BY TOBY WIDDICOMBE
Last year Heidi Beer and I worked hard to get the inaugural Anchorage Mile certified, but that’s not our distance. That’s for those bizarre people who have fast-twitch muscles and actually enjoy the experience of feeling their lungs on fire. Both of us (saner folk) like the longer distances – anything up to 100 kilometers.
So, we thought: Why not come up with an ultra for the Big Wild Life Runs series? The Equinox in Fairbanks has one, so it seemed like a natural progression to us. Heidi came up with the idea of a 49K for the 49th state. She’s really creative that way; I probably would have suggested a 50K for the 49th state. Then we decided we wanted something simple so that it could be integrated easily with all the other races on that August weekend. And that dovetailed nicely with the wish to have those from Outside enjoy the experience of running the Kincaid hill (which is notoriously nasty but which marathoners don’t get to experience). So, we added on the extra mileage between the marathon distance and a 49K to the marathon turnaround on the Coastal Trail. The result? Those who run the ultra will get to experience most (but not quite all) of the Kincaid hill. That’s reason enough to sign up.
The draw of the ultra is that marathons are too short. If you run them to get a runner’s high, then it’s disappointing for that high to come to an end after just a few hours. And the draw is bragging rights too (of course), but that almost goes without saying. When you look back on a race, it was always fun. When you are actually running it, sometimes not so much, although it is true that I have been known to annoy other runners in endurance races by (quietly) singing vulgar songs when I am really in the moment.
What you need for an ultra is this simple recipe: equal parts endurance and focus and determination with just a pinch of insanity. If you live life for the sheer experience of it (I find getting out of bed in the morning quite exciting), if you live it with the thought that at some point you’ll have time to look back at all the crazy things you did when you were young(er), then running an ultra is one way of accomplishing that without risking life or limb or other body parts. And it doesn’t need any special talents or any special gear: just running clothes and a decent pair of running shoes – especially the latter.
This race is unique for lots of reasons, and several come to mind immediately. There’s the mnemonic of 49K in the 49th state. There’s the fact that except for the opening mile or so downtown the whole race is on paved trails. That’s very unusual – maybe even unique. Then there’s the wildlife: moose and bears and eagles and their not being worrisome in this case because the number of runners (usually) keeps them at a fair distance.
So, if you haven’t signed up yet for the 49K, now is a great time to do it. Life is too short not to, right?
Toby Widdicombe is the Ultra race