Visualize running 100 miles, a daunting endeavor even for those who train and compete at this distance regularly.
Now throw in icy, snow-packed trails, temperatures in the 10 above to minus-30-degree range while pulling a 35 pound sled.
That is exactly what local ultrarunner Martha Schoppe did at the Susitna 100-mile endurance challenge last month in Big Lake, Alaska.
Schoppe is no stranger to pushing her limits. She works as a wildland firefighter on a hot-shot crew and coaches CrossFit, so ultrarunning just fell into place for her.
“I ran Imogene (Pass Run, a 17.1-mile race from Ourary to Telluride) in 2012 and the Moab Marathon that November,” she said. “After my marathon, I heard people did 50s, and I thought, ‘How do you do that?’”
Schoppe is on full-time fire duty during the peak ultraracing season, so she looks for off-season races. That means running winter events. She remembered reading about the Alaska race while looking for other races, and because she has friends in Anchorage, she decided to sign up.
Susitna has been going on for about 10 years and used to be an Iditarod qualifier race; there are ski, bike and foot options.
“One aspect of this race that is different is that you are required to carry your gear in a sled,” Schoppe said.
Food, water, sleeping bag and bivvy sack are some of the required items, and the sled must weigh at least 15 pounds throughout the race.
“I ended up with 35 pounds of gear and used a long plastic toboggan so I could pack everything lower and it wouldn’t tip during the event,” she said. “The biggest challenge was definitely the sled. It was really annoying, always pulling and pushing on you. I could feel it everywhere.”
Schoppe’s other big challenge was maintaining her pace at nighttime, a problem she had in a previous race in California.
“I struggled from about midnight to 7 a.m. and went from an average of 4 miles per hour to 2,” she said. “I did bivvy down at some point and slept for about half an hour, which got me through a couple of hours and took another nap at mile 60 where there was a lodge. It was daylight by then.
“It is something I have to work out,” she said. “I knew it was going to be a problem, but I still didn’t have a good plan.”
Schoppe admits she prefers the terrain of mountain runs, which better suit her abilities.
“Running (continuously) is a little bit more challenging for me,” she said. “It was relatively flat for hours at a time. It was definitely a lot of repetitive motion.”
Schoppe attributes CrossFit to helping her with her distance running.
“I do CrossFit about five days a week and find that it complements my running well – being physically strong, especially pulling the sled, using all that core strength,” she said. “Then there’s the mental part. Every day you are pushing yourself. I like to have that challenge.”
As summer approaches, Schoppe will trade her running shoes for boots as she prepares to spend long days on the fire lines and long nights in her tent planning her races for next winter.
Reach Marjorie Brinton at firstname.lastname@example.org.