The Juneau Ridge Race definitely isn’t for kids — indeed, nobody under 16 is permitted — but that didn’t keep plenty of the “over the hill” participants from bringing playful items such as toboggans, ski poles and other gear to help them get up and down the mountain.
A booked-to-capacity field of 135 participants took part in the annual 15-mile race that loops from Cope Park to the top of Mount Juneau and along the ridgeline before the return descent. There’s roughly 5,000 feet of total elevation gain, which is why some racers were carrying poles to help themselves on the way up and seeking slippery ways down on the snow-covered portions to save wear on their knees.
“I had plans of sledding down on my toboggan,” said Dan Rondeau, 69, pulling it out of his pack after the race. “But by the time you pull it out I thought maybe you can go a little faster, but not enough as the time it takes to get it out.”
Others glissaded down patches of snow by the seat of whatever they were wearing, trying to stay both injury-free and avoid problems like cramps. Among those carrying ski poles was Alex Andrews, a Juneau resident participating in the race for the fourth time, who said the poles provided balance during the steep sections going up and down.
“Often you’re power hiking up and your hands are your thighs,” he said. “This gives you a bit more rhythm.”
Completion times for the race are typically between 2 ¼ and six hours, according to organizers. Andrews said he was hoping to finish in less than three hours, which would mean jogging along the switchbacks up Mount Juneau while hiking the steepest portions.
Zack Bursell, 30, of Juneau won the men’s division with a time of 2 hours, 7 minutes and 37 seconds, more than three minutes ahead of second-place finisher Lars Arneson, 33, of Anchorage. Abby Jahn, 30, of Juneau, was the top women’s finisher with a time of 2 hours, 39 minutes and 39 seconds, about eight minutes ahead of Heather Arneson, 31, of Anchorage.
The challenge and location of the mountain race attracted Lyn Bollen, 62, a Colorado resident who said she’s run nearly 70 marathons, and signed up along with her daughter, Kate, who participated in the Juneau Icefield Program several years ago.
“My daughter lives in Anchorage and we love to do crazy stuff together — and I love Juneau,” Bollen said.
She said she was participating for the experience rather than the competition, and expected the course to be a challenge despite her extensive running history.
“It’s going to be hard just because it’s Alaska,” she said. “It’s foreign. It’s steep. Plus I’m a lot older than I used to be.”
For those who were there to compete, race announcer Geoff Roes reminded participants just before the start that the men’s and women’s division winners receive an automatic invite to the Mount Marathon Race in Seward in July.
“That’s one of the hardest races in the country — in the world — to get into,” he said. “Take the entry if you get into the race.”
But to be eligible to win, runners also needed to follow the extra rules of the ridge race due to its hazardous terrain and potentially hazardous weather conditions, which meant carrying more than just the required gear that race officials inspected beforehand, Roes emphasized. “It is up to you to make sure you get checked in at the three checkpoints,” he said, noting that while limited food and water was at them, “there are 135 people, (but) we did not carry 135 gallons of water up.”
There were also environmental considerations, including a reminder along the ridgeline to “stick to the snow when possible – we want to have as little impact on the alpine environment as possible,” Roes said.
Rondeau finished in slightly under four hours while his partner, Cecile Elliot, 58, finished slightly over the four-hour mark. She said she participated in the event many years ago “when I was really running,” but this year “my mind can relax a little bit more.”
“For me it’s the love of mountain running and I know I can finish it because I can hike the whole thing in six hours,” Elliotsaid.
• Contact Mark Sabbatini at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907) 957-2306.