One of the season's big mountain running events, the Robert Spurr Memorial Bird Ridge race took place last Sunday with 280 competitors filling out the fields. This is the second biggest event of it's type in Alaska, eclipsed only by Mount Marathon Fourth of July weekend.
During the lead up to last weekend's effort, I made 7 trips up the 3 mile, 3,400 foot trail in order to suss out the best line. The trail is steep for at least half the distance with even the best runners power hiking long sections. Closer to the top, the pitch eases enough so that some running is necessary to keep pace.
A Good Start
The race starts in a parking lot and the first couple of minutes are spent on a low gradient bike path before turning off onto a steep double track and then onto the main trail. There was the usual elbowing and jostling before things strung out enough to settle into a good rhythm.
I could tell right away from my heart rate that the day had good potential. I had not run the trail at full speed during training and had only guessed at a reasonable goal. An earlier effort got me to the summit in 56 minutes and I thought that 52 minutes was doable. I secretly hoped for 50 but knew that something special would have to happen to see that time.
The promoters were blessed with near perfect conditions which turned out to be a tad on the warm side for me. The steeps in the trees were oppressive, especially with my nose crammed up the ass of the guy in front of me on the rocky trail. Once out of the trees, an occasional breeze would provide some relief to the sweat pouring into my eyes.
With this being my third event, I saw a lot of familiar faces around me. There were also some new ones. Because there was less running getting to the business I hoped that I would be faster than and closer to those typically besting me in earlier events. Sure enough, I passed several people down low that I typically see higher up on courses with a more cross country feel at the start.
There were some great back and forth battles in my little section of the race with 5 or 6 of us changing positions every few minutes. One guy actually stopped to puke at the half way point and then caught and passed me near the finish. What a stubborn fucker! Of course, I was secretly hoping to watch puke again after he made his move so I could blow by him at the line. No such luck. Chapeau to him, for sure.
As the ridge flattened out over the last 5 minutes my weakness got the better of me and I was passed by 4 guys who could actually run. That was disappointing for sure. Makes me think I should spend some time this winter on the track learning the craft. Maybe.
The finishing sprint up the last snow-bordered hill was entertaining as 3 of us elbowed our way by each other, slipping in the mud as we scrambled to the line. I stopped the clock at 51:04. Can't complain about that.
With a deeper field at Bird Ridge some previously unseen competitors in my age group ended up beating me, pushing me to 5th instead of 3rd like in the previous two races. Since I'm hoping for a solid overall showing in the season long Grand Prix competition, I was disappointed to lose some critical points to that goal. I'll have to dig hard in the final two events to maintain my position.
At the head of the pack, local favorite Matt Novakovich slayed all with an impressive 39:39 to man-handle is competitors on his way to his big goal of the year, Mount Marathon. He certainly has made his intentions clear. Of course, Mount Marathon is a two-way race and many uphill heros have been crushed on the punishing descent. Should be exciting for him and the top favorites.
Even more impressive was U.S. Nordic Team member Holly Brooks' absolute annialation of her nearest rival coming in at 47:17, over two and a half minutes faster than the duo of Najeeby Quinn and Christy Marvin who tied for second.
Next up is the Mount Marathon event but it takes an act of god to get into it due to it's popularity. So, for me, Matanuska Peak will be my next effort at the beginning of August. At over 14 miles and 9,000 vertical feet of gain and loss, it's a completely different beast. Can't wait. - Brian