15 June 2018

Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp

Apparently, I love combining vacations with being active. I have gone on numerous cycling trips in the past, and now I have started attending running camps as well. Last year Lucca and I attended Hut Run Hut in the Colorado Rockies and this year I attended Geoff RoesAlaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp in Juneau, AK.

This was my first time to Alaska ever and I can unequivocally say that Juneau has awesome trail running terrain. I would absolutely go back.

For those of you that don't know who Geoff Roes is, he "came out of nowhere" and had a huge impact on the ultrarunning scene from about 2007 (when he won his first 100-mile event) to 2010 when he famously won the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run, set a course record, and beat Wunderkind Kilian Journet. Then came an extended period of malaise probably due to over-racing/training and perhaps even some more serious issues but now he has re-found himself and his love of running and he seems genuinely happy. His love of the terrain in Juneau is obvious as is his love for his family and the sport of running in general. Geoff is an amazing host and guide.

The camp is one week in length, six days and nights really. You only run for five days officially but depending on your flights, you could sneak in a 6th day or even a 7th if you wanted. I did not. In addition to loving being active, I also love doing nothing so took my downtime before and after the camp to explore Juneau, its breweries, the waterfront, and to people watch. And with all the cruise ships that dock here, the people watching is pretty darn excellent.

I arrived in Juneau on Sunday, 10 June and was able to leave my duffle bag at the Alaska Seaplanes counter in the airport. Regardless of whether or not you are using their service, they'll hold your bag for free up to four hours and it only costs $10 for them to hold it all day long. And the bus into downtown Juneau is just $2. And there is a Transit app that includes Juneau so I knew when the buses were running. Nice.

Geoff picked everyone up from the airport at 6:30 PM and drove us to the Shrine of St. Therese where we were staying in the Jubilee Cabin. This place is NOT roughing it and as long as you are cool with bunk beds, there are two bathrooms and each one has a shower. The beds were a little too short for me but that's pretty par for the course when I travel. There are comfy couches and a large dining table and kitchen and a big deck if the weather is conducive.

Geoff and his crew provide breakfast and dinner each day and Clif Bar provides all the snacks you could want for each run. Plus you can fix your own run food from anything in the kitchen or even take along breakfast leftovers. I did this several times. Everything is included except for alcohol, but we stopped at a store in town each day so there are plenty of opportunities to buy beer, etc.

The "crew" this year consisted of Nina (who owns the Salmon Spot down on the wharf where all the cruise ships dock) and Dakota Jones. I'll admit it, part of the appeal of these camps is the presence of a celebrity or elite athlete. Dakota is a little of both and I'll cop to choosing this specific session in part because of his presence. I was not disappointed. It turns out Nina is also a very accomplished runner and she joined us on several runs.

DAY #1
Eaglecrest Ski Area

Juneau is at sea level and surrounded by mountains so every day except for one the run started by going straight up. For some, this can be rough but the benefit is that the last part of every run is a descent. Works for me. Today we parked in the ski area parking lot, ran up a dirt road for maybe 100 meters and then turned straight up the ski slope.

Ther terrain was wild! Literally and figuratively. Everything was so WET. And spongy. At times we were running on moss that was many inches deep. Any hope I had of keeping my feet dry evaporated (pun intended) within the first few minutes of this run. But the scenery...

The last couple of miles were down a cat track/dirt road but I found an MTB trail with banked corners which more or less followed the road so took that. Fun!

DAY #2
Mount Juneau, Juneau Ridge

Yesterday was a warm-up of sorts, today was the real deal. We started by running up the Perseverance Trail (which we would become intimately familiar with by the end of the week) and then it was, you guessed it, straight up.

We got very lucky with the weather on this trip. I heard Juneau gets 100"+ of rain each year (turns out that isn't true) and that each camp usually has some wet days. We had some precipitation on two of our days but except for day one, we always had views. Which were spectacular!

Each day, except for one sea level run, included snow; lots and lots of snow. Sometimes we would climb on a snowfield but we would always descend on the snow whenever possible. We were told to bring "long socks" or calf sleeves and after being here I finally get it. Depending on the temperature, descending in the snow can be anything from skiing in running shoes to plunge stepping. Sometimes when there is a crust, you risk breaking through. Being a heavier runner, I was breaking through a lot, this and the granular spring snow wrecks havoc on your shins. Lesson learned. In spite of getting bloody and bruised shins, we went down one incredibly long snow descent today and it was super fun.

DAY #3
Sheep Mountain

Today we ran point-to-point which is always fun for me. We were instructed to bring long pants to protect ourselves from the Nettles and Cow Parsnip but lucky for me (I didn't have any long pants) it was not too bad. And it was just the first couple of miles.

We climbed up under some power lines, along a ridge, ran down an epic descent to a lake, and then back up to another ridge of course. The run started out GREEN and then we climbed above the tree line and got into the familiar rocks and snowfields. And views!

I broke one of my trekking poles today. :( They were a HUGE help on this kind of terrain.

After our run on day three we went back to the cabin and ran a Beer Mile. It was my first one and it was pretty fun/challenging.  Click the link for the dedicated race report.

DAY #4
Today was a rest day and the run was just a few miles. It was incredibly unique in that we ran across a saltwater channel during low tide! It also included a super cool, raised trail (up on a dike) toward the end which had been partially washed away. We finished in a wetland. Like the run hadn't been wet enough already.

In spite of being quite hung over from the Beer Mile and some bonus beers and whiskey, Nina greeted us on the other side of the channel with her violin. So cool.

Today really took getting your shoes wet to the next level. Luckily we were always able to rinse our shoes after every day and Geoff had several boot dryers that we stuck our shoes on once we got back to the cabin and within an hour or two they were totally dry. That's customer service.

This night we drove to the beach for dessert, S'mores(!) where we got treated to an amazing light show/sunset.

DAY #5
Gastineau Peak, Roberts Peak, Sheep Mountain, Clark Peak

This was the big day and potentially it could have been longer since the weather was holding up great but everyone bailed on the bonus miles except for one guy. I was feeling pretty good until the last descent and then just the sheer time on my feet started to wear me out. I had not run for three weeks prior to this camp due to a torn calf muscle and honestly, I was pushing the mileage as is. I opted for having fun instead of making this a workout. On the bright side, every day was incredible and my calf held up fine. The only bummer was not having my trekking poles, I suspect that contributed to my tiredness.

Today was a peak bagging kind of day. To start, we climbed up under the Juneau Gondola and then ran along a ridge in the fog. It was so cool (figuratively and literally) to be in the mist but thank goodness the sun finally emerged to warm us up.

We climbed some steep snowfields today... the kind I had to cross quickly without over-thinking. We also descended the steepest snowfields of the week, I was able to actually ski some of them, and make turns!

About four miles from the end I took my only tumble. I stubbed my toe on something and did a superman down the trail scraping my face, knees and my left palm. I rinsed everything but my palm was bleeding pretty bad. Once again Martin is a horror show and scaring hikers going the other direction. :( Luckily none of the injuries were serious and after taking a shower they looked pretty insignificant.

Here are all the pictures and video. Thanks to all the participants that contributed to this album!

Nutrition (before)
  • I'm not a fan of eating right before running (I learned this from Hammer Nutrition and now swear by it) so while everyone else in camp was gorging 1.5 hours prior to the start, I'd usually be out walking around exploring the Shrine. There is a lot to see, I recommend checking it out. My breakfast usually happened around 6:00 AM and we would get in the van to drive to the trailhead around 9:30.
Nutrition (during)
  • I only brought a couple of Hammer Nutrition items with me, lots of Endurolytes Fizz and Recoverite. Since this was not a race I ate lots of sandwiches, breakfast leftovers, and some Clif Bar product.
  • I filled my bottles directly from the glaciers numerous times, man did that taste good...
Nutrition (after)
  • I alternated between my Topo Athletic Terraventure and MT-2 shoes. The MT-2s seemed to do better soaking wet as my foot did not slide around in the shoe as much but the Terraventures definitely had an advantage on rocky descents with the rock plate. It was a toss-up as both worked well. But I was super glad to have two pairs of shoes, I do not recommend attending this camp with just one pair.
  • Stance socks. These things rock, even soaking wet. And since I opted for crew length, they gave me a tiny bit of shin protection.
  • Patagonia Strider Pro shorts
  • Hammer Nutrition and Topo Athletic tech shirts
  • Craft undershirt
  • Arm sleeves
  • Thin gloves
  • Topo Athletic Trucker Hat
  • Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest 3.0
  • Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles
Parting shot...

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