Part 2: Juneau - Alaska Ultrarunning
After my week in Anchorage, I flew to Juneau to take part in the Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp. The camp is a six night, five day run fest along ridges, snowfields, marshes, and rainforests. It was a blast, to say the least. I pretty much blew my entire entertainment budget for the summer on this trip, but it was well worth it.
I actually went on vacation to Alaska last summer, as well. The trip left me wanting more, and I was a little bummed that I didn’t get more running in during my stay. I was recovering from a hard 50M race effort during the stay and, to be honest, I was a bit intimidated to go running around Alaska without knowing the area too well.
I had met Geoff, the founder of the Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp, last fall while he was living in Boulder. When I heard that he was going to hold these camps, I was pretty excited - he’d be a great guide to show me around one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. I filled out the application, wrote the deposit, set it on my desk at work, and awaited the results from the Hardrock 100 lottery. Upon rejection, I mailed in my deposit for running camp. Seven months later I was at the camp.
The day I arrived in Juneau, I had time to do the sightseeing thing. Here is a black bear that is terrible at fishing
The 'world famous' Mendelhall Glacier.
I could seriously write ten pages of highlights from the trip, but I’m going to let pictures do most of the talking. The experience was amazing. We stayed at a great cabin right on the bay with a view that I still daydream about a month later. Additionally, Geoff and his girlfriend provided us with copious amounts of delicious food - I actually gained weight on the trip. I got tons of cool running gear, as well.
Getting familiar with our surroundings on the first night of camp with Randy. (Photo: Damien)
The Juneau running scene is quite cool. There’s a tight knit group of runners of all ages, each of whom can hold his own on some pretty insane terrain. One of the more entertaining members of this group is a 73 year old man named Glen. Dude can run, and is so full of life. If I manage to be half as active as he is at that age, I’d be pretty happy.
My ‘campmates’ were also an awesome group of people that I am sure I will stay in contact with for quite a while. We’ve already planned our first reunion for later this year. A big shout out to my friend Randito who just finished Leadville 100 a week ago.
The itinerary for each day pretty much went like this:
8:30 am: Wake up and eat
9-10 am: Chill and eat snacks
10:30 am: Go running somewhere awesome for several hours
3, 4, 5 pm: Trailhead beer
5 pm: Chill, have beers and snacks
7 pm: Eat an awesome dinner
8 pm: Chill, have beers and snacks
Midnight: Go to bed
I ended up banking 84 miles of running over the five days. Considering the lack of running I had done before my trip and the recent race, that 84 miles was about all my body could handle. I was in heaven though, and I wasn’t about to take it easy and miss out on anything.
Sunset, from the deck.
Here’s a quick rundown of each day:
Day 1: 17M - Ran up a valley along a crap load of slippery planks to a cabin. Bushwacked across a spongy marsh led by a 73 year old man for several miles. Ran at a decent clip down a different river valley to the car and beers.
The impeccable tour guide, Glen, pretending to be lost. (Photo: Damien)
A bunch of runners hanging out in an awesome valley. (Photo: Damien)
Day 2: 17M - Ran straight up Mount Roberts, then proceeded to traverse a rocky, snowy ridge with breathtaking views for several miles. The last peak of the day was Mt. Olds, the highest and most technical peak of my entire trip. We descended on snow, then slippery plants, and ran back to the cars on the Perseverance Trail. I didn’t want this day to end. I would have run until I couldn’t anymore - the place was simply amazing. Also, I had a great time watching Randy, who hadn’t seen snow in several years.
We ran the entirety of the ridge you can see in this picture. Mt. Olds on the far left.
Me. On top of some mountain. I think that's the Roberts ridge in the background.
We ran down into that valley eventually. (Photo:Damien)
Randy getting his snow legs. A bit different than running in Tuscon.
Day 3: 10M - “Recovery” run on a crushed gravel trail. We ran out to a glacier and back, followed by brunch. This was kind of our rest day. We went into town, ate some fudge and judged cruise ship tourists.
Me and my campmates.
Day 4: 26M - Totally unplanned. The group split into two groups and half drove up to a ski resort and we did the whole car shuttle thing, where each group ran to the cars left by the other group. I was in the group that was going to run up to the ski resort. I took a different route that went over some peak with a fellow named Dan. Dan is awesome. He loves hunting and mushroom picking and bush-whacking and running down hills really fast. We got to the car and nobody was there, so we decided to run down the trail until we found people. That ended up being a couple miles. We were both feeling good and kind of feeding off each other, and decided it made sense to keep running down to just finish our run at the pizza place for dinner with the rest of the group. I love finishing runs at functional destinations, especially ones that sell beer. Although the weather was sketchy, and the scenery wasn’t the best, this was my favorite run of the trip. I just felt so fulfilled afterwards. I had scrapes all over my body from falling in Devil’s Club and thrashing through raspberry bushes, and I was soaked to the bone, but it made me feel all the more satisfied with the day’s effort.
Home. For the week.
Day 5: 14M - Juneau Ridge. I’ll admit, I was tired to start this run. It was a lot like Day 2, but on the other side of the valley and the weather wasn’t quite as perfect. I was straggling a bit on the climb and the traverse of the ridge. Once we hit the down, however, I decided to crank it. Geoff came flying by and I tried my best (and failed) to keep up. As he passed by, he told me to just go and not worry about falling (there was no trail, just snow and rocks). I kind of had a breakthrough with my downhill running during the next stretch. I’ve decided downhill running is 95% mental. Well, I shouldn’t say that. It’s actually 0% mental. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that the key to running downhill fast is to disengage your brain and just let it happen. Stop looking at your feet, and concentrate on moving your legs as fast as possible. Some other part of your brain is much better at figuring out where your feet need to go than you are.
Typical ridge trail (Photo:Damien)
Yep. I was a tired, but happy camper at the TH after the last day of running.
Anyway... the run was followed by a trip to the Alaska Brewery and a picnic out on the bay where we grilled up fresh salmon and drank the night away.
Ultrarunners, doing what ultrarunners do.
Brent and Tamara. New friends enjoying some beers on the last night of camp.
More beers, salmon, and good company.
Day 6: I had to wake up at 4 am, say my goodbyes, and board a plane back to Colorado. It was hard to do. I really miss Alaska.