Colleen O'Neil January 08, 2014 TWEET COMMENTS 4

Running Wild Alaska - Page 3

Beat Jergerlehner (right) and another participant almost in Nome. Photo: Jill Homer

Beat Jergerlehner, 44, Los Altos, California (born in Bern, Switzerland)

What’s your day job?
In my daily life I'm a software engineer for Google. It’s pretty much one of the best jobs out there, if you like writing software.

Why are you running the ITI?
Until I was 25, I was totally un-athletic. I had a small bout of triathlon training then and finished a few Olympic distance triathlons mostly instigated by a bet with my uncle and too much tequila. Then I moved to the U.S. and fell back into couch potat-ism. I ended up weighing about 240 pounds at six feet tall

When I was 32, I finally started training again because my brother was going to do an Ironman. I did an Ironman, stumbled into trail running and never looked back. I ran my first 100-miler in 2005, but I never thought cold would appeal to me until I met Jill Homer, who’d done the ITI before. I tried to impress her and signed up for the Susitna 100 (apparently it worked—we’re together now!).

I discovered that I loved the Alaskan winter, which is alien, hostile and demanding but incredibly pristine and beautiful at the same time. I decided to sign up for the 350-mile ITI the following year. At the time, the 1,000-mile race seemed unattainable and frankly entirely undesirable, but at the end, Tim Hewitt basically talked me into trying the 1,000-mile version this year.

I’ve done lots of races that have aspects of the ITI (multi-day ultras in cold weather like the Tor des Géants). But really, there's little like the ITI. It’s more of an expedition and requires ten times the planning and preparation compared to any other trail race. You basically always have to worry about dying or getting frostbite. Small mistakes can have very dire consequences.

How have you been training up to this point?
I often joke I'm the laziest ultrarunner there is. I despise organized training plans and like to pretty much only do fun stuff. However, I do like to race a lot. Whereas other people may value speed, I value the ability to race as many hard events as possible.

For example, before the 2013 ITI, I did the The Petite Trotte à Léon (easily the most difficult mountain race I know of due to its extreme steepness, very sparse support and highly difficult trails) followed by one week of rest, followed by the Tor des Géants. All in all it was about 390 miles with almost 16,000 feet of ascent. My general training mileage on the other hand is fairly low, sometimes 30 miles or less, although I try to add as many 50K races as I can. In the Bay Area there’s one almost every weekend.

As for snow-specific preparation, we only do a training trip to Alaska for about 10 days mostly to test gear, and a few weekends in Yosemite. It seems that steep hills work well enough to prepare for pulling a 40-50 pound sled. I also spend countless hours designing and making my own gear (sled, windproof clothing, a bivy system, etc.). That stuff occasionally even works!

What supplies will you carry?
Generally I carry 35-40 pounds of survival gear. I tend to bring a little more than others, but on the other hand I find it unacceptable to drop out of a race due to insufficient gearl—and in the ITI, dropping out can be a horrible affair. I'll bring a -60 degree sleeping bag, a bivy, stove, repair supplies, various layers, lots of gloves and socks and balaclavas and hats, hiking poles, batteries, lights, medical kit, survival saw, satellite phone and SARSAT beacon, a multitool, GPS, thermos, waders (for water crossings), snowshoes, overboots, goggles and a few more things.

In addition, one needs between 5-10 pounds of food on the way to Nome, depending on where you're at. Distances between checkpoints can be up to 160 miles (though there's a resupply drop in the middle, limited to 10 lbs).

Most of the supplies go in a sled that I made from a light, cold-resistant plastic that glides extremely well. I’m also wearing a pack that doubles as my sled-pulling harness, which will contain some stuff I want to get to quickly.

What's your favorite food to eat to keep you going in the intense cold?
There's always a tradeoff between calorie density and quick energy. Sugar (gummi bears, for example) work well to give you a quick burst and keep you warm, whereas peanut butter and nuts have better more calories for their weight. I used to use "sports" foods of in the beginning of my running career, but have long abandoned them because they didn’t taste good, and you don’t get any benefits unless you’re following a really strict nutritional system. I'm not willing to eat bad tasting stuff all the time. What's the point?

I use a mix of "real" food (either purchased at local stores or in the form of dried meals), candy bars, cheese, some meats (with low water content) and peanut butter—the cheap kind is the best because it usually has more sugar.

What is your emergency plan in case of bad weather or an accident?
I have two emergency transmitters, but in bad weather it can still take half a day or longer for help to arrive. So in bad weather there are two choices—keep going or hunker down. My sleeping bag will keep me warm inside my bivy. It’s important to actually get inside. In the extreme cold, your core temp might drop slowly throughout the day, and if you take too long getting inside your bivy, you can end up a frozen popsicle quite quickly.

In extremely bad weather one might try to build a snow cave (however this is not possible along much of the coast where you're on the frozen sea, or on such windswept areas that you can’t really dig) or build a fire.

For accidents, the plan is the same. Get in the sleeping bag as quickly as possible. If you get wet, roll around in snow to dry out if it's really cold, and take off your stuff quickly.


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