Preparing for the Susitna 100

For several years now, I’ve considered running the Susitna 100, but had just never taken that leap. Running a 100 miler in the middle of winter is a whole different beast than running one in the summer. There’s already plenty of things that can go wrong during a “normal” 100 miler – running one in the middle of the Alaskan winter adds even more to that list.

Well, this year I finally committed and signed up. Like many winter races in Alaska, you can choose to either run, bike or ski this event. There is also a 50k that I ran 2 years ago.

One of the first things that really smacks you across the face and makes you realize this is a whole other kind of race is the list of required gear:

  • Sleeping bag rated to -20°F
  • Closed cell foam sleeping pad
  • Bivy sack or tent
  • Headlamp or flashlight
  • Rear flashing light
  • Two-quart (64 oz) insulated water container
  • 1-day of food (3000 calories) in reserve
  • 15 lbs of gear at ALL times-including the finish line

That’s a LOT of gear to have to carry for 100 miles! It’s not so bad if you’re on a bike and can strap everything to the frame, a bit more difficult on skis, but especially difficult if you’re running! That would be a heavy and bulky backpack to run with, so most (if not all) runners opt to pull a sled. I actually just built my sled this past weekend and did my first long run with it. I’ll write another post soon that details all that.

One of the main things on that list I don’t have is the sleeping bag. Luckily, I have plenty of friends who are just as crazy (or crazier) than me, so I’ll be able to borrow one of those. It’s a good thing too, because sleeping bags rated to -20°F start around $120, and I don’t know when else I would ever use it. The other items I either already had or was able to find relatively cheaply. The insulated water container is an especially important piece of gear. Depending on how cold it ends up getting (some years it’s been -20 to -30, while others it’s +20 to 30), it can be very difficult to keep your water from freezing.

Also interesting is the requirement for a 3000 calorie reserve. From what I’ve heard, most people just go for the highest density calorie-to-weight ratio they can find, which usually means a small container of peanut butter. Not that I actually plan to do it, but I thought it would be really funny to find something obnoxious to use for those 3000 calories – like a Costco sheet cake, or a box of Krispy Kreme donuts. Any other good ideas?

One of the things that concerns me the most about this race is the potential for a big dump of snow, making the trails a mess. Pulling a sled over a packed trail isn’t too bad, but through several inches of fresh powder would be a lot of work. There is a 48 hour time limit on this race for a reason – depending on the conditions, it can turn into a really long slog.

However, I’m really looking forward to running this race with my cousin Sarah. This will be both of ours first winter 100 miler, and we decided to run it together. We’ve done a good number of long runs and races together already, including the Anchorage Run Fest 49k and a timed 24 hour race this past summer. It will be great to have some company out there, and hopefully we can work together to pull each other through our low points, which are always sure to come in a race of this length.

Overall, I’m excited for a new race and a new challenge!ice

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