Four registered. Three started. Two finished.
That, in a nutshell, is the story of Trail of 98 Ultra, the new category added this year to the Klondike Trail of ‘98 International Road Relay.
It’s not for new runners. It’s the full Monty: all 10 legs in the 175-kilometre race from Skagway to Whitehorse – all in one go.
Three attempted the first installment of the ultra this past weekend and two finished, arm in arm, tying for first.
Juneau runners Klas Stolpe and Houston Laws finished the trek just under a day with a time of 23:34:34.
“I called my friend Houston and said, ‘I’m signing you up,’ because I need someone to help me get through it,” said Stolpe. “Houston Laws already ran four 100s this year – it’s called the Alaska Slam – and he’s a good friend of mine. I signed him up, paid his way and everything. I said, ‘This is the deal, you make sure I get through this.’”
People weren’t sure if anyone would finish the ultra. When the announcer told the crowd at the finish line the two were coming in, spectators flooded the finish area to cheer them on loudly.
They didn’t look in bad shape, either. Stolpe even hung around for the award ceremony that took place three hours after he finished. He wasn’t sure where Laws disappeared to, but the safe money was on bed.
“I never thought I’d get through it,” said Stolpe. “But it’s funny, your body can just keep going.”
Stolpe, 55, and Laws, 29, had a lot of strategy set. They dressed as light as conditions allowed, didn’t carry anything, walked some uphills and their support vehicle stopped ahead of them every five or so kilometres. They never stopped to sleep.
Stolpe and Law set the goal of running 13-minute miles (eight-minute kilometres) from start to finish.
“I’m a speed runner – I’ve actually won two legs of this race before,” said Stolpe. “You say you want to go 13 minutes, but my body wants to go seven or eight.
“That’s a whole new ball game because you get a new gait, a new stride, new movements, new pain.
“At one in the morning I thought I had hit the wall. I didn’t want water or anything – nothing in my mouth tasted good at all. But you just keep going and it got better.”
The other runner to attempt the ultra was Chicago’s Wil Kidnew, who scratched during the race. Whitehorse’s Keith Thaxter registered for the ultra, but withdrew before the start.
Stolpe, who is the sports editor for the Juneau Empire, was inspired to run the ultra after the death of Alaska running guru Glenn Frick, who passed away this spring at the age of 75. Frick ran the relay 20 times between 1983-2013, was on six winning teams over that time and was a founder of the Smokin’ Ole Geezers masters team, an institution in relay.
“I’ve never done an organized marathon or 50K or anything, but I fell in with a good group of runners in Juneau and we do a lot of things in the mountains, lots of long runs,” said Stolpe. “One of them was Glenn Frick, a good friend – I actually wrote a couple stories about how he helped me get out of the mountains a couple of times. And when he passed, I figured it would be fitting to do what he did every year, but try to do the whole thing in his honour.”
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