January 28, 2016 | 2 p.m.
By Michelle Westlund, Communications Specialist
Apparently, Josh Peffley ’04 likes a challenge. The international relations and political science graduate ran numerous 50-kilometer races, as well as a 40-mile and 50-mile race, during summer and fall 2014. After moving to Russia to serve as a foreign service officer at the consulate in St. Petersburg, he went looking for another challenge close to his new home.
He found it in the Tierra Arctic Ultramarathon, a 120-kilometer mountain trail race that roughly follows the path of the famous Kungsleden (“King’s Way”) Trail, north of the Arctic Circle in northern Sweden. Eighty participants began the race on August 7, and by the end of the 24-hour time limit for an official finish, Peffley and 39 others completed the course.
“This was the most agonizing experience of my life,” he says. “It was the most physically, emotionally, and psychologically demanding race I have ever done. It involved more than 20 hours of running and speed hiking, most of those hours alone in the wilderness in the middle of the arctic night. The entire course was incredibly difficult, and involved climbing to high elevations, running over fields of boulders and through snow banks, and traversing glacial white water rivers. Crossing the finish line was equal parts delirium and ecstasy.”
The obvious question: Why? “My ultimate goal has been to finish a 100-mile mountain ultra,” says Peffley, “and I have always wanted to hike the Kungsleden, so it seemed like a great opportunity to move up the distance ladder to 120 kilometers on my way to 160. As I said to friends and family, ‘Why hike the Kungsleden if I can run it?’”
While that line of reasoning may not make sense to everyone, Peffley explains the deeper pull of testing the limits of human performance. “It’s been a difficult year for me,” he says, “and ultra trail running became a way to sink myself into something challenging and positive. For me, running through mountains and forests is an act of worship and a way to think, focus, and de-stress.”
If his winter training goes well, Peffley plans to further de-stress by running his first 100-mile race, The 100 Miles of Istria in Croatia, in April 2016.