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Former Evergreen Harrier setting records

Kyle Skaggs in his Evergreen days

January 17, 2007

Kyle Skaggs, a former member of the Evergreen State College Cross Country team, has challenged himself to attempt some of the most grueling ultra-running routes in the country. Not only is he attempting them, he's posting new records in the process.

This past September Skaggs circumnavigated Mount Rainier via the Wonderland Trail, a 96 mile route that he completed in twenty hours and fifty-three minutes and a new record for a supported effort. The tag of "supported" added to his accomplishment is misleading. There were no aid stations or medical crews and he carried his own nutritional needs. During the run that started with a group of four, he quickly was on his own. His only companions during the continuous effort were friends that occasionally met him along the route to run with him for an hour or three.

Recently Kyle moved back to his home state of New Mexico, having landed a job in Los Alamos. His brother Erik, also an accomplished trail runner, lives there as well. Within a month of moving there Kyle set his sights on another goal, the record for the double crossing of the Grand Canyon.

On November 10th Kyle and Erik set off at first light from the south rim via the South Kaibab trail. It is a route that descends 5,000 feet in seven miles to the canyon floor.

"We passed hikers and a mule train as we bombed down the steep trail" recalled Skaggs.

The Grand Canyon is famous for exhausted and heat stricken hikers being evacuated or even dying after encountering the extreme temperature and elevation changes. The Skaggs brothers carried only energy snacks and water bottles, which they refilled at Phantom Ranch in the canyon floor and they stashed their long sleeve shirts along the way when the temperature warmed. It took three and a half hours to gain back the 5,000 feet of elevation to the top of the north rim. After a short rest, they began the return trip with just over four hours remaining to better the record. At the bottom of the canyon Erik could no longer eat food and dropped off the pace. Kyle pushed to the top of the trail and stopped his watch at 7:37:59, a new record for the route. A crowd of mystified tourists stared at him.

Skaggs was humble leading up to the record attempt.

"My brother and I talked about going for the speed record (A mark that was set in the 80's by former US 100 mile record holder Rae Clark) but we didn't want the word to get out".

Kyle has always been a modest person, preferring to let his actions speak for him. They had nothing to lose by going for the record and there was no press or months of planning to answer to if they didn't succeed.

"It was more of a fun run with the possibility of a record" Skaggs points out.

Kyle was a relatively new runner when he joined the Evergreen squad in 2003 but quickly became a solid member of the varsity team for two seasons. He was never the fastest, but earned the reputation as a workhorse early on. He pushed the pace on long runs and most of the team could not keep up with him on the hilly trails of Capitol State Forest, the nearby training oasis where Evergreen State and Olympia area runners frequent. Whether you are a miler or an ultra-runner, Capitol Forest is a place where you go to perfect your craft. It was there that Kyle fell in love with his new past time. He began to head to the hills on a regular basis and frequently dragged his coach, me, along with him.

In 2004 I talked him into running one track race, the 5,000 meters at Western Washington University. Whereas some runners thrive on a fast and claustrophobic track race, Kyle loathed it, solidifying his desire to stay on the less crowded trails. He began to take part in the 25k and 50k races that were put on by local runner John Pearch, the race director of the Capitol Peak Ultra Series. It was there that people began to notice his efforts.

In the world of distance running Kyle is a young athlete. In the world of Ultra-running, he's an infant. It's a pursuit usually left to the "Been there done that", or Zen runner crowd that has given up on the shorter distances in search of a new challenge. He is however, part of the new generation in ultra-running that has emerged. They are younger, faster and train with more abandon. Where once ultra-running seemed as absurd as marathoning, ultra and trail runners now enjoy company sponsorships and occasionally prize money for their efforts. It hardly makes them professionals, but it gives incentive to those athletes that participate. Kyle and his brother were recently added to the roster of the Montrail National Running Team.

Without these acknowledgements Skaggs most likely would be fine. It's evident that the base of his motivation is a love for being outdoors and seeing wild places.

Kyle will be in the northwest again late Februrary for the Orcas Island 25k and 50k, a race that his Olympia training partner and friend James Varner organizes. He may even drag his former coach along.