Pushing themselves to the point of physical exhaustion and battling high-altitude elements, a pair of Plateau runners recently completed the 100-kilometer Beaverhead Endurance Race.
Making the trek to the Montana-Idaho border for the grueling, July 10 event – which has participants traversing a portion of the Continental Divide – were Tyler Slawson of Buckley and Wilkeson’s Eric Alfano.
Staring at a course that covers 100 kilometers (or a bit more than 62 miles) is a daunting task that calls for a 4 a.m. start time. The local pair began together, became separated and ran their individual races but eventually finished just six minutes apart. Slawson, 36, completed the trek in 16 hours, 53 minutes and 19 seconds; Alfano, 42, hit the finish line at 16:59:45.
Despite living in neighboring towns, Slawson and Alfano had not met until bumping into one another during the 2020 Beaverhead run. Slawson remembers traveling to the race, scanning the list of participants and having a “hey, there’s a guy from Wilkeson” moment.
Aside from the physical demands, the Beaverhead course can present the emotional and psychological challenges that come with endurance runs. Alfano claims the challenge to keep pushing forward is 90 percent mental, as “your mind gives you all sorts of reasons to stop.”
Slawson agrees. “Your mind starts to go through highs and lows,” he said. “It starts playing tricks on you.”
When the two elements combine – physical and mental – the result is a notable attrition rate, evidenced by the fact that 98 male runners departed and 22 dropped out along the way or were pulled from the run due to a slow pace. In the women’s race, 31 started and 23 finished.
Slawson, who was an athlete during his days at White River High but never as a distance runner, came to the sport later than many. It started as simply running and hiking with friends and evolved into a group desire to run a marathon (26-plus miles).
“It kind of progressed into seeing how far we could go,” he said.
The affinity for long-distance running saw Slawson first challenge the Beaverhead course in 2020. He was not among the DNF crowd (did not finish), but was the last participant to cross the finish line. With that, he vowed to improve his time and used the next 12 months to continue training and, by his admission, do a better job of tackling the course in 2021.
The dedication – he had a goal of running 2,500 miles during the year between races – paid major dividends. “I was pretty happy to cut three hours off my time,” Slawson said. “I ran a much smarter race.”
For Alfano, long-distance running is a family affair. His wife, Alex, also logs ultra miles and the two have occasionally run together. In March, they did the Badger Mountain Challenge, a 100-mile run in the Tri-Cities.
Alfano admits heading off on organized, long-distance runs can be addicting. And he has a 2021 schedule that proves his dedication to the sport. He has done four events so far and has two more planned. After Badger Mountain, he traveled to Georgia for the Cruel Jewel run, stayed closer to home for the Lumberjack in Port Gamble, then headed off for Beaverhead. Still to come are the White River 50-mile, a run beginning near Greenwater that he’ll be doing for the fifth time, and Cascade Crest, a 100-miler just across the Cascades in Easton.
ABOUT THE BEAVERHEAD
The race is officially in Salmon, Idaho, but takes place high in the Rockies. It begins at Bannock Pass, 11 miles east of Leadore Idaho, and 56 miles southwest of Dillon, Montana.
The first 54 miles has runners on the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail which brings substantial elevation changes. There are smooth sections and some requiring a bit more technical expertise; for all the descents there are hills to tackle.
The Beaverhead was listed as one of the toughest trail races in the Pacific Northwest by RaceCenter Northwest magazine.
The region boasts a rich history, noted as the ancestral home to the Shoshone people, the birthplace of Sacajawea and, later, a part of the Lewis and Clark expedition.