There are still places on this planet that inspire the adventurer in us, that call to the intrepid desire to discover and explore, that push us to test our limits and test the mettle from which we are forged. Alaska is one such place, where ice fields are surrounded by imposing mountains, where dangers still lurk for the unprepared: avalanches and polar bears and ice caves and melting glaciers and icebergs and a sun that never sets and messes with your internal clock so you don’t know if you are in a dream when you fall and hope that you wake when you hit the ground. The great thing about being in Anchorage is you are only 20-30 minutes away from Alaska. I heard five or six different variations on that joke before I got to Anchorage; the idea being that in the “big city” you don’t get the same flavor of isolation nor the far flung outpost feel of the smaller towns and villages. This is a city that has one of the remaining Blockbuster Video stores and they still carry VHS. To me this is equivalent to time travel and technological backwardness almost equivalent to 8 track tape players. Yet I did feel Alaska looming around me as the snow peaked mountains of Chugach State Park surrounded us, Mount McKinley floating in the distance on the clearest of days. Where I’m from in Maine, you need to set about a purposeful trek to find moose, whereas here in Anchorage I came across three, two in my car, one on a running trail as I was running the route of The Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon. There is an air in Alaska that calls for boldness and strength and tempering and I was eager to put myself to the test.
Although this is a city marathon, you do not see much if any of the city, certainly none of the downtown core except at the very end and then only a smidge over the buildings that surround Delaney Park. Starting at Bartlett High School you get a little bit of strip mall ambiance before you head out on the highway pointed directly at the mountains and the rising sun (even if the day is overcast, I suggest wearing sunglasses if there is still snow on the mountain because it seems to amplify the brightness). The first five miles are mostly flat except crossing over the highway. After you cross over, you start seeing warning signs about being on the base. If you are the type that likes to run parts of the route before the race, you will want to stop by the base and pick up a recreational pass. It is very easy to obtain, you do not need a military sponsor as you do for other parts of the base, and they should inform you if any tests are being conducted at the missile or gun ranges that the course cuts through. You enter the back trails of the base just before mile 7 and run though their back roads and training courses until mile 14. Most of these roads are hard pack gravel roads so watch your footing. Keep you eyes open for some of the most interesting scenery along this route. Aside from your closest opportunities for mountain photos mile eight is where I came nose to nose with a moose. Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, the moose burst onto the road from the forest about 50 yards ahead of me and stood glaring at me in the middle of the road. I froze thinking for a moment that the moose intended to play chicken with me to defend its territory. Fortunately, it shook it’s head dismissively and trotted off to the other side of the road at which point I got some blurry, sasquatchesque, grainy photos that make you question if I saw any beast at all. Miles 10 through 13 you run through some different training courses, so it was a little odd at first to see a mosque and some desert huts through the pine trees as well as some heavily defensive guard posts with bridges and turrets.
As you enter the last mile of the base and the beginning of the Far North Bicentennial Park you encounter the hilliest section of the course. It is not so much the altitude or the length of the hills, but the steepness that should give you some pause. Although these hills are no more than 100 to 200 yards in length, the angle of ascent was abrupt and hurt my knees as I tried to climb them quickly. Also, as you are on the trails in the park, be careful if there was rain recently, as the trails were quite slick, especially as you descend the mountain back towards the roads. Miles 18 -20 take you along some industrial/city areas, but from mile 20 to mile 25 you start running through an emerald necklace of city parks that take you to the coast. Most of the trails run along Chester Creek so you have a lovely calm burbling brook tempo matching your tired footfalls, but the woods surrounding you should keep you cool as the sun warms up the end of your marathon. Keep a little bit of gas in your tank for one final hill as you run through neighborhoods from the sea to Delaney Park and you have just finished this fun and scenic course.
I try to reach out to locals in each city and drum up support for my run. Some folks want to be part of it some don’t. I was very fortunate that my host family was very excited to be a part of my journey. Not only did they drive me to the start line at an ungodly hour for a Sunday morning, but they also roused the household so that the whole family was on the street cheering for me at mile 18 and they erected a finish line for me at Delaney Park and met me with bananas and electrolytes and cheers and hugs. I really can’t thank Red and Pyro enough for their care and friendship. I need to learn how to generate that kind of excitement in each of my host families and see if I can continue that into the communities. I also was able to get a ton of tips from a young lady who works at Skinny Raven, the amazing running stores in Downtown Anchorage.
Sunglasses Even On Overcast Days:
Even though most of the day was overcast, it seemed incredibly bright to me and I was squinting through most of the course. By the end of the run I had a wicked headache that only subsided when I got into the car and eventually into the cool darkness back at the house. I need to remember that clouds don’t block UV rays and that’s what damages eyes. Bring sunglasses to each marathon.
This was a tough race for me and I have no excuses. It was mostly flat. It wasn’t high altitude. It was a nice cool day. I started off in fine form, but over the miles, every little ache came to a fore – my feet, ankles, knees, hips, and lower back all took turns pestering me. I had raced hard my last two marathons with a racing PR and a solo PR and my body wasn’t having any kind of speed workout that day. My finish time was 5:55:39 – not a stellar time, not a bad time, just certainly not a time to which I have grown accustomed. I need to admit that putting up these miles on a consistent basis might be making me stronger but I also need to continue to rest and allow my body to recuperate throughout the week. I’m hoping that the reserved energy is being saved up for the big race in Tacoma, Washington next week where I have a lot of support, a 5 hour pacer, and beautiful weather. Thanks as always for your attention and your support and I look forward to your comments and questions.