Dave Johnston, the runner who finished the Iditarod Trail Invitational in an unfathomable record of 4 days 1 hour 38 minutes, told me, "You must have had a pretty easy time out there if you're already riding this much." I had to laugh. Maybe I did take it too easy out on the Iditarod Trail, but traveling 350 miles on foot was unknown territory to me, let alone doing it in a week, with a 45-pound sled, in highly variable winter weather conditions. I stayed where I thought I needed to stay to survive and reach the finish, which I did. Now I know a whole lot more than I used to.
As for Dave, hearing his stories about the experience were absolutely mind-boggling. I think it would be generous to say that I ran 5 percent of the trail (and this was often shuffling, not a whole lot faster than my walking pace.) Dave walked 5 percent and ran 95 percent of the time, often up to 9-minute-mile pace. Even after his sled broke into two pieces on the dirt at mile 220, he lashed it together with rope and dragged the shattered remains another 130 miles. And he did it nearly without stopping. He slept a total of six hours, basically only ate just a little more than once a day in checkpoints (because he couldn't eat on the move without getting sick, he hardly bothered with trail food!) and when he ran out of water, he didn't stop to melt snow — he was just out of water, sometimes for many hours. He justified this with the explanation that, back in ancient times, people traveled without stopping for days, and they didn't get food and water every thirty minutes. And they lived and went on the reproduce the offspring that became wimpy us.
"People think they need all of this stuff, and they don't," he said.
I said, "Dave, what you did out there doesn't seem possible."
He replied, "I know. Everyone told me I couldn't do it, and even now people still tell me it's not possible. But I did it."
In my admittedly biased opinion, I think Dave's feat on the Iditarod Trail to McGrath is one of the most incredible ultra-long-distance running accomplishments by anyone, anywhere. I hope to write a longer article about it when I get a minute to breathe. Hopefully soon! I'm falling behind on everything.
Instead, we crossed the Seward Highway to hit the nicely packed and blissfully quiet snowmachine side, rolling along the valley on punchy but fun crust.