Sedona CALLAHAN, Writer
Park City Magazine
The Amazing Racers
Park City’s Summer Warriors
By Sedona Callahan
Eric Jacobsen is afraid of heights and can’t swim. Boris Lyubner started out as a chain-smoking, overweight workaholic. Julie Dolan says she’s been passed in her events by a 67-year-old woman and a man with one leg. According to these and other endurance warriors, they don’t do anything special. No, nothing special at all, just adding up miles and miles in the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run, pounding bikes through mountainous terrain in the Trans Rockies Challenge, or going without sleep for several nights while mountain-climbing, kayaking and running adventure races in remote parts of the world. Although they won’t admit it, Eric, Boris and Julie are included among the numerous elite endurance athletes that hang their hats in Park City.
Dolan, 38, is a local physician in family practice, but began her career as an extreme athlete while tagging along as spectator at her then boyfriend’s Ironman competition in Hawaii about 10 years ago. “I called a girlfriend and said, ‘I can’t believe I’m not doing this!’” she says. Dolan started entering Ironman competitions [2.1 mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26-mile run], but then she got it into her head to do ultra-marathons. “First of all a marathon seems crazy, but then you do them,, and you start to think about doing a 50-mile race, and so on,” says Dolan. She ran the Leadville 100 in 2002 and completed the grueling 2003 and 2004 Wasatch 100 marathons, which stretch from Layton to Midway and include a cumulative elevation gain of over 26,000 feet. Dolan is now contemplating Leadville’s 100-mile bike ride followed a week later by a 100-mile run. She’s also considering an adventure race, goaded by her friend Eric Jacobsen. “The Ironman you do by yourself, the 100 is by yourself, but adventure racing is team-oriented and that makes me nervous,” Dolan admits.
Jacobsen, 40, thinks that anybody who can run three miles and ride a bike can participate in an adventure race. “Six years ago I was a weekend runner, doing a couple of 5Ks and just one 10K,” he said. “Then somebody introduced me to kayaking. A guy came up to me at a wedding reception, described adventure racing and said he was looking for a team-mate. The next thing I knew he had signed me up.”
Adventure races can be as short as an eight-to-12 hour sprint, or as long as five-to-12 days, but are typically completed in 24 to 48 hours. Teams are made up of four people representing both sexes. An event can include mountain biking, running/trekking, paddling, rope work or even rollerblading, riding horses or swimming.
According to his Team Santa Fe bio, Eric has taken second place in the Michigan Bush Bash, and did the Beast of the East, with his 4-person coed team taking second place. He has participated in the Eco Challenge in Fiji and the USARA National Championship in North Carolina. He’s been averaging about three races a year for the past five years. But according to Eric, “I can mountain-bike with the Jan’s guys on Tuesday night and I’m at the back of the pack. I’m at the back end of a marathon. But I have endurance. I’m able to navigate and find the course, and I’m pretty good at teamwork. This allows me to be in the top quarter.”
Julie Cassidy, 44, began running with her high school track and cross-country teams, earning a scholarship to Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. “I was one of the top three runners on our team,”Cassidy says. “Bucknell is well known in the east for their track program.”
Although she’s backed off a bit temporarily from a rigorous training routine while she completes graduate school, works at Treasure Mountain Middle School and raises three children, Cassidy typically runs 15 to 20 marathons a year, including the Boston and Tucson marathons. She’s run the Park City Marathon four times, as well as the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase, a 15-mile run over hurdles and other obstacles. When Cassidy ran the Deseret News 10K in 35 minutes, 35 seconds, she couldn’t believe it. “I never thought I could run that fast and I was in my late 30s at the time.” Her best time was in the Tucson marathon where she came in at 2 hours, 50 minutes and 29 seconds. “If I’d made it in 2 hours and 50 minutes I would have made the Olympic team,” she said. “I won the race but I was still disappointed.”
Jeff Sumsion, a 42-year-old orthodontist, once did a 300-mile mountain bike race coast to coast across Costa Rica, with 30,000 vertical feet. “It was like climbing Mt. Everest,” Sumsion says. He plans to bike in the Trans Portugal race in 2006, where he will do 100 miles a day for eight to 10days. And he’s thinking ahead to a Trans Alps race from Germany to Italy.
Initially, Sumsion began riding his bike to stay in shape for ski racing, but found he really liked cycling. In 1984 he did his first ultra marathon from Logan, Utah to Jackson, Wyoming [200 miles], and most recently won a 12-hour timed race at Soldier Hollow. “I’m usually in the top 10% and I’ve finished the big race in Leadville, Colorado five times, coming in under the coveted nine-hour time three times,” he admitted modestly, crediting support from other local athletes as inspiration. “There are incredible athletes in Park City to ride with and get information from,” Sumsion says. “I see the same groups of people cross-country skiing all winter long to stay in shape. There are tons of national champions here.”
But even national and international champions have bad days. Beverly Gray has been a member of the U.S. Equestrian Team in endurance horse riding since 2002. She has earned the Presidents Cup, Abu Dhabi United Arab Emirates, as well as the UAE World Endurance Championship in Dubai. “I was first elected to World Champion in Spain in a 100-mile race that included six riders from the United States team. There were 44 countries represented. I finished as the first U. S. rider and 20th overall,” Gray says. “I’ve done 16,000 race miles and out of those miles I’ve had 75 wins and numerous regional, national and international titles.” But in her most recent race in Dubai, Gray says the results were disappointing. “We had been training for two years for this race, but there were a lot of complications. There were four members to our team but none of us finished.”
Gray’s next major race will be in 2006 in Germany, but in the meantime she is resting. To a champion, however, resting looks like this: “To stay in shape I do a lot of hiking with my horses. I like to do yoga to keep stretched out and limber, and I go riding on the ski runs and in the Uintas.
Some of Park City’s outstanding athletes aren’t really interested in participating in organized races and go it alone. Ruth Gooden, 66, ski and art instructor, completed a 500-mile walk through the Pyrenees Mountains in Spain to celebrate her 65th birthday. “It didn’t look like anybody was going to throw me a surprise party,” she jokes. “So I planned my own.” Ruth arrived at her destination, Santiago, in 33 days, averaging 16 miles a day.
Jim Doilney, 57, a builder and developer, organizes his work schedule so he can spend three months a year biking and trekking around the world. “Twenty-two years ago I decided if I worked twice as fast and hard I could take time off,” he says. Biking trips have taken Doilney to Australia, New Zealand, and he once bicycled from Fairbanks, Alaska to the Panama Canal. He describes himself as an “everyday” athlete, who typically runs 40 miles a week when he’s getting ready for a marathon. Doilney has completed ten marathons and has bike-toured about 10,000 miles. “One time I devoted a year to becoming the very best runner,” Doilney says. “I was the fastest marathoner in Utah over the age of 50. But the price was too high – no drinking, getting up at 5 am to train, and having to lose weight.”
Boris Lyubner, 45, a graphic artist, is amazed that he is an athlete at all. He moved to Park City from San Francisco about ten years ago because of his love of skiing. Once here, Lyubner hooked up with bicycling. “Any ride in Park City starts going up, and every switchback is killing you, but slowly you see the progress and that is very inspiring,” he says. “I started riding more and more. “I kept breaking my bikes because I was so heavy, but I’m about 40 pounds lighter now.” Lyubner said he had to be talked into racing, but after his first 100-mile race, his mind opened up. “It’s a mental challenge and a hard physical workout. But it was such a beautiful feeling to see my family at the final support station. I was so emotional I couldn’t talk, but they thought I was having a heart attack! Now I am addicted.”
After participating in about 10 endurance events Lyubner began to consider Park City as a location for an endurance single-track race. “It took me about two years to pull it together,” he said of the first Endurance 100 in 2004. “No other races I know have 95% single-track trail with a total elevation of 18,500 feet. It’s at a high elevation, is quite technical and requires high concentratio.,” he says. Lyubner once read the book “Young Lions” by Irving Stone. “Stone says in that book ‘the dream of each architect is to build a church’. In organizing the Endurance 100 I’m building my church,” Lyubner says.
Sedona Callahan is a Park City writer and photographer, and would-be endurance athlete.
© 2005 Sedona Callahan