Saturday, September 29, 2012

Marathoning with Humungous Herbivores

My August marathon was the “Moose’s Tooth Marathon” held in Anchorage, Alaska.  While I wasn’t expecting giant herds of wild moose to give me yet another excuse for missing out on the elusive sub-3 goal, I did think it was a possibility that I’d at least see one – especially since photos from previous races included shots of a Mama Moose with her baby casually snacking as marathoners ran by.

Travelling to Alaska was an exciting prospect even without a marathon on the schedule.  I grew up in a family that places a high value on wilderness, and Alaska is probably the best state in the US to experience outdoor adventure.  My brother Darryl decided to make the trip with me and we planned a very fun “brothers weekend” which included the race on Sunday, August 19th.

August in Alaska is still close enough to summer that the weather forecast does not include snow.  The sun still dominates the sky, with a late sunset time of around 10 p.m.  Darryl and I arrived on Wednesday evening and decided to scout the area on Thursday on bicycle.  We rented a couple of bikes and spent about 4 hours cruising, mostly on the coastal trail.  The scenery was spectacular!  Green everywhere (something I’m not used to in Tucson), and overlooks to the Cook Inlet where we saw white whales (beluga?) surfacing.  Much of the marathon course was on this trail, so I got a chance to get a preview, and realized that although we were near sea level, this was actually going to be a hilly race.  We searched hard for moose, but they apparently had the day off.

We didn’t rent a car, so we did a lot of walking around.  Anchorage is a small town, and it reminded me of the region where I grew up in upstate New York.  It was evident that they depend on tourism, and by mid-August the tourist season has slowed down so things were fairly quiet.  Our hotel was next to Ship Creek, a pretty little creek where lots of salmon fishing happens.  Interestingly, the creek goes through cycles every few hours as the ocean tide causes it to rise and flow strongly, followed by a near-emptying of the creek.

I enjoyed a couple of nice runs from the hotel along Ship Creek.  It was tempting to go far, the trail system is very long in Anchorage and they are maintained very well.  I carried my camera on the runs and took plenty of photos.  It seemed like every curve revealed a new scene that begged for a photo.  I wish I could show them all here!  I kept an eye out for wildlife – unfortunately, no moose or bear spottings, but I did see a few smaller creatures including this beaver who was busy working on his dam:

On Friday, Darryl and I spent the day taking a glacier cruise.  This was such a fantastic experience, I could write a whole blog about it.  The cruise went into Prince William Sound, an area rich with history of famous expeditioners including James Cook and John Muir.  There were only about 20 tourists on our boat, and we had a great time cruising the bay and visiting glacier sites.  We saw some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever laid eyes on.  We also saw some wildlife, including sea otters, seals, sea lions, lots of birds, and even some whales.  We used binoculars to scan the shoreline, hoping to see bear or moose, without success.  We took hundreds of pictures.  I spent most of the day standing on deck in the cold, maybe not the best move 2 days before a marathon but it was well worth it.  Here is a photo of Darryl and I aboard the good ship Fairweather Express, in front of Surprise Glacier:

Saturday was expo day.  I was getting very excited about the race on Sunday!  We walked over a mile to the convention center to get our race packets.  I was signed up for the marathon, and Darryl was signed up for the Snow City 5k.  We enjoyed the expo, which was small but well organized.  I had a chance to visit with Olympian Jeff Galloway, who is now most famous for his ‘Run/Walk Method’, and he gave me a nice interview for my SunRunner Podcast project.

We also had lunch at the pasta feed.  I must say that this was by far the best pasta feed I have ever seen at a race despite being the least expensive.  First-class all the way!  We also spent some time browsing a local flea market.  Later in the day, we decided to have dinner at the race’s sponsor, the Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria.  It was about 4 miles from the hotel so we took a cab, and arrived to find a super-busy restaurant.  We waited over an hour just to be seated, and proceeded to eat some excellent pizza.

Sunday morning got off to a nice start.  The weather was cool, there was some drizzle in the air but it was not too bad.  I met up with some other Marathon Maniacs and we took a group photo a few minutes before the start:

My race began first, with Darryl’s 5k starting later.  It was a fast start but around a mile in, things settled down and we worked our way on to the coastal trail.  I was feeling good, the hernia surgery site was hurting but not too bad.  I kept a fairly quick pace for a while, but felt myself slowing as the miles clicked by.  For a relatively small race, I was very impressed by the crowd support and aid station quality.  At one point, there was an odd character playing a guitar in a random spot in the forest.  We ran by Earthquake Park, and next to the airport where jumbo jets took of directly overhead.  The cool air and beautiful scenery helped make the race fun, but the hills definitely took their toll, especially since my legs really did not get the proper rest in the few days prior when we biked and stood on the ship.

The course is sort of a “Y” shaped out-and-back, but it became difficult to gauge my position because we eventually were merging with relay runners and half-marathoners.  By mile 20, I was feeling poor but kept trudging along.  The worst part of the race was in the final mile, when the course exits the trail and turns onto what appears to be the steepest road in the world.  It’s only about a tenth of a mile or two climb, but it is a brutal blow to a tired marathoner.  I slogged up it and turned onto the final homestretch.  A nice cheering crowd brought racers in and I crossed the line in 3:21:02.

This was a bit slower than I had hoped for but I was satisfied and got a nice finisher medal.  I was 31st place overall, and actually got 2nd in my age group!  The age group awards were a mug and ribbon.

The greatest part of the race for me, though, was that Darryl ran the 5k.  He’s not a runner, and this was his first race.  He worked very hard and earned a nice finisher medal for his efforts.  Taking a vacation with my brother was awesome, but wrapping it up with both of us completing a race was just incredible.  I was so proud to be able to share the event with him!

So overall, it was a wonderful weekend with so many great memories.  There’s only one negative – WE NEVER SAW ANY MOOSE!

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