B.S. Computer Science, Mathematics, 2004
Hometown: Eagle River, Alaska
Fun Fact: Brandon was once an honors intern for the FBI.
Brandon Wood clearly remembers the tiny, beautiful spark that ignited his desire to run and get fit.
“It was in December 2009 when my daughter was born,” said Brandon, who was then 290 pounds. “Looking at photos of me holding her in the hospital, it finally hit me how bad I had let things get, and I knew then that something had to change. I wanted to be a positive, healthy influence in my kids’ life, and set a good example for them.”
He downloaded a “Couch to 5K” app on his phone, launched a blog and started running—for 60 to 90 seconds at a time. “I needed something to keep me active, and running seemed like an obvious choice,” he said. “I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a gym membership or anything like that. With running, I could just lace up my shoes and head out the door. It really helped to build up slowly like that, instead of heading out the door on day 1 and trying to run a couple miles. ”
Brandon never imagined he’d run more than just a couple of miles each time he went out. “After about three or four weeks, after it stopped being really hard, and my lungs didn’t feel like they were on fire the whole time anymore, I realized I was actually enjoying this running thing. I quickly found myself looking forward to going for runs, looking forward to building up to longer distances.”
By the end of 2010, Brandon had racked up a marathon finish—26.2 miles.
And last year, Brandon finished a race that may be Alaska’s most agonizing backcountry distance competition, Crow Pass Crossing, a 24-mile Girdwood-to-Eagle River sufferfest that raises money for the not-for-profit Eagle River Nature Center and Seawolf Athletic Association/Milers Booster Club.
Crow Pass Crossing is limited to 150 entrants, all of whom must be able to throttle themselves up 3,888-foot Crow Pass within an hour; hurtle down slippery expanses of stone and snow; ford thigh-numbing, quarter-mile-wide glacier-fed Eagle River and then brave lurking bears and furious wasps on their way to what they pray will be a sub-six-hour finish at the Eagle River Nature Center.
“This race is not for beginners,” the Crow Pass Crossing race application warns. “It is not designed for ‘recreational’ runners, ‘hikers’ or people who listen to the song ‘We Are Young’ and sign up for an event that they are not properly condition[ed] to undertake.”
Aspiring Crow Pass racers must prove they have completed Crow Pass in fewer than six hours in one of the previous two years or, in the preceding year, finished a marathon in fewer than four hours, completed an under-1:45 half marathon or completed the Lost Lake Race, near Seward, with a time under 2:30.
There are no medical aid stations. Racers must filter their own water, carry mandatory equipment—water container, stocking cap, gloves, top and bottom long underwear, wind pants and jacket and race number—and check in at required check stations along the course.
The mandatory race meeting for this year’s Crow Pass Crossing is scheduled for 5 p.m., Friday, July 25, at UAA’s Wells Fargo Sports Complex. The race starts with a 6 a.m. meeting Saturday, July 26, at the Crow Pass trailhead parking lot, at the end of Crow Mine Road, six miles outside Girdwood. The racers then start running at 7 a.m.
Brandon first heard of Crow Pass about 20 years ago, when he was in middle school.
“A friend’s dad ran the race,” he said. “I had hiked the trail several times as overnight backpacking trips, and I thought that anyone who ran it in just a couple of hours was crazy.”
Why did he want to do the Crow Pass Crossing?
“As I began running more and became one of the crazy ones myself, I fell in love with trail running,” Brandon said. “Having hiked Crow Pass numerous times in the past, doing the race became an obvious choice.”
Running on trails is “just so much more peaceful and enjoyable than pounding out miles on the roads,” and Brandon committed a minimum of 50-60 hours a week while training for last year’s Crow Pass Crossing.
“It’s important to do race-specific training,” Brandon said. “So if there’s going to be a lot of climbing, I make sure to get up into the mountains and get in plenty of climbing and hard descents. A race like Crow Pass is very technical, with lots of places where you really have to watch your footing over rocks, roots, etc., so I’ll seek out trails that offer similar types of terrain.”‘
Brandon was thrilled when he learned he had qualified to run Crow Pass Crossing in 2013.
“The first few years that I was running, I wasn’t fast enough to qualify for Crow Pass,” he said. “Once I finally was able to qualify, it was a very exciting moment for me.”
Brandon said he was most intimidated by that first climb on Crow Pass, having to make it up to the top of that pass in less than an hour.
“That’s why I trained specifically on that part of the course,” he said. ” I had hiked the trail numerous times in the past, but that was always at a relatively leisurely pace, so I had no idea how fast I could do it if I was really pushing myself.”
He faced more than a few challenges during the race. “I had forgotten how overgrown the trail was in places,” he said. “It’s already a pretty technical trail, and then at times you’re running along without being able to see where your feet are landing.”
While Brandon ran Crow Pass last year—he finished under the six-hour race-finish cutoff, at 5:35:45—he won’t be heading back up that particular trail later this week.
“I ended up passing,” he said. “As much as I’d love to do it again, it just wasn’t in the cards this year.”
Brandon found profound beauty as well as pain during his Crow Pass Crossing.
“My favorite part is when you come up over the pass and start heading back down again, with Raven Glacier over to the right, and you can see all the way down the valley,” he said.
Written by Tracy Kalytiak, UAA Office of University Advancement