Runner takes aim at Denali Park Road

VONDERMEHDEN: Ultra-running newbie has a 92-mile goal.

August 16, 2010 

Over the years, climbers have tackled Mount McKinley every imaginable way to establish an assortment of firsts -- first climb, first winter climb, youngest and oldest to the summit, first to mush a dog team to the top, first to ski down, first blind climber on top, to name a few. Not many remain.

But Wednesday, 33-year-old Bill Vondermehden plans to begin a bid for his own "first" at Denali National Park -- one without much climbing at all.

Starting at 4 a.m., Vondermehden will try to run the 92-mile Denali Park Road non-stop. As far as Denali rangers can determine, he'd be the first to do so.

"I guess I'm the only one crazy enough," he said of his bid.

If Vondermehden completes the run, it will the longest of his life. He just started marathoning last year. But he completed 40- and 50-mile training runs along the road earlier this year and finished a 33-mile ultra-marathon on Hawaii's Big Island as part of his build-up.

"It was straight uphill to the volcano," he said. "Once we got to the top, I thought, 'Geez, it's not too bad when if flattens out a little.' "

While longer, Denali is likely to be cooler.

"I'm hoping I can average 5 to 6 mph. That's would put me in at about 20 hours. If we start at 4, hopefully we'll finish around midnight."

Whether he'll be walking well enough to immediately return to work at McKinley Creekside Cabins, 13 miles south of the park entrance, is unclear.

He's driving into Kantishna, at the far end of the road past Wonder Lake, tonight to start before dawn with a support crew of cyclists who will carry food and water.

The first portion is largely uphill towards Sable and Polychrome passes, about midway through. But the last eight miles are downhill.

"I could be apprehensive, because never done it before," he said. "But I'm not. I usually knock it out."

Reach reporter Mike Campbell at mcampbell@adn.com or 257-4329.

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