Juneau’s Zack Bursell, 30, won the Run The Rock 50-mile endurance race on Saturday at Terrebonne, Oregon.
In a weekend of ultra records set across the United States, Bursell finished in six hours 48 minutes and 17 seconds, the fourth-fastest time ever run in that race’s mountainous terrain.
“Oh man I’m tired,” Bursell said Monday. “Yeah, exhausted. But I’m really happy with the effort.”
Bursell, a 2011 Juneau Douglas High School: Yadaat.at Kalé graduate and current Crimson Bears cross-country coach, said his strategy was “to follow my instincts and try to pace myself. I also just wanted to make sure I was eating and drinking enough, but mostly just try not to go out too hard.”
Bursell consumed a gel every 20 minutes during the race and drank water every five or so miles at aid stations, where he would also fill a run bottle.
“I ended up eating about 19 or 20 gels,” he said. “I kept it pretty simple. It was nice.”
This is Bursell’s third ultra-distance race. In the endurance sports field, an ultra is considered a race distance greater than a marathon’s 26.2 miles.
The course in Smith Rock State Park consisted of a 25.5-mile loop run twice with a total elevation gain of 7,200 feet.
The 6 a.m. start in headlamps involved a 500-foot climb to “Gray Butte” followed by a crashing descent to “Smith Rock Park” at 2,500-foot elevation and then a massive 4,000-foot climb, another descent back to 3,000 feet and a 700-foot climb to put 30 miles of the race behind.
“This is the furthest I have ever run by maybe 15 miles,” he said. “And I felt out of my element at, like, mile 30.”
Bursell was in second place at that time, trailing by a few minutes.
“At that point I was having a really tough time just wrapping my head around that I had so many miles to go still. You expect it to be really difficult at some points. Eventually I got over it and pushed through.”
Another crushing descent to 2,500 feet and ascent to 4,500 left the final drop to the finish.
“Relief,” Bursell said of the finish line.
Bursell signed up for the race just over a month ago, wanting to utilize new-found fitness gained from a training plan put together by his father, John Bursell.
“I just wanted to try my hand at an ultra event after having a really good summer of training/racing,” he said. “I wanted to work with him (John) just to try and be more consistent. That is sort of the main thing, trying to have some consistency in my training.”
Last March Bursell placed 17th overall out of 421 runners in the Chuckanut 50K in 4:02:32. He also won Fairbanks’ Equinox Marathon in September with a time 2:57:07 and last June set the course record on the Juneau Ridge Race 15 miler with a time of 2:07:37. That race has become nationally known and attracted professional runners the past few years. (Juneau’s Abby Jahn holds the women’s record in 2:39:39). Bursell also has placed fourth in the Crow Pass Crossing 22.6-miler at Girdwood/Eagle River, Alaska, with a time of 3:22:12.
“I started my training with my father to prepare for the Equinox Marathon,” Bursell said. “After that went well we just decided to keep it going.”
Bursell said he bonked in the Chuckanut, but finished the race. He also attempted the Canyons 100K this past spring, but bonked and did not finish.
“I’ve learned it takes a lot of preparation,” Bursell said. “You can’t underestimate the distance, especially if you want to run fast and be competitive. People tend to blow up really hard in those races when they are pushing the pace. I kind of learned that if you want to do that your training has to be equally matched to the rigors of the distance. A lot of training, a lot of consistency, a lot of discipline.”
Also competing at Terrebonne was Juneau’s Christy Gentemann, 34, who ran the Run The Rock Half Marathon (13.1 miles) in 2:49:26, placing 29th in her division out of 164 runners (Seattle’s Evan Hardy, 30, top male 1:38:40; Bend’s Sarah Burke, 28, top female, sixth overall 1:49:40).
“It was my first trail half marathon and was one of the most beautiful courses I’ve run,” Gentemann said. “Training in Juneau helped prepare me for the steep inclines so I could enjoy the views.”
Gentemann’s course featured 2,500 feet of total elevation, including a switchback climb up “Misery Ridge,” leading to the iconic climbing route “Monkey Face,” another climb up Summit Trail, which showcased a view of the Cascade Mountains, and a descent with views of “Smith Rock.”
Folsom, California’s Sarah Correa, 32, was the top female, and ninth overall behind Bursell in the 50 miler with 8:31.25.
In other races at Terrebonne over the weekend, Missoula’s Nicolas Composto, 31, won the 50K in a course record 3:56:30 (top female Corvallis’ Isabelle Brauer, 27, third overall 4:06:28) and Portland’s Andrew Bumbalough, 36, won the 20 miler in 2:43:44 (top female Seattle’s Barrett Gray, 25, 12th overall 3:16:08).
The Run The Rock all-time mark of 6:41.16 is held by Adam Merry, 32, set in 2021. Merry is a professional runner and coach (this year he won the Chuckanut 50K race in 3:33:26 at Fairhaven, Washington; placed second in the Canyons 100K at Auburn, California in 8:50:40). Second all-time is professional runner Cody Priest, 35 (won this year’s Wasatch 100 mile in 21:24:05 in Utah and the Kesugi Ridge Traverse Trail Run in 4:43:32 in Alaska’s Denali State Park). Third all-time is Ryan Kaiser, 44, another professional runner (placed competitively in Western States 100 mile in 21:07:38 in Olympic Valley, California; the Leadville Trail 100 mile in 18:21:21 in Leadville, Colorado; and he also holds one of the fastest times in the 50-kilometer Smith Rock Ascent, one of the shorter distances at the Run The Rock venue in Terrebonne).
Across the United States, run records were broken over the weekend.
Boulder’s Charlie Lawrence, 28, broke Jim Walmsley’s 50-mile world record by two minutes, winning the Tunnel Hill 50 miler in 4:48:21 at Vienna, Illinois (Chicago’s Polina Hodnette, 36, set a women’s course record in 5:54:14, the fastest time run by a woman this year); Sweden’s Elov Olsson, 34, set a 100-mile course record at Tunnel Hill with 11:26:19 — the third fastest 100-mile time in the world (Alabama’s Micah Morgan, 40, won the women’s race in 15:45:54).
Bursell said next is “more adventures in the mountains hopefully… as far as which race is next. I don’t know. I told myself I would cross that bridge when I get to it…. ultras are just trial and error, in the most brutal way, learning the hard way.”