!  Roman and Cody Roman Dial on bicycles. At 17 years old, Cody Roman was and still is the youngest person to finish the Classic. 

Gordy and Thai carry their raft to the finish line in Talkeetna as they win the race. 

John Pepe and Rob Kehrer happy to be in Talkeetna. 

Hans and Anna Neidig greet John with a nice cold beer.