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Great scenery, northern lights make Homer Epic dazzling ultra race event

‘This is the most gorgeous race I have ever done,’ says 1st place female skier Aubrey Smith of Wasilla

Posted: March 20, 2013 - 2:36pm
Heidi Herzog, Aubrey Smith and Megan Spurkland ski up to the second checkpoint in the Homer Epic.  Photography by Pat Irwin
Photography by Pat Irwin
Heidi Herzog, Aubrey Smith and Megan Spurkland ski up to the second checkpoint in the Homer Epic.

For those of us who saw the northern lights electrify Homer’s sky early Sunday morning, those lights of emerald green and vivid violet could not come at a better time for the remaining 14 Homer Epic 100 athletes still on the 100K.

“For these racers, it was a long day and now it’s night. Every muscle in their body aches, their food reserves are running low, and they are trying to stay warm. Then the northern lights start dancing all around the sky. It was as if someone was smiling down on the race,” said Race Coordinator Kathy Sarns.

The northern lights were the icing on the cake to a blue bird race day for the 71 ultra racers at Saturday’s Homer Epic 100. Male bikers from Anchorage led the pack of skiers, fat bikers and runners on the 100K (approximately 62 miles) loop from McNeil Canyon School and around Caribou Lake.

Jamey Stull of Anchorage took the first-place overall title, completing the course in a little over 5 hours 30 minutes, averaging a 5-minute, 22-second mile. 

Even Stull’s long repertoire of long-distance races could not train him enough for the Homer Epic 100.

“I have done short distance races in Anchorage and the Susitna 100 a few times, but this course was the hardest I have seen with all the big hill climbs. There were a few times I thought I would have to walk my bike up the wall climbs,” said Stull.

Stull and his racing partner, Josh Chelf, a second-year Epic racer, were able to push through the 6,470-foot total elevation gain and take the top two places. 

Fifteen fat bikers rolled across the finish line before the first-place skier, Mike Karmer of Fairbanks. Of the 69 finishers, 39 were fat bikers, 22 were skiers and eight were runners.

Attracting ultra racers from all over the state, most participants hailed from Anchorage; three came from the Lower 48.

Anna Edmonds of Ann Arbor, Mich., has made an annual tradition of traveling to Alaska for ultra races. She has done the Susitna 100 and White Mountains 100, and found out about this year’s Homer Epic from the Alaska friends she has made at the races.

“What is so unique about the Homer Epic is that there are so many amazing views along the way, and the conditions were so much better than any other winter race I have done. If I was to repeat a race, this would definitely be it,” said Edmonds.

There was an overwhelming praise for the course’s landscape and views among the racers, a characteristic of the race that will be the leading cause for the Epic’s future popularity.

“This is the most gorgeous race I have ever done. I am so glad I brought my camera. The scenery helps morale when you’re hurting,” said first-place female skier Aubrey Smith of Wasilla.

Smith, a former six-year Williams College Nordic ski coach, said she had a few challenges throughout the course from frozen water at mile 10 and “bonking” with 15K to go. Given the rigor of the course, Smith wasn’t the only one to feel the strain.

“I am happy with the fact that I could make it 60 miles with this type of terrain. The longest course I have ever done was 350 miles along the Iditarod trail, but that was much more flat,” said third-place male skier, Cory Smith.

Sarns’ favorite part of organizing this event has been hearing racers’ different stories. This year’s poignant story, passing through the participants’ tired lips, was that of 58-year-old Tom Johnson.

One year and one day after getting out of the operating room for double bypass heart surgery, Johnson was out on the Homer Epic trail on his self-assembled fat bike singing “happy birthday” to himself.

“My doctor told me I couldn’t race for a year after the surgery, so I waited a year and a day. Since the race was on my birthday, I figured it would be a good way to celebrate,” said Johnson.

Johnson also is a 24-year survivor of cancer and started having heart problems as an effect from the chemotherapy he had gone through during cancer treatment.

“I had to turn around at mile 33.5 and head back to the school because I could feel my heart pumping hard. I am glad I challenged myself and feel fortunate to be doing as well as I am compared to others with my condition. I am a huge believer in that which does not kill you will only make you stronger,” said Johnson.

A story of good sportsmanship came to Sarns in an email from checkpoint one. Skiers Ben Crawford and Jake Todd of Anchorage skied back to checkpoint one to notify the volunteers that a group of skiers had missed the trail signs and skied off trail. Crawford and Todd ended up skiing an extra 10K as good Samaritans.

Just in its second year, the race’s participation grew more than 250 percent. Sarns said most of the participants heard about the race through Facebook or word-of-mouth.

“We made a Facebook page and shared it with groups that we thought would be interested in the race. We also told organizers for the Susitna 100 and White Mountains 100. The Susitna 100 was canceled this year so we were able to get some racers from that,” said Sarns.

The Susitna 100 and White Mountains 100 are 100-mile races outside of Wasilla and Fairbanks respectively. The Homer Epic 100 at 100K is the smaller of the three races, but is making its mark in Alaska’s racing world.

“Homer is such a unique location and with ultra-racing becoming popular, this could become a destination for a lot of ultra racers. Many people have told us to be prepared for next year because of the success of this year,” said Sarns.

Sarns describes the event as a cooperative event. The course’s 100K trail was groomed by John Wise of Wise Services with cooperation between the Kachemak Nordic Ski Club and Snomads.

More than 40 volunteers donated their time the day of the race to staff checkpoints and the warming hut, and countless Homer and Anchorage-based businesses sponsored the event.

With the Homer Epic 2013 done, Sarns and her organizing team are already thinking about the future for the Epic.

Sarns said, “If we want to attract elite ultra-athletes, we will need to invest in equipment to clock milliseconds in case there is a tie. We now have to decide if we are going to keep this a relaxed, Homer-style race, or start being more professional.”

 

HOMER EPIC 100 RESULTS

 

1 Stull, James Bike 5:33:24 Anchorage, 1st Place Bike — Mens

2 Chelf,Josh Bike 5:39:24 Anchorage, 2nd Place Bike — Mens

3 Ross, Will Bike 5:50:43 Anchorage, 3rd Place Bike — Mens

4 Herriott, Trystan Bike 5:50:53 Fairbanks

5 Kopacz, Ethan Bike 6:01:00 Anchorage

6 West, Fred Bike 6:09:19 Anchorage

7 Baudin, Nicolas Bike 6:16:44 Anchorage

8 Best, Heather Bike 6:16:44 Fairbanks, 1st Place Bike  —Womens

9 Pierce, Paul Bike 6:36:32 Anchorage

10 Fields, Zack Bike 6:38:23 Anchorage

11 Wolfe, PatrickBike 6:44:21 Anchorage

12 Van Tuyn, PeterBike 6:47:51 Anchorage

13 Freeman, JosiahBike 6:52:12 Port Alsworth

14 Brady, LaurelBike, 6:52:31 Anchorage, 2nd Place Bike —Womens

15 Osgood, Stewart Bike 6:52:49 Anchorage

16 Kramer, Mike  Ski 6:53:53 Fairbanks, 1st Place Ski Mens

17 Spurkland, Lars Ski 6:58:59 Anchorage, 2nd Place Ski Mens

18 Smith, Cory  Ski 7:04:55 Anchorage, 3rd Place Ski Mens

19 Pearson, Bill  Ski 7:09:35 Anchorage

20 Smith, Aubrey  Ski 7:09:35 Wasilla. 1st Place Ski —Womens

21 Herzog, Heidi  Ski 7:11:44 Homer, 2nd Place Ski —Womens 

22 Wrigley, Debbie  Bike 7:15:54 Anchorage, 3rd Place Bike—Womens

23 Kaufman, Max  Ski 7:16:57 Fairbanks

24 Tanaka, Matt  Bike 7:18:16 Anchorage

25 Ball, Ben  Bike 7:20:12 Anchorage

26 Boonstra, Todd  Ski 7:25:39 Ninilchik

27 Oney, Kara  Bike 7:29:30 Anchorage

28 Hart, David  Bike 7:33:35 Anchorage

29 Spurkland, MeganSki 7:34:07 Homer, 3rd Place Ski —Womens

30 Stewart, Mark  Bike 7:36:06 Anchorage

31 Braun, Michael  Bike 7:37:05 Anchorage

32 Sell, Sharon  Bike 7:37:05 Anchorage

33 Gengler, Bob  Bike 7:40:08 Eagle River

34 Shiflea, Patrick  Bike 7:43:06 Palmer

35 Zebutis, John  Bike 7:57:12 Anchorage

36 Renner, Martin  Bike 7:58:22 Homer

37 Romano, Marc  Bike 8:05:56 Homer

38 Jones, Trevor  Bike 8:10:33 Eagle River

39 Morganson, MikeBike 8:17:21 Anchorage

40 Bennett, Ed Bike 8:17:22 Chugiak

41 Cipriano, MichaelBike 8:19:45 Anchorage

42 Hauser, Scott Ski 8:22:33 Anchorage

43 Adams, Seth Ski 8:35:47 Ester

44 Boonstra, Kelli Ski 9:28:20 Ninilchik

45 Bell, Jeremiah Bike 9:36:52 Anchorage

46 Cooley, Adam  Ski 10:10:19 Anchorage

47 Crawford, Ben  Ski 10:14:51 Anchorage

48 Edmonds, Anna  Bike 10:16:13 Ann Arbor, MI

49 Walsh, Brian  Ski 10:19:30 Anchorage

50 Todd, Jake  Ski 10:29:57 Anchorage

51 Greenwell, Dugan  Run 10:48:10 Anchorage1st Place Run — Mens

52 Burton, Thomas  Run 10:59:29 Anchorage2nd Place Run — Mens

53 Russo, Elizabeth  Bike 11:00:16 Anchorage

54 Boyer, Jay  Bike 11:31:38 Homer

55 Gutschow, Ezra  Ski 12:49:22 Anchorage

56 Hull, Darren  Run 13:31:48 Anchorage3rd Place Run —Mens

57 Lysenko, Dmitry  Run 14:41:51 Jersey City, NJ

58 Grady, Sean  Bike 15:06:16 Anchorage

59 Porter, Katie  Ski 17:04:25 Anchorage

60 Turner, Liz  Ski 17:04:57 Eagle River

61 Bee, Vallen  Ski 17:04:58 Eagle River

62 McMurray, Tara  Ski 17:16:24 Anchorage

63 Bassignani, Phillip  Run 18:24:30 Anchorage

64 Miller, Thomas  Bike 18:49:19 Anchorage

65 Mills, Greg  Ski 19:13:15 Anchorage

66 Martin, Joe  Bike 19:27:14 Homer

67 Homer, Jill Run 19:53:40 Los Altos, CA1st Place Run — Womens

68 Smith, Nicholai  Run 22:47:25 Chugiak

69 Hull, Keri  Run 22:47:26 Anchorage2nd Place Run Womens

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