Geoff Roes and Eric Strabel, the only people in history to break the three-hour barrier in the 24-mile Crow Pass Crossing backcountry race, are back for what could be another duel for the men's championship.
The race begins Saturday at 7 a.m. on a trail that was closed for almost two weeks earlier this month because a grizzly bear was feeding on a moose kill right on the trail. It was re-opened last Saturday.
For the last six years, either Roes or Strabel has won the grueling race through Chugach State Park. For the last three years, Roes has finished first and Strabel has finished second in times that are among the fastest in the 29-year history of the race.
Their times from 2010 and 2009 rank as the four fastest in race history and are the only sub-3:00 times recorded.
Roes broke the course record in both of those years. In 2009, he clocked 2:57:12 to break Toby Schwoerer's 2004 record of 3:02:58. Strabel was second in 2:58:30.
In 2010, Roes lowered the record to 2:54:44. Strabel was second in 2:59:41.
Neither ran as fast last year, when Roes repeated in 3:00:28 and Strabel followed in 3:02:14. But both of those times surpassed Schwoerer's old record, which came 15 years after Bill Spencer's record run of 3:05:25.
Another victory by Roes, an endurance runner from Juneau, would tie Michael Graham's mark for the most men's wins in history. Graham, the East High principal, won five titles, including three straight from 1991-93.
The women's race, meanwhile, hasn't had a repeat winner since Kjerstin Lastufka's run of three straight wins in 1996-98.
The 13 races since then have been won by 13 difference women. Last year's winner, Kiersten Lippmann, is back to defend her title.
The ever-changing cast of women's champions in recent years is in stark contrast to the early years of the race, when Nancy Pease dominated. She won six straight from 1985-90 and took victories in nine of the first 12 races, and her record of 3:26:20 has gone unthreatened since 1990.
With her victory in 3:36:25 last year, Lippmann was a little more than 10 minutes off the record -- the closest anyone has come to Pease's standard.
The race begins at the Crow Pass trailhead near Girdwood. It ends at the Eagle River Nature Center in Eagle River.
Besides the total gradient of 5,959 feet with a peak elevation gain of 3,888 feet, Crow Pass is teeming with challenges and hazards -- the 140 runners could contend with anything from bears to bees to slippery roots and rocks to devil's club to a raging river.
Water is running high in Eagle River, which runners must ford during the race. It is thigh- to waist-deep, according to reports. On the upside, the bear is no longer feeding on its moose kill on the segment of trail between Dishwater Creek and Twin Falls, about five to nine miles from the Eagle River side.