“It’s a dream until you write it down. Then it becomes a goal.” – source unknown
It’s a goal until you post it on the internet. Then it becomes a commitment.
I am going to attempt the 2009 Iditarod Trail Invitational race to McGrath. This is a 350 mile race through remote, frozen Alaska that competitors can tackle on bike, ski or foot (I’ll ski, of course). The race has also been known as the Iditasport, the Alaska Ultrasport, and many other names throughout its varied history.
For those unfamiliar with this race, it follows the Iditarod Sled Dog race trail. The entire course is in the middle of nowhere, far from any roads or towns. There are some remote cabins and lodges along the way, but that’s about it. Racers can go to McGrath (350 miles) or all the way to Nome (1100 miles). I’m doing the ‘short’ option. The race website claims that this is the “World’s Longest Winter Ultra Race.” There are a few checkpoints along the way, but for the most part each racer must be self-sufficient as far as food, clothing, navigation, and safety. For more on this race, go to the race website, or read this recent piece from the New York Times.
The race will take about a week, plus or minus a few days depending on conditions. There will be a lot of darkness, sub-zero temperatures, wind, snow and many other obstacles.
Why am I doing this? Here is the backstory.
As you probably know, I was a full-time ski racer until 2002, usually training in the neighborhood of 15-20 hours a week. When I gave up ski racing and moved to Alaska, I was happy to no longer keep a training log or go to the weight room twice a week. I kept in decent shape simply by doing what I wanted, when I wanted. Even with a pretty steep drop-off in training hours, I was still in good shape. I liked to joke that I had 90% of my fitness with 50% of the effort.
Then, in 2006 my job became more time consuming. In 2007, Linda and I had a baby. My decline in fitness, which had been relatively slow, began to accelerate. My race results went from “slightly less than I hoped for” to “slightly embarrassing.” I was getting soft, but I wasn’t gaining weight. In fact I was losing a few pounds, which meant my muscle mass was decreasing. My fitness was on a slippery slope, in danger of going off a cliff. I didn’t want to pass the point of no return, where getting back into shape would require a herculean effort. I needed a goal to motivate me. Run-of-the-mill ski races weren’t going to cut it. The goal needed to be not only challenging, but intimidating.
So a year ago, I decided that I wanted to ski the 2008 Iditarod Invitational race to McGrath. It was a third priority, behind family and work, but I still thought I could get in decent shape for it. The race is expensive, so I had a “wait and see” approach. I would wait and see if I was able to get into shape, before I would plunk down the $800 entry fee.
Well, between work and a newborn baby, I did not get in shape and thus did not sign up for the race. But when race day came, I found myself wishing I was out there, even without the training. I decided then that I would do the race in 2009. No more wait and see. I needed to get the ball rolling.
I started ski-specific training on September 1st. I’ve been getting my gear together. I’ve been planning overnight trips to practice my winter survival skills. I’ve been experiementing with different foods in frozen environments. And a month ago, I plunked down my $800. I’m on the list.
Now that the race is less than two months away, my preparation has kicked into high gear. Check back often for updates on training, gear, and other thoughts as I prepare for this challenge.