JANUARY 20, 1997
Chris Ralph trains for the Iditarun last January on the Iron Horse trail at Snoqualmie Pass.
Photo courtesy of Chris Ralph.
by Deborah Stone
Imagine pulling a seventy-pound sled filled with over fifteen pounds of equipment, and running on a hilly terrain of ice and snow for 100 miles in below-freezing temperatures.
Chris Ralph, a 45-year-old systems programmer from Bothell, can because she's done it before and plans to do it again. On Feb. 15th, she will participate in one of the most grueling races around, the Iditarun, which takes place in the interior of Alaska.
The Iditarun is part of a larger event called the Iditasport, where participants choose their method of competition and either run, snowshoe, cross-country ski, or mountain bike for 100 miles. They have three days to complete the race and must remain faithful to their chosen sport. Racers must equip themselves with sleeping bags, a stove, fuel, water, food, head lamps, and flashlights.
Ralph is one of only approximately 1500 ultrarunners in the U.S. Ultrarunners are people who run races of more than marathon distances. She began running seven years ago to lose weight, and her first race was the Emerald City Marathon. Since then, her goal has been to run a marathon or longer race in every state in the U.S. Thus far, she has completed races in twenty-eight states. For 1996, she ran a total of 2,700 miles.
Last year, Ralph came in seventh place in the Iditarun with a time of 29 hours, 34 minutes. She was the first woman to cross the finish line, and in the Iditasport event overall, she was 14th. The race was 85 miles, but this year's event will be 100 miles in length. She still hopes to finish in under 30 hours, even with the difference in miles, but says, "You never know what conditions you will encounter, like snowstorms and blizzards where you can't see in front of you."
What is also different about this year's race is that Ralph is using it to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Having lived with MS herself since her early twenties, she knows firsthand how the disease can attack the body. "An MS attack can cause double vision, slurring or temporary loss of speech, numbing, and loss of strength in the limbs," she said.
A serious attack in the fall, prior to a race in Washington, D.C., spurred Ralph to send out 360 Christmas cards with a letter explaining the Iditasport and asking people to sponsor her by writing checks to the MS Society. She has raised $1,200 to date and hopes to increase this amount by the start of the race.
Ralph trains and runs with a friend, Tom Ripley, of Redmond. They compete in many races and will be doing the Iditarun together for the second time. The two met on a mountain about two years ago and have provided each other with continuous motivation and support. It was Ripley's idea to enter the Iditarun, and Chris asked if she could go along. Their six-day-a-week training regimen includes running while pulling tires along the Sammamish Trail, working out with weights, and doing seven-mile runs around Lake Union. On Saturdays, they do longer runs, often pulling sleds on snow-covered trails in the mountains. They run in all weather and vary their terrain.
What motivates Ralph to do what most people would view as crazy and a brutal punishment to the body? Ralph replies, "I've been living with MS for almost half of my life. People have always told me to rest and take it easy. I simply can't stop living just because I have this disease and may die from it. Running these types of races is an incredible challenge and adventure. It makes me feel mentally and physically drained, which is a wonderful sensation for me. People need to understand that if you put your mind to it, you can do anything. Attitude plays a big part of how you live your life." It's obvious that Chris Ralph intends on living it to the fullest extreme.
To assist Chris in her efforts to raise money for MS, checks may be made out directly to MSA of King County and mailed to Chris Ralph at: 15546 - 62nd Ave. NE; Bothell, WA 98011.