The Iditarod Trail is broadly known for the annual sled dog race, but there are over a hundred of human endurance athletes who run, ski, or bike it as well.
The majority of people would likely decline the opportunity to run the Iditarod Trail, but not Ryan Fox, the cross country coach for the Nome-Beltz high school. He’s taking extreme measures to prepare himself for the Iditarod Trail Invitational, or ITI in February.
The ITI follows the Iditarod Trail, beginning in Knik Lake, weaving through the city of McGrath, and finishing at the famous burled arch in Nome. Athletes can compete in one of two categories: the ITI 350, which ends in McGrath, or the ITI 1000 that continues to Nome.
Fox is taking the shorter of the two routes: the ITI 350.
You must complete two events on a qualified list to compete in the invitational like the White Mountain 100 Mile or the Susitna 100 Mile, or have equivalent experience.
He’s been running for 14 years, but said the icy terrain on this trail is different than anything he’s raced before. Fox is from Connecticut, and he considers himself a rookie in the sense that most of the racers are from Alaska, and might be more prepared for the running conditions in the Interior.
“Truthfully, this is like wildly unmarked territory for me. I train in these kind of conditions all the time, but in terms of my lifespan, it’s very, uncharted.”
The ITI 350 passes through six checkpoints, but there isn’t an official trail. Fox said he’ll use a GPS tracker and compass to navigate. He also plans to collaborate with other racers along the trail.
Fox said he doesn’t expect to beat the bikers or skiers, but he wants to be the first person on foot to McGrath.
“I want to win the race.”
He said he runs 70 and 75 miles a week — that’s the same distance as running from Nome to Teller. He also tows around a fluorescent orange sled, which is weighed down with with laundry detergent. To prepare for the extreme temperatures on the trail, he sometimes sleeps outdoors.
“I have a tent. And I sleep in it sometimes. Outside. Not as much as I’d like to.”
Competitors are only allowed to pack small, consumable items like food, hand warmers, and batteries. When asked if he plans to carry anything special with him on the trail, Fox said he’d pack his blue Nanooks jacket, with a polar bear emblazoned on the back, as well as a matching hat to represent the team he coaches, and one being introduced this spring.
Fox said he’s raising funds for the upcoming track season this spring. Fox said it’s the first time the Nanooks will have a track team in over a decade, and “he’s going to make it happen”
“I’m running for running opportunities in Nome, for kids.”
Fox said he plans to run an ultramarathon over winter break to prepare for the race, and said he’s considering running the perimeter of Manhattan.
If interested in donating to the Nome Beltz track team, contact Ryan Fox at email@example.com.
Photo at top: According to Fox, he usually goes on runs twice a day. He said his average step count is close to thirty thousand steps a day. (Courtesy of Ryan Fox)