Zack Bursell of Juneau in the 22 mile Crow Pass Crossing race on July 24. (Brikru Photography)
Juneau, Alaska (KINY) – Zack Bursell, 28, is breaking through the world of ultrarunning, one race over 20 miles at a time.
Bursell placed fourth at the 22.5-mile Crow Pass Crossing on July 24 in a respectable time of three hours 22 minutes and 12 seconds, in a race that saw Anchorage Olympic skier Scott Patterson, 29, establish a new course record of 2:50:05.
Bursell said he had never been to Girdwood or Eagle River until he lined up to run and then ran from place to place, including three wrong turns which only added miles and time.
“Scott had quite a gap on me,” Bursell said. “Even though I was new to the track and barely knew where I was going, these guys from Anchorage are in good shape. So hats off to him. I know he has been aiming for this record for a long time.
The race record was held by Geoff Roes of Juneau with a time of 2:54:44 seconds, set in 2010, a year in which Roes was recognized as the organizations’ ultramarathoner of the year. national races. Roes is a four-time race winner and has two of the fastest times in Crow Pass history. Patterson’s record time is his second of the fastest Crow Pass times.
The wilderness run begins at the Crow Pass trailhead near Girdwood, and runners climb 2,000 feet for the three miles to the top of the 3,500-foot pass.
Minor improvements have been made to the trail since Roes made its mark and this year the trail has been cleared and the path gleaned to produce a fast course.
“I appreciate any course that gives the locals some advantage,” Bursell said. “That was certainly the case with this one. There have been a few times where if you are a beginner on the course you have to think twice about which direction you are going. “
Bursell noted that there were times he was unsure of the route and ended up passing runner Max Donaldson three times after getting lost.
“I lost my bearings at least a few times,” Bursell said. “It just makes me want to come back and try again and shoot for a better time. It’s a really fun race.
Runners climb a mountain pass, traverse snowfields and boulder fields, and cross a waist-deep river on their journey.
“As far as the course goes, right off the bat they send you down this mountain path with an elevation gain of a few thousand feet,” Bursell said. “Right from the start. You go up to the top of this pass and the next thing you know you go down about as steep as you go up. That rough rocky thing like you’re going up Juneau Ridge or one of the peaks around here. Lots of land. Lots of rough loose rock. It’s quite difficult from the start. “
The race flattens out in a valley with less intense hills.
“But the obstacle goes from mountainous terrain to really thick, bushy vegetation,” Bursell said. “And the occasional rocks that you can’t see because your foot is covered in bushes of salmon berries, nettles, all that crazy stuff.” It’s one thing after another.
The last portion is divided by Eagle River.
“It’s like a glacial river,” Bursell said. “Imagine the icy, silty water chilling your legs with 12 miles to go. The last 12 miles are pretty flat and the trail gets a lot nicer, but at this point I think my experience was the same as a lot of people. The kilometers start to accumulate in your legs. There is a lot of lactic acid and some cramps. I did not enter the race with a particular objective. I just wanted to run hard. I just pushed him around and tried to see if I could grab someone. I didn’t see any competitors anymore, I just ran hard.
It is difficult to catch the runners when they are behind you. Only three were in front and one was Patterson.
It would be Patterson’s seventh victory, but in the previous six wins he has consistently fallen short of Roes’ record.
“I’ve been chasing him for a long time. I didn’t really think that would happen today, ”Patterson told Anchorage media.
Assistant race director and two-time winner Harlow Robinson recalled that when Roes broke the three-hour mark over a decade ago, someone suggested the next barrier was 2:50.
“I didn’t know if it was humanly possible,” Robinson said.
Another former Juneau runner, Katie Krehlik, 31, placed fifth in the women’s and 21st overall with a time of 4:11:55.
Bursell, a former cross-country and track runner at Juneau-Douglas High School, said he was excited to enter the world of ultra-racing.
“I owe a lot of credit to all the guys from Juneau who have been pushing the limits in the mountains for decades now,” he said. “Geoff, my dad (John Bursell), Dave Pusich and a lot of other guys I’ve long admired have kind of instilled that respect for mountain running that I’ve had for a long time. After running hard in high school, running hard in college, and wanting to come back to Juneau, it seems natural to want to do some great runs in the mountains.
Bursell said he doesn’t train specifically for ultras.
“I just like running in the mountains,” he said. “I felt like I was in good shape, so I thought I would go for a few races, which is why I ended up doing Crow Pass.”
On June 27, Bursell placed third in the 15-mile Juneau Ridge Race with the event’s fourth-fastest effort of all time at 2:22:57. The race was won by athlete Salomon Dakota Jones, 30, of Bozeman, MT, with a course record of 2:14:59 and Dylan Anthony, 29, of Juneau was second in 2:19:08 .
“Right now my focus is on the cross-county JDHS assistant coach,” Bursell said. “That’s what really excites me right now, getting these athletes to be motivated for their season. It’s kind of where I’m headed. I had the idea to do the Equinox Marathon in Fairbanks, but we’ll see.
The equinox occurs near the time of the fall equinox in September. It is considered the premier running event in the interior of Alaska and includes a climb and climb over Ester Dome, then again and again.
Bursell also has a friend who is running Juneau’s Nifty Fifty next week.
“If he goes, me too,” he said. “I’ll be his support team. It’s just about enjoying mountain running. Running hard in the mountains. That’s what it’s about.
Bursell offered this advice to aspiring runners or hikers, or those looking to get outside.
“Grab a friend of yours and drag him outside with you,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where you go. Just go explore and enjoy it with the people you love to be with. That’s how it all started with me.
Above – Juneau’s Zack Bursell in the 22-mile Crow Pass Crossing race on July 24. (Brad Benter)