Sunday, February 16, 2003

Hyde Park man set to run 800-mile Iditarod



By Ryan Ernst
The Cincinnati Enquirer

At any point, in any day, anywhere, in any conditions, Tom Possert can stand up and run 50 miles. And he can do it tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. If it sounds a little Forrest Gumpish, so is the 40-year-old Hyde Park resident's reasoning behind it.

"I'm good at it," he says. "If I was good at 100 meters, I'd run 100 meters."

It just so happens that Possert is better at 1.6 million meters, a 1,000-mile race. Three zeroes. He runs ultra-marathons, races longer than 26.2-mile marathons. Possert trains with, not for, marathons, which is like sparring with Mike Tyson for a fight with a grizzly bear.

And the meaner the grizzly bear, the more Possert likes it. When he was 18, he skipped his graduation from St.Xavier High School to ride his bike across the country. He has run more than 150 ultra-marathons. He has participated in the 24-hour-a-day extreme sport Eco-Challenge expedition race. He once ran a 13-day, 1,000-mile race in New York City on a 1-mile track. But Possert's truest passion, and display of his ability, is in trail running.

Today, the bed-and-breakfast owner leaves for Alaska to run the Iditarod, the sled-dog race across the state. In 1998, Possert became the first person to run the Iditasport Extreme, a 350-mile accompanying race usually reserved for cross country skiers, mountain bikers and snow-shoers. He finished 15th out of 25 racers, the only one running.

This time, he is taking his Siberian Husky, Natasha, and running the 800-mile Iditarod course, beginning a week from today in Nenana.

The course has been cut from 1,150 miles due to warm weather and thawed rivers, but temperatures still are expected to reach 20-below.

"But really, you don't notice the cold, minus-15 or minus-30," Possert said. "The worst part is packing up your tent in the morning and getting ready. That's when you notice it. I'm lucky, because I run really hot. In zero-degree weather, without any wind, I can run in two shirts without a jacket."

Although Possert isn't the first person to run the entire Iditarod trail, he has the opportunity to set a new standard.

Before entering the Iditasport Extreme, he shaved more than six hours off the record of the 100-mile Iditasport, a similar race.

Friend and fellow trail runner Tom Bennett thinks Possert could perform a similar feat at the much longer stage-running distance.

"He's probably the best trail runner in this country," Bennett said. "He's a natural. He never falls out of shape and can gear up and run better than people that train twice as much as him.

"And then he has the mental toughness on top of it that comes into play in stage running. He can run back-to-back 100 miles, day in and day out."

Possert, who plans to finish the 800 miles in 20 to 24 days, admits 100 miles a day in this race isn't an option, due to the conditions and the sled.

Oh yeah, there's a sled - 45 pounds of food, clothing, a tent, a stove and fuel. And because he hasn't trained his dog to pull it, Possert must pull his supplies.

Then there's the "X" factor, which, after 20 years of racing, Possert says he's ready for.

"The first time I brought way too much gear, figuring I was going to run into a major storm," Possert said. "I packed more on the comfort side than on the risk side. I'll do that this time too, but to a lesser degree.

"When it gets bad, I'll just set up camp and try not to push the envelope, because that's not the place you want to make mistakes."

Bennett said the next mistake his friend makes on the trail will be his first.

"Tom's a good runner, but he's an exceptional trail runner," he said.

"His ability to use a compass and a map is incredible. He's at home on the trail. I think he's part wolf or something."

E-mail rernst@enquirer.com

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