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