Galway’s Gavan Hennigan Wins 1,000 Mile Foot Race Across Alaska

ByEmma Porter |

No stranger to extreme adventures and success in sport, Gavan Hennigan recently became only the 27th finisher of the Iditarod Invitational 1,000 Mile Foot Race. 

The Iditarod Trail Invitational is often referred to as the pinnacle of all winter ultra-marathons race taking competitors “through the far reaches of the Alaskan wilderness, following the Iditarod Trail to its conclusion under the famed burled arch in Nome, Alaska

With a 30 day time limit to finish the 1,000 miles, the event website suggests that “only the most intrepid and prepared adventurers need apply” and that it is “One of the most challenging experiences on the planet, participants brave extreme physical, environmental and mental challenges as they travel along the historic Iditarod Trail on bicycle, foot or skis. Requiring self-sufficiency and the considerable resilience to make it through up to 30 frozen days and nights, the Iditarod Trail Invitational has built its reputation on notoriously inhospitable conditions and minimal outside support.”

Who is Gavan Hennigan?

Gavan has adventured across all seven continents, climbing, running, walking, rowing and mountaineering in some of the worlds’ toughest conditions. He has completed some of the longest and toughest winter ultras in the world including the Likeys 6633 Arctic Ultra, he also completed The Yukon Arctic Ultra 500km where he placed 2nd with the 3rd fastest time recorded at the time since its inception in 2003.  He has also completed a solo crossing of the 700km frozen Lake Baikal in Siberia.

Switching sports he went on to make headlines in 2017 when became the fastest solo competitor in the history of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge completing the three thousand mile journey from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua in the West Indies  in 49 days, 11 hours and 37 minutes, setting a new Irish Record in the process. 

In 2020 back on dry land and two feet he won the Iditarod Invitational 500k foot race in Alaska in six days, 12 hours and 20 minutes, before returning to work as a commercial deep sea diver. 

His most recent adventure sees him written into the history books once again as the Men’s Foot Race Champion at Iditarod Trail Invitational 1000 (mile). 

What does it take to finish the race?

There’s a long term commitment to winter ultra racing required to get an invite to the 1,000 mile race, including being a previous finisher of the 350 mile (500k) race, amongst other requirements. 

Hennigan spent almost five weeks in Sweden earlier this year, in conditions of -34°C in order to prepare for the conditions in Alaska, covering close to 600 km of snow covered trails whilst pulling a sled, with just Bosco the dog for company. 

The distance in such conditions appears to have been solid preparation, with an early update from Gavan stating that the days were relentless, with him spending up to 20 hours on his feet.

Preparation is key for an event like this. Not just the physical training before the event, but also the organisation of all the equipment needed for the conditions that will be faced. Hennigan posted his kit list on social media before the 1,000 mile race got under way. It’s a long list and with the conditions he experienced as he journeyed along the trail it is no wonder that the kit list is long and extensive. Check out his list on the link HERE.

Finisher #27

Hennigan has made history by becoming the 27th ever finisher of the 1,000 mile foot race. Taking to social media after the race, he said, “Being out there was so much more than a race and an endurance challenge. A few months back I really doubted my ability to be able to make it to Alaska. The last few years have been tough, I’ve been crippled by my addiction again. I’ve spoke about it briefly in another post but I’ve had a torrid time trying to stop gambling. I made life changing amounts of money with high stakes leveraged trading but I gambled it all away again as it wasn’t enough, pure insanity that I didn’t cash out but this is the nature of addiction, the disease of more. 

“Being run ragged for weeks on end, up against yourself and the environment can’t not strip away all the bullshit. I faced myself many times over out there. Cried almost daily, but I wasn’t afraid to admit my weakness. Margaret Hogan always told me ‘At your weakest, you are strongest’ Alaska strips away any bravado and you will feel small and insignificant. But it’s in that self honesty that you find true humble resilience. 

“I thought there was an element of masochism from me doing these things, like the dark side of me and my addiction dishing out abuse is some cruel way through these endurance events, maybe there was in the past. But not this time, I passed through this landscape with grace and I’m very proud of myself for that. I thawed out emotionally and really felt for the 1st time in years as my addiction had shut me down. 

“So ultimately it was a profound personal experience out here, heightened by everything Alaska dealt out , but also by my fellow racers on the trail, particularly Asbjørn Skjøth Bruun for whom I’m very grateful for his comradeship in everything we went through” 

His journey across Alaska, through some of the harshest conditions imaginable, for the world’s longest running winter ultra-marathon, finished in Nome, 24 days, 18 hours and 9 minutes after it started in Knik Lake. An incredible achievement of which we are all so proud of! 

Congratulations Gavan, we can’t wait to see where your appetite for extreme adventure brings you next! 

Gavan spoke to Tri Talking Sport about Embracing Life in Extreme Adventure Sports back in 2020. You can listen back to the episode (No. 29) HERE.

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Meet the Author

Emma Porter
Emma is a former competitive swimmer who has a number of national titles, she competed internationally in her youth. A qualified and experienced swimming coach, she is currently an avid triathlete and cyclist. She has podiumed in several Triathlon National Series and Super Series races, claimed the National Aquathlon Championship title in 2020 and raced in the French Triathlon Grand Prix league. She has worked within a number of sports, across a variety of roles and has a keen interest in sharing her passion for sport.