Running Wild Alaska - Page 2
Intimately familiar with those risks is ultra-endurance athlete Jill Homer, who finished the 350-mile race on a bike in 2008. On her second ITI mountain bike race in 2009, Homer’s foot crunched through a thin layer of ice on Flathorn Lake within the first 25 miles of the course. She wound up with a nasty case of frostbite that forced her to scratch from the race. Even so, she’s preparing herself to race this February, on foot.
“In attempting the 350-mile race on foot,” she explains, “I hope to seek a similar level of intensity, newness and discovery that I experienced at my first ITI by using a more difficult mode of travel. There's a purity to foot travel—there's no mechanical aid, no wheels to coast along. It's just me, and only me.”
But for some the lack of support is part of the allure that draws them to the ITI in the first place.
“I’m free to decide what to take, and how I travel,” says Rick Freeman, 55 from Peters Township, Pennsylvania. He believes the risk is worth it for the chance to be able to enjoy the beautiful Alaskan scenery. “I’ve watched the Northern Lights illuminating the clear night sky in the heart of the Alaska Range. It’s like a private I-Max theater show. Racing on foot gives me time to clear my mind, with the only worry being how to stay safe in the wilderness.”
Since 2000, only 11 people have finished the 1,000-mile footrace, which you have to first qualify for by completing the 350-mile race to McGrath. This year eight runners will toe the line for the full 1,000-mile ITI, and six will attempt the 350-mile race.
Two of those 1,000-mile racers will be Tim Hewitt, the unmitigated king of the ITI, and his wife Loreen (see page 3). Tim has run the 1,000-mile course seven times so far—that’s four more than anyone else racing on wheels, skis or by foot—and holds the overall speed record for the run (20 days, seven hours, 17 minutes, set in 2011). In 2013 he did it totally unsupported, dragging his gear along behind him on a sled and sleeping outside under the stars without a tent or a bivy sack.
“I believe it was the longest unsupported foot trek ever,” says Hewitt, an unassuming lawyer from Pennsylvania in his late 50’s. “But this year I’ll go the more traditional (easier) way"—by allowing himself to stop and rest indoors.
“After the ITI, most other races don't have the same allure,” he continues. “The excitement of the unknown challenge separates the ITI from other events.”
Read on to find out how two hardcore adventurers are prepping for their run across Alaska.