Ultramarathon dad: ‘You pretty much expect it’s going to hurt at some point’
SQUAW VALLEY – At 5 a.m. today, Alan Barichievich will begin a 100-mile journey on foot from Squaw Valley to Auburn Calif., climbing a total of 18,090 feet and descending another 22,970 through rocky trails, backcountry snow and across the American River on a rubber boat.
It’s the fifth time the 43-year-old South Lake Tahoe physical therapist, husband and father has tackled the Western States 100, considered to be one oldest ultra trail events in the world and among the most challenging.
One year, he almost ran smack into a skunk, before his brother, his pacer, steered him away. Another year, his wife, Caroline Barichievich, an accomplished runner in her own right, steered him away from a near-fall of a sheer cliff.
There’s been lots of bears, too, which don’t seem to bother Barichievich. The bears just continue on their way, he says matter-of-factly.
The fuel along the route is delicious if you’ve been running for nearly 24 hours: boiled potatoes dipped in salt, peanut M&M’s, energy gels in every possible flavor. Barichievich favors peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
“I’ve eaten cheeseburgers, I’ve been so hungry,” he said. “But if something goes wrong, nothing tastes good.”
In 2001, Barichievich suffered an upper-thigh injury within the first 30 miles of the race, which he chalks up to inexperience. It was his first attempt at a the 100-mile distance.
Four Western States later, Barichievich said it takes a lot for him to stop running.
“You pretty much expect it’s going to hurt at some point and you’re going to get tired and you’re going to have both, and you get to that point where you just will yourself to keep going,” he said.
In fact, he’s a bit disappointed that rafts will be used to cross runners across the American River due to the water level. He usually looks forward to putting his legs in the water at mile 78.
“You look forward to getting in the water,” he said. “You look forward to cooling off.”
Barichievich became a runner later in life, inspired by his wife to start running in his early 30s. While the marathon at 26.2 miles is typically a runner’s rite of passage, Barichievich skipped straight to ultra running.
“I’m not a gifted runner, I just learned the longer the thing goes it evens out the playing field for me,” he said. “There’s nothing like crossing the finish line of any ultra. When you cross the finish line, it’s pretty special.”
Barichievich was drawn to Western States when he first started tackling long distances.
“I didn’t fully comprehend what a big event it was, I just thought it would be fun to try,” he said.
His qualifying race was the Helen Klein 50-mile race in Granite Bay, Calif., “one of the easiest” ultra races, Barichievich said.
He filled out an application for Western States and was selected.
“In the big scheme, I had no idea what I was truly training for and running,” Barichievich said.
Since the first failed attempt in 2001, Barichievich has his routine down pat.
He fits in training by running at 4 a.m. with a headlamp, or hopping on the treadmill from 10-12 p.m. after his children are in bed.
His weekly mileage leading up to the race maxes out at 85 miles, with an average 40 to 50 miles during a typical training week. His weekend long runs are from 20-30 miles.
“I look at it as the quality of the run – something long, something with hills,” Barichievich said. “The good thing I have is experience that mimics the course.
“This year,” he added, “the snow definitely caused a challenge.”
As part of his training, Barichievich schedules in a 50K in January, a 50-mile race in March and a 100K in May.
He runs and races without headphones, which he finds distracting. He occupies his mind by taking in the scenery and staying in touch with his body. It also allows time to think.
“Oh man, I solve a lot of problems out there,” he said.
There are also just songs in his head, but with two children age 2 1/2 and 6, most of the music is Barney and cartoon songs.
With a dual-running household and two young children, Alan and Caroline Barichievich schedule time together by hiring a sitter and taking off for the trails on the weekends.
“When we’re both training, that’s our dates,” Barichievich said. “We’ll go for a four or five hour run together.”
Caroline, who is training for a race in July, will pace him for the last eight miles of the race. His brother, Mark Barichievich, will pace him from mile 62 to mile 90.
Barichievich’s main goal this year, as with every year, is to finish. He’s also is hoping to break 24 hours, as he did in 2002 with a time of 23:37.
“My goal is always to finish, because anything could happen,” he said.
Although much of the route is too remote for spectators, this year’s contest will be broadcast live via webcast at http://ws100.ultralive.net/webcast.php. The event website is at http://www.ws100.com.