Joe Grant and the Iditarod Trail Invitational

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6 Days 8 hours and 47 minutes – he did it!

TO tackle an epic 350-mile race across the lonely frozen wilderness of Alaska requires an athlete to be extreme and committed.

Inov-8 / Arc’teryx athlete Joe Grant proved he has both qualities in hardcore measures, overcoming exhaustion and pain to finish the Iditarod Trail Invitational in joint-second place.

Joe has been interviewed twice on Talk Ultra in the build up to the ITI and you can listen to those episodes:

We will have a post ITI interview with Joe Grant on Episode 31 or 32 of Talk Ultra

Described by organisers as the world’s longest human powered winter ultra-marathon, Joe raced on foot across frozen rivers and swamplands, through forests and over mountains to complete the course in 6 days, 8 hours and 47 minutes.

He did so pulling a sled weighing 35lb/15kg and taking in just 13 hours of sleep throughout.

The 29-year-old, who is part of a new global inov-8 team of athletes set to push boundaries and stretch limits in 2013, said:

“It was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

“It was relentless, every day it felt like I’d done 100 miles.

“I slept for just 13 hours in six days and none of that was what you would call really good sleep.”

Born in Oxford in the UK, raised in France and Spain, and now based in Colorado, US. Joe took part in the 2013 Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) race that saw 19 competitors on foot and 29 others on bikes complete the 350-mile route between Knik and McGrath.

There were just seven checkpoints on the course where food and lodging was available. Between checkpoints racers had only each other.

Joe said:

“Form the start it was hard.

“We left Knik at 2pm on the opening 57 miles to the first checkpoint at Yentna Station. I hoped to arrive there in the middle of the night at the latest. I eventually got there at 6.35am. I was wrecked, it felt like I’d done double the distance.

“The soft snow had made it tough going, and it was a relief to get inside and eat. I slept for about an hour and a half and left feeling surprisingly great.

“The next 30 miles to Skwenta Roadhouse took another nine hours. I’d planned to sleep for four hours at this point. I ended up sleeping for six hours. It didn’t, however, have the required effect and I left, at midnight, feeling banged up.

“That night on the course was a rough one for me. It was actually quite warm by Alaskan standards, above freezing level, and the snow was like mashed potato.

“Then, between the checkpoints at 130 mile (Winterlake) and 165 miles (Puntilla), and with the surroundings becoming more remote, I hit the wall. I had no choice but to bivvy down in the snow. I couldn’t sleep though, I felt like I was losing my mind. After getting into my bag fully I lay there and shivered for two hours.

“I eventually got into Puntilla at 7.30am. I was so miserable. Then the best thing all race happened – fellow competitor John Logar walked in. We hit the trail again, this time together, and to have that companionship was great.

“We charged up the big climb that followed then dropped down to the next checkpoint at Rohn (at 210 miles).

“Despite having John there with me, I arrived at Rohn destroyed, probably the most destroyed I’ve ever felt. Knowing there was still 140 miles to do to the finish, it seemed impossible. I thought about giving up, but after some soup and rest we set off on the next 90-mile section.

“Arriving at the last checkpoint at Nikolai knowing there was only 50 miles to go, I thought I’d feel improved, but instead my body rebelled in the heat of the hut and I started to feel feverish, so we didn’t stay long.

“Between Nikolai and the finish in McGrath, the temperature fell to -25C. Myself and John crashed and burned several times, lying down on our packs and falling asleep. We’d then get back up and go again.

“With 345 miles done and just five left to go, unbelievably we took a wrong turn that cost us a couple of miles. I think out of sheer frustration more than anything else, we turned around and ran the final seven miles to McGrath!

“With the sweat freezing to our bodies, we rolled across the finish line. I had given every last ounce of anything that was in my body to the race.”

With the 350-mile epic now in his locker, Joe will turn his attention to drier trails and plans to go head-on with the world’s best mountain runners at the opening race in the 2013 Skyrunner ultra series.

May’s 83km Transvulcania La Palma ultra-marathon monster on the island of La Palma in the Atlantic Ocean, which features 4,415m of elevation gain, was last year won by Dakota Jones, with Joe in joint 11th.

Joe went on to record an outstanding second place finish at the 2012 Hardrock 100-mile race in the US – an achievement he wants to better this year.

Note:

Joe wore inov-8’s roclite™ 286 GTX boot for the ITI

Clothing supplied by Arc’teryx

Iditarod Trail Invitational website and 2013 results: http://www.alaskaultrasport.com/alaska_ultra_home_page.html

 

Iditarod Trail Invitational

Iditarod

This race is not for everyone. A mistake at the wrong time and place in the Alaskan winter wilderness could cost you fingers and toes or even your life. At times the only possible rescue will be self rescue. For those who do not agree with this philosophy, expect marked trails and more support there are other races out there which will cater to your needs.

Iditarod map

Most races try to entice you to enter by telling you what a great experience you will have. How pleasurable it will be. Not the Iditarod Trail Invitational.

Image of Geoff Roes copyright Geoff Roes

Image of Geoff Roes copyright Geoff Roes

As Geoff Roes proved. This is one seriously tough tough race. In 2012 he was the first man home covering 350 miles in 6 days 23 hours 25 min. Mmmm makes Western States look like a piece of cake eh!

In 2012 only 18 people finished the 350 mile race. The first man home was Peter Basinger in 6 dyas 15 hours BUT that was on a bike! An impressive 6th victory for Peter. Overall 2nd and 3rd was taken by bike riders and then Geoff Roes, 4th overall and 1st runner. Incredible.

In 2013, Arc’teryx athlete Joe Grant will be taking part. I plan to catch up with him before and after this incredibly challenging race and the interviews will be on Talk Ultra.

Joe Grant - Arc'teryx

The Race

The Iditarod Trail Invitational is the world’s longest human powered winter ultra. Beginning in Knik, Alaska it follows the Iditarod Trail to McGrath covering 350 miles. Ironically this is called the ‘short race’. They also have a ‘long race’ covering 1100 miles finishing at Nome, Alaska. Support is minimal. Two snow machines ride ahead of the leaders providing a broken trail to McGrath. Food drops are provided at 130 miles, 210 miles and in even numbered years a feed is provided at ‘Cripple‘ and odd numbered years at ‘Iditarod‘.

That’s it!

Between checkpoints, racers are solo or may work with each other. If they continue to ‘Nome’ for the 1100 mile journey once past McGrath it os solo all the way apart from a food drop at ‘Ruby‘. After that they can use village stores, mail packages ahead or possibly use a school for a warm nights rest. Hard core!

Somehow this quote seems a little understated: Tim Hewitt, six time finisher of the 1100 mile race said:

“It’s the toughest race in the world.”

History

The Iditarod Trail Invitational follows the historic Iditarod Trail. The famous sled dog route runs 1000 miles through frozen Alaska every March since 1973 in memory of those brave individuals who brought the important serum to Nome in 1925 during a diphterie outbreak. Using bicycles as a means of transportation on Alaska’s frozen rivers and tundra might seem a little odd and a crazy idea, but men looking for gold around 1900 that couldn’t afford a dog team actually used what they then called a “wheel” and followed the gold rush from Dawson City to Nome on the Yukon River on bicycles.

How do you get in?

This is the most remote and longest winter ultra race in the world.
Competitors in the human powered event go through an interview process with race organizers Bill & Kathi Merchant.

If they have the skills and knowledge to be self sufficient in cold weather, such as high altitude mountaineering experience or previous arctic expeditions they can enter the race.
Prior finishes in races such as the following are qualifying events.

iditarod route

The 2013 race roster is available to view HERE

Official Race Website HERE

Joe Grant has a great blog called Alpine Works. Follow this HERE

Additional reading – 2012 winner of the 350 mile race, Geoff Roes wrote a detailed report for iRunFar available HERE