Seward’s Chaz DiMarzio is done with the Kenai 250. Really. He means it this time.
DiMarzio won the backcountry endurance ride held on pretty much all the major mountain bike trails the Kenai Peninsula has to offer Saturday afternoon with a course-record time of 1 day, 3 hours and 24 minutes. The 39-year-old added that crown to titles in 2014 and 2017, as well as failed attempts to complete the test in 2013, 2015 and 2016.
The only time DiMarzio did not attempt the event, which began in 2013, was 2018.
After his triumph in 2017, which set a course record at 1:06:15, DiMarzio said he probably told a few people he was done with the race.
“I felt absolutely terrible the week after in 2017,” DiMarzio said.
But the fact that he left time out on the course nagged at him. DiMarzio had lied down three times for 15 minutes each.
So he came back for more this year, starting at 9 a.m. Friday.
It takes some time to explain the course for the Kenai 250, which actually measures about 265 miles and has about 30,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. But if it takes time to list the course, just imagine riding it.
The ride starts in Hope and takes the Resurrection Pass trail to the Sterling Highway, briefly jogging over on the Sterling Highway to the Russian Lakes trail. Russian Lakes is taken to Snug Harbor Road, then the Old Sterling Highway takes riders to the Seward Highway.
The event then carries competitors all the way to the Alaska Sealife Center via the Seward Highway and Lost Lake trail. As a side note, this is why DiMarzio scratched three years — it was raining and he found it too easy to just pull over at his house.
From Seward, it’s north on the Iditarod National Historic Trail, looping past Bear Lake and powering past Grayling and Meridian lakes to Primrose. The Seward Highway continues to take riders north until a just-because loop to Vagt Lake, then it’s more Seward Highway until getting on the Johnson Pass Trail.
Once finished with Johnson Pass, the Seward takes riders to the Devil’s Creek trail, to the Resurrection Pass trail, and back to Hope.
Due to the length, DiMarzio said the event is more of a competitive group ride than a race, with 23 riders spread out over hundreds of miles of trail. There is no entry fee and very little organization or fanfare, with the biggest rule being the ride must be totally self-supported.
Why would someone want to do all that?
“In the fog of just having done it, I’d say it’s the trails I ride every day all summer long and has been for close to 20 years,” DiMarzio said. “It’s cool to do it all at once.
“At this point, I wanted to keep doing it until I got the perfect run, and this was the perfect run.”
Like spokes on a wheel, nearly innumerable things must come together for that perfect ride.
Trail and weather conditions must be good. As noted before, DiMarzio tapped out three times in the rain, and this is a guy that lives in a rainforest. As for the trails, a tight window must be hit. Lost Lake trail is just losing its snow cover, while Russian Lakes is already getting unpleasant due to brush encroaching on the trail.
An indication of how good the trails were came from the fact that the women’s record also was broken — 1:12:32 by Anchorage’s Corrie Smith.
Then there is luck. Random mechanical failures cannot happen. Riding for that long puts incredible stress on a bike. For instance, DiMarzio said the recommendation is his front suspension fork gets serviced after 25 hours of riding, which would have been two hours before he finished.
“We are a moving freak show,” DiMarzio said. “It’s weird. We’ll tell people we’ve been riding for 20 hours and they’ll say, ‘What are you doing, man?’”
Riders also must be lucky enough not to hit anything — animate or inanimate — while riding overnight. DiMarzio’s only fall was a low-speed tip into devil’s club near Bear Lake. He said the falls tend to not be bad because riders are never going full-speed during the lengthy race.
As for bears and moose?
“You just hope for the best,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do but just make noise. I wear a bear bell and hoot and holler.”
The final variable is the rider. At 39 years old, DiMarzio said he is at his peak for endurance events like the Kenai 250. The events are more of a test of mental toughness and knowledge than physical fitness.
DiMarzio said he was active every day leading up to the race, but his longest ride was seven hours.
“Your body can train for I think about 10 to 12 hours of something like this,” he said. “After that, every time I do something like this, something happens between four and six hours and I push through that. Then again at 20 hours. Push through that and you’re good.”
There’s also the trick of knowing how to fuel your body.
“Your body can only burn through 200 calories an hour,” DiMarzio said. “All you have to do is take in 200 calories an hour.”
He starts with what he calls robot food — Clif Bars, gels and electolyte powders. After his body starts revolting, usually in about 8 to 10 hours, he moves on to candy bars, Gummy Worms and in this particular case fried bean burritos.
Race pacing also is important, down to knowing exactly how to breathe. Aaron Thrasher and Dusty Eroh, both of Anchorage, would eventually finish second and third, respectively, 39 minutes behind DiMarzio. The Anchorage duo took the lead from the start, riding, as DiMarzio said, like it was a 100-mile race.
“I was like, ‘What are they doing? Have fun,’” DiMarzio said. “I went out at a leisurely pace. If I was breathing out of my mouth, I was going too hard.”
The nose knows.
DiMarzio had to chase the duo for 15 hours, finally catching them before Primrose and leaving them behind on the Johnson Pass trail. In the middle of the night, the three stopped and sat on some moss for like three minutes — DiMarzio’s only break of the ride.
His final trick was using peer pressure.
“I intentionally told a bunch of people I was doing this event,” DiMarzio said. “That’s what keeps me going, knowing people are watching. Otherwise it’s so easy to stop and quit.”
Racers are tracked throughout the event and can be followed on the internet. DiMarzio told everybody at work about this, and workmates Derek and Kathy Woodie even showed up to cheer him on in Seward. Tasha DiMarzio, Chaz’s wife, was even getting updates on her husband’s progress via satellite device just outside Shishmaref, where she was in the field for her job.
The final bit of pressure came from Thrasher and Eroh.
“Erin and Dusty are two of the toughest SOBs,” DiMarzio said. “Mentally and physically, they never give up. I knew I had to keep moving no matter what or they would catch me.”
All those factors combined to keep the records of the two biggest Kenai Peninsula mountain bike races in local hands, even though of the 13 finishers in the Kenai 250, 12 were from Anchorage.
In the Soggy Bottom 100, held on Resurrection and Devil’s, Soldotna’s Adam Reimer still holds the record after covering the 109 miles in 8 hours, 33 minutes and 2 seconds, in 2017. DiMarzio is a two-time champion of that event.
“That’s actually a big motivating factor, both this and the Soggy are not held by someone from Anchorage,” he said. “It might wound weird but I like that.”
Next up for DiMarzio is the Mount Marathon Race in Seward on July 4. That footrace goes up and down the famed 3,022-foot peak overlooking town. DiMarzio was already able to go for a light hike Sunday and a ride at Lost Lake on Monday.
“I feel way better than I did in years past,” he said. “It’s kind of ridiculous.”