Civil Executive Assistant completes 100-mile race across frozen Alaska wilderness

Susitna 100 fat-bike competitors. Photo: Frank Janssens

Sylvia Margraff, Civil Engineering Executive Assistant to the Head, recently returned from a successfully completed Susitna 100, a renowned 100 mile wilderness race through the Susitna Valley, north of Anchorage. After five months of intense training, she joined over 100 of Alaska’s toughest adventurers, along with a handful of international athletes from as far away as Australia and Italy, to complete this journey. Participants in Susitna 100 choose their mode of travel in advance, and compete on foot, fat-bike, or cross-country ski. The 100 mile course must be completed within 48 hours and demands nearly uninterrupted progress, with racers typically stopping briefly at the six checkpoints along the way and a for a few hours’ sleep in the middle of the night. Sylvia raced on foot, towing the prescribed 15 pounds of survival gear on a sled behind her, and completed the course in 39 hours and 33 minutes.

Susitna 100 racers must battle extreme and unpredictable weather conditions as they navigate the remote route, winding through forests and across frozen rivers and swamps. The race is supported by officials who infrequently patrol the course on snowmobiles, but participants are ultimately responsible for their own survival, and must not only consume up to 6000 calories over the 48 hour period just to keep going but must also manage the risk of hypothermia, dehydration, and frostbite. Most racers agree that the rewards of participating match the enormous effort required, as the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness, from the dramatic frozen landscapes to the Northern Lights to sightings of moose and other wildlife, is incomparable. So, they say, is the personal satisfaction of successfully completing what will be, for many, the greatest athletic challenge of their lives. Sylvia thanks her partner, elite athletic trainer Frank Janssens, for training her and preparing her mentally for the race, and credits him with introducing her to this kind of adventure. Now that she has completed Susitna 100, Sylvia has qualified for the Courmayeur Champex Chamonix (CCC) 100 km mountain race, in France, which she hopes to enter in summer 2016 alongside her son. The Department of Civil Engineering congratulates Sylvia on this outstanding achievement!