The mountain goats dotting the face of Mount Marathon had climbing competition last Saturday in Joe Nyholm.
The 28-year-old Seward runner spent 18.5 hours straight hiking over 26.5 miles for a total of 35,902 vertical feet on the mountain’s infamous race trail, running the original, and fastest, known marathon on Mount Marathon.
“It was crazy seeing all those goats up there,” Nyholm said. “They were doing a little conga line across the mountain.”
Nyholm was doing something crazy himself, setting out to break the unoffical American record for the most vertical climbed in one day, 45,000 feet. He was a few hours and 10,000 feet short of his original goal, but left the mountain at about 1 a.m. with 16 laps of the trail and a just as impressive feat under his belt.
“I was on pace to break the record, I had to do four more laps in six hours,” Nyholm said. “I had the time, but I felt like the marathon on Mount Marathon was a good stopping point. I’m over here beating myself up over not doing the whole 24 hours, but everyone else is like ‘the marathon is crazy.’”
Nyholm is an ultrarunner familiar with the mountain. He ran the H.U.R.T 100 miler in Hawaii over 34 hours and climbed the equivalent of Denali, 20,000 feet, on Mount Marathon in one day.
“When you have that endurance that Joe has, you can get more creative,” said fellow Seward runner Sean Ulman, who met Joe at the end of his marathon on Marathon. “You have that longform. Joe thinks of these bigger projects and this was a big project that he got in his mind, a combination of strength, endurace and imagination.”
Nyholm’s also become a Mount Marathon Race staple on the Fourth of July, running an impressive time while donning a Gumby suit.
“Mount Marathon is hard to beat, even though I kind of do it too much,” Nyholm said.
He set out solo at 6 a.m. on June 1 and made basecamp at the Squirrel’s Den, a densely wooded spot about a quarter way up the mountain. He had a backpack with food, a few pairs of shoes and was able to get water from a nearby creek.
Friday night rain, coupled with his early Saturday morning start, brought some advantages and disadvantages in Nyholm’s first few hours.
“It rained further into the night than I thought, so in the morning the first four laps were kind of a slip-and-slide on the way up,” he said. “But it was a rainy, soft downhill on the scree, so I didn’t have to smash my knees and get sore.”
Nyholm estimates that he spent about three hours going downhill over the course of his 18.5 hour day.
“The downhill is my favorite part of the whole thing,” he said.
The day, though, was fogged by negative thoughts.
“Until about 6 p.m., there was this cloud on the top third of the mountain,” Nyholm said. “So, I was climbing into that, with 15 mph winds … I couldn’t see anything and I was just full of negative thoughts that I couldn’t escape. It was this weird mental block that drained me throughout the day.”
Ulman had agreed to meet him at about midnight, which Nyholm said got him through the bulk of the day.
“The whole day I was just thinking, ‘I have to make it to Sean,’ so he was kind of my inspiration,” Nyholm said. “I did feel bad though, because he showed up and I said ‘I’m done.’”
Ulman, who greeted Nyholm with a burger, wasn’t disappointed in the change of plans.
“In talking to him right after, he was still evaluating if he should go on but knowing that he had that marathon on Mount Marathon was great,” Ulman said. “… It was unreal, he did great and looked great. It wasn’t like a zombie, just the usual Joe.”
Nyholm said that decision to stop was tough, but he stands by it.
“I was mixed,” he said. “I still felt relatively good but I was starting to feel my muscles get really strained from the downhill at that point. It was a good thing I stopped it then, since it would probably take me a month to recover.”
He isn’t worried about anyone taking his fastest known time of a marathon, though.