With summer waning, I’m looking ahead to next year and contemplating a 2012 summer running trip. The Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp by 2010 Western States 100 champ Geoff Roes looks unbeatable in terms of quality and scenery. What follows is a report by Tamara Johnson on her experience at Geoff’s camp this summer. (You might remember Tamara from her earlier guest post about the Costa Rica Rainforest Run.)
These camps fill up early, so plan ahead. Check out this earlier post for links to other recommended camps, and here are two more I’d like to share from my dream list: Peru with the Inca Runners and the Pyrenees with Traiectus. Dates for Geoff’s 2012 Alaska camps are: May 28 – June 2, June 8 – 14 and July 24 – 30.
It is 3:00 p.m. Thursday, July 29, and I’m sitting at a cafe in Juneau, Alaska, looking out at a plane landing in the water and feeling a bit homesick. I was about to spend six days with eleven strangers running around the mountains of Alaska. The Geoff Roes Alaska Ultra-Running Camp really looked appealing when I was sitting at my computer in my cozy PJ’s drinking my third cup of coffee. I thought it would be the boost I needed following a DNF at Kettle Moraine 100. I was experiencing a running depression and in need of a new perspective on running. I was hoping the camp would put the spring back in my step and provide me with the tools I needed to become a better runner.
Geoff was scheduled to pick us all up curbside of Juneau Airport at 6:30 p.m. Ten runner/campers were all accounted for by 6:35 and we loaded into the white 12-person rent-a-wreck van that would be our transportation for the week. We introduced ourselves with the awkwardness that comes with sudden togetherness. Geoff then announced that our first stop would be the liquor store. My ears perked up and suddenly I thought, “The next six days will be just right.” The bonding began between the running strangers as we picked out our favorite adult beverages.
The Jubilee Cabin we stayed in is part of a Catholic Shrine used primarily by the public for weekend retreats. It is one of the most beautiful and peaceful settings to spend time in all of Juneau. The cabin was perfect for our needs, and we shared rooms in a dorm-like fashion. Next to the bed assigned to me, I found a race bag filled with an assortment of running gear. Many of these gifts came in handy over the next six days.
It’s difficult to adequately describe the beauty and uniqueness of the trails we covered in the mountains of Alaska. Each evening at dinner, Geoff would share with us what type of course to expect the next day. His nightly descriptions hardly did our experiences justice. The trails were exceptionally beautiful. They were technically challenging and very vertical for long stretches. We power-hiked as much as we ran. The summits were breathtaking. The rainforest was lush, green, wet and rich with oxygen.
The downhill snow running/sliding/falling was just plain awesome and for many of us the most memorable part of the camp. We averaged three to seven hours of running each day. The terrains varied greatly from day to day but always with spectacular trails. The trails had roots, downed trees, pockets of ankle-deep water and mud at times, making it more difficult to look anywhere but at our feet. We stopped frequently to take pictures. We saw black bears, porcupines, mountain goats, marmots and wildlife we did not stick around to identify. The salmon were spawning, and it was interesting and sad to watch the process of them swimming upstream to mate and then die.
In summary, the running portion of the camp far exceeded my expectations, and in my opinion is not for the beginner ultra-runner. (The website states: “This is a camp designed for experienced ultrarunners who are in shape upon arrival. … To get the most out of your time at camp it is recommended that you feel confident that you can run 20+ hours with 25k ft. of vertical gain/loss over the 5 days. It is however not necessary to be a top level runner.”)
I can’t say enough about the homemade meals/desserts prepared for us each morning and evening by Geoff Roes and his girlfriend Corle LaForce. The food was made fresh every day and in abundance, so much so that some of the runners called it “fat camp.” We were never lacking in delicious calories.
The best part of my trip was meeting my fellow runners, our camp leader Geoff Roes, his girlfriend Corle and all the local ultra-runners who joined us on our great runs. The chemistry of personalities was just right, and we had a blast. We geared up each morning and together experienced some of the best trails imaginable. We came together each evening and shared our highs, lows and everything in between. Geoff made the camp magical. He shared himself openly and honestly and is one of the most real individuals I have ever met. His running ability is amazing, but Geoff Roes the person impressed me even more. His kindness, patience, genuineness and guidance made the entire experience unforgettable.
Did I accomplish my goal for the camp—of turning running back into a simple pleasure? Absolutely! I also met more than a dozen incredible people who I hope to see and run with again.