Mount Juneau Ridge Trail Run Race

My favorite blue on Mt Juneau

 Last fall while talking with Jamee in California, I asked her if I could come for a longer stay (~1 month) in Juneau in summer 2022 and Jamee said of course! So when I picked up running and got super excited about running races, I looked for one in Juneau when I was going to be there. I found the Juneau Ridge Race during the dates I was planning to be in Juneau, saw it was a reasonable distance of 25k, and signed up immediately, thinking nothing more of it. La la la. 

It wasn't until weeks later, like late May, when I was talking to my coach Chris about this race and the conversation went something like this: 

Me: "Oh, and I am signed up for a 25k trail run in Juneau. Should be very manageable for me by end of June" 

Chris: "Wait, is that the race where there are videos of people like sliding down the cliff in the snow?" 

Me: "... oh no..." 

Chris: "Yeah it is! Wow that's going to be fun" 

Me: (checking now the elevation on the site page, 4000+ feet) "... oh no..." 

Yes, again, my lack of decent planning leads me to places I probably don't belong, and in this case, it meant up Mount Juneau. Yippee.

Let's do this

Of course, this race was the capstone race for me at the end of 3 races in 3 weeks (20 miler in the upper peninsula, 100 mile mtb race, and then Mt. Juneau). The week before, I didn't know whether to recover or taper, opting to do one 6 mile run with Jamee. She took me to East Glacier loop to practice, and as I stared up what looked like a stair case to the sky, I realized how entirely and utterly out of my league I was for this race. 

High school friend Martha who also made an appearance in bikepacking Hawaii

But my legs still worked and I showed up with a smile - determined to make the cut off (you have to be to the summit by 2.5 hours, 5 miles in, and the finishing cut off is 6 hours). There were 99 people at the start, 25 of them being WOMEN in the 30-39 age group (!) and 90 of them being from Alaska (and of the 9 not from Alaska, they seemed to be actually from Alaska, like my friend Martha from high school who had been living in Juneau for 1.5 years but registered in Buffalo, NY or they were from Seattle, which I am counting as partial Alaska credit.)

I started off in the back and as we started climbing up through town on to a dirt road, the pack left me and a few stragglers. It was steep, it was hot (heat wave in Juneau, 80F+), and when we hit the trail for Mt Juneau, it only got steeper and hotter. Instead of run/hiking by the time I was on the trail I was hike / resting fully. It would have helped enormously for me to like, pre-run or pre-hike the trail and know when breaks were coming, but nah, that would have been what a reasonable person would have done. 

Oh but the views 

I made it to the snowy summit (first 1/3 of the race) 2 minutes before the cut off (which they extended by 30 minutes because of the heat) and I was entirely drenched in sweat. There were some people ahead of me and some behind, but I was pretty much alone. I took all the electrolyte pills I had (3), a gel, and kept jogging. The volunteers at the top told me "you're done with the hard part!" as I looked ahead to a steep ridge climb. 

"Yeah! I made it!" 

The ridge wasn't exactly easy. It was snow covered and very much up and down (another 800 feet in 5 miles), so I cut my teeth on getting comfortable running the descents in snow. The views were spectacular though, we had a totally clear day and you could see the mountains and beautiful blue glacier pools of ice melt along the top of the ridge. 

Ridge: not exactly "easy" 

Although 80F doesn't sound that hot, it was absolutely baking up there. It was the first time I've ever felt heat waves coming off the snow. I started eating snow constantly and stuffing it down my shirt and back to cool off. This absolutely saved me, and as I limped into checkpoint 2. The volunteers there gave me some electrolyte pills (at this point, I'm at a count of 5) another granola bar and we talked for a bit. Here's a sample of that conversation: 

Them: "You have glissading ahead" 

Me: "what is glissading?" 

Them: "[Pause]. You're not from here, are you?" 

Me: "No, I am an idiot from Michigan who signed up for this thinking it was like a nice coastal loop in Juneau on trails" 

Them: [laugh for like a minute straight and then gesture around at the mountains and snow] "so this is fun, right?" 

Me: "I'm still smiling" [I'm always smiling...] 

I leave the checkpoint and start jogging down the hill in nice crispy snow. It seems pretty manageable, and I'm having fun taking big steps and no post-holing. But then I get to a cut off and see all the tracks go to the right where it looks like the trail dives off a cliff. I pause - do I take the trail that looks like 3 people did it or do I act-like-a-sheep and follow everyone off a cliff? 


Butt sledding cliff option 

I notice butt tracks and foot prints in the snow and after attempting to run and almost face planting, I decide to butt slide down. It's magical. Like on my death bed, I'll remember that feeling of sliding down that mountain on my butt at a speed that felt fast but not like I'd castrate myself if I hit a rock and that the snow was cold but I felt like a perfect temperature since I had been overheating the whole day. I get to the bottom, run a bit, and then there's a turn and ... another cliff! More magical butt sliding! 

Unfortunately, the butt sliding ended and back to snow running for several miles for me. Eventually the snow starts to become more intermittent and then I cruise into checkpoint 3, low on water but high on fun. At CP 3, there's a "biggest splash" contest -- you're supposed to jump into a swimming hole and do something memorable. I had been planning this for a while, and I run into the CP ready to execute on my plan. 

Instead, I find two volunteers who look overheated sitting in the shade. I ask them where is the swimming hole and they point to a spot that is largely snowed over still. They told me only 5 people have attempted the biggest splash (and did it in the river) and I had some stiff competition -- one woman jumped in topless. 

I convince one of the judges to get up and judge me, and I run into the stream, singing A Whole New World and roll around in the ICY stream, laughing and singing. When I got out a few minutes later, the guy was like "wow, you smiled the whole time through that".

While that may have not been memorable enough, then I talked to them in the shade while I ate a granola bar and took 3 more electrolyte pills (total: 10, volunteer: "the bottle says no more than two an hour", me: "trust me, it's fine"). I told them my village idiot story about how I'm Michigan, yada yada, and they are like "wow, so how has this been for you?" 

Me: "I mean, this is incredible. I just butt slid down a mountain as part of a trail race. I'm literally laughing and rolling around in a stream. I don't care that I'll be like the last finisher in this race, I am having an amazing day and can't believe I just did this". 

(this apparently made an impression -- I won biggest splash, which was $50 in gift cards and a growler!) 

Snow, not snow trail

I left soon after and continued to jog with a smile, 6ish miles left. Even though it was "all downhill" (I was going to yell at the next person who told me that... what a lie. The finish was on a hill and I knew that), it was still challenging, hot, and I was tired. I was finally running again, and I found my stride and passed a few people (!). I did fall at one point after a misstep but had minimal bleeding and kept running. 

I finished with a light sprint and a huge smile. I was done, my legs were totally cooked and throbbing, I needed more salt/electrolytes badly, but wow, what an amazing day. I can't recommend this race highly enough, it's absolutely worth flying in for. I finished in like 5:35, probably 92nd place, twice the time of the top finishers (which is honestly mind blowing for me) but about 3 hours less than the average hiker! ahaha. 

Woo, biggest splash prizes!

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