Alaska sports notebook: Turnagain Arm Trail race becomes a wildlife adventure; Iditarod champ Sass cashes in on run to Ruby

Standout distance runner Kendra Paskvan has a motto for trail races. And the main stipulation for that motto was met during last week’s Turnagain Arm Trail Run.

A couple miles into the race, men’s winner Tracen Knopp was charged by a bear, forcing the entire race to detour on a higher line from where the bear and its cubs were located.

“You don’t want to come away from a trail race without a story and we definitely have a story,” said a laughing Paskvan, who placed second in the talent-packed women’s race.

Last year’s race was rerouted to avoid bears after a moose kill caused a heavy concentration of bear activity on the trail.

Knopp, a 23-year-old Anchorage resident who placed second in last year’s race, built a lead through 2 miles. Somewhere between miles 2 and 3, he figured he had a 60- to 90-second advantage on the field.

“I saw two cubs (on the left) and they ran up a tree and the mom was to the right of the trail,” he said. “She did a little bluff charge about four steps and I backed off really easy. She just stayed her ground. I walked back 100 feet and then just kind of waited until the other guys started showing up.”

It became clear the race was about to experience a logjam, which he said lasted nearly 15 minutes.

“Everyone started lining up and discussing what to do,” he said. “The bear was not moving off the trail and the cubs were on the other side of the trail. There’s no going in between them. We started walking up the side of the hill and up and around. By the time we decided to bushwhack, it was 60-70 people.”

Once the field got around the bears, it was off to the races, and Knopp was given a bit of a head start as the rest of the men’s field fell in line in the places they arrived at the scene. A Palmer native, Knopp ended up winning the race with a time of one hour, four minutes, 18 seconds, more than 90 seconds clear of runner-up Christopher Osiensky. He’s set to run a number of trail races this summer, most notably the Crow Pass Crossing, which he had to scratch from last year after getting an injury early in the proceedings.

Paskvan is coming off an impressive showing at the 2022 Boston Marathon, where she was the fastest woman from Alaska and ran just out of the top 300 in the women’s race. She said the 8-mile Turnagain Arm race, won this year by multi-time champ Denali Strabel with former Olympic skier Holly Brooks in fourth, was a great field to measure up against.

“It was inspiring to be up there,” she said. “Having other women to pace off of, it’s nice to know if you’re running with Holly or Denali you’re in a good spot.”

Paskvan said the stop for the bear felt surreal.

“It was almost three races,” she said. “The first 2.5 miles to the bear, a middle part where we were all trying to help each other get to the other side safely, and the end of the race. It was unique.”

“It felt like a survival show,” she said. “It felt like it was a bit staged.”

Paskvan said fellow Anchorage runner Julianne Dickerson gave her a tip a few days before the Boston Marathon.

“Run the first half conservatively and run the 2nd half, leave nothing left out there,” she said repeating the advice. “That’s what I did.”

She said she was buoyed running through Wellesley College’s “Scream Tunnel” portion of the race, well known as a rowdy and excitable stretch.

“It’s literally a 26-mile block party,” she said of the experience. “I remember music and drums and people were so excited and little kids were cheering. It was great to see the Boston culture.”

Paskvan is gearing up for the New York City Marathon in the fall, and while she is relocating out of state for a residency, she plans to be back when it’s complete.

“We really do have a special running community here in Anchorage,” she said.

Iditarod champ Sass finally collects on his first-to-the-Yukon prize

Musher Brent Sass blasted through the checkpoint of Ruby on his way to a win in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in March.

While Sass was first to Ruby and first to the Yukon River this year, the Eureka musher’s decision to keep running meant he didn’t get the traditional gourmet dinner awarded to the first to arrive at the historic midpoint.

But Sass cashed in this week.

On Thursday, he was served a five-course, gourmet dinner prepared by The Lakefront Anchorage’s executive chef, Mark Castillo. The meal included a blackened shrimp appetizer, a reindeer minestrone soup with crostini bread, an iceberg wedge salad and a beef tenderloin with plenty of trimmings. He was also treated to a cheesecake bar with strawberry sauce for dessert.

After all of that, Sass enjoyed an “after dinner mint” of $3,500 in one-dollar bills along with a bottle of Dom Perignon.

A pair of Alaskans rewrite program record books at Black Hills State University

For the second time this season, former Kodiak High School standout Keith Osowski set a new program record for the Yellow Jackets in the men’s 1,500-meter run at Azusa Pacific University. A month after breaking the record in the event, he did it again this past Saturday with a finish of 3:45.29 that ranks 23rd nationally. His teammate and fellow Alaskan, Ruby Lindquist formerly of Seward High, turned in a time of 10:36.40 in the steeplechase that ranks as the second best all-time in program history and was good enough for second place in the event Saturday.

Kusko 300 sets race date

Organizers for the Kuskokwim 300 have announced the dates and registration deadline for the 44th annual race in 2023. The race will begin Jan. 27 at 6:30 p.m. The K300 field is open to as many as 30 mushers and registration will open on Monday, Oct. 3.

The Bogus Creek 150 is slated to begin Jan. 14, 2023. Start time and registration date have yet to be determined.