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Bellingham native wins Iditarod ultra marathon by mountain bike, foot and ski

Looking back on his fifth-place finish in 2013 as a rookie racing in the Iditarod Trail Invitational, John Lackey was left with a bitter taste in his mouth.

He knew there was unfinished business with the race and he would be back.

The Iditarod Trail Invitational is the world’s longest winter ultra marathon by mountain bike, foot and ski. The marathon follows the historic Iditarod Trail and takes place every year one week before the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Lackey, who grew up in Bellingham and attended Sehome High School, now lives in Anchorage, Alaska, but it’s the outdoor lifestyle of Bellingham that prepared him for the Alaskan terrain.

“Growing up in Bellingham is where I learned to love the outdoors. You can go from water all the way to tall mountains in 80 miles. Just like Alaska,” he said in a phone interview.

Following his fifth place finish the first time around, Lackey was determined to finish stronger the second time.

In the 2015 invitational, Lackey was able to get his satisfaction and finish the business. He finished first with a time of one day, 24 hours and 32 minutes, breaking the previous record of two days, 4 hours, Lackey said.

“It was a low snow year this year. From year to year it could take anywhere from six days or two days,” Lackey said.

Throughout the entire race, Lackey didn’t sleep once, but that didn’t seem to phase him at all.

“The first night wasn’t so bad.” he said. “You can ride through a night and not get tired. The second night at 5 a.m., I was falling asleep on the bike and had trouble keeping upright.”

At that point Lackey said he gave himself a mere 30 seconds to regain his composure in order to press on for a record finish.

“I brought my phone to listen to music on the last four hours and that helped me a ton. Otherwise I’d be sleeping on the trail,” Lackey said.

Lackey raced the entire marathon on what is called a Fatback bike, a bike equipped with three- to four-inch wide tires and custom bike bags on the frame and handlebars.

The usual equipment Lackey takes on his bike includes a sleeping bag, down coat, down mittens, dry clothes and a food stove, Lackey said. A lot of the preparation before a marathon includes making sure everything fits on the bike before the race. Typically, a bike weighs around 40 pounds with all the gear.

The most important skill is being able to push the bike through deep snow, Lackey said. Two times each winter, he will go out and push his bike through deep snow to practice for the invitational.

“It’s a good skill to have for going over the pass,” he said.

In 2013, Lackey had to endure the negative-30 degree weather that is common in Alaska during the marathon. But this year the weather was much warmer by Alaska standards, with temperatures just below the freezing level.

“It was warm typically for this time of year,” he said. “It was still frozen, but it warmed up eventually and rivers started overflowing for the people behind me.”

After finishing with a record best time this year, Lackey is unsure if he will participate in next year’s race.

“I’ll decide at some point,” Lackey said. “I’d like to, but it’s a big commitment. If I have the time, I’ll think about it.”

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