Long-distance relay off and running from Chugiak to Seward

Monday, July 24, 2017 - 13:29
  • Runner Nicole Mikes (right) prepares to tackle the first leg of the Alaska Relay at Mirror Lake on July 7, 2017. The overnight relay race takes teams from Chugiak to Seward. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Alaska Relay competitors gather for a pre-race briefing at Mirror Lake on July 7, 2017. The overnight relay race takes teams from Chugiak to Seward. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Runners begin the inaugural Alaska Relay at Mirror Lake on July 7, 2017. The overnight race takes teams from Chugiak to Seward. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)

Alaska’s latest long-distance endurance race kicked off July 7 in Chugiak, with teams heading south along a 175-mile course to Seward.

The inaugural Alaska Relay race began in waves at Mirror Lake Park, where Friday morning rainclouds had given way to sunny skies. Runners gathered near the water’s edge, chatting and stretching and adjusting bibs and watches and ipod armbands.

“It’s a little intimidating, but I think it’s going to be fun,” said June Gardner, captain of the team Alaska Run Wild.

After hearing about the relay via Facebook, she said, she recruited some of her friends, who recruited some of their friends.

“We had a few last-minute changes due to injuries; we’re still lucky to be able to have a full team,” she said.

Teams are allowed to have up to 12 members, who each take turns running one of the 36 legs, which range from 3-10 miles long, according to race organizers. Turnover among team members was common: In the days leading up to the race, the Heavenly Misfits lost 10 of its runners, according to team members.

“The commitment portion was the hard part,” said Heavenly Misfit Brandon Denmon.

The course takes runners through Chugiak, Eagle River and Anchorage, down the Seward Highway and through Turnagain Pass, all the way to the finish line at Seward High School, where the race is scheduled to end Saturday. Before the race began Friday, relay organizer Nathan Luke gathered the teams on the lakeshore, running over last-minute race information and safety advice.

“Bears have been an issue this year — we are taking the stretch from Bird to Gird very seriously,” he told the teams standing by the lake. “Anytime you see a bear, we want to know.”

Each team is carrying bear spray, Luke said, and the course is staffed with volunteers from each team. As far as organizers can tell, Luke said, the Alaska Relay is the first and only race of its kind in the state.

Himself a long-distance relay veteran, Luke said he moved to Alaska about six years ago and almost immediately started imagining the possibilities.

“When I saw there was no such relay in such a beautiful place, I thought, ‘Well, yeah, let’s see what we can do,’” Luke said.

Planning the inaugural Alaska Relay took about four years, 11 crew members and coordination with everyone from the Alaska Department of Transportation to the City of Seward, Luke said. There was plenty of anxiety along the way, he said, but by the time the first teams were off and running, things were looking up.

“I’m feeling pretty good right now,” Luke said Friday morning. “I was super stressed yesterday, but we’ve already gotten half our teams out, they’re all pretty excited, they’re all pretty understanding and everyone just wants to go have some fun.”

Contact reporter Kirsten Swann at kirsten.swann@alaskastar.com.

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