Iditarod Trail It has been called the longest, hardest ultra-marathon in the world. Participants must battle frostbite, dehydration, waist-deep snow and the occasional wolf. It is the Iditarod Trail Invitational, and if you’re looking for athletes truly pushing themselves to the extremes of human endurance, you’ll find it in Alaska.
On February 24, a few dozen brave souls will push off from Knik Lake (near Anchorage), having chosen cross-country skis, fat-tire bikes or simply their feet as a vehicle for the 1000-mile race. To qualify, each racer must have previously completed the ITI 350, a punishing journey itself that is barely one-third the distance.
“You come down a hill, and look up and there’s another hill. So many times I would lean over my poles, put my head down and cry,” 2018 Iditarod winner Pete Ripmaster told the Asheville Citizen-Times (Asheville runner wins worlds longest ultramar 1-000-mile iditarod trail footrace longest ultramarathon) after last year’s race, which took him 26 days and 13 hours, averaging a pace of 38 miles a day. “Mentally it’s so hard to keep going and going. You just want to lay down and have someone pick you up and take you home.”
ITI athletes pride themselves on self-reliance, with the event promising an adventure for those “who don’t want to be cheated out of a profound experience by excess support from the race staff.” Embracing that mindset during their 1000-mile trek, participants must carry all survival gear with them — three supply drops are allowed — but once the 500-mile marker is passed, they are on their own for the rest of the solitary, snowbound journey.
Founded in 2002, the Iditarod Trail Invitational grew out of the famed Iditarod Sled Dog race, whose founder Joe Reddington Sr. encouraged human powered events along the trail to keep it open. Each year since, competitors compete in 1000, 350 or 150-mile distances.
So, what’s it like out there? Climbing from sea level to over 10,000 feet elevation, racers traverse frozen rivers and bleak fields of white, waking from brief breaks in sleeping bags to discover themselves buried beneath a foot of snow with their zippers frozen. Temperatures have been known to reach -60 degrees Fahrenheit — but if you can survive long enough, you may also witness the Northern Lights, a massive moose, and the sort of solitary experience increasingly more unimaginable in our modern lives.
“Nothing says ‘Hello Alaska,’ like my cold hands lathering diaper cream over my private parts in the darkness of a winter morning along the Iditarod Trail,” wrote RJ Sauer in an account ( The Iditarod Trail ) of his 2017 bike voyage from Knik to Nome, a year in which no runners finished. “Each year it’s hard for different reasons and harder for some because of the unique variables they may face: sickness, injury, gear technicalities, and external forces on the trail.”
Literary legend Jack London — who knew a thing or two about snowbound sled dog races — once famously remarked: “The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.” Each year, the personification of those words can be found on the snow-soaked trail of the Iditarod Trail Invitational