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.