Kenai man challenges Coldfoot Classic

100-mile race crosses Brooks Range

Posted: Friday, November 24, 2000

It's a hundred miles from Galbraith Lake to Coldfoot, and the Brooks Range stands between the two. Bitter winds and sub-freezing temperatures are the norm for the region this time of year. It took David Drasch of Leesburg, N.C., 21 hours and 43 minutes to travel the distance of this year's Coldfoot Classic, organized by Iditasport in Anchorage.

Dan Duke of Kenai finished in 10 hours, 20 minutes, but the difference is in the details -- the big details: Drasch traveled the distance on foot, while Duke used two Canondale mountain bikes.

The Coldfoot Classic used to be exclusively for runners, but race organizers are now ready to switch over to bikes.

Next year's race will be for cyclists only, said Dan Bull, Iditasport owner and the event's founder. Fifty men and 50 women will compete for shares of a $20,000 purse.

Duke didn't win $20,000 -- "All I won was a big American Express bill for a lot of gas," he said, adding that he did come away from the race with a new appreciation for ultra-endurance events.

"I wanted to have a good time and not kill myself doing it," he said.

Duke enjoyed success on both counts. He said the experience was memorable enough to lure him to try more cold-weather ventures.

"I feel like I did pretty well, so there's a chance I'll continue to do winter races," he said.

Duke, who had never cycled 100 miles in his life before the race, said he typically rides 30 to 40 miles a week and takes cycling classes at Healthy Changes in Soldotna, where his wife Lisa works as an instructor.

In the race, Duke started off on a Canondale hard-tail aluminum model, with suspension only in the front.

"It's a better climbing bike," he said.

After reaching Atigun Pass, Duke switched to a full-suspension Canondale Raven for the descent.

Duke was one of only seven individuals to subject themselves to the rigors of the race. Four men competed in the foot division, in which Drasch was the only finisher. Gil Hjellen, a veteran of ultra-endurance races, won the bike division, finishing in 9 hours, 22 minutes. Bill Merchant finished after Hjellen in 9 hours, 58 minutes.

Duke said he was satisfied with his time.

"I was competing with hardcores," he said, "and I do it recreationally."

Hjellen's time is a record for the course as well as an amazing personal best: Hjellen set the old course record of 11:22.

"He's awesome," Duke said of the 60-year-old Hjellen. "I was very impressed."

After the bikers finished, they rested and then returned to the course to support the runners. One man from Ohio had to be transported to the end of the course.

"That's a long run," Duke said.

Bull thinks it's too long. The race is about five miles short of four marathons.

"It's too long," Bull said. "The foot people get too spread out. The bike is the natural race up there."

Next year, it will be the only race. Duke said he might compete.

"It's a tough call at this point," he said. "It's 2,000 miles (away) and it's really expensive. But yes, I probably will."

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