Anchorage’s Will Ross now has Alaska’s most coveted endurance mountain biking record. He also has persistent problems with his feet that make standing up for an extended period of time nearly impossible.
Ross, 33, set the record Saturday in the Soggy Bottom 100. The Soggy is a mountain bike race that starts in Hope, takes the Resurrection Pass trail to Cooper Landing, then takes the same trail back to Hope with a detour all the way up and down the Devil’s Creek trail.
The event is just over 100 miles long and has 10,000 feet of vertical gain and loss.
“There just aren’t many bike events in Alaska that have a record like it,” Ross said. “Mount Marathon has a record. Crow Pass Crossing has a record. This is our one event that has a record like it.
“Every year conditions are a little different. You never get perfect conditions. There’s always something to slow you down. I knew at one point I had the record, and I wanted it back.”
In 2014, Ross took the record by finishing in 8 hours, 36 minutes and 37 seconds. In 2017, Soldotna’s Adam Reimer snatched the record away in the event that dates back to 2004 by going down to 8:33:02.
Saturday, Ross was able to trim the record all the way down to 8:28:39 in winning the Soggy for the third time.
The accomplishment came despite a pair of foot injuries that have Ross’ feet turning blue when he stands up even for a few minutes.
In 2018, Ross said he started focusing on XTERRA Triathlon, which involves swimming, mountain biking and running. In 2018, he was the 17th pro male at the XTERRA World Championship in Kapalua, Hawaii.
“The foot problems started early in 2019 and have just kind of gotten worse,” he said. “I’ve had two surgeries on each foot and they’re still not sure what’s up.”
Ross said he even had to quit his job in retail because he can’t spend significant time on his feet.
“It’s a quality of life issue,” he said. “Luckily, biking doesn’t affect it at all. I have that for my sanity.”
Ross went down to Arizona for a mountain biking race in April. After that went well, he began to target the Soggy.
He knew going into the race that the record was not a sure thing despite a resume that includes victories in the prestigious Fat Bike Birkie in 2015 and 2016.
“In 2014, when I had the 8:36, I was really fit that year and training a lot,” Ross said. “I also had a lot of competition that was pushing me the whole day.
“I didn’t know what the competition Saturday would be. I didn’t know if I’d have to do eight and a half hours solo with my demons. I knew I had it in me, but I didn’t know if I’d be able to execute.”
As it turned out, Ross spent a lot of time with his demons. Tad Mejdr was second at 9:03:34. Ross said Mejdr was doing some amazing riding considering he was on a single-speed bike, but as the two descended from Resurrection Pass, Ross had to leave Mejdr behind to stay on record pace.
Ross said the steep section of the trail between Swan Lake and the pass was very overgrown.
“That whole section, I was fighting to keep my balance in the trees,” Ross said. “The worst part of it was I knew two hours later I’d have to go right back through it, but uphill.”
The flip side of that was that the Devil’s Creek trail was in amazing condition, putting the record back in the realm of possibility. That left the massive gut check of the big climb from Devil’s, then the bumpy descent to Hope.
“The descent into Hope is not super challenging, but it’s so bumpy you really want to give your hands, wrists, feet and back a break,” Ross said. “You have to keep everything open knowing you’ll be at the bottom soon.”
Ross said it wasn’t until the last three or four minutes on the road to Hope that he knew he’d have the record.
“I know the effort I put into training,” he said. “With all the work I put into training, it’s nice being able to execute and do my best on the day of the race.”
Next for Ross is a flight to California in two weeks where he will see a team of doctors with expertise in the foot problems he is having. He said he would love to get back into XTERRA, but that all depends on his health.
“I need to get my feet figured out,” he said.
There was no women’s finisher in the Soggy Bottom 100, which had 22 starters and only 10 finishers in the individual race. The relay victory went to the Anchorage team of Najeeby Quinn and Jessica Vetch in 9:56:05. Quinn rode the first and third legs, while Vetch took the second leg.
Soggy Bottom 100
Men — 1. Will Ross, 8 hours, 28 minutes, 39 seconds; 2. Tad Mejdr, 9:03:34; 3. Dante Petri, 9:40:29; 4. David Seramur, 9:59:51; 5. Aaron Thrasher, 10:12:29; 6. Tommy Vanvliet, 10:50:57; 7. Michael Filipowski, 10:53:47; 8. Nick Harman, 12:08:19; 9. Daniel Mansberger, 13:23:09; 10. Forrest Sutton, 13:49:33.
Relay — 1. Najeeby Quinn-Jessica Vetch-Najeeby Quinn, 9:56:05; 2. Zack Williams-Paul Matyas-Peter Hinds, 10:06:03; 3. Ana Jager-Kate Girsbach-Cristina Grande, 10:31:56; 4. Casey Fagerquist-Tazlina Mannix-Erin Phillips, 10:32:51; 5. Clinton Hodges-Daniel Vetch-Clinton Hodges, 11:04:52; 6. Bryan Caenepeel-Trent Mobraaten-Chris Brehmer, 14:07:25.