Lost In Alaska With Geoff Roes

“The idea for the camps was definitely something that came about gradually over a couple years. The incredible running terrain around Juneau was the first thing that got me thinking about the idea. I’ve run in a lot of places but after a couple years in Juneau I realized that Juneau was the most incredible place I’ve ever run. I began thinking of ways to show this amazing running to other people. My first idea was to guide day runs for visitors that come to town everyday in the summer on the cruise ships. Gradually as I thought about this more and more I came to the idea of doing it as a week long camp instead of a single day thing. And then about a year ago the idea had percolated long enough and I decided to go for it and make the whole thing a reality.”  

This is Geoff Roes’ answer to me when I asked how he came to the idea of his Alaska Running Camps.  I’ve always been intrigued by how great ideas are formed.  There are sparks of ideas that hit you out of the blue and then there are the ones that form over time.  Living in a place as big and awe-inspiring as Alaska, it takes a while and a lot of exploring for the expansive beauty to sink in and be fully appreciated.  It got to a point for Roes where he needed to share a small part of this paradise with people and what better way to do it than through running.  

Geoff has been running trail ultra races since 2006 and, in my opinion, came into the sport’s spotlight in 2008 at the North Face 50 mile championship in San Francisco where he placed 5th racing names like Matt Carpenter, Uli Steidl, and Kyle Skaggs.  He oozed potential and fire at that race and it seemed to catapult him into 2009 that began an incredible string of performances earning him UltraRunning Magazine‘s Ultra Runner of the Year award in 2009 and 2010.

So, you have the best ultrarunner in the country combined with one of the most beautiful natural environments in the world.  What else is there to do than start the Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp.

First things first, and getting sponsors on board help not only with up front costs but also add an air of solidity and clout to something new like a running camp that, in order just to travel to, creates pause for many would-be participants.  I asked him about how sponsors reacted when he presented the idea to them.  “I think everyone I approached about sponsorship was into the idea of being a part of this. I can’t remember anyone who didn’t find it appealing. The sponsors were providing various products so the campers all go home with a whole bunch of great running gear/supplies.”

Speaking of sponsors and money, the pricing of the camp is very reasonable with nearly every detail included from ground transportation to a massage for each participant.  I asked Geoff whether he’s making decent money from them.  There’s nothing wrong with earning money and these camps are unique and a great benefit to the sport.  He responded, “I definitely made a bit of money from the camps, but not as much as you might think. In the end I decided that I needed to raise the price a little bit for 2012 because I probably didn’t end up earning much more than minimum wage for the amount of time I put into the camps in the first year. I’m certainly not going to get rich from these camps, but going forward I think I can do things much more efficiently now that I know what I’m doing.”

Of course, there are intrinsic values to the camps aside from earning money, which Geoff explains when I ask him what he learned from the first year of hosting them.  “I learned that showing something to people that is so important and satisfying to me (running. and specifically running in Alaska) ends up benefiting me as much as it does the campers that i was showing it to. I felt like everyone took a lot of positive things away from these camps, but I also feel like I may have benefited as much from the camps as anyone. There’s just something really satisfying about showing people something that means so much to you and have them respond in such a positive way.”

Geoff’s girlfriend, Corle (Core-Lay) is a big part of the camps too.  The work involved with the AMURC is daunting.  You have do all the pre-work to make sure things are ordered, reservations booked, schedules, routes, and then the cleaning, cooking, run leading, teaching, all while playing the happy host bombarded with questions about everything from black toenails to electrolytes.  Geoff couldn’t do it alone.  When I ask him who, if anyone, helps him, he replies, “Corle and I pretty much do it all. She does the majority of the food and cleanup. She also provides massage for the campers in whatever free time she can come up with. I also have a lot of training partners in Juneau who come out to the runs to help out with shuttling, route finding, and entertaining the campers with their local knowledge and stories.”

With the tremendous amount of  work involved with the camps, I ask Geoff how it affects his training and how he decided on the dates for the camps.  He responds, “I don’t think the camps affect my training much. During the camps we pretty much do a lot of the same runs that I do all the time in training. The dates of the various sessions were determined by taking into account my racing schedule, the weather, and the availability of the cabin we use for lodging.”

Speaking of the training, we then talk about specific races and how he’s feeling physically and mentally for near-future races like the North Face 50 mile championship on December 3rd in San Francisco as well as plans for next year.  He just got in a long run with Dave Mackey last weekend in Marin (same trails the NF50 is held). Let’s just say he’s ready.  As for next year, the most interesting piece of information Geoff provided me is that he is not running Western States in 2012 and says, “I’m not certain whether I’ll ever run it again.”

Geoff is in Nederland Colorado (just west of Boulder) for the school year while Corle attends Naropa University.  He says he’s acclimated much faster this year (altitude on his runs there are 9,000-12,000 ft – Juneau is at 56 ft) and is getting in substantial training.  Regarding his first winter in Colorado last year, he says, “I’m not sure if that was a mental thing or a physical thing but I’ve felt great up to very high altitude this fall. I still really feel it when I get about 12,000, but don’t feel it much at all up to there.

Corle and Geoff

Geoff returns to Alaska in the spring when Corle finish up her classes.  First order of business upon his return will surely be the preparation for the first running camp session to be held the week of May 28 – June 2.  I personally can’t think of many better ways in which to spend a week.

All the Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp information is on the website. Registration is open and spots are filling, so check into it and sign up soon if you’re interested in learning from a very gifted runner in a very gifted place.

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